I was dismantling a fence to use at our house some day in the future for an elder from the local Presbyterian church, a Mr. Apple. Had some good conversations as I rolled up the fencing and took out the posts. Well he had been involved in getting preachers to pray at the Sparta Memorial service and he mentioned my name to the VFW chaplain, Gene Morgenstern. So un be known to me I was selected to be asked to pray. Little did they know that is was as far from a duty for me as can be, in fact, it is quite the honor.
It got me thinking about my own father, Lt. Col. Jack Hansston who was a 30 year marine. He has passed away but it got me thinking about him again. I spoke with my Mom on my birthday and we began talking about him. Over the course of these last few days I found distant memories circulating in my mind as I thought about a Memorial Day sermon and a closing benediction at the Sparta ceremony.
A public prayer can be a moment to bring extra life into any event. Enthusiasm (God in you) is always the key. I have always preached against using public prayer to communicate correction or judgment to those listening which has always come across to me as witchcraft. Nothing wrong with communicating correction or judgment, but to wrap it up and disguise it as a prayer to God has always offended my spiritual sensibilities.
I had remembered one of my exchanges with my father during my first year in college. I had come to the conclusion that there was no God and had communicated it to my father in a letter. The quickly returned response pulled three pages of passionate defense of the reality of a God. He made it personal when he reminded me of his time of being shot out of a helicopter in 1968. He crawled through the jungle for a week with a damaged vertebrae avoiding death and capture until he was found and rescued. He would return home to surgeries and fears of being released from the Marines. He would heal up well enough to continue his career which would include one more tour to Viet Nam in 1972. It was this event that he brought to my attention with the footnote of his prayers to God that he prayed during that experience.
So a chance to honor my father; his duty to country and his duty to his son, seemed fitting to include during the time of prayer. I mentioned taps (which had just been played by the Sparta High School Band) being played at my father’s funeral. I mentioned his service of 30 years as a Marine (3 of that was as a Seaman during the Korean War). I mentioned his safe return from Viet Nam twice. I mentioned my letter and his militant response. I then prayed to honor the memory of those who have given their lives for their country and our freedoms. I prayed for the heritage that each of our servicemen and women (not sure if I said women or not) left not only for our nation, but for all of the members of their families that had been touched by their service and sacrifice.
I was blessed. Gene, the chaplain, assured me I had done well and began to speak well of the different people he knew from our church. He thanked me again and again as we talked for a few minutes and let me know he would see me again. He wanted to make sure he had heard the parts about the letter exchange properly and was glad to see that since that day I got saved (his words). His final comment was “I like being around you, we will see you again”. Wow! the ultimate compliment.
It has been a great day to honor America’s veterans as well as honoring the memory and service of my own father.