Just One More
JUST ONE MORE
Warping the point and the intentions of God’s Law, is what our passage is about today. Jesus is confronting the Pharisees in this passage. The Pharisees were sort of the religious rock stars of their day. Though in the modern Christian church calling someone a Pharisee has a negative connotation, in Jesus day they would have been held in high esteem. People of every day and age want to know how to live the good life. And the Pharisees had the answer. Take God’s Law as seriously as you could. Live a life of holiness and God would bless you. They created a whole host of ways one could stay Holy. Some of these things included ritual washing before meals. And yet Jesus told them while they were doing these rituals they were neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Apparently, some people had used the Third Commandment in the wrong way. Many interpret as saying though shall not use the name of the LORD as a curse word. Though there are plenty of scriptures that discourage us against foul language what this commandment is really about is making a vow to the LORD and then not following through on it. Since folks are generally bad following through on things Jesus recommended making no vows but letting your yes be yes and your no, no. In this passage what appears to happen is someone has devoted some finances to the LORD by making a vow. Then perhaps there was a change of circumstances and their parents became in need. Back then there wasn’t any social safety net your children were your retirement plan. So perhaps these folks wanted to go back on their vow to provide for their parents, thus fulfilling the fifth commandment. But the Pharisees said no. They most keep their vow despite the circumstances. And if they felt bad about it well there was ritual washing that could help with that.
Jesus responds to these twisted and self interested interpretations of God’s Law by quoting Isaiah chapter 29. The promises of peace that God has for Israel is like a book, the blessings are already written. But the book has a seal on it and it cannot be opened. The people even get a man who cannot read to try to read the book but of course he cannot read. This may sound irrational. Yet, all of us do irrational things when we are desperate. God says the seal cannot be broken because something is lacking.= In the verse that Jesus quotes he tells the Pharisees what is lacking.
“Because this people draw near to me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,”. Despite all their exterior religious devotion Jesus pointed out that they were only giving lip service to God. Their hearts did not serve him.
The Good news today is this. When we serve God with our hearts he will give us just one more.
When praying over how we can serve God with our hearts and not just with our lips the Lord lead me to the story of Desmond Doss, who’s life is featured in the movie Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond Doss is the only conscientious objector ever to receive the medal of honor. Desmond grew up around Lynchburg Virginia. He grew up as a devout Seventh Day Adventist, which is a Christian sect that worships on Saturdays, the original Sabbath, most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead. They also don’t eat meat, and generally won’t serve in the military because they believe that the fourth commandment, though shall not murder, forbids all killing. Most scholars agree that war was generally not thought of as murder in the Old Testament. And many Christian scholars do believe in the idea of a just war. However, Desmond had a different view of this commandment. From a very early age he made a vow that he would never hold a weapon.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Desmond was drafted into the military. He could have chosen not to serve in any combat role, but he considered the war to be just, though he still viewed killing to be wrong for himself, so he applied to be a combat medic. Though the army labeled him a conscientious objector he objected to that label. Instead he preferred the term conscientious cooperator. During his training he refused to carry a weapon and he refused to work on his Sabbath which is Saturday. For this his superiors tried to drill him out of the army for being mentally unstable, and even tried to court marshal him for refusing an order to carry a weapon. They failed to have him deemed mentally unfit. In the film Desmond is court marshalled. In real life it didn’t get that far. Though I think Desmond’s statement in his movie court marshal reflected his general sentiments about why he wanted to be a combat medic. In the movie he says to those court marshalling him, “ With a world so set on tearing itself apart don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.” It doesn’t seem like Desmond said this in real life. But I think it sums up why he served.
In 1945 Desmond served in the Battle of Oiknawa. He and his company had to scale a 350 foot jagged cliff known as the Maeda Escarpment, or Hacksaw Ridge, using cargo netting. Their goal was to overtake the enemy Japanese forces who were dug in with a series of fortified tunnels. In the movie company B was initially able to overtake the Japanese. But then the Japanese launched a counter attack, forcing much of the company back over the cliff. In their retreat they left their wounded on the battlefield. The Japanese were known to execute the wounded. So this was a death sentence to them. All the able bodied men fled. All except Desmond. He stayed on Hacksaw ridge to rescue the wounded. He risked his life avoiding Japanese patrols. He lowered men, one by one, down the ridge using a rope. Online I read that he was on that ridge for twelve hours by himself. Desmond estimated the number of lives he saved to be 50. His commanding officer thought it was more like 100. So they compromised and said 75. Though not depicted in the movie, while lowering soldiers down the cliff, at least one Japanese soldier had Desmond in his sights. But the soldier later reported that his gun continually jammed.
After this heroic feet Desmond returned to battle with his men and nearly got blown up by a hand grenade. The movie is accurate in its depiction of Desmond kicking the grenade away from his men. Because of this sacrifice he got 17 pieces of shrapnel in his leg. Yet he gave up his stretcher for another wounded man. While he was waiting to be rescued he got shot by a sniper. He crawled three hundred yards to safety.
According to one online source, Desmond’s wounds left him over 90% disabled. It took him five years in a VA hospital to recover from his wounds. Yet, he still returned home and raised a son with his wife Dorothy. The end of the film includes the real life Desmond’s testimony in a 2003 interview. As an old man he recalled how he found a man on the battle field who thought he was blind. He poured water over his eyes to wash away the blood and dirt. And the man rejoiced that he wasn’t blind but could see. Desmond as an old man said that one man’s joy at being able to see made all Desmond personal sacrifices worth it. It took a couple of days after watching the film for me to comprehend the divine love that flowed through this ordinary man.
One particular scene has stuck with me for over a week now. Desmond’s company had been repelled by the Japanese back down Hacksaw Ridge. Night has fallen and Desmond is the only man left in no man’s land. The smell of death and defeat is all around him. And there is no human being there to help him. In the silence of his suffering Desmond is at the end of his rope. He was a man who felt so inadequate for the battle ahead of him. And as I reflect on that scene I realize that perhaps we all have felt that way in our lives, in our own battles. Life has taken a hacksaw to us and we stand alone on the edge of a cliff not sure if we have the strength to go on. Perhaps you are even feeling like that today.
And Desmond, despondently, asked the Lord, “ Lord what do you want me to do now?” And then he heard his men crying out for help in the night. Thinking the men’s cries are the Lord’s response he replies, “okay Lord.” And elderly Desmond in 2003 confirms what young Desmond prayed in the movie. He prayed, “Help me Lord, give me the strength to save just one more.”
And I believe that is the cry of a heart has the law of the LORD written on it, who is not just giving lip service but heart service, “help me with just one more.” Desmond didn’t set out to save a hundred men. He didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. He didn’t know what the next thirty seconds would bring. He decided to live his life for others. And he saved not just one man but seventy five men. And who knows how many of their descendents exist today because of that one’s man decision to put others over himself. He asked just help me with just one more.
Desmond found himself at the end of his rope as maybe some of us find ourselves today. And he decided to use that rope to help just one more person who was at the end of their rope get off that cliff. But the battle was not done. The enemy was still dug in. The men who died their sacrifice would not be for nothing. Company B would take Hacksaw Ridge. But now the men who had once spit on and persecuted Desmond wouldn’t go into the battle without him. There was just one problem. They had to go on Saturday. And Saturday was Desmond’s Sabbath, the day he wasn’t supposed to do any work. Yet Desmond agreed to go to with his friends to war on the Sabbath. Probably because he remember the words of Jesus. Is it good to do good on the Sabbath? To heal on the Sabbath? And he decided yes. He only asked that he be allowed to pray before they went into battle. In one scene the American troops stand ready to scale Hacksaw ridge. Desmond stands in front of them praying. They waited for Desmond because they believed God heard him.
Many of you come to me for prayer because you believe God hears me. And indeed I cry out for you week after week for your battles because I believe our Father hears me. But I don’t do so because I believe I am somehow special. I have fallen on my face too many times to believe that anymore. I pray because because I believe Jesus died and rose from the dead and whether I feel dirty or clean I am washed by his blood of the lamb and I am a Son. And if you would only trust him today his Spirit would pray in you with sighs too deep for words. Because he hears us. He may not always give us what we want but he hears us and we do not have to beg. He can give us steel in our spines. He can make us Holy so we can lift mountains. Inch by inch, day by day, step by step, till those mountains be cast into the sea. He can give us the strength to love, to serve, to endure, to heal, strength to help just one more person. But how can this be you may ask? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increase your strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted; but we who wait for the LORD shall renew our strength; we shall mount up with wings like eagles; we shall run and not be weary; we shall walk and not faint. We shall not dwell in the bitterness of defeat. We shall give thanks for every little victory. Every hope restored, every relationship restored, every eye opened, every ear unstopped, every broken body healed, every soul saved, every weary spirit given strength, we shall say thank you Lord, thank you, just one more. We shall hear the cries of those in no man’s land and recall that we too were once in that lonely place. Even if it seems God is silent we shall not be silent for our lives shall speak of him. We shall serve the LORD not with our lips but with our hearts, and he will give us the strength to love, the strength to serve, the strength to endure, strength to overcome, the strength to heal, the strength to help, for he is a mighty help in times of trouble, so help us Lord, help us, with just one more.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy spirit. Amen.