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Embracing a Life of Service: Sermon for St. Martin’s Day and Veterans Day, November 12, 2023

The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire

Readings (Feast of Martin of Tours):

Some of my favorite childhood memories were of going to pow wows at Mohawk Park, near the Tulsa Zoo. It was a beautiful wooded area, and there would be tents set up all around. This was important, because these were also held in late July and it got very hot and humid. But there was so much to see and experience. Besides the fry bread tacos, which I can still taste, they were so good, the dancing and the singing an overall feeling of celebration and community filled my heart with an unbearable lightness. The first one I went to was when I was probably 8 or 9—before that my siblings were too young, and as it was, my baby sister had just turned 5. So my parents left us in the stands and Daddy went off to hobnob with friends and Mom went to look at something. We watched the opening procession with everyone in the regalia and I was teaching my sister words like “regalia” and we were having a grand old time, looking at the jingle dresses worn by the women dancers and the fancy dress worn by the men and boys and feeling the beat of the drums right into my very bones. Later on, Dad came back with an old friend of his who was an elder who had been honored at the start pf the pow wow. And he looked right through me with a serious kind of smile and said “I want to shake your hand.” And so, knowing this was a great honor for a little skinny blond kid to shake an elder’s hand I did, and when he took my hand he said, “You’ve been doing a good job with your brother and sister.” I pulled my hand back, and there was what I thought was paper inside of it, but you don’t look right away—that’s rude. So I squeaked out “Thank you sir” because this was just my job and no one ever said thank you but I didn’t say that. I made sure I in turn gave away that money to the drummers when the blanket dance went around. After he and my Dad walked away and no one was looking, I opened my hand and there was a five dollar bill in it. See, that’s a core value of Native culture—the most honored ones are the ones who literally give away, not those who take. The ones who notice even little people, and respond with generosity-- they're respected. When someone is celebrated, instead of them receiving gifts, they give them out-- it's called a "Give Away" (or a Potlatch in the Pacific Northwest). The honoree gives freely and boldly, because they know that the community takes care of each other. Extreme generosity is met by extreme honor and support. Imagine if we all lived that way. It is of course, also the heart of the way of Jesus. One of the things that was most amazing to me, as I consider both Native American Heritage Month and Veterans Day, is the amount of honor that veterans receive in Native cultures. And of all the minority group in America, Native Americans have the highest percentage of service in the military—1 in 5 Native Americans is a veteran. They are the warriors, a status that was a special duty and honor in Native cultures. But contrary to how that word may be used, being a warrior is not about violence. It is about being willing to give away your very self for the protection of home, and for those you may never have seen in your life. It is part of the Native thought-way that honors giving far more than receiving. At the pow wow, veterans carried in the flags. They led the dropped eagle feather dance when a sacred eagle feather fell to the ground. Being a warrior in Native cultures is not about killing the enemy. It is about embodying the virtues of wisdom, bravery, fortitude, and generosity, especially for the protection of others. Seeking to embody these virtues is also at the heart of Jesus’s message to us as his followers.

And these are also virtues that our beloved patron saint, Martin of Tours embodied, as we celebrate his feast today, and as we remember that the best way to honor someone is to emulate them. That’s why we call ourselves Christians, and members of St. Martin’s parish and why we especially honor veterans this day. We seek to emulate the qualities of Martin, who himself was emulating the life of Jesus. We examine the virtues of service that veterans embody, so that we ourselves will be willing to serve as we can, whenever we can, with just as much honor and sacrifice. Although raised by pagan parents, Martin indicated an interest in Christianity as a child, it is said—intensifying after his father, who served in the Roman army, was transferred to Italy. Martin's interest in Christianity presented a problem, since it was of course expected that since his father was in the Roman army he would follow in his footsteps. At the age of 15 Martin indeed entered the Roman army, eventually serving in the cavalry. Eventually, he was posted to Gaul, or France. The legends say that one day he encountered an elderly, shivering beggar wearing just a loincloth by the side of the road. Seeing him, Martin was moved with pity, and, drawing out his sword, used it to slice his magnificent heavy will in cloak in half to give the beggar some shelter from the elements. Night, Martin had a vision in which Jesus was wearing his cloak, and telling the angels that Martin had given it to him. The beggar had been Jesus. After his encounter with the beggar and the following vision, Martin then became determined to actually become baptized as a Christian. And it was at that point that he then encountered a crisis of conscience: as a Christian, he felt he could fight no longer for Rome. He was first accused of cowardice and placed in prison but he offered to stand at the front of the army before a terrible battle completely unarmed to show that he was no coward. Legend says that the enemy Francs sued for peace, saving Martin, and he was later granted a discharge on account of his conscience. He made his way to the greatest Abbey in France, studied under St. Hilary of Poitiers, and became known for his great wisdom and faith. Despite wanting a quiet, monastic life, he eventually was made the Bishop of Tours by acclamation, even though he tried to avoid it by hiding in a barn. His holiness, faith, wisdom, and generosity became legendary. Saint Martin is the patron saint of beggars, wool-weavers, tailors, volunteers, geese, wine-makers and recovering alcoholics, soldiers and conscientious objectors. As a person who both served in the military and then later embraced a life of peace, his feast day was traditionally a day when conflicts would cease, which is why World War I ended with a cease fire that began on St. Martin’s Day in 1918—the day we now call “Veterans’ Day” here in the US. Martin’s life exemplified those same virtues of the warrior prized in Native cultures: wisdom, bravery, fortitude, and generosity. The gospel for Martin’s feast day, which we celebrate today, exemplifies the values of self-giving generosity and fortitude that are at the heart of our saint’s life, and that we attach ourselves to when we in this parish act in his name. The key is to remember that when we encounter anyone in need—which means anyone, we respond to that need from what we have. We respond with generosity because whomever we are helping, we are ultimately giving to Jesus, just like Martin did when he divided his cloak, just like veterans do when they are willing to give up their very selves in the name of service to others. Today, on this Feast of St. Martin and on this Veterans’ Day, in the midst of Native American Heritage Month, it is not a spirit of war and plundering that we celebrate, but a spirit of peace and security. We contemplate the wisdom of Martin, of Veterans, of Indigenous people and apply that wisdom in our own lives. We mindfully invite into our lives the wisdom to perceive the sacred blessing bestowed upon each and every one of us when we serve Christ in all persons, as we promised in repeating our baptismal covenant last week. We celebrate those whom we can help, for they provide us with the opportunity to be makers of miracles by being givers. Contrary to what we are hearing too often in the news, the life of a Christian is not about bending others to your preferences, but about living a generous life of service to others. Rather than standing in judgment of anyone but ourselves, Christians are called to ask how we can serve those around us, no matter who they are.

Martin’s life reminds us that the life of a Christian is not about claiming a certain status or privilege, but a life of service. Martin’s life reminds us to look for Jesus everywhere—especially where there is need. It is our blessing and joy to see and respond to each other in Jesus, generously and compassionately. Being Jesus’s disciple is not about a transactional exchange where being a Christian gives one the power to force others to follow your rules and in exchange you get to call yourself righteous. No—being a Christian is about service, generosity, compassion—being willing to sacrifice and feeling the warmth that sacrifice brings by giving our lives meaning and true purpose, just as service to your country, whether in the military or not, does. Martin reminds us that the life of being a Christian is about seeing Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the discarded, and giving of what you have to care for them. It’s about serving, rather than being served. It’s about giving, rather than taking. On St. Martin’s Day, on Veterans Day, may we all emulate and embody the virtues and the joys of a life of service and giving, seeing Jesus everywhere.


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