Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gettysburg Remembered

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20; 7th Sunday after Pentecost C; July 7, 2013

            Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
            Fourscore and seventy years ago, the Civil War battle at Gettysburg raged on. Tens of thousands of men died, were wounded, and were captured. For three days, the borough of Gettysburg was ravaged. Houses were ransacked, public buildings were transformed into temporary hospitals. All those who lived in Gettysburg either left town or went into hiding in their cellars. That little town would never be the same again.
In the past one hundred fifty years, a lot has changed for Gettysburg. Much of the vineyards and farmland that were used in the battle are now federal parks. The battlefields are littered with monuments both large and small, and millions of people visit that town every year. Every summer, people dress up as Civil War soldiers and civilians and reenact the battle.

In the midst of all of this, Gettysburg Seminary continues to be a place where future pastors study the Bible, form leadership skills, and meet Christ so that we may share the love of God. Since 1826, Gettysburg Seminary has been a place of growth for Lutherans.
This past week, July first through third, my beloved seminary celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Schmucker Hall on campus that was used during the war by Confederates as a look out has now been transformed into a world-class museum. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson was there this week to offer a few words on this special occasion.

Bishop Hanson is bringing the history of the Civil War alive for us. Those battles are not just a mark on the history of this nation. That war reestablished our loyalty to our country, to our soldiers, and to our values. We are called to continue the work of freedom and justice that we have learned about throughout our lives.
In our history classes, we learned about the generals and the soldiers at the battle of Gettysburg. We heard about Little Round Top and Picket’s Charge. We saw maps that showed the strategy that brought the Union and Confederate soldiers together to fight. But in those history classes, we didn’t hear about some others who weren’t fighting in battle. Three of these showed bravery, compassion, and loyalty.
First, Sallie. Like many of the regiments at Gettysburg, the Eleventh Pennsylvania Union regiment had a dog as their mascot. Their dog was named Sallie. On the first day of battle when the regiment had to move back from their place of battle, Sallie stayed behind with the dead. She stayed with her deceased friends and watched over them for four days until the survivors of the regiment could return after the battle to bury the dead. Sallie’s loyalty was such an inspiration to her soldiers that they built a monument, a small bronze dog statue, near where she kept her guard.
Second, the Humiston family. Another monument marks where Amos Humiston died. By rank alone, this sergeant did not deserve a monument, yet his story continues beyond his death. Humiston, although a father of three, volunteered to go to battle. Excited by the adventure of war, he fought bravely for his country and cause. Yet, his excitement did not save his life. At Gettysburg, he was mortally wounded. Later when the survivors returned to bury him, they found no identification on his body except a photo of three darling young children tightly clutched in his hand. This photo was the last thing he saw before he died.
Not knowing who he was, this photo of his children was passed from newspaper to newspaper in the north. From Philadelphia to New York to his hometown of Portville, this photo was published, asking “Whose father was he?” Through the publication of this photo, his wife Philanda Humiston learned that her husband was dead and that her children no longer had a father.
All of those throughout the North who saw this photo were so moved that they decided to create an orphanage in Gettysburg for Humiston’s wife and children and for all of the widows and orphans created by the war. Although her husband was dead, so many were moved by her story that these strangers reached out to her. This compassion in the face of war was God’s will.
A third story, my favorite. Mary Virginia Wade, known as Jennie, was a civilian living in Gettysburg when the war came to her town. When all of the other civilians either left town or went into hiding, she also went underground. But she couldn’t bear to stay there. Jennie was engaged to a soldier who was serving in Virginia. Despite everyone telling her otherwise, Jennie decided that she had to do something. She wanted to support the Union soldiers who were fighting here, just like her fiancé was down South.
So, Jennie went to her kitchen to bake biscuits that she would then bring to Union soldiers. But, through the door to her kitchen, a Confederate sharpshooter saw her and shot her. Jennie died then, before she could deliver the food that she so desperately wanted to share with others. Little did she know that her fiancé was also killed in battle, hundreds of miles away.[1]

These three stories show us how compassionate people and animals can be, even during the worst of times. These three, Sallie, Amos, and Jennie show us that there is so much more to war than rifles, pillaging, and strategy. Like the seventy that Jesus sent into ministry, these three were sent like lambs into the midst of wolves. Even though they lost their lives in battle, they were brave, caring, and compassionate. They didn’t have much with them. One had a wagging tail, one had a photo, another had biscuits. These three have touched the heart of this nation because of how they faced adversity.
These three are all from the Union side, but I am sure that the Confederates had just as many touching stories. In his You Tube video, Bishop Hanson continues to describe that Schmucker Hall on the Seminary’s campus was used as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. He shares, “There was a common humanity in their suffering, in their weeping, and their dying. That common humanity called forth acts of compassion and care from nurses and doctors. What would it take for us to be such a people today?”[2]
We are called to continue the work of justice that was reestablished 150 years ago. We may not have much with us, yet Jesus sends us out to share the good news. Whenever we feel that we are like lambs sent into the midst of wolves, we can be comforted by the love of Jesus Christ. Strengthened, prepared, and encouraged by Christ, we can share the love of God through our own moments of loyalty, courage, and compassion. Trusting in Christ is what it would take for us to be such a people today. Amen.

[1] These three stories come from Hallowed Ground by James M. McPherson (2003).

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