Preached by the Rev’d Holley B. Slauson, II
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 9, 2014 – Evensong Honoring Veterans & Public Servants
This is quite the day. Our first lesson sings a love song to wisdom. Our history writes a somewhat less than clear picture. This is the day 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall began to come down. What euphoria. What depth of hope. What dreams and desires were released that amazing day. East Berlin, nay all of East Germany would ultimately be reunited with what we then called West Germany.
This is quite the day. Our first lesson sings a love song to wisdom. Our history writes a somewhat darker picture. This is the day that Kristallnacht began in 1938. Briefly, Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Crystal was the point at which Nazi persecution of the European Jewish population in its control became the duty and right of everyone not a Jew to become an overt persecutor of Jews.
How wondrous and complicated can one day be? I think those of us who have had the privilege of serving in the U.S. military or as public servants, which in my mind includes not only police, fire fighters and EMTs, but judges, mayors, selectpersons, councils, legislators, state and federal, the President and his cabinet, the Supreme Court, etc, have some awareness of just how wondrous and complicated one day can be.
How wondrous and complicated a world, eh? Those of us of a certain age were born during a war and have known war on many fronts in the intervening years. I might as well date this. I was born in 1942, in Norwalk Hospital, a smaller institution than today. Ultimately there were 4 of us, my parents, my sister and me. What a wondrous world we create when we create a family. Oh baby, families!
I have my Pop to thank for my enlisting in the USAF. I had begun college in the Fall of 1960 and hated it and so resigned so I wouldn’t wind up with a bad college record. But I neglected to tell my parents until sometime between Christmas 1960 and New Year’s 1961. Pop was heartbroken and angry. He gave me two choices, one of which was to be accomplished by the end of January, 1961. Get a job or go in the service.
What a wondrous world. I was young and as kids are still, invincible. Wisdom wasn’t my love song. New experiences, new places, new people, all enticing, all a tad scary.
Long story short, in February 1961 I went off to basic at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and an adventure began. Wisdom, not so much. Over the next 4 years I would be stationed at Keesler AFB, in Biloxi, Mississippi, Shaw AFB, in Sumter, South Carolina, Osan AB, Osan, Korea and Westover AFB, in Chicopee, Mass. Stories could abound but let me say, the wisdom of all those years is something which only came to me later, much later, but some wisdom did come. I was released from active duty in 1965 and discharged in 1967.
What a wondrous world in which we live and what wondrous people we encounter.
Fast forward to three days after New Year’s 1986. The home I was using as a Rectory, clergy residence, had lost heat so I had phoned the furnace man to come and make the place warm. Well, he did. Alas, the furnace was very old, the chimney was even older, and the house was so cold when he got the furnace running that it ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. Well, that evening I had been invited to a parishioners for dinner and I went. We had finished dinner and were chatting when the phone rang. It was the parish treasurer, who lived across the street from my house, and she was looking for me, because the house was on fire. I’ll spare you the gory details but I didn’t live there again for about 9 months. That night, however, sealed in my heart forever, the wisdom of what firefighters and police really do. The fire department was all volunteer, this being a small town in Orange County, New York.
What a wondrous, and amazing world in which we find ourselves from time to time. Unbeknownst to me, the Chief knew who this young priest was and met me at the edge of the property after I’d left my car somewhere, or had gotten a ride to the house, and began to prep me for what I would find, for what they were able to do, and not,
And to tell me that if they’d been 5 minutes later arriving the place would probably have exploded, it was that hot when they broke through the front door.
What a wondrous and astonishing world we live in. Needless the firefighters stayed until they were sure that all the embers were dead and the place was safe enough to close up again because now the heat really was off, and as I said, would be for a while. And it was the Chief who located someone who could come and board up the burned out hole in the side of the house. Grateful? It still brings me to tears when I revisit that evening and what those volunteer firefighters were able to do to contain the fire and save the building which was an 1850’s farmhouse when the original piece was built. I’ve preached a few sermons over the years about those guys, the ranks and the chief. What wondrous things we witness. What wondrous people we meet. Imagine, witnessing Kristallnacht. Imagine witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall. What a wondrous and occasionally frightening thing life can be. One more story.
About 10 years ago I had a severe asthma attack, something I’d never before experienced. A neighbor found me outside leaning against my car, took one look at me and said Hol I think you need the paramedics. Is it okay if I phone them? Well by that point I could hardly breathe so I nodded yes. She phoned and in less than 5 minutes the Westport Avenue guys arrived, as did an NPD patrol car and then the Hospital Ambulance folks. The care given me that day, from the first arrival until I was moved from the ER to a floor, was something everyone should have seen. The first gentleman to approach me asked my name and if that was my car I was leaning against and did I have the keys. Silently I gave them to him, he opened the door and made me sit. I didn’t know I had started to turn blue. I had no discernable pulse and my BP was in the tank and he started working. And as the day went on and I spent some time in the ER, where the staff was constantly coming and going checking on me until I was admitted I experienced the most wondrous care and professional expertise that you can imagine.
Enough. Today, here, we celebrate, thank and raise up veterans, past, present and future, and ALL, I say ALL, public servants, but especially those whose jobs can put them in harm’s way also. Personally, I’m not always aware of whether I’ve learned, of whether or not I have gained wisdom but my hope and prayer today, and every day, is that all of us will be given the wisdom to do what needs to be done at any time, in any place, at any moment, and for and to anyone who needs our wisdom, no matter.
What a wondrous world in which we live. I know and understand the collective wisdom sitting here. I am so grateful that I have seen it in action more than once. Thank you all, not only to those present, but to those who weren’t able to join us. Thank you. And may wisdom be our common love song, for ourselves and for those whose lives with which we are entrusted, all of us.