I am something of a history buff. I love to watch programs on the History channel and get a daily note emailed to me reminding me of the major events that happened in history. In fact, I generally start my day reading about significant events of the past.
We also have old pictures, journals and even letters from past generations of family members. So it really was special when I received an envelope from one of our cousins that included letters my Dad wrote to her father, my uncle, when Dad was overseas in Athens during World War II. He must have been twenty-two at the time and, according the the two letters I received, he was hoping to be released from service in time to return home by Christmas, 1945. In all honesty, I don’t know if Dad made it home in time for Christmas or not…
Dad spent much of his military service in Italy and Greece. He had attended Army school to decode messages and was even asked to stay on as an instructor. But, Dad had been promised a chance to see the world and so he turned down the offer and headed overseas. While not always on the front lines, his group was one of the first to occupy new territory that had been taken; and the decoding station would be set up.
Of course, I heard some of the stories of enemy fire, friends getting hurt or killed – and a host of other events, including when Dad had to have surgery in a war zone after a serious infection in his salivary glands. He carried a massive scar the rest of his life that I vividly remember to this day. That scar was the result of a new doctor who arrived and removed his stitches the day after major surgery. The new doctor was trying to assert his place on the team and Dad’s face became paralyzed as a result. Even after exercises and other physical therapy, the stitches were never put back in and, as a result, the scar that he ended up with was massive – like the width of my small finger as a child.
I knew that Dad had even been engaged to a Greek woman at one point but he realized the language barrier would cause too many problems in the real world after the war was over. And then there was the guy who stole a truck of soap and tried to sell it in the town square. However, he didn’t plant his exit strategy very well and when the MP’s arrived on the scene, this poor guy was trapped by the crowds wanting to purchase soap and he was soon arrested. Game over for him…
The letters I received earlier this week talked of plans to travel when Dad returned back to the States but I don’t know if that trip ever materialized. He also talked of his friends playing cards and celebrating the end of their overseas service; the reward of going home. It was just surreal to realize that in several years our oldest grandson will be the same age as Dad was when he wrote these words.
Letters are one of the great ways that we learn about the past. Whether we are reading letters from former Presidents, such as John Adams, who was a prolific writer, or family members long gone, we can learn about the past. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received in seminary was when I was taught that when we read a letter, we should either picture ourselves standing over the shoulder of the writer – or the receiver. We should never try to connect with both sides – it just doesn’t work out as well.
As I was reading Dad’s letter, I kept thinking about looking over his shoulder as he wrote the words. It really brought the words to life! When I read the letters that are memorialized in the Bible, I also take a stand on one side or the other. Paul and John, among others, wrote letters that have become part of the Canon of Scripture and through them we can learn about the times and the issues of the first century.
In one of his letters, Paul reminds his church at Corinth that it isn’t necessarily the letters that are important. Rather, we should live our lives in such as way as to demonstrate the important things of life to others. In fact, we are each a letter from Christ – living in us. Paul tells us, in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
My encouragement this evening is that God wrote on each of our hearts – no two of us are exactly the same. My prayer is that we will always show our unique qualities to others and that by observing us, others will notice that we will emulate the words of Christ, written on our hearts. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…