Chattanooga Shooting Memorial Service

Bible Book: John  10 : 10
Subject: Funeral; America; Honor in Service; Death; Violence; Remembering
[Editor's Note: Pastor Stewart received an invitation to speak briefly at a memorial/prayer service a few days after the tragic shooting in Chattanooga. There were over 2,000 in attendance including Chattanooga's City and County Mayors, the Chattanooga Police Chief, and members of some families of those fallen. What follows is the transcript of his message at the service.]

John 10: 10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Last week, on Thursday, July 16, we were given an ugly, painful reminder of the hatred, evil, and darkness which resides in the hearts of some in our world. We we’re reminded that we live in a troubled world, a world in turmoil, and a world looking over its shoulder and around every corner because we don’t know where the next moment of terror will arise. Terrorism is no longer just another news story that America hears from a far away place on the nightly news. It became a reality in our own backyard.

However, on Friday morning, the sun arose on a new day. It was a vivid reminder that God was not shaken and God had not changed. While we were all filled with shock and panic, God was not taken by surprise nor was He wringing His hands wondering what He should do. He is still Sovereign upon the throne and the universe is still under His control.

On the eve of our nation’s struggle for independence, Dr. Joseph Warren, President of the Revolutionary Massachusetts Congress wrote to his fellow Americans, “Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of...On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

In the minutes, hours, and days following the tragedy last week, our city leaders (both the uniformed officers, EMT workers, and elected officials) in Chattanooga fulfilled that founding father’s words with their swift, determined, and thorough response which brought both comfort and calm to our area. For that, we thank you.

Tonight, I am reminded that while there is so much that is wrong in America, as I look out across this audience of people, I am reminded of so much that is still right. This crowd is made up of those that are teachers, patrolmen, firefighters, construction workers, truck drivers, home keepers, convenience store clerks, nuclear operators, civic leaders, students, politicians, and ministers of the gospel. There are black and white; young and old; democrats and republicans. But, tonight, we stand together in the grace of God simply as Americans.

That ancient thought that overwhelmed Joseph’s heart has proven true, “What you meant for evil, God has used for good.” God always knows how to transform tears into pearls.

As we reflect upon these lives that have been cut so short, all we can now do for our heroes is remember them for who they were and what they did. It is now our responsibility to ensure that these heroes will not have died in vain.

I. We Remember Their Service

Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:3, “...endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” A good soldier is one noted by with honor, bravery, mettle, faithfulness, and readiness. When you see the American flag flying, I hope you’re reminded not just what it stands for, but for what it cost! The price has always been high, but our brave men and women have never been unwilling to pay that price. Cemeteries across our land are filled with thousands of simple white markers.

Under such a marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small-town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There on the western front, Treptow was killed while trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire. We are told after Pvt. Treptow was killed, a diary was found on his body in which he had inscribed the following pledge: ''America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.''

Each of these men understood such a thought and lived out the words of another founding father. Samuel Adams said, “The liberties of our country...are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors ...[who] purchased them for us with toil and danger.”

II. We Remember Their Sacrifice

Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Since our nation’s beginning, the nobility, devotion, and selflessness of those who have defended America is without debate. Each of these fallen men were standing at beck and call of our nation ready to defend you and I and our freedoms. However, on that fateful day, the majority were unable to even defend themselves.

There was a time in our world as nations or groups fought that the enemy was very recognizable. It may have been their unique uniform, or perhaps their distinct language, or even the flag which they flew. However, today, the enemy is difficult to recognize because we are fighting against an idea. A concept and a philosophy that begins in the heart and mind wicked and violent men, and then they act it out. You cannot shoot an idea down with a bullet. You cannot kill an idea with a bomb. The only way thing that can overcome an idea is a better idea. That idea is the love, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

III. We Remember Their Significance

It was an attack against unsuspecting, innocent men and women. All of these individuals we remember here today committed no offense against another nation. They were merely going about their daily routine and working hard to provide for their families and to build the life they dreamed of.

I think of the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been — some lost the chance to be a husband and a father or revered old men. Men who would never know the joy of being a grandparent, or the pride of watching a child's graduation. The sons and daughters who will now have to grow up and navigate their way through this crazy world without a father. Men who were looking ahead, imagining the mark they'd make on the world.

You see, when they each died, they gave up two lives on that day: the life they had, and the life they would’ve had. No words, no ceremony, no plaques or stones -- no amount of tears -- will ever replace these losses. But, may today’s memorial provide all of us here with a daily reminder to take nothing for granted. Appreciate our freedoms. Count our blessings. Strive to help our fellow man. And cherish our friends and families.

I think tonight about General Matthew Ridgeway who, the night before D-Day, tossed sleepless on his cot, and talked to the Lord and listened for the promise He had made to Joshua, “I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Even in moments such as these, God stands behind His promises and gives to us His faithful presence and peace.

We owe these lives a debt we can never repay, and all we can do is remember them, and to see that other young men and women never have to join them.