Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your kairos, as a former synodical president used to like to say. It’s your appointed time. It’s time to stand and be counted, and time to make your stance known. And speaking of time, Time magazine has it right: the man of the year is You. You da man. You have left your homes, you have taken up the call. You have arisen to defend the cause of a faith worth dying for. You were in the field, you were grinding at the mill, you were eating and drinking, you were marrying and giving in marriage, and you stopped everything. You heard the trumpet sound, and you came. To arms! To arms! you heard. You donned your armor, you rose to the challenge, and you prepared to march. Yes, you heard that the grand Sabre of Boldness was about to be drawn, so you came.
Well, okay, maybe that’s overstating the matter just a hair. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that you’re really just here to attend a symposium. Still, I’d like to think there is some truth to the idea that you like to be in the company of compatriots all bent on confessing the same Gospel.
In the year 1095, when Urban II called faithful men to arms, he told them how the infidel Turks were advancing into the heart of eastern Christendom. Christians were being oppressed and attacked; the holy places were being defiled; and
Nine hundred years later, it is infidel rock musicians who are advancing into the heart of Christendom. And it’s Christians’ ears that are being oppressed and attacked by the pounding of barbarian drumming and the twang of electric guitars; it’s the holy and sacred liturgy that is being defiled; and it’s
But today there are no Crusades, there will be army of Red Cross Christians marching to regain our Holy Lands. A sword will be drawn tonight, but only as a gesture symbolic of resistance. The arms to which you are being called are the arms of spiritual warfare, as the Apostle has described it.
Maybe it’s just my own fertile imagination, but it seems to me that this thing gets bigger every year. It started small; it was just a mustard seed, when, twelve years ago a few random Lutheran gentlemen sitting with Lutheran beverages in a Holiday Inn right here in Fort Wayne hatched the idea of handing out an annual award for boldness. In fact, it was just a whim back then, just a twinkle in the eye. But as soon as it hatched, it seemed to catch on. It seems that folks just love nominating people for this thing.
I guess we all still want our heroes. And ever since the greatest ones in our generation died, we have longed for more of them. In the church, there was Robert Preus, and in the world there was Ronald Reagan. So now we look for more heroes, and we rejoice when we see glimpses. We hear of soldiers like Jason Dunham who died last Thursday because he jumped on a live grenade to save his buddies; and we remember churchmen like Kurt Marquart, who never flinched when standing toe to toe with bureaucrats who flaunted their authority. Our need for heroes has never waned, even if the cultural icons of liberalized
The very existence of the Sabre of Boldness is testimony to our perennial quest for heroes. I might add that it’s this very fact that gives us poor, miserable Gottesdienst editors the idea that we can grant anyone an award of any kind in the first place. Whoever gave us that right? I keep thinking—hoping, really—that the longevity of the award, now in its twelfth year, will somehow serve to provide it with a legitimacy which, if the truth be known, we could never provide. Then again, I have to remind myself that this award really has no benefactors. It’s merely something given as a simple acknowledgment, a humble doffing of the hat, toward someone we wish to designate with that lofty and elusive title hero.
And yet, the Sabre’s recipients over the past eleven years would doubtless blush at the very notion of being called heroes. Heroes? they’d say. We aren’t heroes; Christ is our Hero. Saints and martyrs are our heroes. John the Baptist was a hero; the Holy Twelve were heroes; Stephen, Polycarp, Perpetua, Laurence—people like them were heroes. Or even like Martin Luther. They are the heroes, not we. And who could gainsay that correction? Or dare to add to so august a list of heroes as that with the names of our own compatriots?
Then again, what’s the difference between an apostle or prophet who suffers for doing his duty and a simple pastor or layman who suffers as a Christian today? Which of the heroes of old ever stood and said, count me in! I’m a hero too! Rather, they would all said with John, I must decrease. And so too must this award be understood rightly, lest it be misunderstood as a sort of self-congratulatory thing among us confessional Lutherans. We are not here to award ourselves, certainly. And even if we were to admit that maybe there is a tinge of ego that shamelessly arises in the heart whenever a man secretly wishes he were the one picked—you know, like the donkey in Shreck—we who have our theology right can at least recognize the Old Adam for who he is, and wish ourselves rid of him once and for all. No, this award is for someone else. It’s not for us. It’s never for us. It’s for our heroes. And yes, we do still have them, though they often walk among us unnoticed. Indeed, the recipient of the Sabre bears the Sabre not for himself alone, but, we hasten to add, for all of the unsung heroes in the world, who in the simple course of doing their Christian duty, have quietly steeled their chins against the devil, and refused to let him have his way. When threatened, they were not intimidated; when enticed, they were not fooled; when tempted, they did not fall; and when pressured, they did not yield.
It is this multitude of simple heroes that we salute tonight. In granting this award to one, the truth is that we seek to honor many. We can’t name you, for you are too numerous, and too unsung—you are not really known to us; we only see glimpses of you here and there, in the little acts of courage born of a Christian heart which takes its stand, when it can do no other.
+ Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr.
18 January 2007
Fort Wayne, Indiana