Sermon Illustrations on the military


Human Nature: We Fight Our Neighbors

In the sixteenth century, there were close to seventy wars involving the nations and states of Europe. The Danes fought the Swedes. The Poles fought the Teutonic Knights. The Ottomans fought the Venetians. The Spanish fought the French—and on and on. If there was a pattern to the endless conflict, it was that battles overwhelmingly involved neighbors.

You fought the person directly across the border, who had always been directly across your border. Or you fought someone inside your own borders: the Ottoman War of 1509 was between two brothers. Throughout the majority of human history, encounters—hostile or otherwise—were rarely between strangers. The people you met and fought often believed in the same God as you, built their buildings and organized their cities in the same way you did, fought their wars with the same weapons according to the same rules.

Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, Little, Brown, and Co, 2019


Begging to Stay

During his time as commander in the Roman army, Caesar Augustus (who would become the first Roman Emperor) had to relieve a soldier from duty for bad behavior. The man begged to remain in military service, but Augustus wouldn’t budge. Finally the man said, “How am I to go home? What shall I tell my father?” “Tell your father that you didn’t find me to your liking,” the emperor answered.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Bunker Warfare

It was the Fall of 1914.

This war was different from those that had come before. The invention of the machine gun, as well as other high-powered weapons, meant that armies could no longer charge their foes without suffering mass casualties. And so, as Allied forces beat back the German army, the Germans dug in, literally. The earth protected them, allowing them to hold their ground. 

The allied forces realized they couldn’t advance, so they dug in too. What began with small foxholes, bunkers, and ditches developed into thirty-five thousand miles of trenches that crisscrossed war-torn Europe. Offering protection from enemy fire, these trenches stalemated many battles, sometimes for years. The longer the armies stayed, the deeper, longer, and more secure their entrenchments grew. 

Knowing the enemy bunker lay as close as fifty yards away, soldiers learned to lie low in the trench. Leaving their bunker or peeking over the top could well be their last move. Barbed wire stretched across the tops of bunkers and through the land between-no man’s land. Snipers found vantage points from which they could shoot at soldiers daring to move out of their hole. Advancement was almost impossible. 

Bunkers grew in sophistication, but most of their conditions were detestable. Some soldiers drowned in the mud. Some died of disease. Some lost feet due to trench foot. Many died from bullet shells, or poison gas. All suffered from trying to figure out what to do with sewage, dead bodies, flies, and rats. 

Still, if you were in World War I, hunkering down in a bunker, trench, or foxhole might give you the best chance of survival. You could lob grenades and stick your gun over the top while keeping your head low. The problem is that if someone with a better view wasn’t giving you an idea of what was going on, you couldn’t leave your bunker until the other side surrendered or died. Even then, you may have felt safer staying right where you were.

With each side holed up, refusing to talk and engaging only through violence, the bunkers of war were void of peacemaking. The bunkers of life are no different.

Brian Jennings, Dancing in No Man’s Land: Moving with Peace and Truth in a Hostile World, NavPress.

Dunkirk: A Ragtag Armada

In his book, The Word and Power Church, Doug Banister writes:

The spring of 1940 found Hitler’s panzer divisions mopping up French troops and preparing for a siege of Great Britain. The Dutch had already surrendered, as had the Belgians. The British army foundered on the coast of France in the channel port of Dunkirk. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 allied troops faced capture or death.

 The Furhrer’s troops, only a few miles away in the hills of France, closed in on an easy kill. The Royal Navy had enough ships to save barely 17,000 men, and the House of Commons was told to brace itself for “hard and heavy tidings.”

Then while a despairing world watched with fading hope, a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America’s Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history.

The church, likewise, is God’s ragtag armada. The church is a mix of flawed individuals on a rescue operation commissioned by God.

Submitted by Chris Stroup, Doug Banister, The Word and Power Church, pp. 33–34.

Four Thousand Deaths Over a Bucket

From the late Middle Ages until the Renaissance, northern Italy divided into factions who supported rival political powers, which further intensified their border disputes. According to legend, in 1325, a huge conflict erupted when soldiers form the town of Modena stole an oak bucket from the nearby rival town of Bologna. The thieves mockingly displayed the bucket for all to see.

Outraged, the Bolognese army marched to Modena to recover their bucket and pride. When the Modenese refused their demand, the Bolognese declared war. This event became known as the War for the Oaken Bucket. Bologna summoned a mighty army from the Guelph cities. Thirty thousand men-at-arms, two thousand knights, and Pope John XXII himself joined the chase of reclaiming the bucket.

The Modenese by contrast, only gathered five thousand men-at-arms and two thousand knights. The two armies clashed on the afternoon of November 15 at Zappolino. Despite being outnumbered nearly five to one, the Modenese managed to rout the Bolognese in just two hours of battle. The Modenese pursued the Bolognese all the way to the walls of Bologna, where they flaunted their victory before their humiliated enemy. A total of four thousand men died that day. All because of a bucket.

Brian Jennings, Dancing in No Man’s Land, NavPress, 2018.

What “Now Means”

A friend often told me about the problems he had getting his son to clean his room. The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.

“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”

Jan King, “Humor in Uniform,” Readers Digest, May, 1996, p. 174.


Strategic Withdrawal

In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage she contrasts the idea of “retreat” vs. “stragetic withdrawal”

When we hear the word retreat many of us think of the military use of the word, which refers to the tactic troops use when they are losing too much ground, when they are tired and ineffective, and when there have been too many casualties or the current strategy is not working.

When any of these scenarios are in play, the commander might instruct the troops to pull back and put some distance between themselves and the battle line. We often see this as a negative thing; however, military retreat can also be a wise tactic—an opportunity to rest the troops and tend to their wounds, to stop the enemy’s momentum, or to step back to get a panoramic view of what’s going and set new strategies.

In fact, the military is now using a more positive term—strategic withdrawal—to describe retreat, and I like it! Strategic withdrawal captures the more positive connotations of the word retreat, namely, that there are times when the better part of wisdom in combat is to withdraw for good reasons—which can apply to us as well.

Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Begging to Stay

During his time as commander in the Roman army, Caesar Augustus (who would become the first Roman Emperor) had to relieve a soldier from duty for bad behavior. The man begged to remain in military service, but Augustus wouldn’t budge. Finally the man said, “How am I to go home? What shall I tell my father?” “Tell your father that you didn’t find me to your liking,” the emperor answered.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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