Veterans and You

Pastor James
November 9, 2023

As Captain Miller dies, he says to James Ryan, “James, earn this! Earn it!” This is a scene from the film, “Saving Private Ryan.” The story takes place at the end of WWII following the Normandy Invasion. It’s about Captain Miller and his seven men on a special mission—to locate and rescue Private Ryan who is missing in action. His three brothers were all killed in battle in the span of a few days. The U.S. Department of War wants him found and brought back home.

The moral question such a plot raises is, of course, the (relative) value of each person’s life: why should so many lives be sacrificed (five, including Captain Miller’s) to save just one life? There is no good answer. The only resolution the film offers is Captain Miller’s dying word to Private Ryan, “James, earn this! Earn it!”

At the end of the movie, standing in front of Captain Miller's grave, James says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I've tried to live my life the best I could.... I hope that at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”

We are deeply moved by the sacrifice Captain Miller and others made for James. Equally admirable is how James had never forgotten what they did for him. None of us has had that kind of dramatic experience.

But as we observe Veterans Day, we are reminded that we have received essentially the same benefit, though indirectly. If the veterans could speak to us with their dying breaths, they would echo Captain Miller’s words: “Earn this! Earn it!”

We can say that all the freedoms and benefits we enjoy in this great country of ours are paid for by the sacrifices of our veterans. As a country and its citizens, we owe them a great debt of gratitude. One way to show our gratitude is to “earn it.” But what does it mean?

We can start by asking how we are using the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Are we using them for our selfish pursuits or are we paying forward the gift of the ultimate sacrifice the veterans made for their countrymen? Are we striving to be good citizens and contributing members of our society? But how much is enough?

It all depends on how much we appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Those who come to our country from oppressive regimes know their value. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we often take them for granted. Even recent immigrants get used to them eventually and start complaining and demanding more things from our government. It is one thing to have the freedom and right to pursue happiness; it is another to attain happiness.

Why is it that antidepressant consumption is much higher in the developed nations? It may be that the meds are not readily available in the developing countries. Even so, it is clear that all the wealth (along with all the convenience and amenities it provides) and all the freedoms we enjoy don’t make us happy. We have a deep problem that all the political, social, and institutional freedoms cannot solve.

The Bible declares that the biggest problem we have is our bondage to sin—not just because sin is a wicked thing to do but also because it separates us from God, the Fount of life and every blessing. To save us from sin, Jesus the Son of God came into this world in the frailty of human body. He did so to live a life of perfect goodness (which God requires of us) and to lay down His life to pay the penalty of our sin (which we cannot pay). He is the Veteran, who made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the greatest freedom we can ever have—from sin, death, and eternal damnation. You don’t have to earn it; you can’t earn it because it’s too precious. This freedom is freely given to anyone who trusts in what Jesus has done for sinners and follow Him as his Savior and Lord. Accept this good news and live in true freedom, both in this life and the life to come!