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Veterans' Day Sermon: "I Have Your Back!"

Posted on November 13, 2017 at 10:35 AM

Thank-you for your service, to the veterans in our familly, including Dad and Kara and Mike, to all our family members  currently serving, including Alyssa and Joe in the Air National Guard, Matthew at the Point, and In Memoriam to Stephan. Respect and thanks to all our CAP colleagues who are also military veterans. You had our back, but even before that our LORD had yours.

I Have Your Back! (Veterans' Day 2017)


Isaiah 50 (GW)

6 I will offer my back to those who whip me

and my cheeks to those who pluck hairs out of my beard.

I will not turn my face away from those who

humiliate me

and spit on me.

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Copyright © 1995 by God's Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group

In most cases, it just doesn’t mean much when someone says, “I have your back,” does it? For example, I heard a radio ad last week for Kessler Diamonds. Richard Kessler explained that he could work out financing for anyone to buy jewelry at his stores. Then he ended with the tagline, “I’ve got your back.” Well, okay.

This passage from God’s Word, however, is different.

I will offer my back to those who whip me

and my cheeks to those who pluck hairs out of my beard.

I will not turn my face away from those who humiliate me

and spit on me.

No cliché, this passage is a matter of life and death. It actually sounds like someone is being tortured, doesn’t it, like someone doing his making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us back home. Let’s start there.

I Have Your Back!


“I have your back!” says the soldier in combat. I am not a military veteran myself, but for the past twenty years I have been serving as a volunteer officer in the Air Force’s Civil Air Patrol. We do a lot of flying search and rescue and teaching aerospace education. I also teach military ethics or “core values.” At this point in my volunteer career I am a Wing-level officer who instructs the officers who will teach these core values to others.

And so, I have a good book on morality in combat that I use and recommend, J. Glenn Gray’s The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. Dr. Gray was a philosophy professor at Colorado College, but before that he was an infantry soldier during WW II who saw action in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. Here’s one paragraph from The Warriors.

… love, or concern, is clearly observed in combat is a soldier’s care for life other than his own. … And the medical corpsman whose duty it is to recover the wounded from the front lines often overcomes his fear of death and frightful weariness in performing his work. Sympathy and tenderness are not notably present in such people; they quickly grow calloused to suffering. The motive that drives them forward, more than any other, I believe, is an impersonal passion for protecting and conserving life itself.

I said that this is a “good book.” Do you know what makes a book good? Last weekend my wife, Paula, and I were reading an article about reading that quoted a famous American poet about what makes a book good.

W.H. Auden […] distinguished between merely consumable “reading matter” and a “Book,” which is any “piece of writing which one does not read but is read by.” A Book, in reading you, knows you intimately, perhaps better than you know yourself.

If a good book is a Book that reads us, that knows us better than we know ourselves, there’s good reason to call the Bible “The Good Book.” When you read Isaiah, or even just our chapter, Isaiah 50, you will see how we don’t read this Book so much as this Book reads us! Let me share what a friend of mine who is a combat veteran of the War in Iraq texted me about what a soldier means when he says, “I have your back!”

My team worked quite a bit as overhead security, we were literally there to watch advancing troops’ backs. Every single member of my squad had Army Commendation Medals and higher, watching our brothers’ backs was a way of life for 15 months. Most of the of time we didn't know the people we were covering especially during massive engagements consisting of many different platoons and different MOS's (jobs) ranging from Infantry to Rangers to covering engineers, security check points, and the government center in Baqubah [north-east of Baghdad]. It never mattered who we were covering, just that they were brothers and sisters doing their jobs so we did ours.

Like the centurions in the New Testament – who were, to a man, as noble and serious about life and death as Lt Gray and as this combat veteran whom I’m honored to have as a friend – when a combat soldier says, “I have your back!” we all realize how meaningful this statement can be.

Now we’re ready to return to our text, which sounds exactly like a soldier having his comrade’s back, even to the point of death, the ultimate sacrifice.


“I have your back!” says God incarnate. Seven hundred years after He enlisted Isaiah as His prophet, God told His disciples, “The greatest love you can show is to give your life for your friends” (John 15:13). God said this personally – personally, in person, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus is the One who promised to make the ultimate sacrifice, to give his back for us all. In the Person of Jesus the Messiah God has skin in the game. Literally. Really. Everlastingly. For the incarnation of God Himself into our human flesh, first promised in Eden continues. Jesus is both true man and true God.

This is what we Christians have confessed in the creeds for centuries. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” This is what the apostles, friends and eyewitnesses of God in the flesh, wrote and teach in the New Testament. “The Word became flesh and tabernacle for a while among us and we have seen His glory, the glory of the Only-Begotten.” This is what the Scriptures, from Genesis through Isaiah and then Malachi proclaim over and over. “The woman’s seed will crush Satan’s head.” He will be a descendant of Seth, of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac … of David …” It’s this Messiah who is promising 700 years before His virgin birth,

I will offer my back to those who whip me

and my cheeks to those who pluck hairs out of my beard.

I will not turn my face away from those who humiliate me

and spit on me.

In the fullness of time (see Galatians 4) He delivered on His promise to have the back of every man, woman and child who ever would live. He delivered. As Isaiah writes in a later chapter of our book,

He was wounded for our rebellious acts.

He was crushed for our sins.

He was punished so that we could have peace,

and we received healing from his wounds (53:5).

Aah. Now it’s time to bring this Good News of the Gospel home.


“I have Your back!” says the believer in Christ. Given that God “has skin in the game,” by virtue of His incarnation, and has given His back to take on Himself our punishment, our shame, our sin, as He did nearly 2000 years ago now, how can we be sure that His ultimate sacrifice and resurrection include us? How can we pass on the benefits of Jesus’ back to our children, our children’s children, and to our fellow human beings?

Some years ago, our sainted son Stephan and I were reading another good book, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Near the end of the story, in carrying out his mission to save others, the hobbit Frodo loses a finger. Stephan himself had some major scarring from open heart surgeries and so on. As we talked about Frodo and his disfigurement, Stephan lifted up his T-shirt and, looking first at his scars and then at me he said, “Dad, are we going to have scars when we’re in Heaven with Jesus?”

“Yes, we will.” I said what we both already realized. We talked for a few minutes about how Jesus kept His scars after His death by crucifixion in His resurrection and how this will be the pattern for us too. These scars are like the military ribbons that a soldier receives. A military person in formal uniform has his or her resume on their chest, displayed in those ribbons. Jesus’ scars, as Thomas discovered, are like that. Never mind the fictional silliness of stigmata, wounds like Jesus’, showing up on the hands of people in the Tom Hanks movies like Da Vinci Code. We’re talking real life here.

How do we fit in? The biblical answer is “via God’s sacrament of Baptism.” Many people seem to think that Baptism is something believers do as a kind of memorial to their faith. This is not correct at all. Actually, it’s dangerously misleading. Baptism is a means by which Jesus pins the glory that He has earned on us. This is not a metaphor or a mere symbol. “God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Baptism is the way and means by which Jesus pins his scars on us. Which is exactly what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans and to you,

3 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 When we were baptized into his death, we were placed into the tomb with him. As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life. 5 If we’ve become united with him in a death like his, certainly we will also be united with him when we come back to life as he did. 6 We know that the person we used to be was crucified with him to put an end to sin in our bodies. Because of this we are no longer slaves to sin. 7 The person who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6).

This is why, as a baptized son or daughter of God, you will be saying to Jesus this week, “Ah, Lord Jesus, because You had my back when you kept your promise to give Your back in my place to those who whipped and humiliated You, now I have Your back to count on!”


Rev Gregory P Schulz, DMin, PhD

Professor of Philosophy, CUW

16th Sunday after Pentecost

24 September 2017

Faith Lutheran, Germantown


Categories: Thinking Lutheran-ly

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