Duty, honor, grace and teachers

Published 5:35 pm Sunday, November 27, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Anyone in the military, looking at this title: “Duty, Honor, Grace” would be tempted to correct me. The more familiar phrase is “Duty, Honor, Country.” Those are the foundational principles on which our military and our country aspire. General Douglas MacArthur gave a speech to the corps of cadets at West Point and defined what the phrase meant for a soldier.

“’Duty, Honor, Country:’ Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. They build your basic character, they mold you for your future roles as custodians of the nation’s defense, they make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.” 

In addition to Duty and Honor, I would add Grace. Grace identifies us as Christ followers. Grace, when properly understood establishes our witness to the community and world around us.

A teacher in Sunday school once asked a five-year-old to define “grace.” She said, “It’s a real long prayer my daddy says at Thanksgiving while the mashed potatoes are getting cold.” Another child said, “Grace is my grandmother’s name. It means, ‘God’s favorite friend.’”

Christians claim to know what “Grace” means. We say, the “Son of God” died for us on the cross because of our sins. We are all deserving of punishment, but Jesus was punished in our place. So easy to say the words but what do they mean and how do they impact our daily lives?

Duty – Yes, we do have responsibilities as followers of Jesus. Honor – Yes, we should honor God in everything we say and do. Grace – First appreciating the gift of grace and then providing that gift of grace to others.

I read about nine exceptional teachers who reflected on the year of COVID which was like no other. “There wasn’t much time to reflect. They’ve been busy making sure the kids in their classrooms kept their masks on. And making sure the kids at home kept their cameras on. They had to keep their students physically safe and distant and mentally safe and connected. “It was like teaching under a tornado warning all day, every day,” a teacher said.

One longtime teacher recognized something was missing from the sterile classroom. So, at the beginning of each week, he stopped at a grocery store to buy flowers which he placed around his classroom. He wasn’t sure his students would even notice, but soon they were commenting on them and even walking over to smell the flowers through their masks. And if he forgot to bring flowers, they reminded him.

He said that in some ways the year brought him and his students closer together, and he considers it one of his most successful teaching experiences. ‘It has always been an absolute joy just to get up and come in and teach, and this year has done nothing to dampen that.’

Duty: They certainly managed to fulfill their duty to be the best they could be. Honor: They honored their profession and their community with their service. Grace: These teachers set an example of grace for themselves and a life of grace before their students under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Without God’s grace, most of our lives could be summed up as a fairly meaningless passage of time between all too few moments of real aliveness. Becoming a Christian with all our faults has the capacity to give us a feeling of being alive. We are not any more virtuous, but we should be more aware. Aware of being filled with Christ’s guiding spirit and learn to really enjoy our life.

Laughing is just as much a part of living as crying. Both are acceptable and normal. What is not acceptable is a lack of passion which robs us of our joy and sorrow. The grace of Christ is so much more than deliverance from hell and the promise of heaven someday in the future.

Jesus offers life abundantly, here and now. When we commit our lives to Jesus, something wonderful happens that creates a sense of peace and contentment despite life’s obstacles.

As the year ended one teacher said: “When it was time to go, I asked the children to show me their faces as they walked out. I wanted to really see them,” he said. “I knew I’d be thinking about them all day and I needed faces. So, they formed a line and as they walked out, each of them unhooked a mask from an ear and flashed me a smile. When they were gone, I cried. When I told my spouse about it, I cried. I’m telling you and I’m crying.”

Duty, Honor, Country – Duty, Honor, Grace – words to live by as Americans and as followers of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.