sermon: We Stick Together
Given 21-Jun-14; Sermon #1219B; 37 minutes
Mark Schindler, reflecting that the final marching orders Jesus gave to His disciples on the Passover before He was betrayed was that they love one another, sacrificially sticking together in service to one another, asserts that this command should be front and center in our own minds. The exemplary behavior of the Sullivan brothers, sons of Thomas and Aletta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, five siblings who lost their lives, was a notable event in 1943, an event which led the War Department to establish the Sole Survivor Policy. All five of the Sullivan brothers enlisted at the same time, requesting that they serve together in the same unit, perishing together on the USS Juneau, instrumental in deterring the Japanese from recovering Guadalcanal. The craft was blown in half, her survivors exposed to hyperthermia and shark attacks. The Sullivan brothers perished together, sticking together to the bitter end. Likewise, we have been conscripted into a fierce spiritual battle in which many saints have valiantly sacrificed their lives. We must join them in their efforts to sacrifice for the body of Christ, sticking together through all obstacles, contributing our skills to serve one another, realizing that the sacrifices will lead to unity as resurrected members of God's family. Just as the sacrifices made by the Sullivan family served in rallying the spirit of the American people to win the war, our sacrifices should serve to boost the morale of others making sacrifices, inspiring all our brethren to stick together to attain victory in our spiritual battle. We cannot allow the sacrifices that have been made by our forebears to become forgotten.
Turn with me to John 13. It is very interesting that Kim [Myers] talked about the foot washing as being such an important thing that separates us from the people in the world because that is the way I am going to start this sermon. I think you will see so many tie-ins between what Kim has said and what I am going to say.
As we all know this is the chapter that typically begins the annual memorial service of that perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in which the whole creation hangs. It is also the beginning of His final instructions of what He and the Father absolutely expect from those who have been carefully placed by the Father into the body of His Son. Therefore, these things need to be front and center in our minds all the time, not just during the Passover season.
I want to remind us of the one essentially definitive mark of those who will be Christ’s at His coming which all of us know in our heads, but many deny in our actions from the heart.
The first part of the chapter Kim already laid the groundwork so we will go to verse 15.
John 13:15-17 For I [Jesus Christ] have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:29-30 For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, "Buy those things we need for the feast," or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.
John 13:34-38 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward." Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake." Jesus answered him, "Will you lay down your life for My sake?” Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.
Here we have the record of what immediately followed the washing of His disciple’s feet, even the feet of those that would betray Him. We are very familiar with these verses, but I would like us to consider that the identifying sign is bracketed by the results of two separate instances of acting alone. Betrayal. Although one act ended in death and destruction, the other would ultimately end in repentance and a lesson learned. We stick together, brethren, to produce what God desires.
We will be spending a significant portion of this sermon recounting a true but very appropriate story of a united sacrificial service with its occasionally terrifying cost, but seeing the overwhelming fruit it produced. Although it is not from the Scriptures, it is a very important lesson that can be gleaned for those whom God has called. It is the act of duty together in His family.
On the morning of Monday, January 11, 1943, Thomas Sullivan, who lived with his family in Waterloo, Iowa, rose before dawn, as was his custom for the last 33 years, to prepare to go on his job as a conductor on the Illinois Central Freight Railroad. After dressing and a quick breakfast, he walked one block to board his train that would be carrying war supplies from Waterloo to Dubuque. Normally, his wife Alleta would rise with him and make breakfast for him, but he had told her to sleep in that day because she had been suffering through some very restless nights in the last several days.
Their sons were off fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. A number of days before, a neighbor had come over to their house with a rumor that she had received in a letter from her own son stating that he had heard the ship that the Sullivan brothers were on had been sunk. Because unreliable rumors were always flying around on the home front during the war, she wrote it off as just another rumor. But, because the consistent stream of letters from the boys had stopped coming several weeks earlier, she had trouble sleeping and began experiencing nightmares.
Tom and Alleta’s five sons were all in the Navy. The two oldest, George and Frank, had been in the Navy from April 1938 to April 1941 when their enlistment was up. However, following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in December they decided to reenlist along with their younger brothers Joe, Matt, and Al a couple of days after the war had been declared. The Sullivans were not the kind of people that would rush into battle seeking glory of war, but they were a typical working class American family at the time. As one article stated, their devotion to country was strong, but their devotion to one another was greater.
They were people driven to do the right thing—a family trait seen even as they prepared to put their lives on the line for those whom they lived and worked with. After the brothers had made the decision to enlist together, their father Thomas promised the boys that he would take out a mortgage on their home, which he did, to make sure any debts the boys had around town would be paid off. They left none of their outstanding obligations hanging out there. They would have nothing to worry about. They did not consider their service to those they were going to defend as a relief from their prior obligations.
They were from an ordinary family that did not stand out from a crowd and had no delusions of grandeur. They were so dedicated to one another that even though they had made up their minds and gone down to the recruiting office immediately after the December 7th attack, their enlistment was not finalized until January 3, 1942. They had finally convinced the Navy to agree to the stipulation that they would serve together no matter where they were assigned.
Now on this Monday, a little over a year later, as Thomas prepared to leave for work, three men in uniform: a lieutenant commander, a doctor, and a chief petty officer, approached the front door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” the naval officer said. “Which one?” asked Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replied. “All five.” They then explained to Thomas, Alleta, and the boy’s sister Genevieve and Al’s wife, Katherine Mary that all five are missing in action following a fierce battle that had taken place in the Solomon Islands by Guadalcanal.
Just to give us a sense of the reality of what missing in action meant to a family at this time, I would like to read from the United States Department of Navy historical record. But, first, I want you to turn with me to John 15.
John 15:13-21 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
I Corinthians 12:25-27 That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
Ephesians 6:10-18 (Phillips Translation) In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless strength. Put on God's complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil's craftiness. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, integrity your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. In your partitions pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray [together] for all Christ's men and women.
Hebrews 11:39-40 (Phillips Translation) All these won a glowing testimony to their faith, [those who had died horrible deaths] but they did not then and there receive the fulfilment of the promise. God had something better planned for our day, and it was not his plan that they should reach perfection without us.
Together we are being conformed into this self-sacrificial image of Jesus Christ. The battle is fierce and requires everyone to individually be prepared for battle. But, it is only through a unified body of Christ that we will win the day as we stick together because we use our individual gifts we have been given under the direction of Jesus Christ to serve the body that moves together.
Now on to the Naval Historical Center because I want you to get the grasp of the pain and suffering that was going on. When the United States and Japan went to war in December after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military quickly conquered what are now Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. By the spring of 1942, it was desperate. All Southeast Asia was in Japanese hands. In early May 1942, the first glimmer of hope. A Japanese naval operation aimed at capturing Port Moresby on the southeastern coast of New Guinea for use as a base to attack Allied communication with Australia was turned back from the Battle of the Coral Sea. A month later, a powerful Japanese carrier force near Midway Atoll, northwest of Hawaii, was defeated in the Battle of Midway by American naval forces. Again, this is what was on the Sullivan’s minds as they heard missing in action.
After Midway, the Japanese turned their attention back to Port Moresby landing on the north coast of New Guinea to attack over land and began to build an airbase on Guadalcanal. In the eastern end of the Solomon Island chain, they were building to support their drive for an attack on Port Moresby. This serious threat was countered by the US Marines landing at Guadalcanal on August 8, 1942.
After the marines had quickly captured the partially completed Japanese airstrip, it was completed and put into service as the American Henderson Field. The action was only the beginning of a long sea and air battle for control of this strategic island that would not be resolved until the last Japanese troops evacuated Guadalcanal in early February 1943. For over seven months American and Japanese troops on the ground and Japanese land-based aircrafts and Britain and American planes from Henderson field as well as Allied and Japanese task forces of carriers and surface war ships fought for control of Guadalcanal. This was in the news for the people back home, for the Sullivans.
One of the naval battles was the Cruiser Night Action fought during the night on November 12-13, 1942 that would be called the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. In early November 1942, the struggle for control of Guadalcanal remained undecided. Both Allies and Japanese were desperately trying to reinforce the islands with food, ammunition, and troops and trying to prevent the other from doing the same.
Although two American convoys had safely arrived at the island on the 11th and 12th of November, they had only partially unloaded their cargos when Japanese transmissions were intercepted and intelligence reconnaissance reports indicated that the Japanese mounted a large naval force that would approach the islands on shore to bombard the mission. As the American transports steamed eastward for safety when they left the island, an American force of five cruisers and eight destroyers, under the command of Rear Admiral Daniel Cunningham, took up station on the strait between Guadalcanal and Florida Island called Iron Bottom Sound, owning to the many sunken ships littering the sea floor from naval battles.
After midnight on the 13th of November a Japanese formation of two battleships, a light cruiser, and eleven destroyers steamed past Solomon Island heading toward Guadalcanal. At 1:24 a.m., these warships appeared on the American radar and the two forces closed rapidly. Poor radar communications; however, left the American warships vainly trying to pin down the location of the Japanese warships.
The leading destroyers of both forces sighted each other briefly in the darkness and at 1:45 a.m., USS Juneau received the order, “standby to open fire.” A few minutes later, just after the Japanese search light flickered, the lead American destroyers opened fire at the Japanese warships a mere 1,600 yards away. The Japanese replied in kind and the two formations quickly mingled together, firing into each other at point blank range in glare light darkness.
The record goes on to describe the fierce battle that took place that the people at home knew about and the devastating destruction and loss of life on both sides. The American light cruiser USS Juneau, the duty ship of the five Sullivan brothers, was hit by a Japanese torpedo and was forced to limp away from the battle struggling to maintain 18 knots of speed. She rejoined the surviving American warships at dawn and the six ships, three cruisers and three destroyers, maintained a zigzag course to try to evade torpedo heads from submarines that were still in the area.
However, just before noon, the Juneau was hit again with another torpedo. It hit their ammunition magazines and it blew the ship in half killing most of the 698 men on board.
Here is an account of what happened next from a website called Home of Heroes. It was pieced together from the ten who survived.
The yellow-black smoke of battle had cleared from the skies as the sun set in the South Pacific on that fateful day in November. The deep swells of the ocean, however, still bore the scars of the previous night's battle and the early morning of death and disaster. A thick, black layer of oil moved with the currents, and in the midst of the oil floated the debris of an American light cruiser, the last remnants of the U.S.S. Juneau. Desperate sailors clung to the debris, most of them wounded, all of them frightened. They were all that remained of the Juneau's crew of 698 American boys. It was impossible to count the survivors, probably somewhere between 90 and 140, but such a count would have been worthless anyway. Wounds, injuries, and the unforgiving sea diminished their numbers with each passing hour.
Remember, brethren, keep applying this to the world that we live in.
The heat of the tropical sun gave way to a bone-chilling night, pierced by the moans and cries of men suffering unimaginable horrors. The cries and moans added an eerie atmosphere to a scene already beyond human comprehension. The sounds would haunt the dreams of survivors for the rest of their lives, assuming that any of the men should survive. And then, across the waters, could be heard another desperate voice crying hopelessly into the darkness: "Frank?" "Red?" "Matt?" "Al?" It was the voice of George Sullivan, the oldest of five brothers who served on the Juneau. George had survived and now sought desperately for his younger brothers.
Another source (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sullivan_brothers), although slightly different, adds to what the ten survivors and those involved in the rescue remember about that night. The group commander concerned about risking any of the other ships in the flotilla to the Japanese submarines still in the area continued away from the scene after the Juneau sunk. He did; however, signal an American B-17 on patrol to notify American headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors. In the sinking approximately 100 of the Juneau’s crew had, in fact, survived the torpedo attack and were in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, did not pass the message along, but contacted headquarters after they landed.
The crew’s report of the location of possible survivors was mixed in with other paperwork and the actions went unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realized that a search had never been mounted and belatedly ordered aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, the Juneau survivors, many of who were seriously wounded, were exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.
Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors reported Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly. Al drowned the next day and George survived for four or five days before suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia. Though some sources describe him being driven insane with grief at the loss of his brothers, he went over the side of the raft he occupied and he was never seen again.
The Sullivans had enlisted together. Al, the youngest, was only 19 years old. He was also the only one married. He and Katherine Mary had been married since he was 17 and now with a ten month old son Jimmy, he was entitled to a deferment. However, he went anyway.
This is what his 90 year old widow had to say when she recounted this on the 70th anniversary of their deaths a couple of years ago. “I could have kept my husband out of harm’s way by appealing to him to exercise his right to a deferment, but I knew the Sullivan brothers well, and I loved Al enough not to come between him and what the brothers needed to do together as they had always done.”
Instead, she too sacrificed her own comfort and peace of mind to do what she knew was the right thing to do. Then, in order to survive on Al’s small Navy salary, she and Jimmy moved in with the Sullivans and pulled together with Tom, Alleta, and the brother’s sister Jenny, just as the family had always done.
Perhaps you may feel we have spent too much time on this story. But, there is too much of an obvious lesson for us here to be gleaned from those who have been specifically now placed in the Family of God regarding sticking together or having each other’s back, as Martin [Collins] said last week in the sermon. We may consider ourselves insignificant parts with the gifts God has given or we my pridefully consider ourselves better off on our own with the great gifts we think God has given us for our own use.
But, either way, we are showing God our lack of faith in our great God to accomplish what He has set out to do with the body that is totally united with each other as they are with the Father and the Son. This is the real gift God is giving us, unity with Them, the Father and the Son, as we display our love and unity with one another in sacrificial service in the face of attacking sharks and accomplishing much more than we ever thought possible. Please turn with me to John 14. Jesus Christ speaking again during the instructions on that night.
John 14:12-14 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.
John 17:15-21 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Our unity, so that the world may someday believe that Jesus Christ was who He was.
John 17:22-23 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
Remember I told you the Sullivans were an ordinary family that did not stand out from the crowd, but were dedicated to one another with no delusions of grandeur. If you will indulge for a little bit longer, I will show you what this kind of dedication of a family does.
Again, from the United States Naval historical records, news of the death of the five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort. The posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice and extensive newspaper and radio coverage of the incident made the loss of the brothers a national story producing a wave of humility and sympathy. Condolences poured out on the Sullivan family in Waterloo, Iowa. One woman told the Associated Press, I now wonder how the sugar and coffee orders feel. War bond drives and other patriotic campaigns culminated the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”
Their sister, Jenny, enlisted in the US Naval Reserve as a Specialist Recruiter, 3rd Class and with her parents visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary of the Navy Department. According to a February 9, 1943 Naval Department press release, the Sullivans visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so the war may end sooner.
By January 1944, the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in 65 cities and reached millions of others over the radio. They were a dynamic force in ending World War II. The following letter was sent to Mrs. Sullivan by President Roosevelt when he learned that her five sons were listed as missing in action after the Juneau was sunk.
Prepared 13 Jan 43
My dear Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan:
The knowledge that your five gallant sons are missing in action against the enemy inspired me to write you this personal message. I realize full well that there is little that I can say to assuage your grief.
As the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I want you to know that the entire nation shares in your sorrow. I offer you the condolences and gratitude of our country. We who remain to carry on the fight must maintain spirit, in the knowledge that such sacrifices are not in vain.
The Navy department has informed me of the express desire of your sons, George Thomas, Francis Henry, Joseph Eugene, Madison Abel, and Albert Leo, to serve in the same ship. I am sure that we all take heart in the knowledge that they fought side by side. As one of your sons wrote, “We will make a team together that can’t be beat”. It is this spirit which in the end must triumph.
Last March you, Mrs. Sullivan, were designated to sponsor a ship of the Navy, in recognition of your patriotism and that of your sons. I understand that you are now even more determined to carry on as sponsor. This evidence of unselfishness and of courage serves as a real inspiration for me, as I am sure it will be for all Americans. Such acts of faith and fortitude in the face of tragedy convince me of the indomitable spirit and will of our people.
I send you my deepest sympathy in your hour of trial and pray that in Almighty God you will find the comfort and help that only He can bring.
Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt
To honor the Sullivan brothers the Navy has named two ships USS The Sullivans. The first, one commissioned during World War II, was the first naval ship in U.S. Naval history to be named for more than one person and the only one that actually carries the article “The” in its official name. It was originally to be called the USS Sullivan, but to be sure that everyone knew it was named in honor of George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al Sullivan, President Roosevelt himself ordered that the ship be called USS The Sullivans.
Both the original ship that served in World War II, Korea, and the Cuban missile blockade as well as the subsequent ship launched in 1995 under the sponsorship of Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Sullivan, have continued to carry the motto, We Stick Together.
This was an ordinary family facing and accomplishing an extraordinary thing because they lived their ordinary lives in sacrificial service together. This was not just the five brothers who refused to be separated, but it included Katherine Mary who sacrificed her own peace and security so Al could do what he had to do because she knew it was right. It included Thomas, Alleta, and Jenny who went on to do greater works than the five brothers could ever imagine that their own sacrifice would produce.
The USS The Sullivans is not a ship glorifying George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al, but the whole family. Thomas, Alleta, Jenny, and Katherine Mary went on to do far more than the five boys could ever imagine they could do to contribute to the victory for a whole nation. All because they knew they could only do what they needed to do together as a family.
A little less than one month ago, the United States celebrated what has become the Memorial Day Weekend. It has become a time for some parades, auto races, barbeques, and the carefree joys of summer to begin. Summer homes, beaches, and resorts are open as kids and their parents start summer vacation. People generally focus on the lazy days of summer ahead. But as for all things driven with the carnal mind, its primary focus has been lost in the haze of material prosperity.
Just recall what God said to Israel before they went into the land in Deuteronomy 31.
Deuteronomy 31:20-21 (NET) For after I have brought them to the land that I promised to their ancestors—one flowing with milk and honey—and they eat their fill and become fat, then they will turn to other gods and worship them and they will reject me and break my covenant. Then when many disasters and distresses overcome them, this song will testify against them, for their descendants will not forget it. I know the intentions they have in mind today, even before I bring them into the land I promised.
This is the mind of men. When I was a boy, shortly after World War II, Memorial Day was a specific day that had been set aside to consider and honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for others they did not even know. It had its origins way back in the time of the Civil War when the reunited nation set apart a day to remember all those who fought and died because of the division of a nation. It then continued to be a day of remembering their ultimate sacrifice given for freedom and all subsequent wars.
However, in 1971 as part of the Uniform Holiday Act passed by Congress in 1968, four specifically dated days of remembrance were mandated into a Monday celebration. Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day along with Labor Day came to be observed on designated Mondays and I quote, “To increase the number of three day weekends for Federal employees.” This essentially turned the focus away from the sacrifice onto ourselves and what we have without the regard for the sacrifice that made it possible.
I remember as a boy understanding that, although Memorial Day was the beginning of the summer, it was time when my family went to church or to services that took place at the cemetery in the section set aside for those who committed themselves to our freedom by sacrificing their own. It was a day of parades and festivals, but its primary focus had not yet been blurred into an extended holiday weekend.
It still was a time when referring to the Sullivans meant the same thing to everyone in my parent’s generation. The family sticking together was a standard of self-sacrifice typical of all who would sacrifice themselves to save a world on the edge of destruction. They were a generation like the Israelites coming out of the wilderness who knew and appreciated what had been done for them.
But, as with all men, once we have lived under the blessings provided for us and the entitlement mind sets in, most of the following generations would once again forget and by our own lives disparage the sacrifice it took to get us there.
A little more than two months ago, we kept a specifically dated memorial, the standard of self-sacrifice for all mankind and the reminder of our covenantal agreement to follow His sacrifice in our own lives. And, just as with the U.S. Federal Memorial Day, some have tried to incorporate this very specific reminder of sacrifice, on which everything else hangs, into other days which can cause us to lose our focus.
On one very special evening Jesus Christ gave us our marching orders. The very first thing He did was wash the feet of others there. He showed us that if we will be His, then we must be sticking together in sacrificial love showing the God-declared evidence of discipleship in love one for the other as recorded in John 13:34-35.
God is working to perfect one body who sticks together in order that the whole world may eventually believe that Jesus Christ was sent from the Father resulting in the glory for the Father, the Son, and all that stick together in the body as Jesus proclaimed in John 17.
Under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit now and with Jesus Christ seated at His Father’s throne, we must never, ever forget our tiny little lives of individual services will never produce the unimaginable results of what we will accomplish in following the Lamb wherever He goes as we stick together in sacrificial service for eternity.