Sermon for January 22nd, 2017
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Faith & Film V: Hacksaw Ridge
Three Minute Film Summary
Hacksaw Ridge is a film based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a World War II medic, conscientious objector, and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, which he was awarded for saving the lives of over 75 men, one at a time, at the battle known informally as Hacksaw Ridge.
The film opens with scenes of violence, explosions, and the carnage of war. Juxtaposed over top of this, we hear the calm voice of Desmond Doss, quoting the passage from Isaiah 40: The Lord is the everlasting God, who gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be wearly, walk and not faint.
Next we are taken back in time, sixteen years prior, where we see Desmond as a child. In one scene, Desmond is fighting with his brother, and hits him over the head with a brick, knocking him unconscious. As Desmond's parents attend to his brother, Desmond gazes fearfully at a painting of the ten commandments in his parents' home, at the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill, and a picture of Cain murdering his brother Abel. Although Desmond's brother recovers, this is a formative moment in his life.
Later, when he is a young man, he saves the life of another young man injured in a car accident by using his belt to apply a tourniquet. When he takes the man to the hospital, he meets his future wife, Dorothy, who is a nurse. When the war breaks out, Desmond makes the decision to enlist, even though his religious convictions don't allow him to take the life of another person or even pick up a weapon.
In basic training, he is harassed, mocked, and beaten by his fellow soldiers, while his commanding officers try to force him to quit. Eventually, however, he is allowed to serve as a medic, going into battle unarmed.
The second half of the film centers on the World War II Battle for Okinawa, where Doss and his unit are assigned to climb and capture a steep escarpment known colloquially as Hacksaw Ridge. This proves far more difficult than anticipated, and chaos and casualties ensue. It is here that Doss proves his character, working tirelessly as a medic to help fallen soldiers. When American forces withdraw from the escarpment, Doss stays behind and works through the night, finding one wounded soldier after another, carrying each one to the edge of the cliff, and lowering them down to safety with a rope. Eventually, he himself makes it down and the remaining soldiers learn of his heroism.
The next day, Doss and his unit are ordered to mount a final assault. By now, the soldiers have learned to trust him, and they refuse to go back up without him. But it's Saturday, and Doss is a Seventh Day Adventist. Eventually, he agrees to go, but only after he's had a chance to pray and read his Bible. The final assault is successful, but Doss himself is wounded in the action, and his fellow soldiers rally around him, lowering him down the ridge to safety and even going back to recover the Bible he lost on the battlefield.
As the credits roll, we see footage of the real Desmond Doss, being awarded the medal of honor by Harry Truman, and reflecting back on his experiences, as well as hearing grateful comments from some of the soldiers who had initially harassed him, only to be saved by him in battle.
Climbing the Ridge
There are actually two "ridges" in this film. The obvious one is Hacksaw Ridge, the scene of the battle of the same name. Less obvious is the one earlier in the film--the Blue Ridge mountains in Doss's childhood home of Virginia. Young Doss climbs to the top of a ridge with his brother right before the fight and the accident that changes his life. As a young man, Doss climbs that same ridge with his fiance, Dorothy, and there pledges his love to her. The ridges--both the one at home as well as Hacksaw Ridge, function as metaphors for Doss' struggles and his achievements. It is always in the shadow of a ridge that he experiences self-doubt and tragedy, while at the top of the ridge he experiences moments of transendence. Even though it's not one of our scripture passages today, here it's worth quoting from Psalm 24, which says: "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation."
Wrestling With A Conscience
Desmond Doss's strong Christian convictions come from his upbringing in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It's worth noting that our church hosts a Seventh Day Adventist congregation, which worships in our chapel every Saturday morning. I hope you have the chance to meet some of them some day--they are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. Along with Mennonites, Quakers, Amish, Bretheren, and several other Christian denominations, they believe the sixth commandment (you shall not kill) applies even in war. However, in World War II, many Seventh Day Adventists participated as medics, ambulance drivers, and other non-combatant roles. At one point in the film, Doss says he prefers to think of himself as a "Conscientious Cooperator" who supports the war effort, but cannot personally take the life of another person.
At one point during training, Doss' sergeant tells the other soldiers: "Do not look to him to save you on the battlefield, because he will be wrestling with his conscience." This is ironic, because Doss ends up saving just about everyone the battlefield precisely because he has wrestled with his conscience.
It's something I think we all should do. Even for Doss, it isn't easy. At one point, his fiancee Dorothy asks him, "What do you do when everything you value is under attack? And Doss replies, "I don't know. I don't have answers to questions that big."
There's a scene early in Doss's military training where his convictions are first put to the test:
I appreciate how the film doesn't shy away from the difficulty of this issue. Doss and Smitty, the soldier who was antagonizing him in that scene, eventually become strong friends. And on Hacksaw Ridge, while Doss is saving lives, Smitty watches over him like a "guardian angel" killing plenty of enemy soldiers in order to protect Doss's life as he rescues others. It is Smitty's death that serves as the catylyst for Doss's transforming moment on the ridge at the climax of the film.
Hearing God's Voice
In that critical moment, when his friend is dead and Doss is in despair, he looks to God and says "What do you want of me? I don't understand. I can't hear you. And then in the silence, Doss hears the voice of a wounded soldier calling out for help. This is his moment of clarity. He says, "Alright," stands up, puts his helment back on, and as everyone else retreats, Doss walks confidently back into the battle, beginning the legendary run that will end up saving the lives of 75 men.
Theres a powerful message for us here: God rarely speaks to us as an audible voice from the heavens. If we are truly listening, we are far more likely to hear God's voice in the cries and needs of the hurting people around us. Three times, Jesus told his disciple Peter, "If you love me, Peter, feed my sheep." He also said, "Whatever you do unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done unto me."
Throughout that climactic scene, Desmond Doss's mantra and prayer to God was this: "Please Lord, help me get just one more."
Desmond Doss, Christ Type
In that last clip, as Desmond's hands become torn and ruined from lowering wounded soldierss with the rope, saving their lives, we are reminded of the hands and Christ, pierced by nails in order to procure our salvation. Make no mistake, Desmond Doss is portrayed in this film as a Christ type. We've had one of those in every movie so far--in our first film the Christ type was an alien, last week it was Kubo, a shamisen weilding Japanese boy. But Desmond Doss is perhaps the clearest example yet, and this time, I believe it's quite intentional.
Early in the film, we see Desmond mocked and beaten by soldiers. We watch as he turns the other cheek. He heals the sick, restores sight to the blind, helps the lame to walk, and brings comfort and good news to the oppressed. He tells his commanding officer that even though he will not fight, he is prepared to give his life for his men. And he does, over and over again. In the Bible, while Jesus is on the cross, a thief acknowledges him as the messiah and asks for forgiveness. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene where the sergeant (who has been rescued by Doss) says "All I saw was a skinny kid. I didn't know who you were. I've never been more wrong about someone in my life. I hope one day you can forgive me."
If you pay attention, there's a really quick baptism scene near the end, but the scene that really drives it home is the final one of the film. Desmond is lowered from Hacksaw Ridge on a stretcher, as if he is being lowered into a grave. Then the camera pans around underneath the stretcher, and as the light shines down on him, it almost appears as if his is being raised up again into the heavens. I'd like to conclude, as this amazing film does, with that powerful scene.