February 7, 2021
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:23
Standing together and singing hymns while your ship sinks into the waves, taking you to your certain death, is not normal behavior. And yet the Four Chaplains did exactly this on Feb. 3, 1943. Through their sacrifice, others were spared and many more have been inspired. Perhaps as they considered their actions that frigid night, they had in mind the words of Paul from our lectionary today, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
Chaplain John Sears serves as a Navy chaplain today. He, his wife and their two children are on their way to Okinawa, where he will take up his duties with Marines, Sailors and their families. Though he has not gone down with his ship, his life as a chaplain has included “doing it all for the sake of the gospel.”
Having helped new Marine recruits through bootcamp, Chaplain Sears went with Marines to Haiti to assist following a devastating earthquake. He then was assigned to cover 10 states visiting military recruiters scattered from small villages to large cities, and most recently he supported the Coast Guard as they responded to a multitude of taskings literally across our great nation.
In early 2019, Chaplain Sears created a foodbank for his “Guardsmen” (all genders) and their families as they tried to make ends meet in New York City during the 35-day government shutdown. Later that year, he accompanied his flock to the Mexican border to help care for migrant families and individuals. During his time there, he led discussions on how we treat migrants as people and children of God. His Guardsmen helped young migrant children obtain soccer balls, connected them with older siblings, and even helped unite them with parents. Chaplain Sears’ Guardsmen took to heart the insight that they were to humanize the institutional process they could not change.
In 2020, Chaplain Sears was with his people again. When the hospital ship USNS Comfort was dispatched to New York City to aid in treating victims of the pandemic, the Coast Guard was tasked to provide security. This involved literally hundreds of Guardsmen at all times of the day and night, seven days a week. Over the course of the few weeks the Comfort stayed in NYC, Chaplain Sears made more than 1,300 personal phone calls to check on his Guardsmen and their loved ones, ensuring that as they cared for others, they knew they were cared for themselves. He was augmented with a group of 10 others to visit, support and help those serving. The chaplain and his team addressed personal and family needs, and perhaps more importantly, brought assurance and peace during fear and confusion.
Today, Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincies endorses more than 150 ministers of the word and sacrament who, like Sears, do it all for the sake of the gospel. Like Paul, they serve around the world, on ships, in the field, with incarcerated individuals and alongside veterans in hospitals. And they do it so they may share with them in the blessings of the gospel of peace.
Lyman M. Smith, Captain, CHC, USN, Retired, Co-Director of the Presbyterian Counsel for Chaplains and Military Personnel
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, February 7, 2021, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
First Reading Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Gospel Mark 1:29-39
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Federal Chaplaincies
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
DeAmber Clopton, Office of the General Assembly
Clayton Cobb, Board of Pensions
Let us pray:
Lord, as our Savior loved us enough to join us here in our world, may we love your children enough to join them where they live. We pray today for our chaplains who go forth, sent by you, to be with those they serve. Today, whether it be in a desert in the Middle East, on a ship in the Pacific, in a prison in Texas, in a hospital in California, or in many other settings, we give you thanks for the chaplains who are doing it all for the sake of the gospel. Enable, encourage and excite them as they bring your presence to all. Lord, may your voice of discernment be heard by those in ministry as you raise up more chaplains from the seeds that are planted. May others know your peace through the Prince of Peace. This we pray in your holy name. Amen.