Love Story...of Faith

Living Testimony Sunday

1 John 4:1-2, 16-19

Written by Rev. Dr. Barbara Therese

 

       Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:16)

* * * * *

            Once upon a time...there was a boy.  He was 16 years old.  And there was a girl.  She was 14 years old.

 

            The boy and the girl met.  They fell in love.

 

            It was 1938.

* * * * *

            Then, war broke out—the war known as World War II.

 

             It was 1939.

* * * * *

            The boy quickly grew into a man.  At age 18, he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force.

 

            The girl was now 16 years old.

 

            How would their love endure...in war time?

 

            Perfect love casts out fear.

 

             It was 1940.

* * * * *

            The 18-year old man was trained to be a Wireless Operator for the Canadian Air Force.

 

            After completing his training, he was flown across the Atlantic Ocean and was stationed in England.  He was assigned to serve on a Canadian Air Squadron.

 

            He and crew members successfully completed four missions. 

 

            Then on the fifth mission, while he and his crew were flying over Germany, the plane in which they were flying was shot and seriously damaged.  The plane ultimately landed in Holland, which then was occupied by German forces.

 

            Five of the seven crew members aboard the plane survived.  He was among the five.

 

            After landing in enemy-occupied area, he and the other four crew members were picked up by German forces.  They were taken to a Stalag—a German prison camp for non-commissioned officers.

 

            Across the Atlantic Ocean, the girl grew up fast.  She was now 18 years old.

 

            She and his family learned that his plane had been shot down.  Later, they learned that he had been captured by German forces.

 

            How could their love endure...in war time?

 

            Perfect love casts out fear.

 

             It was 1942.

* * * * *

            For more than two years, he served as a Prisoner of War. 

 

            Of those years, he says, “It was hard.  But we had to try to live.”

 

            He adds, “I was treated badly.  If anyone tried to escape and were caught, they were punished.  And then they died.  Only one of my five crew members tried to escape.  He did not survive.”

 

            During his time as Prisoner of War, he was held in five different stalags.  The last stalag where he was held prisoner was in Poland.

 

            He remembers this scene:  “All of us prisoners were on the road, marching.  Each of us carried our duffel bag.  That's all we had.”

 

            At the same time, across the Atlantic Ocean, the young woman knew only that he was alive.  But she did not know where he was.

 

            How was their love enduring...in war time?

 

            Perfect love casts out fear.

 

             It was 1945.  March 1945.

* * * * *

            What happened to him on V-E Day—Victory in Europe Day?

 

            He answers:  “On V-E Day, we were in Germany.  We were near the Elbe River.”

 

            TIME OUT for a brief WWII history lesson: 

On April 25, 1945, Soviet forces and American forces met at the Elbe River.  Soviet troops advancing from the east and American troops advancing from the west converged at the Elbe.  The collaboration of the joint military units effectively cut Germany in two.

            V-E Day--Victory in Europe Day—came just two weeks later—on May 8, 1945.

            TIME IN.

 

            He continues:  “On V-E Day, all us prisoners were walking in line along a road.  German guards with rifles made sure we stayed in line.  We kept walking.  Then suddenly, the German guards disappeared.  They just ran off.  We prisoners were free, but we were in the countryside, not sure where we were.  We walked to a nearby farm.  I remember sleeping in a pigpen for the night.  We got word that, if we could walk to the Elbe River and cross over it, we could get to an airport on the other side of the river.”

 

            He pauses and then continues:  “We made it to the Elbe River.  We crossed the river with a platoon.  We walked to the airport just beyond the Elbe River.  A plane took me to England.  Then another plane took me to Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

 

            [Halifax is large, coastal city in eastern Canada.  Halifax is capital city of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.]

 

            Across the Atlantic Ocean, the young woman and his family received word that he had been liberated.

 

            Together she, his mother and his sister took a train to the city of Truro in Nova Scotia.  There they waited for the ship, carrying newly-released Canadian soldiers, to arrive.

 

            After a long wait, his sister called out, “There he is—strolling down the ramp!”

 

            But the young woman could not run out and greet him.  Canadian soldiers, freshly back from the war, first needed to go to Montreal.  There they received their official leave papers. 

 

            She says:  “The hardest thing was to see him and not to be able to run to him.”

 

            However, within two weeks, he and she were reunited after being apart for five years.  They became engaged.

 

            Their love endured through wartime.

 

            Repeat aloud together:  Perfect love casts out fear.

 

            It was June 1945

* * * * *

            The couple was to be married.  But three questions loomed:

1.  Where would they marry?

2.  What would they wear?

3.  Was it the “right” decision?

 

            Back in 1943, she had become a member of this congregation that we now call the Congregational Church of Grafton.  She and he agreed to be married in the sanctuary of this church..

 

            They knew where to be married.

 

            Second question:  What would they wear?

 

            For him:  He had his military uniform.  Simple.

 

            For her:  A wedding dress in the days following the end of World War II in Europe?  Not so simple.  Among other commodities, like gasoline and rubber, fabric was in short supply.

 

            However, she went to McGinnis' in Worcester—a now defunct department store.  On the day she went, she discovered that the store had received one single wedding dress just the day before.  A store employee unpacked the wedding dress for her.

 

            The one, single wedding dress was exactly her size.  She tried on the dress.  The dress fit her perfectly—without any need for alteration.

 

            For him:  A military uniform.  For her:  One single wedding dress.

 

            They knew what to wear.

 

            Finally, was it the “right” decision?

 

            She and her father stood at the back of the church and waited to walk down the aisle.

 

            Her father turned to her and asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

 

            She looked him squarely in the eye and answered, “Dad, there is not a doubt.”

 

            Her father smiled and replied, “Good.  Let's go then.”

 

            The date was July 14, 1945.

 

            Perfect love casts out fear.

* * * * *

            Fast forward to the present:  July 14, 2019.  He is 97.  She is 95.

 

            He requests that their names not be used in the context of this message.

 

            Her frail health prevents their being present here this morning.

 

            Even so, his request and her health in no way diminish the magnitude of their life and their love together.

 

            Today, he and she celebrate their seventy-fourth wedding anniversary.

* * * * *

            Today is “Living Testimony Sunday” at the Congregational Church of Grafton.  Today is our third Living Testimony Sunday.  On Living Testimony Sunday, we honor the story of faith of some member or members in our family of faith.

 

            Earlier this year, in February, we honored the story of faith of Mr. Bill Chaisson.  In May, we honored the story of faith of Mrs. Lee Paine.

 

            Today we honor the story of faith of a long-time married couple in our congregation.

 

            Why do we honor stories of faith?  Because when we listen to the stories of faith of others, our own journey of life and our own journey of faith may be strengthened.

 

            How many of us here today are in a relationship—an enduring friendship or a committed partnership or the covenant of marriage?

           

            May we consider:  An effective relationship is not so much about finding the right person as it is about being the right person.

 

            For a healthy relationship to begin, to mature and to grow--

one needs to respect and to be respectable;

one needs to give and to be receptive;

one needs to trust and to be trustworthy.

 

            Moreover, the perfect love that casts out fear? 

            That “perfect” love is not human love.

            We humans are flawed.  We are fickle.  We are prone to foolishness.

            We humans do not and cannot love perfectly.

 

            That perfect love is God’s love.

 

            We need to make room for God’s love in our spirits so that we may be the right person in our chosen relationships.

           

            False prophets say:  “If you change, God will love you.”

            Jesus of Nazareth says:  “God’s love will change you.”

* * * * *

            So, dear people: 

            If God’s perfect love casts out fear, where, in your relationships, are you fearful?

            Where, in your relationships, may God’s love change you?

* * * * *