"The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace."
As the congregation says a resounding "Amen" the rustling begins. People make their way to the back of the chapel where I stand ready to greet them. I feel good about the service. I’m certain the message of God’s grace came through loud and clear.
The members of my congregation — at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego — have all known hard times. Some have faced the disease and death of loved ones; some are facing their own. Some have seen battle; some have waited patiently and fearfully at home. All have turned to their faith, to one degree or another, as their source of strength and comfort.
The congregation files past and warm greetings are exchanged. I’m truly happy to say that I like these people. I don’t know everything about any of them, but I know something of almost all of them and that is good. I’m at peace.
Then I notice that the young couple sitting in the back of the chapel hasn’t come through the line. I don’t know them as I do the rest. They sit there, heads together, deep in conversation. I finish greeting the lingering congregation — and finally notice that they are waiting for me.
The young man, neatly dressed, hair cut "high and tight," walks with a cane. He looks at me intently and says, "Chaplain, is it true what you said about God?" I panic, thinking back through the service, unable to think of anything that might have been controversial. He sees the quizzical look on my face, pauses, then continues: "That he loves us no matter what? You see, I want to believe it, but I don’t know if I dare. I became a corpsman in the Navy to save lives. I felt it was God’s calling for me to be here, but now I’m not so sure …." His voice trails off.
"What happened that makes you wonder?" I ask quietly.
And he tells his story. He was caring for his Marines in Iraq when they came under further attack. It was then that he was wounded as well, shot in the leg. He killed the attacker, protecting his wounded, getting them to safety. "I killed a man. I wasn’t supposed to do that," he says.
"Oh God," I think, breathing a silent prayer, "for this moment you have called me to be a chaplain. Help me to speak the word of grace to this young man, that he might know your love."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers