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Teachers exhibit duty, honor and grace

Anyone in the military, looking at this title, “Duty, honor, grace,” would be tempted to correct me.

The more familiar phrase is “duty, honor, country.”

Those are the foundational principles on which our military and our country aspire. General Douglas MacArthur gave a speech to the corps of cadets at West Point and talked about what the phrase meant in the life of a soldier.

“Duty, honor, country, the code which embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies for the uplift of us all. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. The soldier, above all others, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training — sacrifice. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer his or her life for country is the noblest development.”

“Duty, honor, country” represents the foundation of what it means to serve America whether it be as a soldier or as a citizen. The words of General Douglas MacArthur can certainly guide our service. Serving God offers many of the same ideals. After all, we are a country that seeks to include God in virtually every aspect of our lives.

In addition to duty and honor, I would add grace. Grace identifies us as Christ followers. Grace, when properly understood, establishes our witness to the community and world around us.

A teacher in Sunday school once asked a couple of 5-year-olds to define “grace.” One said, “It’s a real long prayer my daddy says at Thanksgiving while the mashed potatoes are getting cold.” Another child said, “Grace is my grandmother’s name. It means, God’s favorite friend.”

Christians claim to know what grace means. We explain what Jesus did for us on the cross. We say the “Son of God” died for us on the cross because of our sins. We are all deserving of punishment, but Jesus was punished in our place. It’s so easy to say those words, but what do they really mean, and how do they impact our daily lives?

The word “gospel” means “good news” and the good news is there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) Jesus paid a terrible price to give us the gift of eternal life but we often put grace aside as the stress of daily living dominates our thoughts and actions.

Duty — Yes, we do have responsibilities as followers of Jesus.

Honor — Yes, we should honor God in everything we say and do.

Grace — We appreciate the gift of grace and then provide the same gift to others.

One of many shining examples living a life of “duty, honor and grace” during this year of COVID-19 has been through the heroic actions of many of our teachers.

Joe Heim with The Washington Post wrote about nine teachers who reflected on this past school year.

“There hasn’t been much time to reflect. They’ve been busy. Busy making sure the kids in their classrooms kept their masks on. And making sure the kids at home kept their cameras on. They had to keep their students physically safe and distant and mentally safe and connected.”

“They’ve been busy teaching, too. Teaching under conditions and in ways they never imagined before the coronavirus made Zoom, quarantining and temperature checks as much a part of the day as reading, writing and recess.”

A longtime teacher recognized that something was missing from the sterile classroom. And so at the beginning of each week, he stopped at a local grocery store to buy flowers which he placed around his classroom. He wasn’t sure his students would even notice, but soon they were commenting on them and even walking over to smell the flowers through their masks. And if he forgot to bring flowers, they reminded him.

He added, “In some ways the year brought him and his students closer together, and he considers it one of his most successful teaching experiences.”

Duty — The teachers certainly managed to fulfill their duty to be the best they could.

Honor — They honored their profession and their community with their service.

Grace — These teachers set an example of grace for themselves and a life of grace before their students under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

“When it was time to go, I asked them to show me their faces as they walked out. I wanted to really see them,” one teacher said. “I knew I’d be thinking about them all day and I needed faces. So they formed a line, and as they walked out, each of them unhooked a mask from an ear and flashed me a smile. When they were gone, I cried. When I told my spouse about it, I cried. I’m telling you, and I’m crying.”

Duty, honor, country and duty, honor, grace – words to live by as we honor those who serve and celebrate the gift of being Americans and followers of Jesus Christ.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@ vaumc.org.