Thursday, June 4, 2020
Weekday Devotion With Pastor Chris
One of my favorite stories to come out of the Civil War was about a sergeant in General Joseph Kershaw’s Second South Carolina Regiment named Richard Kirkland. Ambrose Burnside had massed 115,000 Union soldiers just outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He designed a two-pronged attack to try and drive Lee’s forces from a series of hills just outside the city. The main assault struck south of the city and was ultimately driven back by Stonewall Jackson. The second prong struck against the Confederate left on Marye’s Heights. It did not go well.
Wave after wave of Federal attackers were mown down by Confederate troops firing from an unassailable position in a sunken road protected by a stone wall. Over the course of the afternoon, no fewer than fourteen successive Federal brigades charged the wall of Confederate fire. Not a single Federal soldier reached Longstreet’s line.
Twelve thousand Union troops were left on the fields approaching Marye’s Heights. Throughout the long night and into the next day the wounded and dying cried out for water. As General Kershaw looked out on the carnage from his headquarters, he was approached by Sergeant Kirkland. Kirkland couldn’t stand the cries any longer. He wanted permission to go out and help. In the general’s own account of the incident, he turned to the sergeant and said, “Kirkland, don’t you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?”
Kirkland replied that he understood the risk, but wanted to try anyway. Reluctantly, the general gave him permission.
Kirkland moved down to the sunken road and the stone wall that formed the front line of the Confederate defenses. And then, armed with all the canteens he could carry, he climbed over the wall – exposing himself to every Union sharpshooter on the other side. He was met by a hail of bullets.
Climbing over the wall is what God has done for us in Jesus, making the choice to enter this great no-man’s land in which the wounded and broken cry out for help. In Jesus, God chose to cross that great dividing line which separates the Kingdom of Heaven from the Kingdom of earth in order to be there for us; exposing himself to the hurts and struggles of this world; exposing himself to our anger, bitterness, hostility and rejection.
This, in other words, is not some distant God sitting passively to one side. This is a God who crosses the wall. This is a God who chooses to join us on the field; who reaches amid the killing hail of our anger and sin with the message of his redemptive love.
Incredibly, Kirkland survived that initial shower of bullets untouched. When the Federals saw him reach out to the nearest sufferer, they stopped firing. They understood what he was doing. For the rest of that afternoon Kirkland moved from man to man of the wounded enemy, his own comrades gladly refilling his canteens, to offer what relief he could.
It was compassion that drove Sergeant Kirkland over the wall, and it is compassion -- it is boundless love -- that leads God to reach out to us – to cross the wall – even when we have turned away time and time again. The God revealed in Jesus is a God who longs to bridge the gap; a God who longs to come up beside us and envelop us in his care.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).