This week, we have watched the news clips of the leaders of two nations exchanging words that certainly escalate the chances of tension. As I watched and indeed prayed my way through the headlines and the push notifications of news updates on my iPhone (with two major newspapers I follow sending notices within seconds of one another), I hear the words being said, and I keep slipping back to some other words.
From a sermon on Matthew 27:47-56, the late preacher Fred B. Craddock of Candler School of Theology (Atlanta, GA), told of his trip to Seoul, South Korea, at the request of the U.S. government. In his remarkable sermon "He Could Have But He Didn't" (published in The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), we read of this experience (pp. 101-2):
"Twenty-five years ago, something like that, what's a year, I think it's twenty-five years ago that I was asked to speak at a president's prayer breakfast. At that time, these prayer breakfasts were held in this country and around the world where we had troops and consulates. I got a letter from Washington asking me if I would hold one of these. I said I would and they said the place we want you to go is Seoul, South Korea. "Well, sure, I'll just stop by on my way to Candler." But I was glad to go and I went.
The general in charge, and my host, was General Stilwell, four stars. He gathered officers and enlisted people in this large room and we had the president's prayer breakfast. We had a nice breakfast and then we had prayers. It was not just prayers in name only. The general's assistant, a colonel, had the soldiers there enter into a period of sentence prayers. I really was surprised. I associate sentence prayers with an old Wednesday night service somewhere in the country. They had sentence prayers for mothers and fathers and sisters and babies and for my wife back home and for peace in the world, moving prayers.
There was a young man brought in from Formosa, a private who played the bagpipe. He played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipe just before I spoke. The general sat there with tears and he said, "I love that song."
I spoke; he and I talked awhile. There was a benediction; the room began to empty. I shook hands with the general and thanked him for his gracious hospitality. He said, "I want you to remember us in prayer."
And I said, "I will, you know I will."
He said, "Not for more power, we have the power. We could just one afternoon destroy this whole place. Pray that we have the restraint appropriate."
When I left the room everybody was gone except the general and his aide, a colonel who said, "General, shall I bring the car around?"
He said, "Not now, I want to sit here awhile. And he asked the private from Formosa to stay and the young man did, of course. When I looked back before I went outside, there was the general seated alone in this big room. There was a private out in front of him playing on the bagpipe "Amazing Grace".
Now isn't that a picture? Four stars shining, listening to a voice of restraint."