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*Illustration:* For eight hours, he prepares his uniform and his mind for duty.
Every day of his duty, he gets a fresh haircut.
And when he is on duty, he will not vary from his command a single step, or for a single second, no matter the weather, no matter the hour of the day, no matter the day of the week, no matter the number of people watching, and no matter if no one watches at all.
You’ve seen his picture, of course, for he is the unflinching guard, the sentinel, a member of the Third Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, the men who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside our nation’s capitol.
For every minute of every day, since July 2, 1937, the Old Guard has stood guard.
And there is nothing casual about the way the work is done in Arlington.
When a sentinel comes on duty, he walks exactly 21 steps across the tomb, representing the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary.
When he turns, he faces the tomb, and remains in that position for 21 seconds.
He turns again and walks 21 steps across the tomb.
When he completes the short journey, he stops, turns toward the tomb, and pauses for 21 seconds.
Over and over, the sentinel repeats the process, until his shift is completed.
When the job is done well, it is nearly impossible to discern any movement of the young soldier’s head, or weapon.
With an average age of only 22, these young, enlisted men and women, with ranks ranging only from Private First Class to Specialist, prepare for weeks to take a turn at the tomb.
They will be assigned to groups by their height.
No more than two inches will separate those who take responsibility for duty shifts.
And yet, somehow, all of the sentinels seem taller, straighter, and a bit prouder.
Part of the reason for the ramrod appearance would be from the shoes the soldiers wear.
Though they are standard, military issue boots, the heels and soles are built up a bit, not for protection from the weather, but to aid in the walking, the turning, and the distinctive clicking of the heels.
Strict training ensures that the guard will be unflinching and unwavering in duty, no matter the heat of summer, no matter the driving rain of December, or the frozen snow of February.
And most importantly of all, the guard will remain posted, and the steps will remain perfect, even when there is not another soul in sight, when no one is watching to see if the sentinel remains diligent at midnight.
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Let us say something about the members of the Third Infantry Regiment of the US Army.
If you want to join this group, you’ll have to learn a new way to walk.
To walk in the same way as the rest of the humans in Arlington National Cemetery is to give up the privilege of walking with the Old Guard.
To miss a single step when it’s your turn to guard the tomb is to miss the opportunity to stand with those who’ve stood before you.
To misunderstand the motivation behind your duty is to miss the point entirely.
For this is the point: Inside the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery are men who gave their lives for the freedom we know.
Surrounding the Tomb of the Unknowns are more than a quarter of a million graves of others who gave their lives in service to this country.
And around that single cemetery are thousands upon thousands of cemeteries in the United States … and around the world … where the bodies are reminders that our freedom isn’t free at all.
Instead, it came with a fierce and terrible price tag, and such sacrifice is worth a 24-hour guard, seven days a week, 12 months out of the year.
You just don’t walk the same way when it’s your turn to guard the tomb.
Neither should we, those who carry the guard for the name of Christ.
We’re embarking on a new year, and our minds are drawn to new commitments, or even fresh versions of previous commitments.
Whether your hope for 2008 includes a better way of balancing your budget, or simply finding less of you to balance on your bathroom scales, almost everyone is in a mood to consider change as the New Year approaches.
The challenge from the Bible could encompass all of that change.
To put it simply, the Bible’s message is that we’re expected to walk in a different way, once we follow Christ.
It doesn’t matter if a crowd is watching – as is the case right now – or if no one at all is watching.
It doesn’t matter if the watch is pleasant, or difficult.
It doesn’t matter about the circumstances, the physical, emotional, or even spiritual strain.
Walking as a follower of Jesus requires a different step than the rest of the world … and sometimes, I’m afraid, it requires just as much work as if we were members of the select force that guards the Tomb in Arlington.
I’d like you to find the book of Ephesians, and turn to the fourth chapter beginning in the first verse.
I pray you and I will make this year a banner year for standing strong, for standing tall, and for standing proud of the way we represent our Savior.
The message from Ephesians is incredibly relevant, despite the fact the words were written nearly 2,000 years ago.
The city was a huge city, and a transportation hub.
The culture of Ephesus had several similarities with our culture.
Though their technology was different, their weak points were the same.
They had a tendency to like sinful practices.
They were materialistic to a point of overkill.
They had sexual practices that left nothing to the imagination, and nothing seemed to shame them.
And yet, right in the midst of a very difficult environment, a church sprang up.
As Paul ministered to this small group of Christians, it became obvious that people were hungry for something real.
They wanted something more than what their money could buy, more than what their lustful imaginations could create.
And as they listened, as they considered the life of Jesus, and as they changed their ways, their number began to grow.
In fact, so many people in Ephesus came to Christ and began changing their way of living; the economic core of the city was threatened.
Change so dramatic came to the town; a riot involving 25,000 or more people broke out, with the writer of this little letter being the focus of the fury.
(Acts 18-19 has the full story.)
Eventually, long after he had to rush out of Ephesus in order to save his life, Paul wrote this church with a simple instruction for what he expected of them.
He urged them to do what you’re probably hoping to do as a New Year dawns.
He called them to a new way of living, or as the guards around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier might say it, to a new way of walking.
*Scripture: Ephesians 4:1.*
I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
Take one moment and break this down with me.
Paul was in and out of prison a lot during the last years of his life, and he may have been in prison when he wrote this letter.
Even if not, he was becoming accustomed to life as a prisoner, and he had been imprisoned only because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.
*Illustration: *As a prisoner, as one who was paying a dear price for his faith, he urged others to live the life he would live, if only he were free to be among them.
He /urged /them.
He begged them.
It’s a word picture of people breathing deeply, gasping for breath, because the news is so urgent.
It’s an emergency of emotion … and it’s the same word Luke used to describe the way Peter preached when the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost … with the wind of God bearing down on the city, with miracles happening all around, Peter urged the people to pay attention … Jesus was the Messiah … you crucified him … but he loves you, and he wants you … accept him!
Paul says, nearly breathing deeply with the desperation of it all: “I urge you to walk in a way that honors Christ.
I’m begging you to do this!”
*Illustration: *Ever been called to jury duty?
It’s a “summons,” or an invitation to participate in the judicial process of your country.
However, this invitation, this “calling,” isn’t really an invitation that leaves an option of whether or not to attend.
If you know a good “calling” when you see it, you’ll show up for jury duty!
That’s the exact concept Paul used when he asked his church in Ephesus to live a life worthy of their /calling./
It’s an invitation to participate in the Christian lifestyle, but it’s not an invitation that provides an opportunity for us to decline.
God /expects/ us to walk – or live – in a Christ-honoring way the same way a judge expects you to show up when he or she “invites” you to court!
But before we consider how we might live in 2008, we can’t miss a foundational point of the Bible’s message of how we come to be included in this invitation to walk a certain way.
The way you live has nothing to do with the way you were saved.*
*Ephesians 2:8-10 *
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Paul is always careful to remind us that we’re saved by grace, and by no other means.
You can’t avoid enough sins, bake enough pies, make enough hospital visits, read enough Bible, or give enough money to be saved.
Just can’t.
You can’t “walk in a way that honors God” and hope that’ll be enough to walk your way into heaven.
If we haven’t accepted the gift of grace, there will be no grace at all.
*Illustration: *With Christmas just passed, I suppose this room is filled with people who’ve received all kinds of electronic gadgets as Christmas gifts.
My goodness … you’ve got MP3 players, PDA’s, DVD players, cell phones, and personal computers loaded up with software that will make your head spin.
Now here’s the deal.
If you received such a gadget as a gift this Christmas, it was free.
It didn’t cost you a dime.
You didn’t have to pay taxes on it, and you didn’t have to wait in line in an overcrowded store to buy it.
You didn’t have to pay for shipping, and you didn’t even have to wrap it.
Your one and only goal in the transaction was receiving and accepting the gift.
That’s it.
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