Each year during National Police Week, the church I am privileged to pastor hosts an appreciation and memorial banquet. We do this to honor the service and sacrifice of Law Enforcement Officers currently serving, as well as those who have given their lives in service to their communities.
With our nation more divided than ever, I sensed the need to inspire and encourage the men and women who put on the uniform each day to protect our communities, as well as those serving around our country. It is in that effort, that I share the remarks that I presented to our gathering of local law enforcement officers and their families this past week.
While many of you already know this, Peace Officers Memorial Day was established by a joint resolution of the United States Senate and House of Representatives in October of 1962, which directed President John F. Kennedy to designate May 15th of each year as the day we honor those who have given their lives in the line of duty.
Each year since May of 1963, as many as 40,000 surviving family members, fellow officers, and elected officials have gathered in our nation’s capital for a candlelight memorial to honor all those who have given their lives—AND to read the names of recently lost officers whose names are being inscribed on the memorial wall. This past Saturday—at this year’s gathering—144 officer’s names were read in honor of their sacrifice in 2016.
As a Police Chaplain of many years, I often hear a familiar question asked of those in Law Enforcement – “WHY?” The question is not so much in regards to why so many Law Enforcement lives were lost (which is certainly a valid question)—or even why someone would commit such an act as to take their lives (also a valid question)—but another “why?” Why do you do it? Why do you put on the uniform, step into a patrol car, conduct traffic stops, or fight against crime? Have you considered “WHY” you do what you do?
I can’t be the money, right? I don’t need to remind any of you in this room (except maybe those elected officials among us…lol), that your compensation isn’t what got you into law enforcement—OR what KEEPS you in law enforcement. It’s got to be something else.
It’s not the occasional free meal. They’re nice when they come along, but they are often few and far between…and sometimes “free” doesn’t end up to be much of a bargain anyway.
It’s certainly not the public support and accolades, is it? Unfortunately, that rises and falls with whatever media storm or “trending topic” we’re facing at the moment.
I doubt it was for the uniform, either. After all, who wakes up on a 100 degree day with a burning desire to put on a bullet proof vest AND a DARK BLUE uniform and chase down a wanted fugitive in the woods of Missouri (or wherever you are)?
For most of you, you entered the life of law enforcement because you wanted to SERVE…and to make your community a better place to live. The reason you became a Law Enforcement Officer is your “WHY?” And if you are going to stay in it…or be successful at it…you have to figure out the WHY.
The “WHY” is what keeps you going when you’re behind on the reports you’re required to complete at the beginning…middle…and end of your shift. Your WHY is what keeps you going when your supervisor is on your back, or there’s been a citizen complaint from someone you were trying to HELP. Your WHY is what keeps you on the job when something ELSE…ANYTHING ELSE looks better than what you’re doing at the moment.
I have discovered, that anytime any of us struggle with the job we are doing (officer and civilian alike), it is because we question our WHY. You need to REMIND yourself WHY you got into this in the first place. And when you remember, I would challenge you to embrace that WHY again.
If you have ever questioned whether what YOU are doing is making a difference or is even worth it anymore? You need to be reminded—YEAH! It’s worth it!
It’s worth it to the husband, the wife, or the entire family you spared when you removed a drunk driver from the streets or highway. It’s worth it to the store owner, when your presence was the difference between their store being broken into or vandalized because you were driving by that night. Or when you answered their alarm call for the fifteenth time only to find out that it was the neighbor’s cat. It was worth it then, too.
I know you KNOW these things…but sometimes we have to REMIND ourselves don’t we? That’s the purpose behind the safety campaigns like, “Click it. Or Ticket,” or “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” They REMIND the public to do the things they already know they should be doing. It is that same reason, YOU need to REMIND yourself why you do this job.
When you put on the uniform, you represent the Rule of Law. Criminals don’t like that, but those of us who try to live within our boundaries…those of us who respect that law…those of us who prefer order over chaos…we LOVE it! We LOVE that you put on the uniform each day, because we feel safer knowing that YOU are there.
We’ve all heard of the THIN BLUE LINE. It’s that line between order & chaos, and good & evil. It is the line that separates PEACE from FEAR. Some speak of that line in an IMAGINARY sense, but there is NOTHING IMAGINARY about that line. YOU are that line!
You might say, “Well, I patrol the mean streets or lake roads of rural America. That’s not anything special.” Let me remind you, that it doesn’t matter whether you serve in the back roads of Missouri, the suburbs of the Midwest, or in New York City itself—we MUST have that LINE. Without that line, we will never FEEL safe or BE safe again.
As the pastor of a church in a community where you serve, I say Thank You. On behalf of all the pastors and churches in communities around our nation, I say THANK YOU for all you do to keep us safe.
As a chaplain, I CHALLENGE you to STICK WITH IT! This is NOT the time to give up–we need you.
As our communities change, I know that policing has become a LOT more complicated than it used to be, but the need for policing has become increasingly important. YOU are a key ingredient of that process, and we are all grateful that you chose to SERVE in the way you have. Because you CARE about your community, you SERVE.
We honor your SERVICE tonight, but we also honor the cost associated with your service. That cost is SACRIFICE. Each of you have SACRIFICED pieces of your life—pieces your self—in SERVICE to your community. Those we also honor tonight with our candlelight memorial in a few moments SACRIFICED everything to SERVE their communities.
What Is Sacrifice? One writer (Brett McKay) shared this:
When we hear the word sacrifice, we often think of completely selfless acts in which someone does something for another entirely for the other person’s benefit. The image of a soldier sacrificing his life for his comrades frequently comes to mind.
But sacrifice isn’t purely altruistic. The best definition of sacrifice is this: “To forfeit something for something else considered to have a greater value.” (American Heritage Dictionary). Sacrifice does not mean giving up something for nothing; it means giving up one thing for something else we believe is worth more.
This does not at all take away from the virtue of sacrificial acts. Instead of locating the merit of sacrifice in unselfishness, we can find it in a man’s (or woman’s) chosen value system. The man who lays down his life for his family or for his comrades has chosen to place more value on their lives than on his own. What is more praiseworthy than that?
If you’re not sure what your “WHY” is, can I offer you a suggestion? The answer to “WHY you Serve” and to “WHY you Sacrifice” is that you BELIEVE that WHAT you are doing, and WHO you are doing it for is of GREATER VALUE than what you are giving up.
You do not SERVE alone…nor do you SACRIFICE alone. Your family serves along with you AND sacrifices along with you. Tonight, we express our appreciation to all you who faithfully and selflessly serve us, and for the sacrifices you make each day to do what you do.
And finally, I wouldn’t be a very good Pastor or a Chaplain if I didn’t remind you of something that gives purpose and meaning to all of this for us. Your Service and Sacrifice is very much like someone else in human history. HE set the example of what it means to SERVE and to pay the ULTIMATE Sacrifice. His name is Jesus Christ, and he wrote the book on what it means to SERVE others, and to lay your life down for something you believe to be of more value. Jesus allowed himself to be crucified on a cross in our place….because He valued US!
He gave meaning and context to the verse in John 15:13 when He said:
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
We pause to say thanks, but ALSO to honor the 144 brave men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty in 2016—as well as the 44 officers who have already made that sacrifice for 2017.
Whether you light a candle this year or not, I would encourage you to take a moment of silence and reflection to say thanks to God for their sacrifice, and for HIS. I would also encourage you to take another moment of silence and reflection and find your “WHY” again. And when you find it…embrace it…and stick to it!
Make the MOMENTS of your life count this week!
© 2017 Moments of Destiny – Greg Perkins