Chaplain examines 'To Protect, Serve'

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lewisburg Police officers are special men and women who are passionately devoted to a profession that is a calling.

It's not for just anyone. Our officers go where others fear to go. They put safety of the community before their own. They serve with dedication, compassion, purpose and integrity.

They stand with the innocent against the guilty, with the peaceful against the violent, with right against wrong, with righteousness against injustice. When we take their measure, we find heroes.

"To protect and serve" are watchwords for every police agency. Let's look at them from a faith perspective.

In the Bible most references to protection reflect the idea that it is God who protects us.

In my faith tradition, God works through the Holy Spirit who calls people into service. God calls people into law enforcement to protect us from evil and violence.

Those who wear a badge know the risks. They train, they prepare, and they are well equipped. They, with God's help, are our protectors.

In the gospel of John, Jesus prays his farewell prayer with the disciples right before his arrest and death. In this prayer Jesus asks God to protect the disciples from evil.

Officer Billy Blackwell and Detective Gene Leverette, the brave men we honored Sunday at Police Headquarters, protected us, just as God protects us. 
Then there is service.

Our scripture is from a court setting. Paul is before King Agrippa the Jewish king of Israel. He has been arrested on silly charges brought by the religious authorities. Paul asked as a Roman citizen for a trial before the Emperor, and Festus the Roman governor is inclined to send him. But before he goes, Festus asks Agrippa to look at him; to hear him. Paul defends himself. He reminds those present he is known to them, having grown up with them. He practiced the strictest form of the faith, that of a Pharisee. He tells them he is on trial for believing in God's promise to Israel. When Jesus came along, he was not convinced, arresting many believers, punishing them in Synagogues, and even chasing them to foreign cities.

Then it happened. He was traveling to Damascus on a mission from the Chief Priests. Paul says:

"I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.' I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' The Lord answered, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles -- to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light.'"

Did you hear how Paul described his own call? Paul is appointed to serve and to testify.
When I think about what motivates our officers to go out the door each morning, I'm baffled. They face incredible difficulties. They see us at our best and at our worst. Perhaps it is because while they face difficulties they are also privileged to participate in some of our greatest moments; the courageous rescue, the helping hand, saving one child from a life of crime. They experience the grateful nod of appreciation from someone they helped, and feel the awe of children who want only to follow in their footsteps.
My friends it has to be the desire to serve that propels them out the door and into the squad car each day. Service to humankind. Service to Lewisburg. Service to their families, and to all of us gathered here today. Thanks be to God for their protection and service. 
The Rev. Steve Thomas pastors the Belfast Presbyterian Church, is a member of the Lewisburg Police Advisory Board and one of three LPD chaplains.