Nearly 250 years ago, a war was raging in America. The new Americans were fighting against the British – they wanted to live in their new land free and clear of their old lives and leaders. This war for independence was called the Revolutionary war.
During war people do unkind things. Later they look back and wish they had been kinder to others – even to the enemy. But during war, most people treat their enemy very bad. The stress of war upsets people so much, sometimes, they even treat their neighbours poorly.
During the time of the Revolutionary war, there was a pastor named Peter Miller. Pastor Peter looked after a church in a small town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He visited people in their homes, read from the Bible to them and prayed with them that their sons would come home from the war alive. He also preached sermons every weekend in his little church.
Pastor Peter had a horrible neighbour. He may not have been a horrible person before the war, but he was now. Every time Pastor Peter walked past the neighbour’s house he would shout mean things to him. When his neighbour saw Pastor Peter in town, he would laugh and call him names. He would make fun of Pastor Peter’s prayers and kindness to people. “He’s just coming to visit you for the free cakes and tea!” Sometimes his neighbour would even come to town when church was meeting just to make fun of people as they came out of the church. “Following that fool, Pastor Peter, are ya? What a bunch of sheep!” Pastor Peter tried not to let it bother him and told his church members to ignore the man. Pastor Peter knew his neighbour was suffering.
During the war, Pastor Peter’s neighbour was having a hard time. He was losing money as his business failed. The more he failed, the meaner he got. One day, so soldiers came to the neighbour’s farm and arrested him. They took him to the local jail and locked him up. In a very quick trial, Pastor Peter’s neighbour was accused and convicted of treason. Treason is when you do something to help the enemy.
Pastor Peter couldn’t sleep the night after the conviction. He knew his neighbour was mean and that nobody liked him because of his angry words. but he didn’t believe it. Pastor Peter didn’t believe his neighbour was helped the enemy. He couldn’t sleep, so he prayed. He prayed for wisdom. He prayed for his neighbour who was now in jail and would be hanged in a week.
In the morning, Pastor Peter got dressed, put on his walking boots and began walking. He walked 70 miles to where he knew General George Washington was leading the troops. It took the better part of 3 days to walk the 70 miles. He stopped only to sleep in kind people’s homes when it was dark and began walking again at first light. When he arrived at the military camp he found General Washington and told him about his neighbour. He asked General Washington to write a pardon which would set his neighbour free.
“I respect your Pastor’s heart,” General Washington said. “But, I cannot set a man free just because it hurts your Christian sensibilities that he be hanged. If he has been found to be guilty, he is guilty.”
“I walked these 70 miles because I believe him to be innocent,” Pastor Peter said. “I beg you for my neighbour’s life!”
“I’m sorry,” General Washington said. “70 Miles is a long ways! Your neighbour is lucky to have a friend like you!”
“FRIEND!?!?” Pastor Peter laughed. “He only speaks wicked words about me and my church people. If anything, he’s my worst enemy.”
This caused General Washington to jump out of his chair. “WHAT!” he cried out, “You’ve walked 70 miles to save the life of an enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”
Pastor Peter walked home as quickly as he could. He arrived the morning his neighbour was to be hanged and entered the town as his neighbour was being walked to the gallows.
“HA!” the neighbour shouted, “Pastor Peter! Come for your revenge, hey? Come to watch your old, wicked neighbour hang!”
Pastor Peter said “not at all” and handed the pardon to the jailer. His neighbour was set free and allowed to go home.
How do you think this affected the neighbour? What about the townspeople? How do you think it made Pastor Peter feel to know that during wartime he’d saved a life? – even if it was the life of an enemy!
We are living in the middle of a war against germs! COVID is making some people sick. But, it’s making even more people angry and upset. It’s even causing some people to be horrible neighbours.
We can choose how we talk and how we act. We can be like that neighbour or we can be like Pastor Peter. Do you know what made Pastor Peter different? He loved Jesus. He talked to Jesus. And he wanted to be like Jesus. He had read in Matthew where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45