Saturday, February 16, 2013

Funeral sermon

          This is what I peached at a friend's funeral 2-16-2013

          The first man and the first woman “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening;” and they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God. The Lord called to Adam, “Where art thou?” And Adam said, “I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  The Lord responded, “Who told thee thou was naked; hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat?” And Adam gave a perfectly human response, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”  In spelling out the consequences of their disobedience the Lord God gave the sentence we hear each Ash Wednesday, “dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”  (Genesis 3:19)

          I was asked to speak about death. Death is real. Death is separation. Death is painful. And death is not the final answer. Christians believe in the death of Jesus, and Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus for all who believe in him. As St. Paul wrote the church in Corinth, “As in Adam all die even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22)

          At the Committal we will say, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother; and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace.  Amen.”

          The last part of that prayer comes from Numbers 7:24-27 where the Lord spoke to Moses, “Speak thus unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, on this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel.”  Following the words of the blessing we read, “And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” 

          The sentence of God is real. We are dust, and we die. The mortal body dies and returns to dust and ashes. But death is not the final answer. God has put his name on us and God blesses us.  Baptism begins, “Name this child.” We receive our Christian name at baptism. At baptism we are washed clean of the sin we receive as an inheritance from our families and our humanity, we are born again in Christ, and we are “marked as Christ’s own for ever” with the sign of the cross – Christ’s cross, on which our Savior died to redeem us.

           We affirm in the creed that Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.”  As Jesus died, so our brother in Christ died. And as Jesus rose, so in God’s good time our brother will rise, not in the physical body but in a new and perfect spiritual body. That is God’s promise, and God’s promise is true.

           But we cannot misuse God’s true promise so as to avoid the reality and pain of true death. We go through the pains and difficulties of life and death and not around them  A Swiss physician noticed five emotional stages in grief: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and, some degree of acceptance. Too quick a jump from death to resurrection may be a sign of denial. Death is real; death is separation – separation of the body and spirit, the end of life and of relationships in this life. The relationships continue. We continue to love despite death. But we mourn the loss.

           Anger is a normal and natural reaction to change and loss. We can be angry with God for cutting life short too soon; God can take it. We have a right to be angry. Life is too short for all we want to do, and sometimes it seems too long, and it is hard.  We want to bargain and we think of the “if only.” But it is what it is and we play the hand we’re dealt. Our brother certainly did that, and when his wife called to tell me of his untimely death my first reaction was to remember the grace with which he lived his life - as son to his mother, as husband, as friend to us all in his many areas of community service, and in business.

           We have all lost by his death, and we have a right to be depressed. Depression can be anger turned inward. Depression  is real. We all have much to be depressed about, in our personal lives and in the world around us. But by God’s grace we have the time if we will take it to feel that depression and to hold on with two hands to the blessed hope of God’s continuing love in Jesus Christ.

          We have no assurance of universal salvation; we are certainly not made right with God by our good works. Our assurance is in Jesus Christ - in his death to redeem us from sin and in his resurrection to new life for all who live in him.  The church at its best is the company of those who share this faith and assurance in Jesus Christ seek to live as he would have us live. And the church at its worst is a place where the envy, hatred, malice, and uncharitableness of the world are made more evident by the gap between belief and practice.  But our faith is not in the institutional church. Our faith is in the church’s Lord, Jesus Christ.  I know our brother lived that faith. I know he can claim Jesus’ resurrection.

           As we will say in the Commendation at the end of this service, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Amen.   

Friday, February 1, 2013

Epiphany 4 2013

Epiphany 4C SABC 2-3-13 Jeremiah 1-4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 12, St. Luke 4:21-30

           “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”  The Greek word is thumos, found 18 times in the New Testament: in St. Luke 4:28 and Acts 19:28 the rage of the crowd, 5 times in St. Paul, once in Hebrews for Moses’ faith fleeing from Pharaoh’s wrath, and in the Revelation about the wrath of God against evil-doing.

          Wrath is one of the 7 capital or deadly sins – Wrath, Avarice, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony.  All these sins are natural human characteristics taken to an extreme that dominates our lives and control us.  St. Paul calls wrath (in Galatians 5:20) one of the works of the flesh, and tells the Christians to put it away. 

          By God’s grace we can put away wrath and replace it in our lives by the love of God we read of in First Corinthians 13 in today’s epistle.

          In today’s gospel, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage” Rage is anger out of proportion. The congregation began with positive feelings toward Jesus. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But Jesus disappointed them. He called them to repentance and a change of heart.

          An hour walk northwest of Nazareth is Sepporis, the traditional home of Mary’s parents, a center of Roman authority, with many Gentiles and Greek-speaking Jews, despised neighbors. Jesus calls the Nazareth congregation to repent of their attitude toward the Gentiles.

          The crowd’s response to Jesus’ call to repentance was anger, and more than anger, murderous rage. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

          Acts 19 is similar. At Ephesus in Turkey was a great temple to the goddess Diana of the Ephesians with an image carved from a meteorite.  (black and white picture of an ivory statue) She was an ancient goddess of fertility.  St. Paul preached there over two years, and his ministry had been blessed by the Holy Spirit. Many had been converted and many healed, so many that the idol-makers feared for their business and raised a riot. But the city authorities held a hearing in the city theatre, and St. Paul’s friends sent him on his way to Macedonia.

          From these bible accounts and our own experience we learn about thumos or rage.  Rage is anger carried to such an extreme that it takes control of our emotions and actions. Rage leads to extreme actions - in the biblical accounts to attempted murder, in our experience to similar tragedy. Rage comes on us suddenly without much warning.

          Anger is a reaction to disappointment, a feeling that comes when things are not as they should be, when we feel we are not getting what is due to us, what is fair. One of the spiritual gifts God gives children is a keen moral sense of what is fair to them. We are of course better able to discern what is not fair for us because we are keenly aware of all our circumstances – or think we are. We don’t know the details of others’ lives, and it is harder for us to see the unfairness that leads to their frustration.

          We all learn more or less well to deal with our angers. We can learn to stop, to “count to ten,” to withdraw and not be consumed by anger in others. Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” St. Paul moved on from Ephesus to Macedonia, to begin proclaiming the good news of Jesus on the continent of Europe.

          We all have different triggers for our anger. Over time we can learn what situations evoke anger, what experiences tend to hook us in. Parents, siblings, and spouses learn what actions and situations give us pleasure and which evoke anger. Those of us who have taken a long car trip with two children in the back seat know what I’m talking about.  And that’s a small example. There are more serious ones.

          Anger and rage are human emotional reactions. So is love. And love is God’s antidote for anger and rage. Sometimes the hard word has to be said.  The people of the synagogue in Nazareth needed to hear Jesus’ true word of God’s love for their Gentile neighbors. St. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was a fruitful ministry of preaching and healing. The church in Ephesus that Paul founded later offered refuge to St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

          But as we learned from our parents, “Mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.” The God who made us loves us and pours out his love on us so we can love others in his name. St. Paul in today’s Epistle reminds us of this love.  By God’s grace we can put away wrath and replace it in our lives by the love of God, love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, love that does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  This love is God’s love in Jesus given to us to share. May God give us grace and opportunity to drive anger and rage from our hearts and replace it with his love.