30 March 2019

Reflections on a Visit to a Graveyard

It was last June. My niece Jessica was getting married to her beloved Curtis. While we waited after the rehearsal for the meal to arrive (long story...), my brother Maupin and I visited the graveyard across the road from Richardsville United Methodist Church (I remember when it was still Richardsville Methodist Episcopal Church South!). We visited our brother's grave. Joe died 34 years ago tomorrow (it was Palm Sunday that year). We visited our parents' grave. And our grandparents'. Both maternal and paternal grandparents are in this graveyard. My father's mother's grandmother is buried behind the Church, the only grave in that location. All the rest are together in the cemetery. So many we had known and loved: Aunt Hattie, Aunt Connie, Aunt Emma, Aunt Fanny, Aunt Kitty, Aunt Ada, Uncle Archie, Uncle Leon, Uncle Jim, Aunt Gee and Uncle Cleve, plus those we never met, but learned to love through our parents' stories: Uncle Seldon, Aunt Annie. But above all Joe, mom and dad, and our grandparents. That's where we lingered.

They've constructed a memorial garden just beyond the Weedon section with a bench. Maup said: "So's you can just sit and remember." He sat for a spell (he was a bit winded that day). I stood beside him and we did remember.

I surely never guessed that the following day would be the last time I'd ever see him in this age. I said our good-byes after the wedding, we headed up to Maryland for a visit with Cindi's family and then home to Illinois. Only to hear in a couple weeks that Maupin had suffered a heart-attack and died. Reflecting on it, I wasn't surprised. He was weak at the wedding; I could see it. Much weaker than I remember him ever being.

We gathered in Richardsville UMC for the funeral and it was such a blessing to see the extended family. But it hit me then as it still does to this day: Maupin was cremated and Nancy, his wife, chose to keep the remains. That means there will be no grave to go visit when we return to Richardsville for him. I grieve for that. I don't know what it is, but there is something about returning to the graves, and remembering, and knowing that here lie the mortal remains of those from whom you came, or to whom you were connected by blood. I can't visit Richardsville without visiting the graveyard. I wish I could get there more often. My sister is so faithful in keeping flowers on the graves of our loved ones. I know some regard that as mere sentimentality. But I think it's more than that. It's a recognition that "what God joined together" death ought not separate. On many of the tombstones there are scripture verses proclaiming this in various ways: "Here we have no continuing city." "If this earthly tabernacle is destroyed..." "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

I'll still remember Maupin. As long as I live I will never be able to forget this brother who was closer to me in age than any of my other siblings (I'm the caboose). But I grieve that there is no place for me to stand by his mortal remains and remember and pray. But I’m grateful I can still stand by Joe’s grave.

Addendum: Cindi asked me years ago where I wanted to be buried. I’d love to say: Richardsville, but here WATER is thicker than BLOOD. I’ll happily be buried in St. Paul’s cemetery in Hamel, which has become our home. And I’ll be near Cindi’s mom. She’s buried here too.

24 March 2019

Homily on the Passion, Part III

Homily on Luke 22:46-62

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As we noted last week, people loved by God, we don't get very far by studying the behavior of the disciples during the events of our Lord's Passion. Judas' sad betrayal, leading the mob to Jesus and identifying him for them with a kiss; the disciples with the unsheathed sword, wacking off the ear of the high priest's servant (John lets us know that was Peter and that the servant's name was Malchus); or Peter's denial that he knew Jesus or was one of his disciples or had the first clue what they were talking about. Selling out the Lord, hurting others in our zeal to defend the Lord, and then wimping out when we could open our mouths and confess...I dare say we know something of all of these and the shame that attends them. 

But what is captivating is Jesus' reaction to betrayal and violence and denial. To Judas, one last word of grace: "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" How often had Jesus embraced him, welcomed and loved him? And even at the Supper had fed him with his own holy body and blood and told him it was for him and for the forgiveness of sin, his sin too. But he turned away in heart from it all and then feared it was lost forever. Yet even as he went to embrace the Lord and kiss him to hand him over to the mob, Jesus is still reaching for him. 

And when Peter's sword swings and severs the ear of the high priest, Jesus intervenes: "No more of this!" He not only stops the violence that would seek to defend Him, to prevent Him drinking the cup that His Father had given Him to drink, but He even here does good to one of those who came to arrest him. He heals the servant's ear. Does His love know any bounds? He continues doing good to those who came out to do Him nothing but evil. And even his challenge to the officers and elders: "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?" What was He doing but inviting them to consider the madness of what they were doing in their hour and in the power of darkness? 

And after they have seized him and taken him into the high priest's house, Peter sneaking in and being caught, being afraid, and denying three times before the rooster crows, just as Jesus had told him it would be. But when it happens, only Luke records this, Jesus turns and looks at Peter. In our sinfulness, I fear we write on our Lord's face the wrong look. This was no: "See, I told you so." Jesus never had to play that game. He never got a high from showing others just how right he was the way we do. No, people loved by God, this was a look of love. It was a look that conveyed to Peter: "Man, you may deny that you know me, but I still love you and I do this for you, and remember that I have promised that I have prayed for you and that when you turn again, strengthen your brothers. You will turn again, Peter." 

It's that look of tender love that smashes the Rock-Man to bits and and leaves him running away and crying his heart out for his own shame in the face of such enduring love.

Such is the gaze, people loved by God, that your Jesus would turn on you this day too. He knows full well, better than you ever will, the countless betrayals and denials and all the harm you have wrought on others when you sought to defend Him. He knows it. For it all, He is going to the Tree for love of His Father and, yes, for love of you. He looks upon you in your nakedness, in your shame, in the mess of your life and when you see His gaze, it is not reproach. It is not "I told you you were a bunch of sinners and that you didn't know the half of your own evil" but it is His "how how much I love you and I will never let anything in heaven or on earth separate you from my love. You are mine."

During Lent and always when we remember our shame, it is good for Jesus to gaze upon us, that we might weep our bitter tears with Peter and all penitents. Repentance that is of such a depth is wholly the gift of His love, of knowing that we have betrayed and denied the One who loved us so deeply and still does. God grant us all such tears, but above all, God grant us all to see the face of Christ gazing upon us not in anger, disgust, rejection, or hatred, but from an abyss of love so fathomless that it swallows up all sin and shame. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Quite the Feast

Today ten of us gathered to celebrate Rebekah Lee Ibisch's 28th birthday (which fell on March 21); she wanted surf and turf. So... We served up a huge baked filet of salmon, surrounded by bacon-wrapped bay scallops, muscles in tomato sauce, sautéed shrimp (with lots of old bay!), london broil, salad (for any who wanted the rabbit food), and her brother made her a fabulous pecan maple cheesecake. It was quite the feast!

Outstanding Homily for Oculi

People loved by God, this is the wonderful homily that we heard this morning at St. Paul's, delivered by Pr. Wm. Gleason. Enjoy!

Sermon for Oculi - Lent 3, 2019
Exodus 8:16-24; Luke 11:14-28 • Rev. William Gleason

Every time I hear about the plague of flies that God sent upon the Egyptians, it reminds me of a story told to me by a former parishioner in Missouri. He was a professor of history and archeology, and often traveled to the holy land for study.

He told me that in the holy land, flies are everywhere. They're so persistent and swarming that people don't even bother to swat them away. They just let them crawl over everything, including themselves.

The middle east being an arid land, the flies are drawn to a person's lips seeking the moisture there. Again, people would just put up with it…until they became too numerous or the person wanted to speak or eat. Then he would take his index finger and wipe it over his lips to remove the pests.

I don't tell this story to make your skin crawl. But it occurred to me, especially in the context of today's Bible readings, how well this illustrates the way God delivers us from the demonic attacks we suffer in this dark world ruled by the prince of demons, Beelzebul.

Beelzebul means "lord of the flies," and is one of the names for Satan. He was also one of the many idols of the Egyptians. When the Lord God sent the plague of flies swarming into Egypt and into the homes of the Egyptians, He was not only trying to soften Pharaoh's heart, He was also calling the Egyptians to repent of their idolatry. He was showing them who is the Creator of the flies and of all creatures; indeed, the Creator of heaven and earth. In this and in all of the plagues, He was calling them to turn away from their unbelief and false worship, and to turn to the true and living God.

Well, Beelzebul, the devil, still plagues the world with his hordes of demons seeking the attention and worship of men and women. He is particularly intent on tormenting Christians since we worship the true God who has delivered us from sin, death and hell through the blood of His Son. Like the ancient Israelites who were set apart and protected in the land of Goshen, so believers are set apart and protected in the holy, Christian Church. But, as we are still in this world, we must labor and struggle among and against the forces of darkness, as well as the "sons of disobedience," as Paul described those who reject the Gospel.

We are sojourners in this foreign land, and the devil is busy trying to tempt us and otherwise make our lives miserable. How does he do this? Well, there are countless ways, really, but in today's Epistle St. Paul gives us a good primer on the devil's devices. He lists three of the worst human vices: sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. These are the go-to sins where Satan knows he can reap the most fruit of his evil enticements.

The first is sexual immorality. The KJV better translates it as fornication. The Greek word is porneia and means exactly what it sounds like. This sin has become so commonplace and so glamorized in our society, and in all of western societies, that it has turned into a perverted, twisted kind of morality. If you're not into it, then you're just not cool. It saturates our entertainment and our news; it is the most graphic and freely available on the internet; it is taught in our schools, from elementary to university (it has nearly become criminal to speak against it). And, saddest of all, it is glorified and promoted within churches, always falsely justified for the "sake of the Gospel." Satan has the world so enslaved to this depravity that he barely has to work at all tempting people to indulge in it.

The second vice is impurity. It's closely related to the first but includes any kind of impure incentive to sin. Impurity is the conceited and corrupt attitude that says it's okay to lie and steal, defame and kill as long as it is for a "good" purpose. But, for the sinner, that simply means any justification to satisfy his desires and lusts.

The last vice is what might be called the bedrock of the others: covetousness. That's the greedy lust of the sinful heart that moves a sinner to engage in every kind of sin. From enmity toward God and His Word to animosity toward our neighbor, covetousness turns the self, that carnal trinity of me, myself and I, into the greatest of all false gods. That's why Paul calls it idolatry. Satan can always appeal to the covetous heart to tempt a man to commit any kind of sin he wants.

This is the environment in which we Christians live. And there the devil attacks us and our faith. He tries to deceive us into false belief and disobedience to God. He tempts us to give up on our faith and our Lord. Like swarms of flies that relentlessly pester us, he, his demons, and the "sons of disobedience" in his service, try to drive us into a weary, spiritual complacency. They want the Christian to tire of fighting the good fight, to give in and just put up with the evils of the world. To go along with and even condone them. Or, worse, like the demon-possessed man in the Gospel lesson, Satan tries to mute our prayers and our praise to God by causing us to despair and lose hope. And, as Luther wrote in his famous hymn, "With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected."

Of course, he continues, "But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected." Christ Jesus, our Sabaoth Lord and our only God, has come to deliver us from every attack of Satan. By the "finger of God," His Holy Spirit, He casts out every unclean spirit that seek to devour us. By His forgiving Word, He wipes away every sin and removes all guilt with which Satan would accuse us. Jesus is the stronger man who overcomes the evil one who, by "deep guile and great might," had taken us captive; who once imprisoned us in his hellish stronghold. Christ has overcome him and taken away the "armor" in which the devil trusted, "the power of death." Jesus disarmed the devil when He conquered death on the cross. He showed that He truly is the stronger man when He rose from the grave. His resurrection proves that death has no power over those who call upon Christ by faith.

The plagues that God brought down on Pharaoh and the Egyptians culminated in the tenth and last plague: the death of the first-born. Just before that, God instituted the Passover to protect His people from that hideous death. The blood of a lamb without blemish was painted on the doorposts of their homes. As they ate the flesh of that fragrant offering to God, and covered by its sacrificial blood, the angel of death passed over them. God delivered them from their bondage to Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Jesus, our loving Savior, "gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." He is our paschal Lamb whose blood covers us, saving us from eternal death. His flesh is our food that strengthens us for the fight. By His death and resurrection, to which you were joined the waters of Holy Baptism, He has delivered you from the realm of darkness and brought you into His light. And in the light of His truth, we may walk as His Children. By His Spirit, we may resist the devil and flee from every temptation. By His holy Word, He has shown you all that is good and right and true. And you are truly blessed as you hear His word and keep it. Amen.


14 March 2019

The Flood Prayer in the Lutheran Baptismal Liturgy

> Compare the Great Flood Prayer to this passage from 3 Maccabees:
> 3 Maccabees 2:4ff
> You destroyed those in who in the past committed injustice, among whom were even giants, who trusted in their strength and boldness, whom you destroyed by bringing upon them a boundless flood....
> Flood Prayer: According to Your strict judgment, You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all...
> 3 Maccabees 2:6ff
> You made known your mighty power by inflicting many and varied punishments on the audacious pharaoh who had enslaved your holy people Israel. And when *he* pursued them with chariots and a mass of troops, you overwhelmed him in the depths of the sea, but carried through safely those who *had put their confidence in you, the Ruler over the whole creation.
> Flood Prayer: You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground.

06 March 2019

A Study

Check out this:

A course on my book, hosted by yours truly!

Thanks, CPH!