Benjamin Lane Carrick, Jr.

Note: Today I buried a fine young man full of grace and staggering potential.  His father found him dead when he did not arrive for dinner on Christmas Eve.  It has been a difficult week of inconsolable pain for the loss to his family but also to the human community.  I share with you the homily I preached this morning.  Have a purposeful new year.

©John W. Sewell

Lane Jr.

September 14, 1994 – December 24, 2015

December 31, 2016 ∞ Saint John’s Episcopal Church ∞ Memphis, Tennessee

Today we gather in this holy place to do what Christians always do when they gather:

• We come to tell the story,
• We come to quiet the fear in our hearts –
• And we come to speak to the hope that is in us.


The story begins with Lane. It is the story of a son, brother, nephew, grandson and friend. Family, beloved that Lane loved with a clear and pure heart, not without a bit of cloudy haze from time to time, especially when he was in trouble usually because of a bone-headed immaturity. Then he was winsome, twinkle in the eyes, puppy dog eyes, inspiring if not at exactly forgiveness a weakening of the will bordering, at times, on indulgence, because he had no mean bones in his skeleton.

Lane loved his friends with joyful extravagance. There are friends of every sort crossing all the customary lines, constructed to keep people from reaching each other, race, class, economics, and sexual orientation. Let me modify, that he had no tolerance for bullies and was not a silent observer to such evil. He had learned early,

what I know to be true at 64, namely, that it is important to tell friends, especially the men in your life, that you love them.I ’m many of you squirmed at first or maybe always. But are you not glad this day for having those words? Remember that among yourselves. You need to hear it and you need to say it. Nothing takes its place.

Lane’s story merges with the big of story of the coming of Jesus among us, one of us, fully human that through his death and resurrection not only see authentic humanity (which is what God wants for us) but also by grace that we reach for that full, authentic humanity. But, I get ahead of myself,

I’ll come back to hope in a minute.


Our story fades into fear. There is a fear in our hearts. We are speechless with sadness, we are angry that such accidents happen. Why couldn’t Lane be more careful? His absence, his real absence is racking. We long to know if existence has meaning.We want things to mean something. Why did God do this? I don’t believe God did.

I believe that God made creation with certain degrees of freedom. In the mystical Jewish teaching, God chose to no longer be all that there is in order for creation to be genuinely free. God contracted, making room for creation. In that contraction, creation was made free.

God has made us for himself, our sacred text tells us that. Sacred texts of most of humanity tell us that.

God’s ultimate desire is for us to come to Him, how soon that happens is not of great import to God although it is of ultimate concern to us. – Reynolds Price

Of late, however, we began to see the trajectory of a good and loving man as Lane began to grow up, finding and doing a responsible job to the delight of his family and perhaps more importantly his boss.Nothing I say is a feather bed, nor an opiate of forgetfulness and there is not a quick fix.

What is happening in us regardless of how well we knew him is suffering. We know that through our bodies. All communication is through the matter of our bodies. What we know is that we hurt. Emotions too powerful to control have sprung a leak somewhere in our faces and water leaks out.

What is God’s will for us? My teacher, Rabbi Freedman put it simply, “God’s will is that we grow up!” How do we grow up? We grow up by facing challenge. Does God have to plan challenge? Of course not. The universe is rich with possibility, fruitful circumstance with perhaps infinite permutations. There is not conspiracy. Our choices are real ones. All choices are real ones, making real differences. We get no pass from mistake, accident or the choice of others. Gravity is unrelenting regardless of our virtue or how much we are loved. We quiet our fear by hope.


We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear. (Lane’s career was hospitality. See with me today: I suspect he has thrown himself into working the perpetual party of God’s intention. Think of choosing the wine. If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is an echo of Isaiah’s party plan.

God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. Not only is God throwing a party, He will remove the disgrace of his people. And he will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.
This is the mystery of faith.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.Unspoken but true is the fact that: We will die, We will rise and Christ will come again and we will be with him. Book of Common Prayer

As John wrote in his first Epistle,“We are all children of God, and yet it has not been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be in his likeness; for we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:

We shall be raised even as he was raised. We shall be in his likeness for we share a family resemblance.

John quotes in the 14th Chapter of his Gospel the words of Jesus, ” 1. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4. And whither I go ye know… ” KJV

When we approach God’s house, filled with all amenities we can imagine and delights we cannot, we will see approaching, with a wide smile, Lane Carrick Jr. will welcome those he loved and loves eternally.  It would be difficult to know his as he, even now, is adorned with all the qualities God had in mind when he made him. It would unless we too will be in the same fullness of being.

Today we lay Lane’s bodily remains to rest in the Saint John’s Cemetery. The word cemetery is a Christian term. In the ancient world the term for a burial place was necropolis or city of the dead. The Christian hope of the resurrection produced a new term, cemetery, from the Greek word for sleep. Believers sleep in Christ for they are not dead forever, but sleep awaiting his call at the last day.

We part from Lane this day but as we travel to the same destination in due season we shall be reunited in that place where there is there is no sorrow nor sighs but life and that life everlasting.

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


I didn’t write this.  That genius, Anonymous, wrote it.  In fact I don’t remember where I found it. It may have been the Movie made from this story.  At any rate.  I believe it is worth reading.  Some would say sentimental, but I hope for such a place, where not only do Cars get refilled but also Souls!

xmas at gas station

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn’t been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn’t hate Christmas, just couldn’t find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.

Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. “Thank you, but I don’t mean to intrude,” said the stranger. “I see you’re busy, I’ll just go.” “Not without something hot in your belly.” George said.

He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain’t much, but it’s hot and tasty, “Stew … made it myself. When you’re done, there’s coffee and it’s fresh.”

Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, be right back,” George said. There in the driveway was an old ’53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. “Mister can you help me!” said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. “My wife is about to have a baby and my car is broken.”

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead. “You ain’t going in this thing,” George said as he turned away.

“But Mister, please help …” The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. “Here, take my truck,” he said. “She ain’t the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.”

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off the hospital. I’m glad I was still open and had that truck, their tires were shot too, He said as walked back inside the office. But the stranger was gone. The used coffee cup was on the. George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk with a used coffee cup beside it. “Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the the block hadn’t cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, shoot, I can fix this,” he said to himself. So he put a new one on.

“Those tires ain’t gonna get ’em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off of his wife’s old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn’t going to drive the car anyway.

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Please help me.”

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure to stop the bleeding,” he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. “Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin’,” he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.

“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there, I’m going to get you an ambulance.”

The phone was dead. “Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car.” He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio.

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”

George sat down beside him, “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain’t gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through ‘ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain.”

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. “How do you take it?” he asked. “None for me,” said the officer. “Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain’t got no donuts.” The officer laughed and winced at the same time.

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

“That’s the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.

No Country for Old Men

Scene from, “No Country for Old Men.”

“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George, “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”

The young man was confused. “Shut up old man, or I’ll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”

The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said to the cop, “we got one too many in here now.”

He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it’s Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain’t much but it’s all I got. Now put that pee shooter away.”

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I’m not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I’ve lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week ..”

George handed the gun to the cop. “Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.” George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Bein’ stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin’ in here with a gun ain’t the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we’ll sort this thing out.”

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I’m sorry officer.”

“Shut up and drink your coffee.” the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You ok?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

“Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?”

“GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?” the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, “I don’t know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other.

“That guy work here?” the cop asked. “Yep,” George said, “just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job.”

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”

Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas boy … and you too, George, and thanks for everything.”

“Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems.”

George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. “Here you go, something for the little woman. I don’t think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day.”

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. “I can’t take this,” said the young man. “It means something to you.”

“And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That’s all I need.”

George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. “Here’s something for that little man of yours.”

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too,” George said, “Now git home to your family.”

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. “I’ll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good.”

“Nope. I’m closed Christmas day,” George said. “See ya the day after.”

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where’d you come from? I thought you left?”

“I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don’t celebrate Christmas. Why?”

“Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn’t see what all the bother was. Puttin’ up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin’ cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn’t the same by myself and besides I was gettin’ a little chubby.”

The stranger put his hand on George’s shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. “And how do you know all this?” asked the old man.

“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again.”

The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned.”

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

“You see, George … it’s My birthday. Merry Christmas.”

George fell to his knees and replied, “Happy Birthday, Lord.”

I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you gave clothing, a stranger and you welcomed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me. When did that happen? We don’t remember any of these times. When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters. You did it to me.

Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 25:35)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmass Eve 2015

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.

Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”

Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”

Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”

We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.

1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.

Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation.  The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation.  Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.



Christ in the flesh is the reference point beyond time and space. image by Spalinka

Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”

The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.

Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)


Noah’s Ark floated in the waters of the deep carrying the pioneers of the restored the world. Noah believed God, built the ark, filled it with beasts, went aboard and God, it says, Closed the day.

Princess plucks Moses from Nile

Moses, in his ark, floated out of the bulrushes into the life of Pharaoh’s daughter.

The Ark in the Jordon

The Ark of the Covenant – The box containing the Law – through the desert toward the promised land.

 The manger in the Bethlehem stable.


The Ark/Manger: This Kigotos is a sign of Christ coming as servant as well as a king.

The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.

In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.

Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.

In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”

manger animals
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”




On a humorous aside.  Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I  did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene.  “No pigs,” I pronounced!  Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms,  there was still no pig at the manager.

After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century,   “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”

The Angels and the Shepherds

James J.J. Tissot

Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.

So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.

manger & cross

A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!

We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.

©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015

Perfect Fear Casts Out Love (& Common Sense).

Jesus assured his followers that, “perfect love casts out fear.” The outcry against Syrian refugees brings to mind, “perfect fear casts out common sense as well as love.”

Living things instinctively view the “different” as potential threat. While, mistrust is in many cases warranted, human beings, at our best, are not merely instinctual, but seek by responding to, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the angels of our better natures form a community worthy of our place in creation.

Such union is always in jeopardy, as anxiety tempts us to regress, operating solely by instinctual, automatic unthinking, response. The challenges of this present time require thoughtful reflection which instinct cannot do. Since 9/11, terror is personal and local. Anxiety is paralyzing and never far from us. There are many things to fear. What we must do is not become our fear!

Syrians refugees now ask for entrance and solace among us. Though we are a nation of immigrants, fear of strangers, motivated by agendas that do us no credit, tempt us again. We are told that the wicked might slip in

painting by Anna Shukeylo

among the refugees. That is likely, however, clear thinking advises us that rejecting these in need arms our enemy more than protects us. These are the very people who have paid the most to these killers. Let us embrace them as the friends they can be. They are not our enemies.

In this Thanksgiving week, let us hold fast the values that raise us above instinct, while employing thoughtful vigilance in guarding all we hold dear. We are better defended by thoughtful response than fearful reactivity.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

©John W. Sewell
Rector, Saint John’s Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee