5 February 2017
John W Sewell
On this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany we continue the theme of the light of Christ going into the world. We who are in Christ are called to be salt/light.
Salt/Light are valued for their effects: by what they do.
Salt: preserves, stimulates, smarts if it touches a wound, and heals.
Light: illuminates, enables sight, stimulates, and heals.
Jesus says that those who follow him are to be like salt and light. But if Christians have lost their saltiness they are of no use. It is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. It is of no use.
Our Christianity is authenticated by our functioning, by what our lives reveal us doing. How salty we are or how brightly our light shines indicates where we are in our CONVERSION. he word “conversion” means “to turn toward”. This is the opposite of aversion: “to turn away from.” Conversion is the movement toward God, the overcoming of our separateness from Him. Our movement toward God is our response to His movement toward us in His son: Jesus the Christ. Conversion may be an event from time to time, but each event is part of a process. Conversion is a journey. Every day we are in a posture of conversion or aversion toward God.
Where does conversion take place? Cultural anthropologists talk about the place deep within each of us where the essence of “US” lives. It is that part we have been aware of all our lives as “US”. It is that part of us that does not age and is surprised to look in the mirror and realize that we are aging.
The late Joseph Campbell once said, “I don’t feel like an old man. I feel like a young man with something terribly wrong with him.”
There are Four Layers of “meaning” that make up a human being: Layer I being closest to the “US” of our essence.
Layer I: Symbols: the cross, the cup, water, bread. [This past week a group of girls from Independent Presbyterian church, one of our sister denominations, visited Saint John’s to see the murals and to talk about symbols, why? Because we live surrounded the symbols, myths and stories of our faith: these are images and stories that tell us who we are, speaking to the deep ideas, mother, father, hero, lover.] We forget just how blessed we are to have these displayed for us to live with and our unconscious to draw on.
Layer II: Customs, values: Christmas, Easter. Family Values: Right and wrong, being kind to people and animals. Jesus is a wonderful fellow and teacher. It’s a good thing for children to be in Church so they will learn values. Recently I had what my friend Walton Griffin calls a dinosaur moment when at young adult bible study – I quoted Archie Bunker and nobody in the room knew who he was… going back even further I quote Little Abner who said, “goodness is better than badness because it’s nicer.” That’s Layer II.
Layer III: Moveable features: That western people wear pants (first men, now women) That might change if we lived somewhere else; particularly if winters were all like the one we are living through.
Layer IV: Outer, superficial elements, fads, styles, bell-bottoms, Hula hoops, skinny jeans, mood rings, pet rocks, rubrics’ cube, poodle skirts, fiddleback chasubles, low hems, high hems and hardly any hem at all . The color of one’s wall, the kind of car one drives, keia pets the next great thing that will make you thin, rich and safe. The sort of “stuff” that fills our attics.
If we are not careful, we will mistake superficial change for conversion. Example: Fran Alexander watching the neighborhood boys signing the cross before taking free throws in the backyard, because one of the stars at North Carolina was Roman Catholic and signed the cross before he took a free throw.
Turning toward God must happen to the essence of our being in the depths of our souls.Jesus said, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” It is easier to be transformed at the outer layers.
Often well intention Western missionaries tried to make Westerners out of other nations, as if you could only be Christian if you were like us. The spread of that sort of cultural Christianity may in fact prevent the Gospel from touching people in deeper places. When Christianity is the dominant religion in the culture it is easy to lose our saltiness. Too much is taken for granted. Basic faith decisions about Jesus the Christ being Lord and Savior often do not get made or are simply made in a shallow way.
When the Gospel is proclaimed in a place for the first time a four Generation process is observed:
1. First generation of Christians: Being Christian is a choice. Christ is at the center of their lives and being. Light is bright – Salt is very salty.
2. Second generation: born into the Church. They make no particular decision about this themselves. The center of Christianity for this generation is jobs or tasks in the Church: working in the Church. The jobs become the center of faith and believing. Light continues to shine – Salt is still salty
3. Third generation: Occasional worship. The Christmas and Easter cycle becomes the center of their faith. They also appear for the birth, marriage, death cycle – the “Hatching, matching, dispatching” function of the Church. The light is dim and there is a low sodium diet.
4. Fourth generation: simply follow the crowd out of the Church and the faith altogether into the dark and is no longer salt at all.
What must happen for each of us is to meet God directly. God does not have grand-children. Why do we depend on hearing a story from another person about their religious experience. If you and I are inclined to meet God, let’s go and look him up and when we look God up we will learn that God has been looking for people since the Garden of Eden = and each of us since the day of our birth! That is what I want to be about and I suspect that you do too!!!
Virginia Owens – “The Total Image or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age” “A person, whether human or divine, cannot be known — as a person rather than an image except by immediate presence. If we want to project an image, either of Christians or the Church, we can do that by means of television, magazines, books, billboards, movies, bumper stickers, buttons, records, and posters. If we want people to know Christ, we must be there face-to-face, bearing Christ within us.”
There is a story about a man looking for God was dunked under the water in a pool by the old monk. As he was gasping for air, the monk asked him, “What were you thinking about when you were under the water?” “Air”, gasped the man. Then the monk said, “If you wanted to know God as much as you wanted air, you would know him.”
What generation are we? We are called to be transformed in the deep places of our beings: in the essence of the “US”. Nothing else will do, Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else is light and salt. Let’s not settle for less. Amen.
“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
We were not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.
”A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen” Rolling Stone, 1976
“Neurosis is suffering that has not found its meaning.” Carl Jung
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis
St John says, ‘I saw the Word in God.’ God is abstract being, pure perception, which is perceiving itself in itself. St John means that the Son is in the Father, in his nature. ‘I saw the Word with God.’ Here he is referring to the intellect which, flowing into God eternally, proceeded forth from God in distinction of Person, namely, the Son. ‘ I saw the Word before God.’ This means that the Son is ever being born of the Father and that he is the image of the Father. ‘In the Word there is only the Word,’ refers to the eternal emanation of creatures in the Word. ‘I saw the Word under God’; the Son becomes man, as God said, ‘I have loved you in the reflection of my darkness.’ God’s darkness is his nature which is unknowable. Good people know it not and no creature can divine it; therefore it is a darkness. While God was flowing in his own darkness the Son was not distinct from him. In the darkness of his nature the Father flowed as Person so far as he was pregnant. The Father gave his Son birth and gave him his own nature; he gave him not his Person: his nature he can give away but he can give to none his Person for that is the product of his unborn essence. The Father spoke himself and all creatures in his Son; the Father spoke himself to all creature in his Son. The Father turning back into himself speaks himself in himself; he flows back into himself with all creatures. As Dionysius says, ‘God proceeded himself,’ meaning that his hidden nature suffices him, which is concealed from creatures. The soul cannot follow him into his nature, except he absorb her altogether, and then in him she is made dark of all created lights. The darkness of creatures is their incomprehensibility in their simple nature, that is, in the nothing from which they were created. In this uncreated light they discern his uncreatedness. Into his uncreatedness they flow in the reflection of his darkness.
–‘Tell me, good Sir, do Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak the same word in the Godhead or has each a different word? ‘ — In the Godhead there is but one word; in it the Father in the Godhead speaks into his unborn essence and into his born essence, the Father flowing into his Son with all that he is and the Son speaks the same word, and the Father and the Son flow into the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost speaks the same word. They speak this one simple word in their essence and each speaks the same word in his own Person, and in their common nature they discourse the truth and the Persons receive the essence as it is essentially. Yet the Persons receive from one another. They bow down to the essence in praise, lauding the essence; and the unborn essence pronounces its unborn word in the Persons, lauding the Persons, and the Persons receive the essence every whit and pass it on to one another. This unborn essence is self-sufficient, without birth and without activity. Birth and activity are in the Persons. The Persons say they are the truth and that creatures have none of the truth. When the soul attains to this divine speech she speaks this very truth and is the Deity to every creature as well as to herself. This comes of his indivisible nature and therein creatures are a matter of the will. The bad are bad and the good good, the Persons preserving justice in the Godhead. They give the bad their due and the good theirs.
St Dionysius says, ‘God is the Prime Cause, and God has fashioned all things for himself who is the cause of all; and his works are all wrought in the likeness of the First Cause.’ Father and Son show forth the first cause, and the Son is playing in the Father with all things for he proceeded forth from him. The Son plays before the Father with all things, the Son plays below the Father with all things. The Father begat his Son with his Godhead and with all things. The Father begat his Son in his Godhead with all things. The Godhead is the several Persons and the fullness of the Persons. The Godhead is not given to any thing. On coming to its knowledge the soul sees God and glancing back into herself she sees that the Godhead is in all things. Receiving into her the likeness of the creator she creates what she will but cannot give it essence: she gives it form and is herself its matter and its eternal activities are in her; these are in the eternal birth. Its temporal activities are in time, where God gives his works essence, form and matter out of nothing, which the soul is unable to do; God reduces his works to the unity of Christ and this order shall not pass away but shall be raised up to the glory of the one. Soul, transcending order, enters the naked Godhead where she is seen when God is seen in the soul as God. This soul has God as God in her, she has gotten in her the image of her creator.
Now mark the difference between the work of God and creature. God has done all things for himself, for he is the universal cause and all his works are wrought in the likeness of the first cause and creatures all work according to the likeness of the first cause. That is the intention they have towards God. God made all things from nothing, infusing into them his Godhead so that all things are full of God. were they not full of the Godhead they would all perish. The Trinity does all the work in things and creatures exploit the power of the Trinity, creatures working as creatures and God as God, while man mars the work so far as his intention is evil. When a man is at work his body and soul are united, for body cannot act without the soul. When the soul is united with God she does divine work, for God cannot work without the soul and the soul cannot work without God. God is the soul’s life just as the soul is the body’s, and the Godhead is the soul of the three Persons in that it unifies them and in that it has dwelt in them for ever. And since the Godhead is in all things it is all soul’s soul. But in spite of its being all soul’s soul, the Godhead it not creatures’ soul in the way it is the Trinity’s. God does one work with the soul; in this work the soul is raised above herself. The work is creature, grace to wit, which bears the soul to God. It is nobler than the soul as admitting her to God; but the soul is the nobler in her admissibility. This creature which has neither form nor matter nor any being of its own, translates the soul of her natural state into the supernatural.
To his eternally elect God gives his spirit as it is, without means; they cannot miss it. Creatures God is going to make at his good pleasure he has known eternally as creatures, for in God they are creatures albeit nothing in themselves: they are uncreated creatures. Creatures are always more noble in God than they are in themselves. In God the soul shall see her own perfection without image and shall see the difference between things uncreated and created and she shall distinguish God from Godhead, nature from Person, form from matter. The Father is the beginning of the Godhead, he is the well-spring of the Godhead, overflowing into all things in eternity and time. The Godhead is a heaven of three Persons. The Father is God and a Person not born nor proceeding any; and the Son is God and a Person and born of the Father; and the Holy Ghost is God and a Person proceeding from both. St Paul speaks of the uncreated spirit flowing into the created spirit (or mind). This meeting which befalls the created spirit is her saving revelation; it happens in the soul who breaks through the boundaries of God to lose herself in his uncreated naught. The three Persons are one God, one in nature, and our nature is shadowing God’s nature in perpetual motion; having followed him from naught to aught and into that which God is to himself, there she has no motion of her naught. Aught is suspended from the divine essence; its progression is matter, wherein the soul puts on new forms and puts off her old ones. The change from one into the other is her death: the one she doffs she dies to, and the one she dons she lives in.
St John says, ‘Blessed are the dead that die in God; they are buried where Christ is buried.’ Upon which St Dionysius comments thus: Burial in God is the passage into uncreated life. The power the soul goes in is her matter, which power the soul can never approfound for it is God and God is changeless, albeit the soul changes in his power. As St Dionysius says, ‘God is the mover of the soul.’ Now form is a revelation of essence. St Dionysius says, ‘Form is matter’s aught. Matter without form is naught.’ So the soul never rests till she is gotten into God who is her first form and creatures never rest till they have gotten into human nature: therein do they attain to their original form, God namely. As St Dionysius hath it, ‘God is the beginning and the middle and the end of all things.’
Then up spake the loving soul, ‘Lord, when enjoyest thou thy creatures?’ — ‘That do I at high noon when God is reposing in all creatures and all creatures in God.’ St Augustine says, ‘All things are God,’ meaning, they have always been in God and shall return to God. So when St Dionysius says,’ All things are naught,’ he means they are not of themselves and that in their egress and their ingress they are as incomprehensible as naught. When St Augustine says, ‘God is all things,’ he means he has the power of all things, one more noble than he ever gave to creatures. And St Dionysius’ dictum, ‘God is naught,’ implies that God is as inconceivable as naught. As King David sings, ‘God has assigned to everything its place: to fish the water, birds the air and beasts the field and to the soul the Godhead.’ The soul must die in every form save God: there at her jouney’s end her matter rests and God absorbs the whole of the powers of the soul, so now behold the soul a naked spirit. Then, as St Dionysius says, the soul is not called soul, she is the sovran power of God wherewith God’s will is done. It is at this point St Augustine cries, ‘Lord thou hast bereft me of my spirit!’ Whereupon Origen remarks, ‘Thou art mistaken, O Augustine. It is not thy spirit, it is thy soul-powers that are taken from thee.’ The soul unites with God like food with man, which turns in eye to eye, in ear to ear. So does the soul in God turn into God; and God combines with the soul and is each power in the soul; and the two natures flowing in one light, the soul comes utterly to naught. That she is she is in God. The divine powers swallor her up out of sight just as the sun draw up things out of sight.
What God is to himself no man may know. God is in all things, self-intent. God is all in all and to each thing all things at once. And the soul shall be the same. What God has by nature is the soul’s by grace. God is nothing at all to anything; God is nothing at all to himself, God is nothing that we can express. In this sense Dionysius says, ‘God is all things to himself for he bears the form of all things.’ He is big with himself in a naught; there all things are God, and are not, the same as we were. When we were not then God was heaven and hell and all things. St Dionysius says that ‘God is not’, meaning that he bears himself in a not, namely, the not-knowing of all creatures, and this not draws the soul through all things, over all things and out of all things into that superlative not where she is not-known to any creature. There she is not, has not, wills not, she has abandoned God and everything to God. Now God and heaven gone, the soul is finally cut off from every influx of divinity, so his spirit is no longer given to her. Arrived at this the soul belongs to the eternal life rather than creation; her uncreated spirit lives rather than herself; the uncreated, eternally-existent which is no less than God. Wherewith being all-pervaded to the total loss of her own self, the soul at length returns without herself to eternal indigence, for what is left alive in her is nothing less than God. Thus she is poor of self. This is the point where soul and Godhead part and the losing of the Godhead is the finding of the soul, for the spirit which is uncreated drawing on the soul to its own knowledge she comes nearer to the not-being of the Godhead than by knowing all the Father ever gave. [The gift of the Father is the positive existence of all creatures in the Person of his Son and with the Son the Holy Ghost as well. For the Persons must be looked on as inseparate, albeit distinct illuminations of the understanding.] And so far as she attains this in the body she enjoys the eternal wont and escapes her own.
We ought to be eternally as poor as when we were not and then our kingdom shall not pass away, abiding as it does in God whose it is eternally. The Godhead gave all things up to God; it is as poor, as naked and as idle as thought it were not: it has not, wills not, wants not, works not, gets not. St Dionysius says, ‘Be the soul never so bare the Godhead is barer’: a naught from which no shoot was ever lopped nor ever shall be. It is this counsel of perfection the soul is straining after more than after anything that God contains or anything she can conceive of god. Saith the bride in the book of Love, ‘The form of my beloved passed by me and IGo cannot overtake him.’ It is God who has the treasure and the bride in him, the Godhead is as void as though it were not. God has consumed the form of the soul and formed her with his form into his form. Now she gets all things free from matter, as their creator possesses them in him, and resigns the same to God.
Ours to contain all things in the same perfection wherein the eternal wisdom has eternally contained them. Ours to expire them as the Holy Ghost has expired them eternally. Ours to be all things’ spirit and all things spirit to us in the spirit. Ours to know all and deify ourselves with all.
“If I had my life to live over, I would love more. I would especially love others more.
I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I come in contact.
I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.
I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown, and the unloved.
I would give more. I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing and the happiness of helping.
I would give more than money; I would give some of life’s treasured possessions, such as time, thoughts and kind words.
If I had my life to live over, I would be much more unconventional, because where society overlooks people, I would socialize with them.
Where custom acknowledges peers as best, with whom to have fellowship, I would want some non-peer friends.
Where tradition stratifies people because of economics, education, race, or religion, I would want fellowship with friends in all strata.
And I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great … and where God is most likely to be found.
proper c21 — Saint John’s Episcopal Church — Memphis, Tennessee
September 25, 2016 – 5:30 PM
The rich man is usually called Dives (Latin for wealthy). He was so rich that he wore purple, which was so expensive that only the Emperor had an entire garment dyed purple. The wealthy had a stripe or two on their clothing. He also wore linen from Egypt which was so fine that it was worn by those who did nothing much all day.
Out by the gate, which was an elaborate ornamental affair that had as much to do with status as with security, was a man named Lazarus. Lazarus, which means, “he who the Lord helps” was poor and covered with running sores. Lazarus in his condition longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.*
*[It was the custom at lavish parties to use bread as napkins. The edible napkins were then thrown to the dogs as an act of extravagance. They did it because they could.]
Lazarus longed to eat those mangled pieces of bread but he didn’t get them. The dogs, however, took pity on him and licked his sores. There is no evidence that the rich man was mean to Lazarus. Apparently he didn’t think about him one way or another.
Both men died and were buried. The rich man went to Hades [the place of the dead], while Lazarus went to Paradise. Apparently these “places” are in sight of each other. In Paradise Abraham presides at a feast where Lazarus is the guest of honor. The rich man saw the festivities from his place of torment in Hades.
He speaks to Abraham, “Father Abraham send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am in anguish.”
Notice that even in Hades the rich man is still trying to order people around.
Father Abraham tells him that there is a great gulf fixed between Paradise and Hades and no one can cross. “Wait,” said the rich man, “Send Lazarus to warn my five brothers.”
Abraham: “They have Moses and the Prophets.”Rich man: “No, if someone comes to them from the dead they will listen.” Abraham: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not be convinced if one comes to them from the dead.
What does this mean? Are rich people going to hit hell wide open just because they are rich? Are the poor going to the best table at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb just because they are poor? I don’t think so, although I must admit that in the great big scheme of things we fall in the rich category. So I don’t want to think that…
WHAT DID THE RICH MAN LACK?
1. CONSCIOUSNESS: It is the nature of sin that We are stuck on ourselves and unaware of what goes on around us. We look fine to us, when we are really asleep/unconscious. The truth is that all people are more alike than they are different, but we spend a lot of time, energy, and advertising money convincing ourselves otherwise.
When we are conscious we read the situation not just for facts but also with wisdom like the village idiot who was stopped every day by the townspeople and asked to pick between a nickel and a dime. The idiot always chose the nickel and the residents went away saying, “There, you see what an idiot he is.” Except that the idiot in later life explained: “After all, if I kept picking the dime, they would have stopped offering it to me. This way I kept getting nickels every day.” Wake up and read the signs.
2. IMAGINATION: A man is in the waiting room while his wife is in labor. This
is back in the bad or good ole days depending on your perspective before husbands are in the room armed with digital cameras recording this birth as if it is the only birth to ever occur on this planet.
He is sweating and pacing the floor. Finally a nurse comes out and says, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” He said, “I’m really glad that it is a girl so that she’ll never have to go through what I’ve just gone through.”
We lack imagination. We find it difficult to put ourselves in the place of others. But as
Mark Twain once said, “You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”
So we cannot trust our eyes blinded like Dives to the poor at our own gates while our dogs know and minister to the very ones we look through as we drive to and fro. Indeed we cannot trust our eyes for the lens of our imagination is badly out of focus and there is a certain fuzziness to reality.
3. GRATITUDE: Lewis Hyde in his book, Gift, writes, “People live differently who treat a portion of their wealth as a gift.” If what we have is a gift when we recognize that it is not ours solely. Hyde goes on to say that, “Gift establishes relationships while property establishes boundaries.”
• If I Had My Life To Live Over— Owen Cooper (the one-time Chair of Mississippi Chemical Corporation)
• “If I had my life to live over, I would love more. I would especially love others more.
• I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I come in contact.
• I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.
• I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown, and the unloved.
• I would give more. I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing and the happiness of helping.
• I would give more than money; I would give some of life’s treasured possessions, such as time, thoughts and kind words.
• If I had my life to live over, I would be much more unconventional, because where society overlooks people, I would socialize with them.
• Where custom acknowledges peers as best, with whom to have fellowship, I would want some non-peer friends.
• Where tradition stratifies people because of economics, education, race, or religion, I would want fellowship with friends in all strata.
• And I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great … and where God is most likely to be found.
4. SENSE OF SPIRITUAL REALITY: The world tends to believe that the rich are rich because God likes them better than others. However the Gospel tells us that earthly success does not equal salvation. The life and teaching of Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is not about success as the world calculates such things.
Robert Farrar Capon, “The Parables of Grace” …if the world could have been saved by successful living, it would have been tidied up long ago. Certainly, the successful livers of this world have always been ready enough to stuff life’s losers into the garbage can of history. Their program for turning earth back into Eden has consistently been to shun the sick, to lock the poor in ghettos, to disenfranchise those whose skin was the wrong color, and to exterminate those whose religion was inconvenient. … But for all of that Eden has never returned. The world’s woes are beyond repair by the world’s successes: there are just too many failures, and they come to thick and fast for any program, however energetic or well-funded. Dives, for all his purple, fine linen and faring sumptuously, dies not one whit less dead than Lazarus. And before he dies, his wealth no more guarantees him health or happiness than it does exemption from death. Therefore when the Gospel is proclaimed, it stays light-years away from reliance on success or on any other exercise of right-handed power. Instead, it relies resolutely on left-handed power – on the power that, in mystery, works through failure, loss, and death.
And so while our history is indeed saved, its salvation is not made manifest in our history in any obvious, right-handed way. In God’s time – in that Kairos, that due season, that high time in which the Incarnate Word brings in the kingdom in a mystery – all our times are indeed reconciled and restored now.”
This is hard for us to hear. We are weaned on the notion that WE are in charge of our destiny. Jesus has come to break the good news to us that this is not so. He requires not our success but our trust.
Capon continues, “Jesus did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.”
Dives thought that if one came from the dead that people would believe. The Gospel tells us that one did come from the dead: Jesus the Christ. Abraham was right. Belief in the resurrection is not a matter of being convinced, but rather a matter of trust. The question today is, will we continue to rely on our success or will we trust in the words of Jesus, who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell
We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.
I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.
THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.
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.
If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.
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. There and then, God 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.
The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…
It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.
Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.
As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”
We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.
Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.
Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.
Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:
Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,
You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.
If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.
Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul
Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.
Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.
No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.
Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.
And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.
That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen