Lewis Madison Jones, Jr.

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.

On this mountain

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.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

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 & Patrick

Lewis Jones & Patrick Moore

 

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

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Light is the Word

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessings now appear, rise

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

The blessed light that yet to us is dark.

Wendell Berry   Sabbaths  –  1999 VI

The House of God & Gate of Heaven … & I did not know it

 

Blake 2

After the painting Jacob’s Dream by William Blake and Genesis 28: 11-17

A young man leaving home
For long years to be gone
Might fall asleep and dream,
His head upon a stone.

A stair appears that bends
In spiral toward the light,
The bright Orb where it ends,
Though he sleeps through the night.

Darkened, below the stars,
Angels in constant motion
Walk up and down the stairs.
Delight and clear devotion

Make graceful all they do.
The light and dark are bound,
Heaven to all below,
Bright stair and stony ground

Inn one light joined. In sleep
The dreamer wakes. He sees
Above the stars the deep
Of heaven opened. Is

He living, then, his part
Of Heaven’s earthly life?
And what shall be the art
By which this sight can live?

Darkened upon the earth,
He fills with light, is made
A witness to high Truth
And so a man afraid.

His land – this meager sod,
These stones, this low estate –
Is the household of God.
And it is Heaven’s gate

Wendell Berry,  2004

Gain Disguised as Loss!

Peace Pilgrim born Mildred Lisette Norman

The peace pilgrim was a woman who walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying on her body her only possessions.  She crossed America for nearly three decades witnessing to the simplest message, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.”  I’m told that she wandered through Jackson Mississippi at least once and I suspect that she came through Memphis as well

PEACE PILGRIM’S STORY

This story is in her own words.  “Let me tell you a story about an answer to prayer. I was picked up late one night by a young policeman as I was walking along a lonely highway.  I believe he was thinking in terms of protective custody.  He said to me, ‘Why, nobody in this town would walk out along this highway at this time of night.’ I said to him, “Well, you see, I walk completely without fear.  Therefore I’m not attracting things which are not good.  It says, “That which I feared came upon me. But I fear nothing and expect only good.”

He took me in anyhow, and I found myself in a cell.  The floor was littered with old newspapers and cigarette butts and every old thing.  The accommodations consisted of a single mattress on the floor and four ragged blankets.  There were two women attempting to sleep together on that single mattress. The told me there had been eight women in that cell the night before with those accommodations. There was a rather nice feeling among the prisoners in general.  They said to me, ‘You’ll need two blankets because you’ll be sleeping on the floor.’  So I took a newspaper and cleared a place on the floor, and put one blanket downs and the other blanket over me and slept comfortably enough.

It wasn’t the first time I had slept on a cement floor, nor the last.  If you’re relaxed you can sleep anywhere.  When I woke up in the morning I say this man staring through the bars.  I said to him, ‘What time does court convene?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.” I said ‘Well, aren’t you a policeman?’  “No,’ he said, “I just like to look at the girls.’ It was one of the town sports.  Anyone could come in right off the street and see what they had there today: ‘Let’s go look at the girls!’

One of the women was middle aged and was being held for being drunk and disorderly.  It was her seventh offense, she told me, so it wasn’t so hard on her.  But the other was an eighteen-year-old girl.  She felt her entire life was ruined because of this experience.  I said, ‘It’s my second time and I certainly don’t think my life is ruined!’  I got her all cheered up and we talked about what she’d do when she got out.  She was to get out that day or the next day.

Then they changed the guards.  I never saw a matron.  The new guard saw me and said, ‘What are you doing in there? I saw your picture in the newspaper.  I heard you over the air.’  Then they just let me go. But before I left I got a broom from the man who cleaned up around there and gave it to the girls so they could clean up their cell.  I also got them a comb; their hair was all matted.  They had been there about a week without a comb.

What I really wanted to tell you is that the eighteen-year-old girl was a deeply religious person.  She had been desperately praying for help.  I believe that I was picked up off the highway that night and set behind prison bars in answer to her prayers.”

PEACE PILGRIM – PAUL & SILAS

Paul and Silas in Prison – William Hatherell

This is the story of a woman at peace.  Peace is not the opposite of conflict it is richer than that. Peace is a growing oneness with God and that peace may produce a conflict that doesn’t look very peaceful.  I am struck by the similarity between her story and the story of Silas & Paul (Silas should first billing occasionally) in chapter 16:16-40 of the Acts of the Apostles.   Paul and Silas wandered around proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection.  When they cast out a demon from a slave girl her owners were furious and they wound up in jail. An earthquake opened the jail in the middle of the night and the jailer was ready to kill himself because if any of the prisoners escaped he would have been executed anyway.  But none of the prisoners had gone anywhere.  The jailer discovered in Paul and Silas a power beyond anything he had ever seen before.  He and his household were baptized.  Both the jailer and the slave-owners had a religious experience.  For the jailer it was good news and to the owners of the slave girl, who lost their investment it was bad news.

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS

The experience of Paul, Silas and Peace Pilgrim could be described as GAIN disguised as LOSS.  Jesus dying on the cross and laid in the tomb was gain disguised as loss. How do we live into this “up-side-down” way of thinking which discerns gain disguised as loss?  In her writings Peace Pilgrim speaks of four preparations for a spiritual life which I think point toward gainful loss.

 A:     ASSUME RIGHT ATTITUDES TOWARD LIFE:

“Stop being an escapist or a surface-liver as these attitudes can only cause in-harmony in your life.  Face life squarely and get down below the froth on its surface to discover its truths and realities.”

Three young men hid themselves on a Sabbath in a barn in order to smoke.  The elder discovered them and threatened to flog them for their misbehavior.  One young man said, “I deserve no punishment for I forgot that today was the Sabbath.”  The second youth said, “And I forgot that smoking on the Sabbath was forbidden.”  The third young man said, “I, too, forgot.”  “What did you forget, he was asked?”  He replied, “I forgot to lock the door.”

Facing the truth about our motivations and what we are doing is essential to life in the Spirit.

B.  LIVE GOOD BELIEFS.

The word “good” comes from the same Indo-European root word as the words gather and together; it means being joined or united in a fitting way.”  Harmony and connectedness is a part of spirituality.  Peace Pilgrim said, “Begin by putting into practice all the good things you believe.”  Good beliefs are not just pious thoughts. To do the good is to see that all things, including you and me belong to a greater whole AND to begin to act like that is so.

C.  FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE PATTERN OF LIFE.

Peace Pilgrim said, “You have a part in the scheme of things.  What that part is you can know only from within yourself.  You can seek it in receptive silence.  You can begin to live in accordance with it by doing all the good things you are motivated toward and giving those things priority in your life over all the superficial things that customarily occupy human lives.”

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”  The man took his advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.  Then the Master said with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

We must learn and find our place in the scheme of things. John quotes Jesus in chapter 21 of his Gospel where Jesus prayed for the disciples; “…that they would be one, as the Father and the Son are one.”   That is our place in the things of things.

D.  SIMPLIFY LIFE TO BRING INNER AND OUTER WELL- BEING INTO HARMONY.

The Peace Pilgrim writes, “Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens.  Many lives are cluttered not only with unnecessary possessions but also with meaningless activities.  Wants and needs can become the same in a human life and, when this is accomplished, there will be a sense of harmony between inner and outer well being.”

Image

Wendell Berry

That brought to mind the words of the Kentucky agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”

GIVING IS NOT LOSS BUT GAIN

The story is told of the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill.  Each night they divided the grain they had ground together during the day.  Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family.  One day, the single brother thought to himself, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly.  I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.”  So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to insure that his brother was never without.

But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one.  What will he do when he is old?”  So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary so that he would never lack for anything.

As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.  Then one night the brothers met each other halfway between their houses, suddenly realized what had been going on, and embraced each other in love:

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS IS AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL

The longer I read the scriptures the more I am struck by the symmetry of the whole book.  We see this today in the reading from the Revelation to Saint John, which are the last words of the Christian Scriptures on matters of redemption and consummation.  The words at the end of the Revelation to Saint John are the antidote to the words in Genesis 3:24 which says, “God drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”   Ever since our ancestors, Eve and Adam, were evicted from paradise, humanity has been trying to get back in. But the Bible tells us that we can’t go back only forward.

  • The Old Testament is the record of the journey from Eden to the Promised Land.
  • The New Testament is the continuing saga of the people of God who are joined by God’s Son in our pilgrimage to God.
painting-faith

Painting Faith

Our Lord by his death and resurrection overcame sin and death.  In Christ Jesus God has reconciled the whole world to Himself.  Hear again the words that are the last words of God on the subject: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come.  water-in-wellLet anyone who wishes to take the water of life as gift.  The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

When we think of our lives, the regrets, losses,  brokenness and those things that make no sense to us it is important to remember that these events are the middle not the end of     the      story. The story is not over yet!

In Christ Jesus GAIN is disguised as LOSS. Let us never forget that in the end all will be well.