Sunday, January 25, 2015
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your flesh wants to do something for God. Or, to be more accurate, your flesh wants to receive credit for doing something for itself. That’s the way it is with the flesh: It’s proud, and independent, selfish, and self-righteous. So, is it really any surprise that your flesh wants worship to be about what you want, and what you do for yourself, … uh, I mean, for God, rather than what God wants and is doing for you? After all, you’re here this morning, unlike so many others. You could be sleeping in, or cleaning the house, or visiting the city, or any number of things. But, you’re here. Surely you get credit for that, right? Surely God is pleased with you because you’re a good church-going, Bible-believing Christian, right? Well, yes. That’s true. God is pleased with you. However, God is pleased with you, not because of your good works, your church attendance, or even your pious thoughts, but, God is pleased with you because of your faith in Jesus Christ His Son, with whom He is well pleased, faith which produces good works with which He is well pleased. For, the Gospel truth is that you can only serve God and your neighbor if God has first served you Himself. Or, to put it another way, you can only give of what you have first received. If you don’t have any water, then you cannot give a thirsty person a drink. If you haven’t received forgiveness, then you cannot forgive your brother or your neighbor. And, if you have not first been loved, then you cannot love even those who love you, let alone those who hate you, as your LORD requires.
Nevertheless, you stand in good – or, I suppose, not so good – company. After all, King David wanted to do something for the LORD. He wanted to build a house for the LORD – you know, put God in a box. And, he had all kinds of visions of grandeur to make God, and His worship of God, just the way he wanted them to be. Now, David had good intentions – we always do, – but you know what they say about good intentions. The LORD had promised to be with David always. The LORD had promised that the throne would never depart from his family. David had the promise of the LORD, He had the LORD’s unbreakable Word, but still he wanted to do something for God. In his misguided faith, David wanted to put the LORD into a box. And, likewise, centuries later, the Pharisees believed that they were doing good works for the LORD meriting His favor in their prayers and their tithes and their obedience to the Law. But, these, too, were worthless deeds, vanity, and filthy rags because they were not done in faithful response to the LORD’s gracious service to them.
And, then there’s Peter. Good ole Peter, so named for the rocks in his head, maybe? No, just kidding, … kind of. But, still, no one in the Scriptures exhibits the highs and lows and the hots and the colds of faith quite like Peter. I mean, for a man to give the stunning, revelatory confession of who Jesus is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and then, moments later, vow to thwart the Christ’s mission to die on the cross so as to earn the rebuke “Get behind me Satan,” ought to put faith in perspective, don’tcha think? Truly, we must all confess, “Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief.” For, when he was blown away by the vision of His Lord in glory, with Moses and Elijah standing and talking with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, what did Peter want to do, but to put them in boxes and to preserve that mountain-top experience forever. Like I said, the intention might have been good, but you know what they say about good intentions.
And so, the Transfiguration of Our Lord is every bit as much about your own transfiguration as it is that of Jesus. Though Peter, James, and John went up the mountain to worship the Lord in one way, with their own ideas of worship, and praise, and glory, they came down the mountain in a different way, changed, metamorphosed. Metamorphosed? Yes, changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. Indeed, metamorphosis is precisely the Greek word that Matthew uses in his Gospel, which is translated into the English as transfigured. In Jesus’ case, He wasn’t so much changed into something else, something glorious, but, rather, the fullness of His glory, which was veiled in humility, but, nevertheless, already present, – You know, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.” – that glory was revealed, at least partially, so that the disciples might believe and be better prepared to face and to endure what Jesus was about to face and to endure in His Passion and death in Jerusalem. The disciples needed to be metamorphosed; they needed to be changed. And, so do you, dear Christian. You need to be metamorphosed. You need to be changed, that you may see the Lord’s glory revealed in His Passion and death, that you may thus see your worship and praise of Him, not in terms of what you want or what you do, but in terms of who He is, what He wants for you, and what He has done and is still doing for you. For, then, your whole life will be metamorphosed; your whole life will be changed, for you will see the glory of the Lord, not in the things your flesh and this world values and desires, but in the things to which the Lord has attached His Word and His Promise.
You see, Jesus knew His disciples. Jesus knew Peter. And, Jesus also knows you. Jesus knew that Peter could be a man of strong faith and confession; but He also knew that Peter often let his own ideas and understanding, and the ideas and understanding of the world, form, guide, and direct his thoughts and His actions. This is brilliantly displayed in Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and then in Peter’s attempt to prevent His Lord’s going to the cross. Peter understood who Jesus was, an understanding that Jesus says was a gift of His Father in heaven, but he did not yet understand what Jesus came to do, what Jesus had to do, in order to make Peter, and all men, and all of creation, right with God once again. And, so, Peter swore an oath to stop Jesus from doing what He said he came, and had, to do. And, in His rebuke of Peter, Jesus named precisely whose ideas and understanding Peter was expressing: “Get behind me Satan!” Therefore, just days before His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to commence His Passion which would culminate in His death upon the cross, Jesus took His closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up with Him high on a mountain so that they might experience a momentary revealing of His glory, that their faith might be strengthened and that they might have hope as they faced both the darkness of Jesus’ suffering and death, and the darkness of their own trials and tribulations, suffering, and even death as they lived their lives in Christ and in selfless and sacrificial service of their brother and neighbor to the glory of God.
Of course, Peter, holding the ideas and understanding of the world and the flesh, upon witnessing Jesus’ glory, along with Moses and Elijah, wanted to bottle it up, put it in a box, enshrine it and keep it forever. Peter still did not understand that Jesus had to come down from the mountain and go to another mountain, to Mount Calvary, and there suffer and die to atone for the sins of the world. Once again, Peter sought to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His purpose and mission. This is inevitably what happens when you think and act in accord with what your flesh and the world consider glorious. For, your flesh and the world subscribe to a theology of glory which enshrines created things, things that are not, and things that are passing away, effectively calling evil good and good evil. Your Jesus would have you subscribe to a theology of the cross, which simply calls a thing what it is, regardless of how weak, foolish, and pitiable it may appear to the flesh and the world. Jesus would have you find His glory, not in temporary grandeur and magnificence, not in fickle emotions of ecstasy, peace, and joy, not in wealth, power, and possessions, but in His humility, suffering, and death upon the cross.
And, so, following Jesus’ discourse with Moses and Elijah about His departure, or, in the Greek, literally, His Exodus, which Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem, Jesus lead His disciples down from their mountaintop experience and into the valley below, where they immediately encountered the demon-possessed, the blind, and many others afflicted by the effects of sin, along with pride and aspirations of worldly and fleshly glory, temptations to sin, and all manner of evils that afflict you as you make your pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s why Moses and Elijah were discussing the Exodus with Jesus, for Jesus’ death and resurrection are the glorious subject of discourse amongst the saints and angels in heaven. Then, the cloud of glory lifted, and Jesus’ face and clothing ceased shining, and Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the disciples were left with Jesus alone, of whom the Father’s voice from heaven declared His pleasure and gave the exhortation and command, “Listen to Him.” For, it is not the magnificence of glory and power, nor is it the emotional highs of joy and exultation, nor works of any kind whatsoever that make you right with God, but it is Jesus alone and His Word alone which makes you right with God. Therefore, you must cling to Him and to His Word alone, and place no trust in your emotions, in your works, or in any person or institution. And, you must not succumb to the temptation to place your trust in the things your flesh and this world count as glorious. For, these things are creaturely and are passing away. They are not God, but they can become idols, which get between you and God and threaten to weaken or destroy your faith in Jesus Christ, in whom alone is forgiveness, life, and salvation.
And, now your Lord Jesus invites you to ascend to the high mountain of the altar in this Holy Eucharist where Jesus is truly present with Moses and Elijah, and with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, that your faith may be strengthened, your sins forgiven, and that you may be preserved and protected as you descend from the high altar back into the valley in which you live your lives, trusting in Him and in His Word alone, to the glory of His holy Name. For, you cannot live on the mountaintop; the air is to thin there for you now. Nevertheless, you were created to live there with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forevermore. And so, He gives you this foretaste, now, of the feast that is yet to come, a feast that you will eat and drink with your Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ when He comes again in glory, glory that will be fully revealed and never fade away. For that day the Church, His Bride cries out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is no human institution that is more ancient or more universal than marriage. Every culture of every time and every place has instituted, promoted, and protected marriage in some way or another. In ancient and medieval times, marriages were seen as contracts between families and were often arranged in order to procure and to secure land and wealth, and to maintain ruling dynasties. In addition to these purposes, marriages were entered into with the intention of procreation to produce offspring and heirs. Indeed, our modern conception of marriage, which holds that love and equality are the key factors, is extremely new and innovative, and has shallow roots in human history. Arguably, the first marriage, instituted by the LORD Himself in Eden, was not a union of love or equality, or even of sexual attraction, but marriage, as the LORD instituted it, is a union of completion and fulfillment – the union of man, – for “it is not good that the man should be alone.”
But, why? Why is it “not good that the man should be alone?” Well, that’s a good question – a question that is not answered directly, but implicitly and by example throughout the rest of the Holy Scripture. For, when we consider how marriage is portrayed in the Scriptures we see that it is bound up in selflessness and sacrifice and redemption. For example, consider these famous marriages in the Holy Scriptures: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Boaz and Ruth, the Bridegroom and Bride from the Song of Solomon, and Joseph and Mary. Now, of course these marriages were not perfect, indeed they were riddled with problems of various kinds. Thus, these Biblical marriages do not serve as models of perfection that preach the Law to us, “Be like this!” but, rather, they are realistic examples, Gospel examples, of sinful people, …well, sinning, and repenting, and being forgiven and restored.
Let’s take Adam and Eve as our chief example. They had it all: Peace, love, and excellent real estate. They were the first marriage, created by God, brought together by God, and blessed by God. Obviously, they are the supreme model for marriage. And yet, they sinned, and in their sin they plunged all of God’s creation, including all their children and all their children’s children, into sin and death. Of course, the model for marriage was not what came after the fall, but what God instituted before the fall. First and foremost, God created Adam and Eve in unity with one another. Husband and wife were united in heart, mind, spirit, and will. Adam wanted only that which was good for Eve and glorifying to God, and Eve wanted the same for Adam. They were truly united as “one flesh” in every way imaginable. The LORD instituted their marriage union so that they might reflect Him – His selfless, sacrificial love which gives life, reproduce with Him – in the procreation of children to be raised in the selfless, and sacrificial image of God, and to reign with Him over all that He had made – in selfless, sacrificial stewardship of God’s creation.
And, that is precisely why Satan attacked Adam and Eve in the way that he did. Satan attacked their marriage in attacking their unity of heart, mind, spirit, and will. His seemingly innocuous question, “Did God really say?” was meant to create disunity. It created a divide between God’s will and word and another will and word, any other will and word. Before the question, Adam and Eve were in unity with God’s will and word, and with each other. But, after the question, they were divided and defeated in heart, mind, spirit, and will, even before actively sinning by eating the forbidden fruit. And, the poisonous fruit of their sin was born quickly: They hid from God because they were afraid of His holiness and righteousness. They were ashamed of their nakedness, for they no longer saw each other as “one flesh,” but as individuals to control, manipulate, and to possess. And they blamed each other, and they blamed God, for their own sinful failings. And, to seal their fate and their separation from both God and from each other, they became self-righteous, seeking and finding their justification and purpose in themselves alone. Truly, nothing can be more separate, divided, and isolated than self-righteousness and selfishness. No longer did they reflect the LORD who is in essence selfless and self-sacrificing. No longer could they reproduce Godly fruit, the fruit of selfless love and sacrificial service. And, no longer could they reign over all creation as God created them and blessed them to do, for all creation became to them, now, means to control, manipulate, and to possess to their own selfish ends.
We live in a cynical age, and I know that my speaking this way about the sanctity of marriage, even within this Christian congregation, has some of you wagging your heads in disagreement, disillusionment, disgust, and unbelief that anything so broken, so messed up, and so filled with disappointment, conflict, hurt, and mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as marriage could possibly be the key to knowing God, His will, and His purpose for our lives and our relationship with Him. Indeed, that’s precisely how Satan wants you to think. Moreover, that’s why the institution of marriage is under attack today. For, marriage has always been under attack, even from the beginning when God created man and woman in His image and blessed them and joined them in a selfless and sacrificial one-flesh union.
And thus, Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Scriptures occurs at a wedding. This is not by chance, mind you. St. John’s Gospel is arranged like a catechism. His purpose in writing it is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” Marriage is the chief and key revelation that God has given us that we may know Him and trust in Him, and conform to, and reflect Him in the world, reproducing His love in others, and reign with Him in and over His creation.
With only a cursory reading, it might appear that John included this miracle of Jesus only so that His power might be revealed. While, that is certainly a part of John’s purpose, and His account certainly accomplishes that purpose, that is only to scratch the surface of John’s telling of the events of the Wedding at Cana. This story is a revelation of Jesus’ re-creation, or creation anew, of His Father’s creation that had fallen into sin and death. It is not a coincidence that this wedding occurred on the “third day.” Third day language in the Scriptures is fraught with weight and meaning in connection with Jesus’ resurrection on the Third Day. This is new creation language, and the story cannot be rightly understood without seeing it through the interpretive lens of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Moreover, it may be reckoned from John’s numbering of days that the third day was in fact the Sabbath Day, the day of rest. This may be part of the explanation of Jesus’ initial protest to Mary’s request that He do something about the wine problem at the feast. Jesus’ reply, “My hour has not yet come,” once again, necessarily, connects this story with the hour of Jesus’ passion and death upon the cross.
The time for Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s Law, Word, and will in His death upon the cross has not yet come. Nonetheless, that hour will come, and when it does, Jesus will be raised from death on the Third Day and He will usher in a new creation. This is symbolized in the six stone jars of water used for purification rites. The six jars represent the six days of the former creation, ruined by sin and death, thus, requiring purification. However, in the new creation, sin and death have been defeated, atoned for, and removed. There is no longer need for purification, for the Father’s Law, Word, and will have been fulfilled in Jesus’ holy and innocent life, obedience, suffering, and death. In His first miracle, or His first sign, as John refers to it, Jesus demonstrated that He has come to “make all things new.” He will fulfill the Law, Word, and will of His Father and release all creation from the curse of sin. Thus, the story of the Wedding at Cana is much less about marriage and weddings, or even about powerful miracles and signs, than it is simply and plainly about Jesus and His work of atonement and re-creation. It is truly the first sign of who He is and what He came to do. As John puts it, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” And so do we.
Thus, when the Lord returns on the Last Day, there will be a wedding in heaven. For, just as Adam’s Bride was brought forth out of his riven side, so will Jesus’ Bride, the Church, brought forth out of His riven side in the water of Holy Baptism and His holy, precious blood in Holy Communion, be presented before Him as a Bride adorned before Her Bridegroom. Truly, marriage is the preeminent revelation the LORD has provided us to the kind of relationship He desires to have with you. He is not a God who is far off, but a God who is so very near to you that He became flesh and blood, that He might marry you and have a one-flesh union with you that, together, you might reflect His glory, reproduce His selfless and sacrificial love, and reign with Him over heaven and earth forevermore. This is what was instituted by God in marriage from the beginning, and this is what is at stake when we seek to reduce marriage to mere equality, love, or sex.
Therefore, when it comes to marriage in this world, which is passing away, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Let those who determine human rights grant human rights where and when they believe it is needed. We do not have a mandate to change the world by force, but rather by influence. Indeed, the model for Christians is salt, leaven, and light. By being Christian, by following the example of our Lord Jesus in showing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to others, in and through our callings, our vocations, we will change the world, not by force, but by influence. However, we can only do that if we do not permit ourselves to become conformed to the world. Truly, we have no hope of influencing marriage for the better in this life and world if we do not understand and hold to what our LORD instituted marriage to be in the first place. Therefore, husbands and wives are to love and to serve each other as they love and serve the Lord. And, those who remain single, you are to love and to serve others as you love and serve the Lord. And if you are blessed with the gift of children, then your primary Christian duty is to raise your children up to love and serve others even as they love and serve the Lord. For, the LORD instituted marriage that you might know Him and the kind of relationship He desires to have with you, a relationship of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness borne out of selflessness and sacrifice, which are truly love.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Matthew 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Isaiah 42:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Children of God, let us not make light of the Baptism of our Lord, and let us not make light of our own baptism, for it is because of His baptism that our Lord’s death was efficacious, and it is because of His baptism that your baptism is efficacious. Jesus’ baptism was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary. Thus, when Jesus approached John to be baptized by him, John protested saying “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus did not deny John’s complaint but, agreeing, He replied “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The baptism of Jesus was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary for the fulfillment of all righteousness. Or, to state it negatively, all righteousness would not be have been fulfilled were it not for the baptism of Jesus. Thus, we dare not make light of the Baptism of our Lord, and we dare not make light of our own baptism.
But what is it about Jesus’ baptism that is so special, so necessary? Here, the placement of this Feast in the Sanctoral Calendar is informative. The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated the Sunday after the Epiphany, immediately on the heels of the Christmas cycle celebrating the Birth of our Lord. So, as the story of the birth of Jesus is still fresh in our minds we are caused to reflect upon the second birth of our Lord – His holy baptism. Consider the language of Jesus’ baptism: And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It sounds like an infant child passing through the birth canal into the light of day being received by His loving Father crying out, “It’s a boy! And, He’s perfect!” And then, what does our Lord teach us about baptism: Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Indeed, it was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary for our holy and sinless Lord to step into the waters of the Jordan, along with sinners of all kinds, so that He could take the sins of all humanity upon Himself and, in exchange, make all men righteous through Him. In His baptism, Jesus, who was conceived and born without sin, was born again in sin, man’s sin, and was made to be sin for us that we might be made righteous in Him.
It was Creation all over again! The Father spoke. The Son was spoken. And the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. But, what was created this time was a new man, a new Adam, a new son of God with whom He could be fully pleased. The old Adam had closed heaven by his sin; the New Adam has opened it! The old Adam drowned in the waters of the Jordan; the New Adam stepped forth into life and light. The uncreated Son of God became a creature as the Son of Man – it is upon Him, Jesus, that God poured out His anointing Spirit and christened Him Son, Christ, Messiah, Savior – for you.
Jesus’ baptism was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. If Jesus had not been baptized, then we would have no Christ and we would still be in our sins, our baptisms would be meaningless and useless. But Jesus has been baptized, He is the Christ, the Anointed of the Lord, and He has taken all our sins upon Himself and has given us His righteousness. He has sanctified the waters of Baptism in His blood to make them a cleansing flood of forgiveness for all men. He is God’s Son for us; with Him God is fully pleased for us. He is the Chosen One, chosen by the Father, and the Father put His Spirit upon Him and no other – for us.
His baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At once He is subject to temptation by the devil and mockery and persecution by men. And, at once He begins to proclaim the fulfillment of God’s Law and the presence of His Kingdom. He heals the sick, restores sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the dumb, He makes the paralyzed to walk and He cleanses lepers while proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. His teaching is that, in Him you are forgiven, you are free. Why, then, do you remain in the prison house of sin and death? Why do you continue to strive to earn God’s favor by works? Take up your mat and walk! Go, and sin no more! Your faith has made you well!
Of Jesus, God said through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Children of God, it is still Christmas, and Jesus is the Gift that keeps on giving! “And because of Him,” writes the Apostle Paul, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Jesus is your Anointed One, Christ for you. Because of His baptism is your baptism a cleansing flood of forgiveness. For, you are baptized into Christ: His baptism is your baptism. His righteousness is your righteousness. His death is your death and His resurrection is your resurrection. He is God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased; through baptism into Him, you are God’s children, forgiven, freed, and possessing eternal life and salvation!
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things! Your baptism, your faith, your forgiveness, your righteousness – these are the LORD’s work who alone does wondrous things. The LORD upheld and chose His servant Jesus. The LORD took delight in Him. The LORD placed His Spirit upon Him. The LORD called Him in righteousness. The LORD gave Him as a covenant for the people and as a light for the nations. For, God has chosen the weak and the foolish things of this world, the low and the despised, even things that are not, to shame the wise and the strong; and the LORD has chosen and called you to faith and baptism into Christ that He might say of you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In Christ, God became man that man might become God. Christ is baptized. Let us descend with Him that we may also ascend.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
John 14:1-6; Philippians 4:10-13; Isaiah 35:3-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for the life and faith our Lord granted to our dear departed sister in Christ Viola Hager. And, there is so very much to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for: Viola’s baptism into Jesus; eighty-two years lived in the Lord’s grace and mercy; a great many years devoted to the service of others in need through the Salvation Army; service in the Lutheran Church; service in the United Methodist Church; and, most recently, service in the Lutheran Church once again. Viola was a woman of strong faith, and faith that was made evident in action. As St. James has written, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works” – that was Viola. She was fruitful in good works for the Lord – good works that were the fruit of the faith that the good Lord created and sustained within her.
Thus, not surprisingly, Viola was not a woman to sit around and do nothing. Even when her body didn’t move like it used to, her mind was quick and sharp and aware of what needed to be done. In the Salvation Army, Viola was known as the Roadrunner. She received this moniker because of the many miles she put on her cars driving to Salvation Army functions, mission endeavors, and Bible camps, filming and documenting them, rarely missing an event. Anita tells me that she put 270,000 miles on her Impala – and it wasn’t done yet! – and that she put 300,000 miles on the Impala before that! I’m not sure if that makes Viola Chevrolet’s best, or worst, customer!
Even as a child, Viola was determined, active, and fearless. She used to roller-skate and leap over garbage cans in the Bronx where she grew up. At the United Methodist Church in Davenport, Viola, single-handedly, was the Sunshine Committee, sending birthday and get well cards and little gifts to members and visiting shut-ins and those in the hospital or in nursing homes. When she spent time in the nursing home for physical rehabilitation, she took the opportunity to evangelize her roommates. Even at the King’s Apartments this past year, she oversaw the card games and the crafts, not officially, of course, and she saved seats for friends and neighbors attending dinners. It was my experience at Bible studies that Viola kept a record of precisely the page number and the chapter and verse where we left off previously. Anita tells me that she was the record-keeper of the Wednesday night Bible study as well. And, Viola made certain that family and friends, far and wide, were on the prayer lists of the church and were prayed for regularly by our Bible study groups. Indeed, we have prayed regularly for her sister Julia, for a couple from the Salvation Army, for a relative in Finland, and for countless others. That was Viola: Always thinking of others, looking out for others, being concerned for others, up to her last days. That was her faith – faith in action.
Though she had visited several times with Anita over the years, Viola did not begin to attend Christ the King regularly until she moved into The King’s Apartments in December of 2013. Shortly after that, it was a rare thing for Viola to miss a Divine Service, a Bible study, or any event in the church. It was through her participation in the King’s Apartments Bible study, however, that I got to know Viola. Mostly she sat quietly and listened. However, I knew when what we were discussing connected with her, for she would begin to nod her head up and down in agreement. I’m happy to say that Viola nodded her head quite a lot. From the beginning to the end, though she attended other churches for periods of a time, deep down, Viola was a Lutheran. That’s exactly what she told the folks at the Methodist Church in Davenport, and she refused to become a member there.
That’s something I appreciated about Viola: She didn’t always have a lot to say, but she was direct and straight in whatever she chose to say. Her words were truth – period. She offered world of comfort, words of rebuke, and words of confession, that is, words of faith. I think that the words of St. Paul to the Philippians describe her well: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” And, that’s a wonderful thing. Her strength and resoluteness came, not from herself, but from her Lord. Again, St. Paul’s confession could easily be Viola’s: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is why she could be a source of strength and comfort for others – she gave of what she had received. In truth, only those who have received from the Lord have something to give and to share with others. Likewise, I can imagine Viola sharing Jesus’ words from St. John’s Gospel, or similar words, with her roommate in the nursing home: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. […] I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Perhaps she even shared the words of Isaiah to those with anxious hearts: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come.”
For eighty-two years Viola shared the truth and strength and comfort and consolation of the Lord and His Word in her own words and deeds, helping many, strengthening the weak hands and making firm the feeble knees. It was truly only in her last months, or last weeks even, that Viola needed others to strengthen, comfort, and console her. The poor soul simply could not hear, and her inability to hear sometimes caused her confusion and uncertainty. Pancreatic cancer was taking its toll on her body. Now she was the one with the weak hands and feeble knees. The Roadrunner was being forced to slow down and take it easy. Of course, this was not something that Viola was going to take to easily. Just days before her passing she was talking about driving her Impala again. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”; I can even face death. Viola, and all who find their strength in the Lord, can even face death because they know and believe and trust that Jesus has already faced death for them and has overcome. Indeed, this is the comfort we find in the 23rd Psalm: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” You need fear no evil because Jesus has already walked through that valley before you, and He has knocked down the door of death that would keep you in, and he has entered the Father’s house to prepare a place for you that He might come back for you and take you there. Yes, even now, as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your victorious Lord walks with you, for He promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And, thus, we take comfort now that Viola is with her Lord, even as we take comfort that, in His time, in accordance with His righteous will and wisdom, He will lead us out of the valley and through the door into His Father’s house forevermore. There, we will see and hear and hug and kiss our sister in Christ Viola again, and never again will we be apart from those we love who die in the Lord.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.