Thursday, January 4, 2018

Go and do likewise . . . In memory of our brother, David.

     I suppose to begin this sermon, I should start with a couple confessions.  I was mightily tempted to say to each of you “Go and do likewise” and sit back down.  Any words that I could say, in truth, pale when compared to the sermon that David lived.  Those inclined to argue need only look around.  More than 200 of us are gathered here today, standing room only, from eclectic and even no faith backgrounds, to give thanks to God for the life of David Kline.  He was a husband, a father, a brother, a grandpa, a friend, a confidant, a rock, a kind word, a shoulder to cry on, and so much more to each of us gathered here to remember his life and to mourn with Mary and the family, even as we remind ourselves that his life is not ended, only changed.
     I was tempted to be incredibly short, but I realize that the manner of David’s death requires some further discussion.  For those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, David’s death seems untimely.  For those who wrestle with faith or struggle to find meaning in life, David’s death may seem to confirm our worst suspicions.  If there is a God who is good and all-powerful and all the things that David claimed, why did he let David die on the side of the road in such a meaningless way?  If God really cares about loving others, why did He not preserve David’s life when that truck and car struck him, each other, and the car pulled over on the side of the road?  If God is good and loving and all those wonderful things that David and we claim, why would he allow David to be taken from his family during Christmas time, of all times?  And how, how can we ever expect to see David’s death redeemed in our lifetime?  Yes, I have had quite the number of conversations with Adventers and friends and co-workers of David.  Those are some of the questions being asked, and it falls on the clergy to answer those questions as wisely and winsomely as possible.
     And before I get going, I’d like to thank all of you who showed up at the gathering before the service in the Parish Hall to share your favorite stories about David.  It was wonderful to hear of long-lasting friendships, to hear how David was admired by his coworkers and how he ran his shop!  It was a bit disappointing to hear he was a goody-two-shoes as a kid, but, hey, nobody, but our Lord, is perfect!  On behalf of Adventers and the family, thank you for sharing those wonderful memories.  I know it takes some guts to stand in front of a bunch of people and risk emotions and vulnerability.  And I encourage you to continue to share them as the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months ahead.
     If you are participating in an Episcopal service for the first time, and wondering at the strange way we do things, even as they seem somewhat familiar, welcome.  We are glad you are celebrating with us.  Our services have two parts, a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Sacrament.  David would be the first to tell you that the preachers don’t always get the Liturgy of the Word right, so the Sacrament offers us a “second chance” at meeting Jesus during the sermon.  You may be surprised at the lack of pictures and by the presence of a pall covering David’s cremains.  That, too, is intentional.  The focus of this service, as was the focus of David’s life, is meant to be Jesus.  It matters not whether we are kings or paupers, each of us is promised to one day face our Lord.  And so the lack of “personal” items is intentional, to keep us rightly focused.  The only ornament is the Pascal Candle, which is lit to remind us that David has been raised to his new life in Christ, that he has been robed in immortality and imperishability, to use Paul’s description.  No doubt you will have other questions, and I encourage you to ask after the service or later in the week.
     My other confession was the sermon.  In truth, I had four sermons bouncing around in my head for this event.  Each of the readings came rather easily, and I cannot claim too much surprise that I had more than one sermon bouncing around in my head up here.  In private conversations, ome of you have asked about Resurrection and what I think has happened to David, and the Wisdom of Sirach and First Corinthians certainly speak to that.  Several of you have commented to me how David took his faith seriously in your eyes, that he was the furthest from a hypocrite that you could imagine, and so you might find comfort in Psalm 42.  Both Mary and I arrived at Psalm 139 independently of each other, so maybe there are a number of you struggling with the idea that God knows you intimately, loves you dearly in spite of your own perspective or self-worth, and would love to begin to work in you that which you saw in our brother David’s life.  In the end, I decided to preach on Luke’s famous Good Samaritan because, after speaking to so many of you today and listening to some of those words in the parish hall, it is the perspective of the Good Samaritan that so illumined David and guided his view of the world.
     Luke tells this story and begins by stating the purpose of the lawyer who asked the question of Jesus.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  As is so often the case, Jesus does not answer the man directly.  He asks the man what he thinks leads to eternal life.  The man answers with the Shema, love the Lord you God with everything, and what we know as the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus tells the man he has answered correctly.  Jesus goes on to say that if the man does this, he will live.  The lawyer, of course, is not really interested in Truth.  He’s looking for justification, for a pat on the back, for an acknowledgement of this prophet who claims to be the Son of Man, that he is headed for eternal life.  And who is my neighbor?  Clearly, at worst, the man expects to be told that all his brother and sister Jews are his neighbors.  At best, he may be hoping that Jesus will simply state those that live in his neighborhood.  He is looking for a clear boundary to be drawn, and for his works to have been on the right side of that boundary.  I say clearly because of the man’s response to Jesus’ story.
     Jesus answers the man by telling the story of a faithful man on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.  That 16-17 miles road was a well-known dangerous stretch for those pilgrimaging to the Temple.  It’s a good climb, not particularly well-settled, and full of caves and ravines and boulders.  Our best analogy in modern times would be something like going to church in the hood of our major cities, driving our fancy cars, wearing our best clothes, sporting our best jewelry, and with wallets stuffed with cash for the offering place.  Like you coming to church, Jews pilgrimaging to Temple wore or brought their best clothes.  They brought their best livestock, or money to buy the appropriate animal from the Temple priests.  In some respects, we might say they were gullible.  God will surely protect us as we journey to Jerusalem.  The problem with that, of course, is that the bad guys knew it.  Pilgrims were easy marks, easy targets, particularly those who chose not to travel in larger groups!
     So, this man in Jesus’ story is attacked by bandits.  He is stripped of his clothing and all of his possessions.  He is beaten by the robbers—we can easily imagine him trying to keep his Sunday best or offerings to God as a pious man—and left for dead.
     A priest comes along and then a Levite.  Neither stops to render assistance.  Did they think him dead?  Were they in too much of a hurry to be delayed?  We do not know.  Jesus does not relate those details.  No doubt those of you who attend church regularly have heard that the two men likely assumed the man was dead and so wanted to avoid being rendered unclean by coming into contact with a dead body.  It sounds good, it sounds reasonable, except for the fact that the Mishnah makes it clear that, in the absence of family, the uncleanliness did not apply to a priest when dealing with a dead body.  Put in plain English, the priest could have touched him because there was no family present!  Yet neither do.  Neither seems to get close enough to realize that the man is still alive!
     Then comes the truly shocking part of the story.  A Samaritan comes along.  In modern times, I’m not sure we have the cultural equivalent of a Samaritan.  I suppose that some Americans despise Muslims, but nowhere near all Americans do.  Those of us that are older might think of some race or group stronger than the Commie bastards of the cold war.  Maybe we should think of the Civil War era Yankees with strong religious overtones?  Israel had a visceral hatred of the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were the descendants of those left behind when Assyria rolled through town and carried the northern kingdom off into slavery.  Because most Jews were carried off, those left behind were forced to marry those Assyrians imported in to the area.
     To complicate matters a bit more, both the Samaritans and the Jews fought about who was worshipping Yahweh properly.  Each had their own Temple and location.  The Samaritans accepted the first five books of what we call the Old Testament as Scripture, whereas the Jews discerned other books belonged in Scripture.   The idea of a Good Samaritan would have been the most extreme version of an oxymoron in Jewish culture.  They did not speak to each other.  They did not worship together.  They avoided each other like the plague.  Surely the Samaritan would pass by, too!
     Jesus’ audience would have been stunned by the rest of the story.  We are not as attentive to grammar today, but Jesus uses active verbs to describe the effort and intention of the Samaritan.  The Samaritan goes to the beaten and naked Jew.  The Samaritan pours oil and wine on the wounds of the Jewish man.  The Samaritan bandages the Jewish man.  The Samaritan puts the Jewish man on his donkey and leads it to the inn.  The Samaritan carries the Jewish man, presumably too weak to walk, from the donkey into the inn.  In the inn, the Samaritan takes care of the wounded Jewish man.  Once the Jewish man seems on the road to recovery, and no doubt attending to some delayed business, the Samaritan pays the innkeeper enough for the wounded Jewish man to stay and recuperate for two weeks.  Finally, he instructs the innkeeper to keep a tab for anything else required for the wounded Jewish man, promising to repay upon his return.  This aid, as Jesus highlights, is active.  There is no “oh, that’s too bad.  I hope God will take care of him.”  Empty prayers are not offered by the Samaritan.  No, indeed, the Samaritan takes it upon himself to see the Jewish man healed and restored.
     Then, Jesus asks that wonderful question: Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?  If you wondered whether I exaggerated the Jewish/Samaritan hatred, notice the answer.  The lawyer does not answer Jesus, “The Samaritan.”  Instead, he replies, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Then Jesus answers with that command that so tempted me as a summary of David’s life:  Go and do likewise.
     As is so often the case in Scripture, Jesus does a wonderful job of reframing perspectives and understandings with His own questions and answers.  And for those of us who proclaim Him Lord and Savior and Messiah, that reframing carries with it certain consequences, demands, and expectations.  What separates the priest and Levite from the Samaritan?  All three see the wounded man left for dead.  All three recognize there is likely a need.  Yet only one chooses actively to engage in the care and ministering to the wounded man.  All three have eyes.  All three have ears.  So what, in the end, separates them?  I think the lawyer’s answer to Jesus’ question, and our Lord’s assent, points us in the right direction.
     Throughout Scripture, human beings are described as in need of circumcised hearts.  Over and over again, God points out to humanity that we are not merciful, we are not loving, we are not compassionate.  Oh, we are polite in many cases.  Sure, we try to get along with others much of the time.  But how often do we really demonstrate the heart of God in the world around us?  How often do we see, hear, and understand need and then work, actively work, to improve the situations of others?  A few weeks ago, all I asked of us in Tennessee was to write a couple letters on behalf of a young woman whose circumstances caused us to change our laws, and 26 other states to follow suit, when dealing with survivors of modern slavery.  Yet how many followed through in that incredibly difficult fight against injustice?  Often, we will cluck our lips or remark at the need of others, heck, we may even say aloud, Someone should really do something about . . . , but how many of us follow through?  How many of us seek to be the ones who do what they have been given eyes to see, ears to hear, or hearts to understand?
     I know David’s tragic death has been hard for many of you.  I have probably spoken to fifty or sixty of you about the unfairness of his death, about the cruelty, about the wasted faith he had, and any other ways you have engaged me.  From a human perspective, I understand the hurt.  From a human perspective, I understand the doubt and the pain.  From a human perspective I understand the seeming futility.  David died for being a Good Samaritan.  David died, ultimately, trying to care for someone along the side of the road who may have been wounded.  And in that caring for others, he was rewarded by losing his life.
     Thankfully and mercifully, the human perspective is not the only perspective at play in this seemingly senseless and certainly tragic death.  Thankfully and gloriously, our Lord has something else to say to us.  Each of you is gathered here today to honor David and to mourn with his family.  As I listened to conversations in the parish hall, as I have spoken on the phone with many of you, as I have exchange e-mails with some present and some absent, I have heard clearly how each of you, in turn, felt loved by David.  I have heard over and over and over again how David was the shoulder to cry on, how David and Mary were people who helped you . . . and not just with prayers.  I have heard over and over again how David had something that just made you know he cared about you, wanted the best for you, and was joyed to know you.  And I am not saying I have not heard about any fights.  David himself spoke of family fights.  He and Mark could get it on like only brothers can.  He and Mary fought from time to time as only husbands and wives can.  And yes, even his beloved children and he got into it from time to time.  If he fought with those he loved most, I have no doubt he had fights and disagreements with others.
     But what many of you are struggling to name that you found in David or that you will most miss in David was described best by our Lord Christ in this story.  David realized some time ago that the onus was on him to be the neighbor.  It was not David’s job to figure out if this person or that person was worthy or deserving of help.  It was his job, whenever God gave him eyes and ears and a heart to see the need, to be merciful, to be loving.  And in being that lover of all his neighbors, look at the testimony of his life: you!  All of us gathered here this day to celebrate his life are mutts and mismatched parts.  David did not set out to love only Episcopalians or Anglicans—God knows there are too few of those around for such love to be significant.  David did not set out to love only Christians.  God knows some of those are challenging to love!  David set out each day with the intention of living a life like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ story.  And your presence here today testifies to the success of his efforts!  When an eclectic group such as us comes together to mourn and to celebrate, someone got something right!  Today, we remember that someone was David.
     And, although each of us gathered here have reason to mourn, David would be the first to tell each of us not to mourn for too long.  David died as he lived, loving others as himself.  David died on the cusp of the season where we celebrate the Incarnation of God, incarnating that same kind of love that His Lord Christ would during His life.  And David would remind us that his life now is changed, not ended, thanks to His Lord who was, as in the words of Paul this morning, the first fruits of the Resurrection. 
     And in the end, that was the hope that drove David.  In the end, it was the power and promise of the Resurrection that convinced him that his perspective needed to be changed, that his heart needed to be changed.  In everyone gathered here this morning that David helped, there was a cost to him and to Mary.  In baptismal language, we would say he died to self each and every time he put our needs ahead of his own.  And now, we celebrate that he gets to experience the other side of that covenant, that if he died to self in Christ he will be raised to new life, just like his Lord Christ.  As a priest in Christ’s One, Holy, catholic and Apostolic Church, I can think of no better example in the flock to which I am assigned.  I will for a time mourn.  No doubt as I listen to Mary and to Lucas and others of you, I may be moved to tears by your stories.  But those tears are not the last word.  That sadness is not the end of David’s story.  I know, because of God’s faithfulness, I will see my brother again.  I may only see the back of his head because he will be up close to the eternal throne with all those who laid down their lives for friends and neighbors, but I will see him.  David’s fondest wish for all of you, too, was that he would see you as well.  He lived his life intentionally and cognizant of the fact that he was God’s appointed ambassador or herald in your life.  He lived his life certain of his calling, that it was his job to invite you to this amazing feast where he now waits for us, where the food is beyond anything this earth can imagine, where the wine tastes way better than Diet Cokes, and where amazing fellowship can be had for all eternity!
     Imagine, if you will for a moment, if we all lived like David.  How big would that party be?  How many more characters would be there?  How much more would our Lord be glorified, as He was in David’s life and death?
     Now, Go and do likewise!

In Christ’s Peace,

Brian†