Thursday, August 26, 2010

Funeral Words

Thursday, August 26, 2010 -- Week of Proper 16, Year Two

To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning)       18:21-50 (evening)
Job 8:1-10, 20-22
Acts 10:17-33
John 7:14-36

I remember catching my breath at the funeral home.  I was standing near the grieving parent.  Her beautiful little child was in the casket.  A well intentioned neighbor smiling confidently, spoke encouragingly to the parent.  "I guess God just needed her more than you did.  Now there's another beautiful little voice in the angels' choir." 

The parent's face registered a quiet shock.  Chemicals roared in my brain. "Why would she say something thoughtless and stupid like that?"  The parent looked down and away.  It took but a second.  After quickly becoming composed, the parent recognized the good intent behind the vapid words, smiled, and said with genuine warmth, "Thank you so much for coming." 

Sometimes we get peeks at sanctity.

Bildad the Shuhite means well.  He's just heard Job challenge God over the extremity of his suffering.  This kind of thinking is false and will only amplify Job's troubles, Bildad thinks.  God does not pervert justice.  God upholds justice.  Job, your children died tragically.  This is the consequence of their sin.  If you will be upright and righteous, God "will rouse himself for you...  See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers.  He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, ...and the tent of the wicked will be no more." 

The woman who spoke to that grieving parent was probably just repeating something she heard at church.  She meant it to be comforting.  She believes in a God who does right by people. 

Bildad the Shuhite was just repeating what he had read in scripture or been taught in by conventional his religion or philosophy.  It's the same theology that we hear in today's readings from Psalm 18.  God is just.  God upholds the innocent.  God punishes the guilty. 

But it doesn't always work out that way.

Jesus shows us God's deepest revelation -- God's most intimate and powerful presence.  It is the image of an innocent man tortured and dying on a cross while all of the authorities of religion and state name him as blasphemer and traitor.  This is where God is, Jesus shows us.

All of those certainties of right and wrong, sacred and profane, presence and absence, blessed and cursed, reward and punishment are qualified before the inscrutable mystery of God. 

Thank God that Peter wasn't too attached to what he had been taught about such things.  Like every good student of the Torah, he knew about God's blessing and curse, about what is clean and profane, right and wrong, blessed and cursed.  But he paid attention to a vision that came to him in a noonday trance.  Clean and profane animals descended to the ground, and a voice told him to get up, kill and eat.  "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean."  The voice challenged him, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."  The vision happened three times.

Just then strangers arrived at Peter's gate.  They were sent by one of the unclean, a Roman centurion named Cornelius.  Peter joined the strangers.  He will be tested.  He will see something inconceivable to a pious, observant Jew.  He will see the manifestation of God's spirit among those whom his scripture and his tradition tell him are unclean.  He will obey the new vision rather than the old interpretation.  Peter tells the strangers, "You yourself know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean."

Peter knows he will have a fight on his hands with all of his friends who hold to the tradition.  They will tell him what God has taught them for centuries.  They will uphold God's justice and judgment.  Peter will be challenged to defend what he has experienced as his friends throw the Book at him.  But Peter will stand by his vision.

I am reminded of another vision and another funeral.  A young man, Alan, son of an observant Baptist family, his uncle the pastor of their church.  With his parents at his hospital bed, he stopped breathing.  The nurse checked his pulse, shook her head, closed his eyelids and went for the doctor.  A few minutes later Alan bolted up from the bed.  "Mom, Dad.  I've just seen Jesus.  Call my brothers and sisters."  He told of visiting with Jesus in a beautiful field and asking to come back to say good-bye to his family.  A few hours later, after those good-byes, he died peacefully.  It was a holy death.

His vision and his holy death was important and healing for his family.  Alan was gay, and he died of AIDS.  They had been worried about him for they believed his sexual orientation to be sinful, unclean, cursed and subject to God's eternal judgment.  Preaching at the funeral, his uncle didn't mention that Alan was gay, didn't mention that AIDS took his life.  But he did tell the story of the vision, and he spoke confidently that Alan was in heaven with Jesus.  The words were comforting to the grieving parents. 



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strange way to extol the virtues of living out the gay lifestyle.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Anonymous said...
"Strange way to extol the virtues of living out the gay lifestyle."

It is, isn't it? A lot like an execution on the cross is a strange way to extol the virtues of living in union with God.

Some see love. Some see curse.


At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

execution on the cross does not extol the virtues of living in union with God, it makes it possible. Jesus allowing himself to be executed was his deep commitment to keeping the will of the father. A gay man dying from AIDS (a clear result of disobedience) only give an example of why Jesus even had to die on the cross, it is not virtuous, he was no martyr.

Where did AIDS come from? God told us to have sex in marriage only. Deviation from that results in disease for homo and hetero alike. Disobedience has consequences. This man certainly didn't get AIDS from having a monogamous relationship with another monogamous male.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

He violated God's law of marriage. He's a sinner. He got AIDS's. That's the punishment. Case closed. You got him. You convicted him. To hell with him.

Friend, you've perfected Pharisees and Sadducee's argument.

There are six days to work - curse his healing on the Sabbath. He's from Galilee -- search the scripture. There are no prophets to arise from Galilee. He eats with sinners and prostitutes. He eats with unclean hands. He's unclean; a sinner. He claims equality with God. He deserves to die. Crucify him.

He can't be the Messiah. Cursed be anyone who is hung on a tree.

Yep. You've got the Pharisee and Sadducees position well represented.

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must have hit a note to get you riled up.

I never said it was a punishment. I said it was a consequence.

You try soooo hard to justify homosexual sex, and in the process you come very close to granting people permission to do anything. Why do you never address the arguments against homosexual sex, or any sex outside marriage?

Do you think Paul was being legalistic when he told the Corinthians they too were committing sexual sins?


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