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the sermon for

the Funeral of Anne Marie (Walker)

28 March 2017

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Love never dies!

03282017"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love..."

Those were among the first words spoken, Sunday afternoon, when I went over to Raquelle's to talk with them about this service. A list of hymns was ready and waiting. And when I asked if there was any particular passage they thought appropriate for this morning, they said 1st Corinthians thirteen! No hesitation! No second thoughts! The chapter on love! The Twenty-Third Psalm was a close second. But these thirteen verses was the one! And that says a lot! Think about Marie – about Mema – and the first thing that comes to mind is love! Her love for us! Our love for her! God's love for us all! That's a good thing to come to mind! Naturally! Automatically! Especially at a time like this!

Love is patient and kind. It isn't envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love doesn't insist on its own way. And just like Jesus, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And best of all, no matter what, love never, ever comes to an end! Even if a heartbeat, a breath, does. Love continues! Love goes on! And like I said, that's a good thing to remember! Here! Now!

But it's funny... I've read this passage quite a few times, through the years. But this time, I saw something new. How, thoroughly, unremarkable love really is! How ordinary! How commonplace! Love – according to Paul – isn't the kind of thing you can point to and say, "There it is!" It doesn't have a time or a place to remember! A time, a place, to etch in stone! If it was about speaking in tongues of angels, that's something to remember! Or understanding everything! Giving everything away! Those are the kind of things that stay with you! The kind of things that make an impression! But patience? Kindness? All the rest? You just don't build monuments to that kind of thing. Yet that is, exactly, what Paul is writing about!

And that is why we're here, this morning. Because of the love! Simply, the love! Everyday! Run-of-the-mill! The kind of love we overlook, take for granted! That smile... That tear... That word... That touch... we, probably, can't, even, remember! That's what brings us here! We come not out of a sense of duty or obligation, but of love! The kind of love Paul was talking about! The kind of love we've all experienced! More sensed than anything! That still more excellent way! Most excellent way! Impression! Intuition! Inkling!

If we had to explain it, define it, describe it, we couldn't! And if we could, chances are it, probably, wasn't love, after all! But fortunately, here, this morning, we don't have to try! We're surrounded by others who understand! Who understand and are here for the same reason! It's the love that brings us here! That First Corinthians Thirteen kind of love! It's not an end times, second coming sort of thing. Sound of a trumpet. Blink of an eye. It's a born-in-a-manger, wash the feet, hang on a cross kind! A daily bread thing! Steady! Sure! It's that kiss good night, at the end of the day! It's the first thing in the morning smile! It's concerts and recitals! Tournaments and games! That's the kind of love that changes the world! That creates it! That saves it! That makes it new, time and time again! Patient! Kind! Not envious! Not boastful! Not arrogant! Not rude! And it never ends! Not even here! Not even now! Marie – Mema – loving us! We loving her! God loving us all! Holding us tight! Never letting go! Not of Marie! Not of us! Not of anyone! As for prophecy... and tongues... and knowledge... it will all pass away! It will all die! But not the love! Love lives forever!

And that's why we are here! That's why we have always been here! Faith, hope, and love abide, these three. But the greatest of these... the greatest of all is, of course, the love!

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the sermon for

the Fourth Sunday in Lent

26 March 2017

John 9:1-41
The gospel administered and proclaimed is only the beginning!

A sprint! A dash! More often than not, that's how we, usually, make our way through scripture. A handful of verses, one week. A mouthful, the next. We're good at the short distance. The rhythm. The tempo. But every now and then, along comes a marathon. We try our best, but, inevitably, we hit a wall. We tire. We run out of energy.

Last week, the gospel was thirty-eight verses long! Next Sunday, it will be forty-five! And this morning, forty-one! Three, four times the typical! And frankly, it's difficult to make the change! Demanding! No matter how hard we try, after a while, we're overwhelmed by all the words! Our ears go numb! Our minds wander! Before we realize, we aren't, even, listening.

As a preacher, I have to confess, the longer the reading, the harder it is to figure out just where to begin. There's just so much there! Kinda like that seventy-two ounce steak they serve up in Amarillo... You just don't know where to start! So, last Sunday afternoon, as usual, I read through the passage! All forty-one verses! Each and every one of eight hundred sixty-two words! And then, I reread them! But I wasn't halfway through before I started skimming. Every other word. Every other passage. By the third time, I didn't, even, try. It was too much. But it was, then, that a phrase came to mind...

The devil is in the details! The devil's in the details! In the tittles and jots! In the trivia! The minutiae! And if that was true... If that was true, it meant that god was in the generalities! In the overview! The panorama! In other words, god isn't so much in the trees, as in the forest! In the broad, sweeping passages like the ones we've read! Like the ones we're reading! Like the ones we will read! The kind of passages that force us to stop back to see it all!

Like I said, on any given Sunday, we're handed nothing more than a pinch of scripture to think about, just a sip of bible to meditate on. But today, we're given a mouthful, a gulp! And the thing that struck by about it is that the story of Jesus doesn't always fit into a nice and neat little story! Sometimes, there's more to say than the usual compact and convenient passage! Hopefully, as a nation, we're beginning to realize that it takes more than a hundred forty characters to run a country. As a church, it takes more than a dozen or so verses to do it right! Sometimes you have to read an entire chapter of a gospel – at one sitting – to get the whole picture!

Today's gospel helps us understand that there's more to Jesus' story than one, simple snapshot. It's a story that can't be told on a single cel or in an individual frame! There's a movement to it, a flow! It's living! Breathing! There's always something after! Always something before! Something more! And you have to see it all to understand the consequences, the implications, the repercussions!

It would have been so simple if we'd read only the first seven verses! Jesus walking along! Seeing a man blind from birth! Spitting on the ground! Making mud and wiping it on the man's eyes! Telling him to go and wash! So simple! So to the point! But we would have missed what really happened! The questions! The confusion! The anger! The accusations!

Think about that! The man's neighbors arguing about whether he was really the one they knew! The Pharisees and their concern about the sabbath! His parents brought in and questioned! Is this your son? Was he blind? How was he healed! The man brought before the Pharisees a second time to condemn Jesus! And the part I missed, even after I've read these verses time and time, again! The man, in the end, was driven out from the town!

We're so used to reading the bible as if it were a comic book that is remains flat, simplistic – overly so! We miss the shadows and the color! The only way – the ONLY way – we gain any depth is by reading more verses! Those verses fill it all in! Flesh it all out! But that takes time. That takes a lot of time. We have to understand, John 9 . 1-7 doesn't stand alone! It's followed by John 9 . 8-12! And that's followed by 12-17 and 18-24 and 24-34! And 35-41 comes after that! And to understand the story – the whole story – you have to read them all!

But when we do – like we did, this morning – we just might be surprised by what we find. Because not everyone who hears the gospel, not everyone who sees the good news, says, "Praise to you, O Christ!" In fact, sometimes, it's just the opposite! And there are questions and confusion and anger and accusations! Sometimes, there may, even, be a cross! But we'll miss that. We'll overlook that. We'll ignore that. If our attention is focused only on the bits and pieces! We miss that and overlook that and ignore that – whether accidentally or on purpose – if we stop with the blind man seeing!

So, at times, it may be a little boring, sitting back and listen to a reader go on... and on... and on... And at times, it may, even, be a bit annoying when we're confronted by a passage as long as this. When what should be inspiring becomes monotonous. When you ears get distracted and your thoughts sidetracked and before you know it, the gospel's been read and you can't remember what it was about.

But this, too, is life! And this, too, is believing! It isn't always entertaining and it doesn't always hold our interest. At times, life and faith – faith and life – seem to drone on and on. But that's all a part of the story. Bottom line, god loves us! Loves us with all god's heart! Loves us with all god's being! But that's only the beginning! That just the start! And the journey, the adventure, is what comes after!

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