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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Simplify the Complex - Eulogy for James Edward Cwynar

God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … On behalf of Ilonha, John and our immediate and extended families, I thank you for gathering with us this morning for this Mass of Christian Burial for my brother, Ed.
I have heard 500 eulogies throughout my life and do not remember one. You may not have heard 500, but may remember as many as I have. I hope to send you from here with one you can finally remember.
Ed was my younger brother by 19 months. When you have known a person your entire life and spent nearly every day of the first twenty years of your life with him, you cannot eulogize him in a few short words. Yet, if I eulogize Ed with too many words, I risk turning an extraordinary life into one sounding mundane. So, allow me to share one brief moment in our lives.
Not long after our mother died, Ed and I embarked on a total house makeover. In 2007, we attended a home show at the Pittsburgh Convention Center. Afterwards, we decided to try the food and beer at The Church Brew Works. As we enjoyed our meal and discussed possibilities of our house makeover, I asked Ed about the beer chart on the wall. He explained the chart as only a chemist could.
A minute later Ed asked, “Do you know what the second most complex liquid on the planet is?” … Yeah, like I knew! … “No,” I replied. Ed answered, “Wine.”
Right now, you are probably thinking what I asked. “What is the most complex liquid on the planet?” Without hesitation, Ed said, “Blood.”
A marvelous theological insight! Jesus chose wine, the second most complex liquid on the planet, to symbolize his blood, and bread, one of the simplest foods, to symbolize his body.
As I reflect on that conversation from 2007, I realize Ed shared with me a marvelous theological insight and a snapshot of himself. Sometimes Ed complicated the simple, but he usually simplified the complex. Ed simplified the complex.
Our Christian faith is not as complex as earning a Masters degree in Chemistry, but as simple as a child opening his welcoming arms to a loving father. Ed mastered the complexity of chemistry and the simplicity of Christianity.
In closing, I lay before you this Curly Washburn challenge: Master one thing in life. You may be an expert at math, music, medicine or motherhood, law, logistics or languages, theology, chemistry or farming, but you must master one thing in life: the simplicity of Christianity.
Master the simplicity of Christianity by receiving God’s Grace, His Word and His Sacraments. Open yourself to God’s love poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit,[1] and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.[2]
God gave Ed His Grace, His Word and His Sacraments – all that he needed not only for an extraordinary life lived, but also for an eternal life entered. Ed figured out how to live a Christian life long before he knew how to read periodic tables and beer charts. Ed mastered the simplicity of Christianity; he simplified the complex because he trusted God’s promise of eternal life through Christ crucified and he accepted that promise like a little child. Do that, and you, my brothers and sisters, will master the simplicity of Christianity.
As you do, may God send his angels to protect you. In Jesus’ Holy Name, we pray. Amen. … May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.[3] Amen.

[1] Romans 5:5
[2] Matthew 22:37-39
[3] Philippians 4:7

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What's In?

God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My focus is Mark 9:39, where we read, “No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”[1] Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
What’s in? What is in? Three words packed with power. What – pronoun requesting information. Is – 3rd person singular verb of to be. In – preposition indicating inclusion within space. What is in? Because I cannot end a sentence with a preposition, I ask: What’s in a name? What’s in our Gospel? What’s in it for me?
Juliet asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It did not matter what Romeo's name was. If you call a rose something else, it still smells the same.[2]
Names identify individuals. We identify people by first names – Oprah or Madonna, by nicknames – Ike or Whoopi, or by initials – MJ or LBJ.
Because people identify us by our names, what is in your name? Why are you named Raymond or Paul, Jo Ann or Cynthia, Martin or Katherine, Robert or Dolores? Did you ever ask those who named you why they chose that particular name?
Some people are named after parents, grandparents, significant family members or friends. Others are named after people who might influence their lives. Hans and Margarette Luther named their son Martin because he was born on November 10th and the Feast of St. Martin falls on November 11th. Still others are named Liam or Noah, Emma or Olivia because it is popular. I asked my mother why she chose Paul David for me, and her reply was, “I liked it.” Well, enough about me.
Mary and Joseph named their son Jesus, the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament. His name means He saves His people from their sins. The disciples knew Jesus to be the Christ. The Greek word Christ, from the Egyptian word kheru, meaning word or voice, is translated from the Hebrew Māšîaḥ, meaning anointed one. The name Jesus Christ identifies the Second Person of the Trinity.
The name also possesses power. In Jesus’ culture, a name identified the person, and anyone who represented that person. The representative also possessed his power. For example, the ambassador bore the king’s name, and his word possessed the king’s power. That is why, as we heard last week, that whoever received a child in Jesus’ name received Jesus himself.[3]
Our Gospel reveals the power of Jesus’ name in the actions of an unknown exorcist casting out demons while invoking the name of Jesus. Now, if the disciples understood who Jesus was, they would have known that a person could not perform a mighty deed in his name and speak ill of him. If they knew Jesus, they would have supported this unknown exorcist.
After rebuking John, Jesus spoke of hospitality – a cup of water – offered to his disciples because you belong to Christ. Notice that Jesus did not say because you are my disciples, but because you belong to Christ. The name Christ identified our Lord and his followers.
In Acts, Luke wrote that in Antioch the disciples were called Christians.[4] They bore the name Christian. In Galatians, Paul wrote, if you are Christ’s, then you are … heirs according to promise.[5] People who bear the name of Christ are heirs of Christ according to promise.
We move from what’s in a name to what’s in our Gospel. … Today’s gospel is a smorgasbord. It has everything: exorcisms and amputations, reward and punishment, heaven and hell, fire and salt. Since we already tasted the name, let’s limit our plates to one item that recurs throughout Mark: discipleship.
Our Gospel opens with an unknown exorcist operating successfully, unlike the disciples who, as we heard two weeks ago, could not cast out spirits possessing a boy,[6] even though Jesus gave this power to his closest disciples, the Twelve.[7]
As their spokesman, John objected to this unknown exorcist successfully exercising compassionate ministry through the power of Jesus’ name. He wanted Jesus to restrict the exorcist’s actions because he was not part of their inner circle. John did not so much desire personal allegiance and obedience to Jesus, but membership in the ‘authorized’ circle of followers.[8]
The passage resembles Joshua’s protest to Moses because Eldad and Medad prophesied but were not at the tent when God placed his Spirit on 70 elders. Moses was open-minded as he repudiated the jealousy of loyal disciples.[9] Likewise, in our gospel, Jesus, still seated from teaching about greatness in God’s kingdom, dealt with John’s protest, and then addressed an array of other issues.
Jesus was aware that the man did not know him. He knew the man was not his enemy, like the Pharisees who accused him of exorcising demons through the prince of demons.[10] Here, Jesus declared the one who is not against us is for us.[11] Jesus knew his name had power, and those who used it to benefit others could not turn against him. Jesus encouraged the Twelve not to restrict others from exercising compassionate ministry in his name, but to welcome and thank them for spreading the Gospel.[12]
The passage reveals that the Twelve saw themselves as the only ones authorized to exercise ministry in Jesus’ name. They could not tolerate anyone who challenged their superiority.[13] To maintain their monopoly, they erected boundaries. Jesus saw such cliquishness as a worldly value that had no place in the kingdom of God.[14] In short, the Twelve were preoccupied with being the greatest, and earned Jesus’ rebuke.[15]
Following a hell-fire and damnation sermon, aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors, Jesus concluded with a few words on salt – advice for how disciples remain in the world but not of it.
Matthew placed a salt saying of Jesus right after the Beatitudes: You are the salt of the earth,[16] but Mark’s is not the same. To understand Mark’s saying, we examine salt in the Old Testament.
In Leviticus, we read, You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.[17] Salt symbolized purity and holiness, and accompanied burnt offerings because of Israel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh.
We find purification in 2nd Kings where we read, The men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant … but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” [Elisha] said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” They brought it to him. He went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” The water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.[18]
Israel used salt to preserve, clean or flavor, but in Mark, salt symbolized the influence of the disciple on society.[19] Jesus’ disciples were dedicated totally to God’s service, but were forewarned that dedication would be costly in terms of personal suffering.”[20] Roman Christians saw themselves as sacrifices. Paul wrote present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.[21] Saltiness referred to one’s radical commitment to Christian discipleship.
Discipleship in the church could crumble when attacked; therefore, the church had to retain its integrity and distinctiveness as a community of peace.[22] True, the Twelve failed as followers of Christ – by trying to be the greatest, by preventing others to drive out demons in Jesus’ name, by scandalizing others or being scandalized – but Christ restored their life and mission. Good salt, which characterized the church, resulted in peaceful relationships.[23] Jesus restored the flavor of the church by salting its members that they might have flavor in themselves.[24] His words – Have salt in yourselves. Be at peace with one another – reminded them that to preserve these peaceful relationships, they had to serve one another. By serving one another, they would be at peace with one another. They lived this way because the Risen Lord and Holy Spirit dwelt with them.
Serve one another. Be at peace with one another. Sounds good, pastor, but what’s in it for me?
Who doesn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” Dedicated disciples don’t ask that question. James and John, who requested reserved seats at Jesus’ left and right, never again asked, “What’s in it for me?” Neither did Peter or Paul. Many people today never ask, “What’s in it for me?” Among those are men and women who bear the motto, “To protect and serve.” Lieutenant Joe Gliniewicz and other officers who sacrificed their lives never asked, “What’s in it for me?”
As Gospel people, we need God’s Law; and because we do not always live at peace with one another, we need law enforcement officers to serve us and protect us from one another.
Men and women who never ask, “What’s in it for me?” offer their lives because we do not live at peace. Annually since 1911, between 100 – 300 law enforcement officers die in the line of duty nationwide.[25] This year, 92 died; 4 in Illinois. Fourteen years after 9/11, first-responders die of complications and injuries suffered in the terrorist attacks.[26]
These men and women protect us from criminals who steal our lives, and evildoers who steal our children, elderly, property, savings, identity and whatever else imaginable. Police officers, corrections officers, detectives, investigators, National Guards, security guards, firefighters, forest rangers, postal inspectors and prosecutors serve us and protect us from Satan, sin and self.
Law enforcement officers serve and protect us. Who serves and protects them? God and His army of angels.
As we observe St. Michael and All Angels, the Church provides a reading describing the battle between Satan and his evil angels and Michael and God’s angels. Revelation tells us how God used Michael and the angels to deliver His people from Satan’s accusations.
Michael battled with weapons God gave us to defeat Satan: Word and Sacrament. In Jude 9, Michael said, The Lord rebuke you. In today’s reading, he said, They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.[27]
We defeat Satan by the Word of God, when we preach it in truth and purity. God’s Word silences Satan and casts him from heaven so he cannot accuse us before God’s throne. In Luke, after hearing a report on the preaching of his disciples, Jesus declared, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.[28] So, even though we, and those who protect and serve us, continue to battle Satan and sin at the expense of our lives, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Lord and His Church.
We win the battle against Satan and his evil angels not by power, might, strength or numbers, but as A Mighty Fortress confesses, “One little word …” That one little Word is Jesus and the forgiveness He offers us.
Witness the power of forgiveness in Jesus’ name by the family members of the murdered victims at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church. Fighting against every natural human inclination, these Christians demonstrated determined faith when they forgave the killer. Said the sister of one victim, “I acknowledge that I am very angry, [but my sister] taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”[29]
We have no room for hating. … What’s in it for us when we have no room for hating? What’s in it for us when we forgive in the name of Jesus? What’s in it for us when we forgive evildoers who kill people who spread the Gospel or enforce the Law? What’s in it for us when we – disciples of the Risen Lord sprinkled with salt – witness the Gospel through lovingkindness and forgiveness?
Sprinkled with salt, we witness as we pray daily not only the Lord’s words, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, but also Luther’s words, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”[30]
Brothers and sisters, may the evil foe never have power over you. May God send his angels to protect you that you may serve Him. In Jesus’ Holy Name, we pray. Amen. … May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.[31] Amen.
Saturday – Stand for Apostles Creed – back cover
8 – Stand for Te Deum – page 223
9:30 & 11 – Stand for Nicene Creed – back cover

[1] Psalm 122
[3] Mark 9:37
[4] Acts 11:26
[5] Galatians 3:29
[6] Mark 9:14-29
[7] Mark 3:15
[8] France, 377
[9] Numbers 11:26-29
[10] Matthew 12:22-32
[11] Mark 9:40
[12] France, 379
[13] LaVerdiere, 57
[14] France, 376
[15] France, 376
[16] Matthew 5:13
[17] Leviticus 2:13
[18] 2 Kings 2:19-22
[19] Ezekiel 16:4; France, 384
[20] France, 384
[21] Romans 12:1
[22] France, 385
[23] France, 385
[24] LaVerdiere, 64
[27] Revelation 12:11
[28] Luke 10:18
[29] Michael Gerson, “The power of forgiveness in Charleston,” The Washington Post, June 22, 2015.
[30] Luther’s Small Catechism, p. 33. See also Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, St. Michael and All Angels.
[31] Philippians 4:7