Tuesday, November 28, 2017

More than Just Greetings: Romans 16:1-16

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to talk about in our lesson from the book of Romans this morning.  I mean, essentially all you have Paul doing is sending greetings.  Greet such and such.  Greet so and so.  Greet this person who is beloved.  Greet that person who is a member of that house.  Over and over again–27 people worth of greetings. I mean, if that is the sum and substance of Paul’s paragraph here, what more is to be said than simply getting up here and saying, “Greet one another.  Amen.?”  Short.  Sweet.  To the point.  Done. Let’s call it a day.

But let’s take a moment to dig a little deeper.  Let’s go beyond the superficial and look at some of the details and see what is revealed about what it means to live a life that is convicted by the Gospel.

The first thing that stands out to me is how many people Paul actually knew in the church that he had never visited.  Think about this with me for just a moment.   Remember, Paul has admitted that he has never been to the church in Rome.  He has yet to travel there, even though he has desperately wanted to.  If that is the case, how is it that Paul knows the names of so many people?  How is it that he somehow can ask for greetings for over 20 folks whom he has yet to see face to face?

This gives us some insight into the early Christian church.  It tells us that in the early Church, folks knew of fellow Christians throughout the Roman Empire.  They were not isolated in their little enclaves, thinking only about themselves, and connected to their small circle of friends and relatives in their communities.  No.  They had a much larger perspective of what the church was.  They had a much larger perspective of where the Gospel was supposed to go.  They knew that the church was struggling to gain a foothold in the Roman Empire.  It faced trials and tribulations.  It faced some persecution.  It faced shortage of resources.  So, people stayed in contact with each other.  People prayed for one another.  People in Achaia and Macedonia cared for the people in Jerusalem.  People in Jerusalem prayed for the people in Rome.  The early Christians knew that the church was much, much larger than their local congregations, and they made it a point to reach across the distances to get to know folks in other places.

I must confess that this is an area of growth for me.  I tend to be rather short-sighted.  I tend to focus right here on this community and neglect others throughout the world.  I tend to forget that the church is much, much larger than Saint John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring.  I tend to focus my prayers right here and forget about the rest of the world.  I do not know many people outside of this congregation and the congregations I served previously.  It is a challenge for me to think on a grander scale...to think about the larger church.  Perhaps this is also a challenge for our congregation.

The second thing that stands out for me is the diversity of people that Paul greets.  There are men and women.  There are Jews and Gentiles.  There are people who own houses, and there are slaves.  These early house churches cut across racial, gender, and socio-economic status.  When you walked into those churches, you did not see row after row of people who looked the same, had the same background, and had the same status in society.  The Gospel had broken down these boundaries and replaced them with a new set of boundaries.

For you see, the Gospel proclaimed that each and every person was in Christ Jesus.  Each and every person had been clothed with Christ Jesus. Each and every person had a new identity that went above and beyond any other identity conferred upon them in society.  People did not cease having a Jewish or Gentile background. They did not cease being rich or poor.  They did not cease being slave or free. They did not cease being male or female, but those identities were nothing compared to their identity in Christ.  Therefore, there was only one status that was important in the church: that you were a child of God.

That’s it.
Nothing else.

You were not given special privilege because you were wealthy.  You were not given special privilege because you were male.  You were not given special privilege because you were Jewish.  All of these things, which at one time did bestow privilege, were gone.  You were a new creation being made into the image and likeness of Jesus.

This too has implications for the church today.  For it is awfully easy to flip back into the distinctions of status and privilege.  It is awfully easy to believe that our job or our title or our bank accounts or our possessions or any other distinguishing mark gives us a special privilege.  This is something we must resist.  When the church begins allowing these distinctions, we fall away from the promises we have inherited in our baptisms.  We fail to remember how Jesus has claimed us and clothed us.  We fail to remember what Christ has done for us and instead focus on, well, us.  And we are not the focus of the church.  Jesus has been, is, and always will be.  When a church fails to focus on Jesus, distinctions get made, and we are another step further removed from the becoming the body of Christ.

Finally, in this passage, we see a deep, deep sense of love and respect between church members.  Paul’s initial words about the deaconess Phoebe are a recommendation to end all recommendations.  They are very, very flattering and are intended to paint her in the best possible light as she, in all likelihood, brings Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  We then see just how far members in the church are willing to care for one another in the next statement.  “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”

I must confess to you that I don’t think I had ever paid that much attention to this sentence the previous times when I had read through the book of Romans.  Prisca and Aquila literally “risked their necks” on behalf of Paul.  Whatever they did, it put them in great risk for their fellow brother in Christ.  Whatever they did, it could have cost them their lives.  In the early church, folks were willing to risk their lives for one another!!!  Chew on that for just a minute. 

Being a part of the early church literally could put your life in danger.  Much like being a part of the church in Iran today, or in the areas still controlled by ISIS.  Much like being a part of the church in China.  Christians in these parts of the world are apt to suffer greatly at the hands of the ruling authorities, and being a part of the church there could literally jeopardize your life.

And yet, the church is actually growing rapidly in these parts of the world just as it grew rapidly in the Roman empire.  There was something so deeply moving about the Christian faith that it led people to do things that were almost unthinkable.  It led people to take unbelievable risks for one another–risks that were not done out of any sort of self-interest or personal gain, but risks that were taken out of great love for fellow believers.

And why wouldn’t they take such risks?  They knew what Jesus had done for them. They knew what Jesus had endured for their sakes.  They knew that Jesus had come into this world as God-incarnate.  They knew that Jesus had lived the life that God desired of mankind.  They knew that Jesus was spotless and blameless before God.  They knew that Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice for their sins.  They knew that they didn’t measure up to God’s standards.  They knew that they fell woefully short.  They knew they deserved eternal punishment for their shortcomings before the Almighty Creator of the universe.  But instead of that punishment falling on their heads, Jesus took that punishment for them.  Jesus interceded on their behalf and faced hell for them.  Jesus faced rejection for them.  Jesus faced divine wrath for them.  And then He became the first fruits of a new creation as he was raised from the dead.  He became the first sign of God’s new kingdom breaking into the world and reversing all evil and hatred.  He became the unleashing of God’s rule in the world where death and the devil would be defeated.  These early Christians were grasped by this marvelous act of Jesus.  They were grasped by this undeserved love.  They were grasped by the wonder of God dying for them when they least deserved it, and their hearts were moved to love God and love one another so that they would lay down their lives for each other.  They would take great risks for one another.  They would sacrifice their time, their talent, and their treasure for one another.  The Gospel changed them deeply from within!

And O how desperately do we need this Gospel today!!  How desperately do we need to have Christ’s love poured into our hearts so that we are willing to have our lives changed again!!  How desperately does the church need an infusion of God’s love reawakened within it!  How desperately does the church need to rediscover its roots so that it has the energy, drive, and hope of the early church!  For as the rest of the world saw how different the church was; as the rest of the world saw the changed hearts and self-sacrifice of the church; the rest of the world noticed that this change was not brought about by self-will and determination.  The rest of the world saw that God had indeed touched the hearts and minds of the church.  The rest of the world saw that God was real and had come to earth as Jesus the Christ.  The rest of the world saw that God’s kingdom was breaking into the world, and they wanted to be a part of that kingdom as well.  The rest of the world’s hearts became changed because the Gospel captured them through the love, preaching, teaching, and risk taking of the church.

Oh, my brothers and sisters, this text has so much more within it than simply greeting one another.  It helps us see what the church can be when it loves God and then loves one another.  May God’s love find us so that we may be the Church!!  Amen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

God's Plan for Your Life

God has a plan for your life.  It is a good plan, but, I am sorry to say, God’s plan will probably disrupt your plan that you have for your own life.  Let me put it more bluntly, if you seek to follow God, He will disrupt your life and lead you to places you never thought you would want to go.  He will take you down pathways that you didn’t expect.

It’s actually an old, old story that runs throughout scripture.  Noah never expected to build an ark.  Abraham never expected to be called away from his homeland to travel to a land far, far away.  Moses never expected to be called by God from a burning bush.  Gideon never expected to be called from his farm to lead Israel’s army.  Samuel never expected to be called by God as a boy to become a prophet.  This thread runs all throughout the Old and New Testaments, and it runs square through our text from the book of Romans today.

Paul is working towards the closing of his letter to the church in Rome, and as he does so, he lays out what he would have liked to have done and what he now hopes to do.  He says that he has been delayed in coming to visit the church in Rome because he had been spreading the Gospel throughout Asia Minor–establishing churches, converting the Gentiles, and making Christ known.  He has wanted to come to Rome desperately, but he hadn’t made it yet.  This is what he would like to have done.  Now, he shares his hopes: verse 23 and 24, “23But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.”  This is Paul’s plan.  This is what Paul wants.  He wants to go to Spain, and on his way to Spain, he wants to stop in Rome to enjoy their company for a while.


But Paul’s plan is disrupted by God’s plan.  Before Paul can make his plan happen, God has called him to another task.  “25At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.”

Paul is taking an offering from the Gentile churches in Asia to the saints in Jerusalem who are in poverty.  This is not exactly a risk-free endeavor.  Remember, in those days, there was no such things as wire transfers.  There were no such things as checks.  Paul would have been carrying gold or silver coins along the way.  He would have had to worry about bandits and brigands.  He would have had to keep careful guard to make sure this money was not stolen.  He was taking a risk to deliver these funds to Jerusalem.

But he knew that this was part of his calling as an apostle.  He knew that he was called to facilitate generosity.  He knew he was called to help these congregations stay in touch with each other and work together.  He knew that he was called to build relationships between both Jew and Gentile.  Bringing this offering would help do exactly that, and at this particular point and time, building those relationships was more important than traveling to Rome and then to Spain.

Remember, in the ancient world, Jews and Gentiles oftentimes did not get along.  Before the start of Christianity, Jews and Gentiles kept separate.  They did not associate with each other.  Oftentimes, there was animosity between these two groups.  Yet, Paul knows that through the Gospel, these two groups have now been brought together in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the Gentiles now owe their salvation to the fact that the Messiah came through the Jewish people.  Paul says that in this regard, the Gentiles owe the Jews a debt.  The Gentiles are actually repaying part of this debt through this generosity.

Perhaps it is good to take a moment to think about this in light of the fact that today we celebrate the Women’s Thankoffering.  This tradition “goes back to the 1800s or even earlier. Then, when it seemed that there was not enough money to carry out the work of the church, the women would take action. Gathering in groups called “cent” or
“mite” societies, each woman would set aside offerings at home throughout the year, in thanksgiving for blessings received. And on occasion, the women would come together as we do today, joining their offerings together to support ministry of many kinds.” (ELCA Thankoffering service)

This tradition is rooted and grounded in remembering what God has first done for us.  It is rooted and grounded in the fact that Jesus canceled our debt of sin and offered his life in payment for our sins.  Christian generosity flows from a heart that is deeply moved by Christ’s sacrifice.  For a Christian, our financial plans are disrupted by God’s generosity toward us.  When we understand the Gospel, we cannot help but respond in generous giving toward the church and toward the world.  We cannot help but want to share with others our treasures.  Jesus’ love poured out on the cross leads us to pour out our love upon others.  Our offerings, the Women’s Thankoffering, the giving of the Gentiles toward the poor saints in Jerusalem are all examples of our love for God.  We don’t give because we are required or compelled.  We give because of a deep seated gratitude for what God has done for us.

Paul reminds the church in Rome of this as an explanation of why this ministry is so important and why he will be delayed even further from visiting them.  And then Paul asks for prayer.  And I want you to notice something very peculiar about what Paul asks for.  Paul asks for three things: 1) that he may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea.  2) That the offerings he is bringing from the Gentile churches might be acceptable to the Jewish saints in Jerusalem.  And 3) That he might finally be able to make it to Rome and be refreshed by their company.  Now, the reason I asked you to look at those prayer requests carefully is this: does it sound like there is a bit of uncertainty in Paul when he asks these things?  I mean, why would you pray that you might be rescued from unbelievers?  You pray this because there is a good possibility that you will be harmed by unbelievers!  God’s plan is leading Paul into dangerous territory!! 

Why would you pray that the offering that you are bringing be found acceptable by those who are receiving it?  Well, because there is a chance that the offering might be rejected!  This might sound far-fetched to us today, but in that time, it was not.  Jews were not always open to accepting offerings that came from Gentiles.  They might have been gotten by impure means.  The coins might have been used at one time for temple sacrifices.  The coins might be bearing the image and likeness of Caesar.  These were all things that were unacceptable to Jews, and even though some Jews had converted to Christianity, these things were still roadblocks to many.  There was a possibility that the Jews would reject the offering!!!  God’s plan has some uncertainty in it!!

Finally, why would Paul pray that he might finally get to Rome and visit?  Well, there was a possibility that it wouldn’t happen after all, that’s why!!  As God’s plan continued to unfold for Paul; as the Spirit led Paul in his work, it could very well lead him away from Rome again!  There was still much uncertainty in the air!!

What does this all mean for you and for me? 

I think that oftentimes we believe that a life of faith brings absolute security and safety.  I think that oftentimes we are led to believe that if I just pray enough; if I just believe enough; if I just give enough; then everything will work out according to the way I see it.  Life will run smoothly.  There will be no hiccups.  There will be no detours.  Everything will be good.

This is not what we see happening in the least in Scripture.  This is not what we see happening in the least when we see what Paul reveals to us about his life in this text.  In fact, we see quite a bit of uncertainty.  We see quite a bit of wonder about what the future holds.  We see potential pit falls.  We see potential danger.  We see that living out God’s plan–living with the Spirit leading us–takes us to places we might not want to go.  It causes us to do things that we wouldn’t normally want to do.  It causes us to take risks we normally wouldn’t want to take.  Who would want to face persecution by unbelievers?  Who would want to potentially have their ministry rejected?  Who would want to think that they wouldn’t be able to travel to a place they wanted to go?  We like to have certainty.

But in living a life of faith, there is no certainty in the journey.  There is only certainty in the destination.  Let me say that again.  When living a life of faith, there is no certainty in the journey.  There is only certainty in the destination.  God has a plan.  We don’t know what that plan is, but in the end it will be good.  In fact, it will be more fantastic than we could ever imagine.  And to hold firm to this, we need to hold firm to our trust in Jesus.

For in Jesus, we see that a life of faith does not always lead us to the best of times.  In fact, in Jesus, we see a life that leads us to the cross.  We see a life that leads to self-sacrifice.  We see a life that leads to pain and even death. If we as Christians are molded into the image and likeness of Jesus, we can expect nothing less in our lives as well.  We can expect nothing less than pain and sorrow and death in our lives as well.

But fortunately, the story does not end with death.  The story ends with resurrection.  The story ends with all evil being reversed. The story ends in triumph.  The glory comes after the cross.  The joy comes after the sorrow.  The light shines after the darkness.  The ending is good. 

Paul trusted in that ending.  For his final prayer lifts this up.  “33The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.”  The God of peace.  Not peace in a calm, tranquil life.  But peace in God.  Peace in one’s heart.  Peace in knowing that no matter what happens and befalls you; no matter that you are knocked away from your wishes and desires and outcomes; no matter that you face pain and sorrow and grief; that God is at work in our lives.  God is at work to bring us to the fullness of faith.  God is at work to bring transformation and joy.  God is at work to bring His plan to fruition–a plan that wildly exceeds our greatest dreams–a plan to make us into His image and likeness.  No matter what troubles befall you, rest your hope in Jesus.  He has a plan for your life, and it is good.  Amen.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Changing the World: Romans 15:14-21

I can only imagine the dread that I would feel should I look up one Sunday morning and see someone enter through those doors at the back of our sanctuary clothed in body armor and wielding several guns.  I can’t imagine the horror I would experience seeing this person shooting at you as you sat in the pews; perhaps scrambling for safety; perhaps throwing stuff at the shooter; perhaps screaming in agony.  Such terrifying thoughts should never take place because such things should never happen.  But such a thing did happen last Sunday, and we are all aware of it.

As happens with such events, folks are quick to jump into the blame game.  Generally, the blame is simplistic–guns, mental health, the NRA, lack of proper laws.  We want a simple answer so that we can get a quick fix.  We just need to properly fund mental health care, and these things will stop.  We just need to pass the correct gun law, and these things will stop.  We just need to arm every single citizen, and these things will stop.  Simple problems can be solved with simple answers, and that’s what we like.

But what if the problem runs deeper?  What if the problem is more complex and more difficult to solve?  What if the problem cannot be solved by passing laws or spending money?

This is a heck of a sermon to be preaching on the day that we are confirming seven young men and women.  It would be nice to have a fluffy, happy sermon.  It would be nice to have a sermon that is simply rejoicing and full of rainbows and unicorns.  But the world is not full of rainbows and unicorns.  The world is not always just or kind or fair.  The world is oftentimes full of hatred and violence and evil.  We see this on a daily basis when we look at the news.

But there is other news that is oftentimes overlooked.  There is other news that is oftentimes ignored or relegated to superstition or called a myth.  There is other news that has power to bring change; to bring hope; to bring light into the darkness.  It is the news that we as the church have been entrusted with.  It is the news that God has begun His restoration project of the world.  God has begun the process of unleashing His kingdom, and He builds that kingdom one heart at a time.  He is building that kingdom through you; through me; through these seven young men and women; and He is expecting us to go out and help that kingdom grow.

And that is not an easy task.  It is not an easy task at all because of the society in which we live.  For you see, I believe that our society has changed.  I would argue that at one point and time in our society, most folks agreed on what was right and what was wrong.  They agreed on a basic standard of morality.  They agreed on what was shameful, and they corrected the folks who deviated from what was considered acceptable.  Now, this was not always a perfect process, and sometimes what was agreed upon was wrong, I mean, I my family would look very differently if I were living in the 1950's.  Sometimes a shaking up of the boundaries is a good thing–as long as you establish other boundaries.

I am not certain that we have any clear cut, universal boundaries in our society anymore.  I am not certain that we have any clear cut, moral values in our society anymore.  I am not certain that you can go out in public anymore and correct anyone who might be deviating from what might be considered the norm.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s say that you are walking around in Wal-Mart.  You are walking by the toy section, and you see a child flop down on the floor throwing a temper tantrum because he or she wants a toy.  You see the parent, bend down and say, “There, there, stop crying.  I will get you the toy.”  If you were to tell that parent, “You know, it’s probably not a good idea to give that kid a toy because he threw a temper tantrum,” what is likely to happen?

Well, that person will probably look you right in the eye and with more than a bit of anger tell you, “You have no right to tell me how I should parent.  You just mind your own business!”

Oh, and just in case you might feel morally superior to that person, reverse the roles.  Say your child was throwing a temper tantrum and you were refusing to give in.  Say that other parent walked up to you and said, “You know, you should really just give the kid a toy.  They aren’t going to be with you forever, so you should just spoil them.”  What would you say?  “You have no right to tell me how to parent!!!”  You see, it works both ways.  We want to defend “our” rights to do things as we please.  We don’t like anyone telling us what to do.

And here begins the problem.

If I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, who becomes the ultimate authority of my life?  I do.  I become the sole source of authority of what is right and what is wrong.  I become the sole source of what I think is good and what I think is bad.  I call the shots.  I make my own way.  I am my own boss.

Now, what if everyone feels the exact same way?  What if everyone believes he or she is their own boss?  What if everyone thinks no one has the right to tell them what to do or how to act?  What do you end up with?


You have people thinking they can do anything without any sort of correction at all.  You have people thinking that it is perfectly okay to shoot folks at a concert; shoot folks in a church; say that there is no such thing as male or female; give two correct answers to a problem on a test and say that one of them is more correct than another; and so on and so forth.  Truth becomes relative to what any one person or group of people in power say that it is.  And ultimately, the only way to resolve a conflict between differing, deeply entrenched beliefs is violence.

This is the path our society and culture is on if we continue to believe there is no greater
authority than the individual.  We can expect more shootings.  More violence.  More hatred.  More division.  Until we can agree upon a set of standards, morals, and values, these things will increase.

It’s not a pretty picture.  But it is a picture tailor made for the Gospel.

For it is the Gospel that points the way to God’s kingdom breaking into the world.  It is the Gospel that points the way to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It is the Gospel that says that we do not discover the Truth, but that the Truth is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.  The Truth comes to us not as an idea, a thought, a methodology or a way of life, but it comes to us as a person–fully God and fully man.  The Gospel says that the Truth enters into our world and seeks to dwell within the very depths of our hearts.

And it is on the cross that the Truth is most fully revealed.  “For ‘twas on that old cross where the dearest and best came to pardon and sanctify me.  So I’ll cherish the Old Rugged Cross.  Where my trophies as last I lay down.  I will cling to that Old Rugged Cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”  As the hymn proclaims–it was on the cross that Jesus took our sin unto himself and gave his righteousness to us as He suffered the death and punishment that we deserved.  He bestowed salvation upon us by sheer grace–through no work of our own.  He did not seek to claim us with power or authority or violence, but He sought to claim us with self-sacrificial love–a love that we did not deserve.

Oh what heart changing love!!!  Oh what amazing grace!!!  Oh that our hearts may be moved with gratitude and love in return!!!  Oh that our hearts may melt so that we give ourselves to Him in submission–casting aside our desires to have authority over our lives and instead living for Him and seeking His will!!

And then to behold the marvel of his resurrection!!   The marvel that all evil will be overcome with good!!  The marvel that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.  Not even death can overcome the Truth!!! 

Oh, and what can happen when a community of people is seized by this Gospel?  What can take place when human hearts are changed and come together living in the grace and mercy of God?  What kind of kingdom is established on earth when people who are grasped by the Gospel of God and live for God?

Acts 2:43, “43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Who does not long for such a community?  Who does not long for such a place where people gather and share?  Where people gather and care?  Where people gather in mutual harmony?  Where people have glad and generous hearts?  This is what the Gospel produces.

But how can this Gospel produce this if it is not shared?  It must be shared–not through power and violence, but through a burning desire to love the world as Jesus loved the world.  It is this burning desire that shines through Paul’s words from the book of Romans this morning.  “17In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. 18For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. 20Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, 21but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’”

Is it possible for such news to change the world?  Is it possible for such news to bring about transformation?  Is it possible for us to make such an impact if our hearts were seized by the love of God in Christ Jesus?  Is it possible for our nation to once again find a common purpose; a common sense of morality; a common sense of right and wrong?  Is it possible for our nation to be transformed by the power of the Gospel–to participate in God’s kingdom being revealed?

In a few moments, seven young men and women will stand here this morning to affirm their baptism.  They will stand here to say before God and this congregation, “Yes, I believe.”  Yes, I believe I have responsibility to live out a life of faith. Yes, I believe I have responsibility to share the Good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe that Jesus died for me and for the world.  Yes, I believe that God’s kingdom is breaking into our world.  Yes.  I believe.  May their statement be our statement, and may we dedicate our lives to the spread of the Gospel–the spread of the kingdom of God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Learning How to Cuss: Remembering My Grandpa, Willie Haug, Sr.

Today is November 1, 2017: All Saint's Day.

I took a little bit of time today to remember my immediate family members who have died: most recently, my Mom's Dad: Roy Grote, My Dad's Mom: Estelle Haug, My Mom's mom: Pauline Grote, and then my Dad's Dad: Willie Haug, Sr.  I put them in that order because it is the order from most recent to least recent in which they entered into their eternal rest.

And as I thought about each of these individuals, I thought about how I had taken time to memorialize them in this blog--all except my dad's dad.  That's because he died when I was still in college in the mid 90's.  I hadn't even heard of a blog then.  I didn't write anything about him then, so I thought that I would today.

I have often said that from one side of my family, I learned how to cuss.  From the other side, I learned how to pray.  Such was the contrast between the two family units that were united by the marriage of my mother and father.  Yet, this is not entirely true.  While it is true that my mother's side of the family was very religious--they were a clergy household and never cussed, it is not true that my father's side of the family was irreligious.  Oh, don't get me wrong, they had that sinner stuff down quite well: my grandpa was a farmer and WWII vet.  He cussed.  He drank.  He smoked.  He was as hard headed as he could possibly be.  But he was also a man with a deep, abiding faith, and his influence on me runs as deeply as my mom's dad.

I spent many hours with my grandpa on the farm.  I did a lot of work around the house, spraying weeds, fixing implements, and the like.  I also spent a lot of time in the fields: chopping cotton, removing weeds from the grain, and riding the tractor when grandpa cultivated the crops.  Notice I said riding the tractor.  Grandpa drove the tractor.  That was his love.  I rarely ever got a chance to drive the tractors, and only for short amounts of time.

But I learned a lot while walking in the fields.  I learned a lot while riding on that tractor.  You see, there weren't any cell phones back then, and the only thing you did was think.  Your mind had time to roam and process things.  Sometimes, I still long for a cotton patch and a cotton hoe--to have time to allow my brain to process all the things it is exposed to today.  I long for that time when as I walked and chopped, the Lord and I would converse and I would hear of His voice.  Grandpa paid me for the work then.  I'd do it for free today.

For I know now what Grandpa was thinking as he sat on the tractor all those long hours.  I know some of what went through his head.  There were things that emerged along the way.  Things that he shared with me.  There was the time when he showed me that God had written His name in the cotton.  There was the time when the extension agent received and unexpected rebuke.  Such things leave an impression on a youth--the impression of a deep, deep faith.

I remember how that faith came forward at church one Sunday.  Grandpa stood up in church that day and announced, "I want to tell everyone that God has worked a miracle in my life.  My kidneys started working again, and I am no longer on dialysis!"  It shocked our pastor something fierce.  Grandpa was invited to go to the front of the church, and we all prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for what had happened to him.

But, the miracle didn't last.  Grandpa had to go back on dialysis a few months later.  Continued smoking and drinking aren't exactly healthy exercises for kidney function...  But no one ever called Grandpa soft headed.

Good Lord, that man was stubborn and hard headed.  He wouldn't back down for anything.  Part of that blood runs in my veins.  It can be a blessing, and it can be a curse.

It was both for my grandfather.

He received a kidney transplant and should have stopped smoking and drinking.

But he didn't.

He developed cancer, and he should have stopped smoking.

But he didn't.

These were things he enjoyed.  He wasn't going to forsake them, and you either accepted him as is, or you avoided him.  There was no middle ground.

A lot of people accepted him.  I remember his funeral procession was very, very long.  I shed many tears during that funeral.  He was the first grandparent that I lost to death.  And on this All Saint's Day, I am thankful for a future where I will see him once again.