This sermon was preached by Dr. Gordon

Braatz at Central Lutheran Church,

Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 4, 2003




The Memorial Service for Clark Morphew

Lamentations 3:22-26, Revelation 21:2-5, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Mark 4:35-41

We come together to honor a friend, to mourn a loved one, to give thanks for a productive life well lived, and to show sympathy to the bereaved. Today is not a day for much preaching, but a day for much prayer and remembering and thanksgiving. Death has come among us —— has come to one of us —— and we are left sad and perplexed. For death is a mystery, and whether that death occurs suddenly in the fullness of life, or slowly in the fullness of years, we are left profoundly unsettled by the loss of the one who has been taken away from us.

So what shall we say to this? Carl Sandburg asked that question when confronted by the mysteries of life and death, and he concluded it was better to say nothing —— but he went on to write a whole volume of eloquent poetry anyway. St. Paul asked the question, and he responded with a ringing affirmation of faith. But what shall we say —— we who feel we must say something, but who are not given to ringing affirmations of faith. Surely we can do no better than to say with the prophet, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end." To say with the great apostle, "We do not lose heart, for though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." To remind one another the words of Jesus, "Why are you afraid? Are you without faith?"

And so we gather in God’s presence to remember and to give thanks for a life well lived —— a gift from God. And we come to celebrate that for a time that gift was ours. Today at the same time we gather in sorrow and in celebration. We sorrow for ourselves that one who was precious to us is gone; and at the same time we rejoice that for one of God’s dear children suffering has ended, and he has gone to the place that has been prepared.

Jesus knew that mixture of feelings, that sorrow and rejoicing, when he said to his disciples, "You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and then you will rejoice." Jesus spoke of it as a paradox when he said, "In the world you will have pain, but be glad – I have overcome the world."

Clark Morphew was a gift. For a time —— a time that seems much too short —— God gave him to the world. And now he is gone, and the world will not see him again, and that is painful, no matter how strong our faith, no matter how vibrant our hope. And so in tears and in laughter, in sorrow and in celebration, we remember Clark and we give thanks.

We remember Clark as a loving husband, a devoted father, a doting grandfather —— one for whom home and family were a needed counterpoint to the world that is so often so harsh. We remember him as a challenging teacher, a diligent pastor, a compelling writer. We do well to remember that though he was a tireless advocate for peace, he was not a peaceful man. Indeed, he could not be. Lowell Erdahl has called him a "voice for justice," and Bill Seabloom called him a "prophet for the church."

Like the prophets of old, Clark had a way of seeing clearly what others only dimly perceive, a zeal for bringing into focus issues that others might choose to ignore. In speaking and in writing he commented on what he saw —— a commentary that was social and political and religious. He was quick to invoke blessing on what he found to be good and noble and true. And he was quick to challenge and condemn what he found to be unjust or intolerant or just plain wrong. Still, though he was hard on "badness" wherever he found it, even the church —— no, make that especially the church —— he was an ardent advocate for forgiveness and second chances —— not so that people could repeat the same mistakes, but so they might learn and grow. To be a prophet is not for the faint of heart. To do even a little requires great strength; to do much requires great courage. And Clark had both, plus a generous portion of good will, a ladle full of hope, and a foundation of faith. He was often disappointed and angry at what he saw in people, but he considered no one unlovable, and he was more than content to leave vengeance to the Almighty.

Jeanne tells me all this started early —— even as a schoolboy Clark was outraged to find little kids waiting in the cold outside the school in the morning because it wasn’t time to unlock the door. He pounded on that door until a teacher responded, and then he demanded that the little kids be let inside no matter what the clock said, no matter what the policy might be. He had no tolerance for injustice and he could not bear to see people hurt.

I suspect no one would be surprised that Clark gave clear guidelines for this service, and about now he would be saying, "That’s enough about me." He chose the music and the readings, but he did not select the Gospel and he did not tell me what to say. Well, he did give me some instructions. He said, "When you talk about faith, don’t make it sound easy, because it isn’t; and don’t explain away the mystery, because you can’t." And that’s why I chose to read about Jesus in the boat during a storm —— for it is about the harshness of the world, the frailty of people, and the mystery of faith.

The world is a harsh place, and the more we attempt to control the forces of nature, the more the challenges remain —— just as the more we seem to learn about people, the more we are surprised and disappointed. It is not accidental that this Gospel story is set in sea and storm, for both are symbols of chaos —— of all that is opposed to what is good and perfect and true. That chaos is a lot like what Karl Barth referred to as "Das Nichtig" which means nothingness —— and then he proceeded to write thirty pages about it! In the chaos, the boat was beginning to sink and the disciples were terrified. They were facing forces too great for them. They had lost control of everything, including themselves. And then they decided to wake Jesus. Well, you know the rest. The storm was rebuked, the sea was calm, and Jesus wondered what all the fuss was about.

I suppose we would like to think that after that the disciples were as calm as the sea had become, but it was not to be. They said to one another in alarm, "Who is this?" And I suspect most of them were more scared of Jesus than they had been of the storm. They had come up against a mystery. They had encountered the power of God. They had overestimated the storm, and they had underestimated Jesus.

We do the same, of course. We try to fix our eyes on Jesus, but we keep peeking at the storm. We profess our faith, but we still worry about the waves. The sea is so vast, and we are so small. The storm is so powerful, and we are so easily sunk. Life is so often beyond our control, and we are so helpless in its grip.

Like today, for instance. We come together because the storm is still raging and it has taken one of us away. We come together in faith and fear, in confidence and confusion. We cry out, unsure of our words, uncertain of the result. But one thing we know: Christ is in the boat. And so boldly we grasp the mystery that is faith, and hurl it against the mystery that is death. And we reassure one another —— in friendship, and in forgiveness, and in hope.

More than 1500 years ago, another keen observer of the church and the world named Evagrius of Pontus pondered over life and death, and he urged those around him to put aside their fears. "What is there to fear when Christ is near?" he said. "Consider the good things in store for those whom God loves —— to be at last in the presence of God, to know heaven and all its gifts, to experience as never before both joy and blessing."

Go forth then on your journey, Clark. May your portion this day be of peace. May your dwelling place be in God’s own house. May you be among the glorious company of the saints, and enter into the land of light and joy, there to see God face to face. Amen.