As we bid farewell to Pastor Duke, we would like to share his farewell message for CLC (posted to Facebook/01/30):
As I bade farewell to Christ Lutheran Church, formally at my Installation (Sunday, January 29, 2017) at St. John in Youngstown, NY, I was reminded of a sermon I delivered to CLC three years ago. It is in appreciation of rebuilding me. Here follows:
“Drink Deeply With Delight”
Delivered to Christ Lutheran Church, St. Catharines, Pentecost 2013 (Summer)
When Thomas was little—that’s my older son: Thomas—when he was, say, five years old, he was susceptible to frequent eye infections, sties and the like. In these cases, sometimes old remedies are the best remedies, and the doctor prescribed one: hold a warm poultice of regular black tea on his eye for several minutes. After a few days, the infection would clear up.
I have this memory of it: I was sitting on the couch, watching mother and child. Thomas nestled into his mother’s lap, lying on his back, looking into her face while she looked into his. She took the sachet from the teacup; since it was still a little hot, she let him take it, so he put it on his eye when it was cool enough.
It was a warm day, like the days we’ve had this past week. The windows were open, so a warm breeze let itself in, pushing the curtains so that they reached toward us like so many gentle hands; the curtains were white and sheer, of very thin material, and they just floated in mid air.
How long is several minutes to a very active five-year old boy? Well, about several minutes too long. To keep him still, mother said to him, “What song would you like for me to sing to you?” Away in a Manger. Away in a Manger? In July? That’s what the boy wanted, and he was the one with the sachet of tea on his eye, so the boy got what he wanted. The curtains conducted an unheard orchestra, I’m sure, while mother sang. It was so sweet.
That’s a good one, isn’t it? It came to me instantly, like that, when I glanced at the lessons for this Sunday. Immediately I associated that memory with these texts, especially this verse from Isaiah: that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance. And then I thought: I can’t share that one with them; that’s a special memory, just for me.
Then a question came to me: how did this text call up that memory? I have a further memory of that occasion; I remember thinking at the time: I wonder who is being comforted more, the boy or me? Watching my wife give peace to her son gave me peace, you see, and I needed it. About five years ago marks a very low point in my life, when just about every worst-case scenario came to pass for me and my family.
Then the other lessons for today began to congeal in my mind. While Jesus was giving instructions to the seventy-two, he said, “Remain in one house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.” This is what was supposed to happen: a man would arrive in the name of Jesus, and he would say to you, “Peace be to this house,” peace, flowing like a river, from the Lord Jesus Christ, through the ones he sent. After that, those who received peace would provide good things for the one who brought the peace, as it is described in detail by St. Paul in his lesson for us to the Galatians: you reap what you sow. Do not be fooled; God is not mocked.
Not too long after that very low point, I met you.
Now, I’m not the only guy who has ever been dealt a bad hand, especially amongst us pastors, where Satan seems to have landed when he fell from heaven. I won’t begin to describe what kind of evil some of us experience, even at the hands of those who should receive the peace we bring from Jesus. Anger and bitterness rise up where there should be peace, and it rises up in the hearts of those who should give peace. It’s not good, and it must be combated.
I have the power, now, to combat anger and bitterness because of my fortune, my very good fortune, in meeting you. You are to me as my wife is to my son. You are Jerusalem, and I am the suckling babe, receiving from you peace, peace flowing like a river from the Lord Jesus Christ. I have the power, now, to point to my good fortune, which is a blessing from God, and I can say, “See, there are sons and daughters of peace in the church.”
Indeed, when you sing to me—and you do sing to me, especially when you sing a favorite of mine that is also a favorite of yours, like The Church’s One Foundation or The Days of Elijah—when you sing to me, and I get lost in my own head, staring at the stained-glass window or at the patterned trim up here, it is a sublime peace. Love for God is coming up from the pews, and I’m in the way, and in the way is a blessed place to be.
I wonder what song Mary sang to Jesus when he was lying on his back, nestled in her lap, as she applied a poultice to his eye—for if he bore our diseases, then he must have gotten some infection in his eye; I mean, if you’re a little boy and you don’t wipe something filthy into your eye, why, you haven’t lived! What song did she sing?
When she saw him on the cross, did she pull that song out of her heart to comfort herself with that memory, where she had treasured up all these things? Ah, mother and child: she delivered him, suckled him, and he brought peace like a river, forgiving her sins with a flow of his own blood, a flow that never stops, nourishing all of us sinners with peace.
Come on up to the altar, where you might drink deeply with delight in the peace of God, which is made for you, here, in the bosom of Jerusalem. I know I’m not the only one that has found peace at this congregation, peace, and healing, and growth, and happiness, and rejoicing. This is a house of peace, and many sons and daughters of peace dwell here. Who isn’t helped here? Does anyone go away from here without peace?
Here you see Jesus, and your heart rejoices in him; your bones, the very depth of your life, flourishes like grass. Jerusalem sings to you here, holding you in her lap, bouncing you upon her hip. Yes, even while you are young you remain young, and even while you age, you remain young, and even while you are aged, you are young forever, for you drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance, from the cross of Christ, the tree which gives life to the whole world. Peace be to this house.