"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

17 November 2008

A Fitting Tribute (moved)

Today the church said fare well to one of its finest priests, a parish grandfather, and a gentle sweet man. It was time, in so many ways. His body had so long been frail. His mind was beginning to slip. I recall, several years ago, when he commented that he no longer celebrated the Eucharist because he did not feel he had enough control over his failing body to rely on himself to do the service with dignity and right order. Of course, he would have done just fine, but he wasn't interested in fine, he wanted to render the very best to his lord and savior. And perhaps I heard a little pride in that voice that day, he didn't want to be a dottering old priest, after all.

I always watched him when I preached. He was a touch hard of hearing and would cup his hand to his ear and strain to catch the words. I knew I was doing well if he leaned forward, really well if he looked as if he'd topple from his seat. Such a visual listener is a valuable sermon barometer and I always treasured his face in a congregation. Whenever I saw him he always had a kind word, he'd take my hands in his as he spoke to me. Though so many people seem to turn up their own volume when their hearing goes, I never heard him speak harshly, either in tone or in the words themselves; only a broad smile and a gentle laugh and a few good words. He never sought to be the center of attention, but you could never fail to notice that he was there.

Just a year shy of six decades as a priest, Father Don Gross was also a healer of souls. A psychologist in the other half of his ministry, he was a remover of spiritual obstacles, bringing people back to right relationship. And thus it was a fitting tribute that there were cherished brothers there who represent both sides of the current and currently very deep, episcopal divide. I saw a couple of priests who I know have been at the center of the firestorm, beloved friends who I realize had to gather up a good deal of courage to come to that funeral, knowing that Bishop Duncan was the celebrant. Their love for a brother priest was greater than their feelings of alienation and their fears of a poor reception. I honor them for their presence and their courage and humility in not stepping away from this opportunity.

What a fitting tribute it was that these folks were drawn back together, so soon after such painful parting, by a love for this precious man who so often did just that, draw folks together and helped put relationships between people and with God to rights. And I give thanks for those brothers in Christ who sacrificed a bit of themselves to be there today. I honor that. I really do. And I am encouraged that in the moments when it is most necessary, we can bring ourselves to move forward with courage and Christian charity.

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