A wise person of faith


Funeral Mass and Commendation of Ruth Dubas.

October 30, 2021

There are some things that ONLY Jesus can do and there are some things that WE can do WITH Jesus. There are some things that only Jesus, as the Son of God has the power to do: miraculously heal the sick, forgive sins on behalf of God, raise the dead to life, change people’s hearts, offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, resurrect from the dead on his own mighty power, promise eternal life, and judge with righteousness; only Jesus can do those things. But then there are things that we, as Jesus’s followers, can do WITH Jesus: we can pray, we can care for the sick, we can give to the poor, we can be willing to suffer for the sake of others, we can lead by example, we can teach, we can choose to love, even when it is terribly difficult and inconvenient. We can do these things with Jesus, in fact, Jesus commands us to do them. A wise person of faith will always be mindful of the difference between the things that Jesus does for us as our great high priest, for which we may only offer our thanks and praise, and the things that we do as people who are called to share in his eternal priesthood. A wise person of faith will be mindful of the difference between these things. And Ruth Dubas was a wise person of faith.

The first time I ever had a conversation with Ruth, she was sitting in my chair in my office. That should have been my first clue as to who I was dealing with. I had been called as rector here, but hadn’t officially started yet, and I don’t remember why I was stopping by to see the office, but when I came in Ruth was on the phone at my desk, and I scared the hell out of her. A long-time Ascension parishioner, Doris Moore had just died, and Ruth was coordinating the plans around the funeral from the rector’s desk. Now Ruth offered to get up, but I told her to sit back down, I sat in the chair across from her and we just started chatting. Ruth filled me in on Doris and then she talked about some of the other parishioners that she regularly visited and took communion to. It was becoming clear to me in that first visit, that Ruth had a powerful call to serve and to minister, and if I didn’t know it before, I knew it then, that my ministry, in this place, would be a shared ministry. That woman sitting in my chair was little, but she was also a giant.

That was over 9 years ago now. It some ways, it seems like a lot longer because in that time there have been so many amazing moments of shared ministry with Ruth. Quiet times every week at morning prayer in the chapel. Driving around town taking communion to parishioners. Visiting the dying in the hospital. One Ash Wednesday, Ruth and I took ashes to Alice Mary Roggenkamp, said prayers with her, and by the time we got back to the office we got the news that she had died. That was what Alice was waiting for. It was a real moment of grace. There were a lot of those moments working with Ruth. She was a remarkable woman of faith and above all else she was a prayer warrior.

Now it isn’t my habit to canonize people from the pulpit. Ruth was a real person and she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t perfect. She was here faithfully a couple mornings every week to lead morning prayer, as I said, but she often jumbled the words because she insisted on using this prayerbook with tiny font that she couldn’t see very well. On more than one occasion while out visiting parishioners Ruth tripped and fell, long before she had the accident in Scotland, and the first time it happened I learned the hard way, like many of you, what happens when you try and help Ruth. She was feisty and she had a temper. If you wanted to experience the wrath of Ruth, just try and help her with something that she didn’t want help with. She had a lot of pride, and yes, it did get in the way sometimes. The woman who lived to help others, often had a real hard time accepting help herself. She needed to be independent; she needed to be useful. If you are here today and if Ruth ever let you help her with something, then you are special, because she did not like to be babied. She wanted to be the helper, not the helpee.

In some practical, day to day, ways Ruth had a little trouble accepting her limitations, but when it came to the big things, Ruth knew that she both needed and had a saviour. Ruth might have been reluctant to accept that she couldn’t reach the candlesticks on the altar on her own, but she definitely knew that she wasn’t going to reach heaven on her own. She knew that she needed Jesus, and her desire to serve others, well that was mostly a response to the love and grace that she found in Jesus. She knew that there were some things that she could do for Jesus, but there were some things that only Jesus could do for her. A wise person of faith knows the difference.

This service today is dripping with Ruth, because she had a heavy hand in planning it. That passage from Isaiah about being anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn. Jesus quoted those words in his first sermon. Part of his ministry on earth was to do just that, to comfort and to care and to encourage, and that is a part of his ministry that he shares with us. Ruth felt called to do those things. She wanted to exercise her own priesthood as a believer in Jesus by doing those things. But Ruth also requested the reading from John’s Gospel, where Jesus, right before he raises Lazarus from the dead, says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” There are some things that Jesus does and our response is to follow his example, and there are some things that Jesus does and our response can only be praise and thanksgiving. Ruth understood that. There are things we can do and there are things we can’t do, but even on Ruth’s death bed she was looking for things that she could do, and in this service Ruth wanted to do something. She is at work in this room this morning. How could she testify to her faith one last time? How could she both serve Jesus AND witness to what only Jesus can do?

Did any of y’all wonder why we had Ruth’s viewing here yesterday instead of at the funeral home? It’s because Ruth said she wanted to see y’all in church one last time. She didn’t just want you to see her here, which would have been fitting since she was here almost more than she was anywhere else and she loved this place with all her heart, but she said she wanted to see you here. She laughed about that. She wanted “Because he lives” sung; it was one of her favorite hymns and it’s all about the fact that Jesus can do what she can’t; her hope was in him. His resurrection is what gave her hope to live each day. That was the motivation behind everything that Ruth did here. That was the motivation behind what Ruth did wherever she went or served, whether it was in her other churches, whether it was Cursillo, or working for Hospice, or in her career as a nurse or in her life with her family. Ruth’s desire to be near the man who rose from the grave inspired her to travel to the Holy Land multiple times, that’s why she went on every pilgrimage and spiritual retreat, and conference. Everything was a response to the hope that Jesus’s resurrection gave her. Everything was an act of thanksgiving for the future glory that she was promised as a believer in Jesus Christ. 

During one of my last visits with Ruth, when she was convinced that she was dying, and I still thought that she might be a bit confused, she made it very clear to me, and it was important that I got this right, she wanted the theme of her funeral to be “glory.” She wanted a glorious funeral with glory as it’s theme. That’s why we are marching out to the battle hymn of the republic. Not only was it played at her beloved husband Andy’s funeral, but the opening line is “Mine eyes have seen the glory.” She wanted to hear “glory, glory halleluiah.” And the last verse of Because he lives is “as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives.” Our entrance hymn: “O what their joy and their glory must be, those endless sabbaths the blessed ones see.” or “O Jesus thou hast promised to all who follow thee, that where thou art in glory, there shall thy servant be.” “To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, it’s shame and reproach gladly bear; then he’ll call me someday to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.” “Thy saints are crowned with glory great; they see God face to face; they triumph still, they still rejoice in that most happy place.” This service is covered in glory. Ruth wanted it to be a vision, or at least a testimony to where she was headed. Because Ruth is covered in glory now too.

During my last visit with Ruth, which was on the Friday of the Friendship Fair, we knew that her situation was serious, but none of us expected things to go as quickly as they did. Ruth was pretty confused during the first part of our conversation. She was having a hard time separating dreams from reality, but the moment I opened the prayer book to pray with her, it’s like all that confusion vanished. Here was a familiar rock that she could stand on, that she knew so well from years of daily use. Every prayer I offered, she said right along with me, word for word. She didn’t jumble any words or make any mistake because she wasn’t trying to read along with me, she wasn’t trying to use her eyes, she was using the words that had found a permanent home in her heart. Of course, I anointed her and gave her communion, for which she was very thankful, but here is a curious thing Ruth kept doing: she kept interrupting me. She kept stopping me so that she could add her own prayers and her own intentions to this little service. She wasn’t confused, she knew exactly what she was doing. This little anointing and communion may have been intended for her, but she was not going to settle for that; she wasn’t going to let those prayers be over until I was prayed for, and you were prayed for. All of you. It was perfect actually. One thing I neglected to mention earlier, was that when Ruth and I went to go and visit parishioners together, most of the time, she drove. Well here she was in the driver’s seat again. She was in the rector’s chair once more, just like when we first met, doing what she loved best: ministering. Serving. Praying. She spent more time praying for me during that visit than I did praying for her, because that is the way she wanted it. Even at the gates of glory, Ruth still knew that she had work to do. 

Ruth knew that there are some things only Jesus can do, and she knew that there are things that she could do with Jesus. She was a wise person of faith. Only God could promise Ruth eternal glory, but as long as she had a breath in her body, Ruth could respond to that promise. 

All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Lord AND Saviour


Sermon for October 10th, 2021


Amos 5:6-7,10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

My singular goal, as your priest and pastor, and as the rector of this church, is for each and every one of you to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord AND Savior. My only mission, my only agenda, the thing that I actually, really care about is that the people in this parish are given the space, the resources and the guidance that they need to meet Jesus and to develop a relationship with him as Lord and savior. Maybe that sounds very churchy and pious, but it’s true. Now naturally I can’t force this relationship to happen, you can only lead a horse to water, and it’s not that I don’t get distracted sometimes, like anybody, but that’s what I really care about and everything else needs to serve that goal.

Do I love this building and want to preserve it and improve it and keep it as beautiful as possible? You bet, but only because this is a sacred space where people meet Jesus. I have no interest in being the curator of a museum. We have pretty things here, and I love pretty things, but they are not idols to be worshiped in and of themselves. Their real value is in their ability to point us to God. And that is the value of this building; if this building ever stops pointing people to God and serving as a sacred space where people meet Jesus, then it will be worth no more than the land it is sitting on. 

Do I love this community of misfits and want the parish to grow and expand and gain new members? Yes! But we aren’t here to run a fancy private club, nor are we here to run a senior center, a commercial enterprise, a social service agency or a daycare. Church has to be about more than that. There needs to be a deeper connection here, more than just hanging out with some friends once a week, or just doing nice things in the neighborhood. People don’t need the church for that. They can do that on their own.

There needs to be a connection to Jesus Christ; to God. We need to be teaching people to follow him as Lord and Savior, and I say we very intentionally, because it’s not just my job; it’s our job. Helping people to meet and walk with Jesus should be our shared mission and agenda, not just something I am trying to sneak in on you. And I am also saying follow him as Lord and Savior very intentionally, because these are two distinct ways of living in relationship with Jesus and we need them both. We need a Lord and we need a savior.

If Jesus is Lord, then that means when he says to do something, you do it. You take it as a legitimate command that has authority behind it. That means understanding that you are accountable to him. The Book of Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The true word of God, the word made flesh, Jesus, is living and active. He is a Lord that has authority and power. He cuts right through all your garbage. Nothing is hidden from him, and before him, one day you will give an account. Jesus, as Lord, gives commands that he expects you to respond to; he cares about how you live your life. He cares about what you do with your money.

Gasp. Money

What did you think I wasn’t going to talk about the gospel reading this morning? Jesus is approached by a man who thinks he’s doing pretty good commandment-wise, thinks he is obeying God’s laws, thinks he is a good person, he’s a nice guy, but he asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus has the audacity to tell him to sell his stuff, give the money away and follow him and the man can’t do it. There are limits to his commitment and to his obedience. You know in the gospels, Jesus calls all sorts of people to follow him, and they usually do it; they leave behind family and jobs and security and they follow Jesus because they see in him something that is just so compelling, but NOT this man. Something is holding him back. He can’t commit to Jesus. Not fully. Now do I think that Jesus is some peace love and dope hippie that is trying to push a communist economic agenda? No I don’t, but Jesus is very clear that money and possessions can be a barrier between us and God. With money comes a little power and security. I like to have power and security. I like having money in my wallet, but here’s the thing if you’ve got your fist clenched around a dollar bill, then it will be closed to everyone else in this world, including Jesus. It is so easy to substitute the power that comes from money, for the power that comes from knowing and following Jesus. People settle for money power every day. Jesus doesn’t want you to settle. He wants you to have a connection with real power and real security, and that can only come from putting your hand in his hand, not putting your hand in your wallet. So yeah, Jesus cares about how you live your life, how you follow his commandments, and how you follow and serve him in this world as your Lord, with the resources that God has entrusted to you. Jesus cares about that.

But Jesus isn’t just a Lord, he’s also a savior. He knows that there are some things that you just can’t do. We need more than just a good teacher in this world; we need a God that can do what we can’t. Thing is, no matter how hard you try to live a good life, assuming that you are trying, no matter how good you are at following Jesus’s commandments, you are going to fail somewhere. You are missing something. You lack something. You are not as good as you think you are. Jesus said no one is good, BUT God. In the Book of Hebrews this morning, we are told that we will be accountable for our actions and that the secrets of our hearts will be revealed, that’s the bad news, BUT we are also told that those secrets are being revealed to a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tested just like we are, that’s the good news. Because of this we can approach the throne of God with boldness, because we are assured that there is mercy and grace there. Jesus is not just a Lord that gives commandments, he is also a Savior that forgives us when we break them. We need both, and Jesus is both. That is what a relationship with him is all about.

Yeah, Jesus cares about how you treat people, how you obey the commandments, what your priorities are and yeah one way of evaluating your priorities is looking at what you do with your money, that is just a fact, but no amount of money is going to buy you a ticket to eternal life, and no amount of correctness or doing the right thing or being nice is going to earn you salvation. It doesn’t work that way. We are sinners and we are mortals and for mortals, eternal life is impossible, but not for God. Everything we have as Christians: our hope, our security, our power, our righteousness and our promise of eternal life all of it comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nothing is more important than that. So that has to influence everything we do here. I can’t fix any of you and we cannot fix the world, but Jesus can. Jesus can fix you. Jesus can change minds and hearts in ways that you can’t even imagine. So my goal, our goal, in this place, in this church with all of the resources that God has entrusted us with, with every Fair we organize or worship service we conduct, is just to help people meet Jesus and follow him as Lord and Savior. We have to try and trust him to do the real heavy lifting.