Friday after Epiphany, January 7

Colossians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Truth about Papa

If you read these Unsung Saints and listen to my story-telling in classes and sermons, you know how important my father was to me. It is not simply that he died when I was twenty-one, and that my care for him in his last days was profoundly life-changing. My father was a nurturer. He loved people and poured out his life in humble service throughout his sixty-two years. He was selfless, brilliant, and a Christian.

You may have noticed that most children adore their parents in the first eleven years of their life. They begin to pull away and to be aggravated by their parents, even if they hide it well, during the next ten years or more. Sometime, in young adulthood, most children, as Mark Twain noted, begin to realize that their parents have become so much smarter in the past couple of years. Proofs for the existence of God.

Beer was like water to my father. He drank four to six beers every evening before going to bed. Mama didn’t like that he would go across the river to sit in a beer joint and relax. She would say, “If it weren’t for beer, your father would be perfect.” She was a classic enabler and never faced that truth about herself until after my older brother had drunk himself to death at the age of 46. Oh, occasionally, mother would say, “Your father used to drink whiskey until I laid down the law. Now, at least, he only drinks beer.”

Like all little kids who adore their fathers, I was very defensive of him. My barber, a grizzly old guy in recovery, would ask me about my father’s drinking when I sat in his chair. When I traveled to Philadelphia and stayed at my wealthy aunt’s home, her banker husband, a heavy drinker with wandering eyes, “joked” with me about my Dad’s drinking. I learned that untreated addicts always compare themselves to those, whom they consider to be worse than they. Of course, if you drink top shelf liquors and aged wines, you can tell yourself, “I don’t have a problem. I simply enjoy the best beverages money can buy.”

My Papa was an upstanding drunk. He never missed a day’s work. He was well thought of in the community. He never sought credit or acclaim. Like a good scout, Dad wanted to leave his campsite, the world in which he had his being, better than he found it. And, my Papa did just that in so many ways.

Retirement did not go well for him. Forced, at 60, to give up the work he had loved since he was 15, yes, the culture of the Texas and Pacific Railway where “everyone” knew him. After having been diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure, Dad read five to six books a week, shopped and cooked most of their meals, took up golf again after forty years, and bartended at the local VFW. When he was elected Vice Commander, he said he was in charge of vice. When I was often home from college, thirty miles away, I noticed Dad’s alcohol consumption going up. Without the structure of his daily routine and with an ever-present depression that had haunted him from childhood, he sometimes ignored beer and drank liquor, of course, while Mama was on her preferred evening shift at the local Veterans Hospital.

A couple of months before he was diagnosed with large cell lung cancer, I got a call from Dad asking me to stop by the liquor store and bring home a bottle of brandy. He had been drinking more heavily and grieving the death of his baby brother from lung cancer. I couldn’t bring myself to buy the brandy, but I picked up a case of beer and brought it home. He almost cried when he realized that I hadn’t brought the brandy. I noticed he had the shakes badly. Later, that night, Mom checked him in to the VA to help him get rid of the DTs. It was a heart-breaking moment to realize my Dad was as much of an addict as my brother.

Dad was better in a couple of days, and I could tell he felt ashamed that I had seen him in such bad shape. So, I acted as if nothing had happened. He relaxed and tried to act normal, but he knew that I knew the truth about my Papa. We talk of alcoholism as a fatal, progressive disease. In the Church, we talk of sin as more than the things done and left undone. Sin is that fatal, progressive disease that only the Blood of Jesus can cure, and, only in the resurrection will we know the perfection that escaped us here.

Thank you, dear heavenly Father, for Your Son Jesus, who has promised to make all things new including all the broken Papas and Mamas and their broken children, too. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

Place forty-one pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box out of love for neighbors in need.

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.