Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Saturday after Epiphany

John 14:6-14

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Arnold, Angelic Singer

When you arrive for Christmas Eve worship or at one of the Eucharists during the 12 days of Christmass, be sure to look at the large stained glass window on the College Road side of the nave. You will see two large gold angels flanking the east window. If you’ve been to Christmas Eve worship in years past, you have recognized these as part of the decorations that go up the Thursday night before the 4th Sunday in Advent. As you see the angels, stop to give God thanks for Arnold, who made them and the gold trumpets we used to use before the purchase of the rank of trumpets and the latest organ expansion.

Arnold was a cradle Lutheran, who grew up on the south side of St. Louis. He was delighted when I told him I had worshiped at Messiah on South Grand and had actually played basketball (very badly) in its gym. A couple of guys from my seminary had done their seminary field work as student assistants in the parish, so we had access to the gym.

Arnold was a quiet man with a gentle smile. He was a regular in the choir for as many years as he was at St. Matthew’s and until he became ill. Arnold was much loved by his fellow choir members and by all who knew him. He was, again, one of those men who do so many things at church without any need for recognition and with zero need for the kind of perceived personal power that ends up being destructive to parish life. After those guys are forced to slow down or they go to be with the Lord, people will say, “Whatever happened to that guy in the choir with the big smile?” Or, “Did you know that no one has …,” which means someone has finally noticed their contribution to our life together only after they were gone.

Arnold married twice. He had children with his first wife, and he had years of challenges with his second wife’s health. I would never have known that Arnold carried such a large cross but for the fact that she died first. As Arnold described the last years and how they had lived. I saw in him a man who had grown through much pain. As with almost all the men of his generation, Arnold was a veteran. He was fiercely patriotic and grateful that he had served his country.

When Arnold was dying of cancer, he was glad to have me come to visit and to bring him the Sacrament of the Altar. In the time after his second wife’s death, he had returned the house to the way in which he preferred to live. Like all those properly catechized in the Lutheran church, Arnold knew that Jesus is always truly present in the Host and Cup, not by his personal faith, but by Jesus’ own promise in the Word of God. Arnold’s kids loved their Dad, and they were grateful to be able to be with him and to care for him in his last days. Even his children’s mother still cared for that sweet man, and she was present at his funeral.

In my time at St. Matthew’s, I have buried more than 150 parishioners, most were raised in a Lutheran culture that is rapidly disappearing, not only from our parish, but from our world. In the heyday of the baby boom and after, good catechesis gave way to “we’re going to let the kids decide” or “we want to be part of something bigger.” How we worship says what we believe, so does what we hold dear. Arnold knew that.

Thank you, dear Father for Arnold and all those saints who knew what was at stake in the practice of their faith as Lutheran Christians. Raise up a new generation of quiet faithful saints. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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.