Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Thursday after Epiphany

John 8:12-19

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Fatherwho sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

Jim, Visionary Leader and Driver of Hard Bargains

After years of officiating at weddings and preparing couples for marriage, I have noticed that Lutherans gain more members by marriage than we lose. Lutherans emphasize the Lutheran difference as we catechize youth and adults, and that continues to make a difference where Lutherans can actually articulate that difference. Where Lutherans are more culturally Lutheran than theologically so, you will see an increasing of the drifting away from the church in which one was baptized. Frankly, this is one of the reasons we continue to recite a portion of Luther’s Small Catechism and are faithful to the language of the historic liturgy each weekend in worship. We have a cross-centered theology that needs Jesus always!

Jim was a convert by marriage. Raised a Methodist, he married a Missouri Synod Lutheran woman and joined the Lutheran church. As an engineer with G.E., Jim went through a series of transfers and ended up in Wilmington. In the years when baby boom kids were children and youth, St. Matthew’s had a large Sunday School and youth program. Jim and Nancy decided to join St. Matthew’s and got involved.

When New Hanover county needed a hospice, Jim was in the thick of getting the Life Care Center built. Eloise, also a member of the parish, became its first director. Jim served on the board and was very instrumental in the annual fundraiser known as the Festival of the Trees. Held in the downtown Hilton, elaborately decorated trees were donated and then sold as part of the fundraising. Church choirs and musical groups of all ages performed at the Festival of Trees, making it one of the most popular local events each December. When we moved to Wilmington in 2004, the Festival of Trees was still a big deal.

Jim had been diagnosed with cancer before we came to St. Matthew’s. He was a tireless researcher and discovered that a Seventh Day Adventist hospital in southern California was the very best place to go for treatments. While there he visited the Saddleback (Baptist) church founded by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Jim wondered what that would look like in a Lutheran context, and, when I first arrived, we had several conversations about that. Ultimately, Jim agreed that we should use a Lutheran book for monthly study at church council meetings. From that, we endorsed the slogan we say at the end of worship: “I will strive to pray daily, worship weekly, read the Bible, serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s, be in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others, and give of my time, talent, and resources.”

Jim loved to sing in the choir. He drew the plans and acquired the stone benches for the Memorial Garden. He bought the plaques with the brass nameplates for those buried in the garden and each brass plate in place as quickly as possible. If you see the larger bird house on the nave side of the Memorial Garden, that’s where Jim’s ashes are buried. When he knew he was dying, Jim interviewed those performing cremations in the area, got the very best price with no frills, and told Nancy which to call when he died. Jim departed this life from the new hospice center in Shallotte, an expansion of his vision.

Jim’s friend and neighbor Stan tells about the time Jim asked Stan to call a local car dealer to get the very best price on a new convertible sedan. When Stan did as asked, the exasperated owner said, “Stan, your friend already got the best price I have ever given anyone. There’s nothing more to get.” Stan called Jim and told him what the guy said. Very satisfied indeed, Jim bought the car. He got his very best deal!

Dear Father, thank you for Jim and all those men who love You so much, they serve their neighbors with joy and great dedication. We rejoice that Jim keeps reminding us to be good stewards of Your money when we shop. 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.