The Resurrection of our Lord – April 8, 2012

Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house: God shows no partiality. Anyone from any nation who fears God is accepted by God.
or Isaiah 25:6-9 – On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make a feast for all people, swallow up death forever, wipe away the tears from all faces.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – I shall not die but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.
I Corinthians 15:1-11– For I handed on to you what I received, Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day.
or Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house: God shows no partiality. Anyone from any nation who fears God is accepted by God.
John 20:1-18 – Resurrection appearance. Mary: “I have seen the Lord.”
or Mark 16:1-8 – Empty tomb. Mark’s original ending: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

According to Gordon Lathrop, in his book The Four Gospels on Sunday, Mark ends in the same secrecy motif with which it began. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Or as Lathrop translates, ουδενι ουδεν: “They said absolutely nothing to anybody at all.” As most students of the Bible know, everything after 16:8 was added later.

Throughout the beginning of the gospel, Jesus heals and exorcizes, telling people not to tell anyone. This is often called the secrecy motif. Of course, anyone who has ever read Mark runs into the humor right away: Everyone goes out and tells everyone, the exact opposite of what Jesus asks. The story leaks out little by little divulging what the reader already knows, having been told in the first verse of the first chapter, what Lathrop calls the title of the book, because it has no verb:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

The reader (and of course the demons, whom Jesus tells to be silent) already knows who Jesus is, the messiah. The Son of God. It is the rest of the actors of the play who are just figuring this out, as in a Shakespearean drama. Lathrop also reminds us that this very title is sedition, because, as everyone in the Roman empire knows, it is the emperor who is the Son of Zeus. It even says so on all the coins. The author of Mark’s gospel proposes nothing less than an alternative allegiance.

Lathrop also goes to great pains to show the chiastic structure of Mark’s gospel, a circular pattern that is employed frequently in ancient literature. Here’s why this is important: The meaning of the story is usually hidden at the center of the circle, which in Mark’s case is chapters 8-10, which contain, among other things, the Transfiguration. For modern readers, who are used to a linear construction, we look for the point at the end. There is much curiosity why Mark doesn’t include a resurrection appearance. There is no doubt that many are floating around. After all, by the time Mark has written his gospel, Paul is dead, and the news of the resurrection is foundational for Christian community.

What we discover that instead of putting it at the end, he has hidden it at the center. The secret gospel is buried in the text, for those who wish to find it. Scholars have often mused that Mark’s Transfiguration is actually a misappropriated resurrection appearance, but what if the author intended it that way? Located close to the passion prediction of the center section is also a resurrection prediction. But it is more: It is a resurrection foreshadowing, vision, a picture, an icon of the resurrected Jesus in his glory in heaven with Moses and Elijah. The lights then come down, the scene darkens, and we are back on the mountain. Jesus predicts his crucifixion.

Mark has a resurrection appearance. We’ve just been missing it all these years.

It’s just not so important to Mark whether or not the resurrected Jesus can eat fish, can be touched in his hands and side, can walk through walls. For Mark, the important thing is this: There is more. There is something beyond the grave, and this Jesus is there to show us the way. In Mark’s gospel, we see in a mirror dimly, reflections of what is to be, but cannot yet be seen. It is an elegant gospel, that proclaims hope in an unvarnished way, ending with the words, “and they told absolutely nobody at all.”

I’m going to close these reflections with the writings of a couple of people who spoke at the funeral of Pastor Larry Keene last month. It was a full house at Covenant, Houston, including 60+ rostered leaders. For those who weren’t able to be present Lynette Bartel gave the eulogy. Lynette is an Associate in Ministry at Messiah, Cypress, where Larry served as pastor for 20 years (1983-2003). For you non-Lutheran types, an Associate in Ministry is a form of the diaconate – professional lay ministry – in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She has served as a deacon/deaconess for many years. Her eulogy shares some of Larry’s own funeral ministry to those grieving in the face of death and the hope of the resurrection. She shares the ministry that grew out of that faith, with stories such as the day he showed up with his head shaved, because a 16-year-old kid in the congregation was in chemo. Being people of the resurrection empowers us to walk through the darkness with others.

The second piece is the sermon by Pastor Don Carlson, a long time friend of Larry. Don is an Assistant to the Bishop here in our Gulf Coast Synod. Among other things, Don talks about asking Larry, “Why Jesus?” Larry’s response was, “It’s the only story that makes sense.” For many of us, the Christian gospel is the only way we make sense out of the violent, self-centered ways of the world, with a message of compassion and hope.

Blessings to you this Easter as you proclaim that message to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.

Lynette Bartel, AIM, Eulogy for Larry Keene

March 19, 2012

Lawrence Scott Keene was born September 16, 1948 and went home on March 13, 2012. Larry is preceded in death by his father, Elmer Keene and his brother, Dan Keene, and his father-in-law, Emil Solovitz.

He is survived by his wife Sue; sons and daughters-in-law Joel and Rayna Keene, and Saul and Cheryl Keene, and daughter and son-in-law Deborah and Wil Gordon. Granddaughters: Ryan and Henley Gordon and Penelope Keene. Mother and step-father Dorothy and Garvin Aulepp. Sisters and brothers-in-law: Kerry and Art Fierro, Ellen and Fred Young, and Betsy Sexton. Mother-in-law, Evangeline Solovitz. Brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law: Steve and Carol Solovitz and Larry and Claudia Ochonicky. Larry has many nieces and nephews who remember him with love.

Larry was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania to Elmer and Dorothy Keene. He grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania until he was thirteen years old, when the family moved to Canoga Park, California. He graduated from Canoga Park High in 1966. Larry loved scouting and camping and received the Pro Deo et Patria award in 1966. He signed up for the United States Army in 1969, playing in the Army Band in Viet Nam and later, Hawaii.

Larry received his Bachelors in Humanities from California State University, Northridge in 1975 and earned his Masters of Divinity at Luther Theological Seminary in 1979. Having done his internship in Lubbock, Texas with Pastor Robert E Lee, Larry accepted his first call to St John’s Lutheran in Winters, Texas, 1979-1983. His second call was to Messiah Lutheran, Cypress, 1983-2003. In more recent years, Larry provided interim ministries at Grace, Montrose; Bethlehem, Beaumont; St John, Angleton; and Zion, Zionsville.

Before entering the ministry, Larry held various jobs: tending bar, playing in the band of a traveling circus, and doing janitorial work for Mopsy’s. This janitorial job turned out to be the most fortuitous, because it was while cleaning at a school that he met Sue Solovitz, who was working her first teaching job. He regularly bragged how he “swept” her off her feet.

Larry and Sue were married July 14, 1973. Joel was born in 1976, and Deborah and Saul in 1979.

The family thanks all of you for being here tonight to honor and celebrate Larry’s life. Your support in the last few weeks and months is greatly appreciated by them, and meant a lot to Larry. So THANK YOU from the family, or as Larry would refer to them:

She Who Must Be Obeyed

DocBoner, Rayna the Red, and Princess Peppy
MamaDeb, One L Wil, the Queen, and Her Highness III
Soccer Saul and Sorority Cheryl

As I began thinking about what I would say this evening, I thought about all the funeral and memorial services I have attended over the years with Larry, probably well over 100 in the 20 years we served together. We were a team: he would preside and preach, and I would do the eulogy and the prayers. He preached a great funeral sermon, which he would readily tell you he much preferred over weddings. And every one of those sermons contained somewhere in them, amid the hope of the resurrection, these two points.

Point One: Your loved one lives on in the stories, so tell the stories to one another, share them with the family. I’m guessing tonight is going to be about the stories, and that’s only as it should be. Larry was a master story teller, embellishing just enough to keep it interesting. Those of you who read Larry’s blog know what I’m talking about. He used it in his sermons as well. One of his favorite lines to someone giving him a hard time was, “You too can be a sermon illustration.” The reality is that those who were most often sermon illustrations were those closest to him-his family. It wasn’t that the Keene family stories were any scarier than the rest of ours, but our stories weren’t being shared publicly with 250 people each week. Sue, Joel, Deborah, and Saul displayed amazing strength of character by not bolting from the sanctuary when Larry was preaching and would say: “So, last week Sue and I were having a fight about the kids and she said….”. Sue told me she developed a technique as she sat in the choir loft and felt all eyes turn her direction-the slow slide lower in her chair, look straight ahead, show no emotion.

By the way, those same family sermon illustration characters were also Larry’s source of light and happiness, no matter what. In our last visit together before the second surgery I asked Larry what brought him joy. Without skipping a beat he replied, “My children and grandchildren, and Sue. Sue’s amazing. She’s the strong one.”

So Larry the Story Teller wants you to tell the stories. Embellish all you want because you know he would.

Point Two somewhere in a Larry Keene funeral sermon: Larry believed that it was important to be honest. He would say something along the lines of, “No one is perfect, and as much as you love dear So-and-So, the reality is that dear So-and-So might have hurt or disappointed you somewhere along the line. That’s ok.   Don’t deny those feelings, be honest with yourself about this person.” And then he’d say something about all of us being both saint and sinner. I always thought this was a pretty gutsy thing to do at a memorial service.

Tonight, however, I don’t think I need to be talking about Larry Keene, saint and sinner. It was pretty clear that Larry owned that whole sinful human nature thing. Larry, the earthy, say what you think, don’t dance around the issue, “hey, this is who I am” guy. You either got Larry, or you didn’t. And if you didn’t get him, then you missed a lot. You missed Larry Keene the saint-preacher and pastor.

Larry the Preacher when firing on all cylinders was something to behold. He soared above us. He was a wordsmith, and as I’ve said, a story teller, and when those gifts were utilized in the proclamation of the gospel it was amazing. You found yourself in those sermons-your pain, your sin, your salvation-laid out there so clearly that you thought maybe Pastor Keene could read your mind and see into your soul. How many of you remember the Fire Tender sermons or the Preacher sermons? Sermons he wouldn’t take credit for because he felt they truly were given to him by the Spirit, but the Spirit used Larry’s gifts in getting those stories to us.

Then there was the Sunday that Larry showed up for worship completely bald, having shaved his head. I’m talking billiard ball.   It wasn’t a good look for him. There was a strong resemblance to Uncle Fester from the Addams family. But that was ok, because Larry wasn’t doing it for looks. He was doing it because a 16 year old kid in the congregation was in chemotherapy. It meant a lot to that kid and that kid’s family.

And that’s part of Larry’s gift. He knew the darkness. He suffered from bouts of depression himself, so he wasn’t afraid to walk into that darkness with others. He wasn’t much of a hand-holder, but when you were in your darkest hour, when all hope was gone, when there was no comfort to be found, Larry would walk into that pain with you. I’m guessing many of you are thinking of your own stories right now, when Larry Keene walked into your darkness, carrying the Gospel.

Because that’s who he was, a man who could bring the Gospel to folks on the fringe, those in deep pain, those who didn’t think they were good enough to be part of the church. Like prophets of old, he sometimes suffered for his beliefs, but he stood firm. He opened the doors of our church a little wider. He was one of a kind, and we are all blessed to have known him.

Lynette Bartel, Associate in Ministry, Messiah Lutheran, Cypress

“Glimpses of a Shadowed Pilgrim”
 by Pastor Don Carlson

John 6:16-21

For the uninitiated, the subtitle of Larry’s “Kwikies” blog is, “Glimpses by a Shadowed Pilgrim.” A clever twist; I know.

Sitting on the back deck a number of days ago talking about this service and sermon, Sue said something like, “I don’t want people to think he was a saint, because he wasn’t.” I assured her that probably wasn’t much of a risk. And so, three glimpses of Larry – and then some Gospel; not that the two are mutually exclusive.

First Story

Back in the summer of 2006, my good friends Larry Keene and Jamie Keys – who read this evening’s lessons – joined me in Starbuck, Minnesota for my dad’s July 12th 90th birthday. Largely a gathering of the Carlson Clan, it was a chance for them to observe family dysfunction with a shy Scandinavian twist. Larry’s self assumed responsibility was sweeping out the garage so we could set up extra eating tables – and this is where most of the clan held forth, not wanting to venture too far from the coolers of beer. It was hot.

The next day – as we had done before – we loaded up our fishing gear and headed for Abram Lake, Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada. We always spent the first night in International Falls, Minnesota; the billboard on the outskirts then boasted, “Hometown of Tammy Faye Baker.” We always stayed at the Voyageur Motel – 1 room, 3 people, 3 beds, $86 bucks; lifestyles of the rich and famous.

The next morning we headed into Canada, first stopping at Canadian Customs across the Rainy River in Fort Francis. The Canadians were efficient: “Purpose of your trip? Where are you staying?   How long? Firearms? Alcohol? Tobacco products? Any live bait? Enjoy your stay.”

And so we fished the waters of Abram and Minnetaki for four days. It was hot, but fishing was OK. Life can get little better than lazily trolling for walleyes, being lulled by the outboard, watching the pine trees slide by – and being in a boat with two other introverts. Behold the fisher king.

After four days we headed back, only to arrive in Fort Francis and discover that the line from US Customs stretched back across the river, down a main highway, and then some blocks down a side street next to a cemetery – maybe a mile and a half; a very slow moving mile and a half. So we found the back of the line, rolled down the windows, lit up the cigars, and listened to some tunes.

It was hot; but the passenger in the backseat was getting even hotter. “I went to Vietnam so that I could wait in line to get back into my country by justifying myself to people that probably weren’t even born back then?” We listen to political tirades; excurses on the Bill of rights; and the loud satirical singing of sundry patriotic songs; we listen; we listen all the stop and go waiting way. As we near the border and glimpse the agents, there is a loud backseat reference to “jack booted Nazis.” I tell Larry to please “shut up.”

The agent sticks his head in the window. “Where you been? How long? Where you going? All US citizens? Where were you born?” We answer, “North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas.” We must have looked some over the hill gang sleeper cell, so the agent asks, “So how did you all meet?” I am sorely tempted to respond, “Through an online dating service,” just to see the response; but the guy looks humorless – and Larry needs no encouragement. We told him we met at church – and we were then asked to go inside and have a seat while they went through the car. At this point you have to imagine an apoplectic Larry humming “You’re a grand old flag…” while sitting beneath a picture of George W. Bush.

We get on our way and listen to seething commentary the next 120 miles to Bemidji where we plan to play golf. By the third hole Larry realizes that he has worked his blood pressure into such a snit that angina is kicking in; so he heads to the clubhouse to cool down. Jamie and I play a few more holes. Then we get sensitive and think we should probably check on Larry. Besides, it is hot! He’s in the clubhouse. He’s found a comrade from Nam and they are drinking beer and swapping war stories. As penance Larry paid for the motel that night.

Sometimes Larry was his own worst enemy; as we all are wont to be. As the Lord spoke through the prophet Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”

Second Story

If I were to imagine what the apostle Paul was like, I think Larry’s character and personality probably came the closest. Paul: thundering around the Mediterranean basin “building community” – as Larry often claimed to be doing. Paul: always compassionate, sometimes caustic, prolific, no BS – and always speaking the Gospel to “real life and real people.” Never “in theory.”

As you get to the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, there’s a clue that Paul had dictated most of the letter – and then signed off with a few verses in his own hand. I sometimes wonder if the scribe cleaned up Paul’s tirades a little bit. Who knows?

Anyway, one year at our annual theological conference, all of our synod’s rostered leaders were gathered in a hotel meeting room for some time with our bishop. The bishop was having people new to our roster introduce themselves, and a young pastor that had just taken a call in our synod was doing so. He started out OK, about how he was glad to be with us and all; but the he started talking about another group of Lutheran clergy around the country for which he had an affinity. He liked being with them so that he could enjoy the fellowship of Lutheran clergy that were “more confessional” – I think that was the phrase he used. He went on to say that his association with this group was “value added” – I know that was the phrase he used.

Now if Larry’s scribe had been present I’m sure we might have heard something like, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” But there was no such scribe to filter, and so from the back of the room we heard a loud and sure voice interject, “What the **** are you talking about?!” In 30 years I don’t think I had ever heard the bomb dropped at the theological conference – at least not publically.

The young pastor started to reply, but like Paul with the circumcision party, Larry had caught the scent of blood and was ready to give no quarter.  Our bishop sensed where this was going; a lamb to the slaughter. He moved us on to other issues. Probably a wise choice; but, in the end, to issues probably no more important.

Final Story

If there is anything better than fishing for walleyes with introverted friends, perhaps it is having a late breakfast with them at The Texas Grill in Bastrop, playing a round of golf, and then retiring to one of the old CCC cabins at Bastrop State Park. Larry, Jamie, Kerry Nelson, and I have done such 3 day “post Easter excursions” for quite a number of years.

One night we were sitting outside the cabin under the stars and talking wise talk, when someone – I think it was Kerry (the extrovert) – asked Larry, “So why do you believe in Jesus?” No small question. After a some silence Larry said, “Because it’s the only story that makes sense of my life and gives me hope.” His answer has always been a help to me in my pilgrimage.

In Summary

After he died, I went to the hospital with the family to see Larry before the funeral home took him. They had moved him from ICU. The sign on the door read “Angel Room.” Larry would have gagged. It doesn’t matter what saccharine signage is put up, on the other side of the door death looked its same ashen silent self. I really couldn’t believe it. I buried my dad at the end of December; but, although sad, after 95 years there was a sense of normalcy to that. This was different. It made me feel heartbroken and empty.

For the Hebrew people, death – Sheol – was known as “the Great Swallower.” That’s part of what the Jonah story is about. “Out of the belly of Sheol – the belly of death – I cried.” Jonah had been swallowed up in death.

This is the picture on the masthead of Larry’s blog, “Glimpses by a Shadowed Pilgrim.” And the shadow of death got him; the big fish – the Great White – swallowed him up. Perhaps a line from the movie “Jaws” comes to mind: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But it would be to no avail; a delusion. Kayak or ocean liner, if the Great White shark doesn’t get us the great white iceberg will. We will all be “cast into the deep” and the Great Swallower will get us all.

But then the Gospel twist. It is this image of death that Paul is playing with when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Great Swallower has been swallowed up by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and so to be swallowed by death is also to rest safely in Christ. How exactly does that work or take place? I haven’t a clue; but I believe it. It is enough.

I miss him. At the theological conference in January he wasn’t there to skip sessions with me while we feigned doing something important. But, amid the heartbreak and emptiness I am obliged to listen to words I have always spoken at funerals. “We do not honor the dead by dying with them. We honor them by living as if they made a difference in our lives.” And so, in memory of Larry, we ought do that – if we are to truly remember him.

Live with some Godly indignation about the things in this world that make for injustice; things that usually wear masks of righteousness. The sticker on the back of his pickup quotes from the prophet Micah, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Do that, and so remember him.

Be willing, as Larry was, to be a theologian of the cross. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is – insofar as we can see things as they are in this mirror darkly. “Let your yes be yes; and your no be no.” Speak the truth in love. Never sit down in silence down when others are being put down in shame. Do that, and so remember him.

And then, tell and live the Jesus story with a clarity and passion that speaks to and touches real people living real lives. Tell and live the story that will help them make sense of life and give them hope. Do that, and so remember him.

All of this I say with humility. “The older I get, the surer I am that I am not running the show.” But Jesus is now in the boat and we will reach the land towards which we are going. In the meantime, in the words of Mary: “Lord, let it be with all of us – and with Larry – according to your will.”