+Rev. Charles Evanson+ Memorial Service Sermon
November 10, 2018
This memorial sermon for Pastor Charles Evanson is so much more than a simple memorial sermon. It is a theology of the church, ministry and the Sacrament.
In Memoriam +Rev. Dr. Charles J. Evanson, II 1936-2018+
St. Matthew 26:26-28
October 20, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood is the beating heart of our life in Christ. It is the only form of worship that Christ instituted in the New Testament. This is what He has given us to do: take and eat, take and drink.
The Lord didn’t institute Christmas pageants or Sunday School. He didn’t set up the Ladies’ Aid. He didn’t even tell us to sing the Kyrie or the Sanctus or the Agnus Dei. All that we do in reverence for our fathers, trusting that they know better than us how to present and how to preserve the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Church. We are not better at being relevant than they were.
But as good as those things are, that which we do most directly in remembrance of Christ, which we do in order to proclaim His death until He comes again and to fulfill His will is to eat His Body and drink His Blood that our sins would be forgiven and that He would dwell in us.
This gift, the Sacrament of the Altar, can rightly be understood as the replacement for the entire sacrificial and Temple systems of the Old Testament. The Blessed Sacrament is the culmination of God’s interaction with and ministry to human beings. The types and shadows, the blood and counting, the rituals and washings, are fulfilled now in Christ’s death and resurrection. And all that the sacrifices and Temple pointed to and proclaimed, and that which they did for the people of old, is given to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. There God gives us the benefits of His holy death, the fruit of the cross, and the gift of the resurrection. We don’t go to the cross or the empty tomb. Nor do we move ourselves into God’s presence by an exercise of the will or intense meditation. Instead, God brings Himself to us in His mercy according to His institution and promise in the Sacrament.
This is the place where Christ draws nearest to us, not simply in our hearts or in some spiritual manner, but in His actual crucified and yet now living Body and Blood. This isn’t merely a spiritual reality. It is also a physical reality. Here is the gate to heaven, Jacob’s ladder. The Temple veil is torn in twain and through bread and wine mortal eyes behold a cosmic reality of both a physical and metaphysical world which defies the fallen eyesight and reason of men. Here on our altars, and then placed into our mouths, is Mercy Seat of the Holy of Holies, that which is worshipped and adored by angels. And if you listen you will hear not simply the people around you, but you will hear what Isaiah heard, the very Seraphim themselves, and Charles along with them, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and your lips will be prepared for a coal that burns but does not consume, a coal that cleanses and forgives, a coal that opens lips for praise even as it purifies hearts for God.
This beating heart of our life in Christ, His Body and Blood given and shed for us, this was the beating heart, the center and passion, of Pastor Evanson’s life and ministry. He not only partook of it faithfully himself, but he promoted it, encouraged its faithful use, and provided it.
It is hard to imagine what Redeemer would be now without him. He came at the worst of times. The congregation was in a turmoil that lasted decades. It was shrinking due to demographics. The neighborhood had changed. Several murderous home invasions, the most violent and shocking the city has ever seen, took place within blocks of the Church. It was a terrible time for our part of the city and white people left in droves. The congregation was also wrapped up in the Synodical controversy of the day. They were not at all certain that the Bible was trustworthy or that we should remain in this Synod. They did not like the seminary or the loss of the senior college. There were constant cries of “legalism” and “fundamentalism” and claims of oppression and political machinations. They were also factions in the congregation that wanted to respond to the numeric decline by imitating the culture and abandoning Lutheran liturgical forms and ceremonies along with any sort of dogma. Gospel reductionism and contemporary worship was all the rage and was well known at Redeemer. At the same time the joint school that Redeemer had started just a few years before was failing rapidly and Pastor Evanson would have to lead the council in its closure. And on top of all that the associate pastor, whom he had inherited, was having an affair with the secretary.
People left by the dozens every week. Hundreds left. Only a handful joined. Most of those who left, and even some who stayed, blamed him. He was a byword among the ministerium of Ft. Wayne. But he wouldn’t take sides. He wouldn’t respond in kind. He wouldn’t leave the Missouri Synod or renounce the Seminary. Neither would he renounce his predecessor who had left or gain easy points with the clergy by parroting their shibboleths. He wouldn’t abandon the liturgy or use cowboy music for worship, but neither did he claim that The Lutheran Hymnal had fallen from the heavens or that it was good to have Page 5 without communion or that the Missouri-Synod was God’s chosen nation. While he wouldn’t take up Theistic evolution or promote women’s ordination, neither would he play to the peanut gallery and say that no one could go to heaven who didn’t believe such things or that the Lutherans were the only ones that had the Gospel.
Admittedly, on some things he was quite firm. He would not move the congregation to a safe suburb. He would not pretend as though the Gospel was freedom to dissolve holy marriage and engage in adultery or that the Ministry had no necessary qualifications. He thought that it was necessary for Redeemer to withdraw from the school in order to save the parish and continue its ministry.
All this, being firm where he thought he had to be and being gentle in matters of adiaphora or pastoral need, made his ministry incredibly difficult. He refused to compromise for popularity. Twice the voters’ assembly of this congregation, in this building, voted to remove him from office and missed the required 2/3 vote by a very narrow margin but with a clear majority. His family, his wife and his children, also suffered with him at the hands of the very people he was called to serve while he was largely ignored or blamed by the Ministerium at large.
And what was his response to all this? It was not to promote the Bible or the Liturgy or to present himself as a martyr. Nor was it to devise a program to turn the tide and usher in success by any means possible. Instead, his response was to promote the Sacrament of the Altar, the Gospel itself, and to offer it constantly to the faithful for the forgiveness of sins. That is what a congregation in turmoil, a neighborhood in decay, and a pastor caught in immorality need. They need the strong Word that leads to repentance and faith, Law preached not to support an agenda or to win a fight or prove who is smarter, but to make a spiritual diagnosis and to give spiritual counsel. They need the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love in Christ for humanity that bestows Christ’s forgiveness on sinners in its full power and context and not just as a convenient excuse from a lying shepherd who says “peace, peace” when there is no peace in a vain effort to make himself popular. They need to be absolved with a real absolution in response to real repentance and thereby restored to communion with God in the Sacrament as God Himself has instituted and given it.
He stayed the course not only for those few who loved and supported him but also for those who spoke against him, who voted to remove him. He stayed the course because that was what he was called to do, to be. He was willing to be faithful unto death and was, in some sense, a martyr. But by Divine design he ended up outliving his opponents. They mostly gave up. They quit in the face of his steadfast ministry. Now his wisdom is obvious. He is finally and rightly upheld as an ideal model for ministry. His patience has been rewarded. I am glad to say he is now rightly honored in this congregation, in this synod and ministerium, and even in the ministeriums of Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and elsewhere. And I am glad that he enjoyed some of this even before he was called to glory – though I am sorry that it took so long.
This is personal for us here. The simple fact is that Redeemer would not be here, let alone be what she is, without him. If you love this Church, if you love what God does here, if you love this building, if you love the liturgy and music; if you love the Ministry, the history, and the people here, and, or, if you love the reawakening and invigoration that has taken place in worldwide Lutheranism centered on the Sacrament of the Altar of Christ’s real, bodily, and gracious presence, especially in the Baltic states, then thank and praise God for Pastor Evanson. He was instrumental for all of it.
And if you would honor his memory, here or elsewhere, then adore Christ in the Sacrament and receive there the benefits of His holy death and resurrection. This is why Evanson did what he did, why he suffered what he suffered, endured what he endured. He did it so that we, here, on Rudisill Boulevard, whether we are good or bad, whether we appreciated him or not, might enjoy and benefit from the pure preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments. And this too is what drove him to endure hardships overseas. This honor of his memory is more than a mental exercise for he is actually present with us in the communion of saints therefore it is a participating with him in Christ.
He died last Sunday afternoon. His sons discovered that the last place his browser was open to was the live broadcast of our Sunday morning Service. He regularly watched and prayed with us through the internet on Sunday mornings and also at our daily Matins services. He did this even when he was overseas. He loved this Church. And even you who didn’t know him well, he loved you and felt a special bond through Redeemer to you, much as he felt towards the Lutherans in Lithuania, Latvia, and elsewhere around the world, and he prayed both with and for you even if you didn’t know it. But now know this: all of us enjoy a far nearer presence with him than participation through the internet is capable of delivering. Now we, here at this altar, and so also our brothers and sisters all over the world, enjoy the nearer presence of Charles Evanson in the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament which is the communion of the saints.
Our father and brother, Charles, him to whom we owe so much, has crossed over from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, from sorrow and suffering in faith to glory and joy in faith. He still believes in Jesus. The faithful departed are still part of the Church, more so in a sense than we are. His physical presence has been taken from us for a while. His soul has gone to another country and his body will be laid to rest to await the resurrection on the last day. But he is not dead. He lives. His body and his soul will be reunited and perfected.
While he is in that country, and we must yet remain here, we are not so separate as it might seem for we join him by joining the Lord in the Sacrament. We do not mourn as those without hope. We have hope. We will see him again. But so also is our hope more than for a future event, what will one day be. Our hope is realized now. For in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the communion of saints, we have communion with Charles and with all those who have departed with the sign of faith for we have communion with Christ the Savior who brings His children through death to Himself. We confess not just the Resurrection of the Dead. We also confess and we rejoice also in the communion of the saints. And in the Holy Communion we join with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven.
The Blessed Sacrament, the beating heart of our life in Christ, is where He brings us to Himself by coming to us and giving us His risen Body, that which was once laid in a manger and His risen Blood which was once shed upon the cross, which was sacrificed for our sins and gives us life. In this Blessed Sacrament He also joins us to Himself and bestows all His benefits to us so that we call it a communion. That Body and Blood joins us to the whole world beyond the grave. At the Altar the infinite is shrined in the finite, in bread and wine. Heaven stoops down to earth. The seen and the unseen, the living and the dead, the Church Militant and Triumphant, are one.
Even as the Sacrament of the Altar supersedes all the Old Testament sacrifices and Temple services, so also the communion of saints supersedes Redeemer on Rudisill, the Lutheran Churches of Lithuania and Latvia, and the Missouri Synod. And yet God in His mercy includes us. We are part of it and being with Christ we are with Charles.
God be praised for the life and ministry of Charles Evanson. God has now brought him to that greater country that is just as much without tribes or denominations as it is without heresy, malice, or tears. And until such time as He deliver us all to the same, may He continue to sustain us through His Sacrament and in this unity according to His promise and in line with the legacy that Dr. Evanson, Pastor Evanson, Father and Brother Charles, has left us all.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.