Psalm 68:6, Dean Webb’s Funeral Sermon: God Brings Those in the Prison House to Where?

“The two ways—one of life and one of death, and a vast chasm exists between the two” (Didache 1:1).  So begins a 1st-century document, meant for Gentile converts entering a Church filled with Jewish Christians.  Such are the subjects Dean delighted in learning during my time as his pastor.

Today, you will not find yourself frolicking in stories about Dean—as if his life ended here, in this reality.  No, this is a service to remember the confidence in Christ Dean confessed and lived.  In my memory, he is not the musician many of you may remember him as.  Oh, we did speak of music.  Much of this meandered into Dean asking me about some song, unknown to my ears, still untouched by the ways of bluegrass twang and singing.

Let me tell you about a part of Dean, perhaps far from your experiences.  “Now, since you’re the pastor, you can fix the crooked sign on your door.”  The first words Dean spoke to me.  My initial impressions and notions involved him being a curmudgeon and complainer.  To this day, the pastor’s placard on my door is still askew, which only a keen eye like Dean’s will spot.

No, Dean never became the grouchy old man I feared.  Born from the disorder of this world, he tried to make sense of everything.  To find order in the chaos, uneven signs and people who hoarded stuff in their houses made him crazy.  From my perspective, his income enabled him to take forays into topics few often make.

Several years ago, he popped into my study, perplexed.  “Hey pastor, I read about this Ugaritic word,” and he gave voice to a strange sound, trailing in tow behind.  “Do you think this is related to this English word?”  “Uh, I’m clueless on this one, Dean!”

So, this curious, thin-framed man, sent me down a road of no return.  The psalm for today is because of what little I learned about this ancient, mysterious Semitic language, similar to Hebrew.  In verse 6, we discover something about God, who places the lonely “into families and leads the prisoners out to prosperity.”

Do you realize how many times Bible translators guess?  The word for “prosperity” is from the Hebrew kosharah.  This psalm is the only place the Bible uses this word, which linguists understand only by the context.  After archaeologists unearthed many Ugaritic clay tablets, we realized kosharah is more akin to “jubilation” or “celebration.”

From eternity’s perspective, God leads those trapped in the prison house of sin to eternal joy.  For the rebellious, who imagine they don’t need God, their experience is otherwise, of living in a charred and burning land, what we recognize as “hell.”

Though Dean’s soul is now with God in heaven, his questions are still teaching me.  No one asked me as many questions as he did, each earnest and sincere.  Sometimes, I wished he asked some of them in private—if you understand what I mean.

The words in our Epistle reading guided Dean.  “May your love keep on growing in knowledge and insight so you can discern what is best and be pure and blameless on the Day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).  To you, he is the mandolin’s maestro; to me, a dear saint, looking forward to Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the body.

So, we now pause to reflect on Jesus’ words, who came to earth as both divine and human to restore us to God.  Consider what He says in today’s Gospel reading.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

Oh, those words shimmer of beauty, resonating with the ring of poetry.  Oh, the goals of this verse glimmer with goodness, something to make your mom proud of you!  So, being under the rule and reign of God is yours—if you are destitute in your spirit.

Impossible!  For we can’t achieve this emptiness of our sin-filled self or rid ourselves of our sinful nature.  No one “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” above all else, without selfishness or flaw.  Hmm, so Jesus isn’t describing you—unless you’re delusional or lying to yourself.  So, you will not be satisfied in the heavenly realms.  Now, this stings because the flip side is to live in a “scorched land.”

“Let’s hire another preacher—this one isn’t telling me what I want.”  In the end, what matters is what God wants for you—and nothing else.  To approach God based on what you desire is idolatry, for you are turning your wants and wishes into your little god, which drives your agenda.  So, if you’re pushing God into a corner, you aren’t meek or poor as Christ calls you to be.

So, what does God want for you?  Check out the last passage from our Matthew reading.  Again, this is Jesus speaking.  “Do not assume I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  No, I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”  Ah, so what Jesus requires of you He fulfills for you, for He’s not stupid.  All too well, He understands you are full of yourself, not poverty-stricken, humble, or hungry for righteousness—but He is.

To those too brimming with themselves, who leave little room for God, He came.  To the proud and arrogant, who want the spotlight on themselves, Jesus descended.  So, you crave what the world offers and not the perfection God grants to His people.  For you, the Savior came.  All this is for you—unless you are rebellious and choose to keep yourself on your self-made throne, as Psalm 68 declares.

About six years past, Dean stopped by to visit.  Yes, he believed in Christ, but something badgered him.  For something sunk deep inside Dean, unwilling to unclasp its grip—this: The power of the Word, which recognizes whatever Jesus says He does.

To be rooted in certainty, Dean desired to wrestle through his dilemma.  Now, he understood Jesus commanded baptism and teaching as ways God chose to disciple us into His kingdom.  Raised as a Mormon, he earlier received their baptism, which uses the same words as Jesus gave, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Though their words are identical, the meanings connected to them are different in a Mormon setting than a Christian one.  To Mormons, Jesus is someone else, the brother of Lucifer, not born of Mary by the Spirit of God, but by God the Father.  Only by being both God and man, not Satan’s brother, can Jesus’ death forgive your wrongdoings and grant you everlasting life.

What counts is the meaning attached to Jesus’ words, not the sounds, in and of themselves.  For if the specific sounds only mattered, all the words of Jesus become a matter of magic, not meaning.  A pastor needs to intone the right noises and poof, the enchantment happens.  Now, since Mormons understand Jesus in their own way, their baptisms don’t do what Jesus promises, despite using His exact words.

How few think through their faith like this.  Well, Dean did!  So, in 2012, he received baptism according to our Lord’s institution.  Though he did trust in Jesus, did God still save him through the water and Word?  Yes, for Scripture affirms, “Baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  Perhaps, you are beginning to understand.  To receive salvation anew, Dean came to Church, to meet Jesus every week, where He assures us He will be.

At last, you’re getting an awareness of Dean, not the music maker, but the inquisitive man, who wanted to make sense of everything on a cosmological level.  Between us, a back-and-forth banter sometimes erupted.  “Can you turn this theology into a bluegrass song?”  Out came my air mandolin and he smiled his smile at me.  What Dean chose not to do is bring out the old curmudgeon.  No, he lived out God’s grace to the end.

A few days before he died, my wife, Sheri, called me.  “Come here—hurry—Dean is stuck on the toilet.”  Though funny in a comedy, not so in real life.  Down I drive to his house, glad his son, Michael, who’s a state trooper, didn’t clock me for speeding.

Off I lift him and deal with other hygiene needs, which now became necessary.  To the chair, he ambles, as I assist him.  Once rested, for a trip to the washroom wore him out, he whispers in my ear, “Thanks pastor for doing this.”  The tears now well up within me, “Dean, you didn’t choose this, you needn’t apologize.”  Such consideration for others while death clutched at Dean, closer and closer, refusing to let him go.

A day or so later, with Dean’s body soon to exhaust itself beyond all breath, he slid off his recliner.  Again, I go to the house.  A true and dear friend of Dean’s, Larry Sifford, greets me.  Both he and I lift Dean off the floor and place him on the bed.  A short while later, the hospice folks put a hospital-type bed in the room.  Short of breath and in pain, Dean tells the man, “Thank you.”  Oh, how he shone with mercy and grace toward others, as best able, to his last gasp of air.

In a way, Dean didn’t want to go—not until comforted by Michael’s promise to care for his mom, Dean’s wife, Sandy.  Only after, did he ready himself for the joys of eternity.

How cruel our experiences are—and can be—in this fallen, messed-up world, since our plummet into sin.  Part of this is the unrelenting toll caregiving takes on us, which Sandy lived.  No make-up camouflaged the tiredness behind her weary eyes.

Such sadness fills us when we lose someone we love.  Do not forbid the grief you must undergo.  Still, our sorrow is distinct—lined with the promise of the life of come.  Receive these words from a Lutheran father in the faith, whose teachings Dean also relished.  “The dead are not gone, but gone ahead, where we, too, will follow.”

Now, at his eternal home, Dean dines at the King’s table—and we are on the way!  Can you not breathe in the savor of the celebration yet to come?  Such a grand reunion awaits all the faithful in Christ.  Amen.

 

Comments

  1. Bobbie Anders says:

    Very nice service, only wish I could have been there. Thankful to have read. Many blessings to the family of Dean Webb.

    • Beautifully written, pastor..Dean and I shared a musical life for an all too brief time back in the late 60s. He was always eager to help as we wrote tunes together with Mitch and Rodney. He delved into so many mysterious studies such as Aztec history, with the guts of a second story man, always wanting to learn more. He was a dear friend, an amazing musician, and one hilarious guy. I miss you already, pal.

      Herb Pedersen
      Woodland Hills, CA

  2. Patty Anderson says:

    I too, wish we could have been there to send Dean on his way, and to comfort Sandy. We wish love to Sandy and the family.

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