Dave Duff - Matthew 6:25-33
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Believe it or not, I was a little scared of Dave Duff when he started coming around Cross of Grace five years, or so, ago. Maybe “intimidated” is a better word than “scared” – and it had much more to do with me than with him, really – but I was worried…, concerned…, curious…, at the very least, to see how this grandfather, from the Nazarene-flavored tradition of the Christian church was going to fit in and follow along and be filled by the way we Lutheran-flavored Christians do things.
And when he called to set up an appointment to “sit down and talk,” in my office, with Linda by his side – after you’d been with us for a while – I thought I was in for it. I thought I was going to hear about all the ways our liberal, progressive Lutheran theology was off-base and out of whack and not in-keeping with everything he’d come to believe, through his faithful, capable, prolific, wise study and understanding of Scripture. (Dave Duff knew his Bible, you know.) Mostly, I was worried he was going to tell me all of that as an explanation for why he wouldn’t be coming around any longer.
Well shame on me for my short-sightedness, for my assumptions, and for my limited understanding of just how wise and gracious he could be. It helped – and gave me great hope – to learn that, in addition to all of his church background and history, he was also a Buckeye, of course – and it’s no exaggeration to say that that conversation changed – and raised – my expectations of people.
See, among other things, Dave set up that meeting to tell me about how pleasantly surprised he was that we call each other Partners in Mission – and that we mean it; by how freely we welcome and encourage each other around here to get our hands dirty doing the work of the Church. And Dave went on to embrace and to demonstrate that in a million ways over the years by leading several sessions of the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class; by leading workshops for writers and writing devotionals, himself; and most meaningfully for him, lately, I think, by becoming one of our Eucharistic Ministers and sharing communion as often as he could with some of our folks who can’t always make it to worship.
In a nutshell, during that meeting in my office, I think he wanted to let me know that, while he wasn’t sure of, or sold on, this whole “Lutheran thing” altogether just yet, that he was still on a journey of faithfulness and discipleship; that he was still growing, at his age; that God wasn’t done with him, yet; and, I think, he wanted to understand and grow into what we Lutherans try so hard to show and to share when it comes to the grace we proclaim for all of God’s children, because some of that was new and different and challenging for him, in a good and holy kind of way.
He also let me know, in so many words, that if all of this was good enough for the Blachly family, it was good enough for him, because, he relished the gift of worshiping with his family as much as anything.
Well, when we talked the other day, Linda and Liz, we talked about how today was intended to be more about the worship of God and celebration of the Gospel of Jesus – and less about Dave. And that that’s what Dave would prefer. But that’s a hard thing to do where someone like Dave Duff is concerned, because the God we worship and the Gospel we celebrate were so central to who he was and to how he lived.
And what Dave Duff taught us, if we were paying attention, is that the promises of Scripture are true. That God’s kingdom is alive and well among us. That God’s heaven is not just something to wait for – up there and out there, on the other side of eternity – but that the Kingdom of God is worth striving for and that it is, indeed, right here in our midst and there are ways to achieve it and to experience it and to share it with the world.
And Dave did that in more ways than we can count. He did it in big ways by traveling the globe on mission trips to share the Gospel and through his passion for that Jesus film he shared with so many people around the world. He did it in small ways, too. I remember asking him to lead a prayer in our Bethel Bible Study class once and he prayed – by name – for the family members of people in this congregation I didn’t even know he knew. He studied his Bible – alone and in groups; he showed up for prayer vigils; he was in worship as often as he could be; he gave his money generously – tithing, from what I can guess, and with no strings attached. He lived as a disciple and it changed his life and impacted the world around him.
He told me about an epiphany he had at the communion table once – where he suddenly felt surrounded by a “cone of love” (those were his words) – and where he was reminded, by revelation of sorts, about the power of God’s body and blood and the healing redemption they bring; healing redemption which surpasses even the most advanced chemo-therapy. He talked about how, while he had been feeling compelled to find time and find a place to meet up with God for more prayer and devotion as he struggled with his illnesses, that Sunday morning came and that – right then and there – in the communion line, eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice, as it were, thanks to that Nazarene background!), he realized that God had already found him.
It was Dave’s joy, don’t get me wrong to find and make time for God and he made as much of it as anyone could. But even when he didn’t – even when he couldn’t – he realized, God came to him; God found him; God filled him, in bread and wine, in body and blood; God surrounded him with love and forgiveness and mercy, through the fellowship of his friends and family. And in all of that Dave experienced – right here, in this life, in spite of his illness, and struggle, and sin, and even until his dying day – he experienced hope; he experienced eternity; he experienced the love of Christ; he experienced the Kingdom of God – grace…on earth as it is in heaven. Grace, right here on earth, just as it is in the heaven for which he waited.
And I believe that’s what he would have us remember and celebrate on his behalf today, and for as long as we remember and give thanks for his time among us.
At the end of that two-year Bethel Bible Study course we offer here, which Dave and Linda finished a couple years back, I make it a practice of sharing a verse with each student as a way of celebrating how I have seen God at work in and through their lives over the course of the study.
The verse I gave to Dave was from Ephesians 3:18-19. It says:
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
See, from what I could tell, Dave spent a lot of time, like so many of us do, trying to make rational, logical, educated, academic-kind-of-sense of his faith and of God’s gospel. He was an engineer, after all. And all of that wisdom and intellect served him – and the rest of us – quite well.
But I think God did a work of transformation for and through Dave in recent years – and maybe in some ways, thanks to his illness – to such a degree that God’s grace revealed itself in new, different, surprising ways for him. He told me once that he was grateful for the “gift” of his prostate cancer because it was “better than dropping dead of a heart attack.” Again, those are his words.
And I think he was grateful, not just because the slow progress of his disease gave him time to plan and prepare and to say and to share all the things that need saying at times like these. But I think he was grateful because he was able to count his blessings differently, over the last couple of years – this illness wasn’t anything any amount of wisdom or intellect or study could make sense of or fix or cure, in the end.
But in spite of it and thanks to all the ways God found and cared and loved him through it, Dave was able to be grateful for God’s presence in his life – over the course of his life. And he was able to revel, in advance, in the grace that was his in this life – and to hope with all the faith he could find – for the grace that was to come, and that is surely his now, thanks be to God.