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Called Home

  …as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always  Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21) 


During these last three days two good Christian men passed away: Greg Costas and Father Norman Bray. Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. Greg Costas was a ruling elder at Wildwood Church (my church home) and Father Bray served as rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal in Marianna, Florida (Anna’s church from her home town of Marianna).


Interestingly enough, I had more personal contact with Father Bray in Marianna than Brother Costas. I had met Greg Costas as a member of a fairly large church session but my contact with Bray was due to his care for Anna’s late mother.


My knowledge of Greg Costas comes from men who knew him and respected him, men that I respect greatly. By accounts he was a faithful servant in the church, providing oversight as an elder and involved in small group ministries. In a phrase, Costas was a servant for his Lord Jesus. He labored in the church faithfully. Words used to describe him are, “…he was a man of strong and vibrant faith in Jesus as his Lord and Savior.”


Of Father Bray I can say more. Norman was a mature man engaged in his first pastorate at an age where many men are preparing for retirement. But retirement was not in the offering for this priest. When Norman Bray was in his fifties he answered a call to go to seminary and study for the priesthood. Seven years ago he came to Marianna to a challenging situation that was fitting for his maturity. The church needed, after two previous priests that did not truly fit in, a man who could bring people together, who could listen carefully to different perspectives and foster unity. Father Norman Bray was that man. He was noted for giving thoughtful, well-considered and well-reasoned messages. To look at Norman, you would think him more suited to pacing the sidelines as a former linebacker-turned coach rather than to books and theology, but he had an excellent, probing mind to match his honed people-skills.


Bray had a heart for the hungry, spiritually and literally. He organized a prison ministry and led the church to provide above and beyond for a food pantry.


Jesus stated emphatically in his parable of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25 that treatment of the downtrodden, the marginalized and the prisoner was considered how we treated Jesus himself. Bray clearly took this to heart. On a more personal level, an example of his love for those Jesus deemed ‘the least of these’ was found in Father Norman’s ministry to Anna’s elderly mother. Mrs. Betty, as I called her, was a lovely, good and gracious woman felled by age and the cruelty of Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progressed and her mind failed, the layers of her intelligence and personality were stripped away. Faithfully, Father Norman would visit her to provide whatever ministry he could with her diminished capacity. That was grace; that was ministry to the least of these at its finest.


Greg Costas and Father Norman Bray did not meet this side of Heaven. Doubtless, they had differences in their theology and maybe even their politics. Be that as it may, they both loved their Lord Jesus and worked diligently here to bring His kingdom to earth. It can be said of both men that truly for them to live was Christ. Called home now, they have both gained in death. As we consider the passing of these two saints hopefully it calls us to self-examination of our own lives and our personal witness. How we live our lives is the true measure of what we love and value. Who do we value? I am afraid that for many of us, and I have been there, it is not who, but what. It is easy to value position or possessions or even work above all other considerations, far too easy for us. Our modern idols are not as crass as a figure made from metal or carved from stone, but anything that is the focus of our lives, even our family, if it is not Christ…it is an idol. We are told clearly in the Bible that all we see with these earthly eyes is passing away. In short, it’s all going to burn up. What we cannot see, unless we have heavenly eyes, is the eternal that is, well, eternal.


A proper non-idolatrous life focus is on the eternal, on that which will not burn when God creates a new Heaven and a new Earth at the end of this present age. Father Bray and Brother Costas had the right life focus. Do we?



Copyright © 2014 Brian Bailey, Author