The Rev. Dr. Lowell C. Green, a contributing editor to Logia since its founding, was called from this life on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at the age of 88. Prof. John T. Pless preached this sermon at his funeral at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Bucyrus, Ohio on August 1.
Ordained in 1949, Dr. Green’s remarkable career included service as a pastor in Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York. He served on the faculty of several schools including Concordia College in River Forrest and Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saint Catharines, Ontario. Dr. Green was one of the last living links in American Lutheranism to the Erlangen theologians of the previous generation (Werner Elert, Paul Althaus, Wilhelm Maurer) as he received his doctorate from Erlangen in 1955. A student of the work of the Iowa Synod theologian J. Michel Reu, Dr. Green also transmitted Reu’s heritage to a new generation. Dr. Green authored scores of scholarly articles and several books including How Melanchthon Helped Luther Discover the Gospel, Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story, and The Erlangen School of Theology. Dr. Green also wrote a “ground plan” for a Lutheran dogmatics under the title Adventures in Law and Gospel published by the Concordia Theological Seminary printshop. Indeed as the Scriptures testify “his works do follow him,” and the Lutheran Church and her pastors are richer because of his legacy. Blessed be his memory among us! JTP+
Prof. John T. Pless preached this sermon for the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Lowell C. Green at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Bucyrus, Ohio on 1 August 2014.
Friday in Trinity VI
Text: Psalm 118:17/John 11:25
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17) and “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Dear family and friends of Dr. Lowell C. Green: Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I read recently that Disney World had been declared to be a “death free zone.” According to the report, employees were instructed never to record a death as actually taking place on the premises. Of course there are no “death free zones” anywhere to be found in this world where sin has entered the picture, for where there is sin there is death. Lowell C. Green was a sinner, and so he, too, has died. The man that we cherished as husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, and teacher has experienced the fate of every descendant of Adam, one that also awaits you. These last few years, death often seemed close at hand for Lowell. So his passing from this life last Thursday was not a surprise. The frailty brought about by age and illness caused many of us to marvel that he hung on as long as he did. But finally no amount of resilience can endure the Word of the Lord that says, “Return, o children of man,” sweeping us away like grass that fades and withers as we heard in Psalm 90.
Yet in the face of Lowell’s death and our own forthcoming deaths, we are bold to say with Psalmist, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” We can make that confession with the Old Testament poet only because of what Jesus said to Martha in the cemetery at Bethany: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live.” We gather here today because we believe Jesus’ words are true for Lowell and for all who cling to the Savior in faith.
Now there is much that can be said of Lowell Green. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and brother to his family. He was a pastor and a teacher of the church. His scholarship was precise and exacting, and many in my generation recall with gratitude the fruit we received from his disciplined study of Luther and Lutheran theology. He lived a remarkable life in many ways. I think of his time as a student at Erlangen where he drank deeply from his teachers Werner Elert and Paul Althaus and then returned to pass on what he had learned from them in classrooms and conferences in this country and Canada.
Lowell could be a demanding man with high expectations—and that might be something of an understatement. But let it not be forgotten that he demanded and expected much of himself. He knew that to those whom much is given, much will be required. Lowell was on the receiving end of a legacy of Lutheran theology and hymnody, and he recognized his responsibility to preserve and extend it the next generation and beyond. That was not an easy task, especially in a day when so many are willfully ignorant or indifferent.
The sainted Martin Franzmann once said that grief is not a rare vegetable in the diet of a confessional theologian. So also with Lowell for he loved the Lutheran church and was wounded when pastors and church leaders neglected, denied, or squandered the legacy of the Reformation. He was impatient with such human foolishness for he knew that God has elected to save sinners through another foolishness—what the Apostle Paul calls the wisdom of the cross.
Whatever else may be said of Lowell’s life, this we are compelled to say: He was a sinner justified by faith for the sake of Christ alone. Lowell was no antiquarian interested in musty tomes simply for academic self-satisfaction. He was a theologian of the cross and his life was spent in the service of that everlasting gospel. Martin Luther had a deep passion for Psalm 118. In fact he called it his favorite psalm. He used our text from verse 17 as something of a personal motto, inscribing it on the wall of his room in the Castle Coburg in 1530. Luther wrote of this verse in way that also frames Lowell’s life and gives us comfort today. Listen to what the Reformer says: “Though I die, I die not. Though I suffer, I suffer not. Though I fall, I am not down. Though I am disgraced, I am not dishonored. This is consolation. Furthermore, the psalmist says of the help: ‘I shall live.’ Isn’t this amazing help? The dying live; the suffering rejoice; the fallen rise; the disgraced are honored. . . . These are all words that no human heart can comprehend. . . . And here you see this comfort and help is eternal life, which is the true, everlasting blessing of God. . . . If sins are forgiven, death is gone. And without fail there must be the comfort and confidence of eternal righteousness and everlasting life” (LW 14:86).
This little piece from his teacher, Dr. Luther attests to the fact that Lowell’s life and work were not in vain. Jesus crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification was his confidence in life and in death. The church Lowell loved has a future. Lowell, though dead, has a future. You have a future because Christ Jesus has a future. He was put to death for your sins, and raised from the dead never to die again, he gives life to you. Your future is his future. Baptized into his death you share in his resurrection.
Lowell was a theologian whose life was given to “recounting the deeds of the Lord.” He did that as a father to his children in family devotions. He did that as a pastor to the congregations he served in Texas, Illinois, South Dakota, Minnesota, and New York. He did that as a teacher of the church so students were molded by his rigorous thought and through them as well as through Lowell’s writings, he will continue to recount the deeds of the Lord!
But there is much more than living on through one’s loved ones or through the monument of one’s scholarship. The Lord, who shed his blood to redeem Lowell, lives and because he lives, Lowell lives in him. Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–3). The Lord has now fulfilled that promise for Lowell, and we also can be at peace. His sins are forgiven. He has eternal life through the merits of Christ alone.
We now lay Lowell’s worn out body, spent from a lifetime of living, into the grave to await the resurrection even as we rejoice that he is now with the Lord who is the God not of the dead but of the living. “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ who gives us the victory! Amen.
Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on BLOGIA are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.