What Wondrous Love

 

 
Scott Sieben Memorial Service
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
June 15, 2015
 

I first met Scott Sieben one Saturday in Waynesville, NC, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains not far from Asheville.

Scott and Linda were there on vacation, enjoying the fresh mountain air, and had agreed to meet with me in person as part of the interview process that eventually led to my call to St. Paul’s as rector.

The first thing that greeted me was Scott’s broad smile, and after shaking his hand, I got the sense that he was a man of character and depth.

The pizza at the restaurant in Waynesville was forgettable, but our conversation was not.

We spoke of matters of faith, and about our visions of what kind of church St. Paul’s was, and what kind of church it might wish to become.

There was nothing empty about the words Scott and Linda chose to speak about God and their call to be participating members of Christ’s Body through the church…so often as a priest people try to “convince” you that they are spiritual and that they are better disciples of Christ than they are.

No guile, no pretension…both Scott and Linda spoke with a passion that was obviously seasoned by years of attending to the peaks and valleys of a true life of faith, a religious perspective that cannot be manufactured, but is the result of hard spiritual focus and the grace of God.

After we said our goodbyes, I thought to myself, “If that is the sort of parishioner that attends St. Paul’s Within the Walls, then I want to be a part of it.”

There is not enough time in a service like this to recount to you all the ways that these two made this church better, and made the lives of those around them better.

I could tell you about how they served on vestry, our church council, and taught Sunday School, or how they helped cook and serve meals in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center.

I could talk about how they helped support parishioners whose lives were on the edge, financially and otherwise.

And I could finally talk about how, by hosting a meal at their home, they helped connect several other families with the life of this church, some of whom are here right now.

There are countless examples about how Scott and Linda lived out the call of the Gospel with every fiber of their beings, and I don’t need to tell you about them all, because each one of you have witnessed them for yourself.

You have your own examples, your own memories, and they all say the same thing to us gathered here today…Scott Sieben was a man of deep and abiding faith, who passionately put his faith into action.

With great integrity of character, he proclaimed through word and deed the kingdom of God, and the abundant love of God in Christ Jesus.

Scott was convicted of the fundamental truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and yet I never saw him use that conviction as a weapon to browbeat others, but rather as a compass to guide his life and the life of his family.

He and Linda were ideal parishioners.

As a priest, you pray for a critical mass of such members, knowing that if they are part of the effort in which you are engaged, it will succeed.

And you know that such lives of faith are contagious and help extend the reign of God throughout their spheres of influence.

When they left us to move back to the States, it was a hard loss, but we knew they were being called to a new ministry attending to Scott’s sister Nancy, who was battling cancer.

We stayed in contact, especially because we shared a mutual love of the mountains of Western North Carolina, and had spoken at length about the land that they ended up purchasing there, in hopes of a retirement spent building a generational mountain retreat for their family.

That new phase of life was so close, after a lifetime of service to country and to God.

When I heard of his motorcycle accident, I prayed with all my might that he would be all right.

I lauded the quick thinking and action of the first responders, and followed Linda’s updates as he began the process of reconstruction and what was looking like an arduous recovery.

And when the news of widespread infection in his pelvis came, and Linda’s final communication that this warrior of a man had come to the end of his earthly life, my heart wept.

Tears for the loss, tears for Linda, Caleb, Nick and Nate, tears for the graceful way that Scott faced death itself, unafraid of making the transition…even raising the roof as he was welcomed into a rest that we can only imagine.

Part of me had some anger as well…anger that an unaware driver had caused this accident…anger about the danger inherent in motorcycles…anger that the property he had worked so hard to procure and prepare seemed like a dream destined to die alongside him.

But then I remembered a text that Scott had sent me, a couple of years before, when he had just picked up the same BMW1200GS that he was riding that fateful Sunday in Evansville.

We had spoken after church and vestry meetings about this bike, and I had written him asking him about the epic trip he was making to Munich, where he picked it up, all the way home to Rome.

This was his response:

“In the Austrian Alps refueling…This, together with so many of God’s graces creates and recreates a spirit of worship…wish you were here to be a part of the experience.”

Scott Sieben viewed life as a graceful gift, and he had learned throughout the course of his earthly life, to live each moment as a opportunity to search out and thank God in all things.

I can imagine that his mindset was no different when that driver swerved into his path in Evansville, and it was no different when he held Linda’s hand and breathed his last in the hospital in Indianapolis.

That was the substance of the character that I had witnessed in his smile and our first handshake in Waynesville, NC, and I am sure that is what each of you experienced in your own way having served alongside this servant of God.

What space is left for grief and anger when such wondrous joy and love rush in to fill our hearts?

Today we acknowledge our sadness in saying goodbye to a friend, but we also celebrate the fact that Scott’s entire life pointed to a life beyond this one, and as those who have tasted that world, even just a little, from the gifts he shared with us, we respond with gratitude, joy and faith.

Until we meet again, dear friend…

I will sing.

May Scott’s soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace and rise in glory.

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