by Bishop Bill Gohl
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. –I Corinthians 15:55-58
The Rev. Dr. John S. Damm (1926-2019), Pastor Emeritus of St. Peter’s (NYC) and one-time Dean and Professor at Concordia (St. Louis), then Seminex, died over the weekend. As a teenager, I would occasionally go to St. Peter’s; his preaching was always thoughtful, liberally spiked with Luther quotations, and rich with sacramental theology.
When I was in seminary and studied modern Lutheran Church history, I came to know him anew in his pivotal role in Seminex, which provided so much leaven for the formation of the ELCA. He was a churchperson of the highest water; his spiritual heirs have big shoes to fill and a well-lived path of discipleship to follow.
May the good Father John, a renewer of the church, rest in peace and rise in glory. Thanks be to God, indeed.
From his own preaching:
“St. Paul said to the Corinthians, ‘This perishable body must put on imperishability, and the mortal body must put on immortality.’ Let me assure you I’m prepared for that blessed exchange. And that preparation has been going on since the day I made my first Holy Communion in 1939. And it has continued regularly since. For I believe that in every celebration of the Mass, Christ gives me his precious body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. And as Luther continuously assures me, ‘Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is eternal life.’
“That’s why for most ancient times, the church called the blessed sacrament, ‘the medicine of immortality.’
“So, until death completes my mortal journey, I assure you I shall wait with peace and hope for the full and complete unfolding of that gift of eternal life that was given to me in my baptism. And when that day occurs, I assure you that I shall join St. Paul and shout with whatever voice I have left, ‘thanks be to God, who gives me the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen. Amen. Amen.”
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. –I Corinthians 15:50-58