Sharing our legacy
One Christmas in a moment of inspiration, Steve and I decided that the legacy we really wanted to leave to our kids could summed up in a few phrases. With that in mind, our gift to them that year was a piece of calligraphy with those nuggets of wisdom. I’m pretty sure they still have them somewhere, but probably not handy!
When we were thinking about our last sermon, it seemed a natural fit to share them because a lot of what we’ve learned has come from serving in the church. And we’ve been abundantly blessed and given a lot of grace in our years of ministry. It’s been an honor to be invited to stand with families on their Holy Ground, during illness, death, grief, crises, the joy of weddings, births and baptisms. We have been so grateful to be with so many in those times.
A great cloud of witnesses
So many memories … Dad and Mom taking us to church — every Sunday, no excuses! … A paper I had to write in Vienna on some Medieval church guy named St. Augustine … off to seminary (what would I do with my math major?) … Professor Dick Jensen teaching Lutheranism 101, what that word grace really means.
As I thought about this final day, all I could think of was the many saints throughout my life who have taught me, protected me, encouraged me and loved me. We read from letter to the Hebrews, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” For sure I have been! Some, are here today — dear family, friends! I think of that great cloud of witnesses acting in powerful ways….
I had always told Deb that I wish people from this church could meet people from this other church we have also served. They would sure like each other. When our oldest son David died, the saints showed up (coming from all over the country) to support us. It was (as the liturgy says) “a foretaste of the feast to come.” It was heaven in the midst of so much pain.
Thank you to all the saints throughout the years, who have helped us, loved us, done ministry together with us — council members, committee people, regular worshipers, those who did so much. The first time I ever asked a church member for a lot of money, (I asked him for $50,000 — what would that be today?) he quickly said “Yes.” Later he told me he was honored to be asked!
I think of our own Sue Jurgens. I was trying to get a new A/V system — it would be costly. When I asked Sue for the money, she said, “I don’t need that new Mercedes.” In a few days the Mercedes was gone, and the church had the money. And so many of you — who stick with the church — your faith is so important to you.
Nothing … can ever separate you …
That’s our go-to! We read it in all the tough situations in life. We use it at every funeral. It’s what’s given us strength during times of suffering. Romans 8. There is NOTHING! Absolutely NOTHING, in all of creation, that can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Just to make sure we really understand that there’s nothing and that no one can separate us, Paul says, “Not hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword,” and you can add whatever else to that list. Not depression, or addiction, shame, guilt — no, there is nothing, not death, life, angel, rulers, things present or things to come, not powers, or height, or depth, or anything else that will ever will be able to separate you from God’s love.
It’s what I’m asking the children to remember with the questions at communion, “Where does Jesus live?” — In my heart
“How much does he love you?” — This much
“What does this (communion bread) mean?” — Jesus loves me!
I always add, “Never, never, forget that.” There nothing in all of creation that can separate us from God’s love for us.
Were they to take our house…
“Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse. Though life be wrenched away. They cannot win the day. The kingdom’s ours forever.”
Within a few years, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my dad died, mom died, David died, and, insult to injury, Steve had a Traumatic Brain Injury after being hit by a car. Ecclesiastes asks the question, “What’s worth what? What’s worth living for, dying for?” That question, over and over runs through our minds.
The last verse of “A Mighty Fortress” was one that I couldn’t sing for a long time. I’d lost too much. I couldn’t sing it until I knew to the core of who I am that it was my conviction, “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child our spouse, though life be wrenched away … the kingdom’s ours forever.”
It’s for you, for me, for our parents, our children. The kingdom — that’s what makes life meaningful, and worthwhile, worth living and dying for.
In the twinkling of an eye …
We’ve been reflecting on a lot, over a lot of years — about what really matters, and what doesn’t. Theologians like the Greek terms ultimate (what comes last) and penultimate (next to last). What is so dear, so important to you? What is at the heart of your life?
That distinction between ultimate and penultimate has become very important to Deb and me. We have the same favorite bible verses, Romans 8, “there is nothing in all creation, height nor depth, past or present or yet to come, not even death itself that can separate us from the love of God — NOTHING. That’s what we call ultimate all the other stuff pales in comparison. We could often could take or leave something, if we had to, but not the unconditional love of God for sinners.
I’ve often thought if that wasn’t the center of all this faith (church stuff), I would certainly be doing something else. It’s why I love the church, why I love Jesus, why I have loved ministry though all these years—good and bad. The message of God’s unconditional love is what has kept me going, filled me with deep joy. Why I have loved my work! If, I had it all to do over again, I would!
Just tell them Jesus lives!
When asked what my mom thought was the most important thing she could pass on to her children and grandchildren, she said, “He lives. Just tell them that Jesus lives.”
My intention when I first attended seminary was to become a pastoral counselor. Seminary was just the first stop in what I envisioned to be a long educational path. Being among those whose top fear is public speaking, I had successfully evaded speech requirements in high school, college, and, to that point, seminary.
Then came the triple dog dare! It was a professor who issued the challenge. Triple dog dares aren’t to be ignored. I gave that first sermon with shaking legs, a cracking voice, shallow breaths, and a lot prayer. But what I learned is that God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called. Called and equipped to just tell them Jesus lives!
The best is yet to come
The Bible says the worst and last of all the enemies of God— is death. We have read from scripture, “We grieve, but not as those who do so, without hope.We grieve with hope.” A few days after our David’s funeral, my Dad called and he asked me, “Hey Steve! What’s that Bible verse … in the twinkling of an eye?” That’s from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, “In the twinkling of an eye, the dead will be raised imperishable.”
I’ve had that verse on the wall in my office for all these years. Years ago when Deb and I made one of our many trips to the Lutheran Academy of the Rockies, we heard this great communicator/theologian talk about that last book of the Bible — Revelation. What I remember most is his last sentence. He said, “if you forget all this other stuff, that’s okay. Just always remember what Revelation is really saying is “God wins.”
I think of Jesus’ words from the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” I think of the Revelation description of the world to come for us sinners, “Where there will be no more pain or suffering or death — for all these things will have passed away forever.”
Death doesn’t win, God does. That’s what keeps us going. And I think of our reunion with the whole communion of saints, forgiven sinners, together, for eternity.
It’s all good
Our oldest son David used to say that a lot. How are you feeling? It’s all good. How are your grades? It’s all good! How’s the job? It’s all good.
When David, was lying in critical care, I stepped into the hospital chapel and I saw a banner. “Expect a Miracle.” In a self-assigned advisory capacity to God, I’d made that banner the answer to my prayers. Three days later David died.
For years I struggled to understand how God could love me, us — and allow that to happen. Sounds simple to admit I don’t know, I don’t understand, and accept that as an answer. Luther gave a helpful insight. The Hidden and Revealed will of God.
What I learned: The hidden — it’s the place for all those questions for which we don’t have answers, and it’s okay. The lesson — well, there were a lot of them — how little control we really have, how much we don’t understand and just need to accept and trust that God is good all the time. And all the time God is good.
Ultimately, by God’s grace, I realized David was right. “It is all good!”
Throughout these many years of ministry Steve and I have often been asked, “Don’t you get tired of seeing each other?” The truth is our gifts for ministry have taken us down such different paths. Let’s face it, if what’s needed is diplomacy, finances or grace-filled optimism — it’s Steve! I have been truly privileged and blessed to have lived and worked with a man with whom I’ve walked down the aisle more times than most married couples — my better half, and my better self.
So many memories
I’ve had the best colleague in ministry in the history of the church! All these years, dating back to our first sermons on internship, and daring to ask the other, “what did you think?” We quickly learned how to ask and what to say in return!
Deb, you have helped me in every way of ministry. I always hated following you with all your writing skills, but I loved following you! I am so proud of you — your grace, your understanding, your love for me, your kids, grandkids, family, the church — no matter what. It has been a blessing and honor to do ministry with you!
Mark, Andy, Dan — you have survived having BOTH parents as pastors, being “PK-squared.” It couldn’t have been easy. You have grown up to be gracious, caring and loving men, with dear, dear wives. Now we have five wonderful grandchildren! (Mark and Kimberly, we can’t wait!). We are so incredibly proud of you all! We love you.
The older I get, the less I really know.
All this theology, doctrine — and now we’re in a world of so many religions, so many problems. There are so many what-if questions. One thing I’m sure of, as Deb said in her last sermon, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Thanks be to God.
There really is a Spirit in the universe, heavens, everywhere, that is good. It’s that wee small voice that says, in the end, love is what matters. Nothing else compares. That voice isn’t from us, it’s from beyond us, above us, and it shows up when we need it most. It shows up when we are totally alone. It shows up to redirect us, give us hope. It shows up to always announce the unconditional, unending love that man didn’t create, but we receive, again and again and again. It’s pure grace.
May you all, always listen to that voice. It’s there for you, forever. It will carry you through this life and the next one. Amen.