Death is No More

Death is the stark reality that we must face every single day, and therefore this is the motivation behind Jesus’ ministry. He was on a death-destroying mission. So when Jesus comes face to face with death, while at Lazarus’ tomb, he is moved to deep and powerful emotion that gives us a glimpse into what kept him focused on the cross. Jesus is so angry at sin that he is obedient to the Father’s will and stays on the cross even though he had the power to call down a legion of angels to protect him. Jesus remains on the cross because the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) Jesus defeats death and thus we have hope. Now, our weeping is not over death’s victory. We weep because we will miss our loved ones but also, through faith in Jesus, we can weep tears of joy over what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Cling to the hope of the resurrection, oh weary soul.

The Pastor -|—

Up and down

I have an up and down week coming up.

Tomorrow is Sunday (so that is naturally an up).  At the country congregation I serve (Belmont Lutheran Church) we are celebrating the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  It is one of the favorite things I get to do as a pastor.  I get stand up there with the family and sponsors sharing what baptism means; encouraging them to follow through with their baptismal promises and then pour water on the baby’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  It is a wonderful time and one I truly cherish and look forward to.

Also tomorrow I am continuing my sermon series in the Old Testament with the story of Abraham (but I am only preaching that sermon at Belmont…more on that in a bit).  The story I am focusing on is chapter 22; when God commands Abraham to sacrifice is son, his only son, the one whom he loves.  I know, I know…it seems strange to preach such a text on a baptism Sunday but the sermon focus was planned long before the baptism and the baptism was planned without any thought to the sermon focus.  But I think God brought both of these events together for his glory.  I am excited to see how all of this plays out together.

At Salem (instead of the sermon on Abraham) we are hearing a faith story from a saint of the congregation.  David had a stroke back in June of 2010 and has traveled a difficult road.  I have always known him to be a man of faith but the stories I have heard him tell me have given me goose bumps.  Finally…back in December…I asked David to share these stories with others and he agreed.  So tomorrow I am going to “interview” David as he shares his incredible journey.  The only down side is that we won’t have time to hear all his stories.  I guess people will just have to go and visit David to hear more…which he won’t mind.

Now the down part.

On Tuesday I am burying a saint of this congregation who died on Thursday night.  When Cindy went in for surgery back in November we expected her back in town in 5 to 7 days…that never happened.  She never got off the ventilator.  After a long battle her body finally began to shut down before she went home to meet her (and our) Lord.  This is going to be a hard funeral for many  but I know Cindy and she is going to want to truth of the Gospel proclaimed…so that is what I am going to do.  Funerals are bitter sweet for me; I mourn the loss of the deceased and mourn with the family, but I also get to proclaim the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the midst of mourning (and to some who probably haven’t heard).  I don’t look forward to people dying but I look forward to God using me during these times.

So its going to be an up and down week for me but I know that God will be glorified in all of this.  I know that God will use me to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.  I know that God will not leave us.  And I know that God will continue to sustain us.

Up or down…God is faithful.  How can we not praise him for that?

-edh-

I Love to Tell the Story

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.
I love to tell the story; ’twill be my theme in glory
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
(ELW #661)

…that is Lyle’s song…and it speaks of his life.

I wrote about Lyle last week.  At that time he was living his last days.  On Thursday, Dec. 11, at 7:30pm, Lyle took his last breath and I had the honor of being there with various members of his family.  I have been at the bedside of other people as they died but this one was different.  As I said last week, Lyle was like a grandpa to Connie and I so to watch him die was not easy.  Lyle was also a great proclaimer of the faith.  He did this through his words but probably more loudly through how he lived.  The quote from St. Francis of Assisi was indeed true for Lyle:  “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.

But I want to share one thing that happened that night; something I will never forget.  At around 7:3opm we knew that the time was close.  One of the kids turned off the light above Lyle’s bed and for the first time in a couple days, Lyle opened his eyes.  That was a powerful moment.  It was like he was taking one more look at us before he went to see Jesus and Gladys (his wife who died in Feb.) again.  A couple minutes later he breathed his last.  Of course their were tears, but it was different.  They were tears who came from people who had hope.  Then one of his daughters summed up what we were feeling…she said, “I feel so at peace.

WHAM!

That was exactly it.  That is the peace that Jesus came to bring; a peace that surpasses all understanding.  It is a peace that we feel when a loved one dies (at least for those whose faith is in Jesus).  It is a peace that tells us not to be afraid.  It is a peace that allows us to say, “See you later.”  The peace that came with the Christ child at Christmas is the very same peace that filled Lyle’s hospital room on Dec. 11.

I am sad that Lyle is gone and I will miss him greatly, but I feel at peace.  Lyle is no longer suffering and Lyle is not gone forever.  He’s gone (physically) from this life, but not from our hearts and minds.  Lyle is not gone forever, but through Christ we will all be reunited again.

May the peace of God that surpasses all understand guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And was we live in this peace, let’s join together in praising God always and forever.

See you later, Lyle.

-edh-

“Minnesota nice” might not be so nice

When someone is grieving the loss of a loved one or the loss of a dream, "Minnesota nice" does not come in handy.

That above phrase is just one of the many things I am taking away from my week of continuing education (and it is only Tuesday).  My class on Dying, Death and Continuing Care ended at noon today and now I am combing through my notes.  The instructor, Ted Bowman, came with about 40 years of experience and gave us so many valuable nuggets, that it will take me a while to process everything.  But one thing that does stick out is the above phrase and how I have conducted bereavement care.  I know there are many things I need to improve on.  I have been complimented many times on the funerals I have presided at and the care I gave up to the funeral, but its the continuing care after wards that I have sucked at (excuse my language).  I need to make some changes.  Grieving does not end after the funeral is done, but continues on for quite some time…months, even years.  I am not saying that I have ignored people, but I am wondering if I have tried to rush people through their grief.  I am wondering if my bad case of "Minnesota nice" has clouded the way I treat people.  "Minnesota nice" may be nice, but not when it comes to grieving.

One of my favorite questions is: "So…how are you doing?"  But I am not the only one infected with a bad case of "Minnesota nice", because often times the response I get is, "I’m hanging in there" or "I’m doing O.K." or "Not bad considering…".  So instead of asking the questions that "demand" a "Minnesota nice" answer, I need to probe some more; I need to give people permission to grieve.

Another continuing care idea that I am taking away from the week (and something I thinking about implementing when I get home) is to remember, announce, and lift up death anniversaries in worship.  I don’t want grieving people to think we (the church) have forgotten about them.  So on the one year anniversary of someone’s death (or close to it) a special prayer would be lifted up in worship for the family.  I have not completely worked this out yet on how this is going to happen, but want to do some kind of acknowledgment.   What do you do?  How do you remember death anniversaries?

Lastly…a resource I want to share with you all is a website we were given:  www.adec.org.  This is the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  There are a number of good resources here and I have only scratched the surface.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

I am so thankful I took this time for myself.  I know it is tough on my wife when I am gone for extended periods of time and I do miss her so as well.  But when I come back from weeks like this I feel so refreshed and energized.  I come back feeling stronger and happier.  So thank you to Salem and Belmont for allowing me to take these continuing education weeks.  And thank you to my loving and supportive wife (honey…I’ll be home be you know it).  I will be back to share more "valuable nuggets" with you as I comb through my notes more.  In the mean time, take care and God bless (and I am not just being "Minnesota nice"…I mean it).

-edh-