“See you later”

No, I am not going anywhere…

[I’m imagining sighs of relief from 10s of people out there :-)]

…but rather this is something I learned from a saint of this congregation nearly 11 years ago.

Still wet behind the ears; I began serving and serving with Salem Lutheran Church on June 1, 2004. I was fresh off of seminary graduation on May 23 and wondering what in the world I was doing.  My ordination was coming up on July 2 and my own wedding on July 3. My head was spinning from a busy May, from what was coming up and from just moving into the parsonage over Memorial Day weekend and then jumping into the saddle. And it was a saddle that I thought, a month previous, I would jump into after the wedding, but Salem wanted me sooner and I thank God that I began when I did.

I preached my first sermon at Salem that following Sunday, June 6 but then was gone the next Sunday (June 13) for synod assembly. A few days later I would meet a family and a saint of this congregation that would change how I look at funerals forever. Hence, my gratitude for starting when I did.

Shirley was dying, and the family called me in. I hadn’t met this family yet and they had not met me. I rushed to see Shirley and was blessed we got to see each other before she died shortly after that. While planning for worship I learned a lot about Shirley and became even more saddened that I did not have the chance to get to know her when she was alive. One of the things I learned about Shirley, though, was that she never said “good bye” to people. Shirley believed that in Christ there is no such thing as “good bye“; only “see you later“.

The theology of that made sense to me but I had never heard it in such a way nor met anyone who lived it quite like Shirley did. And to this day, I share that quote with families and friends at nearly every funeral I preside at. No, I am not making a God-like judgment on someone’s salvation but rather proclaiming the truth of Romans 6 as Shirley lived:

[3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Through faith, Shirley believed she was united to Christ; and therefore, if you placed your faith in Jesus, then Shirley believed she would see you again. Seems like a logical conclusion to make and one that brings great joy to this believer.

And now today, I am planning a funeral service for Shirley’s widow, Jim, and thus this flood of memories flowing out of my fingers and onto this keyboard. Meeting with the family; children I haven’t seen in nearly 11 years, we seemed to have picked up where we left off.

What a holy time.

And I so I remember, share with you and hold dear what Shirley taught us about the Good News of Jesus, and I smile 🙂

See you later, Shirley.
See you later, Jim.
See you later fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

And praise be to God!

Holy God, through faith in Jesus You unite us to his death and resurrection. May that Good News continue to give strength to Shirley and Jim’s family and may that Good News bring joy to all who call themselves Your children. You are an awesome God and we praise Your name always and forever; in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Feed your sheep (a follow up)

Smack!  Right between the eyes…I think.

God was good today.

Following the service, a daughter of the deceased told me she appreciated the fact that I preached the Gospel and did not focus my attention on her mother.  Wow…it’s not every day I hear something like that.

Praise be to God!

It is always nice to hear comments from family like that, but I am mostly glad that they found comfort in the words that God placed on my heart.

Dear God…thank you for feeding your sheep today.  Amen.

edh -|—

Feed your sheep

Loving God – because your sheep NEED to be fed, grant me strength.

Grant me the words to say this morning as we mourn the death of Gene.

Open the hearts of those who have not heard of you that they may hear the Good News.

Comfort the hearts of those who have heard with the hope of the resurrection.

Strengthen us as we go through these days, weeks and months that lay ahead with the promise that in Christ there are no “good byes”.

May our time together this morning bring you praise, honor and glory as we are FED with the awesome story of Jesus Christ crucified and risen FOR US.

Thank you, God, for your faithfulness.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Amen.

edh -|—

Right between the eyes

I was talking with a person a while back about a funeral they attended…and I was saddened by what I heard.  I was saddened because  it didn’t sound like the Gospel was preached.  When I asked how the funeral went they said things like:

It was a great celebration of their life.
It was very upbeat.
Fun stories were shared about him.
“He lived a very good life.

There was nothing about the Gospel.  Maybe it was preached but those comments sure don’t sound like that is what they heard.  What this person remembers are stories and remembrances of the past.  I wish I would have challenged them more but being in a public place I shied away from confronting them…but maybe I should have.

[A missed opportunity]

I also remember another conversation (by the way…I am preparing for a funeral this week, that is why these memories are bubbling up).  This conversation was with a family.  I was meeting with them but was unable to do the funeral because of a prior commitment.  Luckily they had a family member who was a pastor so they were going to lead worship.  Through the course of the meeting the daughter was talking about the service and wanted lots of stories about her mother.  I chimed in and said a funeral has nothing to do with the deceased but everything to do with Jesus and what he has done for you and for me.  This was the response I got:

Well…at my funeral you are going to talk about me!

I really wanted to argue but I decided that wasn’t the place.  Besides…at her funeral she won’t have any say what I talk about 🙂

Why am I bring this up?

As I prepare for a funeral one of the things I am keenly aware of is that there could very easily be people there who normally do not attend worship.  These people only enter a worship space on Easter, Christmas, funerals and weddings.  They go through life without hearing the Good News.  So when they do finally show up in a worship space you just can not miss that opportunity.  You have to smack them right between the eyes with the Gospel, not fun stories about the deceased.  The dead person’s past life is not going to help them.  The only thing that will help is Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection; the victory he won FOR YOU and FOR ME.

Too many people in the world today water down the Gospel with the prosperity gospel (which is NO gospel at all; not good news).  The prosperity gospel says that if you believe hard enough, are a good person and keep your nose to the grindstone, you can be successful (to have your best life now).  If bad things happen then you somehow fell short. Please do not buy into this false gospel.

Once again…that is NOT good news.

And it bugs me to no end that this message is being preached by many so called ministers out there; leading people astray.  What they are doing is simply preaching a message that people WANT to hear, not what they NEED to hear.

What people need to hear is:
–We are sinners and can not survive this life on our own.
–There is hope.
–We have a savior in Jesus.
–That through faith in Christ there is forgiveness of our sins.
–That there is NOTHING we can do to earn, merit or deserve this grace.
–God loves you!

So when I prepare a funeral sermon (or any sermon for that matter) I try to keep in mind what people need to hear…and let them have it.

So as I prepare for this funeral on Thursday I am winding up and preparing myself to smack people right between the eyes with the TRUE Gospel.  And I pray that God will use the words I say to change someone’s life.  All to God’s glory.

So if you are reading this and coming on Thursday, get ready because I will be bringing it 🙂

Praise be to God!

edh -|—

Going home

I have a Celebration of New Life service (a.k.a funeral) on Tuesday.  One the the scripture texts that the family choose is 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:8.  But the part that has caught my attention are verses 6 – 8 from chapter 5 which read as follows:  “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  We live by faith, and not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Notice the two phrases that I have highlighted above.   Paul is not saying that while we are living in this body we are away from the Lord.  On the contrary…our Lord is with us 24/7.  But if we consider these bodies our “home” then we not living by faith but rather by sight.  And if that be the case, then one is indeed “away from the Lord“.

You see…our true home is not here but with the Lord.  This life is just a stopping off point not our true destination.  On the interstate of life, this is nothing more than an attraction off the interstate or a rest stop.  We are not meant to stay here but rather reach our final destination…home with the Lord.  And that destination is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Funerals are never easy as we are caught between mourning our loved ones death and celebrating the New Life we have through Jesus Christ.  I will miss Cindy but I am also happy for her.

We live by faith, not by sight.

See you later, Cindy.

-edh-

Post Easter vacation ramblings

Hi there…my name is Eric…

OK…enough of that…<“we all know you haven’t been around for a while”>.  I hope it doesn’t worry you that I was just talking to myself.  Maybe I need a longer post Easter vacation. Maybe I need some more coffee (which doesn’t sound like a bad idea).  Maybe I need…well…we could go on for a while here so I won’t bore you.

In any case…Easter is done (at least the day of Easter is, we are still in the Easter season) and my vacation is over.  Now I am back in the office and I was greeted with another death in the congregation.  Nothing quite like being thrown into the fire right away.  But hey…the life of a pastor.

I spent the morning attempting to clear off my desk (notice the word “attempting”) and now the call of this 70 degree day is tempting me to leave the office.

<Must…do…some…work…>

Wow…this post has turned strange very quickly.  Maybe I DO need some more coffee 🙂

Anyway…I just wanted to check in with you and share a couple things that you will be seeing here shortly:

(1) I am working on an adult class on Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I have always been intrigued with this book and decided I wanted to dive deeper into this with some people.

(2) I am continuing my preparations for my educational event that I will be attending in June at Virginia Theological Seminary.  I have a case study to write, a book to read and a couple congregational projects to do.  And this is all due on June 15.  I need to get to work.  I hope to share some insights with you here.

(3) More ponderings as a pastor (me) serving in a rural context.  Now that the program year is coming to a close in a month or so, I am hoping to do some more writing.

OK…enough rambling for now.  Hopefully you long time readers aren’t too worried about me.  And hopefully you first time readers aren’t being scared away.  I am really quite “normal” (whatever that means).

So with that…God bless your day…and I hope to see you again soon 🙂

Take care.

-edh-

Another crazy week

More winter storm madness on the way…

Christmas week was a crazy week with that nasty winter storm that dumped 20+ inches of snow on us.  It changed plans, canceled/postponed worship services and basically shut down SW MN for a couple days.  Well…round 2 is on the way…but not has big this time (but maybe more dangerous).

Wednesday, Jan. 6 we are in a Winter Storm Warning until Wednesday night and then a Blizzard Watch until Thursday afternoon.  Normally I would be giddy with excitement but I have two funerals this week.  There is family traveling (or trying to travel)…so now my prayers are for safety…once again.  What is it with winter weather and bad timing this year?  I just want to enjoy a snow storm without worrying about stuff going on at church.

In any case…please pray for these families as they travel and I will pray for a snow storm that fits my church (and personal) calendar a little better (I can dream…can’t I).

-edh-

Preach Jesus

I have a Celebration of New Life service (a.k.a. funeral) to prepare for this week.  It takes place on Friday morning.  In my preparations I got to thinking about some other funerals that I have attended for people I know and for family.  There are two that stand out to me.  They stand out because at each service Jesus was not preached.  Actually…the name “Jesus” was not uttered…not even once.  Jesus was alluded to, but if I were an unbeliever or someone who has never even heard about this guy, Jesus, I would not have heard any Good News.  And both of those services were supposedly Christian funerals.

In seminary, my preaching professor told us that when we preach try to mention Jesus’ name at least once.  The obvious implication was to make sure that we were preaching the Good News of Jesus dying and rising for us.  For if we are not preaching about Jesus then we are just there giving a speech about some religious topic.

For me, a funeral is a golden opportunity to preach the Good News to those who normally would not step foot inside a church.  You also have people who I call CEOs (Christmas Easter Only…with the occasional wedding or funeral).  When I preach at a funeral I not only have the mourners in mind but those who don’t normally hear the Gospel.  We can’t miss these opportunities.

Jesus needs to be preached!

The best funeral preaching advise I have received came from a woman from Salem who died.  She left me detailed instructions about her funeral.  This is an excerpt of what she wrote (and how she wrote it):

DON’T TALK ABOUT ME BECAUSE IT IS NOT ABOUT ME.  THIS IS A CELEBRATION OF NEW LIFE.

And believe me…I was going to listen to her…and I still do.  To this day, this is why we call funerals “A Celebration of New Life.”

Preach Jesus…and don’t miss “golden opportunities”.  Preach Jesus and preach Life.  Preach Jesus…even if you are not ordained, preach Jesus (in words and deeds).  Preach Jesus.

[Did I mention…preach Jesus?]

-edh-

Monday morning check in — God’s power and strength

It is weeks like this when I am reminded of my weakness; reminded of the fact that I can not do this alone.  Last Friday my cell phone rang and when I looked at it, the call ID told me it was the funeral director.  That is never a good sign.  Upon answering the phone I was told that G had died on Thursday.  Now get this…her and her husband had been married for 72 years.  That’s right…72 years…that no typo.  I think that is absolutely amazing.  What an inspiration those two have been to many people.  One of the cute stories I have heard about them is that at the young of age 90+ they would sit out on the porch and G’s husband would sing “You are my sunshine” to her.  G is going to be missed by many.

On Saturday I got another call on my cell phone from the funeral director.  This didn’t make me as nervous since we were already planning one funeral.  But this call was about another one…this time out at Belmont.  The deceased lived in Sun City, AZ and is being flown up here for the funeral and burial.  I don’t know this woman but I know the family.

So my week is shaping up like this:  Funerals on Tuesday and Friday mornings; visitations on Monday and Thursday evenings; I have confirmation and Release Time lessons to plan; and Sunday worship and sermon prep…among with other things that come up during the week.  Like I said earlier…there is no way I can do this on my own.  I pray, God Almighty, to give me strength and focus do serve His children and provide the care that they need.  During busy times like this it is easy to let some things slide and not do your best, but when you rely on God’s power and strength, then God’s Will will indeed be done.

Praise be to God!

-edh-