Friends become more precious each day and when we are given their unconditional love it is the hidden treasure in the field of our lives. It was my honor to be asked by the family of Joan Schmidt to preside at her worship service. She and Willie have been the dearest of friends and losing her is losing a part of my life. Her love for everyone who crossed her path was mirrored in the large crowd who came to her service. We grieve because we love, someone has said. I will grieve for Joan and her absence in my life until we meet again.
Eternal God, our heavenly Father, who loves us with an everlasting love, and can turn the shadow of death into the bright light of morning: Help us now to wait upon you with reverent and humble hearts. In the silence of this hour speak to us of eternal things, that through patience and comfort of the scriptures we may have hope, and be lifted above our darkness and distress into the light and peace of your presence, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
SERMON Joan, Monday August 13th, 2018
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. I John 3.
As I get older the more aware I am that life is about the power of love. Everything is ruled by love — our relationships with family and friends, the relationships between nations and even that we love ourselves just as God made us. Our gathering this morning is an expression of the love we have shared with Joan and Willy and their family. We are here as friends from all the walks of life the two of them enjoyed. I have known the Schmidts since about 1954. They are proof that Oklahoma and Minnesota can come together and live together for over 60 years. Our families lived a couple of houses apart when we first moved to Glendive. Joan gave me my first babysitting job. I suppose it was to watch Pam and Dan. Joan called and I ran to ask Mom if I could sit for the kids. She said I could and I ran over to Joan’s get my instructions. I burst in the door and told her “I’m here.” She looked at me before laughing and said, “I am still waiting for you on the phone.” I ran home, hung up the phone and ran back.
I John 3.15. Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. . .And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.
Joan was a force of nature — she was daughter, wife and mother, sister, daughter in law, sister in law, aunt, grandmother, great grandmother and dear friend to many. To me she was like a big sister and after my folks were both gone she was a surrogate mother. I would be driving down the highway in Wyoming or Utah or South Dakota or Minnesota, my phone would ring and it would be Joan — “Where are you now? Are you okay? Now you drive carefully. We love you.” I am going to miss those calls because I knew they were all about love. The minute she heard someone was sick she was there with food and concern. She would clean their house, fix their hair. She really loved and cared for people without reservation. Through her help she loved. And I think that often she had more compassion than she had energy.
And her family — you were always on her mind with love and concern. She and Willie were never happier than when you were gathered around them.
I John 4. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; We love because he first loved us. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
In this age when families live far apart, we make our own families. That old line “Friends are the family we choose.” While blood is important, where ever we can come together in love and concern with our neighbor that is what God is always looking for.
I am sure many of you here have eaten a meal at Joan and Willie’s. I told her I was always amazed by the number of dishes she served and I was always full when I left the table and the food was delicious. One of the early traditions that was precious to us as friends was Thanksgiving. Neither family could be with relatives over the short week-end so our two families would gather together and sing and play games and just enjoy the day.
One image of Jesus we hear about often is how much of the love Jesus showed his followers was at the table. That is often where we find our greatest moments of friendship. And the table at which Jesus sat always got bigger and bigger. He continued to expand the table as long as he was on this earth. He ate with the poor and the outcast, he ate with foreigners and with women. And Jesus said I am the Bread of Life and I am the Water of Life and when we sit at Jesus’ table and eat and drink of the food Jesus’ provides it makes a real difference in how we view the world and how we love the world and everyone in it.
The concern Jesus has for us covers every aspect of our lives. The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God reminds us:
43 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . .4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. . . 5Do not fear, for I am with you;
I remember in the early days of knowing Joan and Willie, Willie was often working out of town in order to make a living for the family. He would be out of town working during the week and Joan would take care of things at home. I have heard Willie say that Joan was the one who had the load of the work because he was gone so often. It was tough, but they were a good team. In later years they have had health issues and needed each other as they grew older. Life is difficult, but with the comfort of the Savior we get through all that life throws at us.
Today I am grieving the death of a dear friend, one of my forever family. Grieving is an act of love. And it is hard work and everyone grieves differently. We don’t ever question the way another person grieves. Grief is personal. The wonder of this moment is that Jesus grieved the death of friends just as we do. When Lazarus died we are told Jesus wept and he grieved with the sisters of Lazarus. Jesus understands and Jesus walks this journey with us. Yes, your wife, mom, grandmother, and friend has died and even though we know she rests in the arms of Jesus and you wouldn’t wish her back if she cannot be well, you will miss her deeply. When we are especially lonesome Jesus is there to hold us in his arms and let us know that we are never alone and that we are deeply loved.
As Christians we are promised a love from our heavenly Father which we are to continually pass forward through our love for other people. The final promise we are given is that we are promised eternal life — John 11.17-27
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
With Martha’s recognition of Jesus as the Savior, nothing will ever be the same again in this life or in the next. This life is only the beginning. Martha knew her Savior and so did Joan. Today we grieve Joan’s death, but we know she rests in peace in the arms of Jesus and for that we say, thanks be to God.
We thank you, O God, for all the goodness and courage which have passed from the life of this your servant Joan into the lives of others, leaving the world better than it was: for a life’s task faithfully and honorably completed, for gracious and kindly generosity, for sadness met without surrender and weakness endured without defeat. Glory be to you, O Lord Most High. Amen.
Sermon March 19th, 2017 Savage.
Luke 15.1-32 Lenten #3
Today Scripture blesses us with three old, very familiar parables from the teachings of Jesus. These were Sunday School lessons for most of us and we can remember sitting around the little tables in the basement rooms of our various churches. Some of the tables were painted. The chairs were all small and fit us just right. We had folders probably from Augsburg Publishing with colored pictures and the teachers led us through a flannel board story as Jesus taught it, then we talked a little about it and then we colored a picture so we would have something to show our parents when we went upstairs for church.
Three parables and each one of these has one purpose only, that is to let us know how very much God loves us. That we are important, each one of us. Just like children are loved by their parents, so God loves us and doesn’t want any of us lost to him.
What can we hear Jesus telling us today? We are all grown up now and do these Sunday School stories even matter. We are told the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling. Jesus eats with sinners. He spends time with people who are not like us. If he were a good Jew he wouldn’t do those things. To answer this grumbling and to illustrate just how important each person is to God, Jesus begins by telling about a shepherd and his sheep, a subject near and dear to the hearts of most of his listeners. Sheep were a livelihood in the nation of Israel. Think of the sheepherders’ wagons we were familiar with out on the prairies. Probably an old Norwegian bachelor and his dog. One morning your 100 count flock is down to 99. What has happened to the one? Do we have a problem with coyotes or is it just lost? Leaving the 99 (for one sheep?) the shepherd begins to look and eventually finds the lost sheep. Returning to the flock he is jubilant to have his flock back to full size once again. Somehow, to just forget about the lost lamb is not in the nature of the shepherd in the story. One sheep is important.
Story 2. When I was in India, especially traveling in the rural areas we saw women with several bracelets on their wrists. The bracelets were gold and we were told by the guides that the bracelets were a woman’s saving account. When she was in desperate need, she could take off a bracelet and sell it and get money for the family. Well, likewise, almost 3000 years ago women in Israel did the same thing only the woman we hear about in Luke has gold coins on a bracelet like a charm bracelet women wear today. That is her savings’ account. But she has lost one and in spite of all the others that dangle on her wrist, one is precious and she sweeps the floor and searches until she finds it. Remember in this parable, God is portrayed as a woman!
Story 3 is much longer. It is the well known parable of the Prodigal Son. The main characters in the story are a father, an elder son and a younger son. In a seminary class the professor asked us how many of us were the eldest child in the family. Hands shot up all over the room, including mine. Then he asked how many of us felt as though we had been short-changed being the eldest child. That the younger brother or sister got away with everything. That we had to be the dutiful child, the good one. Every hand remained raised. There wasn’t a one of us that didn’t have that bit of resentment clinging to our childhood. So, where do you belong? Which son are you? This story is one of the major pieces of literature in the Western world, known by people everywhere, it is a very personal story and that is precisely why Jesus tells it. Where do we fit in this ancient tale about relationships in families and relationships between God and us?
There are two important threads running through these stories. Most obvious is the importance of one in the sight of God. In a world full of billions of people it is very hard to feel special. In 1985 I spent six weeks in India. We saw masses of people everywhere and yet we saw ways this culture attempts to assert individuality. Once riding our bus past a slum I saw a single red kite flying high above the shanties; another place a pot of red geraniums sat on a window sill. Nothing much, but it made the point I am one and I am here. See me. We were sitting in our bus after an afternoon concert in Calcutta. People were heading home after dark. For a moment the bus driver turned on his headlights. They shone into the crowd and it was masses of people, hundreds, maybe even thousands moving back and forth in the dim light. I thought, looking at that that I could have walked down the street stepping on the heads of people it was such a solid mass. One person counts. In the recent debate over health care it is estimated that 24 million people will lose insurance. That is a staggering number and one we can block out pretty easily. But what if that one is a sister, a brother, a child, a niece or nephew, a neighbor, a friend. One person counts and God says so in each of these parables. Don’t forget you matter not only to those who love you, but most important to God.
The other theme is one of celebration! God says when one sinner returns — when one lost son comes home, when one sheep is found, when one lost coin is scooped up and refastened to the bracelet — it is party time!! The father in the lesson of the prodigal son tells the eldest we are celebrating because your brother who was lost has been found. God never stops searching for those who have wandered away from the fold. I used to tell my confirmation students they were baptized which is rather like a brand — the cross on your forehead and you can run, but you can’t hide, because God will never let us go.
Our world these days is so high-tech. There are some new books out and quite a discussion these days on Artificial Intelligence. I don’t even want to know what it all means, but as the discussion continues, there is the fear of humanity losing itself in a world of machines where there is no talk of soul. Where words like religion and faith do not belong. One author said everything is being boiled down into mathematical formulas and humans will have no thought of conscience. Right and wrong will become only mathematical probabilities. When that is what is preached in the world, it is no wonder our young people do not see the need for church or bringing up their children in the faith. There is a sense of hopelessness and uselessness. We have to work harder to keep a sense of the nature of humanity and that we are created beings of a great and good God. Now we can’t escape these changes much as we might want to, but we do need to keep up our prayers and diligence in reading Scripture and living the life to which we have been called. Like the younger son in the story, the call of the world is loud and it draws us farther and father away from the things that really matter.
But there is also that pesky eldest son with whom we all can identify. We may be one, important in God’s eyes, but we also want to be No. 1 which places us in a position of importance in the eyes of the world and the two cannot go together. In the parable we never do learn if the younger son mended his ways or the elder son accepted his brother back, but regardless we do know the Father who breaks all the cultural rules and runs to meet the son he thought he had lost forever, a Father who loves both his sons with a deep and tender love and will never turn anyone away when they are trying to find their way home. And for that we can say a heartfelt thanks be to God.