"And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them." 2 Corinthians 5:15I rise early in the morning, as I always do, yet this morning is different. The night light glows softly in dad's room, a witness to he who once was there, but now is gone.
Dad was growing lonely over the last two years since Mom died, and having heard of it I offered him the opportunity to come and live with us. He was deeply moved, and he moved. Such a short while we had him, and yet for ninety four years he was ours.
There were moments of joy this last month. Seeing him attempt to teach his great grandson how to count to five on his fingers. A little soon for that, Dad, but then is it ever too soon to learn? "I hope one day he'll come to me as he comes to you." was Dad's response on seeing Jasper run to my arms last summer during a visit. This last month Jasper did, and he would give Grandpa kisses. Precious.
Dad accompanied us to church each Sunday. His desire was to support as he was able our efforts to redevelop the little congregation in Otis Orchards. A humorous moment came during one coffee hour when he sat down next to one of our parishioners, a retired pastor as well, who is legally blind. "I'm blind," Jim had said to Dad, "I can't see you!" "Well I'm deaf," Dad responded, "I can't hear you!" Immediately I thought of the three monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. I guess it was for me to do the later.
Our evening meals together were both a joy and a challenge. Dad took forever to eat. "One should take time to relish the food." It was hard with my busy schedule to remain at the table till he was done. "I eat faster than you, Dad." "You have twice as many teeth as I do!" And then the last evening, "I enjoy your cooking twice as much as you two do."
There will be many things we will miss. Many stories to tell. Like the time Dad and I got arrested together. Yes, you heard that right. Turns out Montana gets down right anal about who shoots a deer and who tags it. Let's just say, Dad was many things, but definitely was not a good crook. Though he did pay both our fines.
But more important than any of those experiences, he had a legacy to share. For me Dad set a standard for faithfulness in ministry. He was a pastor, and in particular, a rural pastor. Our theology differed, he was more of a pietist than I, but a devoted pastor. There were times I would criticize him for being so devoted to being a pastor that he had a hard time just being a Dad. But being a pastor was so much a part of who he was that he simply could not separate himself from it.
That legacy, though, was all about the faith and there was nothing that concerned him more than passing on that faith to his children and grandchildren. And were Dad here this morning to share, there would be two words that captured his own faith which he would share. "Covenant" and "Testament", these words were the foundation of his theology and faith.
The scripture, he would say, was organized around those two words. The Covenant with Israel, and the Covenant that is ours in Christ Jesus. The Old and the New Testament. At the heart of his theology was the covenant that God had made with us, a covenant that is a promise, first from God to us, and equally important for Dad, a promise we in turn make to God. God will forever remain faithful to his part of the deal, and the only question is whether we will respond in faithfulness.
Dad somewhat surprised me in that he was very honored to participate in the Bar Mitzvahs for both William and Aaron. With the yamaka on his head he read his portion of the service and honored their accomplishment. In Dad's theology, they were and are living out the covenant God made with Israel. That is sufficient, for the promises God made with Israel are God's promises, and God does not abandon those promises. We, as Christians, lived under the new covenant, and his desire was that the rest of his family would embrace that covenant.
And then there is the Testament. As in the last will and testament. The scriptures outline for Dad the inheritance that is ours, as a testament. As God's children we are heirs. There is an estate that Christ has passed on to us, through his death and resurrection. That which was Christ's, is now ours. Christ's life, death, and resurrection bear witness to this, a testimony.
There were times that Dad's theology leaned toward a legalism. "You must do this, that you might be saved." Dad was definitely concerned that we all one day might be in heaven together. He was concerned that we lived up to our end of the covenant and were ready to receive the inheritance God has promised to his children. And both those terms, covenant and testimony are legal terms. But to brand Dad a legalist would be unfair to his understanding of the covenant and testimony of Jesus.
It was, is, and always will be about the love of God that is freely given. A love that invites a response, but a love indeed. He so loved us that he "died for all". He died for us, that we might live for him. This is the witness of Dad's favorite biblical verse quoted above. Its about a gift freely given, but a gift that invites a response.
God's covenant with us is that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. And this love invites a loving response, that we might love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and strength.
The light still softly glows in the next room. An empty room now. We had hoped for many more months, perhaps even years, with Dad. It was likely his heart that failed in the end, not surprising for one with his medical history. And yet though his heart failed, neither God's love for him, or his love for God, failed. One of my favorite verses which speaks to the covenant and testimony of God is from Romans, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." Dad rests now in that promise and grace.