Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
When Dad died, it was both sudden and unexpected, at least as much as it could be for one who was 94 years old. Thankfully, he was still quite healthy up to the end, able to do his crossword puzzles, and still keeping up his daily walks.
In fact, the last couple days of his life Dad had decided that his walks were boring so he would memorize a hymn a day on his walks.
As he recited those hymns during those last two days, Dad ended up leaving us with the prayer that was on his heart, and a promise to which he clung, and also, in a conversation I had with him the last night, he shared a sermon that he wished he could preach. A powerful witness to conclude his life of faith.
First, this is his prayer:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
stoop to my weakness, strength to me impart,
and make me love you as I ought to love.
Conversations were difficult with Dad that last month. His hearing aids were a constant source of frustration. But on Tuesday of the week he died, Karla had gotten them cleaned and he could hear again.
Wednesday evening after supper Karla suggested I should take some time to visit with Dad.
A bit later I poked my head into his room to enquire what he was watching. It was the Science channel. He was delighted that Karla had given him a list of all the essential stations on our cable TV. I went outside for a smoke.
When I came back in, Dad was waiting for me in the living room.
“What? Didn’t you like what was playing on the Science Channel?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s about the Big Bang, part of the Cosmos storyline. But actually, I thought I’d come out and be with you.”
“Dave, could we talk for a while?”
At this point I was bracing myself. You see, sometimes a conversation with Dad would turn into a ‘talking to’, and I wanted to shy away from that.
“I was wondering,” he continued, “do you have any favorite scripture verse?”
“Well, yes, I guess I do.”
I fumbled with my phone as I looked it up. “Ah, here it is, it’s from 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5”
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
I was going to continue speaking about how those verses form the basis for my understanding of ministry. Specifically I wanted to talk about reconciliation. What I didn’t realize was that in that moment, what I was experiencing in that conversation with Dad, was a final reconciliation with him. But before I could go on, Dad lifted up his hand and stopped me.
“Could you go back to verse 15, because that’s my favorite verse.”
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.
“I have another favorite,” he continued, “one that I haven’t been able to preach on for quite some time, which is a shame because I have a great story to go with it. The road to Emmaus. You know when they say "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"
“Well, in 1943 a man walked into a drug store and asked the clerk for a tube of tooth paste. ‘Where’s your old tube?’ the clerk responded.
‘What do you mean, where’s your old tube?’
‘You have to turn in the old tube, to get a new tube. Where have you been, young man, don’t you know there’s a war on?’
What the clerk didn’t realize was that the man standing there was Jimmy Doolittle, who had just returned from leading the first bombing mission against the main islands of Japan. They had launched 16 B25 bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Unable to return to the carrier with the fuel they had on board they flew on to China where they parachuted out and were recovered by the Chinese underground.
‘Yes, maam,’ Doolittle responded, ‘I am aware there is a war on.’
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Dad imagined Jesus responding much as Doolittle did, “well yes, in fact I do know what has taken place these last few days.” He talked about how Jesus, just as Doolittle had been on the frontlines of the battle in the Pacific, had been on the frontlines of the battle, winning salvation for all of us. 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.
We went on to share how each of us wished that we might have listened in on the conversation that followed, when Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Have you not bid me, love you, God and King;
all, all your own, soul, heart, and strength, and mind?
I see your cross; there teach my heart to cling.
Oh, let me seek you and, oh, let me find!
Last summer, while Dad was visiting us prior to moving in with us this fall, our grandson, his great grandson, Jasper came over to visit.
Jasper did, what Jasper always did, which is run into the house and climb up into my lap.
Dad looked at him and said, “I hope one day that he will run to me, like he runs to you.”
One of the differences between Mom and Dad is that Mom absolutely loved little children. If the whole world was populated with kids five years old and younger, Mom would be in heaven.
Dad, on the other hand, was never quite sure how to show his love to a young child. It just didn’t come as naturally to him.
But he tried.
One of the first days he was with us in Sandpoint, he picked up Jasper on his lap and began to teach Jasper how to count to five on his fingers.
And as the weeks rolled on, Jasper began to seek out Dad, to hug him and kiss him. For Dad it was a final wish, fulfilled.
One of the struggles both our parents had was with being outwardly affectionate. One of our in-laws once described their behavior as “matter of fact South Dakotan”.
They were typical Norwegian Americans, deeply faithful and loving, but not exceptionally expressive of that love. I’m told, however, that Dad was quite the romantic guy when he was dating mom. Poems, love letters, and the like.
I can see now, the depth of their love for us. It was not always possible for me to see through that Scandinavian facade. But they showed it in their own way.
Dad did it, in part, as a builder, something that I can relate to as a builder myself.
His first major project for the family was the living room furniture that we lovingly call the ‘egg’ furniture. It’s all elliptical. Quite an engineering feat. Also during this, his egg phase, he built a camping trailer, also an ellipse.
In Ronan, his first call, back about 1960 he began building a boat, which was first launched at Boysen Reservoir in Wyoming in 1964. A year or so later we would enjoy a vacation cruising about Jackson Lake one of the epic adventures for our family.
That boat, the Pastor’s Study, would accompany us to South Dakota, which Dad would point out has more shoreline than the State of California.
We fished, we cruised along the lake shore, we played Canasta, especially when it rained, and we swam off the boat while Dad hung over the stern fixing the motor, once again.
The boat made one last journey, and that was to the Flathead Valley where it was originally intended to be.
In 1976 they bought the lake place at Elmo, built a boat house, and guest quarters, with the intent that like the boat, the cabin would be our gathering point as a family, which it has been. And his final building project was to have been an airplane, so the two of them could fly to visit all of us during their retirement years. That plane didn’t get done, but he did complete an ultralight.
“Teach me to love.”
The things he built, were all ways he expressed his love to his family.
For Dad there were two loves of his life that simply could not be separated.
His love of the Lord and his love of his family.
He wrote a poem for Arden’s wedding that sums this up, one verse reads:
“God, grant this grace,
The gift of light,
They may live with Thee
Who dwells in light
And is the light
In the midst of a shadowed world.”
There were times when it seemed as though he was trying far too hard to make us love God as we ought to love.
He would write letters expressing a concern that we were tending to our faith in Christ Jesus.
His fear was that we wouldn’t be faithful, and that we would separate ourselves from our ancestors for all eternity.
There were two sides to Dad’s theology. There is the Love of God that was poured out for us in Christ Jesus, a love freely and graciously given, and there is the Love for God that we are called to return.
This was the second part of the covenant that Dad was so concerned about.
Dad showed his love for us, by providing a place for us to be together.
First, the living room furniture.
Then the Boat.
Then the Cabin.
And his final hope, was that we would all gather together, as one family, in heaven.
This is how Dad learned to love, cumbersome at times, offensive at times, but it was Dad.
Teach me to love you as your angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame;
the baptism of the heav’n descended dove,
my heart the altar, and your love the flame.
Our conversation that Wednesday night, went on for a bit longer. We covered a few different topics. And then we winded it down.
“Dave, I hope we can have many more conversations like this.”
“I do too, Dad.”
The next morning Dad died.
For ninety four years he lived, faithfully, ever aware of the love of God from which nothing in all of creation could separate him.
And for ninety four years he sought as he was able to love God, and others, in return.
“I don’t know if I’m lucky to live so long, or unlucky because I’m not with Jesus.” He would say as he considered his age.
On Thursday, September 28th, early in the morning, he became a lucky man.
A kiss for mom.
A hug for his Dad, Olen, and his step mom, Louise.
No doubt a long cuddle with Alice, his mother, who died when he was but a child.
And I have a feeling that in short order there would be a spirited conversation about things that matter with Maurice, his brother that he loved so dearly. Each one raising their voice a little louder as they debated the things of the day, as they had whenever they got together.
And then, worship. Gathered around the throne with those he loved, there would be worship and praise.
And perhaps, many more surprises.
“When the evening gently closes in,
And you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been,
With just one more surprise.”
These were the last words he memorized, likely the last words he wrote down, as well.
The final hymn he memorized was all about the promise. I was there to hear your Borning Cry.
Sing it with me now.