October 29th: Saints, Smiles and Journeys

Each Wednesday morning the congregation I am currently serving on staff of, has a Morning Prayer or “Matins” service. I regularly lead the music for that service. This week I also provided the short reflection and devotion. What follows in this post is much of what I said in that reflection, which followed a reading of 2 Timothy 4:6-8

It’s probably a bit unusual to share a passage from one of the letters attributed to Timothy. To be honest, I am not even a big fan of either 1st Timothy or 2nd Timothy. Some might think I am named after those letters. No, I’m actually named after the Timothy that assisted Paul, who according to almost every scholar was not actually the same person who wrote 1st and 2nd Timothy. All that said, this particular little passage has always been one of my favorites. It strikes me as the sort of purpose that any saint who has run the race of life would want to be able to affirm. So, with All Saints being this weekend, it seemed like a good time to share this passage.

My Grandpas (Grandpa T. in front, Grandpa S. in back)
My Grandpas (Grandpa T. in front, Grandpa S. in back)

What I love about this passage is that it affirms the idea that life is a journey, a race, a fight, whatever metaphor you want. No race is easy, and I imagine no fight is either. Life, likewise, is not always easy. The beauty for me of All Saints is that we remember that we are Children of God, inheritors of the promise, and simultaneously saint and sinner. We’re made saints not because of anything we do, but because of what God has done and continues to do.

That’s the core of grace and the promise. That’s also the hope that frees us to live fully and abundantly, and to serve with joy and love.

What’s on my mind though as I think about this passage, is my Grandpa T. Today would have been his 93rd birthday. Some of you still might have called him a “young pup” if he were here today. He was the youngest of eight kids, and his older sister Sophie continues to live near the family’s homestead in Maxbass, North Dakota.

This passage though from 2nd Timothy was one of the passages read at his funeral seven years ago. It just seemed right. My grandpa served in World War II, and after the war he was a dean at the Dakota Lutheran School in Minot, and then became a Lutheran pastor. Like some of you perhaps he went to Concordia College. Like Allison and I, and Pr. Fred and Pr. Diane, but long before all of us, he went to Luther Seminary. He pastored for over fifty years in North Dakota and Washington State. In part because of his and Grandma’s example, one of my uncles is currently a pastor in Appleton, Wisconsin; my mom has long been an Associate in Ministry; and other family have followed their callings and vocations.

This isn’t why I am thinking about Grandpa today though. I’m thinking about him, because he was my grandpa. Not because he was a pastor, mentor, or teacher, though he was for many, including myself, baptizing me on Easter morning. I am thinking about Grandpa because not only did he teach me about life and death in word and action, he taught me it in reality too.

When I was about four years old, my brother and I had our first experience with death that I remember.   Our much loved bird Tony had passed away. Grandpa showed us how to say good bye. We put together a nice little box, we had a little funeral and even though the rain pounded, we had shelter under a tree as we shared a few words about that lovely bird. Grandpa reminded us about the joys and gifts that Tony gave, and that Tony now was singing a new song with a whole big choir.

Family gathered for Grandpa's funeral over Thanksgiving Weekend (2007)
Family gathered for Grandpa’s funeral over Thanksgiving Weekend (2007)

Fast forward about fifteen years. Grandpa’s battle with cancer had taken a bad turn. He knew his time was coming to a close, and managed to hang on until all his family- kids and grandkids were able to gather one more time with him. What was amazing to me, in his last days he was visited by so many family, friends and other pastors. No pastor that I saw dared give him any advice or devotions though he surely would have appreciated it. No, they prayed with him, but even the bishop came and sat next to him and I honestly think Grandpa was the one ministering to him. For Grandpa, the promise and hope for the life to come, he saw that as reality. It was probably fitting then that he passed away with his family nearby late on Thanksgiving eve night. Yes, Thanksgiving that year was hard, but at the same time it was beautiful to all be together and to give thanks.

So with this All Saints upcoming, I myself hope for the same peace that Grandpa had, but more importantly to be able to live as much of an abundant and life-giving life to others as he lived.

earlydating2There’s one more piece about today that I would like to mention. Not only was this the day, October 29th, the day my Grandfather was born. It was also the day, about a year after Grandpa passed away that I started dating someone very special. You see, life has a funny way of happening and God has a funny way of putting things into perspective. Six years ago, Allison and I “officially started dating”  (whatever that means), during our senior year of college. The journey since has been one of great adventure and joy, and sometimes anxiousness and uncertainty. But one thing it has not been, is boring or lacking.

So, what thoughts come to you this week around All Saints? Who do you remember?  Who do you give thanks for, living still as well as those who have claimed the promise? How do you see yourself living and loving others because of the love others have shown to you?

I trust you all have people you remember and give thanks for. I wonder what stories you might tell though about how these special other people have shaped you into being who you are and who you are yet becoming. I wonder how the smiles I see on all of your faces were helped to be shaped by those whom you have met and loved you on your journeys. What do you think?


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