Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
I was with my dad when he passed away on Saturday morning, August 25, around 5:30 a.m. That afternoon my dad’s five children met with staff from the funeral home to plan his funeral. We sat around the table with the funeral director, Joseph, with his administrative assistant, and with a lady who works on site at the cemetery. Her name was Mary Jo. During our sharing and planning we mentioned that my dad had visited my mom's grave every day since she died in January of 2011. Mary Jo asked, "Does he drive a bronze car?" Well, yes my dad drove a bronze Toyota. She then followed up our statement by reaffirming, "Yes, he was there every day, and sometimes twice a day. He'd get out and talk, and then get back in his car and drive away. We haven't seen him in a while. We wondered where he was." Of course, Dad had given up his drivers' license in January, so he could no longer visit my mom’s grave unless someone else took him.
My brother James is Pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Oxford, Florida, just south of Ocala. James had recently visited with Pastor Bob Besalski, our former pastor for many years at First Lutheran Church in Gainesville, who, in some very real ways, is still pastor to our family. Bob lives a block or so from my dad’s former house and kept in touch with him. After hearing the story from Mary Jo, James related that Bob had told him that he had never seen anyone grieve as long for his spouse as my dad did. After all, you don’t often hear of someone visiting the grave of their spouse daily, more than seven years after their death!
Some might think my dad was grieving. And in a way he was. Dad sorely missed my mom since she died. But, I tend to look at Dad's behavior in another way that tells us about who he was and is. Dad was faithful. In his wedding vows he promised to love and cherish Mom "till death do us part." My dad didn't just take that to mean till my mom's death. Dad loved and cherished my mom until his death. So he kept visiting her grave. Dad was faithful. Yes, my dad missed my mom and longed for her. But he kept living his life. Dad worshiped. He spent time with family. He took care of daily chores. And Dad visited my mom's grave every day until he stopped driving. Even after he couldn’t drive, he still sometimes he got to her grave. My dad was faithful.
Faithfulness describes my dad in other areas of his life as well. At one time or another he served in every office and on every board possible at First Lutheran Church in Gainesville. Dad wasn't looking for recognition. He didn't demand respect or privilege. It was part of who He was as a child of God, part of his relationship with Jesus. Yes, my dad was faithful in his relationship to his family. He was also faithful in relationship to His Lord and Savior. Even after he couldn't drive he was in church most every week. He continued daily times of devotion and prayer. After his death his granddaughter looked at his devotional material. It was open to Wednesday, August 8, the last day before he fell and ended up in the hospital. Perhaps the word that best describes my dad, in my eyes at least, is “faithful.”
Some may see this faithfulness as a virtue in my dad. But even more, I'm convinced that my dad's faithfulness is a reflection of the grace and greater faithfulness He knew he received from Jesus, our Savior. In John 10:11 Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." Jesus’ laying down His life for us is grace. Jesus’ sacrifice is undeserved love. My dad knew and trusted Jesus' saving love.
But then, later in chapter 10, Jesus follows up on this message of grace with a message of His faithfulness. "27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) Jesus doesn't just lay down His life for His sheep. He gives eternal life to all who follow Him and believe in Him! Eternal life! No one can take Jesus’ love away from His followers. Jesus is eternally faithful.
My dad knew he was a sinner who was unbelievably blessed by the life and the death and the resurrection of his Good Shepherd, Jesus. Dad believed that this grace of Jesus was eternally true. My dad heard the voice and the call of his Good Shepherd to follow his faithful savior. So my dad, as well as he could, sought to live faithfully himself in his relationship with His Lord. He sought to be a faithful servant in God's church. And he was faithful to my mom and to our family.
My dad also taught his family faithfulness. With his words and in his actions he called each of us to honesty and responsibility. He called us to Christian lives of that put our faith in Jesus into action. He lived faithfully, and he taught faithfulness.
I hope and pray that I can serve my Lord and honor my dad's memory by serving Jesus and His church, and my family, by faithfully reflecting the grace and eternal love of my Good Shepherd.
A Child of God, Praying and Striving to Reflect the Eternal Faithfulness of Jesus,
P.S. Here are some pictures from Dad’s funeral, 8-29-2018, https://photos.app.goo.gl/bMddU1XmpfFgBvHD7.
P.P.S. I updated the slide show I put together from my dad’s life. You can watch it on this link.
P.P. P.S. I returned home from Florida and took some family members fishing on Labor Day. This was a first salmon for my grandson, Jackson. https://photos.app.goo.gl/22x4N7u9avZGXiCU9
P.P.P.P.S. I drew an “any bull” permit this year and planned to be hunting at this time. I will be gone for a week or a week and a half. There may not be a “Thoughts from the Pastor” next week.
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.