This past year has been tough, in one particular way, for our congregation. In the past year we have buried twenty-eight members and friends connected to Bethesda. That’s a higher number of deaths than we’ve had here in a while. We will recognize those twenty-eight, by name, and bell, and candle, later in the service.
With each name, and bell, and candle comes a certain sadness. These 28 will never be with us, physically, here on earth, again. There will be no more new memories made. If this life were all there was then there’s a finality to death.
And that would be it.
Fortunately, we Christians, we believers, we disciples of Christ don’t see death as the end.
And thank God for that.
Today’s text, from Ephesians 1, speaks to our hope in rhe resurrection. The author wrote Ephesians from prison, a place where, for many, hope goes to die. But not for them.
In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, the passage begins. As we set our hope on Christ we are promised an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.
So what does this inheritance we’re promised look like?
To help answer this question I’d like to tell a few stories, *your* stories, stories from a few of us that have left this plane of existence in the last year. While I’d love to tell all 28 of those stories, for time’s sake we’ll focus on three of our saints. And yes, just three; apologies, otherwise this service would go considerably longer.
Helen Ingvoldstad passed away February 24 at Northcrest. She was 95. Helen is described by church members as a woman who dove into life, was an active volunteer, donated to causes she cared about. And she was part of a monthly mother-daughter lunch group that lasted for decades. You likely know some of the daughters in this group; Mary Nelson, Kathy Slocum, Vickie Sivesind and Willa Holger are four of them.
Helen was a matchmaker too, just ask Bethesda members Jeff and Keri Carstens. Helen, Jeff and Keri all lived in the same neighborhood, and Helen thought the two of them should meet. You might like her, she suggested. You might like him, she hinted. Helen was matchmaking, well into her 80s, and apparently is pretty good at it. The couple married earlier this decade and now have three children.
I visited Helen a day before she died to share communion. Helen was sleepy, but intent on telling me this story:
“When I was younger I had a church mentor, and told him I was struggling with who Jesus was. He suggested I read the bible, from cover to cover, to find the answer. So I did. And then I went back to this mentor and told him, feeling kind of cocky, that I’d figured it out! ‘Jesus is wisdom’ I replied. And he came from heaven to teach us this wisdom.” The mentor smiled, and replied, “that’s a great place to start.”
Helen’s hope was to connect women across the generations.
Her hope was to help pair two people in holy matrimony.
Her hope was to learn the wisdom of Christ her whole life long.
And her inheritance is the fulfillment of all that, and the chance to learn the wisdom of Christ, in person, and to do so for eternity.
Bob Hein, loved by so many, passed away June 2nd at Green Hills. He was 78. I’d learned to appreciate Bob in the short time I’ve served this congregation, egad he was a conversationalist. Though it was something wife Anne mentioned two weeks ago that really got my attention. After giving a sermon about wrestling with God, Anne reminded me that Bob was a high school wrestling coach for several decades. “Bob would have loved that message,” Ann said, about as nice a compliment as any preacher could get.
But these kind words hold more than a compliment for one; they point to the legacy Bob left for many. The high school Bob coached at in Illinois had some rough students, and many of them wrestled. A lot of those wrestlers would later tell Bob that if it weren’t for him they likely would have dropped out of school. And in the final year of Bob’s life an awful lot of wrestlers he coached came to Ames to visit, to catch up. They came to share where their lives, with his help, had led.
Bob coached hundreds of high schoolers in his career, not just in wrestling, but as a teacher of health, physical education and as a guidance counselor. The sense of work ethic, purpose and wisdom he imparted on so many would be difficult to overestimate.
Bob’s hope was to coach up the next generation of young men.
His hope was to guide young men and women, as teacher and counselor, into adulthood.
And his inheritance is the chance to wrestle with God, whenever he’d like, one-on-one, for eternity.
Marvin Anderson passed away earlier this Fall, on October 9th, at Northridge Village. He was 79. I didn’t get to know Marvin as well as I would have liked, but boy did he lead a fascinating life. Marvin was a scientist here at Ames Laboratory. Before that Marvin was enlisted in the Air Force, and there during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oh the stories he could tell.
As a distraction from the rather serious nature of his work Marvin enjoyed painting as a hobby. When son Derek showed promise as an artist Marvin encouraged him. Derek ended up becoming an author and illustrator of children’s books that have sold millions worldwide; there’s a good chance you’ve read one of them to your child or grandchild. But even if you haven’t I bet you’ve seen his work: Derek drew the artwork that lines the Ames Public Library bookmobile that travels all over town, you really can’t miss it.
Two days before Marvin died I was asked to come by and provide communion to Marvin and a few family members. To my surprise, and delight, when I arrived a dozen family members were in the small room, surrounding Marvin, who was alert, and laying quietly in bed. Carole Anderson was there, along with Marvin’s brothers, children, grandchildren, and extended family. People came from across the country to be with him in his final days.
As we gathered Marvin’s brother read Psalm 23, communion was given and received, and we closed our time together in prayer. To be honest the emotion I sensed most in the room wasn’t sadness, it was peace. His family tells me that last communion was the event that allowed Marvin to start letting go. There is a certain beauty in that. To believe that, through Christ, that death isn’t the end, but instead a beginning, is a powerful, powerful notion. And to arrive at that requires a hope, of what is to come, in our resurrection to the hereafter.
Marvin’s hope was to keep the world safe in a time of crisis.
His hope was to leave a legacy, through family, that would impact millions.
His hope was there in the room that day, surrounded by family, and at peace, as he received the bread, and drank from the cup, joining in holy communion one last time.
And his inheritance is the fulfillment of all of the above, and the journey to meet his creator in person.
Finally, for something a bit lighter, let’s move from real people to Hollywood. Consider a fictional character from the very first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, the famed Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Obi-Wan begins the 1977 film in human form, helping Luke and Leia through countless escapes. But it is after his death, at the hands of Darth Vader, where this character really shines. In spirit form it is Obi-Wan who speaks to Luke, helping him destroy the imperial station. As a spirit he advises Yoda to continue to train Luke in the ways of the Jedi. As a spirit it is Obi-Wan who reveals that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father, something Luke must grapple with.
It could be argued that Obi-Wan plays a larger role in the Star Wars franchise, in spirit form, than when he was alive. Perhaps the same could be said for us, and the legacy of what we leave behind. The spirits of Helen, Bob and Marvin, indeed all those we’ve lost live on in the influence they continue to have, in very big ways, on all they have touched here on earth.
As we commemorate those who are no longer with us this All Saints Day let us mourn.
We miss the dearly departed.
Our lives will not be the same without them.
But let us also hold fast to the words of Ephesians. Let us place our hope in Christ, and promise of an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.
And then let us also celebrate.
Let us celebrate, that the saints of old, for all ages are still with us here, in spirit, and can be seen in, and through each one of us. Let us celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit, always nudging, always encouraging, always leading us, until that day, when we too, are reunited with the saints of all time, in our eternal heavenly home. Amen.