Monday, June 8, 2015

About my Dad. . .

My parents had asked me some time before we ever knew Dad was ill that they wanted me to preach for their funerals.  I had deferred answering but when suddenly Dad became ill and had a couple of weeks to live, his request was more urgent.  Who can say no to their father's dying request?  I hesitated to put the text of my eulogy and sermon on line but a number of folks requested it.  So here it goes.  It remains hard for me to think about and there are thousands of details and duties keeping our minds and hearts from resting our grief so fully in Christ that it does not consume us. . . but a couple of months have passed so here it is.. . .

The Funeral Sermon for Albur G. Peters + April 19, 1927 - March 19, 2015
Isaiah 35:3-10 + Revelation 7:9-17 + John 10:1-10  

The hymn we just sang might have sounded strange to you but the words to the last stanza are special.  They belong to the Commendation of the Dying.  As Dad’s breathing became difficult, we prayed the Commendation of the Dying; he mouthed the Lord’s prayer and the words of the Aaronic benediction.  And among the last words Dad heard this side of glory were these:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Being a parent is hard work.  There is no dispute about that.  Sometimes being a son is not easy either. I had it easier since I went away to school and have lived all over but my brother has had a harder path living here.  He worked with Dad for nearly forty years.  As the days were passing to their close, I found one request hard to do but even harder not to keep. No son welcomes the death of a father he loves nor easily discharges his father’s request to do his funeral.  Being a pastor at the death of your parents is a mixed blessing.

Albur George Peters was born in Wausa, April 19, 1927, the 5th of 6 children to Wilhelm Christian and Emma Krohn Peters.  He graduated from Wausa High School in 1944, attended trade school in Omaha, worked in a land mine factory, and then served in the US Army.  After the end of WW II, Albur came back to Wausa and worked in the Council Oaks store before entering into partnership with his dad in Peters’ Electric in 1952.  I came along in 1954 and 1958 was a banner year in Albur’s life – he got a second son and he purchased the hardware store from Carl Anderson.

Dad served on Town Board, Library Board, Woodlawn Cemetery Board, the Wausa Development Corporation, the Fire Department, and a host of other civic positions.  But most of Dad’s life revolved around his family and his work.  Family reunions were big occasions for Dad and we loved hearing stories of Grandpa and Grandma Peters and his brother Pete and sisters Dorothy, Opal, Vinona, and Vernal.  We got mixed up at how we were related to that large extended family but it did not matter – the main thing was they were family.

Dad had to win my mother’s heart and she did not immediately warm up to the guy who whose yearbook said, “What this world needs is more men like me.”  But she could not resist his charms and they were married in 1950, living together just shy of 65 years of marriage.  It was a love story we find ever more difficult to achieve in this world.  Dad loved to work and he loved the store because it was his work.  It also gave him the opportunity to talk to people and that he also loved.  He was a tireless worker who gave away too much to ever become rich in things.  But rich in life and friendship and love, he certainly was.

Albur George Peters was not perfect.  He was maddeningly stubborn.  But he was loyal to a fault.  He was not a shrewd businessman or he would have accumulated great wealth.  But he was a hard worker and worked on when others might have given it all up.  He was not the smartest man in the world.  But he was among the wisest.  He loved his wife, his sons, his daughter-in-law, his grandchildren Joseph, Andrew, and Rachel, his brother and sisters, and his whole extended family with love stronger than words.  He did not always like what we said or did, but He loved us resolutely to the very end.

The first love of Dad’s heart was the Lord.  Dad was a man of faith.  From the moment of his baptism, in this very font, to his last breath, Dad knew he was a child of God.  He was raised in this faith as a child, he confessed it in his confirmation right here in this chancel, he was here in this church on every Sunday health would allow, he communed at this altar upon Christ’s flesh and blood, and now we are gathered here today to remember him with thanksgiving and to commend him eternally to the God who gave him life, redeemed his life through Christ’s cross, and who took him into the place of eternal light and life to complete His baptismal promise made to Albur George Peters on May 22, 1927.  On June 16, 1940, he affirmed his baptism and was confirmed here, given the verse II Peter 3:18: Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory!  And that is exactly what Dad endeavored to do with every ounce of his being all the days of his life – living as a sinner in the arms of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ.

My Dad was hard to live with.  He was a man of honor and integrity and these are not easy things to abide in a world with short cuts where the end justifies the means.  He was a man with a generous heart.  Like his father before him, he gave away too much to ever become rich.  From the free advice he gave to every do-it-yourselfer to the gifts he gave to the many who could not afford what they needed, to the nighttime and Sunday trips to fix a furnace or repair a hog fountain or restore electricity, Dad was, if anything, a giver.  Givers are not easy to live with in a world where taking is valued most of all.  While he lay dying, he continued to tell us what needed to be done for folks at the store.

He was a man of the church.  My brother and I knew unless Dad found us cold and blue in bed, Sunday morning would be spent in church – usually among the first to arrive and the last to leave.  It is not easy to live with someone who insists that the first day of the week belongs in church on Sunday morning.  But it did not end there for Dad.  From the things he literally gave to Golgotha Lutheran Church to the Fellowship Hall he almost single handedly ramrodded through, it is not easy to live with people driven for the Lord.  He lived every day under the grace of God and as one for whom Christ died and lives, a sinner in the arms of His merciful Savior.

Dad was a simple man.  Early in the morning, in the black recliner, he read the Scriptures, the catechism, the Lutheran Confessions, Portals of Prayer, and he prayed.  I used to sit up at the top of the steps every now and then and watch him.  Every day began this way.  Before any work could begin or even breakfast eaten, he spent time in prayer.

He loved Mom and pursued her when she was not so sure about him.  He and Mom were different and their weaknesses and strengths complemented each other’s weaknesses and strengths.  They lived under the forgiveness of Christ and practiced it freely each toward the other.  Theirs was a love that sustained nearly 65 years of marriage.  He loved his brother and sisters and their families and nothing was better than to spend a Sunday afternoon on a car ride to end up at one of their homes with some chips and dip and maybe a drink or two.  Family occasions were not duties but privileges – the precious privilege of family.

My Dad loved his home.  He loved to welcome people into his home.  Mom and Dad were great hosts who entertained rich and poor, old friends and strangers, famous and anonymous – all with the same affection and warmth.  My Dad loved a short power nap after lunch – sort of a sacred ritual in his whole life.  And, of course, he loved to work – as one who believed that labor was a privilege and the duty of the child of God toward God and neighbor.  Dad found it easier to deal with failure than to live with the regret of never having worked to make it happen.  As a teenager I found his work ethic foolish.  As a 60 year old son, I find it noble and wise and honorable.

Dad did not acquire these traits from rich experiences and they were not inborn into his character.  He had wonderful examples in my Grandpa and Grandma Peters but his life was shaped from the baptismal font, by the power of the Holy Spirit, toward the cross of Christ, and for the glory of God.  That is why I speak to you today.  There is nothing you can know of my Dad without first knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He was a man whose life was lived forever in the shadow of the cross where the saving will of the Father met the love of the Son and the Spirit marked this redemption for Albur George Peters, and for the sake of the whole world. 

Faith is not theory or philosophy.  It is the most practical thing of all.  It is where sinners hanging their heads in shame meet the grace of God in forgiveness.  It is where hopeless lives are reborn to everlasting life by the power of Christ’s resurrection.  It is where the limits of our smartness and our stubborn wills come face to face with the mind and heart of God, relentless to save.  It is where we meet the Lord who refused to surrender us to death, to tears, to fears, to pain, to grief, to sorrows, to disappointed hopes, to broken dreams, to tawdry pasts and to uncertain futures.  So great is the love God has for Albur, for you, and for me...  And just when we think we have given up everything, God points us to the cross where God gave up so much more – so that we might have all of it without cost to us though it cost Jesus everything.

I chose Isaiah 35 because it speaks of Dad – of feeble knees whom the Lord has made strong and its call to be strong, fear not, and trust in the Lord to save you.  And also because in the last hard days of his life, his prayer and ours was for the gladness and joy to begin and the sorrows, struggles, and sighs to flee away.  John 10 was one of those sections of worn pages from Dad’s Bible – a place where he fled for comfort and strength.  Jesus is the door to the sheep pen, the shepherd who calls His sheep by name, and the good shepherd who dies for His sheep.  We all pay attention to that part.  Dad focused also on the other part of Jesus’ words.

My sheep hear My voice and follow Me...   That was Dad and it should be you and me.  There are charlatans and strangers and thieves and robbers who have distorted Christianity and led too many Christians astray.  Where the Scripture’s vocabulary of sin and repentance, forgiveness and life through the cross, and the goal of eternal life have been replaced by selfish and foolish notions of your best life now, where God has become more motivational speaker for people looking for a better life, we have a big problem.  The sheep recognize only one voice – the voice of the crucified and risen Lord and this is the Savior whom they follow – and none other.

The lesson from Revelation is perhaps my favorite.  Those who read strange foreboding things into Revelation have got it all wrong.  John insists that he writes to comfort his people in their tribulations and to encourage their patience endurance in the Lord Jesus.  If you read Revelation and you get no comfort or encouragement out of it, you read it wrong.  Nowhere is this more true than in this passage from chapter 7.  If you have ever watched someone you love suffer, if you have ever waited at the bedside for the end none of us wants, then these words speak to you as they do to me.  In our moments of greatest test, we cling to the promise of sinners cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, serving the Lord joyfully in His eternal presence, where hunger, thirst, sorrow, and tears no longer haunt, hurt, or threaten.

The truth is my Dad is not dead.  Those who believe in Christ, who were washed in baptism, called by the voice of the Spirit in the Word, nourished and fed at Christ’s table. . . well, death cannot claim them and the grave cannot hold them.  Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord, St. Paul says.  When the trumpet will sound and Christ will come again to stand upon this earth and finish His new creation, He will reach down into the dust of the earth and He will raise up Albur George Peters.  Nothing can stop Him.  Nothing will stop Him.  Those who die in Christ live in Him and from death they wait with us for Christ to raise us to immortality and lead us to the place He has prepared for us, the great and blessed reunion with the saints – the bosom of Abraham, as Scripture calls it.  Dad was ready to see this promise fulfilled and in his last days he enjoyed the peace of Christ’s forgiveness and the comfort of Christ’s body and blood.  Would that each of us knew with the same confidence this promise from God and the peace in of His presence in our final hours.

Now if Albur meant something to you, listen to the voice of Jesus.  Reclaim Your baptismal hope. Rejoice in the gift of life that is yours.  And when that day comes, Albur will greet you in Christ.  When the earth coughs up its dead, when our tears are wiped away, when illness and old age can touch us no more, when sorrow and struggle are over, when satan is locked in his prison forever, when sin is no longer even a memory, those who live in Christ by baptism and faith will rejoice. . . And Albur will be there, too.

And one more thing – I say only to those who call Golgotha Lutheran Church your home.  If Albur’s life has meant something to you, then let it be shown in your steadfast faithfulness to the Lord and to this congregation.  Parishes come and go but let it never be said that this church died for lack of will and desire from those who were fed and nourished upon Christ’s Word and Sacraments here.  This building is no shrine or monument but it houses the font where the dead are given life, the pulpit where sinners are called to repentance and faith, the lectern where the Word of God is read, and the altar where the flesh and blood of Christ feed us now to eternal life.  This building has no special claim but what happens here does.  So do not take this congregation lightly or fail to give your best for God’s glory.

Until then, let us walk in faith.  Let us rejoice in hope.  Let us remember with joy.  Let us give up our wounds to Christ the healer.  Let us endeavor to live honorable lives to His glory.  Let us read His Word.  Let us pray our prayers.  Let us tell our children of Jesus.  Let us show forth in actions the love of Christ to our neighbors.  And when we meet in sorrow as we do today, let us find comfort in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.

I have no clue what people will say about me when I am gone.  If I am half the man my Dad was, I will be satisfied.  And if I leave to those who follow me, the same unfailing witness of faith my father has left me, my life will not be in vain. 

Thank you for sharing my father’s life, for supporting my mom, for loving my brother, and for being here today.  I am sure that Dad would say I spoke too long and was far too generous in speaking of him.  I am sure he would have said I should have spent my time only speaking of Jesus.  So, unlike every other moment of my life, today, Dad, I got the last word... But of course that is not true.  Dad would delight in pointing out that I was wrong; Christ has the last word!  And that word is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  So, in this faith, today we commend the Lord’s servant, Albur George Peters.  Amen. 

The Lord gave.  The Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice column about your dad. My own father, age 90, is receiving hospice care, he doesn't have much time left and Mom has asked me to help get details such as the obituary taken care of ahead of time. My siblings and I are also planning to do short eulogies at the funeral as their current LCMS pastor doesn't know my parents very well and I don't want a funeral like those I remember from my childhood, where the pastor dusts off last Sunday's sermon and pretty soon the deceased is not even being mentioned. Yours was really meaningful. Thank you for sharing.
--- Morticia