Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Herman's sermon: a tribute to a faithful man

What a marvelous thing for Herman to "be promoted" at Christmastime.

Many deaths at Christmas are tragic, as car crashes, illness, or senselessness leave presents unwrapped under trees - symbols of hopes and expectations that will never be realized. Certainly no time is ever convenient or welcome for anyone to die, but if we all must go, Christmastime was befitting of Herman.

Herman believed, nee believes, in what Christmas really means, not the Santa Claus or even love and kindness meaning sold in department stores and on TV, the real meaning. I don't know when Herman internalized the truth of Christmas, that God came down and brought light into darkness and sacrificed himself to redeem humankind whom He loves, but it was clearly long before I met him 27 years ago.

Some of my earliest memories of Herman were in his home that he shared with his wonderful wife, Mrs. Judy, and their daughter Jenny. They would host Bible studies that were the core of Kingsway Christian Church, which their living room helped birth nearly three decades ago.

Jenny, with her bright smile and talent with puppets, would teach us children (and build giant Lego towers with us when the studies inevitably ran long).

Judy owned the nursery on Sunday morning more than any "volunteer" has ever owned a nursery. She still does, and it is still the best nursery I've ever seen.

Herman. Well, Herman did whatever was needed. I can't remember if I ever heard Herman preach from a stage on Sunday morning, but I know for sure that I saw him set up chairs, vacuum, shovel snow, take out garbage, and lovingly greet every single person he could.  Unlike many of his generation, Herman was not dutiful and stoic as he lowered himself to serve others. Instead, nearly every time, even well into his last decade on earth, Herman stooped with a smile, as though he was not accommodating a stranger, or even a warm acquaintance, but as if it were for his very best friend. And indeed it was.

If a pastor is the mouth of a church, or even the brain, eyes, or heart, surely Herman was the backbone or legs or some other essential part without which a body could not stand. If no one bellows "Amen" from behind the last pew in his sing-song cadence at his funeral, I will feel obliged.

Almost weekly, he took communion to elderly, sick, or shut-ins, reminding them tangibly that no infirmity could separate them from the love of Christ or his church.

His life, as it turns out, is his sermon.

I have learned in the long day since his passing that Herman prayed daily for my father, a man who is not a Christian but nevertheless a friend loved by Herman.

So why is it fitting that Herman should pass away at Christmastime?

Years ago, a little over ten years, when Herman had his first heart attack, our church leaders fell face down in front of God to beg for an extension on their friend's life. After Herman miraculously recovered from that massive cardiac episode, he returned somehow different.

His face read with a gratitude for each day present in his body and an eager expectation that one day he would leave it.

My wife recalled that even though she only ever stood in front of Herman once in church, she could tell that he loved to sing in worship and always did so joyfully.

During advent, the season leading up to Christmas, we pause and reflect on our anticipation and need for Jesus' arrival in our world. We imagine how cold, dark, and hopeless must have been the world before his incarnation, and we take stock of the shadows in our world where his light still needs shined.

Today in one of our chapel services at Nebraska Christian College, I shed a few tears as we sang a song quoting the angels' song in revelation, declaring the worthiness and holiness of Jesus who was slain. I knew that Herman was likely singing a similar song, with a smile wider than any I had ever seen him crack on earth, as he soaked in the joy of finally meeting his savior face to face.

I am sad for Judy, Jenny, Curt, the grandchildren, and all of the rest of us left behind, but I am joyful for Herman. As we break out our warmest carols and songs, as we light candles during these dark winter months, we remember the savior who came down to us from heaven. And Herman, one of the most faithful men I have ever met, got to go up to meet him.

We will miss you Herman, and we look forward to seeing you again. We will bring with us the thousands who met Jesus because of how your faithfulness touched our lives, we touched others, and so on. 

Congratulations on your great promotion!

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