For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Two Funerals and a Gravestone

We don't like to talk about death very much. But every once in a while it seems to be a theme that weaves through our weeks. Over the last couple of weeks I've been touched by the death of two special people and the words on a tombstone of someone I never met. I'd like to share some thoughts with you.

W. B. Yeats

It was an unplanned stop in the Irish countryside.  An opportunity to to take a photo, but it turned out to be so much more. Near Sligo there is an old church. People have worshipped Jesus in that location since the sixth century. Just outside the doors of St. Columba's Parish church you will find the gravestone of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. His poetry put words to many human emotions and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He was a man who was often melancholy and who dabbled in the occult. He was fascinated with mediums and Oriental mysticism.
I was curious to see what was inscribed on his tombstone. Several tour buses had stopped and people were gathered around his grave taking pictures. His self-written tombstone read, "Cast a cold Eye on Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by."
Times have changed. People generally don't ride horses from place to place anymore. Still, the dying message of this famous poet seemed clear: Don't look here for answers about life or what comes after life. I don't have anything to tell you." His message seemed empty. Hollow. Like an icy wind on a gray winter day, there was no hope or warmth or joy. Facing death, he had nothing to offer.

Robert Oddo

You've probably never heard of Bob Oddo unless you were from the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. He was a leader in the church I pastored for 14 years. In a play we put on, Bob played the role of Peter. It was fitting. Like Peter, Bob was a man of passion. Anything he did he did with 100% commitment. Like Peter, his passion could sometimes get him into awkward situations that made us laugh afterwards. And like Peter, he had a deep faith. He knew Jesus, and it showed in everything he did.
Bob was a man devoted to the Scriptures. He would come alongside people with a compassion and love that seemed to flow from the heart of Jesus. And to hear him pray, well, let's just say that he knew how to enter into the throne room of God.
I just talked to his wife. She said Bob was perfectly calm before undergoing the major heart surgery from which he would not recover. His faith was strong. In the face of death he had no fear. She said that Bob is now in heaven saying, "My wife and I talked about what it would be like. It is so much more than we ever imagined!" And she knows that he is joyously bowing before Jesus in worship. His funeral is this week. And I am certain that it will be crowded with people whose lives he touched. But I am also certain that the central message will not be the importance of family and friends. It will be about Jesus. Because that's the way Bob would want it. He would want people to know that he is now in the presence of Jesus.

Sam Yoder

Sam Yoder was the father of a dear friend of mine.  Kindness and gentleness seemed to form the very fibre of his being. The best way to describe him is that he oozed the fruit of the Spirit. You couldn't help but be encouraged by being around him. He was always ready to help and gave wise advice when asked. Somehow every conversation I had with him drew me a little closer to Jesus. He lived a full life and the Lord took him home last week, but not before he shared a thought with his family as they were gathered around his bed.
His breath was shallow and regular. He was resting. The end was drawing near and everyone knew it. Suddenly, he started speaking in a strong voice and asked that three Scriptures be read: Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 9:22 and Hebrews 12:14.
He proceeded to preach a three point sermon to those in the room. He called it "The Three Withouts":
1. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.
2. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
3. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
He said, "That is all, I am done." He put his head down on the pillow and closed his eyes.
The family began checking their cellphones to see what other translations of those verses said. That caused him to look up and say, "It doesn't matter what version you look in, it would be exactly the same!" Sam shortly thereafter went to be with the Lord. His faith certain. His hope sure. Saved because he believed in Jesus.

W.B. Yeats, lauded by his contemporaries for his way with words wrote a hopeless epitaph for his tombstone. Bob and Sam were less well known, yet their lives were filled with the joy of knowing Jesus and in the end they faced death with confidence and hope. For them, death was simply a matter of leaving one country for a far better one.

Their simple faith in Jesus Christ ultimately proved that they were wiser than a Nobel Prize winner.

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