Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Friday after Epiphany

John 10:7-17

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

Fred, Quiet Servant and Beloved Grandfather

We pastors mostly know our parishioners from our time with them at church or from our visits at home. Just as a pastor’s family knows how irritable we can be when we are tired, trying to meet deadlines, or putting out fires caused by narcissists on the loose, so each Christian’s family sees the sinner as much as the saint. The temptation for many of us preachers is to idealize those who are most helpful at church and to dismiss those whose old Adam or old Eve has long since dried off after climbing out of the font again.
God isn’t through with any of us Christians yet, and so we do well to refrain from sweeping judgments of the laudatory or imprecatory varieties. The ground at the foot of the cross is level…for everyone!

Fred came to Wilmington to run the state port. He had cut his teeth vocationally working in Chicago and then New Jersey. The port of Wilmington is one of the oldest ports in the country and was the last confederate port to fall during the Civil War after the Battle of Fort Fisher in the spring of 1865. Two hundred liberty ships were built and launched from Wilmington during World War II. The port of Wilmington continues to this day to be very important both to the economy of North Carolina and of Wilmington. So, it was a big deal for Fred to run the state port. I suspect he didn’t always make friends and influence people on the job. I remember how high pressured my father’s job as agent-yardmaster for the local railroad was when necessary materials did not arrive on time to the paying customers.

By the time we arrived in Wilmington, Fred was slowing down. You saw him most Sundays at the 8:30 service often serving as an usher. For those who worship and leave without getting involved in serving, it’s easy to overlook the obvious. Someone has to unlock the building in the morning, make sure thermostats are properly set, make sure the bulletins are ready to be handed out, then welcome people, distribute the bulletins, receive the offering, direct people to and from the altar at the distribution, make the offering deposit, straighten up the nave, picking up errant bulletins left behind in the pews, and, at the end of Sunday morning, lock the doors and adjust the thermostats. Fred did all of that regularly. He also served on the Building Use subcommittee of the Property Team, making recommendations to council on which outside groups could use the building and at what cost. Fred also served on the Property Team, which not only arranges for repairs but actually does many of those things. I rarely heard a peep out of Fred about any of that. He just quietly did what needed doing. When Fred got sick, people noticed his absence!

Parents and grandparents have no greater fear than that some harm might befall their child or grandchild. Just after the New Year in 2006, Fred’s granddaughter Sarah was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sarah was a regular in the children’s choir and the second child in the parish to be diagnosed with a brain tumor within three months. Little Emily had been diagnosed first, and Sarah was so moved by the thought that Emily could lose her hair, that she donated many inches of her own in case Emily lost her hair. It was, of course, a great shock to Fred and Ruthann when the little girl that had spent so many hours in their home as a baby and toddler was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fear for these little girls gripped the hearts of St. Matthew’s people, and they responded with a great outpouring of love for the families.

Sarah died just before Palm Sunday in 2007. Emily had died the previous July. When Trinity Grove Nursing Home was under construction, The St. Matthew’s family donated the children’s playground in memory of Sarah and Emily.

Fred had a great laugh and could laugh at himself. He decided he didn’t like traveling with friends, because the package tours always expected you to be up and moving early. It was too much like work, and Fred said he enjoyed sleeping in. When he retired, he only did what he wanted. He loved to golf.

Fred died just after Christmas in 2015. He is buried beside Sarah in the lovely old Seagate Cemetery.

Thank you, Father, for Fred and all those quiet servants at church who see all that needs doing and don’t ever expect everyone else to serve them without taking their own turn. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.