Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
Bruce, Faithful Bible Student and Among the Toughest of Men Ever
On this day of quiet victory when we devoutly remember our Lord’s passion and death for us and our salvation, I cannot help but remember Bruce, who with his wife Rebecca, came to St. Matthew’s in my first year here. They were here every Saturday night that they were not away. They didn’t miss worship.
Like many young men from homes greatly changed by the remarriage of a mother, Bruce went into the Army at an early age. He served in Vietnam at the height of the war in southeast Asia. He became a sergeant and had a twelve-year military career before deciding to focus on marriage and family life.
Bruce and Rebecca built their own home on land outside Bethlehem PA. Rebecca had grown up on a nearby farm. With an older brother, Bruce had spent several years of his youth at Girard College, a boarding school in Philadelphia for boys from single parent homes. More than most, Bruce appreciated having a home and a life with a wife, two sons, and a daughter. Many nights, they would build a large bonfire outside and gather with family and friends for conversation and laughter. Bruce drove a truck.
It was a leap of faith to relocate to Wilmington for work. Bruce took a job working in a factory that makes windows. His work ethic was typical of folks from the German culture, and the owner appreciated the fine example Bruce set for coworkers. He didn’t forget Bruce at a later time when Bruce needed some grace.
Bruce had a raspy voice from an earlier injury. This gave him a great and unusual laugh that was kind of a wheeze. One early December day, Bruce and Rebecca showed up for early church. He stopped by the open door of my office to say hello. When I asked how he was doing, he said: “We have been up all night crying. Our oldest boy, Ben, hit a patch of black ice on his way home. His pickup hit a big tree, and he was killed instantly. We waited to come to church before making that long drive home.” How do you deal with the greatest heartache of your life when you’ve known such sadness? You hunger to receive Jesus!
In the years after Ben’s death, Bruce was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Having been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, Bruce was among the many for whom their military service was a ticking time bomb in body and soul. Bruce fought that disease. He changed his diet. He went into remission. When I would ask him how he was feeling, “He would grin broadly and flex his muscles in the old upraised arms bent at the elbows pose. After work on Wednesdays, he became a regular at Crossways Bible Study. He was always at church and always at Crossways even when he felt awful. Cancer was not going to stop Bruce.
I admit to being impatient with shallow excuses for why people can’t make it to worship. Among those that I find to be most revealing of spiritual immaturity and captivity to this world are excuses like these: “I had a round of golf scheduled with friends” or “I was with friends watching the big game.” I think of Bruce and his fellow Vietnam vet Ed, who both fought another war against cancer. They never missed worship!
On this day, God’s Son Jesus suffered and died in flesh like ours that all might have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He died for abused children, war veterans whose wounds are seen and unseen, for heartbroken grandparents and grandparents, for addicts and their families, for those terrified and taken by the pandemic and their families, and, yes, even for the very, self-absorbed souls, who comfortably offer their casual uninterested least for the one true God who gave His all that none might be lost and all saved.
Thank you, Father, for Bruce. and all the faithful men, who hunger to know Your Word and to receive the Medicine of Immortality throughout their struggles and earthly woes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put forty-five pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
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.