Unsung Saints 2020 Lent

Ash Wednesday

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Bob, President & Craftsman

 Bob was the congregation president when I was called to be St. Matthew’s senior pastor. I first met him when I flew to Wilmington in February 2004 for an interview with the call committee. I overnighted at Bob and Helen’s house, because she was a member of the team charged with discerning the candidate God was calling to St. Matthew’s.

Bob was a great Christian gentleman, a strong leader who led quietly and without bluster. He had been a university math professor in Iowa, a college administrator in Wisconsin, and finally the leader of the Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh. In addition to his brilliance, his kindness, and his ability to lead, Bob was a man of deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and was just beginning what would be a slow journey home. Later, well into that long goodbye, their oldest son Chuck died of pancreatic cancer. He was 50. Helen and Bob had made many trips to Arizona to be with Chuck and his wife as the cancer progressed. They were there when Chuck died. Chuck’s desire to be cremated made an indelible mark.

Our Memorial Garden, in which the cremated remains of dear sisters and brothers in Christ are placed directly into the soil, was beginning to become the preferred burial place of many members. Because we cannot, by law, use urns or other receptacles in our garden, Bob saw that we needed a reusable box and table for the funeral rites of those who had been cremated. Despite the challenges of his own declining health, Bob lovingly crafted a beautiful box in Chuck’s memory and, with help, finished the table we also use at the funerals of those cremated. Another of our members, Linda, created a lovely pall for that box.

On this Ash Wednesday, we will hear the pastors repeat those sobering words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The wage of sin is still death, and so all of Adam’s descendants die and return to the dust from which we were formed. But the ashes are imposed in the shape of Christ’s cross to remind us that Christ is risen from the dead, and so all baptized believers will rise to live with Him forever.

After Chuck’s death, Bob’s decline seemed to hasten with his grief. Eventually, the Lord called Bob home, and, just before his funeral began, Bob’s ashes were placed into that box and were carried to the garden for burial. The pastor said: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, we commend to almighty God our brother Robert, and we commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We do not grieve, dear ones, as those without hope. Nor do we ever die without hope!

Thank you, dear Father, for Bob and all the Christian parents who suffer the loss of a child of any age but neither give in nor lose hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put one penny, nickel, or dime 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
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.