Tuesday of Lent 2

Jeremiah 2:1-32

The Frightened, Forgetful Man

He was a gentle soul, no longer the go-getter he once was in management with a major utility and long past the days when he had been congregational president. At one time, he had created an operations manual for his congregation that was very similar to what they used at his place of employment. It was very detailed, a snapshot of a different time and culture, more 1960s than late 1990s. Those of his generation still regarded that manual as having more authority than the creeds and confessions of the Lutheran church. The governance structure was likewise an unwieldy throwback to a very different time and culture. I once asked if they realized their council was twice the size of that of any major corporation.

Austin had been for decades sort of Berkeley with a Texas accent. You could see old hippies with waist length gray hair and smell the unmistakable aroma of marijuana in the air and not just around the campus of the University of Texas. The first wave of California techies had begun moving to town, and many of the UT graduates had never left. More than 20 years had passed since I had spent much time in Austin, and it was no longer the laid back college town of the early 70s progressive country music boom. Oh, yes, every other year the legislature came to town and were good for a lot of inane rhetoric and excessive alcohol consumption. I laughed to hear that journalists called the visitors’ gallery in both the Senate and House, “The Owners’ Box,” because that’s where the lobbyists sat. On the couple of occasions that I prayed to open a session of the Texas Senate, I got to see with my own eyes exactly who was watching the action.

Each year in Austin, I buried 25 parishioners for a grand total of 225 funerals in nine years. For my first five years up until the dotcom bust, we watched the average age drop with each funeral. We averaged a dozen parishioner weddings each year and, in our best year, our weekend worship average was 700. Typically, at Christmas and Easter, we would see about 1500 worshipers. It was a time of great change, and I was burying both the last of the generation before the Greatest Generation and my parents’ peers. Many of the young were hungry for mystery and high church worship, but there were those who were already drawn to this world’s alternate gospels, which bear no resemblance to authentic discipleship.

I remember the day this dear older man’s wife called to say she was worried. He was up late at night, paranoid about black helicopters overhead, and terrified that his wife and he were in great danger. It broke her heart to check him into a memory unit, where they had to keep his bed on the floor for fear that he would fall again and again and lose all mobility. In retrospect, her daughters and she had been monitoring his memory loss with grave concern for some time. But the sudden change of their life together after so many years was devastating. It was a mercy that the man did not linger, and he was suddenly set free.

It is a meaningful, bittersweet time when I sit down with a family to plan a funeral. Stories are told through laughter and tears. I get a glimpse of the person in the years before I became the family pastor. As they tell the story of a man or woman’s life, I hear those things which have made that person’s life unique and how they made a difference, sometimes for ill as well as for good. So, the frightened, forgetful man had been a sweetheart to wife and daughters, much loved with almost a permanent smile, and a worker who provided invaluable help to many congregational ministries over the course of fifty adult years. Pastors
are adjunct members of every family in the parish, and we often understand why the psalmist writes: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90:12).

Every life is unique and precious. The forgetful, frightened man was sorely missed, not by family alone.

Thank you, Father, for those who remind us that the seasons of our lives change faster than the ones in nature. Grant us grace to read the Scriptures daily that we may remember who and Whose we are. Amen.

Put fourteen pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

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.