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Funeral of H. Larry Mahl, Jr: ALWAYS!


Psalm 96:11-13 ESV:
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Glory to the Father, and to the +Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-7 ESV: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. The Word of the Lord.

Matthew 28:16-20 ESV 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Larry Mahl was trained as a chemical engineer at Georgia Tech. Now, if you also have been trained as an engineer, or are married to an engineer, or are an engineer’s child, you know that an engineer is a very linear thinker, given to thinking through everything very logically, and can often be bewildered and even bemused by interacting with those who do not think like an engineer. For an engineer wants to understand how things work, solve problems when things don’t work, and really would rather fix things instead of paying someone else to fix things and certainly rather than buying something new when something old might still be able to work.

Thirty-one years ago, Lyman Coleman, the creator of the Serendipity Small Group Bible Study explained to a large group of pastors that you need an engineer in every small group to ask the questions that no one else will ask. Not long after that, I remember hearing Pastor Herb Brokering, the composer of “Earth and All Stars” and “Alleluia! Jesus is Risen” when he was leading Bible studies at a synod assembly. Now Brokering was a poet and storyteller kind of like Garrison Keillor but a lot more out of the box. One of the lay voting members from our congregation, whose day job was rocket engineer, looked at me with utter confusion and asked, “What in the world is that guy talking about, Pastor?” I laughed and said, “Have you ever listened to ‘A Prairie Home Companion’?” He said, “Yes. Maybe once. I didn’t like it.”

Larry was a dutiful husband to the end, and, because he was a man of such high character, I suspect that, throughout most of his 68 years of marriage, he often came to worship with his wife and earlier with his kids, because he thought that’s what a good husband and father ought to do. I also suspect that he resonated with Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “I want to know the mind of God.” Teaching that was straight forward, practical, and logical met engaged him. I suspect that storytelling without practical application probably left him wondering what that was all about. And yet, if his kids were involved in the storytelling, acting, and performance, Larry was always a very proud father. Again, the medium was the message: Kids need Dad’s approval.

William Barclay was a famous 20th century Scottish Bible commentator. He told the story of the Army doctor who had no use for God or for chaplains, but the occasion came when the doctor ran out of reading material. He half-heartedly asked the Army chaplain if he had any books he could borrow. The chaplain said, “Well, I can lend you a Bible.” Rolling his eyes, he took the book and began to read from the beginning. By the time he got to Leviticus, he was hooked by the practicality of the Holiness Code. More than 3,000 years earlier, the Hebrew priests were excellent overseers of public health, and much that Moses wrote in Leviticus made excellent medical sense to the Army doctor. Well, he began a conversation with the chaplain, which led to his being baptized, and the doctor turned out to be all-in for the Kingdom of God. Barclay said that doctor was probably the only person in all history to be converted by reading Leviticus.

Until Larry and Pat’s health began to fail, they would be at 8:30 worship each Sunday. Larry didn’t do a lot of interacting with fellow worshipers, but they knew each other and there would be handshakes and waves. Again, Larry knew how much St. Matthew’s mattered to Pat, and so he drove her to worship, sat with her, communed with her, and did the dutiful things that good husbands do for their wives. It had taken Larry a long time to actually join St. Matthew’s. How much of that was a result of his early Roman Catholic upbringing and how much was the engineer trying to understand the mind of God… well, I doubt Larry really knew. But God knew. One day Larry finally joined. I’m sure it seemed to him the right and honorable thing to do.

Our brains aren’t fully developed until around the age of 25, which means there are a lot of adolescents and young adults who are intellectually curious and even gifted, but they often haven’t learned to think things through carefully and cannot see the logical consequences of serious decisions made by minds that are not fully developed. We learn through pain and loss. In short, you can’t know what you can’t know until you know it. Faith development is actually much more difficult than intellectual development, because it takes an entire lifetime for most people to discover that God alone will be God. Many of us have to grow older and frailer before we understand that we are not the center. We are not umpires calling balls and strikes when it comes to God. Rather, it is God who is the One trying to break through our denial of who and Whose we are. God is the One who sees and knows all that He has made. And so He calls to us.

Larry Mahl loved his wife and family and that drew him to the services of God’s house and even to join the church where his family belonged. That engineer’s mind was constantly at work even as he sat in worship and listened to whatever engaged him. Faith is not intellectual assent to a series of religious propositions. “Faith is, as the Hebrews writer puts it, the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). As Larry listened and thought it all through, was he intrigued by the notion that there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us Christians still in the Church Militant, the Church still struggling with sin, death, and evil (Hebrews 12:1)? Did Larry ponder that the heavenly realm is all around us and not in some galaxy far, far, away? As Larry’s days grew shorter, did he hope that all God’s promises in Christ are true? As he watched and felt the physical and mental decline that comes with living almost a century, did Larry begin to yearn for that new creation Christ will make when sin, death, and pain are no more? Was Larry quietly grateful that he was never alone and never will be? For Christ is risen!

There are those who speak effusively about their faith, some mostly with biblical slogans they have heard and repeated. Others recognize that faith development is slow. It takes a lifetime of growing through pain and loss. Periods of what has been called the dark night of the soul are essentially when we have reached the limits of prior faith development and need to have a much bigger God than we have previously known. The problem is never with God. And, it must be said again that intellectual development is easier and often exclusive of faith development. You can be in Mensa, have the highest scores on college entrance tests, and achieved Magna Cum Laude status at a fine school and yet be an infant in faith development. It’s a control thing. So long as one attempts to be in control of God, indeed of everything, God cannot be God for you.

The Lord God was always there for Larry from the day of Larry’s Baptism, and He was there at Larry’s death. And He is here always for you Pat and for you Judy, Lori, and Jeff and for all your dearest ones. Week after week, for years, the down-to-earth God always called Larry to trust Him. That’s what faith is. Week after week, year after year, the down-to-earth God always promised: “This is my Body. This is my Blood given and shed for you, Larry.” He was always there for Larry, always going with Larry from the communion rail to the challenges of daily life and work, and always calling Larry to deeper trust, greater loving service, and stronger hope.

Today, Larry knows the mind of God fully as Larry is fully known. Larry is alive with the Lord even as he awaits the resurrection of the body at the end of time as we know it. Larry is now part of that great cloud of witnesses surrounding us as we gather each time at the altar. Wherever you are in your faith development know that the Lord God is always calling you to His waiting arms.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Rev’d. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina