JULY 27, 2018
I got a phone call on Monday afternoon from Mike Ryan of the Tews - Ryan Funeral Home in Homewood, IL. He was calling to see if I was available to officiate a funeral on Wednesday night. He took a deep breath, then sighed, and then shared with me that this would be no “ordinary” funeral. When a funeral director begins by saying, “You might have seen on the news?”, that usually means this will be a funeral of tremendous tragedy and pain. This was how I was introduced to Rob Sulzberger. Sure enough, as I was on the phone with Mike I googled “Rob Sulzberger” and instantly links from Northwest Indiana papers popped up with the story of a thirty-seven year-old-man who ran out of gas on the way to work, was walking along the side of the road towards a nearby gas station and was hit and killed by a truck, leaving behind a wife and a blended family of four children. I told Mike I would be honored to officiate this memorial service and that I would call Rob’s wife, Rebecca, later that afternoon.
I had her number on my desk until I mustered up the courage to give her a call. What do you say? Add on top that, I’m just a stranger, who, oh by the way, will be officiating your husband’s funeral. Now, what do you say? Rebecca and I talked for the better part of forty-five minutes. She cried. She laughed. She told me about her husband’s faith journey. She was brutally honest about Rob’s rough young adult life and poor choices that led him to a time in jail. She told me about his tour in Iraq as part of Iraqi Freedom. She told me how when they got married they started attending a mega-church in Orland Park, but never really felt connected. And she told me how in the last season of life, her husband was really getting his life back on track. How he was making amends, staying the course and running his life with perseverance.
And at age thirty-seven, that journey this side of heaven is complete. Not fair. Not right. Not the way it’s supposed to be. And yet, it happens – seemingly all the time. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, at some point in all of our lives, moments and experiences of tremendous tragedy will come calling. Maybe it’s the journey of cancer. Maybe it’s the sickness of a child. Maybe it’s an auto accident. Whatever the moment or experience is, they find a way of tracking us down, perhaps when we least expect it.
Maybe that’s why we need the consistency of the church so badly in our lives. Despite all the highs and all the lows of our lives, there’s something steady and consistent about Sunday mornings at 9:30am. It’s almost as if we can expect the unexpected in moments of great joy and sadness in our lives, but we can count on Sunday morning. We can count on being greeted warmly. We can count on confessing our sins. We can count on the Good News being preached. We can count on singing great hymns and songs of praise. We can count on coffee and cookies downstairs in the Fellowship Hall afterwards.
The church and her ministry have a profound way of centering us, calling us back to equilibrium, and steadying us from the chaos of Monday through Friday. The church also has big enough doors for all of our emotional, mental, physical or even spiritual baggage we’ve accumulated throughout the week. We don’t need to get our act together before coming to worship. Instead, by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we get our act together in and through worship – the full breadth of worship which includes lamentation, praise, adoration, confession and assurance. It’s hard to make sense of our world. Thirty-seven -year-olds being hit on the side of the road? The great divisions present within our nation? Never-ending hospitalizations? It’s enough to send the brightest and cheeriest of us into a deep depression. Still, God gives us the gift of worship to remind us who we are and better yet, whose we are.
Grace & Peace,