“Welcome to a new year, Peter. May it flow with grace and truth.” Like clockwork, this message appeared on my birthday just 3 weeks ago. Bob always shared the same message each year, just as he had greeted me in similar fashion every morning of the four summers I spent on the staff at Christikon Lutheran Bible Camp with, “welcome to a new day.” This past Tuesday I received the saddest of news, Bob had just died, unexpectedly and unexplainably.
I can think of no other time that has so formed me than my time at Christikon just as I can think of no other person, beyond perhaps my parents, who had a greater hand in shaping how I see the world, God, and my place between them both. Employing divinely granted wisdom, one of Bob’s greatest gifts was to gather the most exceptional of people to join him in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to experience first-hand, God’s handiwork made manifest in snow-capped mountains, wildflower-filled meadows, harmonies lifting on rising smoke, and bread and wine shared with the person sitting next to you. It’s not a stretch for me to say, everything I have ever needed to understand about God, was made real for me at Christikon. Things like:
- Greet each person like it’s Jesus himself who has wandered in.
- There is always room for more at our table.
- There is especially a place for you at this table and we won’t begin until we know you’re here.
- A good host can’t sit, eat, or relax until the last guest has been served.
- Mealtime is preparation for communion and communion is preparation for mealtime.
- Give people responsibility (especially young people) and trust they will surprise you.
- If you get lost, just stop. If you’re lonely, hug a tree. Someone is looking for you.
- Desserts matter. So do naps. (Ok, this one is less theological but no less divine.)
- Sacred truths can be found in secular music. (For him it was John Denver, for me U2 and the Indigo Girls)
- We need forgiveness, constantly. God forgives, constantly. We should too.
- Sharing the peace should always feel like the most important part of each day.
There are many things I will miss about Bob but especially his voice. He always chose his words so thoughtfully and with intention. His cadence was uniquely captivating. When I preach, I often wonder if I’m hearing Bob’s voice in my head. I really hope that never stops. For my wedding, Bob preached a sermon on Jesus turning water into wine at Cana, reinforcing the delight God has taken in our shared lives. For my ordination, Bob once again brought his voice and his beautiful theology to weave the threads of my life together with God’s call. In this sermon, the last time we were together, the words of George Herbert’s hymn added richness and depth to the gospel truths Bob shared with us and to which he has witnessed to his whole life, and now, also in his death.
Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life (ELW 816)
Come, my way, my truth, my life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.
Come, my light, my feast, my strength:
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my joy, my love, my heart:
such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part;
such a heart as joys in love.
So much of the grace and truth I have been blessed to experience flowed through you Bob. Thank you.
May God’s peace find you this day (and preferably in the embrace of someone who loves you). -Pastor Peter