A Homily for Yeoman Marvin Hanson
The moments when I feel most deeply honored to be one of Bethesda's pastors are when I officiate at the funeral of one of its longtime members. Today I had the privilege of doing such for Marvin Hanson - marvelous, mischievous Marvin Hanson.
He was a man of faith who served his country honorably in World War II. He joined Bethesda Lutheran in 1939. As we saw today, his community stretched far and wide. He liked to play up his ornery side, but we knew he wasn't as crabby as he pretended to be. The light always twinkled in his eyes.
He often reminded me that he prays for my family every night. Thank you, brother.
It’s difficult to imagine a Bethesda without Marvin Hanson.
My wife grew up in this congregation. From her earliest memories of Bethesda, there was Marvin. She grew, her world enlarged, but Marvin stayed the same. Marvin never changed. This is one of the gifts of growing up in a church. There is no end of surrogate grandparents.
I got to know Marvin when I began working here as a youth director in 2002. He volunteered in the office Mondays and Fridays. It doesn’t take long to be drawn in by his wit and charm and you learn to stay on your toes when Marvin is near. You rarely meet someone so entirely dependable and unpredictable at the same time.
I began addressing him as Doctor Marvin, secretly smiling about Richard Dreyfus’ charmingly inconvenienced character in the movie “What About Bob?” At least in my experience, Marvin pretended to be crabbier than he really was. The light always danced in his eyes. He’d say things like “no rest for the wicked” or dryly comment that as the seventh child born to his parents they had run out of Norwegian names and just went with Marvin. Hard to be a Norwegian among Danes with a name like Marvin.
We had youth group on Sunday evenings in those days. The building would be empty but for Marvin, returning from lunch at Solvang with his sister, Helen, to count the offerings that had come in that morning. He had a system. It was called: “The right way to do things.” I heard stories about Marvin turning the office upside down if he came out a penny short when double-checking the count. Truly, the faithful steward in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Trustworthy to the last penny. (He told his nephew and niece that they better take an offering at his service.)
I’ve only known Marvin in his retirement and so I associate him with the volunteering he did in this congregation. But it wasn’t until I became a father four years ago that I came to understand another aspect of Marvin’s heart. He gave handmade blankets to our first two sons. And every time we spoke in private, at a hospital or his home, he reminded me he prays for my family every night, for each of our sons by name. Think about the affection that grows in your heart for someone you remember daily in prayer. I’m humbled by his love.
One of Marvin's great joys in the past few years was the restoration of his medals of service from the second World War. He mentioned to me more than once that he wanted these medals displayed at his funeral. This wasn’t a “look at me” gesture from an otherwise unassuming man content to serve behind the scenes. Marvin was deeply proud of his years of service. And I believe he also wanted us to know that we must each be ready to do the right thing when need arises. However the Lord calls each of us to serve, we must respond with honor, integrity, and faithfulness.
In our Gospel reading, the master in the parable of talents gives different resources to his slaves. The key difference between the slaves is not in how many talents they were given. The key is in what kind of master they consider him to be. The faithful servants are eager to share with their master what they have made of the gifts given, knowing him to possess joy to be shared. The wicked and lazy slave confessed that he knew the master to be a harsh man, expecting a harvest where he did not sow, and therefore, the slave felt right to fear him.
Truly our Lord is a joyful master who delights when we receive his blessings gratefully and offer our lives in response. We are not to count our neighbor’s talents, but be good and faithful in our own callings. This parable also challenges us to live with a sense of the master’s impending return to settle accounts. Life is finite, even a life of 94 years.
Who kind of a master do you believe God to be? A harsh reaper? A joyful giver?
If you think the master will come to settle accounts and judge the work in order to see if you measure up or not, think again. The servant who made five talents and the servant who made just three equally entered the joy of the master. The third slave was not even condemned for failing to double the talent given. The master said he could have just stuck the money in the bank and let the bank do the work of earning interest. But the slave wanted nothing to do with a master he believed to be harsh.
Jesus would soon move from parables to action to show us just what kind of master we have. God who is perfectly dependable did a new and unpredictable thing. He entered the human story. He came to his own, to live among us, to bear our mortality, to confront the spiritual forces that holds us in captivity, to carry our sins away, to be crucified, die, and be buried. And he was raised on the third day by the glory of the Father. The Son of God is now the first fruits of the new creation, bearing the joy of the Master to share with all who would receive him.
In light of all this, Paul writes to the Romans and asks “what can we say about these things. If God is for us, who could be against us?” And: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” “Nothing!” He also writes, “Christ Jesus, who is at the right hand of the Father, who indeed intercedes for us.” Translation: Jesus is praying for you, every day, by name.
Our brother Marvin understood this. This lifelong bachelor was never alone, but lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave himself to him. Paul writes, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” This World War II veteran was more than a conqueror in human terms. He, through faith, lived in the victory of his Lord. And he was active in our community serving, singing, stirring up mischief among Lutherans, and Norwegians, and Norsemen, and his dear family.
I’m going to miss my friend, Marvin. And I give thanks, as we all do, for his life and witness, knowing that we ourselves, who are still on our earthly pilgrimage, are not without a great cloud of witnesses. Thanks be to God for our Master’s inseparable love for us. Amen.