Memorial Homily for Ernie Kersgaard
Jan, Eric, Scot, and Evan, and all of Ernie’s family and friends. God’s grace and peace are yours in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.
Perspective always matters. It is easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. To lose the big picture, even the eternal picture, as we become caught up in the concerns of each passing day. But we remember this afternoon that our passing days will one day pass away.
Perspective always matters. It is just as easy to lose sight of the trees for the forest. To neglect the smaller matters as we become overwhelmed by the vastness of the enfolding foliage. But we remember today that the righteous are like trees each planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, each one precious in the sight of the Lord during its season of life.
Our brother, Ernie, lived ninety-five years. Blessed with a long life, a legacy of faith, family, service to country and to neighbor. He was planted by the streams of baptismal water and knew this gift was not to be neglected, but truly lived out, for the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in his life in season, for the good of the world.
Like a well-aged tree, he was rooted in God’s country, this good creation whose gifts were made known to Ernie on long hikes, backroad adventures, hunting and fishing endeavors, and thousands upon thousands of trees he planted in the soil, yielding its fruit or seeds in season, the forest and the trees - his tree farm on Poodle Creek road. Ernie certainly knew how to see the forest for the trees, as he nurtured the trees for the forest.
He loved his wife, Arlene, and cherished their years together, all the more as her life was cut short by cancer early in their retirement. Together on Bonnie Heights they had raised their four young saplings, Jan, Eric, Scot, and Evan, instilling their faith and values in them, sharing with their family the wonders of God’s world, demonstrating commitment and hard work.
Ernie had already moved to Sorgenfri when I first met him during my time here as youth director. My lasting memory of him is of him whistling in the church kitchen, washing dish after dish. I think he considered himself part of the youth group on the Easter breakfast work crew. Whistle while you work.
Ernie held several scriptures dear to him, from which Jan and Eric narrowed it to these three great passages from Paul’s letters. We set our hearts and minds on God’s word today, not only to honor the faith in which Ernie walked and the faith in which he died, but especially that our own ears might hear the promises of God for we are trees who remain in season for a time.
The first scripture, from 1st Thessalonians, speaks of the forest for the trees. Paul urges our attentiveness to the times and the seasons, because history is leading somewhere. Though the seasons cycle, the story of God’s world is not circling back. There is a horizon, a hope, a destination, a consummation. The church Paul writes to knows this, and he encourages them all the more to live as children of light. For like a pregnant woman, we know that new life is breaking forth, but we do not know the time, or the manner, or how long the struggle. The earth may quake beneath the forest, or a fire rage through its thirsty branches. But the Lord comes on the trumpet’s call, like a thief in the night to steal the dead from their graves and raise up a new growth forest for all eternity.
This we know, because the eyewitnesses of Jesus proclaimed a message which we could never or would never have made up ourselves: that God would become human, and die in the most shameful way for the sake of the ungodly, that sin and death might be overcome and everlasting life given as a free, unmerited gift by the grace of God. This astounding claim, Paul presents again to the Philippian church in our second reading:
"…that Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and become obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross."
This salvation is not a two-dimensional certificate or future insurance claim - salvation is a living, breathing, daily reality which works itself out through fear and trembling as God is at work within us, enabling us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure. Watered by the Spirit, fruitful in season.
Our closing passage from Paul speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit in each believer, Who brings freedom and transformation. He writes, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”
We might shift our imagery from being trees planted by streams of water to imagining ourselves as tent-campers in a haunted forest. Paul wrote the Romans that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed,” and to the Corinthians here, he compares our present life to the life to come with the difference between living with the vulnerability and durability of a tent to that of coming home to a building raised up by God Himself.
Paul closes this passage with the promise of the Holy Spirit given to us as a guarantee. The word guarantee is arrabon, the same Greek word used today for an “engagement ring.” God has betrothed himself to the church through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit seals the promise.
Someone could try to remove the engagement ring and pursue another way to shore up this earthly tent. But the day of the Lord is coming, and God is determined for this wedding to take place.
Our brother Ernie was familiar with his struggles, his losses, and his growing limitations. He knew what it was to groan in this earthly tent. But he also knew God’s love for him, and Christ Jesus’ promise to prepare a place for him. And so, he whistled while worked. This tree in God’s forest has borne his fruit in season and now rests in his Creator's care. "What is mortal has been swallowed up by life." Thanks be to God. Amen.