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A Funeral Sermon for Don Offermann. February 12, 2022

February 12, 2022

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL, for the memorial service of Don Offermann. You can watch the service here and view the bulletin here.

Verna, Dan, Nancy, David, Monika; family and friends; sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this morning in the name of God the Father and our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. As it turns out, Don was one of the first members of Grace with whom I had the chance to speak. Preparing for our family’s move to Illinois seven years ago, I needed a new bank. Someone suggested that I give Don Offermann a call. I confess that I was curious, if not confused. I was going to be living in Oak Park and working in River Forest; what would a banker in Forest Park know about those places? Well, beyond my geographical ignorance, I didn’t yet know Don. I’d realize soon enough that there were few people who knew more about these three communities. He knew these neighborhoods from running their streets for decades; even more, he knew the faces and names of generations of people, having greeted them as students as they arrived for school each day at OPRF. Don was passionate about these places and, even more, their people. And on Sundays, he could be found just over there, usually the best-dressed man in the room, with Verna, as they came to this place he knew and loved so well, this church in which they were married, to be nourished in Word and sacrament by the God who knew and loved him well. And now, today, we gather in this place without Don. Honestly, that’s still hard to believe. Even 84 years seems too short, and this death came too quickly
  2. Into our grief, Jesus speaks: Do not let your hearts be troubled. On the surface, while this sounds nice it also seems difficult. How can we not have troubled hearts in the face of death? This seems to be on Thomas’s mind as he and the other disciples listen to Jesus in that upper room on the Thursday night before Jesus would face his own death. In their grief and fear, the disciples are understandably unable to grasp what Jesus is telling them. Jesus speaks of death as if it is not the end but the beginning of a new journey, a journey he is undertaking for their sake. He is entering into death to prepare a place for them to be with him forever. Thomas speaks, wondering how they will be able to follow. They do not know the way. Death had always been the end. But Jesus is doing a new thing, becoming for them and for this world the way and the truth and the life. Jesus enters into death so that, through him, it would now and forever lead to life.
  3. Don, a preacher’s kid, was baptized into the way of Christ as a child, and it guided his living. To know Don was to know that he was driven. Not by ambition, but by a moral compass that insisted on doing things the right way. To not simply do well, but to do good. His work, to which he dedicated so much, bore witness to his convictions. From the classroom to the track to the higher offices of administration, Don lived out his values. He passion was not to get ahead, put to put students first so that they could get ahead. So that they could grow and thrive, flourish and succeed. Here at Grace, he liked to linger after worship and listen to the postlude, delighting not just in the music, but in the musicianship. He loved to hear others sharing their gifts, to see and hear them live out their passions. After staying retired just as long as he could – thirteen whole days! – he started his second career at the bank. He also became involved in redeveloping Madison Street, helping others achieve their dreams as together they created a better, stronger community. In all of this, Don was walking in the only way he could, with passion and dedication and kindness, grounded in a life of faith. And somehow, none of this overshadowed his commitment to his family. Over 61 years of marriage, Don and Verna created a home in which their children were loved and could thrive. In spite of Don’s many accomplishments, this family is his best legacy, and the one of which he was the most proud.
  4. Now, this friend who helped so many find their place in this world has been taken from us. Not long before his death, Don said that he couldn’t be anything but grateful, well aware that his life had been full and blessed. He didn’t speak with resignation, and he hadn’t given up hope. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because of the hope we share in Christ Jesus, we can be thankful for the gifts of this life as we look to the even greater joys to come. Today, even in our grief, we claim this promise for Don, trusting that Jesus has gone on ahead and prepared a place for him. This does not mean we do not grieve. This absence is hard, most especially for you, Verna. It is not easy to walk in the valley of death’s shadow. But even in our tears can we rejoice, knowing that death is not the end. God would not let death have the last word, and in Christ’s rising so, too, shall we rise.
  5. We give thanks today for this one who ran his race so faithfully, who never took the easy road but moved on roads less travelled, pathways of faithfulness and integrity, kindness and compassion. By this path, Jesus leads us past the snares of sin, suffering, and death, into the verdant green fields of God’s abundant feast. Today, we celebrate that at the completion his race, Don finds himself at the feast of God of which Isaiah speaks, a feast of rich foods and well-aged wines. And we, too, are fed today; fed with the very body and blood of Jesus, our Savior, this One who died and was raised for our sake and salvation. So nourished, we know that we, too, will one day be brought to life everlasting, and that this parting from Don, while hard, is not final.
  6. So, friends, do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in God’s Son. Trust, in the midst of your grief, the hope that does not disappoint. We are grateful for Don, for a life lived well and faithfully. Even more, we are grateful for the gospel that was for Don the way of life, and is for him, for us, the pathway to life everlasting. Together, we await that day when we, too, will be gathered into the house of the Lord forever, with Don, and with all the saints in light. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, today and forever. Amen.

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