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A Memorial Service Sermon for Don Heimburger: July 16, 2022

July 19, 2022

This sermon was preached at the memorial service for Don Heimburger, July 16, 2022, at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. You can view the here and the bulletin here.

Marilyn, Amy, Alison; 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. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself in a train station in central Europe. Along with ten other members of Grace, I was looking to board a train at the Bratislava main station. Despite having travelled a fair amount, I always get a bit nervous in these situations. Am I on the right platform? Is that train going to right direction? Do I have the right ticket? I couldn’t help thinking, “I sure do wish Don Heimburger were here!” Travel? Europe? Trains? Who better to have in that situation than Don? Not only would he know what to do; he would have such deep joy in the moment, smiling at the thought of the adventure about to unfold (and probably already thinking about how to write it up). In a situation in which I might feel slightly lost, Don would no doubt make me feel right at home, just like he did every time I walked through those doors and spotted him in his Sunday best, with an usher’s carnation and a warm smile. I imagine it’s not the last time I’ll wish Don were here. I’ll miss his presence at Oktoberfest. I already miss him each Sunday when I note his absence. Others miss him more deeply, of course. A wife and family who still yearn for Don’s presence; not because you don’t trust the promises of God, but because it is hard to say goodbye to such a man. Because after retiring, you imagined a different future. Because 75 years, however good, are not quite enough. As we gather this morning in our grief, it’s worth acknowledging that we wish things were otherwise.
  2. Today’s gospel reading speaks of the deep, abiding peace which Jesus gifts to us through the Holy Spirit. This section, however, begins in doubt and with anticipated grief. Jesus, on the night before his death, has washed his disciples’ feet and fed them a last supper. He speaks now of going away the next day, a trip taken too soon and to goodness knows where. Anticipating the doubts that Thomas shares on behalf of the others, Jesus proclaims: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” He goes on to paint a picture a heaven, imagining for them the hugeness of his Father’s house, a mansion with many rooms. With room enough for all. Thomas, like a lost boy in a busy station, expresses his fears: Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we possibly follow you? Jesus speaks words to create our faith, words to which our faith can cling: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thomas and the others do not yet know what we know, that Jesus’ departure into death the next day would be a short journey, just three days until his return. And that when he would depart again, forty days later, he would do so as the One who has defeated death forever. That from his Spirit would come peace and power the likes of which the world has never seen.
  3. It was his trust in this power and peace that saw Don through his illness. Cancer did not take it easy on Don. Marilyn, you did such a fine job caring for your husband, leaning deep into the love you shared through 49 years of marriage, which he always made a point of mentioning to me. Through it all, it was the power and peace of God, filling your home on Lathrop, that carried you both. The life of faith is not a life of ease. There are times when we are called, forced, to walk through raging rivers and burning fires. God does not say that we will not have to make such journeys in life. Instead, God promises to walk with us; God promises that we shall be overwhelmed or consumed, for the Holy One of Israel is with us. The words of the prophet echo across the centuries: “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” His illness took Don from us too soon, but it has not taken him out of God’s hands. The victory of life over death is sure and certain. Don’s infirmities are gone, but Don lives now in Christ.
  4. Don had a childlike faith in the promises of our God at work in Christ. Not a faith that was unintelligent or uniformed. Just faith like a child, trusting that when Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life, well, that was good enough for Don. Perhaps that’s why Don always got on so well with children and took the time to get to know them here at Grace. On that Saturday morning after his death, I told my children what had happened. They exclaimed, “Not the train man!” Anders, our ten-year old, has been working his way through Don’s recent book on North American cabooses; just a small example how Don’s legacy lives on. With his childlike wonder, Don could embrace the promises for himself, picturing himself in one of the Father’s many rooms. In fact, Don liked to tell people that once he found his room in that house, he’d be working on a model railway layout. That he’d have it done by the time we got there. Don working with, playing with, model trains in his heavenly Father’s house; that’s about as good an image of heaven as I can think of.
  5. As for us? In our grief and in our holy tears, may our hearts not be troubled. Don knew enough to entrust himself into the mercy of God. May we turn to God in hope. Our travels are not complete. We do not always know where we are going. But because the destination is guaranteed, there is nothing to fear. There is always joy to be found in journey. Don loved to quote the American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay:

My heart is warm with the friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing;

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

No matter where it’s going.

  1. Yes, there is joy in any journey, wherever the destination. But how much more joy when the destination is known? When the endpoint is home? For the last end is no end at all, but an endless beginning unfolding in the presence of the Father, who loves us; and Christ, the Lamb who was slain for our salvation; and the Holy Spirit whose peace knows no bounds. May we, friends, listen like children to the words of our God, this same God who casts out fears and wipes away tears. May we trust Christ, who has made a way safe through death. May we journey on together until we, too, find ourselves at home with our God, reunited with Don and all the saints in light, in our Father’s house. Amen.

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

From → Odds and Ends

  1. Sandra Schuette permalink

    This sermon was very meaningful to me today. I wrote in my journal your statement: “A Life of faith is not a life of ease.” I need to remember that. I didn’t know Don (wish I did). I’m not a member of your church but worship with you via YouTube most Sundays as well as worshipping in my own church. I appreciate that the sermon is emailed out as I often want to read it.

    Just noticed the title of the sermon and was reminded of Fred McFeely Rogers who taught me a good faith lesson. I am Esther’s Mom!

  2. Ruth Haupt permalink

    Marilyn, Dieter and I worshiped on line with you and your family for Don’s funeral. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know the Lord’s gift of your Don to His Family. I got the link from Ellen Lehenbauer and passed it on to your cousin Dr Ken Kosche and my sister Grace Weith Massey Purdy. God bless. Your Sister in Christ Ruth Weith Haupt

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