Sermon: A Legacy of Care and Service

Friday, August 19, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Colleen Dubsky
Obituary • APHA Tribute
watch this service online (readings start around 22:09; sermon starts around 24:49)
image source

Readings:

Many years ago, when I was in college, I spent a couple of my summers working out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, near Ashland, NE. I had a friend at school named Nicole who had talked me into applying for a job there. I just worked as a regular old counselor – and then later as a “creative arts specialist” – but the job that Nicole got to do was totally fascinating to me. She worked as one of the camp’s small handful of wranglers. It was her job to help care for the camp’s horses. She spent time getting to know them and taught the campers to understand and appreciate them; she taught kids – and counselors! – the basics of riding, and she got to lead these amazing, long trail rides all over camp. 

I’d had very little experience with horses, but I loved animals and I was really interested to learn more. So one week, I asked Nicole if I could spend whatever time I could spare kind of job-shadowing her – helping her with horse-chores and getting some hands-on experience working with horses. In retrospect, it probably should have been more of a red flag to me from the minute I found out that her day started at 4am

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Sermon: A Heart of Compassion

Tuesday, July 26, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Connie Muhle • Obituary

Readings:

I never got the chance to meet Connie, but I have heard many of the stories about her, from Rick and Diane, and from others in the community who knew her well. And, reading through her beautifully written obituary, I’ve gotta say it’s really a shock that Rick’s sister would be remembered as a storyteller and a prankster who loved to make people laugh. 😜 Heh – it’s even more of a shock that this family would choose to celebrate Connie’s life by gathering around a table to share food and to share stories. (Just kidding. 😉) I get the strong sense that there’s a streak of good humor and a little bit of orneriness that runs deep in this family.

But above all, everything I have heard or read about Connie just glows with the love that so many had for her. She was a loving mother, grandmother, wife, sister, and friend – someone who showed up with enthusiasm to support the people she cared about.

I was especially moved by the stories about Connie’s deep love for animals. Her dedication to caring and advocating for the vulnerable and the voiceless is truly inspiring. She went to great lengths to protect those who could not defend themselves and did everything in her power to find loving homes for them. These stories speak volumes about what a kind heart she had, and what an extraordinary spirit of compassion.

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Sermon: Her Children Rise Up and Call Her Happy

Friday, December 3, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Marlene ZimaObituary
watch this service online (readings start around 28:30, sermon starts around 33:18)

Readings:

If you grabbed a bulletin for today’s service, one of the things you’ll notice is that, at the back, there is this wonderful, long collection of family stories about Marlene.  Believe it or not, this is actually the significantly edited down version.  When I met with Deb and Sue to go over plans for this service, Deb handed me this amazing, three page, single-spaced collection of stories – in a tiny font – that she had compiled about her mom.

There are so many stories, so many memories.  And what absolutely radiates from all of them is the profound love and admiration and pride that Marlene’s kids and grandkids and great-grandkids – and everyone whose life Marlene touched – all feel for her.  She was truly well-loved.

(This was one of the largest funerals over which I have ever presided; in addition to these lovely mementos, there were a veritable garden of floral arrangements and plants in the sanctuary)

And so it’s no surprise that one of the scriptures that Marlene’s kids chose for this day to remember her is this passage from Proverbs 31.  Many biblical scholars think that King Solomon actually wrote this passage about his mother!  This passage portrays a woman of strength and dignity, of wisdom and kindness, a woman who is honorable and hard-working and full of faith.

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Sermon: Living by Example

Friday, September 17, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Laverne SchmaleObituary
watch this service online (readings start around 27:12, sermon starts around 29:27)

Readings:

When I was a very young girl, growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I remember going to church with my family every Sunday.  My home congregation had a lot of youth and kids back then, and about once a month or so, we started our Sunday school time with an assembly.  All the kids, from the tiny preschoolers all the way up to the confirmation students, would gather together in the church basement for a short service before going to our classes.  

We sat in rows by class, from the youngest in front to the oldest in back.  And I remember being in about first or second grade (it was the last year of sitting in the tiny folding chairs before you graduated to the *adult size* folding chairs) – I remember turning around in my chair and craning my neck to try and see the older kids sitting aaaaall the way at the back of the fellowship hall.  They seemed so cool and wise and knowledgeable, those ninth graders.  They got to make the pancakes at the pancake feed; they got to run the hoses at the carwash fundraiser; they helped out with vacation bible school; they even got to light the candles on Sunday mornings.  So cool!  As a little girl, watching them, I learned from their example.  I saw all the things they got to do in the church, all the ways that they served – and I wanted to be just like them.

I remembered those Sunday school days as I was preparing for today.  Our first reading, from Philippians, is a passage that Laverne specifically wanted to be read at this service.  And as I heard more and more stories about her over the last week from the people who loved her and knew her best, I started to understand why – why she chose this passage.  The apostle Paul wrote these words in a letter to the young congregation in Philippi: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Follow my example, Paul is saying, and I will teach you how to live a good and faithful life.  

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Sermon: A Faithful Father from Generation to Generation

Tuesday, October 13, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Bob SvobodaObituary
watch this service online (readings and sermon start around 17:26)

Readings: Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 145: 3-4, 8-13, John 14:1-6

Bob Svoboda

One of the most powerful images of God that we see in our scripture readings for today is the image of God as our loving father.  And I honestly can’t think of anything more fitting for a day like this as we gather to say goodbye to our dear brother in Christ, Bob Svoboda.  The love that our Father has for his children was brightly reflected in the love that Bob had for his family.  

Bob was a faithful servant of the church and his country, and he was a dedicated farmer.  But as you look around at all the many – many –  photos and mementos that his family has brought, and listen to the wonderful stories that his family tells about him, what really shines through more than anything else is the love and pride that Bob felt for his kids, his grandkids, his great-grandkids, and his whole family.  He was so proud of all of you, and he was especially proud to be able to hand down the legacy of the family farm to a new generation.  He was proud to hand down a legacy of love and faith.

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Sermon: A Shepherd Shall Lead Us

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Funeral of Terry Pospisil
Svoboda North Chapel, Schuyler, NE
image source

When I was growing up, my best friends’ family had a farm just a few miles outside of our hometown.  And they raised sheep.  I spent a lot of time out at their farm, and sometimes I would get to help take care of the sheep.  There was, of course, the matter of making sure the sheep had water and enough to eat.  And, periodically, they would have to move the sheep from one pasture to another, to give them plenty of grass to munch on.  My friends’ parents would open gates and move around their electric fences.  And then we got to do the fun part: in the absence of sheepdogs, my friends and I would actually chase the sheep around, trying to get them to move from one enclosure to the other.  To me, at the time, it seemed like being a shepherd would be a really fun job!

But that is not at all what being a shepherd looked like thousands of years ago, when Psalm 23 was first written.  Back then, being a shepherd was a tough, dirty job.  There were no neatly fenced in pastures to keep their sheep in.  Instead, a shepherd wandered with his flock of sheep through the steep hills and rocky wilderness of ancient Palestine.  He stayed with his sheep night and day to protect them from predators.  And the sheep’s lives totally depended on their shepherd guiding them through rough places to find clean water and good pasture.  

That is the image of God that our psalmist is painting in Psalm 23.  God is like a good shepherd, willing to do anything to keep the sheep safe and fed.  And like a good shepherd who is willing to get his hands dirty, God stays with us, even in the hardest, messiest, most painful moments of our lives.  God is with us.  God never abandons us nor leaves us to our own devices; instead God wanders with us into the wilderness and helps guide us to places of safety and peace.

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Sermon: A Well-Lived Faith

Thursday, December 13, 2018
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Elaine Wolta
Romans 6:3-9     Psalm 23     Matthew 11:28-30

Psalm 23 is an old favorite psalm for many of us.  Of all the psalms it’s by far the most popular choice for funerals – and for good reason.  The image of God as a shepherd leading us is very comforting.  And the poetic reassurance that God is with us – even in the valley of the shadow of death – makes days like this one easier to bear.

But I think that Psalm 23 is a particularly fitting psalm for us to read today as we remember our dear sister Elaine – because, in many ways, Elaine perfectly embodied this psalm.

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Sermon: Lights on the Way

Monday, August 13, 2018
Funeral of Bill Swanda
Svoboda North Chapel, Schuyler, NE
cover image

Psalm 23
John 14:1-6

One summer, many years ago, I drove through a terrible, terrible storm.  It was the fourth of July.  My family and I had driven down to Norfolk, about an hour from my hometown, to go watch the fireworks.  The show ended up getting cut short by a tornado warning, so we decided to hightail it out of there to try to get out of the storm’s path.  By the time we finally got out on the highway, the rain was pouring down in thick sheets and the wind howled around us as it ripped through the darkness. It was pitch black and almost impossible to see anything, even the road.  It felt like all I could do just to keep my car between the fog lines.  But up ahead of me, I realized I could just make out two little red lights in the darkness – the taillights of my dad’s SUV. As I gripped the steering wheel of my car with white-knuckled hands, I kept my eyes on those lights and followed them all the way through the darkness to home and safety.

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