Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2102
Seeing the crowds, he [Jesus] went onto the mountain. And when he was seated his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them: How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth as inheritance. Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness: they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
He was rude and crude. Sarcasm laced nearly every sentence, and he is among the most cynical people I have known.
“Money, it’s all about money,” he shouted when we talked about the wars and conflicts going on around us. “They’re fighting about money!” and then he’d swear again.
His name was Bob Koepp. Bob was the logistics coordinator in the Lutheran World Federation World Service office in Nairobi, Kenya, during the 1990s. He organized food convoys, dozens of trucks long, and sent them off on southern Sudan’s dirt roads with the hope they wouldn’t get confiscated by government troops.
He also ran a mini-airline of six or seven C-130s flying each day from Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya, to a half dozen cities and towns in Somalia, carrying food and supplies to refugees scattered around north east Africa—who were starving to death at alarming rates.
From his dingy office, this blustery, obese, diabetic man with a heart ready to blow its third and final infarction kept hundreds of thousands of people alive. You could admire him, as long as you didn’t get too close to his tirades.
I hadn’t thought of him in years, but conversation with a couple of our confirmation students brings him to mind.
Bob wasn’t a nice guy. He wasn’t pleasant or all that friendly, although he had his moments. But he certainly was a saint. He gave himself to the mission of Christ in the world.
He may have believed that money is the only real human motivation, but his life contradicted his own cynical view. He worked tirelessly to feed people much of the world was trying to ignore, and he certainly wasn’t getting rich doing it.
I will be thinking of Bob during the next couple of weeks as 18 of our youth affirm their faith. They will make bold promises to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to serve all people, following Jesus example, and to strive for justice in peace.
The following week we will celebrate All Saints Day, remembering and giving thanks for those saints in our lives who lived the love of Christ and graced our path, showing us how to live.
Normally, we think being Christian somehow involves ‘being nice’ to people, as more than one confirmands’ final essay suggested. Most often, we think of saints, whether the great ones of history or our own saints—grandmothers, uncles and neighbors—as ‘nice people.’
There is truth there. This past weekend we celebrated the lives of two remarkable people who have left us and entered the perpetual light of God’s love. Both were ‘nice’ I suppose. Their souls carried enough of the love of God to move us to awareness that we are special--loved, treasured and safely held in a Love who will never let us go.
God’s saints do that. They are transparent to the Love that transcends us all. They tell us we are wanted and wonderful. They convince our doubting hearts that we are marvelous, for they see the beauty and grace, strength and goodness in us that we fail to notice, and downplay when we do.
For years, I have tried to fill a great hole in my heart, and I have understood ministry as finding and filling that aching hole in the hearts of others, so that it may be filled with the love that transcends every expectation we have, a love so great that it withstands anything life might throw at us.
Our saints give us that.
But they also move us beyond ourselves to go and live the wonder of love and knowledge, skill and warmth that is in us, for the world badly needs it.
The mission of the church, our mission, moves us beyond merely being nice, beyond merely saying we believe certain things and beyond ourselves.
The saints shows us the passionate love of God we most need--and then point to the world’s crying need, which is why on All Saints Day I will light several candles, one in thanks for Bob Koepp.
Pr. David L. Miller