I need to add Bruce to my list. Bruce was one of Beaven’s mentors at Channel 8. He was an integral part of our family, not just because he was one of Beaven’s best friends but because he solved the Panama Canal problem for us. And not just once—three times. I’ll get to that later.
I wrote a little pew sermon Sunday. It was easy enough to do. I walked into the sanctuary and got a good look at the pulpit supply—a beloved former pastor (we are between pastors right now) who is about 85 years old. I doubted I was going to get a barn-burner of a sermon that day and expected some down time for my brain. And it was All Saints Day—a day of reflection and remembrance -- so I was going to be safe reflecting and remembering whether I did it with my ears or with my pen.
After a rousing chorus of “For All the Saints”, with tears still fresh, I settled into my pew and picked up a pen and started a list. It was just a list. A list of all the saints I’ve known in my life. The dear departed who have touched my life, people I’ve known both in church and outside.
And the list was my sermon. I worked on it for the next hour, off and on when I wasn't standing, singing or reciting something. I ended up with about 35 names and posted them to facebook. As I expected, friends then added people I had forgotten. Then added some of their own. And the list grew.
By the definition I heard most often recently, a saint does not have to be a “good” person, what we think of as “saintly.” All they have to do is express the belief in Jesus Christ. That’s it. That’s all. By that definition just about anyone you bump into in church qualifies.
Some deaths hit us harder. Some lives touch us more deeply.
First on the list was Ron Schmidt. A recent addition—only last year—but a guy who touched my life deeply. A quiet mentor who taught me to do the right thing at the right time and in the right way. A steward of our church buildings who was so deeply dependable that at his funeral I realized that for the first time since I joined the church in 1977, I didn’t know who had turned on the lights. All the other times I knew it had been Ron.
Roland Adams, stood up in a meeting where the budget was tight and we were going to have to cut a staff position. It was close to midnight on December 19th and he was clearly in agony and, when someone tried to hurry us along, he stopped us. “This is not easy for me. Roger is my friend.”
Joy, who declared in another budget meeting that “This church has never failed when it stepped out in faith.”
Robert, whom I never got to know well because he was taken far too young, only a week after his 16th birthday. I didn’t get to attend his funeral because by the time I got there the crowd had already spilled out of the church and onto the sidewalk outside. But Robert had just come home from a youth retreat that summer with a fresh faith. I learned more about faith from stories of him than I did from a lot of people who talked a lot and used a lot of words.
Art Douglas who loved to pass out candy to kids coming into the sanctuary, who was buried with peppermints in his pocket.
Dick Kueser who left us one of the best stories I’ve ever heard, that I’ve used countless times, of how to minister to strangers without using words. A story of how simple it can be when you have a pocket cross with you and show someone a kindness.
People who over and over again pointed me to Christ. Who sometimes took me by the hand and led me there when I couldn’t see the way myself.
The real blessing wasn’t so much the individual people but that there were so many. That God led me to such a great cloud of witnesses. That I have been surrounded by a whole family of people who loved God and loved me. And sometimes we made a little band together, a circle; where, if one of us had trouble standing, we could move close together help each other stand.
That’s what Bruce did for us with the Panama Canal math problem.
Elizabeth was first faced with the problem in pre-Algebra. It was one of those word problems where a train was traveling somewhere at a certain speed while a boat was going through the Panama Canal at a different rate of speed or something like that. Beaven struggled with it all night until he called Bruce who was a mathematical genius. Bruce solved it for them. And he not only solved the problem, he talked Beaven and Elizabeth through it, helping them to understand the solution. Then, a couple of years later she had the same exact problem again in Algebra II and the minute she and Beaven recognized it they called Bruce because they had, of course, forgotten the solution. Bruce solved it again. Then, two years later, Emily ran into it when she took Algebra We saved the solution that time and we may still have it here in the house somewhere waiting for our grandkids.
Bruce’s legacy will live on. That's the way of the saints.