Tag Archives: Pastor Keith Fry

Pastor Keith does it again

Nearly 6 years ago I wrote a post about how Pastor Keith helped us through our father’s death and I shared the amazing sermon he gave at my father’s funeral. I’m here now to let you know that he did it again, this time at my mother’s memorial service. We were not entirely sure this would be possible because Pastor Keith moved from my mother’s church to a different church, but since Mom was so fond of Pastor Keith and she’d never met the interim pastor at her church until she was on hospice care, Kevin and I (mostly Kevin) made sure Pastor Keith was able to be involved.

A few days before the memorial service Pastor Keith called to get some ideas for the sermon. We talked about mom’s qualities, about her illness, about her friends, about Kevin’s upcoming wedding. I also shared with Pastor Keith the dream I had the night my mother died.

Without further comment, here’s his sermon:

Funeral Sermon for Patricia Ann Patrick (February 16, 1936–August 26, 2016)
Texts: John 14:1–4 and Romans 8:18–21
Preached: September 9, 2016 at Moss-Norris Funeral Home, St. Charles, Illinois

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, in whose house are many, many rooms, and from Christ Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us. AMEN

I’m grateful to Pat Patrick’s family, and to Pr. Michael Rothaar, for inviting me to participate in this service for Pat Patrick this evening. I was Pat’s pastor for five years, and she holds a special place in my heart. Pat was the only parishioner I’ve had, and I suspect will be the only parishioner I ever will have, who invariably as she was leaving worship on a Sunday morning would bow her head in front of me as she was leaving the service and… would kiss my ring. I don’t know for sure how that started, but she did it week in and week out. Someone a couple of years ago noticed her doing this, and privately afterwards said, “Pastor, do you think that’s a sign of the Alzheimer’s?” And I had to laugh and say, “No, no, not at all, she was doing that long before that became an issue! That’s just Pat.” And even after her mind became clouded, she never failed to kiss my ring, and then would smile sweetly and somewhat slyly at me. There was a delightful, childlike quality about her, an almost pixie-like quality, that enabled her to look at the world with wonder, and to laugh that infectious laugh, and to get away with some slightly goofy behaviors that only she could get away with. You can see that delight in the photos of her as a young woman—still a girl, really—as she looks up adoringly at Elvin as he embraces her. Even when she went through trying times across the years, through difficulties and challenges and losses, she still kept that air of eagerness, that spirit of amazed wonderment.

Earlier this week, Pat’s daughter Dona shared with me an experience she had the night of Pat’s death that I think in some way captures that quality. Dona had finally gone to bed that night, sleeping near Pat’s bed, knowing that the end of this life was not far off. As she slept, Dona began to dream. And in her dream, she saw Pat get up out of bed, all dressed in white. There were windows all around. It wasn’t Kevin’s house, but some other place. And in the dream, Pat kept heading toward the windows, drawn like a moth to a flame. She would get up close to a window, and would stand with her hands behind her back like a child who has been told not to touch something very precious, standing up on her tiptoes, straining delightedly, expectantly to see what there was on the other side of the glass, as though there were something of great beauty and fascination to be seen that she couldn’t quite make out. She went from window to window, trying to get a clearer view. Others in the dream kept coming and trying to tug Pat back to her bed, but she couldn’t be held back…she kept going back to the window to stand on tiptoes. Finally, someone took hold of her and pushed her into Dona’s arms, but not even that could keep her from the irresistible attraction of the sight she was straining to see. And suddenly, she broke free from Dona’s grasp, and instantly was transformed into sparkles of light. And at that moment, Dona awoke, and Kevin told her that their mom was gone.

When I heard that account, I was immediately reminded of some verses of scripture, actually verses that come just before the very same passage that Pr. Rothaar read a few moments ago from the Letter to the Romans. This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to people who were going through profoundly difficult struggles in their lives, people who were being persecuted and even killed, people who needed to hear a word of hope and encouragement, people who were unsure about what might lie in store for them. And in the verses that we heard, there is that stirring affirmation that not even death itself, not even life itself, can hold us back from the love that God shows to us in Christ Jesus. Those are amazing words to hear. We can have confidence in them. But now I want you to hear what Paul had to say just before those words. These verses come from another translation that I think captures something very important, and it’s why what Dona had to say caught my attention. Listen to them:

18-21 In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! (Romans 8:18–21, J.B. Phillips Version)

“The whole creation is on tiptoe…” Most translations give a very dry, “The creation waits with eager longing,” but the original Greek word there is actually very picturesque, describing the whole head being stretched forward, trying to see something wonderful that is about to come. And that is what I pictured when I heard Dona describe her mother in that dream, darting from window to window, standing on tiptoe, hands behind her back, craning to peek into those rooms Christ has prepared to see the wonderful sight of the future God has planned for her and for us. As the children of God, we need have no fear of death, because we have the incredible assurance that death is not the end, that there is resurrection life that will be even more wonderful than anything we’ve experienced so far, when “the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” We can approach even our own mortality with expectancy and hope.

Now I can’t tell you exactly what lies just the other side of the glass. Scripture says that right now we see only in a darkened, obscure way, only catching a pale reflection of the glory that will be. But Jesus often gives us word pictures of what God’s fully realized reign will look like, as did the prophets before him, and one of my favorite images is of a wedding banquet, a great feast where there is joy and laughter, where there is plenty for all, where the wine flows freely and the food is abundant, where all those who have struggled, all those who have experienced sorrow and crying, all those who have suffered in body or mind, will be brought in as welcome guests to enjoy the fullness that God has intended for each of us from the very beginning of creation, brought to sit at the banqueting table in their rightful places as beloved children and heirs of God.

I couldn’t help thinking of that picture on this evening, knowing that tomorrow Kevin and Connie, along with some of the same folks gathered in this room tonight to mourn, will be feasting and dancing as they celebrate their marriage to one another at their own wedding banquet. Yes, it’s a contrast, but I think it’s a beautiful expression of a very deep truth: Even in our profoundest sorrow, we can stand on tiptoe, eagerly awaiting joy. And as I picture Pat standing at the window, up on her tiptoes, I think maybe what she was glimpsing was that great marriage feast that will have no end, where she will join with all those claimed by God as God’s own beloved children, completely restored in body, completely restored in mind, sorrows forgotten, tears dried, and infectious laughter ringing out in wondering delight at the magnificent gift of life and freedom that is hers as a daughter of God claimed by Christ Jesus in baptism. And I picture her bowing her head and kissing in gratitude the hand of the one who has invited her to the feast, then looking up and smiling that sweet smile. And that, sisters and brothers, is very, very Good News. Thanks be to God. AMEN

Pastor Keith

Pastor Keith Fry
Pastor Keith Fry of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL

Most of you know by now that my father died in October. I’m not ready to talk about that here, if ever. What I want to talk about, instead, is an incredible man I met in September, but got to know much better in October.

Pastor Keith Fry is the pastor of my mom’s church, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois. Mom only recently started going to this church, finally giving into her friends’ invitations to attend. I think she’s gone to this church just over a year.

I liked Pastor Keith as soon as I met him in September at my mom’s book group where they discussed Take this Bread by Sara Miles. I met him again the following Sunday when I attended church with my mom. His sermon mentioned someone he’d discussed at the book group — a friend he’d made in Washington DC who had nothing, yet gave him a gift. That tipped me off that this man was a man to whom connections were important.

When, three weeks ago, my mom’s church friends alerted Pastor Keith that my dad was on life support and in critical condition at St. Joesph hospital, he made a trip to the hospital that night. By then my mom and brother had left — knowing that there was little they could do for Dad and they both needed a good night’s sleep in order to have a clear mind to make whatever decisions needed to be made in the coming days. I’m sure Pastor Keith prayed over/for/about my father and for my mom for strength. He probably also got information from the nursing staff on Dad’s condition.

He showed up on Tuesday morning as well, this time offering support by way of prayer and information. He asked a few questions about our family — he really didn’t know Mom that well — so wanted to know if we had other siblings, what we did for a living, how many kids we had, where we lived, etc. None of what we told him was of any use, really, but, as I mentioned earlier, Pastor Keith is a man to whom connections are important. He wanted to know us in order to connect. At least, that’s what I think he was doing.

On Wednesday and Thursday he was always a phone call away and on Thursday evening my brother called him to tell him that we’d need his support on Friday morning.

I’m not sure what we would have done without Pastor Keith’s support on Friday morning. He was a calm presence the room. He was knowledgeable about the process. He was there when we needed him, but it was not as if there was a stranger in the room with us — more like a dear friend. Most of all, he assured us we were doing the right thing.

All the while we were together, Pastor Keith must have been taking mental notes. He was storing our words, actions, and stories in a file in his head. I know this because he gave the most touching funeral sermon I’ve ever heard — taking what he’d observed the past week, what he’d heard from us the past week, and what he’d seen in a slideshow I posted on Facebook (yes, Pastor Keith is on Facebook). If there is a prize for funeral sermons, this one is a sure winner. It is posted after the break if you want to read it.

One of the memories I shared with Pastor Keith that morning was my vision of Heaven: When my Uncle Don died when I was 6 years old I couldn’t really process it until President Kennedy was assassinated. Then I wondered if they’d meet in Heaven. I pictured Uncle Don and President Kennedy sitting at a table drinking beer. As more and more people that I knew or admired died, they joined the table. If you read the sermon, you’ll see that Pastor Keith really listened.

Unfortunately I don’t have the gift of listening that Pastor Keith possesses. I’d like to tell you more about him, but all I know for sure is that he grew up in Texas, the son of a Baptist minister. He has siblings — maybe 3 or 4? He used to be in publishing, but about 5 years ago decided to go to Seminary. My mom’s church is his first congregation. They love him (I know, I read it on Facebook). I think I love him too.

Sermon: Elvin Patrick Funeral
Texts: Isaiah 25 and John 11
Preached: October 26, 2010 at CTL

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from Christ Jesus, who is resurrection and life.  AMEN

I’m one of those strange people who has always been fascinated by other people’s family photos.  As I watched the slide show of the pictures of Elvin that Dona put together and posted on Facebook, and then again at the funeral home last evening, I saw glimpses of a life.  A young man in a Navy uniform embracing an even younger Patricia whom he had recently met at the Moose Lodge as they stand in front of a car that was old even then, with Patricia looking adoringly at him.  A middle-aged man building a fence around the backyard… perhaps to shield from the neighbors’ view the orphaned washing machines he had brought home to work on.  A young father holding his children Dona and Kevin, and then a grandfather gently holding sleeping grandchildren, or playing with them on walkie-talkies, or playing Santa.  A tall man posing with his shorter brother-in-law Don in their Doberman t-shirts, just having a good time for the camera.  A man in a somewhat grubby bathrobe tinkering in the garage, clearly a guy who could fix just about anything.  A Depression-era boy standing in stiff pose with the farm folk not so very far from here.  A middle-aged man loading up a rusted-out van—the same van, I learned last evening, that was used to carry Christmas gifts for the Moose Lodge to be given to needy children.  A 12- or 13-year old boy standing proudly in a suit and tie with his confirmation class in the Covenant church in Lily Lake, having just affirmed the promise of his baptism, that I believe took place in that same church.

Now, more linear folks, or those with more time available, might have sequenced those pictures in chronological order, starting with the little boy on the dangerous-looking tricycle, and ending with the older man sitting in his easy chair.  But you know, I loved the fact that the pictures were in totally random order, because that’s the way our memories really work, isn’t it?  Past and present get all mixed together and blended.  Things that happened 50 years ago can seem as though they were moments ago, and yet we can’t remember whether we had breakfast this morning.  In later years, Elvin’s memories had become more confused, and often blurry.  82 years can really pack in a lot of memories.  The older memories sometimes are the ones that come most easily, though…and often they are the sweetest.

In looking at those pictures, I was struck by how many of them were taken at banquets and parties.  Wedding banquets, with Elvin dancing with his wife, or his daughter, or daughter-in-law.  A 25th-anniversary banquet with a beautiful cake on the table waiting to be sliced.  Backyard barbeques with grills smoking and Old Style flowing.  Moose picnics with gingham tablecloths fluttering and an Oscar-Meyer Weiner mobile standing at the ready.  Family holiday gatherings with rich food and bottles of wine and a peppermint pig about to be hammered to bits.  And some sort of gathering where everybody is wearing slightly goofy—OK, totally goofy—paper crowns.  You can explain that one to me later.  But feasting and partying and enjoying life and relationships…those things jumped out at me as I looked at Elvin’s memories, at the memories that you share with him.

The reading from Isaiah that we heard Andrew read a few moments ago tells us that God is all about banqueting.  In that beautiful passage, we hear that the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples on his holy mountain a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  That banquet is the vision that God gives to us of our future.  That feast is God’s plan for us, God’s desire for us.  God delights in throwing us a party.  It’s a feast where all the hurts of this life that have caused us pain, all those things that bring tears to our eyes, will be wiped away.  All those things that we’ve been ashamed of will be taken away, removed from our sight, wiped from our memory and from God’s.  It actually says that God himself will wipe those tears away from our cheeks.  And at that banquet, it says that the shroud that covers us, the sheet that blocks our vision and clouds our minds, that mortality that causes our bodies and minds to age and weaken, will be ripped away.  Death itself will be destroyed.  And we will feast, feasting beyond our imagining.

Elvin is already enjoying that feast.  His mind is clear once more, any pains of this life removed, any tears that might have flowed dried by God’s own hand as gently as Kevin wiped a tear from his father’s face as he breathed his last breath.  And no paper crown for Elvin, because he has now been crowned with God’s faithful love and mercy.  That’s just how God is.  You see, God’s memory is long, and God’s memory is sure and certain.  God remembers the child that God claimed in baptism all those years ago, God remembers that adolescent boy who was confirmed and sealed with God’s own Spirit, and as we lay Elvin to rest this morning in the cemetery just yards away from the church where those things happened, we have the assurance that God has welcomed Elvin to the feast that does not end, and that God will welcome us, as well.

In a few moments, we will gather at this table to taste and see the goodness of God.  As we gather, we come for a foretaste of the great banquet that Elvin already enjoys.  At this table, we join in that rich feast, surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses who already see God face to face.  We come remembering the good things that God has done throughout history, but we come also remembering the good gifts that God has given to each of us.  We come giving thanks that God remembers God’s promises.  We come with gratitude that God’s memory of our failings is wiped out.  We come in our sorrow to allow God to wipe away our tears.  We come with thankfulness for our brother Elvin’s life.  We come with joy, remembering God’s promises that death itself has been destroyed and that we can enjoy life that has no end.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN