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It helps when you’re already dead…

That title sounds like it could be the opening line to a vampire novel. Sorry, I’m not going to talk about sparkly hunks and hotties with purple eyes. But, it does help when you’re already dead.

The past two weeks have been more intense than usual in my life. Two Wednesdays ago my senior pastor called me into his office to inform me that he was flying to Pittsburgh that afternoon to be with his ailing father. That meant I would be handling the up front Pastoral duties. If I were actually left “in charge” as many liked to say during the past two weeks, then that would have been frightening on many levels. I was not in charge, nor should a pastor ever feel that way about the calling of Pastor. That said, I was left with greater tasks and responsibilities–leading the Vespers services, adding another sermon (making it three weeks in a row) working with our worship director to plan services, etc. Not too big of a deal.

The part I didn’t anticipate was another death. No one ever does, of course. Odd though. Last month when Mark was on vacation we had a sudden death of a man in his 50’s who was very well loved in the community. It happened again. I had just settled in to work on two papers that were due the next day for school, and the phone rang. “Can you come to the house, the hospice nurse said this might be it.” I went. We prayed. The next morning a husband and father of three young adults passed away. And we were off to the races.

The weekend went like this. Saturday — help the women set up for the Woman’s event in the morning, counseling session, sermon prep, two-hour family funeral meeting, more sermon prep, Saturday night service, Mission team meeting. Got there at 8am, left at 8pm. One day done.

Sunday – three services, three sermons, high school youth group, Adult Education class. Got there at 7am, left at 8pm.

Monday – class at Luther, study, phone calling and emailing for funeral prep, student/administration “listening session” to discuss the demise of the PhD program at Luther Seminary (they are either eliminating or suspending the PhD program due to a financial crisis, which means I may not be able to work with the profs I want to complete my degree program). left the house at 7am, got home at 7:30pm.

Tuesday – write a funeral sermon, lead a painful and sad funeral where over 300 people packed into our worship center and fellowship hall, admin at the office, home to write a paper.

Throughout all of this people kept asking, “how are you holding up? How are you able to do this?” I have two answers for that. First, it is because I didn’t do it all. We have a fantastic team of staff, both paid and volunteer, that make things happen, and do it with a smile.

Second, it helps when you are already dead. There was a time in my ministry life when this would have absolutely freaked me out. That’s because I thought it really mattered how I “performed.” Was I up to the task? Would I let people down? What are people thinking about me? My time in Las Vegas was a gift. It was painful and everything fell apart, and I died.

Like I said, it helps when you are already dead. The Apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Lutherans like to call this “walking wet” or living within our baptismal identity. I keep coming back to the Overflow prayer that I penned so many years ago and it has taken so many painful years to realize–Kill me, Fill me, Spill me. Every day we must wake up and die. Then we can ask, “OK, Lord, what’s your adventure for me today?”

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot more dying to do. I still get stressed and bothered, but, these past two weeks God allowed me to deliver all the sermons and turn in all the papers, and Pastor Mark was able to be with his father when he passed away.

I am thankful that I get to walk this road with Jesus one more day, and that I get to walk it with some pretty great people called Grace.

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