Steve died. He was just about 50. He was married and had four children, ranging from one still quite young to the one ready to start college in the fall. Steve was a lawyer, but his work didn’t define him. What defined Steve’s life was coaching sports for his kids and all of their friends. What defined Steve was volunteering to help children find a new “normal” in programs like Rainbow Kids. What defined Steve’s life was actually talking to his kids and watching movies with them and just being Dad. And Steve loved his dear wife of so many years. And then one morning, without warning, young Steve’s heart stopped working. Steve died.
The funeral service was a few days later. The eldest son spoke eloquently on behalf of the children. Of the many, many men in the congregation, few had dry eyes. We didn’t know how that young man felt, but we could see our own sons, or we could remember our own fathers. Steve’s sister spoke. She began by telling us that she wished she could tell us about how much Steve enjoyed seeing his children graduate from college; sharing their wedding day joy; coaching his grandchildren’s teams. But, of course, she could not. And the many, many women in the congregation joined the many, many men in weeping for the shared moments that would not be.
The pastor spoke next and he began with a story of his own life. You see, as it happened, the pastor’s father died when the pastor was a young boy. So it was that he could relate to the children “I know how you feel.” In speaking with the pastor’s wife after the service, she related what people in “compassion work” know: one of the last things you want to say to a grieving person is, “I know how you feel” unless, of course, you do. And the pastor did know, and his message for the children was simple and profound: your father’s early death will change your life forever, but, you will grow into someone unique and treasured, because of who your father was.
I marvel at this: God’s design is not that Steve should die young, but that when Steve dies young, his family would be a part of a faith community led by a pastor who could say to Steve’ children, “I know how you feel.” A sermon, we believe, is the Spirit speaking through imperfect preachers God’s perfect message for God’s children. You could say it was happenstance, but I say it is providential that God brought this preacher to this family at this moment to let them know, God knows how you feel. “Jesus wept.”