Today's Lectionary Text
Ephesians 6:1-3Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Last week marked a milestone that I had been anticipating and dreading for the past few decades.
I outlived my father.
First, let me say that I didn’t obsessively calculate the date and day of all this. I was born 6 ½ hours after my father’s 30th birthday, so the math came pretty easily.
William Jerome Burke – everybody called him Jerry – died at age 55 and about 8 ½ months – 30 years ago last week -- from a massive heart attack in his recliner in his family room in Beatrice, watching an NCAA basketball game. People talk about going out doing what they loved, and for dad, that was watching sports. My brother was there and tried to save him. I was there, on vacation while living in Illinois, but had gone to Kansas City to see friends for a few days and didn’t get back home to hear the news until about 11 or 11:30. All the lights in the house were on and my folks’ best friends were there. I got in the house, looked at them and said, “He’s gone?” and they nodded.
In the accompany picture is my dad, with my mom outside our church stand at the Days of ’49 carnival in Hanover. If you knew my dad, you’d know how rare it is to see him in a photo. He hated cameras and if forced into a picture would never smile. There is video of him that my cousins took of him trying to evade the camera with frustration growing until they shut it off. The fact that this photo was taken by the pastor’s wife is probably the only reason he stopped to pose for it.
My dad was a farm kid, with the family farm just three miles south of the state line. When he was in high school, he was encouraged by his pastor at the time, Rev. Paul Hett – whom I got to know during his retirement when I was in Parsons – to consider ministry. He went to Paul’s alma mater of Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa – a good four-hour drive. Dad decided he missed the farm and his parents – he was their only child – and left after one semester. But he kept friends from that one semester, some of whom he kept in contact with yearly. Throughout the rest of his life, whenever we passed a Methodist church, our car had to slow down to see the sign, so dad could see whether he knew the pastor.
Throughout his time as a member of the Hanover UMC, dad did everything – every board, every committee, every group. Before they were called Certified Lay Speakers or even pulpit supply, Dad got tapped by our minister the week before, asking if he would fill in the following Sunday. Going to church was never a debate for us. When I got my first job at age 16 and it involved working Sunday mornings, the hardest part was asking him if it was OK.
He was old school -- never demonstrative with us, never hugged and never said “I love you,” but showed it in being there for us when we needed it. We didn’t realize until he was gone how proud of us he was, and how much he bragged on my brother and I to our family and friends – so much so that at times he was told to quiet down sitting around the table with his buddies at our local cafe.
He got upset with my brother and I, but no more than I do at my daughter. I know I inherited his physical size and his sense of humor. Anything else would be open to interpretation.
I do know that I follow him in many ways. Since I’ve had this job, I slow the car down too when I pass a United Methodist Church to see if I know the pastor. The Hanover church closed a few years after Dad’s funeral, and it’s now a part of the playground of the K-12 public school next door.
The biggest regret I have is that he never got to meet his wonderful daughters-in-law nor his three fantastic grandchildren that he surely would have spoiled.
There are still a couple of retired pastors in the conference who remember him and some laity. After the ceremony to install Rev. Karen Rice Ratzlaff as Salina and Hutchinson district superintendent last fall, I was stopped by a man – after the bishop introduced me to the crowd -- who knew my father from EUB youth gatherings. The first thing he said to me was, “You’re Jerry’s boy, aren’t you?”
I smiled and said, “Yes, yes I am.” I strive in everything I do to please my father in heaven as well as my heavenly father.
Prayer for Reflection
Dear Lord, let us remember that we are the legacy of our parents, and our children are our legacy. Amen.
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