Today was the funeral of our beloved former visitation pastor, Clarence Solberg. I didn't preach, but I wrote a few words that I shared at the funeral. Here they are:
A year ago at Christmas I was making a visit to my friend and colleague Pastor Clarence Solberg and his wife Jeannette. I will tell you that sometimes there was a challenge when I would go to the Masonic Home. the challenge would be to find them, as they did not stay put much. They might be playing Bingo (which Clarence often won), they might be joining a sing-a-long, they might simply be out in the front lobby, where Pastor Clarence liked to shake hands and greet everyone he met. This day, however, they were across from the chapel, sitting at a little round table.
Since it was almost Christmas eve, I decided to read from Luke 2. For some reason, I had brought my confirmation Bible, the OLD Revised Standard Version, that day, and as soon as I started to read, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled" -- Pastor Solberg began reciting right along with me. Once in awhile he would drop out for just a few words, but he would come right back with the next phrase, all the way to the end of the Christmas story. He was especially strong whenever I came to the phrase about the b aby, "wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
All of those many years, repeating that story again and again, had gotten the words of Luke, chapter 2 deep into his heart. All of those years telling the story to his many congregations meant that he knew the story by heart. "God is with us."
That wasn't the only thing he knew by heart of course. Sometimes he would recite the words of institution with me, or raise his hands and say the words of the benediction. "The Lord bless you and keep you/the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you/the Lord look upon you with favor/and give you peace." He was such a pastor; he lived and breathed his vocation, and knew it by heart. His calling was to speak the Word, and those words were deep within him.
Memory work has fallen on hard times these days, but I can't help thinking how important it is to know things by heart: the verses of a song, a piece of scripture -- who we are. Clarence Solberg knew who he was -- he was a pastor, he knew it by heart. (Of course he wasn't just a pastor, he was also a husband, father, grandfather, and proud owner of Toyotas). I heard someone say that he tried his hand at farming -- he was even good at it. But he wasn't a farmer. He was a pastor. He could be opinionated: he let me know on a few occasions when he disagreed with me (just a few!). And I remember early on that he told me he wasn't quite convinced about women pastors, "but you're ok", he said. I think he finally came to the conclusion that the most important thing was to preach the gospel. Gender: not so much.
Pastor Clarence and I shared a fair amount of funeral ministry, so I can't help thinking that some of the words that we have heard -- and will hear -- were some of the most dear to him. "When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death." "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear." Saying them again and again, he came to know them by heart.
By heart: it's also how many of us know Clarence. We know him by heart. There are many stories we could share. I hope we do. Memory work has fallen on hard times these days, but we know how important it is to know "by heart" -- not just words, but to know one another "by heart". It is, after all, how God knows us.
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill to all."