As I write to you this first day of September, news of two deaths is reverberating within me: the death last week of a spiritual mentor, Bill Smith of Luther Seminary, and the death of Peace member Ken Nordsletten early this morning.
I met Bill my senior year at seminary when I enrolled in his pastoral care class. He was the only professor I’ve ever had who gave away his power by handing out his complete lecture notes so we could be freed up from note-taking and pay attention at the deeper level to what he was trying to teach us. Outside of class Bill met with us in small groups to introduce us to a way of praying that could undergird our lives and ministries. For years Bill and his wife Anita would rise early and after sharing the Eucharist together would recall the names of all Bill’s students—both past and current—looking with Christ at each of them and their families and interceding for them as a way to enter each day. Bill has been a spiritual anchor for me through difficult times and a man who embodied God’s grace more fully than any one else I have known. The intercessory version of the Lord’s Prayer he taught attends all my prayers for you, dear friends. Bill’s humble, compassionate approach to life has touched the lives of generations of seminarians and church leaders. Soli Deo Gloria!
Our brother Ken Nordsletten left us so quickly—his quiet, steady, and faithful presence at Peace will be missed greatly! We extend our love and care to Marge and Ken’s family. Never comfortable in the limelight, Ken was nonetheless involved in significant ways in ministry at Peace and in the larger community—particularly through the Millionair Club. When I found out about his talent with wood, he became a “go-to” guy on various projects, including, in recent years, the candle boxes we use regularly in worship; the two credence tables which hold our communion elements each week and are used for baptisms and memorial services; the Fair Trade products shelf, and most recently the library cart which keeps our church library circulating. All these were projects Ken undertook willingly at the request of myself and others. But the Psalmodikan, which resides in the glass case in the narthex, was Ken’s idea. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, find it in the narthex and read about this unique instrument and the place it held in worship for a generation of Christians.) He thought that even while the church continued to evolve new modes of worship and liturgy, we ought to maintain a connection to our heritage.
After learning about his terminal condition less than two weeks ago, Ken arrived quickly at the place where he could say: I’m ready to go…God’s will be done. He looked forward to his reunions with loved ones and his Lord. Would that all of us receive the gift of such a confident faith in the Word and promises of God! When we celebrated Holy Communion in the hospital for what became his final time I used the home communion kit he was commissioned by my wife Chris to make for me.
Danish hymnwriter Nikolai Grundtvig, whose life is commemorated on September 2, wrote hymns which have shaped the faith life of Christians for over a century: Built on a Rock, O Day Full of Grace, Bright & Glorious is the Sky, are among them. The single stanza of his hymn God’s Word is Our Great Heritage (above) is a bold affirmation of faith in the one thing that will outlive all our earthly lives: the Word of God. As we begin a new fall let us re-center our lives around the “life that truly is life,” celebrating with joy lives of faith which have shaped our own, and the opportunities we have been given to share Christ Jesus, God’s living Word, with the world.
Your fellow servant,
INTERCESSORY LORD’S PRAYERFather, may your name be hallowed in the lives of each of these, your children. Reign over them with your loving sovereignty. Move, guide, and direct their wills until they are conformed to your will. Give them this day holy gifts of your choosing as the bread of life. Let them receive your forgiving love, that they might bear that love to others. Guard and keep them in temptation, save them in times of trial, protect them from every evil power. Fill them with gratitude and thanksgiving, knowing that you reign over all and in all, and that to you belong all power and glory, now and forever. Amen.