So often when I am allowed the privilege to sit and be with a family who is mourning, I often only ask one question that gets the conversation rolling and then I just sit and listen. It’s part therapy, part sermon help (honestly). And the question I asked the Petersen family was like others I had asked before: tell me about Augie. I’ve known Augie for the last year or so, but I wanted to know the Augie they knew. And as I have been processing through my own grief for a member of this congregation that I loved, I thought how I wanted to describe Augie. And as I sat in my staircase of the home I live in, crying, I looked up and saw this [put up vase]. This is exactly what it looks like: flowers (from Dollar General, Augie would later tell me) in a used wine bottle.
See, as pastor of this wonderful congregation, I have the awesome responsibility of being the resident and caretaker of the home next door. And although the parsonage isn’t our home, per say, my husband and I treat it like it is our home. And the first time I toured the parsonage, every room had an Augie touch; I know this because I was told it. “Augie thought we needed an extra light there, so he put one there….. Augie made that shelf there …. Augie did this and Augie did that.” The entire time all I kept thinking was “who is this Augie guy?!?” And as we climbed the staircase to the second floor we stopped about halfway up. The staircase is curved, wooden and beautiful. My tour guide pointed out a space in the wall between a bedroom and the stairs to the attic. The space was about 6 inches or so. And in the space, was this flower arrangement. “Augie thought we needed a little something there” I was told. And it’s been there ever since. So when I think about Augie, I think about how he made everything and everyone better. He made things more beautiful. He took spaces, places, and people that other people would ignore or dismiss and he would give it attention; genuine attention.
Augie never stopped moving. At all. There was always something to be done, something to be planted, something to be trimmed, something to be weeded, something to be fixed, something to be fed, someone to teach, something to haul, something to mend, something to paint (or not), something to dig, to tend, to mow, to water, to bail, to build… there was always something to do. And if, by some miracle, he ran out of things to do, he could always refer back to his “to-do” list. Most days, Augie rose before Jesus most mornings and didn’t stop moving until late at night. After moving into town, he would show up at the farm by 5:30 or so, often, literally, running from place to place. When I asked about Augie’s parenting style and who was the disciplinarian, the kids all looked confused–not because they were perfect angels but because they were always too busy to get into trouble. And if you weren’t working or if you weren’t doing the jobs on your Augie-written list, you might get the infamous Augie whistle.
Even after he moved to town, farming never really left his blood; I don’t know that it really leaves anyone who farms. So he kept busy with gardening either in his own yard or the garden of a family member. He was, in all ways, an honorary master gardener. He would go to Theisen’s and take the plants that were 75-90% off, practically dead, and take them home and nurse them back to life. He made things better. He made things beautiful. If, for some reason, you didn’t know Augie, he wouldn’t have had it that way for long. He never knew a stranger. He made friends while sitting on a bench at the state fair all the way to the checkout lane at Lowe’s in Texas. Often telemarketers would have to hang up him (after, of course, giving a weather and crop report).
He never complained, no matter how things got. Stage 4 bone cancer isn’t anything to mess with. The pain that Augie was in, especially his last few days, were quite evident in his face. But when you asked “how are you feeling” it was always “oh…pretty good.” He was a stubborn German. He was an avid canasta card shark, awesome story embellisher, funny with names or a quip here and there, and could have been a wheaties poster boy. He liked to do things his own way and while he wasn’t always detailed oriented, he kept trying. And if you caught Augie on the morning that a new load of cattle came in, you might have thought that he was greeting Jesus himself.
I could go on and on about his love for Earlene. A blind date turned into years of wedded bliss, 5 children, memories to last a lifetime, and a dedication of two people to one another that took the vows of “in sickness and in health” seriously. Augie was by Earlene’s side when she was sick, playing the role of nursemaid and finally getting a taste of what it takes to upkeep a household and many of you probably saw Earlene care for Augie as he declined in these last few weeks. And while some of us may say “what extraordinary care” really, it was just they way they both are. He made everything around him better and more beautiful. He made me better. He made us all better.
Just like everything else, Augie’s faith was something he was in to completely–100%. There was hardly a Sunday that I didn’t see him, sitting in that last pew in the back. He loved listening to the music but didn’t sing himself. He was a big fan of the Gaither singers and the Petersen family singers, however. At family gatherings he was the one always leading prayer. He wasn’t one to sit with an open Bible, reading, and having devotions. But, he always enjoyed hearing the recording from the congregation where Brice works and he would read my sermons as he no longer could make it to church. There was never any doubt that Augie knew what the future held for him. Many times in the last few months he would say “I’m ready to go home.” Or “I’m ready for the Lord to come and get me.” And often he would say “I’m talking with my Lord” and it didn’t matter where he was, he knew he could talk with “his Lord” and that “his Lord” was listening. It seems appropriate that, fueled by the Holy Spirit, one of the last things he did was sing a few lines from “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” If that’s not a witness to God’s love and grace not only for Augie, but for us all, I don’t know what is.
The Lord prepared a place for Augie and he has prepared a place for me and for you. The promise made in the waters of baptism are just as real for Augie today as they were 80 years ago. It did kind of feel like he crammed 100 years into his 80 years of living, but God was with him through every step. Augie was loved. That seems like an understatement. And although it’s hard to imagine, the best way to talk about God’s love is to talk about Augie’s love. Think of the love that you had for him or that he had for you. Do you feel that? Do you feel the warmth in your heart thinking about Augie? The feeling that you get is just a fraction of how God feels about you! See, for all the bad stuff in the world, for all the cancer, for all the suffering, for all of the death, there is one solution: Jesus Christ. And nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ–nothing, ever. Not even death. And while it’s true that there is a time for everything, God knows when our time will be for everything. God’s time is different from our time because God always has our best interest at heart. We wanted more time; we wanted more laughs; we wanted more forgotten or made up names; we wanted less pain; we wanted another chance to say “I love you” even if that isn’t like us. What we get instead is a promise. We get the promise of a resurrection given by Jesus himself on the cross. We get the promise of the forgiveness of our sins. We get the promise that our life in this world will be nothing compared to our lives in the world to come. And we get the promise that we will see our loved ones again in the land of milk and honey. Heaven awaits, friends. For you and for me.
Now, I should probably end this sermon. We have a million and one things to do today.