Sermon for Allen Petersen

I could use some of that bounce right about now.

I love being a Pastor. I didn’t know growing up that I was going to be a pastor, but I suppose God did. One of the joys of being a pastor is loving my congregation members so much; and I do love them a lot. One of the greatest heartaches of being a pastor is loving my congregation members and knowing some day they will die. I loved Allen, I still do. And I know I’m not the only one who does. So, forgive me for saying so, but I don’t want to be here today. I’m honored that I am, but I’d rather not. As I’ve talked to many people over the last few days about Allen, the consensus seemed to be that he was immortal; Allen was never going to die. But, here we are. And the truth is this: even if we were granted 100 years more with Allen, it would have never been enough. But, that was the kind of person Allen was. Whether you knew him for his 76 short years on this earth or if you only knew him for 76 seconds, your life is better because Allen was part of it. There are several holes left on earth because Allen is no longer here.

The Petersen family is left with a huge hole, this church is left with a huge hole, the Low Moor Lions are left with a huge hole, and many acres of Clinton county are left with huge holes. Allen was, in many ways, a gentle giant, finding his way into our hearts in a very unassuming yet enduring way. And our hearts are broken, our hearts are empty, and maybe even a bit confused. So, we come to this place today, to be with one another in our grief, to be with one another in our sorrows, to remember Allen, to laugh, to cry, to rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, and to dine at a heavenly banquet which is the foretaste of a feast that is to come.

Allen had a gift for hospitality. He probably didn’t call it that, but what he did was hospitality: he made people feel welcome. He didn’t know a stranger. He could and would strike up a conversation with anyone at any time at any place. He felt most at ease in the boat, in the field, with his family, or at the c-store. Allen loved to have his morning coffee at the c-store with friends. The crazy thing is, Allen didn’t drink coffee. But far be it from Allen to miss out on a good time. And he loved to have fun. He didn’t necessarily set out to be the life of the party, but he often was. There was just something about Allen that made you want to be around him. One of my very first and most memorable interactions with Allen was not too long into my time here. We had a funeral on a horribly icy day and someone slipped and fell on the ice (not Allen). The next Sunday, Allen came into church and I hollered out my window in my office to him “how are your buns?” Apparently he got such a kick out of that he even regaled that story to Dale.

Allen had a “Las Vegas” philosophy long before “Las Vegas did.” Because what ever happened in Canada, or the fishing boat, or in hot pursuit of a coyote, stayed there. And there are far too many stories that I’ve heard that included the line “we’re not telling Mom (or LaVonne) about this!” And, as I’ve found out in talking with many of you, there are several instances and stories where Allen came to your rescue. Perhaps it was getting a snake off a water pipe, gunning through snow drifts that were just a tad bit smaller than a mountain, or finding just the right fishing hole, Allen came to the rescue of many.

He had many roles in life. Of course he was a son and a brother. He was an integral part of our church family. And he was a driving force within the Lions Club. He had the life long curse of being a Cubs fan. But his most loved role in life, the things that gave him the most pride were being a husband to LaVonne, dad to Laurie, JoEllen, and Kristi, and of course, being grandpa and great grandpa. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that Allen loved doing more than spending time with family. Allen spent countless hours playing cards, picking raspberries, in the combine, and listening to Canadian geese jokes, all while being surrounded by his most prized possessions: his family.

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” This scripture was chosen because of Allen’s love of fishing, obviously. But, what I love about this scripture is that both times when Jesus called the disciples, they followed immediately. Without hesitation, they followed. Allen was called and claimed by Christ in his baptism. Allen did something strange for Allen, he put down his net and followed. Allen wasn’t an outspoken Christian, trying to convert you or anything. But, he lived his life with his faith as the cornerstone and base for everything he did. And if you were a friend or family member that spent the night with Allen and LaVonne, going to church was part of the deal (even if that meant wearing grandma’s shoes). He sang the hymns with gusto, he participated in Bible study, and his was my go-to guy at funerals. So many of Allen’s actions pointed to Christ. Even in the way he was a good steward of God’s land was a form of praise for Allen.

Most importantly, Allen was forgiven and loved. The same God that forgave and loved Allen loves you. The same Jesus that Allen knew died on the cross for him also died on the cross for you. One of the last visits I had with Allen, we took communion together. We surrounded his hospital bed and heard the promise in the words “this is the body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.” In these words we hear the promise of a Christ who died so that we may have life. We hear the words of forgiveness for any shortfalls we may have. We hear love. And in that moment, surrounded by Allen’s family, with the faint beeps of hospital machines in the background, we were at a holy feast. In that moment, in the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine, we were reminded that nothing, absolutely nothing, including death, can or will ever separate us from the love of God.

Think for a moment about the love that you had for Allen, or maybe about the love that Allen had for you. That love radiated from Christ through Allen and was only a small fraction of the love that God has for you. You, my brothers and sisters, are also loved by God. You have been called, claimed, and forgiven. No matter what you have done or not done, God will never ever stop loving you. Our God that we serve is a radical God. The God that we serve makes no sense because the God we serve loves without limits, forgives without consequences, and found you, me, Allen, all of us worthy of dying for. I know it’s hard to fathom this kind of love, but it really is the way that God feels about you. We are going to gather shortly around this table. And while it seems like a meager meal of bread and wine, it really will be a regal feast. It doesn’t matter if you’ve come to this table every week for years, or if you’ve been away for a while. This table and the promises of this table are for you.

Allen was one of the most selfless people I know. Even in death, he gave the gift of life through sight to others with his eye donation. I will miss you dearly, Allen. You helped me to be a better person. You helped me to be a better pastor. You helped me to be a better Christian. If I can be just a fraction of the person you were, I will live a good life. The hole you have left here will not easily be filled. I am selfish and want you here and I know I’m not the only one. What gives me comfort is leaning on the same God that loves you. What brings me relief is knowing your baptismal journey is complete and your heavenly home probably has the best fishing hole around. What brings me hope is knowing we will meet again; in the meal to come and in the promise of the resurrection. Well done, good and faithful servant.

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