The house of God is meant for story-telling, the ultimate, of course, being the one that gives us all the hope we desperately need to hear this morning: about the God Whose love is so overwhelmingly deep that not even death can contain it. Nevertheless, all of us come into this place with all kinds of stories about Bill: as a fire-fighter, as a farm equipment mechanic, baseball coach, even as a young boy, but most importantly as a husband, a father, and grandfather; memories we hold so dear to our heart that make this day all the more difficult to bear.
And yet, even in a matter of three years I got to experience first-hand how much Bill mastered the fine art of story-telling: the constant eye contact, the perfect facial expressions, and even, perhaps, the too much detail, including of those from the Korean War that his whole family got to know by heart after being forced to hear them hundreds of times on end.
However, sometimes the best stories that encapsulate a person are the ones that take hardly any time at all to tell. You see, here at St. John's, Bill often served as an usher; but he went above and beyond the bare essentials of passing the offering plate and handing out bulletins. To this day people continue to tell how much they appreciated that soon after they got out of their car they would be met by Bill Fleisher and his unleashing of the warmest and strongest of hugs. It may not seem like a big deal: a simple placement of your arms around another person. But for people who come to this place with emotions all over the map: sadness, frustration, anger, guilt, and even happiness and joy; no matter what, you'd be welcomed, you'd be shown compassion by Bill Fleisher. I would like to think that's exactly what Jesus would prefer to happen for all His children who ever walked through those entrance doors.
And all of you did so today. You came with a wide variety of emotions: sadness over losing a beloved friend, frustration that cancer continues to rear its ugly head and anger that it feels as if no progress has been made against the deadly disease. Perhaps there is even some guilt that we didn't make enough of an effort to reach out to him this past year. And yet what all of us felt in that regard, his family has felt ten-fold since last January. Nevertheless, when you walked through those entrance doors, or even last night at the funeral home, you were met with the strongest and warmest of hugs from Janis, Tess, Scott, and Matt. Not even death can contain the insurmountable power of love for family and friends.
It makes me think of how Bill would tell me of another struggle he had to endure in recent years. It was called Meniere's disease, which is more debilitating than vertigo with everything spinning around you for hours on end, among other symptoms. Nevertheless, no matter how painful, no matter how excruciating, Bill would tell me time and time again, "I'd rather take it than for Janis to have to deal with it or the rest of my family." It doesn't make much logical sense (diseases don't work that way), but in the end, I don't think that kind of love is supposed to make sense.
No sermon can explain it. Not even 1 Corinthians 13 that we just heard can truly describe the power of love. You can't quite make people realize why you love a country so much to go fight overseas like Bill bravely did in the Korean War. You can't quite help people understand why you would volunteer your time to serve as a fire-fighter for decades, ready to get up in the middle of the night and walk into terrifying blazes. You just can't make us mere mortals understand a passion for farm machinery to the point that if a nail was completely torn off from your finger you just keep on going about your job. Finally, even after fifty-six years of marriage, you still can't quite put into words how precious the memories all the way from the start as high school sweethearts to raising three wonderful children and being blessed with two remarkable grandchildren. Janis, you have lost a husband who absolutely adored you, to be sure, but also a friend that you shared countless laughs with, and a tremendous comrade on this journey we call life.
And towards the end it was by no means easy for you. It wasn't easy for any of you: Tess, Rick, Scott, Lisa, Matt, Kristi, Amber and Kayla. You endured an immense struggle to say the least. Nevertheless, no matter how painful, no matter how excruciating, his sense of humor with all of you never faltered. And his undying passionate love for each of you never wavered. For you, his children, Tess, Scott, and Matt: be firmly assured that each time he spoke of you there was this marvelous pride at how each of you have turned into amazing people. And I feel like I can speak for everyone in this room that we come together as your family and friends in utter thankfulness for how your father impacted your life: for shaping you as caring spouses and loving parents and aunts and uncles, not to mention the most dedicated of workers. But let us also not forget Kayla and Amber: your grandfather cherished every moment he had with you: from the fairs to the sporting events to the simple, but precious times at his home. There's just something special about grandchildren that again we can't do full justice with words. It seems like only hugs can do that.
But for all of you: Janis, Tess, Rick, Scott, Lisa, Matt, Kristi, Amber, Kayla, and Ted, I only ask you never stop telling his story: the stories that make you laugh, and the ones that make you cry; just a little connection to the man whom you loved, who will make you hug each other all the more closely now.
After all, there is a little something to be said for Bill hugging as an usher in this place. You see, there is the promise that our Lord and Savior will walk alongside us from the valley of the shadow of death into the Kingdom that is prepared for all of God's children. I think that journey in the next life all begins with a hug, with tears streaming down our faces out of sadness and relief and of joy. However, this hug will be different. This one will remind us that Jesus had us in a divine arm-lock all along, and would never let us go throughout this life, and not even in death. But before those divine arms are released from around our shoulders to point us to the light on the other side of the darkest valley, He will boldly say with the utmost sincerity, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done, indeed." And so for the sacred honor, for the blessed privilege to witness first-hand Bill's unbelievable service to his country, to Baroda, to his church, to his family, for that love that not even death can stop, we give thanks to our God of everlasting life indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon