A House Eternal in the Heavens

Meditation on John 14:18-27

In Memory of Michael C. Turrell

Aug. 22, 1937-May 13, 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford   

July 30, 202 

    Michael Turrell could fix, make or do anything.

    He rebuilt the garage from the ground up. In his career, he worked as an electrical engineer for an elevator company. But his favorite place was his shop in the basement of his Hempstead home.

   For Michael, every tool had its use, and every tool had a special place on the pegboard in his shop. There was no question where the tool belonged; he painted an outline of each on the pegboard.

     You could say that he had special gifts.

    He could put back everything into the box that it came in, with every part in its niche.

    He was one of those people who loved his work so much, it wasn’t work. When he retired from the elevator company, he didn’t retire. He continued working as a consultant.

    His engineering career followed four years of service and electrical training in the U.S. Navy, not long after his high school graduation—Malverne High, Class of ‘56. He graduated with high honors in industrial education. Some will remember that he was the one who built the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for school drama productions.

     He was a logical man, not overly emotional. He planned every project carefully. He measured twice before he cut once.

     What a great challenge it must have been when he and his wife, Anne, divorced in the 1970s. Though they remained friendly over the years and spent some holidays together, he had full custody of their two young daughters—10-year-old Desiree and 5-year-old Linn. He was “flummoxed,” Linn says. “He didn’t know what to do.”

     But the good-natured, sweet man threw himself into the task of primary caregiver and provider, raising the girls with all his heart, mind and might. They learned through his example to live by the Golden Rule—to treat others as they wanted to be treated. To be nice—as his nickname was “Nicky Nice Guy.” And he taught them practical living skills, such as how to change the oil in their cars.

    “He was my hero,” Linn says.

     That made his illness, his 10-year decline with dementia until he no longer knew his loved ones—all the much harder, when the roles were reversed. Their father, who had been the strong, faithful single parent for his daughters for so many years became the one who needed their tender care.

***

   In our reading in the gospel of John, Jesus urges his disciples to not be anxious or afraid when he leaves them. He is preparing them for his death on a cross. He offers his peace to them and to us, a peace not like the world gives. The Apostle Paul picks up that theme of peace in his letter to the Romans, reminding us that we have a peace with God in Christ that cannot be taken away. It isn’t a fleeting feeling that comes and goes if we are happy or sad or overwhelmed by the troubles of this world. This is a perfect peace made by a loving and gracious God who sought us while we were yet sinners and made a way for us to come back home to him when we couldn’t make a way for ourselves.

    This is a God who seeks us still and will never stop pursuing us. A God who holds us firmly in the grasp of his hand.

     This is a God who uses hardship and pain to shape and mold our character and work his mysterious purposes. The apostle boasts in his afflictions because they will produce endurance, character, and hope in him. He reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter whom Christ promised to his disciples. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us helps us remain faithful in difficult times, but also pours love into our hearts so that we may bear witness to the One whose love is unconditional, everlasting and inclusive of all people.

      Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a time and a purpose for everything that happens in our lives on earth. Nothing is random or left to chance.  My favorite line of this familiar passage that inspired the popular song by the Byrds in 1965 is the assurance that God has placed in each of us a sense of our past and future with Him. We have “eternity in our hearts.” This space made by God in us can only be filled by the Lord, the only One who knows our beginning and end and all the days in between.

     We spend so much of our time searching for happiness and pursuing things that don’t matter for eternity. And we know that, deep down, the writer of Ecclesiastes is correct when he says it’s all “a chasing after the wind.” But he acknowledges that in our busy lives, God wants us to find happiness in simple, ordinary things as long as we don’t pursue these things and our happiness as if these are our main purpose for existence. The source of all good gifts is our God, whom we are called to gratefully serve. The Lord has given us, says Ecclesiastes, “food, drink, and that we should take pleasure in all our toil.” This is the work we choose for our life—how we make a living—and the good works God chooses for us, such as caring for our loved ones as parents, grandparents, husbands and wives, and children of aging parents in their time of need.

     “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus says with tenderness for those who have left their families and former occupations to follow him.

   “I am coming to you,” he says, speaking of his promise of return for the Church—for us.

     “In a little while the world will no longer see me,” he says, “but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

    This is the promise of our new, resurrected lives with him who is risen from the dead—and that new life begins right here in this world. Today!

      Though I never had the opportunity to meet Michael Turrell, in my imagination, I can see the man who could fix or make anything, the one who rebuilt his garage from the ground up and painted the outlines of his tools on a pegboard in his basement workshop.

     I can imagine him now in the joy that Christ has prepared for all of us. He is dwelling in a “house not made with human hands,” which the apostle Paul, who made his living as a tentmaker, talked about.

     In this “earthly tent” we live in, our fragile human bodies are vulnerable to sickness and disease, suffering and sorrow. But we have a house that lies beyond the everyday, busy-ness of this world. We have a house eternal in the heavens. 

     God, who has placed eternity in our hearts and has made a space for himself in each of us, has given us a deep longing, as the apostle Paul says so poetically, for what is mortal in us to be swallowed up by life.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for creating us in love, for love, and pouring your love into our hearts by the Holy Spirt. Bless all who are caregivers, especially those caring for aging parents. Comfort and heal us in our sorrow. Strengthen us in difficult times. Stop us when we pursue the wind instead of doing your good works that matter for all eternity. Give us a vision for what lies beyond this earthly tent we live in and the everyday busyness of this world. Grant us faith in our house not built with human hands, a house eternal in the heavens.  Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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