Believe!

Reflection on John 14

In Memory of Richard Engel

October 3, 1941–November 29, 2022

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 1, 2022

I met Richard at a party.

I guess that’s a funny way for a pastor to begin a funeral meditation, but Richard had a great sense of humor, and I know he wouldn’t mind my starting that way.

You know how parties often end up in the kitchen, even though the host is trying to get everyone out of the kitchen so they can prepare and serve the food?

Well, the party was the end of the choir year shindig. The choir director and members of the bell and voice choirs had come with their significant others, as well as the pastor. It was outdoors on a Long Island spring evening. Yes, you guessed it. As the evening went on, the wind started to whip up. Before too long, it was cold. And I am wearing summer clothes because it had been hot earlier in the day.

Richard and I and a few others came inside to get warm. Into an increasingly crowded kitchen. We sat at a little table together, eating chips and other delicious appetizers. We talked and laughed. About what, I don’t recall. At the end of the evening, I felt like I had gotten to know him, and I wanted to know him more, especially because I knew he was Trudy’s beloved husband! And that he was struggling with a serious illness. He came to the party anyway that night because he didn’t want to let Trudy down. He didn’t want to give in to the illness, which drained him of his strength. He came to the choir party because he loved the people Trudy loved. He wanted to show his support for her church involvement.

Trudy and Richard had met on a blind date when she was 14. They went to Bar Beach in Nassau County with another couple. They had a second date. And that was it. They were smitten. They married on Sept. 1, 1962, at Community Congregational Church in New Hyde Park.

Trudy told me that Richard had been a cop. She said it proudly. He had also worked as a draftsman, and for a greenhouse, and had delivered newspapers. He was a hard worker! Dedicated. Community minded.

He was also a musician—playing flute in parades and playing the accordion when he was a child at Carnegie Hall.

He joined the police department and went to the police academy in 1967 on the advice of a friend, a fellow draftsman, who was also applying to serve as a police officer. Richard wanted to provide for his family, and he wanted to help people. He cared about people. He joined on July 13, which is meaningful to the family now because it was the birthday of their granddaughter who passed away suddenly, tragically, at age 29. He retired on their daughter, Debbie’s birthday– June 2, 1992, after 25 years on the Force. He worked in the 2nd Precinct, the 4th Precinct, and the Marine Bureau. He took many courses with the Marine Bureau.

But he wasn’t a stereotypical cop portrayed on TV crime dramas.  He was a family man. He was a good provider, not just financially; he was emotionally supportive. He was a good listener.  He was there for his wife and kids—and he was there for his grandkids. He enjoyed being a chauffeur for the grandchildren’s sports’ activities. He was humble, patient, loyal, honest, forgiving—but he could be stubborn.

He was funny. He had a way of telling stories and you would believe his stories, though they weren’t true. Not a word.

His sense of humor strengthened him through the hard times. He joked around with the medical professionals. He introduced Trudy to all the medical people as his bride. “My Bride,” became Trudy’s nickname, she said, though they had been married 60 years.

He was proud of her.

He took time to care for his own health—so that he could be there for his family. He hated not being able to be active. He hated being tired, he told me that night at the party. Up until the beginning of last month, he went swimming 3 times a week at LA Fitness.

He battled his illnesses bravely. He persevered, in spite of the many hospitalizations and treatments—good news and hopeful progress, then disappointments and more struggle.

When medical treatments were failing, and it was time for Richard to begin the journey home to the Lord, he wanted to leave the hospital and go home to his family. Trudy and her son and daughter went home and prepared a place for him, moving furniture out to make room for a rented hospital bed. All the details were important, down to having the right size sheets to fit the bed.

They knew he would only have a few days more with them, at most. They wanted him to be comfortable, happy, peaceful, not in pain—and they wanted to be with him, to make sure that all his needs were met—not just to care for his body, but to give him emotional support, like he had always given them when they needed it. They didn’t have a few days. His home was only a brief stop on his way to heaven.

And this is what I think it means when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them—for all of us. He is concerned for all the details—for all our needs. And he isn’t going to leave us alone—not in this world, not in the world to come. We don’t have to wonder the way to get there or how it will happen, though Jesus doesn’t mind the questions. He encourages thoughtful questions. Look how he patiently answers Thomas, who just can’t get his head around Jesus’s news to them – that he is going home to be with God, that he is going to die.

We don’t have to worry. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” he says, more than once, to his faithful followers. All you have to do is BELIEVE and let your BELIEVING guide your life. Believe in God. Believe in the Son and the promise of everlasting life. If you know Jesus, he said, you have seen the Father! God is love.

Christ is going to return to us and take us home with him, so that where he is, we may be, also. His preparing a place for us required that he suffer and die for us—but he did it willingly, obediently, knowing it was all part of the Father’s plan.

The place where we are going is mysterious to us now. We can’t imagine it, not really, our life when we are living with new, resurrected bodies with Christ. Most of the time, we aren’t thinking about God and Jesus and the world to come. We are worrying about all the problems of today and responding to them, thinking how we can help support and provide for our loved ones in every way.

There’s something so much more than our day- to-day experiences. When we believe, we can see the Kingdom of God through glimpses in this world that the Lord allows us to see, moments that are kind of like a lifting of a veil. Maybe you have experienced these God moments—just when you needed one.

There was a moment like that for Trudy, not long ago—during one of his recent hospitalizations. He suddenly turned to Trudy, his bride of 60 years, and from his hospital bed asked, “Will you marry me?”

She said, “Of course!”

He would be pleased to know that today, hearing his story, some of us will vow to spend more time with our loved ones, take care of our health and well-being so that we can care for others, and to not take ourselves too seriously.

He would be happy to hear us laughing, telling stories, and sharing food. He would be glad that his passing has stirred a coming together of family and a wide circle of his friends, many of whom don’t know each other well.  He would be pleased to hear the stories about him, even if they aren’t all completely true, as long as they are funny. He would be glad to know how he touched our lives in powerful ways and will be remembered with joy and love.

When you think about it, laughter is the opposite of what Jesus tells his disciples not to do—when he says, “Don’t worry. Let not your hearts be troubled.” When you are laughing, you aren’t worried. You aren’t anxious.

Laughter is a sign of a spiritual gift from the Lord, with us now in Spirit, as he promised. Friends, let us remember that gift—and that the joy of the Lord is our strength!

Jesus says we know the way to our heavenly home, though we might have many questions, like Thomas. Christ assures us that he is the way– believing in his work for our sakes, reaching out to him in prayer, seeking to follow in his footsteps. But it struck me this time reading this familiar, beautiful gospel passage. He is also the actual mode of transportation, much like Richard enjoyed being the chauffeur for his grandchildren.

 “For I will come again,” he says, “and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Believe, dear friends. Live in love, as Christ calls us to do. Live in peace, a gift from the Lord meant to be shared.

 “Peace I leave with you,” he says. “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

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 Minnie, a toy poodle.

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