Meditation on Romans 8:31-39
In Memory of Karl Kraft
Oct. 25, 1929-April 7, 2023
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Pastor Karen Crawford
April 20, 2023
Karl and Ethel’s first date was a double date with her friend Betty Taylor going with a friend of Karl’s. They met at Jimmy Mullaly’s ice cream place for ice cream sundaes. Chocolate was Karl’s favorite flavor.
At the Lutheran church in Archbald, PA, where they sang in the choir, Betty had shown Karl a photo of Ethel. Ethel attended the Methodist church in Jermyn, PA.
Karl saw the photo of Ethel. He wanted to meet her.
She was 16. He was 18.
After their double date, Ethel’s mother had a long talk with her daughter, warned her against dating an older man. “Ethel May,” she said, “You are only in high school. You should go out with other young men. You should go to your dances.”
To make matters more complicated, he was also preparing to leave town to serve in the U.S. Air Force.
“I just met him,” Ethel says, “and now he was going.”
They wrote letters, and he visited her about twice a year, when he was home on furlough. She finished high school, worked as a buyer for children’s wear for Mr. Edelstein’s Globe Store, and she waited for Karl.
He signed up for three, but served four years when the country needed him. He learned and then taught radar, rising to the rank of Technical Sergeant. On his way home after being discharged from the Air Force, he interviewed with G.E. and I.B.M. and bought a diamond ring for Ethel.
He took the position with I.B.M., bought a Chevrolet, and married the woman of his dreams on June 20, 1953 at her Methodist church.
She was 21. He was 23, but looked much younger.
He was a man determined to do the right thing, a man who made plans and lived intentionally. Though he was a quiet man, he wasn’t afraid to speak up when he disagreed. For Karl, things were black and white. Right and wrong. Once he had made up his mind, he had made up his mind. He wasn’t going to change it.
He had learned to work hard from his parents, who grew their own fruit and vegetables in a large garden and raised chickens and turkeys to sell. It was Karl’s job to weed the garden after school and deliver chickens in a basket on the front of his bicycle. He worked other jobs, too. He pumped gas at a local station, and the boss liked him. He was bright and reliable. And didn’t talk too much.
After Ethel and Karl married, they moved 7 times in 6 years because of his job with I.B.M. He enjoyed his work as a salesman, but he treasured family time. Ethel and Karl had two children, 5 grandchildren, and 9 great grandchildren. Karl was curious and interested in whatever his children and grandchildren were interested in. He cheered on grandchildren playing sports and took them fishing and boating. Once he went horseback riding with his daughter, Debbie, and nearly fell off a cliff. Like his father, Karl planted a large garden to share with family and friends; he never forgot the importance of planting seeds, pulling weeds, and tending the garden of life. He had an artistic eye and a desire to make the world a more beautiful place. He had a workshop for woodworking and made stained glass lamps and angels. He could and would fix anything that was broken. He played golf and racquetball. He and Ethel took dancing lessons.
He enjoyed life’s simple pleasures, never turning down cookies or Carvel ice cream.
Every place he and Ethel moved, the first thing they did was find a church. They joined the First Presbyterian Church in Smithtown on June 4, 1959. I believe Reverend Case was the pastor at the time. Karl quickly became involved in many aspects of church life, serving with all his gifts and talents. He was always at the church, Ethel says. He never missed a meeting.
He was ordained and installed as a Deacon on March 10, 1961. He was ordained and installed as an Elder on 1/24/1965 and again on 6/25/1972, 1/14/1973, 6/1978, and 5/21/2000. He served on the Trustees beginning on 6/19/1995 and was the group’s president. He served on the building committee for the new Christian Education wing, dedicated in 1963. He served as treasurer of our congregation and taught Sunday School with Ethel. They served together as ushers—and his tie always matched Ethel’s outfits.
The language of separation in Romans 8 speaks to me, because we go through painful separations from our loved ones in this world, and they are especially difficult for couples who have been married a long time—and their love for one another has sustained them through their daily life.
I thought about the apostle Paul’s situation—of how for 10 years before writing this letter, he had traveled extensively sharing his hope in the Risen Savior, seeking to plant and build up faith communities. He experienced painful separations, including imprisonment, and said many goodbyes, not knowing if he would see his loved ones again. The overall message of Romans emphasizes the righteousness of God and our salvation in Christ, based on faith alone. This is the New Testament book that brought a moment of “awakening” to Martin Luther, in particular Romans 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith.”
This was an “Aha!” moment for the apostle Paul—that no matter what he had accomplished in his work for God, and no matter his failures before his conversion on the road to Damascus—all that mattered, ALL that mattered was God’s love for him.
What do we do now, dear friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one and those who are seeking to comfort and help those who are grieving? The faithful hold onto love and give their burdens to the Lord, acknowledging our need for God’s help. This is the One who, in that beautiful poem, Footprints in the Sand, has carried us through hard times, when we didn’t have the strength to walk on our own. The faithful cling to the love of God, which never ends. The very foundation of our lives is built on the love and grace of God, who IS our forever home.
I saw the grace of God at work in Karl and his family when I visited, especially on one occasion. A deacon named Joyce and I brought the elements of Communion to serve him and Ethel around their dining room table. This was a beautiful moment, when he experienced clarity and incredible lightness, instead of the horrible confusion and distress brought on by dementia that I saw on other occasions since then. That day, he remembered the Lord’s Prayer, with “trespasses,” from his childhood in Archbald, PA. He even joked around with Ethel, as if he were the 18-year-old man going off to serve in the Air Force and learn and teach radar, leaving the 16-year-old girl behind to wait for her love to come home.
The faithful honor our loved ones by doing good works that our gracious God has ordained for us—seeking to fix what is broken, tending the gardens of our lives, knowing the importance of planting seeds and pulling weeds, loving and serving God and neighbor, making the world a more beautiful place. And yes, enjoying life’s simple pleasures, never turning down cookies and Carvel ice cream.
Through all the separations we endure in this world—through the many painful goodbyes and seasons of grief when we feel that our heart is breaking—we cling to the love of a God willing to suffer so that nothing would ever come between us.
“ And I am convinced,” says the apostle Paul, “that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”