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Memorial Service for Dr. Don McPherson

I first met Don back in 2003 when I became a member of St. Paul’s. At that time, Don and Connie were working on pictures for a new church directory. Don mentioned he was looking for someone to teach about the church’s web site. I told Don I would like to learn. Don took me under his wing and gave me classes at church on how to build and maintain the web site. Between the two of us, we started to revamp the church’s website. Then Don wanted to try to video tape Pastor Frey’s sermons and include them on the web site. Without Don’s devotion to the web site, it would not have happened. Everything that I do to the web site I owe to Don for the time he took to show me how to do it. Don, you will be truly missed. Thanks for everything you taught me.

 



1931 - 2008

Luke 15:11-24

Memorial Service for Dr. Don McPherson

Memorial Service for Dr. Don McPherson

8-21-08

Oh, how much like us this younger son was! As his son by birth, his Father had provided him with a very good life. But he threw it all away, for this child was selfish and self-centered. He was not satisfied with the life his Father had given him, nor did he have the patience to wait for his Father to die that he might receive his inheritance. Instead he demanded that his Father give it to him now!

In comparison, we too are sons, sons of God, that is, through Holy Baptism. As such we have a beautiful inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade away, St. Paul declares, for it is reserved for us in heaven. Yet in the fashion of this younger son we don’t always have the patience to wait for our inheritance either. Instead, we selfish, self-centered sinners want - no, more than that, demand that God, give us the good life now, while we’re still living here on earth. Yet we’re not always convinced that he will. And so, again, in the fashion of this younger son we are quick to run away from him that we might indulge in the sinful ways of this world, convinced that that will give us a better life.

And now, here’s the surprising thing. Even as the father in Jesus’ parable did his son, so our Father is also willing to let us go for the time. That’s right. He puts us on a leash of sorts and let’s us wander away from him some distance into sin. But this he does only so that we might experience firsthand the mess we make of our lives when we sin. For this is how he wakes us up and shows us how truly blessed we are to be his sons.

At least that’s what happened to this son. I guess feeding pigs has a way of doing that. So he returns to his father, but not as the same person he was when he left. Clearly his misery has humbled him. You can hear it in his own words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son (not that he ever was). Make me like one of your hired servants.”

Of course his Father would hear none of it. You see, the relationship God established with us through Holy Baptism never changes from his perspective. He is our Father; we his children in Christ, and in his love for his children he desires to give us our inheritance. What does change, however, is how we view our relationship with him. In fact, that changes constantly- indeed, daily- due to sin.

But by this parable Jesus wants us to know that God is merciful; that he may let us go our way into sin at times, but, as I said, only so that we come to realize how sin hurts us; how it makes a complete mess of our life here and threatens us with eternal damnation in hell. Then when we, by God’s grace wake up to this reality, when we repent of our sin and return to him humbled by our experiences, he does what the Father in this parable did. He welcomes us back unconditionally as his sons and heirs.

But how can a holy God, who threatens to punish all sinners, do this, you ask. I’ll tell you how. First off, he punished his only-begotten Son, Jesus, in our stead, so that we could be forgiven. Then he applied his forgiveness to us in the Bath of our Baptism, so that we would be forgiven and become his sons in Christ. Now if we are sons, then we are also heirs, St. Paul explains- heirs with Christ of everlasting life in heaven. That is why our heavenly Father forgives us when we repent, why he receives us back as sons and then invites us as sons to celebrate with him, in joyful thanksgiving the Feast of Christ’s true Body and true Blood.

But good as this all sounds, is it really true? Is God really so gracious as to forgive us when we repent of our sin? If he were able to speak to us today- and in a certain way perhaps he is, Don would answer both questions with a resounding, “Yes!” From a spiritual perspective, here was a man who by his own admission had wasted much of his life. But the fear of an approaching death caused him to reassess his priorities. So he stopped by this church one day, where we talked for a couple of hours, mostly about what he was and even more was not looking for in a church. And through the course of this conversation it became apparent to me that he probably wouldn’t like our church at all. But he came the next Sunday anyway, and the Sunday after that, and so it continued, until his failing health forced him to leave the area.

Later on, when I questioned him about this, he told me the reason why he did. It was because he had never heard the Gospel in the way this Church presents it. Oh, he had heard about Jesus before this of course, but here it was all about Jesus and the forgiveness he won and desired to give to him a man, who again in his own words, could never live up to God standards. Time and again, he would express his amazement over how full and free God’s forgiveness in Christ appeared to be. And eventually the Holy Spirit convicted Don of this, so that by the time he left, no longer was he saying, “I hope God forgives me as you say he does,” but instead, “It’s wonderful how God forgives me and will welcome me in heaven when I die.”

Dear Christians, Don’s story is an encouraging one for all of us prodigal sons who far too often run away from our heavenly Father in pursuit of sin, for it reminds us that God really is merciful, and as he once did for Don, so he now also does for us. The fact that we are here today is evidence of this. He leads us to repentance after we sin and then welcomes us back into his family and to the Feast he serves his family at his Altar.

And it is this grace of God, this deep and undeserved love that our Father in heaven has for us and displayed to us in his Son Jesus that gives us all the comfort we need today. Let’s face it. Death is as frightening to us as it was to Don, because what it did to Don, it will also someday do to us. But rest assured! For us who were baptized into Christ and now faithfully feast on Christ, the promise of God is sure. We will die, but only so that we can live. We will leave our loved ones on earth, but only so that we can be with all the blessed saints in heaven. Our bodies will decay and return to dust someday, but only to be raised and glorified; then reunited with Christ and with all the sons of God to live a blessed life that has no end.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why Don Joined St Paul's

These are the reasons I am glad to be a member of this Congregation.
When I was a kid, my religious experience was varied and spotty. Mom thought the British rightfully lorded it over those northern savages, the Scots. Dad believed the only good idea to come out of Britain was Hadrian's Wall. Mom was Methodist, of course. Just as rightly so, Dad was Presbyterian. So, for reasons I never figured out, the family usually went to a Congregational church. My religious legacy as a child consists of a few vague, but pleasant, memories of being taken to some sort of Christian church. Despite all the variety, something did stick, and I am grateful for that.

My high school years were spent in a military school. [I have never really been able to figure that one out either.] Non-denominational church attendance was required, of course. The best I came up with out of all varied experience in religious matters was that I was "supposed to be some sort of Christian."

I didn't think about the details very much, if at all, until years later. Fortunately, by their fine example, two great ladies brought me to membership in St. Paul's Evangelical-Lutheran Church. It was a very long road, however, and neither could possibly know what good they have done me.

First there was Evelyn. My "experimentation" in making a living has been quite varied: Market Research Analyst, Systems Analyst, Computer Programmer, Graduate Student leading into 2/3rds of a law degree, Adult Education Instructor and University Adjunct Faculty, Private First Class, College Professor, Education Director for competing information societies (fortunately not at the same time), Computer Department Manager, Graduate Student (again?) and Graduate Student Assistant (had to eat), Computer Instructor, Computer Applications Consultant, College Instructor, budding (I hope) Web Site Designer, and (now that I am in academic retirement) amateur union negotiations consultant. People who research such things claim the average person follows 13 different career paths during their lives. I'm at least two over my quota, but there will no doubt be more "experiments' in making my way - God willing I get the necessary time. Early on in our marriage, the variety in my work made Evelyn very nervous.

At the frenzied peek of this vocational maelstrom, Ferris State College (now Ferris State University) called my Graduate Advisor in 1962 to learn if he could recommend someone with enough computer and teaching experience to handle programming and information processing courses at Ferris School of Business Administration? With his recommendation, I became the first computer teacher at Ferris. My Advisor first had to persuade me that I could "easily" finish my degree by commuting between Big Rapids, Michigan and Detroit. I, in turn had to persuade my then brand new wife, that life in Big Rapids would be great! All we had to do was sell our brand new house, just furnished, and pack up her dad and two teenage daughters and go. I have never been that persuasive since!

It was great in Big Rapids, but the frenzied pace we set getting on top of the job, providing a home for Evelyn's nearly grown daughters and her father, building a house in Big Rapids, and my weekly trips to Detroit in pursuit of that Graduate degree made everybody very nervous. Alas . . ., the frenetic pace continued throughout the fourteen years of our marriage. She made a serious effort to straighten me out. She tried to bring her own considerable good influence to bear on our lives and, also, an occasional demonstrations of "normal behavior" for me to consider. The most important of these occurred when we joined the St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Big Rapids. But, over time I pressed my luck too far. Evelyn and I are no longer married

After about four years of stirring things up pretty much on my own, Jackie came into my life. She has been my second model of excellent behavior for nearly 30 years. Unfortunately, wanting to be closer to her daughter [at least that's what she told me], she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio a few years ago. Of course there was that other time she spent three years in Saudi Arabia working for the King. . . Well anyway, when I visit, Jackie sees to it that I am properly turned out to accompany her to her (Lutheran) church nearby. Unfortunately, I must admit, when on my own I was not in the habit of going to anybody's church. Fortunately, in very recent years, that has changed.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time looking for all sorts of things One of the more important has been a nice place to live. I have found that the Belleville area is a nice place to live, but it took a very long time for me to get here. I first encountered Belleville in 1948 when I stopped in town for lunch with some friends. While I have always thought since that the town, and its beautiful surroundings, were "very nice place", I never imagined that I would ever live in the area. Yet, when I had the opportunity to move to yet one more nice place back in 1983, I did think of Belleville. I'm very glad I did. Here I am, and here I have been since - a very good move indeed.

I made a couple of other good moves in the past two years. I have thought a bit about mortality and immortality. It was depressing. I am just about out of mortality and there were no prospects whatever on the immortality side of the ledger. I began to wonder how I got so lucky to get this far, so easily, with so little merit. I thought about far better men and women I have known now long gone. Why was I still here enjoying life without having done much to earn the privilege? These were unsettling thoughts and to make matters worse there was this growing sense that time was surely running out. Now I'm not inclined to live with regret over what I have not, can not, or would not. Still, I believed that something very important was missing? What? Some sort of church? Perhaps. Maybe - even - God?

I was now occasionally experimenting; going to church on my own - looking. Looking for what? Didn't know exactly! While I was unsure of the process, I kept at it. Eventually I found St. Paul's Evangelical-Lutheran Church. My church!

What had I been really searching for? God - no doubt about it! While over the years I have often been very close, I have not seen Him clearly. I had been missing God! When I started to think about this more clearly, I began to see that I was still alive was indeed very lucky. I could still do something about that.

But exactly what was it that I would do? It was the middle of the year 2000, and I still hadn't figured out that part. I hadn't found St. Paul's yet.

I sampled churches as far as Ann Arbor, but I always felt out of place. Now the fault is as much mine as any I'm sure, but there seemed to be too much evidence of competition; show; and little substance in the churches I visited. At the same time, I never thought a moment about St. Paul's. I didn't know about St. Paul's, but I should have!. In the nearly 20 years I have lived in the Belleville area, I must have passed this church at least a thousand times, but I never paid any attention to it, whatever!

For some reason, that changed in November, 2000. One weekday, late in the month, I decided to see if there was someone at the Church I might talk to about oh you know - about relevant matters. As I parked the car I saw a man in pastoral garb bidding a lady good by at the side door of the Church. Now that's a nice touch in this phony, first name basis, me first world, I thought. This man is enough of a gentleman to see a lady (properly) to the door. The man, it turned out was James Frey, Pastor of St. Paul's. Now perhaps I should not give him too much credit. The lady was his wife, after all. However the notion this could be a civilized place did stick in my mind.

I found Pastor Frey to be a most credible young man who brokered no nonsense on matters religious! He is refreshingly honest. He's candid and convincing. I was impressed. He is a man I could respect!

After a fairly long and probing discussion, on both sides, Pastor Frey showed me around his church. The main Building was constructed in 1976. The Narthex, a Classroom - Office wing, and an Activity Hall were added 1995. "This is a very nice Church." thought I!

It has all the impact such places are supposed to have without being pretentious. It is a large building, but intimate. Nice! St. Paul's has the air of being alive and building, but not yet quite reaching its destiny - whatever that was to be. I felt that this church would probably have down to earth and genuinely decent people in its congregation. That notion appealed to me enormously [and - I have since learned that it was a pretty good guess on my part]. I have become desperately tired of swimming with the sharks.

I attended my first worship service on the 26th of November 2000. I have wanted to attend every service and opportunity for religious instruction. I failed of course, but did manage to attended most religious instruction and liturgy classes. The latter followed Sunday morning service. First I had to down a cup of coffee and a cookie or slice of cake provided in the Activity Center by the Ladies Aid. That was one of the hardest things for me to do in my early experience at St. Paul's.

Mixing in" with members of the Congregation after Sunday service was very difficult for me because I am too shy for my own good. I'm just not very good at "socializing." It took several weeks before I got up the nerve to try. Over the years, I have delivered speeches about computers and computing to thousands; harangued standing room only crowds in a lecture halls for 400; and, by turns, enlightened and bullied hundreds of college classes. But - I just don't fare too well in small groups. In my element, I can take refuge in computer bafflegab when the going gets a little rough. In a social situation, especially in the usual case where there is no interest in computers whatever, I'm extremely uncomfortable. Is almost as bad as the horror (for both of us as I recall) of my first date!

Why mention these things? I mention them because I have learned, and you should know, one is made most welcome from the very beginning by members of the Congregation at St. Paul's. That is the point I am trying to make here. In a few weeks I was past the worst of my fears. If you do not experience such fears, then all the more reason for you to joint us. The Congregation at St. Paul's is made up of people who are profound and able in many ways that I am not, but they are far more like me (and you) than they are different. They are great fun; very human; and decent to the core! I like them and I believe that they like me.

I'm trying to show you that St. Paul's is a great Church. In the attempt to demonstrate just how that might be, let me tell you about another great Church. It's in Cincinnati. This beautiful and imposing structure is high on a hill. The windows along the left side of the Nave overlook mature trees, onto a beautiful lake in a fine public park. On a sunny, summer day dozens of paddleboats ply the water. Ducks abound. Joggers jog. It's an absolutely beautiful spot!

When I visit Cincinnati, Jackie and I usually go to the Saturday evening service because it is less crowded. Occasionally we have access to Communion.

This past December, we attended, for the first time in my experience, the Christmas Eve Service. I have been there often enough on Saturday evening in recent years to feel quit at home. Many of the Congregation knew my car and that I'm from Michigan. Some knew who I was and appeared to be no worse for the experience. This is Ohio remember, and I am a Michigander [no matter what our legislature chooses to call me]. Every member of the congregation present (400, or thereabouts - standing room only) was turned out in their finest feathers. The full time Music Director conducted a choir of 37 beautiful voices with enormous skill. A 6-piece brass choir of young and very talented musicians performed flawlessly on two occasions. The brand new $750,000 pipe organ was played with exceptional grace and delicacy by an organist engaged especially for the occasion. Pastor delivered an outstanding sermon. It was an incredible experience!

I love this church in Cincinnati. I love to go there when I visit. But - it's not my church. In the middle of all that beauty and splendor this past Christmas, I remember wondering what was going on at St. Paul's?! St. Paul's is my church home. I love St. Paul's more because I believe that I am far more important there. I think, maybe, that God might be just a little bit closer to me at St. Paul's too? I can sit in any corner at St. Paul's and know that the people there are friendly, do not judge me, will talk honestly with me, and really listen - if I could only think of something to say worth listening to. And most importantly - I know God is there, and I am certain that He will always be there at St. Paul's for me.

 

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