Funeral for Alvin Priem
Blessed Be The Name of the Lord
(Job 1: 20-22) “At this Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In a conversation with Dorothy yesterday, she mentioned that Alvin had come into this world without a dime and left it the same way. The context of that remark was how the Lord was to be trusted in good times and in bad, through thick and thin, for better and for worse. I was reminded of Job, who responded to great tragedy in life not by cursing God and wanting to die, but rather by getting up, tearing his robe, shaving his head bald as a sign of grief, and then falling down again in worship to the one true God. By remembering that all that he had in life was given by God and by being willing to yield it all right back to God.
What is particularly fascinating about the story of Job is that Satan and God engaged in conversation about his life and his faith. God initiated the conversation by commending Job as a decent and upright and righteous man. To which Satan replied by cynically suggesting that the real reason why Job had such a good attitude in life was that God had spoiled him rotten, that he had shielded him from dangers and calamities, and that God had arranged life so that Job’s flocks and herds had multiplied and grown far beyond those of other men. Satan challenged God to strike Job with tragedy and predicted that Job would curse God to His face. And so God gave the devil permission to do whatever he wanted to do to Job, short of afflicting his body and death itself.
And so the unbelievably horrible day happened. First, his thousands of oxen and donkeys were carried off and all by one servant were put to the sword. A second messenger brought the news that the fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and only one man escaped to tell him about it. While he was still speaking, a third messenger indicated that the Chaldeans had attacked and the camels were carried off. A fourth messenger indicated that his seven sons and daughters were partying the day away when a windstorm blew down their house and all were dead.
To which Job responded by shaving his head bald, worshiping His God, shrugging his shoulders, and saying in effect – well, I came into this world without a dime, and that’s where I’m at today, as well. That’s what you have to call a really good attitude.
This is what the Christian author Chuck Swindoll had to say about attitude, Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
It seems as though Alvin figured that out a long time. Life here and now doesn’t get much worse than having an explosion and fire ripping through your house and having two younger and beautiful sisters die of smoke inhalation. It doesn’t get too much worse than losing your hand in a grain auger and no doubt there were plenty of lousy days on the farm where the crops were failing and the prices were low and the bills were high. And yet by the grace of God, Alvin kept on finding a way to keep on trusting in His God, to keep on having a sense of humor about life, and to have a decent attitude about life.
Were there times where he felt like cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle? Were there times when he felt like the victim in life and wanted to spend his days moaning and groaning about what he didn’t have in life instead of praising the Name of the Lord? No doubt there were those days, and perhaps he did his share of feeling sorry for himself and looking with envy on neighbors who were better off than he.
But this one truth we celebrate about Alvin and Dorothy this morning – and that is that they kept on throwing themselves on the mercy of Almighty God as the years went on. And the beautiful thing about that is that this is God’s greatest desire – to have mercy on sinners. This is the victory that we celebrate today, even as we stare in the face this last enemy of Christian faith – death and burial. The Good News we revel in this morning goes all the way back to Alvin’s Baptism, where the Triune God claimed Him and marked Him with the sign of the cross both upon his forehead and upon his heart, signifying that his sins were forgiven. Signifying that his name was written in the book of life. Signifying that a mansion in heaven had been prepared by Jesus who lived the perfect life that Alvin couldn’t come close to living and dying the death that Alvin deserved to die and by rising up again on the third day in glorious fashion.
This was Alvin’s Confirmation verse – And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is how Jesus loved Alvin and this is how Jesus has loved each of you here today – by taking on flesh and living in our midst. It was for the joy set before Him, the Bible says, that Jesus endured all that He endured and suffered all that he suffered and died the death His Father asked Him to die.
This morning, I invite all of you to live your lives with joy as well, to endure all that God asks you to endure, to suffer all that you have been appointed to suffer, and do so in anticipation of the glories of paradise which will be so much better than the best times we ever might experience here and now.
In addition to that, I invite you to imitate all that was good and God-pleasing in the life of Alvin Priem. Imitate the faith of Alvin and Dorothy and so many in this great generation who didn’t grow frail and melt away in their days of great trial but rather developed a spirit of perseverance which in turn produced strong character, which in turn produced Christian hope which refused to go away. Imitate his sense of humor, as best you can, by focusing on what is amusing in the daily grind of life instead of that which is so very frustrating. Spending time with Alvin was a laugh a minute, almost without exception. He was funny, as you know, without even trying. His smirk was never far away, and in his presence it was hard to have a pity party for long.
You all have your favorite memories of Alvin, and today is a great day to spend some time to share and enjoy. My favorite memory in recent years was of Alvin attending Holy Communion at Park Road Plaza on the third Tuesday of each month. For two reasons, I say that. First was his sense of humor, as he hobbled in and sat down as one man in the presence of 12-15 women. Second was his Christian faith, which God’s Spirit had worked in his heart over the years – as often as he sat still and let God be God in his life. As often as I would ask him if he was sorry for his sins, as often as I asked him if he believed in Jesus Christ as Savior, and as often as I asked him if he would amend his sinful life – that often he would say yes. And then what a privilege it was to say to him that his sins were forgiven and that his place in paradise was secure in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dorothy and children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, as you lay this wise cracking man of God to rest today, do so with humility, do so with thanksgiving, and do so with confidence. Humility because in fact the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Thanksgiving because your Good Shepherd promises to follow you around with goodness and mercy all the days of your life. And confidence in the fact that the good old days have not passed us by, in fact the best is yet to come. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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