"Bernie Augenstein: In Memoriam" – Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, "Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, "Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
Cross of Grace was stunned and saddened to learn that Bernie Augenstein, a long-time Partner in Mission, died in his sleep sometime in the early hours of June 2. The following is a message Pastor Aaron delivered to the congregation the next day:
Given the circumstances, I thought it would be appropriate to take the opportunity this morning to spend some time addressing the surprising news of Bernie’s passing. I do not anticipate having a chance to provide a reflection at his funeral service, and I know some of you will be unable to attend the funeral, so it seems like a good way to spend the next few minutes. I doubt he would approve of me talking about his life and legacy in lieu of a regular sermon, but Bernie understood I didn’t always do things they way he would have liked!
Most of you who have wandered into this congregation over the years could probably say Bernie was the first person you met here. If you were a visitor here he would try to find out everything about you. And later that day you would probably have received a “friend” request from Bernie on Facebook. I recall that just about all of my extended family who had been here for my installation received friend requests, which left some of them a bit confounded.
Bernie had a genuine interest in other people. Sure, he could come across as nosey, but he was certainly not malicious. He just really wanted to know everything about you. And he remembered it all, too. That’s just how his mind worked. He had a mind for detail, which undoubtedly came in handy during his daily Jeopardy watching routine while on the treadmill.
I think he wanted to know so much about you because he was always seeking to make connections between people. He loved bringing people together. He would find out something about you and then connect it with a different person, as if all of humanity was a great jigsaw puzzle that meant to go together.
It is also true that Bernie had very high standards and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion. Last month at Synod Assembly, Pastor Mark and I arrived casually late to the opening. When we sat down he said, “I trust you two have very good reasons for being late?” He said it with a wink, but we both knew we were busted.
Also, one of the final emails I received from him was an email from the Monday after Father’s Day. He had attended worship and wrote me to express his displeasure with the fact that in my leading of the prayers during the early service I had neglected to offer a prayer petition regarding the tragic massacre in Orlando. He said surely of all the churches in this area, ours should have been the one to name it and bring it before God.
No one else either noticed or mentioned it to me, but he thought it was worth mentioning. I hated to read his comments as I am not one to receive constructive criticism graciously, but he had every right to call attention to my negligence. And it helped that the handful of emails immediately preceding and following that email were full of compliments and encouragement.
My heart breaks for everyone and everything Bernie has left behind….Linda, his wife whom he adored….Eric, his son of whom he was so incredibly proud….the Roman Catholic Church, which he served so faithfully in his work lifting up and supporting seminarians and priests….the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have lost a huge fan…. and of course, Cross of Grace – a place that has benefitted so much from Bernie’s continuous pouring out of his heart and soul.
The task before us now is twofold: we grieve the loss of our brother Bernie and offer our support to his family; but at the same time we are to acknowledge the call before us to fill the ministry voids left behind in his passing.
It is up to all of us to greet those who visit here and strive to become their friends. It is our calling to make connections and cultivate relationships. It is our calling to hold one other accountable to high standards, to love our families, to sing loudly, and to so closely identify with the mission of the church that we can be the hands and feet of Christ in the world today.
In today’s Gospel text, Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs to bring good news to the places where the Lord is soon to come. If there’s one thing to say about Bernie, one statement to summarize the effect his life has had on the church, it is that Bernie saw himself as your partner in the proclamation of the good news. He was your number two, your wingman – someone who genuinely admired you and thought you were capable of great things, and wasn’t afraid to keep you accountable. He knew we were all better together. He was a unique gift to the church and to each one of us who were blessed to call him a friend.
Whether you’d met him once or worshipped with him for fifteen years, you have a Bernie story. Maybe he said something to you that came across as odd or inappropriate, which you later learned to laugh about. Maybe you received a card from him in the mail that caught you completely off guard and which meant more than you initially realized.
I encourage you to take time this morning and beyond to share your Bernie story with someone. Linger here, as he so often did. Seek out someone who seems to need a companion. Ask how others are feeling. Laugh at yourself. Go out and buy a stockpile of greeting cards to send to each other on special days. Send a Facebook friend request to someone you’ve met once. Spend time reading scripture and praying on your own.
Bernie was a flawed person, but I can say with absolute certainty that he showed us what it means to be a partner in mission. And for that we say, “Amen. Thanks be to God.”