"Bernie Augenstein Funeral Homily" – John 14:1-6
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
So, following Eric, I’m left with the holy challenge of simply preaching the Gospel as we celebrate his life and the good news that was his as he lived – and the good news that is now his – as he lives – on the other side of God’s eternity.
And the trick of that is, I’m not sure where the distinction can be found between a eulogy and a homily, where Bernie Augenstein is concerned. That is to say, Bernie was a consummate churchman. He cared about and worked for and served so many expressions of God’s church in the world, it seems – at least in recent years – to have become a calling on his life in so many ways. And it was a real gift to have his wisdom, experience, and love for it all at Cross of Grace, as a Partner in Mission, since our earliest days.
Speaking of those earliest days, we hadn’t met yet, so it was a surprise when he showed up at my graduation from seminary, with Janis Janelsins in tow, over in Columbus, Ohio, 15 years ago. They introduced themselves as having vested interests in this new congregation I was being called to develop outside of Indianapolis, and just wanted to see who and what they were in for.
A three-hour drive to a graduation ceremony for a stranger, only to drive three-hours back home, in the same day – without even an invitation to dinner? That’s some interest and concern and dedication to the Church and its leaders that impressed me, the more I thought about it after the fact. And it was just a foretaste of the feast to come, as we say, where Bernie was concerned.
He remembered the anniversary of my ordination every year, with a card and a congratulations on whatever Sunday was closest to June 24th. (I had to look that date up this week, to make sure I had it correct, but Bernie always knew.)
His wisdom and insight and “scoop” about all things ELCA, I/K Synod were invaluable at times. He was my go-to guy when he served on Cross of Grace’s Council or on our Vision Team or during our annual congregational meetings about anything that had anything to do with the larger church. He knew about policies and procedures. He knew about plans at the synod and churchwide levels. He knew about which pastors were serving where, which pastors were leaving where – and why.
He kept me on my toes about so many details, I can’t even tell you. He was always reminding me about when it was time to change the sign out front or update the website or put an ad in the paper about something.
He shared resources with me from the Roman Catholic Church. (Your book, Eric, was his most proud offering, I’d say.) He taught a class here in the Spring about the common ground we Lutherans and Catholics share. He was so prayerful and hope-filled about that common ground becoming full-communion in his lifetime. And he loved worshiping together with his family as an experience and expression of what that could look like.
And, of course, worship was where life and faith came together for Bernie, I’d say. In music and through liturgy and with choirs – in Word and Sacrament, of course – is where Bernie loved to spend his time.
What Bernie was best at where the life of our congregation is concerned, was his desire and gift for welcoming guests into our midst. He made it his calling as a Partner in Mission at Cross of Grace to be the default, go-to greeter throughout the morning, every Sunday. He wasn’t assigned to that post. His name wasn’t in the bulletin. But he was always there, saying hello, greeting whoever walked in those doors, and learning the names – and whatever else he could glean – from anyone who showed up to join us.
Over the years, we often compared notes, to make sure we had names and connections correct for whoever we met on any given Sunday. He was an invaluable asset to this Pastor, in that regard. He came, too, to every CrossRoads new member class, even after he’d taken it himself, just so he could get to know better those who were new to the fold and learn about how he could connect them with others in our congregation, through stuff like the Supper Groups, which he coordinated and organized with great care.
There are a lot of jokes out there about St. Peter waiting to welcome people into heaven’s pearly gates, and I kind of think that if anything like a welcoming committee really does exist in heaven, that St. Peter might have just lost his job to Bernie Augenstein, sometime very early on Saturday morning.
And all of that was in service to the Gospel… and it was a way of proclaiming the good news… and it was a means of sharing the grace Bernie was called to in this place in a way he relished and, frankly, you don’t find just anywhere in the Church these days. I mean, you don’t find Bernies just anywhere in the Church these days. Nor do you find the kind of grace he tried to share so faithfully.
So, two images come to mind as I reflect on and remember and give thanks for Bernie’s presence in my life and for his place in this congregation. One is his love for lighthouses and the passion he had for traveling around the country to see them with you, Linda. If a lighthouse is anything, it is a guide and a point of reference. It is a beacon of safety. It is a welcome home.
I think Bernie was all of those things for those who knew him, especially where his life in the Church and at Cross of Grace were concerned. He was a guide, a point of reference, a familiar face, and a welcome home.
The other thing that comes to mind as I remember and give thanks for Bernie, was the love I know he had for Jeopardy – his daily, ritualistic time with Alex Trebeck and the whole premise of that game show, where everything begins with the answer and the participants are left to come up with all the right questions.
I’m not sure Bernie would have described it this way, but that whole premise is the way life and faith come together, under the banner of God’s grace, if you ask me. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?,” Thomas asked, Jesus, remember? In other words, we don’t know the answer… we don’t know the ending… we can’t see where you’re going… how can we possibly know how to get there?
But Jesus says, “I am the way… and the truth… and the life.” In other words, “you’ve had the answer before you and with you and beside you all along. Because of the grace I’ve proclaimed, because of the water you’ve received, because of the bread that’s been broken and the wine that’s been poured, because of the love we have practiced and shared, given and received, you have the answer; you know the way to the place that I am going; you know what it looks like and what it feels like; you know how to get there and how to bring others along with you.”
Bernie was always preparing a way for others to see and to experience the love and hope and joy that belongs to us in Jesus. A way to learn more… to worship more… to serve more… to experience grace in some way through God’s church in the world. Bernie was always making room for those who were looking. And he was always there – at the door – like some kind of human lighthouse because he knew the answer to whatever we hunger for as people in the world.
That answer – which Bernie sings about even now, no doubt, and which is our hope, still – begins with God’s grace, freely shared, generously offered, abundant enough for anyone and everyone, and made known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for Bernie, for each of us, and for the sake of the world.