I almost didn’t get through this one…
Biblical Texts: Isaiah 49:13-16, Romans 5:1-5 and Matthew 11:28-30
Charlie Gruschow was a fixture here at St. Mark’s. And I say that in more ways than one. He was a fixture as a greeter handing out bulletins on Sunday morning. Being the youngest of a large family, he was a great talker with a twinkle in his eye. A bit of rogue-ish charm. The family name is on the stained glass windows right there. He was never a junior, but Charles is also on there. And there is a great story about that organ. Charlie saw the bank account going down and took it upon himself to, and I’m quoting, “get something before the buffoons spent it all”. Charlie’s in the fixtures, and I’ve often reflected that when I stumbled across something fine or of good quality, Charlie was behind it. He didn’t go for junk.
He didn’t do that around church. Charlie didn’t do that in jobs he did. He was always willing to help and do the work.
Now I suppose that same unabashedness and charm combined with those high standards might have led to some confrontations over his years. Charlie was his own man and had his own opinions. That conflict continued in some ways in his later years as instead of battling things external Charlie started battling his own body. When work – like mowers and blades and tractors – that you’ve lined up just can’t be done, it grated. It sucks, when your own gait can’t measure up to your standards.
Gospel in the Life
But let me suggest that Charlie understood something very important.
Peace didn’t come easily to Charlie, he worked. He expected to work. I expect that was why he was here, even hobbling, almost every Sunday. In the midst of a life of work, He knew he needed the grace. In an era full of cheap grace – lowered standards, denial of culpability – Charlie would have none of it. He was plainspoken, even if the plain speech pointed at himself. He might not have shared that with everyone, he was a man of his time, but he didn’t spare himself. And he needed the real grace – the grace that is only available through Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Charlie needed that. When the work was beyond him, he was strong enough to take God’s peace declared on that cross. And due to his standards he knew the full measure of what that cross offered…of what that cross offers you.
I have to admit something, my prayers for older folks who have major surgery are often two-fold. Typically I ask for healing and restoration, but I also usually ask that God’s peace might be with them. My prayers were selfish with Charlie, I wanted him back. One more story, a couple of months ago at men’s club, Charlie started telling of one of those confrontations that happened roughly 20 years ago. An elder of the congregation had stopped by and somehow had expressed the thought or feeling that he was fine if God took him. That offended Charlie and that day that elder was practically thrown out of Charlie’s house. But at this retelling I got the feeling Charlie was telling it not as a saga of old, but as a current reflection.
Charlie’s passing was a shock – to the doctors and to us. I was too engrossed in my selfish prayers. But Charlie heard Jesus – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He was willing to put down the yoke he had pulled so long.
Charlie put that down, not in weakness, but in hope. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character hope. And Charlie was full of hope. Charlie knew that we who are buried with Christ in baptism will also be raised with him. We are engraved in the palm of His hand, and our walls our bodies will stand before Him. Resurrected bodies no longer bent by the work, but eternal dwellings full of grace.
So, the work remains our task, and we do not have Charlie to pull it anymore. But his witness remains with us as well. In the grace of Jesus, we stand. In the Hope of the Glory of God, we rejoice. (Rom 5:2) Amen.