A Public Thanksgiving for Gordon Cunningham and Erv Mickelberg
I love the quiet, dogged, humble faithfulness of old men. Men like Gordon Cunningham and Erv Mickelberg. I pray that when I am their age I will have the push to do as they have done. Praises and thanks ascend to God because of these men. Amen!
Gordy was on the Council of Deacons when I came to Bethlehem. He was doing deacon-like things long before that, and has been doing deacon-like things ever since. For example, since 1990 he has been responsible for organizing the annual Thanksgiving Helping Hand food drive. That means he coordinates with Jeff Noyed, who works for Community Emergency Service, to decide what to put on the grocery bag flyers. Then he glues these flyers by hand to 1000 grocery bags, which he collects all year long. He coordinates volunteers to hand out the bags and to collect them—which is happening right now (DON’T FORGET YOURS!). He works with volunteers to see that every bag is counted and weighed and turned in to CES. (Six thousand four hundred pounds of food last year!) Then he puts out collection points throughout the church to collect the grocery bags that come in late. This is what I was talking about on Sunday when I illustrated the gift of “serving” from Romans 12:7.
Here is one little trait about Gordon that I can’t resist mentioning. It goes beyond anything I expect, but for that reason sticks out. When Desiring God gives a book away at Bethlehem that I have written, Gordy calls me later in the week to thank me personally for the book. You didn’t need to Gordy! But it knitted me to you even more deeply.
Erv and his wife Carolyn walked into my office way back when we worshipped in the Old Sanctuary. What he said surprised me and made me love him. He had taught biology at Augsburg for three decades and was moving toward a transition. In good Lutheran fashion he fell in love with “the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” He and Carolyn were the first people baptized in the baptismal pool of the present sanctuary in 1991.
What he said to me in the office that day was this—remember now this was well over 15 years ago: he said that his coronary condition may not be good and if he should die, he wanted his wife to be in a good church surrounded by lots of loving people. He was happy to say that this was the church.
Well, after a few years we realized he was not about to fall over. So we put him to work. Erv became the pastor for senior adults and not only taught the King’s Friends class but carried on a vigorous visitation ministry to all of our members who can’t get out because of obstacles relating to age. He won his way into their hearts and has been a good shepherd to help many of them cross the final Jordan of their lives. It has been a tremendous joy to have Erv serve with us as an elder and as a staff member for all these years.
Gordy, and Erv, please don’t stop serving! You are valued partners. Even when transitions come, keep on serving. We love having you both at our side. There is a service appointed for the most forceful and for the most fragile. For the young and for the old. For the strong and for the weak. For the seeing and for the blind. For the mobile and for the immobile. Remember, “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). “The Son of Man came not to be served” (Mark 10:45). Christ’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). One of the greatest statements of this comes from John Milton.
Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, and one of the Britain’s greatest poets, was struck blind 22 years before he died in 1674. He wrote a moving Sonnet on his blindness. It closes like this:
God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
The greatest service is faith. In the strong, faith usually works. In the weak faith usually waits. Which of these is the greater service? God will decide. And the decision will not be based on fruitfulness, but on faithfulness. I am getting old with you both. Who knows which of us will lay the others in the grave? Let us pray with the Psalmist,
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. . . . Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. . . . O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:6, 9, 17, 18).
I love you both. Let us serve together while we have breath.