Monday, July 9, 2012

Mary, Martha, and Mildred

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 10:38-42
June 25, 2012

Dear family and friends of Mildred Schwertfeger,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Hear the Word of the Lord from St. Luke, chapter 10:
. . . Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

You know about Mary and Martha, the two famous sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home. You know about Martha, the sister who got distracted with much serving. There was food that needed preparing, drinks that needed pouring, a table that needed to be set in just the right way (and probably decorated with some freshly cut flowers). Martha was the woman for the job (and we need our share of Martha’s, don’t we?). You also know about her sister, Mary. Mary was the sister who was content to do nothing but sit at the Savior’s feet and listen to His teaching. Everything else could wait. For Mary, everything else took a backseat to hearing the life-giving words of Jesus.

You know about Mary and Martha; and you also know about Mildred, who was something like Mary and Martha all rolled into one. Mildred was like Martha, who was distracted with much serving. As a mother and pastor’s wife in Whitefish Bay for all those decades of the last century, “much serving” was a non-negotiable part of Mildred’s calling. Pastor’s wives today have it a little bit easier; but back in those days being a pastor’s wife also meant being the “hostess with the mostest.” It meant being prepared to open your home to parishioners at any time of any day. And when there was a dinner at church, being the pastor’s wife meant that you were on the set-up committee, the decorating committee, the cooking committee, the serving committee, and the clean-up committee. Sunday school classes met next door in Mildred’s basement. And of course, for the pastor’s wife, there were expectations that her children would always behave like little angels as they all sat in the front pew every Sunday—that she would accompany Pastor on his evangelism calls—that she would be an active member of the afternoon guild and the evening guild and the altar guild (and whatever other guilds there may have been). For Mildred, like Martha, there was “much serving” to be done; and Mildred managed to do it with grace and with a smile on her face.

Mildred was also like Mary, who soaked up the Savior’s Word of life—who listened to the Word of God. She may have been anxious and troubled about many things over the years; but Mildred believed that this one thing was necessary. Of course, it was more challenging for Mildred to hear the Word of God than it was for most of the congregation, precisely because she was married to the preacher. I never had the privilege of knowing Harold, as he departed this life a few weeks before I came to Our Savior. But if he was like most preachers, the halo probably came off at home sometimes. Pastors are people too. And pastor’s wives know that best of all. It takes a special measure of faith to be able to say “amen” to the pastor’s sermon, when you also know all the pastor’s weaknesses, all his quirks, all the times when he loses his cool. But Mildred, like Mary, believed that the power of salvation was in those words, whether spoken by Jesus, or by His called and ordained servant.

By the grace of God, Mildred had a way of rising to the occasion—of exceeding the high standards and expectations that came with her many God-given vocations. But when it came to God’s standards and God’s expectations, Mildred came up short. In fact, we all come up short when it comes to hearing God’s Word and putting it into practice. By nature we would rather be giving commands to those around us than to listen to the commands of God. By nature we would all rather be served than roll up our sleeves and get to work serving others with mercy and kindness. God doesn’t expect us to simply do our best; He expects us to love Him with our whole heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And those expectations—those standards—have not been met by a one of us. Sin is not a quaint, old-fashioned notion that went out of style—like the hats and gloves Mildred used to wear every Sunday. Sin is the dark reality which separates us from God and from one another.

Our sin has but one remedy, and His name is Jesus, the Christ. Deliverance from sin and death is found exclusively and freely in Him. As your sacred substitute, Jesus met all the expectations that were laid upon Him. In love, He laid down His life as the payment for your sins; and through faith in Him, His perfect, sinless record now counts for you as your perfect, sinless record. The holy standards that neither Mary nor Martha nor Mildred could meet . . . have all been met in Jesus. Mildred believed that with all her heart, and last Wednesday, when she took her final breath in this world, she was immediately in the presence of Jesus. For death could not hold Him. Because He lives, Mildred now lives with Him—and we in faith await the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

When Martha got upset that Mary wasn’t doing her share of the work, Jesus gently reminded her that Mary had “chosen the good portion, which would not be taken away from her.” Mary had chosen Jesus and His teaching. Mildred also chose Jesus and His teaching; and that is why nothing in all creation—neither life nor death—is able to separate Mildred from God’s love in Christ. I said that Mildred chose Jesus; but of course, Jesus chose Mildred first. In the waters of Holy Baptism God the Father, Son and Spirit chose Mildred to be His own dear child. In baptism, the “one thing necessary,” what Jesus called the “good portion,” was given as a gift to Mildred. Baptism, of course, is not magic. What God gives in that splash of water and the Word can be squandered and can wither away when it is not accompanied by a lifetime of hearing and listening to the Words and promises of God.

But those words and those promises had their way with Mildred. She loved and served faithfully for 92 years because she herself was loved and served by Jesus. Whether on the farm in Juneau, at school in Horicon, or in the village of Whitefish Bay, or in retirement in Mequon, Mildred was being loved and served by Jesus—as she heard the Word of God and received the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. It was Jesus at work in her that allowed her to be such a source of support for Harold. It was Jesus at work in her that allowed her to raise four children with tender love and care. And she was blessed by the Lord to know and love her grandchildren, reading to them and showing them how to build with Legos. It was Jesus at work in her that allowed Mildred to wear all the hats she wore (figuratively speaking): wife, mother, grandmother, pastor’s wife, fashion buyer, wedding consultant, trusted friend, child of God.

And so today we give thanks to God for Mildred. Mildred the homemaker, who welcomed so many into her home over the years, she herself has now been welcomed home by her Savior. Mildred with the good eye for fashion has now been clothed forever in the perfect white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Mildred who hosted and prepared meals for so many, is now herself a guest by grace at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Mildred who lovingly designed and planned the parsonage next door, has now moved into a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens—prepared for her by Jesus the Christ.

Together with Mary and Martha, our dear Mildred also now stands in the presence of Jesus, who loved her and gave Himself for her. Her passing has no doubt left many of you feeling anxious and troubled and tearful. But let not your hearts be troubled. For you know what Mary and Martha and Mildred also knew: Only one thing is necessary. In Jesus and His Word is life that lasts forever. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Today I sat in my pew in St. Marks Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, CA thinking about Pastor and Mrs. Schwertfeger. I was telling my husband about how Pastor told us in 8th grade confirmation class that it didn't "count" if you left before the benediction. It made me a little homesick and so I got online this afternoon and found this wonderful sermon about Mrs. Schwertfeger's life. It brought tears to my eyes because our whole family loved her and Pastor so much.

    I loved seeing the pictures you have online of the church - the exterior and the altar. It looks just as I remember it. God Bless the members of Our Savior's Lutheran church. Its where my foundation was built.