Thursday, April 26, 2007

+++Rev. Larry L. Meyer+++

This post is a couple of days early, but the next few days are going to be very busy ones in the LH household (for a number of reasons...maybe next week I'll have the chance to tell you about some of them), and I don't know that I'll be posting again before Monday.

Sunday, April 29th, it will have been two years since my mentor and friend Pastor Larry Meyer died of esophegeal cancer. He was 58 and still at the height of his calling as a pastor to young adults at the time, and it both angers and saddens me when I think of all of the people he still could have had the opportunity to touch.

But this post is about neither sadness nor anger. So I'm not going to let myself go there.

This post is about the impact God made on countless numbers of people through Larry's life. Over 100 pastors currently serving in the ELCA either were students at one of the campus ministries Larry served, or had Larry as an internship supervisor when they were in seminary. Larry Olson, founder of Dakota Road Music, first heard his call to music when Larry tapped him to be a music director at a campus ministry in South Dakota. Hundreds, probably even thousands more people found or affirmed their life's vocation (both in AND out of the church) with Larry's advice, guidance, and prodding.

As this anniversary comes and goes, I feel re-challenged to help others discover their vocation, their calling, just as Larry helped me discover mine.

I want to share a couple of things. The first is the manuscript of the words that I spoke at Larry's memorial service. I had been asked to do two things: talk about his love for woodworking, and speak from the perspective of the many college students he had touched as a campus pastor. The second thing I want to share are the lyrics of a song Larry Olson wrote and sang for Larry Meyer's funeral--it's called One Life. I'll be playing and singing it Sunday morning at church. Even without the added significance, it fits the themes of both the Revelation passage and "Good Shepherd" passage from John that we'll be hearing.

First, the manuscript:
This is one of my most prized possessions. You’d never guess by looking at it, or by seeing where I keep it. It’s a small coat or hat rack, or more specifically in my case, it’s where we hang my son’s diaper bags on the wall of the laundry room in my house. It’s very simple—a long board with three pegs sticking out of it. But it’s well-built…the board is straight, and the pegs can hold a LOT of weight. It’s functional. It does the job it was designed to do very well.

Why is this such a prized possession? Pastor Larry Meyer made it. He gave these one of a kind Larry Meyer original coat racks (or diaper bag racks) to the Lutheran Student Center staff as Christmas gifts in 2003.

Larry loved to work with wood. More specifically, he loved to work with pieces of scrap wood. He’d take discarded, seemingly useless leftover bits and scraps from other projects, and with his innate vision and skill he would shape them into something else…something useful, something with a purpose, something new.

I can’t help but think that the way Larry looked at his woodworking projects was the same way he saw the people whose lives he touched. God gave Larry the gift of vision, and he used that gift to its fullest. In all with whom he came into contact, Larry saw both potential and purpose.

And as with his woodworking hobby, God gave Larry the tools to help shape people…to help them realize and use their own God-given gifts to further the work of the Kingdom. I know there are hundreds, even thousands of stories to be told by all of us who are here this morning of the uncanny way Larry had of seeing gifts in us that we didn’t even know were there.

The thing about Larry, though, was that he didn’t just recognize gifts. He poked, and he prodded, and he pushed, and he kicked, and he cajoled, and he asked, and he just kept relentlessly pursuing you until you finally saw those same gifts in yourself, realized what God had given you, and were using those gifts, preferably in the church, but if not, then wherever the Spirit led you. Larry would use all the tools in the vast toolbox God gave him to help you find your own tools. To Larry, we weren’t just pieces of scrap wood to be thrown away. He knew God has a purpose for all of us, and before you knew it you were singing in the choir, or leading a Bible study, or serving on a committee, or living in the Student Center apartment, or providing special music for services, or ushering, or helping with communion, or making a donation, or going to seminary, or serving as the Lutheran Student Center’s Director of Campus Ministry for Southeast Community College and Nebraska Wesleyan…which is what I’m doing today, thanks to a phone call from Larry back in October of 2003.

I had been working at an insurance company here in Lincoln and was thoroughly miserable in my job. My wife was pregnant, and after a lot of prayer and discussion, I had decided that when I took time off from work after the baby was born in December, I would use part of that time to find a new job. It wasn’t two weeks after I came to that conclusion that my phone rang. It was Larry. I hadn’t seen him or spoken with him for quite a while, so I was surprised to hear from him. His first words were, “what are the chances that you’re dissatisfied with your current job situation?” After I told him that those chances were hovering…well, right around 100%, he said, “Good. I’ve got an opportunity for you.” And he went on to tell me about a new ministry position the Student Center created to reach out to Nebraska Wesleyan and Southeast Community College, and asked if I wanted to interview for it. And here I am today.

It didn’t matter if you were a student, or an alum, or a colleague, or a friend or family member—Larry had a knack for saying the right thing at the right time to the right person in the right way. Sometimes it came through a comment in a Bible study, or an invitation to a conversation over a meal or a drink, or even just a seemingly idle comment in passing. Very often, it came through his preaching. Week after week, I’d listen to his sermons in church, and leave convinced that he had been speaking the whole time directly to me and to my current situation in life. Sometimes, I’d wonder, “how did he KNOW that’s exactly what God needed me to hear today?” The thing was, though, that everyone else in the congregation felt the same way.

It was that knack that made him such a great pastor, but more importantly it’s what made him such a good friend and mentor. It’s why so many of us are crowded in here this morning to celebrate Larry’s life, and why thousands more who couldn’t be here are smiling across the country and around the world, remembering a man to whom God gave extraordinary gifts, and who wasn’t afraid to use them. Whether it was sanding down a rough edge on a piece of scrap wood he was building something with, or helping someone sand down the rough edges of their lives, Larry found his calling in bringing out the beauty God intended in others.

Larry said, “these aren’t useless pieces of wood. These will become a coat rack.” And now, it is a treasure to me.

Larry said, “you aren’t a useless person. God gave you gifts that he wants you to use, and I’m going to help you discover what they are.” And now we know that we are treasures to God.

And today we say, thank you, Larry. You have been a treasure to us.


And the song:
One Life
by Larry Olson (c) 2005

Standing upon the rock
wrestling with the Word
giving it all you've got
so many people served
Oh how the years have gone
this much I know is true
my life is better
'cause I met you

One life, one heart
one dance upon this earth
one life, one heart
so many blessings from God

Where do we turn our eyes
where do we find our home
where do we send our cries
all of creation groans
Somewhere I hear you say
nothing in death or life
can separate us
from the love of Christ

So many stories told
so many moments shared
I am still on this road
sometimes I don't know where
Faith will not let me go
this much I know is true
I saw Jesus
alive in you



Susan said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I didn't have a good picture of Pastor Larry yet, and now I do. I still feel inspired all the time by Larry, and you can bet that he will be leading LSC through the hearts of students and alumni for a long time yet.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

LH - what a beautiful tribute to Larry. The photo is a great one too! He did indeed touch many & remind us all to not take for granted a single person we came into contact with b/c Jesus was always, always going to be there.

Anonymous said...

Being at the funeral and hearing your words and the Larry O's song, I felt and still feel very touched. Larry was a great man and he will be always remembered in my heart. Thank you for posting these kind words. It means so much to me!