I was the Vicar and Lars was a shut-in. I was serving a wonderfully confessional parish south-west of Milwaukee during that time of 1993/4. One of my duties was to visit "shut-ins" once a month. Each one of these dear saints ministered to me far more than I to them, and they were all unique and special Lambs of THE Lamb. But to be honest, I enjoyed visiting Lars the most.
I think Lars (not his real name) was of Polish ethnicity or maybe Polish/German because he was BOTH forthright AND jovial. He was so demonstrably eager to have me read from Scripture and share homilies, devotions, and prayers with him. He never complained…and he had every right to shake a fist at God.
Not that Lars had the worst disease or was in the most pain, but that He was so incredibly cheerful and positive, that the failed kidneys which imprisoned his elderly body just seemed to make his suffering all the more tragic. The things he would have continued to do had he not been struck down by this renal failure--the things which by the Grace of Christ he DID do.
He lived with his daughter and son-in-law just south of Milwaukee and not all that far from the shores of Lake Michigan. I would come into the den/living room and sit in the afternoon natural light and he would give me the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of the world. No, he was no Pieper or Kurt Marquart but he knew his Small Catechism and he knew the Evangels. He craved my visits because his children all worked on Sundays and thus he had no way of getting to church. There might have been a tad of internecine Lutheranism going on as well; Lars was LC-MS, while his daughter and son-in-law were WELS. Besides, he was not all that mobile and I think he may have been bordering on incontinence issues, which, seem to be harder for men to deal with than women (a pride thing maybe). I would bring him “up-to-speed” on matters in the parish and then he would talk to me about his trips to the Dialysis Center. He went several times a week for a couple of hours at a stretch. It was very painful he said, but “heck Vicar, not nearly as painful as what a lot of people have to go through!” I was constantly humbled by his courage. He, never bragging, would regale me with positive things he would share with all the children and young people sitting next to him receiving dialysis at the same time: “well Vicar, they weren’t going to be going anywhere, so I might as well tell ‘em about Jesus.”
In his faux gruff voice and exterior (he reminded me of a mix between a retired stevedore and a teamster…but a lovable one) and clipped sentences he would share with me his observations and impressions of the world and the nation which he got from watching the news and listening to Rush (Limbaugh was at the peak of his phenomenal growth then; half way through President Clinton’s first term). Lars could criticize and find fault but he never resorted to ad hominem viciousness or cheap-shots. He knew more about the 8th commandment than most pastors I’ve known.
This was a man who knew Jesus loved him and though he was not desirous to be going through the physical pain and medical trauma, was content to be a Saint and just “plug on” (as he said) till it was time to go home to “them mansions.” He smiled more than any "shut-in" I had then as a Vicar, and that I’ve ever had as a pastor. He smiled through the pain and discomfort and the smile was genuine; it had palpable warmth.
There were many times as I drove back to my apartment that I had to fight from weeping.
The face and voice of Jesus in His beloved and tender lambs… ministering to those who need Him.
Lars may have been a “shut-in” but I have carried his memory with me every time I go and visit someone in the hospital or at their sick-bed. When next I behold this dear Saint, his kidneys will be working just “dandy” (as he would say) and we will drink the Fruit of the Vine of Resurrection with Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and all the company of heaven.