95 Years, 262 Days

That’s how long my mom, Gloria Hinkle, lived on this earth before passing into Eternity on June 9, 2021. I was privileged to give the Meditation at her Memorial Service. This is what I shared with friends and family…

What does one say when privileged to speak at his 95-year-old mom’s memorial service?  Frankly, it’s something I’ve pondered over the past several years, knowing such an opportunity might present itself.  Every time I would think about it, I honestly came up blank.  Knowing that our creative juices get going under deadline, I posed a question to my mom.  Shortly after she turned 95, I asked her what her target completion date was.  Mom just grinned and said emphatically, “well, not 100!”  Turns out that her target completion date was 95 years, 262 days.

There was one theme that kept running through the minds of my siblings, spouses, and me as we shared with friends and extended family the events of the last week of mom’s life.  It was present again last night at the visitation.  That theme was an overwhelming sense of blessing.

More than wondering what I might say at my mom’s memorial service, I wondered what the last days of her long-lived life might look like.  It was an absolute blessing that mom’s mind was sharp to the very end.  It was an absolute blessing that she did not suffer or linger in a vegetative state.  She died peacefully, a week after a minor stroke – truly a blessing.

Last Friday, a week ago yesterday, mom was able to leave the hospital to return to Guardian Angels Care Center, which has been her home for the past four years.  When she left Mercy, there was a sense that, with some therapy, she might be able to live for quite some time and be able to communicate adequately.  But mom’s target completion date wasn’t 100.

Looking back, we suspect she used all of her remaining energy to get back home to the Care Center, to be among those who had cared for her these past years, to be with those who were an absolute blessing to her.  To any Guardian Angels representatives among us today, please know what a blessing you have been to her and to us, her family – especially during a pandemic.

The concept of blessing is foundational to our faith and is dispersed throughout the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  Many Psalms include phrases like, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”  We are quite familiar with the benediction that begins with, “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”  In his Sermon on the Mount, in the part we know as The Beatitudes, Jesus described those who are blessed in God’s economy – the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, etc.  In that same Sermon he also told his followers to bless those who curse them.

Several years ago I was contemplating the fact that in the Old Testament, blessings seemed to be a two-way affair – God blessing humanity and people blessing God.  As I started to look at occurrences of the word “bless” in the Old Testament, I discovered that God was the original “blesser”…

  • After the creation, God blessed Adam and Eve
  • After the creation, God also blessed the Sabbath
  • After the flood, God blessed Noah in a similar fashion as he blessed Adam and Eve
  • Noah, then in turn, responded with, “Blessed be the Lord,” the first example of humanity blessing God

On the surface, it kinda sounds like a mutual admiration society – God and humans blessing each other.  I figured there must be more to it than mutual admiration.  Being a dabbler in Hebrew (the operative word is “dabbler”), I decided to see what I could uncover about this word bless. This is what I discovered – the basic Hebrew word for bless is barak. Barak is the word for “knee” and implies kneeling.

This makes some sense. Throughout history, one approached royalty on bended knee – out of reverence, out of respect, out of humility. In Philippians 2, we read “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee. So we bless God with great reverence, literally and figuratively, on bended knee.

So, blessing God makes sense but what of God blessing us? What does that look like?  What immediately comes to my mind is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. During his last Passover meal with his disciples (which we know as the Last Supper) we read…

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples’ feet.”

Picture this! Jesus knew full well who he was as God incarnate – that all power and authority had been given to him.  This Jesus showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples’ feet, presumably on his knees. Picture it!  The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings on his knees, serving his own creation!  What a picture of blessing!  And what a picture of servitude!

Jesus was simply fulfilling and living out God’s vocational call of  Abraham a few thousand years before.  God told Abraham he would bless him and his descendants so they, in turn, could be a blessing to the rest of the world.  The task of the Israelites in God’s kingdom project was to simply bless those around them as they were blessed by God.  Pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and pretty clear.  They were blessed to be a blessing

When he washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus modeled for his followers what he wanted them to be about – blessing others by serving them.  Makes me think of the two great commandments – Love God, love (or bless?) others. How can we love others?  By blessing them, by serving them.

Looking back, I think that our mom understood the “blessed to be a blessing” concept more than we may have realized.  Over the years, she quietly served those around her – often from her kitchen.  On dairy farms in the mid-20th century, the role of the housewife was to serve the workers of the farm, which involved more than just meals.  Clean clothes miraculously showed up in our drawers. As did patched jeans.  Mom’s quiet servitude was a blessing to all of us.

That blessing, that quiet servitude, spilled over to those around her – to her neighbors, to her church, to her community (I believe mom was a charter member of the CAER board, the Elk River, MN, food shelf).  And it spilled into Guardian Angels Care Center four years ago.  We know she was a blessing to many there because the staff told us as much.  One small example of mom blessing the staff at the Care Center:  She weekly served the activities staff, setting up for Thursday Bingo.  (It was important for us to plan our visits with her as to not conflict with her weekly job.)

Blessed to be a blessing.  What a amazing concept! God ordained the idea with Abraham.  Jesus fulfilled it and passed it onto his followers.  As a follower, Gloria Hinkle quietly lived it out.  What might our world look like of we all took to heart our God-given vocation to simply be a blessing to those around us?  God, help us do exactly that!  Amen.

Smoking Pot in the Old Testament

In the previous post (Dot-to-Dot) we discussed a theme woven throughout scripture: “I will be your God and you will be my people” stated in some manner, shape, or form. This was God’s covenant promise to the people he called (Abraham and his decedents) to to be a blessing to the world and participate in his project of “putting creation back to rights” (NT Wright).

One of the most obscure, unknown stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, is probably one of the most significant stories.  In Genesis 15, Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) asked God a question we all ask from time to time: “How do I know what you are saying is true?” So the LORD (Yahweh) said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”  Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.

Wait!  Abram cut the animals in two and arranged them in two rows?  God didn’t tell him to do that!!  Why did he?   Because in Abram’s world 4000 or so years ago, this was how contracts were signed.  The parties would each bring and split animals in two, arrange them in rows, putting the birds together in a single pile at the head of the two rows.

The two parties would then each take a smoking pot or torch of some sort and simultaneously light their respective rows of animal parts on fire.  They would meet at the end of the rows and together light the pile of birds afire.  Basically they were saying, “If I should break this covenant, may I be drawn and quartered and burnt in a similar fashion.”  They took their contracts pretty serious!

Abram apparently knew that God was about to sign a promise or covenant with him.  What he didn’t know was how the signing would take place. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.  Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain…” and then went on to describe the future and His commitment to Abram and his descendants.  When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.  On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram.

GOD SIGNED BOTH SIDES OF THE AGREEMENT WHILE ABRAM SLEPT!  That’s a covenant, Yahweh style.  God did/does it all.  All Abram did was show up.  God did the rest. It was all about God and not so much about Abram. God was serious when he said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” He is the promise-maker. 

And he is also the promise-keeper. Fast forward a couple thousand years and we witness God as promise-keeper, this time through Jesus. God’s first promise was to Adam and Eve.  He promised them everything (including the tree of life) but their desire to become like God cost them their life.  They chose death over life. God honored their choice and death reigned – ultimately resulting in His own son’s death.  With Jesus’ resurrection, death was defeated and the original promise was again on the table. Humanity didn’t hold up its end of the promise, but God held up his end of the covenant and fulfilled our part! “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

In Jesus, we see the smoking pot all over again. Jesus did it all. We just show up. It’s that simple. Imagine our world if we remembered to just show up and give him permission to hold up his end of the deal! It’s really all about God, not so much about us.  “For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.” (Philippians 2:13, TLB)