For my meditation today I would like to read the first 8 verses of Psalm 34.
1 I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Monday night I met with John Richard’s family, Connie and Lowell and Kathy, to plan for this service. Connie said, “Oh Duane, I want you to read an email I got from my cousin David, and I would love it if you would use that verse he refers to for your meditation.
David wrote, “I am so sorry and shocked to hear of John Richard's death.
It sounds like he was experiencing a whole lot of turmoil, which must have been quite frightening for you as well. This verse comes to mind: (from Psalm 34, the verses we just read, esp. vs. 4 & 6) ‘This poor man cried out, and the Lord delivered him from all his fears.’”
In Ps. 34, David is referring to himself. We’re not sure what God delivered David from. We’re not sure of the circumstances behind Ps. 34. But the troubles and fears of David were overwhelming. They were crippling. When David says, “This poor man cried out,” he wasn’t talking about his bank account, he was talking about his total helplessness and dependence, his total inability to deliver himself, his knowledge that without God he could not even live, much less flourish. This poor man cried out, and “the Lord delivered him from all his fears.”
John Richard suffered a chemical imbalance in his brain that caused him to be overwhelmed by his fears. Thank God that he has now been delivered from all his fears.
John Richard knew in his heart and in his mind that God through Christ had taken away any reason to fear. John Richard’s faith was clear and strong and deep. He knew that when Jesus Christ died and rose again, his, John’s Richard’s, life was safe, hid with Christ, forever secure, with a God who is loving and strong.
But we all know what time it is. We live in this time in between Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death and fear, and his final victory, when all fear and death and trouble will be gone.
John Richard now knows in full what on Sunday he only knew in part. To paraphrase v. 5, John Richard has now looked in the face of Christ, and John Richard’s face is radiant in the light of Christ. As cousin David went on to write in his note to John Richard’s sister, Connie, and he speaks eloquently for us all, “I am sad about Rich's death, but I am not sad that he has been delivered from all his fears and that he can now focus his brilliant and now undivided mind on his Savior and Lord.”
All of this gives us hope today, and peace, and even joy and gratitude. Indeed, “taste and see that the Lord is good” is our testimony today.
But we will miss John Richard. Connie has already told us some great stories about John Richard. My first memory of John Richard when I became pastor of Neland in 1988 was a Road Rally that we had as part of some adult fellowship night. John Richard was in our car. I remember this travelogue he gave us as we rode around the streets of the old Calvin campus, basically giving us a history of Calvin College and Seminary in its Franklin context. It included detail about which professors lived in which houses, what happened in various buildings on campus that he could only have known by listening attentively to so many things his parents talked about.
I also remember him saying, that night, just out of the blue, “I hope that, when you do communion at Neland, you say ‘Take, eat, remember, and believe that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ was given for the complete remissionof all our sins, not forgiveness of all our sins.’ Remission is a stronger word.” I could totally picture the Sunday dinner table at the Krommingas after a communion service at Neland, where John, his father a professor at the seminary, quietly explained those terms.
John Richard was a blessing to Neland. He regularly played his trumpet in church, and he was a very strong trumpeter. Also, for decades, after every morning and evening service, John Richard was the one who duplicated tapes or CDs of the worship services.
Most people don’t know this, but John Richard was also part of our church growth strategy at Neland. Anyone who goes to Neland Church knows about John Richard’s sneeze. When John Richard sneezes, little children either turn around in utter amazement or flee into their mother’s arms for comfort. Well, Roze Bruins testifies that she and George and the family decided to join Neland on the Sunday that John Richard sneezed for the first time in their hearing. Roze said that when they heard John Richard sneeze for the first time, and witnessed Neland going right on in its worship as if nothing had happened, she said, “I knew I wanted to join a church that was that accepting and gracious.”
John Richard brought joy to many of our lives too by his appetite. John Richard rarely missed a potluck. For years, he was part of a Praise and Worship group that met on Sunday nights after church. We would get together and sing songs and then eat. John Richard was always delighted, visibly happy, when my wife Jeannette and I showed up, but we knew it was because Richard now knew there was a huge crock of meatballs just waiting for Richard to literally stand over and devour.
Monday night Connie reminded me of my favorite John Richard story. In the Calvin library where John Richard worked yet last Friday, there is this huge card catalogue that catalogues every sermon in the Calvin Library. From Genesis to Revelation, drawer after drawer of cards listed each sermon by text and title. Well, when I was the pastor of Neland, I would sometimes go up there and browse through that catalogue. I rarely went back and actually got the sermon out of the stacks, but I was interested in seeing the titles of sermons on a given text which were often very evocative. One day I was flipping through all the sermon titles on some chapter in Jeremiah, and all of a sudden, behind me, I heard this booming voice, “Running Dry?”
The only thing I enjoyed more than that moment was retelling that story to other people in John Richard’s presence, and seeing the sheer delight on his face when everyone would laugh.
We will miss John Richard. But we will gladly miss him for the joy of knowing that he is with Christ, and that he has been delivered from all his fears and can now focus his brilliant and now undivided mind on his Savior and Lord.
There is still one more thing we must celebrate today, one more thing for which we must give thanks. John Richard flourished in his life as much as he could flourish because of a Christian community that was heroic. From John Richard’s family—John and Claire and Connie (especially you for so many years) and Kathy—to Neland Church, to Calvin College—from Harry Boonstra to Luge Schemper to Paul Fields in the library, to the apartments where John Richard lived on Burton and Breton, so many people have been Christ to him.
Blessed are you—so many of you. One day Christ will remember your kindness and love to Richard, and say, “Well done.” We celebrate today that the Lord is good, and that the Lord’s people are also good. There are so many moments when the Lord’s people are so good.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.”
“For this poor man cried out, and the Lord delivered him from all his fears.”
And he has delivered and will deliver all of us from all our fears.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.