Pastor’s Devotion #119

“MarJean Ruth Bankson”

“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.”

Isaiah 40:31

 

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 90 years old, today. MarJean Ruth Bankson was born on February 23, 1931, on a farm, outside of the tiny town of Worthing, South Dakota, south of Sioux Falls.

She passed away in 1987, 34 years ago, at the age of 56: Breast cancer that metastasized to her liver.

My mom grew up on a farm, the first years of her life, until her father, Oscar, died in 1940. He died at the young age of 39 due to lung cancer. My grandma swore that Oscar never smoked in his life. As kids, we heard the rumor that he enjoyed a cigar from time to time, behind the barn, but it was thought that crop fertilizers perhaps had been the cause of his cancer. Unable to maintain the farm, Josephine, Grandma J, as we knew her, moved the family into town, and purchased a small gas and oil business. My mom had one brother. Everyone loved uncle Bob. He was kind hearted and generous, while also being a man’s man. He loved to hunt and fish and he had gnarled hands from working the hoses in frigid weather. But it was always his heart that shined through. After returning from serving in the Navy during WWII, he would run the family business, raise a family, and serve his mom, for the rest of his life.

After graduating from high school, my mom was given the opportunity to attend Augustana College in Sioux Falls. She was a gifted pianist and pursued a degree in musical performance. She excelled in her musical gifts and more than likely was going to pursue graduate studies in Chicago. Then she met my dad. They both sang in the Augustana Concert Choir. Friendship turned romantic and suddenly she was thrust into a decision that would change the entire trajectory of her life. Would she continue to pursue her dream and discover the depth of her musical talent? Or would she marry a History major intent on attending the Lutheran seminary in pursuit of a pastorate?

She made the choice to marry. Dreams of concert halls and stages shifted to children’s choirs and giving piano lessons. Being a pastor’s wife is the ultimate unsung hero’s role. It is a difficult role. It is a challenging role. The pastor receives the accolades and affirmation, while the pastor’s wife is typically the one who holds it all together behind the scenes. I had a front row seat watching my mother love, serve, help, encourage and join in partnership with my dad to build the church. My dad started two mission churches, so that required wearing even more multiple hats. She played the organ, led the choirs, taught Sunday, participated in the women’s groups, helping with fellowship and food and the list goes on.

I can clearly remember, as a young boy, listening to my mom practice the organ on Saturday afternoons, lying on the carpet, on the heater grate, in the sun, in our new Southern California church.

I can also clearly remember, as a young boy, walking into my parent’s upstairs bedroom, and seeing my mom lying on their bed, suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion. It would be a turning point in her life.

In the early years of ministry, my mom was wound up extremely tight. She attempted to please everyone and live up to unrealistic expectations she had in her own mind, and in a few others. A lot of stress and anxiety was felt in the household while both mom and dad tried to meet everyone’s needs. When she reached the breaking point and couldn’t carry the stress any longer, she was forced to surrender it all. She had to lay it all out to Jesus. And it was the beginning of her transformation. God comforted her. God strengthened her. God would restore her. She would tell me that she experienced the grace of God in a way she had never felt before. He lifted her up. He was in the process of restoring her heart and strengthening her faith. She was being healed. As the years went by, as her son, I felt that change. I could see it in her eyes. I could hear it in her voice. I could feel it in her touch.

Looking back, in many ways, I believe my mom lived out her middle name “Ruth”. My mom’s parents could not decide on her first name at birth. Oscar wanted to name her Mary. Josie wanted to name her Jean. So, they compromised and combined the names and named her MarJean. Only once in high school have I come across another girl/woman named MarJean.

But in her adult life, after her healing, her middle name means as much to me as her first. The book of Ruth, in the Old Testament records a woman, Ruth, willing to leave her home and follow her sister-in-law, Naomi. After both of their husbands died, Ruth wanted to return with Naomi to her Jewish relatives. As Naomi tried to convince Ruth to remain behind and marry again with her own people, Ruth states, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay…”(Ruth 1:16)

In the beginning, my mom chose to follow my dad. Wherever he went, she went. The turning point in her life came when she was no longer following my dad but following the Lord. Where ever the Lord would lead her, where ever the Lord would lead them, she would follow. With her eyes fixed upon the Lord, she became a new woman. Love, patience, comfort, care poured from her heart in new ways. It all came bubbling up from a new spiritual reservoir. In the following years, her four children were nurtured and raised in the freedom of faith in the midst of daily life. Our lives and faith were not choked out by religious expectations. As pastor’s kids normally do, we were not required to rebel and break free from religious weights. Her love which flowed from God glued us all together. Our hearts remained open to God. That’s what made her passing so difficult. We all knew it. We all could feel her absence. A bitter sweet experience this side of heaven.

But she laid down a legacy of faith. She gave us a witness of love, self-sacrifice and service. I am convinced that she could have gone on and performed at Carnegie hall and the Kennedy Center. But she chose to follow another dream. She chose to marry, have children and raise a family. There are four children and many others who are forever grateful for this selfless act.

The Jewish Talmud states that in saving one life, one saves the world entire. I clearly remember a man sitting in my office years ago asking me the question, “Is it enough that you led one person to Jesus Christ?” In all honesty, I was thinking, “No, not really”. I’ve pondered that question over and over – over the years. I’m not sure it’s one question to answer but rather to feel the weight from the one asking. The man in my office asked the question because he had discovered the freedom of salvation in Jesus Christ.

What I do know is that my mom was instrumental in setting this one life on the solid ground of Jesus Christ. She was my daily, living witness to Jesus and pointed me to him. My mom was not a woman who walked in perfection, but she was a woman who walked in deep faith.  I know that I’m not the only one. But on this day, the 90th year since her birth, 34 years after her death, her life and legacy still lives on. And this one life, her youngest son, is personally grateful to be able to publicly thank her, and privately whisper, “AMEN”. And perhaps, a few years from now, my children’s children will read this tribute and have a deeper appreciation for the legacy that has gone on before them. And may it point them to Jesus!

My mom struggled with asthma, allergies and a host of other physical challenges throughout her life. Perhaps this is why she was drawn to Isaiah 40. Many times, she said, Isaiah 40:28-31, was one of her favorite scriptures. One of her favorite pieces of music, which we sang at her funeral was, “On Eagles Wings”.

May this promise of God bless you! This Bible verse blessed my mom during the many and various moments of her life, and it continues to carry on deep meaning for me:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 

God Bless You All!  

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s July Blog

 
Pastor Mark’s July Newsletter Blog
 
“On Our Way Rejoicing”
 
As a boy, I can remember my dad often choosing hymn number 260, “On Our Way Rejoicing”, as our sending song in worship.  This hymn was an upbeat, celebratory song that always put an exclamation point on the service and energized us to move forward.
 
The refrain declares, “On our way rejoicing; As we forward move, Hearken to our praises, O blest God of love!”  
 
On June 9, 2019, Our Saviour’s Lutheran congregation met to discuss and vote upon the proposed plan to remodel our fellowship hall and fireside room. We gathered together for one worship service and the place was packed. You could feel the vibe and excitement in the room (which, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how the whole morning would go. We had done our homework, been on our knees in prayer – yet still we were not sure how the congregation, as a whole felt about the project.)
 
After a great time of worship, the table was set, and we feasted with a great breakfast. Then our President, Ken Christoferson, opened our meeting and gave an overall scope of the project. Marv Hansen, our project manager, then focused on all the details and particulars of the remodel. I followed trying to focus upon the “why” of this effort – to further strengthen our mission and ministry in our church and into our community. Annette Bowden then discussed the funds necessary and a vision for how this could be accomplished.  
 
Then a motion was made and a vote was taken to consider this remodel project.
 
Overwhelmingly the congregation approved the effort with a vote of 118-2. And we went on our way, rejoicing!
 
That day, commitment cards were passed out and on the following day cards were mailed out for those who could not attend. Annette explained that to begin the project, we would need to raise $200,000 in pledges to be given by September 30, 2019. Those pledges were to be made on the “green” commitment cards. The “yellow” commitment card is for a 3-year pledge, that would cover the remainder of the construction costs of $170,000.
 
It is now 7 days after our congregational meeting and to date Sheri, our treasurer, who is the only one who will count these cards, has communicated that we have received pledges on the green cards of $148,844 – that’s 74.4% of our initial fund raising goal of $200,000! 
 
Are you rejoicing? I CAN’T HEAR YOU! How exciting and what a wonderful expression of enthusiasm from our congregation to see this kind of generous giving so quickly. Yes, we still have a way to go – but it is very exciting as we forward move. May God hearken to our praises, O blest God of love!
 
On the day of our vote, I told two stories involving Pastor Tony Campolo, pointing to the power and purpose of why we are here as a church and why we do what we do. Whether remodel or not, we are here to bring the message of reconciliation from Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world. And we have been given the opportunity and privilege to participate in His mission.
 
I close with one final Tony Campolo story:  Tony was giving a major address at a women’s conference. At a point in the program the women were being challenged with a several thousand dollar goal for their mission project, the chairperson for the day turned to Dr. Campolo and asked him if he would pray for God’s blessing on the women as they considered what they might do to achieve their goal.
 
To her astonishment, he went to the podium and graciously declined. He said, “You already have the necessary resources to complete this project right here in this room. The necessary gifts are in your hands. As soon as we take the offering and underwrite this project, then we will thank God for freeing us to be generous, responsible and accountable stewards.”
 
When the offering was taken, the mission goal was overreached. Then Dr. Campolo led them in a joyous prayer and song of thanksgiving. I wonder if the song was, “On Our Way Rejoicing”?
 
Thank you for your partnership and participation. More specifically, thank you for your partnership and participation in the mission of the Gospel.
 
In all that we do, may Jesus Christ be honored, glorified and praised.
 
Join us Sunday, June 30th at 9:45 a.m. in the fellowship hall  – as we eat breakfast together, hear from Sheri the results of our progress and then sing together,  “On our way rejoicing; as we forward move, Hearken to our praises, O blest God of love!”
 
Yours in Christ,
 
Pastor Mark