As little Jimmy learned to obey his mother and father, it didn't take him long to understand if he ate everything on his plate, including those dreaded vegetables, he was in for a real treat called dessert. He was always happy to hear the magic words, "keep your fork."
Maybe that's why I remember the following story written by Ann Landers…
A woman was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given three months to live. She asked her pastor to come to her home in order to discuss her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at her funeral, the scriptures to be read, and even which outfit she wanted to be buried in.
Then she said something else, "Oh, and one more thing… I want to be buried with a fork in my hand."
The Pastor was surprised.
The woman explained, "In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably say out loud these words, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite time of the dinner, because I knew that something better was coming like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie, something absolutely wonderful! So, I would like people to see me in my casket holding a fork in my hand and wonder, 'Hey what's with the fork?' Then I would like you to tell them, 'Keep your fork' means that the best is yet to come."
The Pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he bid the elderly woman goodbye. He realized that she had a better grasp of heaven then he did because something better was coming.
At the funeral when friends and relatives asked the Pastor why she was holding a fork in her hand, he knew what to say. He told them about their conversation before she died. He said he could not stop thinking about the fork. He also knew they probably wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.
Like she said, "Keep your fork. The best is yet to come."
Next month this unique family of Christians will begin another chapter in the story of God's grace to St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Grants Pass, Oregon. As strange as it may seem right now, Linda and I will not be here after June 30. Retirement after almost 40 years of work in the service of Christ and his church is not the end, but only the beginning of something absolutely wonderful, the rest of our eternal life!
Keep clearing those dishes and stay on course with God's Holy Word and Sacraments. He will send you another man to feed you with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15) as the call process continues in our absence. Keep praying but never lose hope for the best is yet to be served in the kingdom by our Lord himself.
Remember, "Keep your fork."
See you in church.
You're Pastor and friend,