March 4th, 2017

This is going to sound a bit odd, but since I met with Mike’s family on Tuesday, I’ve been mostly thinking of ways in which he and I were alike.

Maybe it started when I learned that Mike and Carolyn named their daughter Elizabeth Anne, and my sister was also named Elizabeth Ann.  Then there were some other obvious parallels – one of the main ones being that we both had a deep affection for Sarah and Christopher Propst.  I mean, who doesn’t love them if they know them, right?

We were both spoiled by the kitchen staff at Corinth.  On Wednesday nights, Lisa and her team know I’m one of the last to arrive, but they always save me a plate or a special dessert if they’re running short.  But they really spoiled Mike – they let him stick his fork right into the serving trays after everyone else was done.

Mike and I are both baby boomers, and the significance of that is not only the generation we are a part of, but the generation our parents are a part of.  In many ways Harold Hewat reminds me of my own father.

The only people who know us both would be Lisa, her husband Scott, her children, and her parents.  I suspect that all of them are wondering where this is going, because they have seen many ways in which Mike and I are very different.  I’m a pastor; he was a CPA.  I have invested my whole life in my faith and in the church, and Mike kept his distance most of his life.  Mike was a night owl; I’m a morning person.  He was a smoker, and the only cigarette I had in my life was during about 5 minutes of teenage rebellion. I’ve hated cigarettes ever since.

We were different but there were many similarities.  Let’s talk about those.

Boyhood.  According to his parents, Mike used to love to dam the creek when he was a boy.  I lived a half a world away in Pakistan as a kid, but I have vivid memories of doing the same thing.  Without handheld electronics, video games, or even TVs in most cases, boys (and girls) in our generation had lots of time to play out in the woods, go from house to house in the neighborhood to find friends, play games, ride bikes, and so on.  I also liked the story of the sofa that was set on fire at the Country Club when Harold was the manager.  Mike and Randy were both there.  Apparently Mike said Randy did it.  And maybe he did.  But the reason I like that story is that when I was a kid there was a fire at our house.  I was the little brother who denied setting it, but I think I really did.  But my Mom said I didn’t really do it – my older brothers just convinced me I did it and I believed them.  So Randy, let’s go with that and blame Mike.

Music.  Mike started playing the trumpet when he was at Grandview Junior High for two years, then taught himself after that.  Billy shared some of those details about Mike’s music love, so I won’t repeat them.  I wasn’t quite that level of musician, and mine was more piano and voice.  But music was an early love of mine, and I can certainly see how it could take over someone’s life.

Grammar.  I wouldn’t have known about Mike’s fondness for using correct grammar and correcting others if it hadn’t been for Billy.  My suspicion is the rest of the family experienced that side of Mike as well, but they couldn’t tell me everything.  I’ve been known to be somewhat meticulous about such things myself, though as a pastor I have to restrain myself a little.  “Choose your battles,” you know.  I rarely correct parishioners’ grammar, but my kids – that’s a different matter.

Family.  Mike took a little longer than I did to get married, since Linda and I married just out of college.  But we both have been married more than 35 years to the same woman, and both had three kids.  Both Carolyn and Linda were homemakers in the early years, focusing on raising their children.  Both Mike and I threw ourselves into our careers, and probably felt some of the same tensions between work life and home life.

Numbers.  As I mentioned earlier, Mike was a CPA and I’ve been a pastor all my life.  But here’s something about me that I bet most of my own church members don’t know.  I did a career assessment about a decade ago – one of those instruments that is designed to tell you what job you’re most suited for.  Pastor was toward the bottom of my list, and accountant was at the top.  I’m really more wired for accounting than pastoring, which is why anything good I do as a pastor is by grace.  But I love numbers and charts and work them into my pastoral work whenever I can.  If I had had the right training I would have made a good accountant.

Solitude.  This is something else people don’t know about me unless they get to know me well.  I’m 100% introvert on the inside, and that’s very much like Mike.  A flip side of what Billy said about Mike’s friendships is what Carolyn said: Mike enjoyed solitude.  It’s probably one of those traits that makes us both suited for an accounting profession, because you actually prefer tasks over people.

Collections.   Mike collected vintage toys like toy soldiers, World War II planes, and tin buildings.  He loved the flea market every month at the Metrolina in Charlotte, and collected antique furniture.  I don’t collect any of those things, but if you’ve seen my office I collect books and paper and files and magazines and notes and a lot of junk somebody’s going to have to go through or sort someday.

Hard work.  Mike and I did different kinds of work, but we have in common a love for what we do.  Mike interviewed for 5 jobs when he finished UNCC, and got four job offers.  That started him on a career path that eventually led to his own successful accounting practice.  I can’t claim that many job offers but I’ve never lacked for a job because, in part, I’ve had a strong work ethic and a passion for what I do.  And yes, I work too many hours as well, sometimes at cost to my own family life.

Mom and Sis.  The older get, the more I appreciate and love my mother and my only sister.  Mike moved back to Hickory last August, and a big reason was to reconnect with his mother and sister.

Lisa sent me the following in a text message this morning:

The last six months and especially the last couple of months, Mom would say to Mike, “What can I cook for you?”  He would answer, “Your deviled eggs and salmon patties.” She made 24 halves and delivered them to him while he was at dialysis. She had salmon patties prepared in packages of 2-3. He could freeze some if needed. I think they didn’t make it to the freezer.

He was so impressed with hickory jazz band and bought all our tickets.  Christmas Eve, he had us all over for pie. He bought several pies or half pies from J&S cafeteria. His tree was up and the kids put the lights on and a few ornaments. It was his dream for us to share time at his house. I’ll never forget it. He was very ill but managed to get us that dessert. It was just us on Christmas Day at my house I am so happy I ordered stockings with everyone’s names on them. His was supposed to say Uncle Mike, but it came back “Meg”! It took three tries to get it right. I explained to them how important it was to have his right and on time. He loved it. We will continue to hang it with ours every year.

You might think I’m stretching all these comparisons between Mike and me.  Am I really that much like him, and, if so, what’s the point?

In many of these comparisons you might find yourself as well.  Some of what made Mike, Mike was just a variation of what makes us all human – thinking, creating, working, loving and being loved.  The Bible has a phrase that covers all of this:  we are created in God’s image, made to be God-like.  That includes our capacity to reason, feel, and choose – for good or bad.  This brings me the most important ways Mike Hewat was like me…and you.

Ignorance and unbelief.  This is a phrase I borrowed from the New Testament lesson we read a few moments ago.  The Apostle Paul is the person most credited with spreading the message of Jesus to the non-Jewish world.  In his letter to a young pastor named Timothy, Paul reflects very personally on his own story.  Some of it is not pretty.  Paul says he “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13).  He even calls himself “the chief of sinners.”  Paul was not the kind of person we tend to give a second chance to.  (Sorry, Mike, for ending that sentence with a preposition.  I left it there on purpose, for you.)

Paul says he had acted in “ignorance and unbelief,” which in itself is a rather remarkable statement for someone who was so thoroughly indoctrinated with the Hebrew Scriptures and world view.  Ignorant?  Paul was schooled in Bible and theology by Gamaliel, considered to be among the leading scholars of his generation.  Unbelief?  Paul fervently and sincerely believed in God.  He had a detailed system of believing in God and responding in detail to what God required of him.

Even though Mike Hewat and I have taken very different paths since our early introduction into faith and the church, I would describe parts of my own journey just as much as Mike’s as one of “ignorance and unbelief.”  This is the description of every human being apart from the grace of God.  One of the unique features of Christian belief that we often forget in an age which believes everybody is special and ought to be validated as worthy is that in the Christian view everybody is something else – totally messed up.  I don’t really like funerals where we only clean up a person’s story and make them seem flawless.

You and I both know part of Mike’s story that were less than ideal.  That’s where he and I are so much alike.  I wasn’t a perfect husband or father or worker or Christian.  In fact, “imperfect” is too mild a word to describe him or me.  A “sinner” acting in “ignorance and unbelief” is a far better description of every one of our stories.

Patience.  We need to be honest about the bad news about each of us, but thank God we don’t need to stop there.  The Apostle Paul’s own purpose in sharing about his sin was so that he could move on to the Good News.  Twice in this brief passage he speaks of how he was “shown mercy,” which means that God didn’t give him what he deserved.  The Christian message is also not that our sins don’t matter.  They do matter.  They create a barrier between us and God, and do damage to our spouses and children and friends.  If God gave to Paul or Mike or Bob what we deserved, that would be hell.  He doesn’t; he shows mercy.

Then Paul uses another beautiful phrase.  He says the result of that mercy is that Christ Jesus displayed his “unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”  Think about all the times God could have said to Paul or Mike or me or you, “I’m done with you.”  Instead, he waits.  And waits.  And waits.

I don’t know everything that happened in Mike’s heart toward the end because we never had a chance to talk personally about it.  I do know that he showed some outward signs of a softening heart toward God as he came to our Christmas services and tried to reconnect some broken relationships in his life.  Through Lisa he began to see what he had missed all those years in Christian community as Carolyn faithfully took the kids to church.  He couldn’t get back the time he didn’t give to his kids, but he gave himself to Christopher and Sarah as their “fun uncle.”  Carolyn, Lisa, and Mike’s parents all agreed that on the inside his faith was real.

Had Mike had more time, I think he would have continued that process of reconnection with God and others.  It’s not like he would have become perfect, because that doesn’t happen to any of us in this life.  Jesus finishes that up when we see him.  Only then will we fully understand what it means that all along he displayed “unlimited patience.”  He gave his life for us so that he could permanently demolish every barrier between God and us and take us home to be with him.  Thank God that Jesus rose again to give the hope of a new body as well. Amen.

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