October 27th, 2017

The first explanation I should make is why I have the privilege of leading this service today.  My wife Linda and I have served in one congregation for almost 25 years.  Whether we try to or not, pastors tend to bond with certain individuals and families, and our family bonded with Kathie’s daughter Carol for a number of different reasons early on.  One of those was that the loss of Carol and Andy’s son Benjamin at six weeks old was still so raw.  For a while, they were also among our closest neighbors in the church – just down the road.  And maybe part of it was how much we came to love Joseph and Sarah.  We also came to know Carol’s older children and her parents, who lived up the mountain, when they would visit Hickory.

The Vaughans have long since moved away, but unlike many other church families who moved away, they and we have kept in touch – especially Carol and Linda.  When we visited California, we met up with Carol.  When we flew to Hawaii to visit our son, we stopped in to see Joseph and his family.  So when Carol said she’d be coming in from California for this service for her Mom just up the road, and wanted to know if I would lead the service, it was an easy yes.  This family is special to the Thompsons.

I chose two Scriptures to read today.  The first one is drawn from the earliest record of humans in the Bible.  God creates a man and places him in a beautiful garden, then says of him, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  The King James Version translated the word “suitable” as “meet,” with the result that generations of English speakers have read the Bible’s perspective on woman as being a “help meet,” corrupted further to “helpmate” – as if woman is supposed to be her hubby’s little helper.

That’s not what’s in view here.  The word “helper” is used of God in the Bible, and otherwise often used of a military alliance.  The idea is that one party is helpless unless rescued by someone equal or greater.  Poor little Adam can’t handle the garden – or even life – by himself, so God says, “He needs help.”  So God creates a woman to help him.

Mert Cregger needed help, so God gave him Kathie.  The reflections on her life I’m about to share with you comes mostly from Carol.  She said her parents met in high school and from the age of 16 there was never another for either one of them.  Mert and Kathie must have been taught as Linda and I were, that Mom and Dad shouldn’t argue in front of the children because any disagreement between them was handled in private.

1942 was an uncertain time to marry.  Mert was drafted in 1944, leaving Kathie with uncertainty (and a 2-year-old) while he was deployed to Europe (even fighting in the Battle of the Bulge).  Physically he came home whole but emotionally he was never the same.  He needed a helper suitable for him.  He came home to Los Angeles and completed his training to be a chiropractor, following in his father’s footsteps.

More than a decade later, Mert decided to move to South America.  As Carol said, even traveling to somewhere like Colombia in 1956 was virtually unheard of, much less picking up your family and moving there to mine gold.  A man that would do that needed a helper suitable for him, and Kathie was up for the challenge.  The myriad of details to get ready were mostly hers to care for, as was setting up a home in a foreign country.

Apparently the gold thing didn’t work out too well, so Mert accepted the opportunity to direct one of the Peace Corps groups.  The Creggers became foster parents to 48 young men in 1961.  Mert needed a helper suitable for him.  He traveled a lot and when he was home the Peace Corps volunteers constantly needed his attention, so guess who was Mom and cook and counselor to all those boys?

Then in 1963 the Peace Corps transferred Mert to yet another new country and job– Ankara, Turkey.  The language barrier was even wider, and the position of women in that society blatantly inferior.  Military personnel had access to the PX with all the comforts of home available, but Peace Corps personnel had to buy meat from carcasses hanging in outdoor shops and travel to farms for vegetables. Not every woman would have been able to handle this.  Mert needed a helper suitable for him. Kathie adjusted and took care of her family.  Carol especially remembers that when it came time for her senior prom, her Mom ordered the dress months in advance from the Sears catalog.  Apparently two-day Prime shipping from Amazon.com was not an option!

I can relate to this part of Carol’s story, since I was raised as a missionary kid in Pakistan.  We third culture kids didn’t have things that Americans took for granted.  At times that was hard, but on the other hand, we grew up independent and confident in our ability to lead.  My Mom was by far the tougher, more adaptable person between my parents – even though my Dad was the one with the public status.  Carol said of Kathie, “It was Mom’s strength and quiet support that allowed him to succeed and shine.”  She was a helper suitable for him.

That role continued into retirement, when many of you came to know Mert and Kathie.  Well into her nineties, she remained strong and capable, serving others and drawing her family to visit her as often as possible.  In a further display of her strength, when Mert died, she made adjustments as she had always done, learning new skills on the iPad and staying strong until the fall that was the beginning of the end for her.

A helper suitable for Mert, indeed.  Someone as strong as he – if not stronger – to support, adjust, come to the rescue, make him look better than he ever would have been by himself.  I suppose some people do that without faith in God, but I don’t know how anyone can.  Kathie was a believer, and a woman who leaned on God through prayer.

That’s why I thought the passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was a nice connection as well.  Here we have Paul telling all of us we need a helper.  Human beings just have this propensity to try to get through life on our own – our own way, our own terms.  Inevitably we miss the mark and make a mess, but that’s why God invented this incredible thing called grace.  “I’ll be your helper,” he says – kind of like a Kathie Cregger – a behind-the-scenes strength and buffer and manager – someone who loves you for who you are, will not abandon you, will walk beside you, and will not let you be less than all you can be with his help.

Some people think “Well, I don’t have enough faith to believe that.”  What Paul says in Ephesians 2 is that you don’t even have to come up with the faith on your own.  Even faith is a gift from God – faith to believe we’re lost and broken and in need of a lot of help.  The Bible calls that “sin.”  All of that brokenness and alienation has been laid on Christ by his sacrifice on the cross, and he comes to rescue us.

But it’s not just for our own sake, it’s to recreate us for good works – to kick start the process of making us more and more like him.  Whether it’s a life lived in ministry, or nursing, or teaching, or the military, or the Peace Corps, or the home, or any number of other vocations, or whether it’s a life lived well having been changed by grace, our good works bring honor to our Creator and Savior.

We’re all in need of a helper, and never more so than when we think we aren’t.  Thank God he has given us all the help we need in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

O God, our strength and our redeemer, giver of life and conqueror of death, we praise you with humble hearts.  With faith in your great mercy and wisdom, we entrust Kathie Cregger to your eternal care.  We praise you for your steadfast love for her all the days of her life.  We thank you for all that she was to those who loved her, especially to Mert, their children Peter, Nancy, and Carol, and their families.  We thank you that for Kathie, all sickness and sorrow are ended, death itself is past, and that she has entered your presence.  Keep us all in communion with your faithful people in every time and place, that at last we may rejoice together in the heavenly family where Jesus Christ reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. This we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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