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April 11th, 2018

I am aware that people think a memorial service like this one is difficult for a pastor to preach.  I want to assure you it’s not.

The reason you might think it’s difficult is that although Charles was a member of Corinth Reformed Church, where I have served as pastor for 25 years, he was an inactive member.  I haven’t seen him at church for the better part of a decade, nor have we had a chance to catch up personally during most of those years.  I certainly take my part of the responsibility for that, and naturally I come to this service wishing we had connected more recently.  I also know that for every fine quality of Charles as a person, as a businessman, as a friend and father, those who knew him best also knew that not everything about him was exemplary.  You can make precisely the same statement about me. Some of you may also have some residual pain in your relationship with Charles that now will always feel unresolved.

All this would only make a memorial service difficult to preach if I believed first, that our salvation comes by our performance, and second, that as a pastor I’m supposed to tell you how God graded this person.  Fortunately, I don’t believe either one of those things.  Every funeral for me is a chance to preach “amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  If you believe as I do that we’re only saved by the grace of God who entered our world in the person of Jesus Christ who died and rose again for our salvation, then the main thing to say at every funeral is that our only hope is that God, who knows all our strengths and sins more than anyone, has forgiven us because of what Christ did for us.

That statement is true for everyone from Billy Graham to the most notorious sinner you can imagine.  Charles Bradshaw wasn’t a saint and he wasn’t a scoundrel.  He was somewhere in the middle, like me.  So I want to do what I hope someone will do for me one day.  I want to share how his life displayed truth and the character of God, but I want to leave you amazed not by Charles but by God’s grace, the only hope for him as well as for you and me.

Let me share with you what Charles wrote when he joined Corinth Reformed Church in 2003.  We ask our new members to declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and to write a paragraph about what that means to them.  This is what Charles wrote:  “My profession is a long and ongoing journey.  Starting in childhood and developing through adulthood.  An inner peace with the acceptance of Jesus as my compass in life.  I look at Jesus as a bridge over a valley of sin.”

That phrase, “a long and ongoing journey,” was perfect I thought through Charles’ life.  The main reason it captured my attention is because I just finished, last Sunday, preaching a series of sermons on the Gospel of Luke.  This is why our New Testament reading today is the last four verses of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke is one of four writers who gave us extensive reflections on Jesus’ life that are included in the New Testament, and Luke also wrote the book of Acts.  Here’s what I never saw about Luke until preaching this series of sermons:  Luke loves a journey story.  He’s a traveler himself, and accompanied the Apostle Paul on much of his missionary movement.  But it’s not just that.  Luke tells more stories about Jesus traveling, the early apostles traveling, himself traveling, and others traveling, than anyone else.  Without preaching my whole sermon series, let me just remind you of some of the most familiar.  Only Luke tells the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth.  Only Luke tells of Jesus’ family going to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old and got separated from his parents.  Only Luke tells about the Good Samaritan, a story that happens on a journey.  Only Luke relates the parable of the prodigal son, which is about a life transformed when running away from home.  Only Luke tells about Jesus appearing to two disciples on Easter Sunday afternoon on the road to Emmaus. Only Luke tells the story of Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus.  Only Luke records Paul’s missionary journeys.

And only Luke tells the story of Jesus’ ascension, which is what we read.  That’s a journey story as well.  Jesus is leaving, and doing so very visibly.  Typical of Luke’s journey stories, there’s not much about the destination.  What’s it going to be like when Jesus gets to heaven?  That’s not the point.  Luke loves to talk about the journey.  Journeys are unpredictable, and God works when people get moved out of their comfort zone, out of the familiar.  God uproots individuals, families, and people for this very reason.  Even Jesus’ disappearance into a cloud creates a pivotal point in the faith journey of his disciples, who respond with joy and then wait in Jerusalem for what God will do next.

So now you know why it grabbed me when Charles described his faith as “a long and ongoing journey.”  That’s true for all of us on one level or the other, but for Charles to have named that was actually a rather significant spiritual insight.

Let me tell you a little about the journey of Charles Bradshaw.  All of you probably know some of what I’m going to say.  Probably few of you know all of it.

He was born here in Hickory and his first spiritual journey began next door to Corinth at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.  He was the youngest of three boys and, according to his family, mischievous – doing things like hiding liver from the supper table behind the couch because he didn’t want to eat it.  However, I loved what his mother Mary said about his childhood, that he was a “perfect son growing up…to me.”  When Donna and the girls pushed back a bit Mary added, “I’ve got a big eraser.”  That’s just like a Mom, right?

Speaking of journeys, Charles loved flight from his boyhood.  One of his favorite pasttimes, not only as a child but as a Dad, was to go to the Hickory airport and watch the planes take off and land.  He joined the “Aviation Patrol” as a kid and got his pilot’s license in his late teens.  He also learned to like NASCAR, which nobody understands except NASCAR fans.  It’s also consistent with his love for journeys – going somewhere, never still.

After high school, Charles went on a journey to find something outside of Hickory.  He went to Raleigh, then Athens, GA, then Johnson City, TN.  There he worked in sales and marketing at Johnson City Medical Center, volunteering even more hours than he worked for pay.  Eventually, he moved back to Hickory, got his nursing degree at CVCC, and went to work as an Emergency Room nurse at Frye Hospital.  He met and married the mother of his children in 1983, and together they started Piedmont Medical Supplies, distributing rehab equipment including power wheelchairs, stair lifts, portable ramps, wheelchair lifts, and more.  For thirty years he and Donna remained in that business together, even after their divorce, adding a Boone office.  Again, I see the “journey” theme here because much of what Piedmont Medical does is designed to keep people as mobile as possible after surgery or disease or aging takes its toll.

Of course at the beginning he had to continue working at the hospital because it took a while to get things up and running (another “journey” metaphor).  But Charles had an entrepreneurial spirit, a friendly way about him, a business sense, and medical training, all of which helped the business grow.  As his brother Larry said, the business was a credit to the man.  One of the great compliments to both him and Donna in running the business is that most of their employees have stayed a long time.

To be sure, this journey of life has had its ups and downs.  Their house burned when Donna was pregnant with Allison.  At age 6 Allison was in the car with Donna for a terrifying accident.  It’s a miracle Allison survived.  Her memory of those days was her Daddy bringing her Yoohoos and almond Hershey bars while she recovered.  Lindsey credits her dad with pushing her into medicine, in particular P.A. School.  The girls remember watching Rescue 911 as regular entertainment, and hearing E.R. stories instead of bedtime stories.

The kids also remember that their Dad was always there for them, which is a great thing for kids to remember.  He coached or watched their games whenever he could.  He and John had the manly bond with camping and sports and paintball.  He and Allison won the staring contest at one of our All Church retreats in the 2000s, and she shared his love for eating tomatoes like they were apples.  Lindsey was his “mini-me,” Daddy’s girl.  He was a man of few words, but he had a dry sense of humor and loved to make you laugh.

Charles was not particularly empathetic toward his children’s illnesses and they rarely got out of school for being sick.  His retort:  “If your bones ain’t broken and you’re not showing blood, you’re fine.”  It wasn’t quite the same for his own mother, though.  When she had her stroke he took her to the doctor who said, “She’s fine. Take her back home.”  Charles answered, “She’s not fine.  She had a stroke.”  Guess who was right?  He was always there for Mary in these later years.  She said he’d always come whenever she asked him to…although this past Friday she wanted him to take her to WalMart and he turned her down.  Apparently he did know something was up.

He may have come back home to live, but he always loved the beach.  It was his “happy place,” which is why we chose the bulletin cover we did.  He was a gardener too, and a bit of a hoarder.  He loved his dog Wesley, oh, and big surprise – travel.  He went with his brothers and Dad to England, Paris, Germany, and France.

Do you see how much “journey” was part of Charles’ life?  That was true of his spiritual life as well.  I’m not sure when Charles came to Corinth he was ready to make his faith central.  He had been baptized twice earlier in life – once at St. Luke’s as a baby and then again at Temple Baptist.  But institutional religion was not his thing, although he said he connected more with me than any other pastor and I had a fondness for him as well.  I truly wish we had spent more time together.  Those who knew him best said he had made a considerable effort to turn his life around in the last year.  He never stopped trying.  To me that is evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work in his life and that the “long and ongoing journey” was still on.

All of this connects to why I chose Psalm 23 for today’s service.  Do you think you know that psalm so well there’s nothing new to say about it?  Well, here’s something I never saw until I connected it with Charles Bradshaw.  Psalm 23 is a psalm for the long and ongoing journey.  It’s not just about the metaphor of a shepherd or a host, as I’ve often heard and taught.

The life of sheep and shepherd in David’s day was a nomadic life.  Sure, there’s that part about lying down in green pastures, but I guarantee a sheep won’t be there for long.  David writes, He leads me by quiet waters.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your rod and staff comfort me.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

The shepherd is a guide through the long and ongoing journey.  The host who serves me at his table is the one who meets me at the end of the journey and I know I’ve never truly been alone.  This is the faith-life, a journey.  And thank God when we get into his presence he doesn’t pull out a scorecard to check off how many times we went to church or what were the moments we utterly failed him or others.

The Christian gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore all of our sins in his body on the tree and rose again so that need never fear death.  He has journeyed before us into the heavens, a place of mystery to us with a veil separating us from the unknown.  We don’t know everything about what will meet us when we journey there, but we know who will meet us and he will be enough.

Friends, if you don’t know Christ personally I urge you to trust him. I can’t imagine traveling this uncertain road of life, never knowing when or how it will end, without Jesus.  The hymn writer said it this way:  “All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside?”  Three thousand years ago King David of Israel wrote of his own journey in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.”  Amen.

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