Now Unto Him Who Is Able To Keep You from Falling

A Sermon On Jude 24 by James Sundholm for the Memorial Service of Carl Carlson

by Rev. Jim Sundholm

Grace and Peace to you.

Peace, I say, not as the world gives, because the Peace of God is beyond the world's understanding. Therefore, Peace, as it comes from God.

A number of times in the last decade plus, Carl has said to me, "You know, Jim, it would be a good thing if we could find some way to get Plymouth and Community Covenant together." Well, I'll be, Carl did it. Carl, to an extent, has pulled that off and gotten us together for worship tonight.

When we were gathering with the family two nights ago, as Pastor Dave [Elowson] has mentioned, Gunny started to list off all the ministers who would be here. And, as we approached the numbers seven and eight, knowing how holy an occasion this was going to be with all that ecclesiastical glory gathered in this place, including the full component of all the directors and editors of the Biblical reflective periodical, Pietisten and, beyond that, the numerous Sunday School teachers and Biblically articulate laypersons who would be here, it seemed appropriate that maybe we ought to move this memorial service into a mission meeting. It was felt that we could have a real preach-off which would really give Lars and Eric something to time! They could compare how the ministers fared with one another in regard to minutes of preaching, I mean in no way to be flip. I only want to say that a sense of joy and humor is appropriate as part of this evening.

I guess the ears may affect the story, but I was moved and ministered to by Carl as I understood that on Friday Dr. Parod came to tell him that the enlargement in the tumor was becoming very threatening to his life. Dr. Parod said to Carl, "Carl you're losing your memory, your short-term memory. Carl, you are finding that you are having times of confusion. You find at times you don't say things you would like to say and lose track." And Carl goes, "Yes, I know, I'm Swedish."

Dr. Parod says, "No, I'm Swedish, too. That's not the problem this time, Carl." In that moment, Carl was releasing Dr. Parod and releasing himself with some honest conversation and story.

Thy Holy wings, dear Savior,
Spread gently over me;
And thru the long night watches,
I'll rest secure in thee.
Whatever may betide me,
Be thou my hiding place,
And let me live and labor
Each day, Lord, by thy grace.

The phrase comes to us from Jude the 24th verse:

Now unto him who is able to keep us from falling

Carl Carlson, born in Sweden, one of six children. However, a younger brother died in infancy.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

Carl, at an age of seven — While climbing the staircase at school, a schoolmate pulled Carl's leg causing Carl to fall. That fall seriously injured his hip resulting in one leg being an inch-and-a-half shorter than the other, resulting in discomfort. We would say pain.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

When Carl was nine, his father died of tuberculosis. His mother could not afford, in those times, to keep the family together, no matter how strong were her wishes. And Carl was sent to live with one of his uncles.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

It was just a few weeks ago, Gunny tells me, as she and Carl talked, that Carl told the story of his older brother taking him to the train — his older brother being 13 and Carl being nine. Of his brother getting on the train with him and taking him the length of that train ride and dropping him off at the train station, his older brother returning. Carl left the train to walk a great distance to find the boat that was to take him across the lake to there meet his uncle and aunt and, then, to spend his years there. Carl once told me that those were the years of never hearing the words thank you.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

In 1930, Carl's brother, Sixten, sent him the fare so that he could come to join Sixten in America. Carl arrived at the height of the depression.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

Work was hard to find. So, the first year, as his brother and sister-in-law found work and were employed, Carl was Mr. Mom to nephew Bob who joins us tonight.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

In 1937, Carl married Anna Gunhild — Gunny — and they returned home, as Gunny said, to Sweden to worship and to work in the state Lutheran Church. But, also, to worship with mission friends in the Covenant Church.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

These years knew the light of the gifts of Tommy and Birgitta. They knew the celebration of birch carvings and Sunday picnics. Of learning how to ride a bike and of knowing the joy and the beauty of the countryside of Sweden. A few other things: that time knew the rushing of a child to a hospital miles away on borrowed money, because the banks were closed, in order to find medical services because of a severe accident that happened to a six year old child's fingers while in a printing shop.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

In 1955, the family returned to the United States. As Pastor Dave has mentioned, to the cities of Rockford and Cleveland and then to retirement in Minnesota. Carpentry skills, custodial skills, helping skills were given to Marie Rodgers, to the Sundholm house, to clients of his son's business, and to many others.

Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time now and for ever. Amen.

Pastor Dave told of that moment in the hospital when Carl looked up and recognized the five of us standing there. He said, "Let's pray." He grabbed Gunny's hand on the left and Pastor Dave's hand on the right. In that gesture and in that phrase, Carl called upon us to be in relationship to each other and, within the midst of that context, to be in relationship with God.

For the same one God who had sustained him in his hour of death would sustain us in our hour of grief. That one God who would keep us from falling had the same power and affect on family and friends. That same one God would present all of us without blemish.

As Sunday passed and I left that place, this phrase from Jude 24 began to roll around in my head like a living, repetitive pattern. It ministered to me during the Viking game. (God knows we needed this kind of phrase during that afternoon!) It went on all the time.

Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling

That night as I reflected upon Carl's life, it happened that Tommy called me around 11:30. I was in the midst of that phrase when the phone rang. I believe this phrase is the chorus of the hymn of Carl's life. This chorus from Jude is a song of good news.

With these words I want to give a witness for God tonight! With these words I want us to realize a witness of life that goes beyond any of our struggling and preoccupations with those things that might come in life's path and block our direction. I want to give witness to God's good news to the truth of the Holy Scriptures that have become incarnate in Jesus the Christ — that there is one God and that that God has come to keep us from falling. A chorus not just for Carl's life but a hymn for all of our lives. Tonight I want to give a witness to the helping companionship of God.

Yea... Yea though I walk through the
valley of the shadow of
I will fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou annointest my head with oil,
my cup runs over.
For sure, goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of
the Lord
for ever.

Companionship. The companionship of God; companionship of the God who has come to keep us from falling. As we read the Jude text tonight, I'm reminded of the comment that Carl's son-in-law Ray made the other night. "What a great benediction for Carl's life!" True enough, a benediction of hope and comfort to Carl. Yet, also, it is a benediction of hope and comfort for each of us. When life experiences — days as these which we have known and know and will know where we experience grief and transition — come upon us and we note a limp in our stride, it is then that we, in the words of Jude, commit ourselves anew to the promises of the scripture that are read here tonight. The experience of Carl that God will keep us from falling is our experience. And that's good news tonight! God is a God who is for and of our life. Our life now and our life forever.

Brother pilgrim, Carl, is this word in Jude a true word for you tonight?

Yes, indeed.

Yes, indeed.