24. February 2012
St. Matthias, Apostle
Funeral of Ernest Harvey Benninghoff
Dearly beloved, Eileen, Laurie, Chris, Mike, Rob, Jennifer, Paul and Patti, spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchild, brothers and sisters, and all the fellow redeemed—Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for our meditation is the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 11, especially these words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The last few months and especially this week have been difficult for you as family. I know they have been especially difficult for you, Eileen. Harv(ey), your dear husband, father, brother, and fellow Christian fought tooth and nail with his blood disease. He fought as only a Marine can—no offense, Hilton, to the other armed forces. He was trained as a soldier and fought his disease like one. He knew he could not avoid it and instead faced it head on. Frequent transfusions and fatigue marred his days.
In the midst of this, Harvey wanted no pity party. He specifically asked that I not reveal his struggles to the congregation. Even his own siblings didn’t know the extent of his disease. In the midst of it ll, he embraced your visits as family, every Sunday afternoon being bombarded by children, grandchildren, and even his beloved great-grandchild. No, he wouldn’t let a little blood issue get in the way of embracing Rowan, as she walked across the living room for the first time, into his arms.
But it would surprise me if you didn’t know what was coming. I’d bet you knew that he was slowing slipping. Even the bravest Marine cannot escape what was on Harvey’s horizon. His congregation at Grace Lutheran Church were not oblivious, despite his private struggles. We noticed his absence. For fifty one years Harvey faithfully attend services at Grace, confessing his sins and receiving absolution from Christ himself. He cherished the Word of God preached and taught in its truth and purity. He longed to receive again the body and blood of his savior in the Sacrament of the Altar. He loved his church and wanted to see no harm come to it.
Perhaps Harvey was even a bit defensive of his congregation. I understand that he jokingly would tell the family, as he left for Grace and his wife and children for their Catholic parish, that they were secretly amassing weapons to take over his church. I’m not surprised he was concerned about me either. Even in sickness, he was concerned for his church’s well-being. He and I visited last month, not just to receive preaching and the Holy Supper, but also to discuss his heartfelt concerns. While we had only begun to get to know each other, that visit left us both reconciled, I think. This was important to Harv.
You see, Harvey had seen Grace through thick and thin, through false teachers, through economic hardship, through building of the our sanctuary and later fellowship hall, through changes to the mass over three and maybe more hymnals (or missals.) Just as he was firmly dedicated to preserving his own life and those he loved, he was dedicated to defending Grace until the last.
It was essential that I defend from the Holy Scriptures the various “changes” that he had seen in my short time at Grace. He did not want to see his church fall into error of doctrine or practice. He did not want to see schism rock his congregation. He wanted to be absolutely confident that I am committed to faithfully teaching God’s Word and that in all things I would not lead his congregation into error.
This sort of steadfastness is unusual. Harvey was a rare bird. He would be quiet and reserved and yet you knew when something was up. You could tell from his body and demeanor. And when you asked, he said it just as he saw it. Thanks be to God for such virtue. Too many silently complain, never unloading their cares and concerns as they ought. Instead, our Harvey wanted nothing less than the truth proclaimed from his church.
Fighting his disease, loving his children, and defending his congregation were not Harvey’s only labors of love. He cherished you, Eileen, in all things. He remained faithful to you through fifty three years and seven children. I have no doubt that your marriage saw struggle. No doubt, there were times you had to defend yourself just as I had, while he “stuck to his guns.” But you and he knew an uncommon kind of love, a marriage of rare grace. Only by God’s providence can anyone live together in holy matrimony as you two did. Only by the forgiveness of sins in Jesus could you and he work through thick and thin, sickness and health.
Of course, this was your vow. Harvey would never, by the help of God, break such a sacred trust. Yet, now, our heavenly Father has taken Harvey from us. So suddenly did he move from headache, to bleeding, pain, and finally to breath his last. That last day was some of the most difficult labor Harvey ever undertook. He fought death until the end, not wanting to depart from you, Eileen, or you, his dear children, and neither any of the rest of his dear family and friends.
Yet, this was his time. Our Father in heaven was calling him home. In the Father’s wisdom, those labors of love—against disease, for family, for church, for beloved wife, and for country—those labors were being brought to an end. The heavy labors that we all know too well would finally be lifted from Harv(ey). And he would want us to remember that this was not because he was better than the next guy. No, he’d want us to say that he was a damn sinner and needed Jesus.
Make no mistake, though. Our dear brother in Christ did not fear his end. He had looked death in the eye before, fighting for our nation or defending the weak and their property as a voluntary fireman. He had no fear of death for he knew his savior Jesus. He knew that even when the labor was difficult, there is promised rest for all in Christ. Jesus was carrying him, giving him the strength to do what need to be done, to say what needed to be said.
Perhaps Harvey considered his labor of love as a reflection of Jesus’ labor of love for him. Perhaps for all those years of hearing faithfully of his savior’s life, passion, death, and resurrection, he knew what it was like to serve the Holy Trinity as he served his family and neighbors. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to redeem Harvey and all who believe, by faithfully laboring in the Father’s vineyard. So, Harvey learned what it is to work and defend, to serve and protect, to love until the end. This was not because he was better or stronger, but because he trusted and relied upon Jesus for his every need.
Harvey took the yoke of faith upon his shoulders, learning from Jesus how to labor. He learned from Jesus gentleness and lowliness of heart, even if he didn’t always show it. Finally, now, he has received the promised rest for his soul. The labor was difficult, the warfare long, but now Harvey rests and rejoices with the saints of heaven.
Dearly beloved, Eileen, Laurie, Chris, Mike, Rob, Jennifer, Paul and Patti, spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchild, brothers and sisters, and all the fellow redeemed —Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We hope and Harvey knows what it is like to rest from our labors. He knows the blessed rest of a death with Christ. And make no mistake, Harvey knows the reward for this labor and wears the crown of everlasting life. The battle is over and the victory won. Thanks be to God. Amen.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +
Ernest Harvey Benninghoff
June 7, 1936 – + – February 21, 2012
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Let us remember with thanksgiving what God has done through His servant Ernest Harvey Benninghoff.
Harvey was given life by her creator and was born on June 7, 1936, the child of Hilton and Irene Benninghoff. He received the gift of Holy Baptism and became a child of God that same month at Concordia Lutheran in Hessville. On April 2, 1950, he publicly confessed his faith and was confirmed at St. John Lutheran in Calumet City. He regularly received the gracious gift of the Lord’s life-giving body and blood in the Holy Supper.
On February 7, 1959, Harvey received the gift of a beloved companion in his wife, Eileen Benninghoff neé Dumbsky. They were blessed with the gift of seven children: Laurie, Chris, Mike, Rob, Jennifer, Paul and Patti. God blessed Harvey’s life with many special people as he served God in his vocations at home, church, work, community, and country.
Finally, on February 21, 2012, God blessed Harvey with a holy death and took him home to rest in the arms of Jesus to await the resurrection of the dead.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. We give thanks to God our Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for our brother, Harvey.