Ken Nienhueser Funeral
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Timothy 1:15-17 Sermon
October 21, 2010
Hymns (from Christian Worship-A Lutheran Hymnal):
256 "How Great Thou Art"
417 "I'm But A Stranger Here, Heaven Is My Home"
385 "Chief Of Sinners, Though I Be" (now playing)
213 "Forever With The Lord"
517 "Almighty Father, Strong To Save"
Special Music: "Thy Holy Wings, O Saviour"
(sung by several members of the congregation)
TEXT: "5Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Anybody who has been in the job market knows the importance of writing a good resume, or curriculum vitae. There's actually a real art to writing a good resume. You can buy books that will tell you what you need to know. There's even computer software you can buy to make it even simpler. All you have to do is just fill in the blanks. Or you can go to a professional who will do the job for you.
A resume usually focuses upon a person's educational background, work experience, and other personal details. And if the resume is written well, it can make a very good impression upon the person who is reading it. And that's the whole idea. If a person is competing in the job market, they want their resume to stand out. They want to sell themselves to the point that they will look better than all of the other applicants. They want to outshine everybody else so they will be an employer's first choice to fill a vacant job position.
I was thinking about this as I was working on Ken's obituary and this sermon. Ken has an impressive history when it comes to the Church. He's got an 84-year track record to his credit, and it starts from the very beginning of his life. There was his baptism, and confirmation, and his Christian Day School education. He went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, he regularly attended worship, he regularly received the Lord's Supper, he served on Church Councils, along with numerous boards and committees. There wasn't a time in his life when Ken was not actively involved in the church.
And so here we sit. We're tempted to look at all of this, nod our heads, and say to ourselves, "Yeah, with all of this to his credit, Ken is certainly in heaven right now." In our way of thinking, Ken should have been able to walk right up to Jesus, toss this impressive resume on God's desk, and say: "Okay God, here it is, read it for yourself. Now where is this eternal mansion you promised me?"
If that's the way we're thinking, then we couldn't be any more wrong. In fact, if we were to even try to do that, God has an answer for us. If we look at what God says through the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 64 verse 6, we read: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
Those are harsh words, but they need to have that amount of intensity for us to get the proper perspective on things. It doesn't matter how long or impressive a person's Christian resume is, it can't make up for the sin that permeates every person's life. In fact, if we even attempted to placate God by tossing an impressive resume on his desk, we might as well have gone out to the garage and grabbed an old greasy rag and tossed that on his desk, for all the good it would do us. A list of good works and being a "pretty good person" just doesn't pass muster with God.
I'd like you to hold on to that thought for a little bit, because this is something we need to have clearly in our minds as we look at the life of Ken Nienhueser, and why we know without a doubt that he is inhabiting the mansion in heaven that God has prepared for him.
The Bible text I have chosen this afternoon is part of the opening words the Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy. Timothy was a young man whom Paul was training to be a pastor.
Because of this relationship, I think it would be fair to say that Timothy held Paul in very high regard. After all, Paul was called directly by Jesus to be an Apostle. Paul was the person chosen to be the lead missionary to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world. Paul was also the chief New Testament theologian who could apply the Word of God in just about every situation.
Paul indeed had a very impressive resume, and I would think that Timothy regarded Paul in just this way. Timothy held Paul in awe because he was so instrumental in the ministry of God's kingdom on earth.
That's why Paul begins his first letter to Timothy with a huge dose of reality. He isn't bragging to Timothy about his position or his theological knowledge. Instead, he calls himself the "chief of sinners." When it comes to being a sinful human being, Paul considers himself to be the absolute worst of the worst. He doesn't want to bring glory to himself, but give all the glory to Jesus, who through faith alone has saved him. Because of faith in Jesus Christ alone, Paul has become a member of God's family, and will ultimately enjoy the eternal inheritance in heaven God has prepared for him.
As I mentioned earlier, Ken has an 84-year track record of being a Christian. And out of those years, I have only been Ken's pastor for about 6 1/2 of them. During those years, I was not only able to get to know Ken as a person and a friend, but I had the privilege of experiencing how profound his faith really was.
Ken was an interesting guy. He knew at least a little bit about a lot of things, and he could talk intelligently about most any subject. His formal schooling ended with his high school diploma, but his experience in the world gave him a more extensive education in life, even if he had to do it the hard way. Very little ever got by him.
Ken was also a very opinionated and outspoken person. There was never any question in anybody's mind as to where he stood on any subject. And most of the time, you didn't have to ask him what he was thinking. He readily volunteered that information. I suppose you could say that Ken could sometimes be very blunt, maybe even abrasive at times, and about as subtle as the front of a bus. I'm sure this comes as no surprise to most of you.
But Ken also cared. He loved to help people, and he would definitely be the one who would give you the proverbial shirt off his back. This was usually coupled with his words of advice, whether you wanted them or not. And when he shared his opinion, it was never to be mean or malicious. He did it to help. He did it so people wouldn't make the same mistakes he did. He genuinely wanted to help people so they would be better off. And when people would take exception to what he had to say, it hurt him deeply. He'd shake his head and wonder what he did wrong.
As honest and forthright as Ken was with other people, he was just as honest and forthright with himself. As he looked at his own life, he knew he wasn't perfect, not by any stretch. Ken saw himself as a sinful human being who desperately needed the forgiving love of Jesus.
Ken dealt with himself honestly in much the same way that the Apostle Paul did when writing to Timothy in our text for today. Paul called himself the "chief of sinners," and Ken knew this applied to him. He knew that an impressive Christian resume was worthless. The only thing that could save him was faith alone in Jesus Christ his Saviour. Nothing else would work. This is the faith that I was privileged to witness as Ken's pastor.
Ken and Dorla Mae (who was his wife at the time) attended our very first worship service at Mighty Fortress in May of 2004. I remember it very well. It was a Communion service; and when we got to the confession of sins in the liturgy, I saw that Ken held his hymnal and bulletin closed in front of him, and his hands folded together over the top. With his eyes shut, he joined in the confession of sins, and he didn't miss a single word; it was all from memory. These are the words; and if you know them, I invite you to say them right along with me: "O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being."
Many of you recognize these words as the Communion confession of sins from the old Page 15 liturgy from the Lutheran Hymnal. These are the familiar words Ken had known for years that he both treasured and loved. And these are the words Ken used at his final Communion service the week he passed away.
After that first service, both Ken and Dorla Mae came to me with tears in their eyes. Ken said, "Now this is the way I remember it!"
Ken loved his Lord, and served him in every way he could. It was a rare thing for him to be absent from worship or Bible Study. His relationship with his Lord was very important for him, and he sought to keep it strong however he could.
Ken was also very astute when it came to his knowledge of the Bible. His Christian upbringing and parochial schooling was very evident as he recounted Biblical facts, Bible verses, and sections of the catechism that he learned at a very young age.
It was in September of 2005 that Ken's wife, Dorla Mae was called from this earth to her Saviour's side in heaven. The Lord graciously and thankfully brought her time of suffering to an end. Dorla Mae was the first of the Mighty Fortress family to go to heaven. It was at that time that I was privileged to meet Ken's family--his daughter Vicky and daughter Amy and her family, and many others.
Not quite a year later, I was lying in Bryan Medical Center, a day after I had been through 4 1/2 hours on the operating table. There were tubes and wires sticking out of every part of my body, and I was under some rather heavy medication. Ken came into my room, and he had somebody with him. I remember looking up and seeing this lovely woman with a big warm smile and sparkling eyes. He said, "I want to introduce you to my fiancée, Karen Countryman."
Now I don't know what Karen thought about meeting me the first time in this situation, but I do remember how very happy Ken was. I knew right away that God had blessed his life with somebody very special.
About two months after that, I had the privilege of conducting Ken and Karen's wedding, the first wedding we had at Mighty Fortress. And with that wedding, Karen's four boys and their families became part of Ken's family. The picture on the front of your bulletin today is one I took at their wedding with my camera.
As we bring this all together, we know that Ken Nienhueser had a very full 84 years on this earth. There are literally thousands of stories that can be told, and many fond memories that can be shared. That's all well and good.
The reason we are gathered here today at this funeral service is to share something much more important, and that is Ken's faith. Ken is not in heaven right now because of how good of a person he was, or how impressive his Christian resume might be. A person cannot get to heaven according to some earthly scorecard or personal goal.
Ken is in heaven right now because of his faith in Jesus his Saviour, and for no other reason apart from that. He was blunt and honest with himself. He knew that he was a sinful human being, even the chief of sinners as the Apostle Paul describes himself.
But most importantly, Ken knew his Saviour. He was grateful for what Jesus did for him. He took the punishment for his sins, and opened the gate of heaven for him. It's in Jesus that Ken found forgiveness, life, and hope. Regardless of what we think, there is no other way to heaven other than through faith in Christ.
Ken could be blunt and to the point; and when it came to his Christian faith, this was no exception. He wanted to share what he had with others. He wanted others to know Jesus the way he did. He wanted people to experience what it is like to have the forgiveness of sins. He wanted people to live their lives with the guarantee of heaven in full view. He wanted people to know what it is like to have a Saviour who loves them so much, that he willingly gave his life for them. There is a mansion in heaven that awaits all true believers in Christ, which can be inherited through nothing else but faith alone. That guarantee is for you just as much as it is for Ken.
As you leave here today, I hope that you will remember to take your bulletin with you. And sometime in the future when you happen across it, I want you to think about Ken and where he is right now. I want you to think about how he got there. And I want you to remember the most important thing in Ken's life, and that was his relationship with Jesus, his Saviour.
The hymn we sang before the sermon today is Ken's Christian testimony to you here today. "Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me. Died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am his, and he is mine."
Kenneth Clarence Nienhueser was born on June 16, 1926, the eldest of two sons born to Walter and Pearl (nee' Dey) Nienhueser in rural Adams County, near Juniata, Nebraska. He entered into God's family through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism on June 17, 1926 at his home by Pastor R. Ludwig.
From the beginning, Ken was active in his church. He was a member of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wanda Township, in Adams County, Nebraska, where he affirmed his Baptismal faith by the rite of Confirmation on March 17, 1940. His Confirmation memory verse was Isaiah 54:10 which reads: "'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.' Ken also attended the Christian Day School at Zion, graduating the 8th Grade on May 25, 1940. He then attended Kenesaw High School, where he graduated on May 18, 1944.
Ken enlisted in the United States Navy, being deployed for active duty on March 2, 1945 where he was awarded the American Area Victory Medal. He was discharged from active duty on August 9, 1946 and remained on reserve status until he was honorably discharged on August 9, 1951.
Ken returned to Nebraska after his discharge, living for a short time with his parents on the family farm near Gresham. On July 19, 1953 he was united in marriage to Shirley Blum, and to this union two children were born. Ken lived and farmed near Waco, where he and Shirley lived until 1972.
He went back to Gresham for a short while, and then moved to Seward where he lived in a mobile home park near Merle's Greenhouse, and then Copper's mobile home park on South Highway 15, and finally in a home at 832 Hardee Avenue, where he resided until his death.
Ken began working at Walker Manufacturing in 1973, and for a time also continued his farming operation on the family farm near Gresham. Trying to do both things proved to be too stressful, so he sold his farm to his brother Leon. Ken continued to work at Walker's until his retirement in 1998.
A gentleman by the name of Criss King introduced Ken to his mother, Dorla Mae (DeWoody) King. Three weeks after their first date, on August 10, 1975 they were united in marriage by the Methodist pastor in York. Ken and Dorla Mae enjoyed many wonderful trips together, especially after his retirement. Dorla Mae was called to her heavenly home on September 7, 2005.
Ken was active in Seward's Lied Center for Senior Citizens. While he was there, he became acquainted with Karen Countryman, who captured his heart and affection. On October 15, 2006 Ken and Karen were united in marriage at Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church in Seward. Ken and Karen had the distinct honor to be the first marriage to be performed at Mighty Fortress.
Ken was a charter member of Mighty Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church in Seward, and he was in attendance at the very first service held in May of 2004. Ken was a trustee, and served on the church council. He was very active in worship, Bible Study, and almost every other church related activity.
Ken was also a key person in Mighty Fortress's building program, and was very instrumental in the purchase of the Grace Lutheran Church building on 6th and Bradford Streets in Seward. This is the facility that Mighty Fortress plans to occupy beginning in December of 2010.
On October 16, 2010, while working on a sidewalk at his home, Ken suffered a heart attack. At Memorial Hospital in Seward, the Lord in his wisdom called Ken to himself in heaven at the age of 84 years, 4 months, and 9 days.
Left to mourn his passing are: his wife Karen of Seward, NE; daughter Vicky Copenhaver of Seward, NE; daughter Amy and her husband Earl Chapman, and grandchildren Angelika and Kira Chapman of Gahanna, OH; brother Leon Nienhueser of York, NE; niece Diane and her husband Ron Kulwicki of St. Paul, NE; nephew Byron and his wife Carol Nienhueser of Beaver Crossing, NE; step-sons Criss and Ricky King of Seward, NE; step-daughter Sherry and her husband Steve Petersen, step-grandsons and granddaughters-in-law Bryan and Melinda Petersen, and Brandon and Novis Petersen; step-great grandchildren Christina, Christopher, Cheyenne, and Kya Petersen of Yucaipa, CA; step-son Monte and his wife Judy Countryman of Menominee, WI; step-son Randy and his wife Connie Countryman of Bagley, IA; step-son Kenneth and his wife Beth Countryman and step-grandchildren Dylan and McKenna Countryman of Milford, NE; and step-son Keith and his wife Michelle Countryman and step-grandson Caleb Countryman of Sartell, MN.
He was preceded in death by his parents Walter and Pearl Nienhueser, ex-wife Shirley Nienhueser, wife Dorla Mae Nienhueser, son-in-law Chris Copenhaver, and sister-in-law Ines Nienhueser.
BLESSED BE HIS MEMORY