The View From the Bridge (Stories and Observations)


Pastors are always looking for sermon illustrations. See if any of this works for you.


This week, C-Span televised the funeral of South Dakota statesman former Senator George McGovern, who had run for the Presidency in 1972 and lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

Whenever there is a funeral of a national leader on C-Span, I try to watch as much of it as I can. The fascinating part is hearing stories from colleagues, some of whom are often well-known in their own right, tales from earlier years, stories that never made it into newspapers.

This funeral was held, I believe, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Sioux Falls. I did not watch the entire service, so my observation is not about this funeral specifically.

Pagan funerals–in our culture–look back; Christian funerals look ahead.

It’s that simple. The pagan service will celebrate all the good the subject did in his life while ignoring any unsavory parts; the Christian service may indeed bring in some of the accomplishments from his lifetime, but mainly looks forward. As the Apostle Paul said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day–and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4).

Something else about George McGovern intrigues me. In World War II, he flew bombers over Germany. He was a full-fledged American hero and thus entitled to all the trappings of macho-ism (machismo?). But the American public never saw any of that bravado from him as a senator, politician, and candidate for the highest office. In fact, he came across as rather nerdish.

And, by a strange coincidence, so did George H. W. Bush (our 41st president). In World War II, he was a fighter pilot who on one occasion had to parachute from his stricken plane. And yet, in one of his campaigns for the presidency, Newsweek magazine ran a cover with his picture and the words: “The Wimp Factor.” (Wimp? The man jumps out of planes to celebrate his 80th birthday? He is anything but a wimp!)

By contrast, when John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency in 1960, his wartime experiences as commander of PT-109 became a big deal. Books were written and even a movie starring Cliff Robertson was (later) made.

Perceptions are often so unreliable. We must learn to look beyond how things appear, to look beneath the thin veneers, and to try to see the realities that lie below.


Our friend is a woman, a Christian, and a medical doctor.  Over dinner the other night, she told my wife and me of a conversation she had with another friend who was stridently pro-choice, which of course is a euphemism for pro-abortion. He was insisting that the only way to go for anyone supporting “women’s rights” is to be pro-choice.

The doctor said, “Nothing is more anti-woman than aborting a female fetus.”

With so few words and infallible logic, she blew the “choice” philosophy out of the water.


A pastor friend messaged me about a bizarre incident from his pastoral ministry. A family came to see him, asking if he would “do Pop’s funeral.” The pastor saw these were poor people and he readily agreed. “I’ll do it for free,” he told them.

On the day of the funeral, the preacher and his wife drove 100 miles to get to the funeral home. They walked into the office of the funeral director with some family members. The family introduced the pastor and said to the mortician, “The reverend will be paying for the funeral.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the preacher. “I will NOT be paying for the funeral.”

Nice try, guys. The pastor did preach the memorial service that day, he said, and presented the gospel as clearly as he ever had in his life.


I have a pastor friend who serves a church right on the beach in a Florida town. Therefore, he gets called upon to do a lot of weddings. One recent year, he said, he did 91 knot-tyings. But here’s one he did not do….

Shortly before the service began, the groom called the pastor off to the side. “Preacher,” he said, “I am a Jew and a lawyer. I sue people for a living. And I tell you now I had better not hear the name ‘Jesus’ one time in this wedding or I am going to sue the heck out of you.”

The pastor said, “My friend, you need a rabbi to do your service, because I will not be doing it. Have a good day.”

He thinks they were married by a chancery clerk.


A friend with North Carolina roots knows of my love for the old Andy Griffith Show. The license-plate holder on one of our cars reads “I’d rather be fishing with Andy and Opie.”

Recently, she gave me a page from the Richmond Times-Dispatch headed “In Search of Mayberry,” which features the Andy Griffith museum in Mount Airy, NC, just south of the Virginia state line.

After talking about the town and the museum, AP writer Martha Wagoner introduces readers to Betty Lynn, 85, who played “Thelma Lou,” girlfriend of Barney Fife, on the show. It indicates that she lives there in Mt. Airy. Every day at 5:30, she says, she watches reruns of that show, “sometimes skipping the dinner that’s served at the same time in her residential community.”

When Miss Lynn appears at “Mayberry events” to sign autographs, sometimes people burst into tears on meeting her. “It’s the nostalgia,” she says. “It’s very touching.”

If indeed, Betty Lynn, a primary character on that television show which ran from 1960 to 1968, does live in Mt. Airy, it may indicate she reached for the Mayberry myth also.

Frances Bavier, “Aunt Bee” on the show, moved to Siler City, North Carolina, after retiring. A resident of that small city, whose mother was Bavier’s best friend and the reason she relocated there, told me “I suppose she was looking for Mayberry.” She didn’t find it, sad to say.

At first, Miss Bavier was the toast of the town. She was grand marshall in the homecoming parade, a real local celebrity. But soon, school buses would pull into her yard and kids would pile out to surround her home and stare in the windows. A teenage boy hired to help with the yard began to be teased at school as “Opie” could not take the ribbing and quit.

Soon, she became a recluse. By the time I visited Siler City in the late 1980s, no one but the local firefighters and law enforcers had seen her at all (they would be called for her emergencies). She lived in the house with a maid and many cats, I was told.

The newspaper article says around a hundred people a week visited the Andy Griffith museum in 2011. After Griffith’s death in 2012, the number doubled. The mayor of Mt. Airy points at other towns their size which are hollow on the inside–downtown stores are empty or closed altogether–while “big box” stores go up just outside town. But Mt. Airy is prospering downtown, he says. “We’ve got a Main Street with no empty stores.” Andy Griffith saved the town,” he says.

Lots of people are looking for Mayberry, it would appear.

Theologians sometimes speak of mankind as “sighing for Eden” in the same way.

An African-American couple were the only non-whites in a small Mississippi town where I was preaching. As I sketched them (I draw everyone who comes to church in these meetings), they told me they were from New Orleans and had relocated there following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. I said, “What’s it like being the only Black members of this church?” They both laughed and said slyly, “It’s Mayberry.” And we all laughed.

I love Mayberry and would live there in a heartbeat.

The title “The View From the Bridge” is an inside joke. Down the street a few blocks from my house the Mississippi River flows. Huge ships run up and down this great channel. The “bridge” is the captain’s area high atop the decks.  The view from there would be the best available.

As one who is rapidly approaching birthday number 73, my view on life is long and broad. And as one who is forever in and out of the office of our favorite dentist, I am all too familiar with “bridges.” That’s the joke, such as it is.

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