11 min read

One Year Without Erik

One Year Without Erik

One year ago today, I watched a good friend pass from life to life. At least that’s how I see it. I went up to the cemetery today and walked, prayed, cried, prayed, cried, and walked some more. I noticed a Psalm written on a bench near Erik’s gravestone (see below).

Erik leaned into Psalm 118:24. He loved life with all its warts and knew the only proper response was gratitude. Rejoicing. Gladness. This didn’t mean Erik was never angry, upset, or down. But most of the time, he always seemed to make the people around him smile.

Erik Lawrence Dienberg loved ALL of life.

I can still hear him say: “What a great day. Isn’t this awesome? Could you ever imagine being part of something like this?”

These were moments I shared with Erik. Often away from crowds while working on electrical in our old houses or wandering through the halls of the church or eating BBQ around a bonfire in the backyard.

These were our sacred moments.

We will continue our conversations one day, but I will miss these moments. I’m also certain that his experience of Psalm 118 is now taking on entirely new meaning. A whole new way of gladness, rejoicing, and thankfulness.

I can only imagine what he’s saying now?

See you real soon Erik… Resurrection Day won’t be long.

*Below you’ll find my funeral message to honor Erik’s life. I preached from Psalm 40, another one of his favorites. For some reason, the page I posted to last year disappeared.

"Psalm 40" (April 9th, 2021)

One of Erik’s favorite U2 songs was called 40, based on Psalm 40. I’d like to read a portion of this Psalm.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.

Psalm 40 is a Psalm, some call it a song or prayer of Help and Deliverance written by King David. I find it fitting that Erik would love this song and Psalm because Erik was a Helper of the best kind.

You can’t talk about Erik Dienberg and not talk about the help he constantly gave others. You have to talk about the light switch in my bathroom that now works. A variety of new wiring he helped me with, a ceiling fan, and another switch that caught fire in our house that he helped fix. Erik loved using his knowledge of all things electrical to help others.

You can’t talk about Erik Dienberg and not talk about food, lots and lots of food, preferably the smoked kind. He loved having people over to feed them copious amounts of smoked meats and copious amounts of adult beverages, Root Beer of course. There might even be an urban legend of throwing an easter ham against a wall because it didn’t match his expectations.

What you might have not expected, or experienced from Erik during these feasts of smoked meats, was he was helping you. He was helping you connect to each other, to him, and tasty foods from the hand of God. He was a Helper of the best kind.

You can’t talk about Erik Dienberg and not talk about the ways he helped and served his wife and kids and his church. The ways he went out of his way to get whatever needed to be done, done. You can’t talk about Erik and not talk about the Helper that he was.

And you can’t talk about Erik and not talk about deliverance. As I mentioned, Psalm 40 is a Psalm of Help and Deliverance, verses 2-3 say,

2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

What we see here is how God delivers us, takes us from the pit of sin, destruction, and the shifting sands of self and ego, and puts us on a solid rock, a firm foundation, and then something interesting happens when we experience this deliverance:

3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

It’s what happens when you see your true condition before God and come in contact with his grace and mercy and love. A new song emerges…

You see, you can’t talk about Erik and not talk about music, and the songs he constantly sang. Whether humming along while fixing my electrical issues as I prayed over them for deliverance. Or, walking through our church building on a Sunday humming a song or hymn. Or singing loud and off key and off time maybe on purpose during the singing time at our services. We’ll never know.

And of course, you can’t talk about singing and music without mentioning U2. I had the privilege to attend a concert in Kansas City with Brooke and Erik and some friends. Apparently Erik was on some VIP list and was able to purchase tickets before they sold out. Watching Erik at the concert was definitely his happy place. He went to I think a dozen U2 concerts, knew the seat he sat in, had posters from the tour, and could blow your mind with U2 trivia. If Bono ever said leave your wife and kids, and be my roadie and personal assistant, he’d be in a serious predicament. Erik loved U2, and music. Erik constantly had a new song in his heart.

Why? Where did this new song originate? Where did this joy in Erik come from? Psalm 40 already told us. It suggests it’s rooted in this deliverance. Erik knew bottom, he knew the pit and miry clay of sin and weakness. He knew his sin was great, and like the song says, but he knew the mercies and love of Jesus were greater. He knew the struggles of work, marriage, parenting, and life under the sun. He knew the struggles and pain of blown out ACL’s while hanging chrisms lights, and near the end of his life the physical pain of arthritis and cancer.

But Erik knew a great deliverer and great helper Jesus Christ. Today we mourn, and grieve, but in the vain of what 1st Thessalonians 4:13-14 comfort and encourage us with:

“13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Erik fell asleep all too soon but is now awake and alive. We grieve like all people who face the death of a loved one. But the Christian, grieves with hope, a living hope, because Jesus is the living God who conquered death by his resurrection from the dead. We don’t minimize the pain, we don’t resist the emotions and grief that comes from the death of Erik, but we grieve with hope because of what Jesus did on our behalf. Something we could never do for ourselves. Doing what Psalm 40 said, delivering us, putting us on a solid rock, taking us from the pit of sin and death, and bringing us to the Promised Land of New Heavens and New Earth.

I believe what made Erik help, serve, and live such an open handed life was because he knew the great deliverer and helper Jesus Christ. The one who saves us from ourselves. The one who brings us out of the pit of sin, suffering, and death. The one who gives his all, takes our place and sacrifices everything on the cross, to bring us to the Father. The one who served us by laying his life down for us, even his own enemies. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 5:6-8,

“6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus showed Erik this love, laying his life down, and that’s what made Erik tick. Erik served and helped because his Savior and Lord was a helper and a servant. Erik’s life embodied his Savior Jesus as Philippians 2:4-8 says,

“4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

That vision of Jesus captured Erik. In many ways, Erik took on the posture of his Savior, Lord, and Friend Jesus and lived albeit imperfectly, but lived with a sense that its better to give than receive. No sacrifice for another is ever wasted.

One obvious way he sacrificed was for his family. When Erik and Brooke decided to pursue adoption, he was so excited when they learned Paige was available. He came to our house with Brooke and was beaming ear to ear. He was a proud papa, his daughter finally here. Apparently he had stolen Paige, and the social worker was calling to bring her back. He didn’t care. He’d do anything for Brooke and Emory, Paige, and Lydia. Even if vacations and visits to family were often begrudgingly, or visits to Bible museums in Ohio, deep down Brooke and the girls knew that he’d do anything for them.  Sacrifice for them in love until the end. Like his Savior.

You can’t talk about Erik Dienberg, and not talk about the ways he helped, served, all because of what he saw in his Friend Jesus, the Great Helper and Deliverer.

Erik loved music because he had a new song in his heart. He sang from a deep place a place of knowing his friend and savior and Lord Jesus. I used to give Erik a hard time for not being a reader. But I see now that music was the way he loved to commune with God. He understood maybe something I often miss. We can fill our minds with knowledge and theology and information and still be awful humans. We can understand the depths of engineering, science, and have degrees from Harvard, and still not know the right things, lack wisdom, love, and fall on our faces more than we’d like to admit, and not know the right Person. The person Erik sang about.

It’s what the Psalmist is hinting at here in Psalm 40, when we see the pit, when we see the bottom, when we see God’s deliverance, the only proper response is to sing a new song. The only proper expression is gratitude, service, and help. The things Erik Dienberg embodied.

I want to tell you about Erik Dienberg the Helper and the one that knew his deliverer Jesus Christ. He would want you to know what truly drove his life. He was a competent and smart engineer. He was a loving husband and father and friend. He would do anything to help another person. Sometimes in a specifically Erik way, like tearing you down, which was actually a sign of love, and one of the forgotten love languages. He was blunt, honest, and wore his joy, and frustrations on his sleeve. He was Erik.

But he wouldn’t want you to leave here today not knowing about the one who delivered him, the one who set his feet upon a rock, the one that motivated and drove his life to be the generous and servant and helper he was. The one who sang along with U2, but from an entirely different place.

Psalm 40:4-5 says:

4 Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!  5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.

Blessed, can be translated Happy. Erik is more Happy than he’s ever been because he trusted in the Lord for his deliverance and help. Today, is a sad day, a hard day, these last weeks have been awful. O death where is your sting, there is lots of sting. Death is not the way its supposed to be. But death is not the last say. We mourn differently today. Not because the suddenness and tragedy of Erik’s death is not real.

No, we mourn differently. We mourn with hope. We mourn with a new song. The song of resurrection.

The apostle Paul in his profound teaching on the resurrection says in 1 Corinthians 15:

16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Erik is not here. Erik is delivered from the pit, awaiting resurrection. Sin, death, and suffering has no say over him. He is healed, he is more alive than he’s ever been.

My friend, your friend, our brother, son, husband, daddy, cousin, and colleague, Erik Dienberg  would hate all of this attention. He would hate that I have to wear an uncomfortable and sweaty suit. He would hate people having to go out of their way to be here. He’d rather be in the yard smoking meats and telling stories and drinking adult Root Beer.

But he’d also want you to know, all that motivated Erik, all that gave his life meaning and hope, and all the generosity and love he had for Brooke, the girls, his friends, church family, and the joy and songs he sung were because of his Friend and Brother Jesus.

Psalm 40 ends…

(17) As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

The Psalm ends with these beautiful words. Erik knew his poverty, his need, knew one day his body would give out. But he was thrilled that the God of heaven and earth, Creator, and Redeemer his friend Jesus, would help and deliver him. And he did.

One of the hardest moments was at the end. We were gathered in the room, praying, reading Scripture, and I remember reaching out my hand. Laying it on Erik’s arm. And saying we’ll see you again real soon. I’ve spent my adult life studying theology and the Bible and working as a pastor. You have these moments where your theology of what you believe to be true sinks from the head to the heart.

I said these words not because of my strong faith or some level of mature spirituality. I could say: I’ll see you again soon my friend, we’ll be singing soon again, because of what Jesus did, and Erik trusting in this Jesus. All because of resurrection, we will sing again. Sooner than you think.

Erik can’t wait to see you real soon. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. Blessed are those who know their condition and need for deliverance. And who knows maybe U2 will be in the rotation of heavenly songs. But what I can tell from Scripture is the food is top notch.