It pains me to say that my friend and pastor for many years, Reverend Ronald K. Hodel, died this past weekend. I have known Ron since 1994 when he gave me my very first job teaching theology for the high school class on Sunday mornings at Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano Beach, California. In many ways, he was one of my oldest and dearest friends. He and his wife Gail have on more than one occasion taken care of not only me but my entire family, treating us as their own family. In recent years, Ron served as our Chaplain at 1517, preaching to and caring for us, listening to our confession, and absolving us in the name of Jesus.
I and so many others mourn with Gail and the whole Hodel family. I am sure they miss him very, very much. It is hard to even think that he is gone. Even so, we all rejoice for Ron. He now sees Christ face-to-face, and some day we will be reunited with him and all the saints in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Now, to be clear, I do not intend this to be a eulogy for Ron. I think if Ron thought I was writing him a public eulogy, he would tell me to knock it off and just give people the gospel! But I think a few things that I learned from Ron need to be shared with you. These things might help you understand 1517 better, and it will hopefully lead to a better and clearer understanding of why we at 1517 are so intent on preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ above all else.
So here we go. These are some of the things I learned from my friend, Pastor Ron Hodel:
Try to say yes whenever possible. For Ron, this mostly played out in his role as a pastor of the church, but it certainly bled into his family and personal life as well. The thinking was that a gospel-oriented person—one who has been forgiven on account of the shed blood of Jesus—always tries to be forgiving and gracious enough to say yes to good ideas. It is amazing how freeing this is to others. It is amazing how freeing it was to me. So, at 1517, we try to say yes when possible.
Give freely out of your abundance. For Ron (and Gail), this meant helping the poor and the destitute as they were able. I cannot remember the number of times I heard them say together that they had more than enough to get by. Accordingly, they shared what they had with others, generously and freely. This kind of gracious untethered giving is liberating to those in need who receive. So at 1517, we try to give out of the abundance God has shared with us through generous people like the Hodels.
Let people do what they are good at even if it is not what you hired them to do. I mentioned earlier that Ron first hired me to teach the high school Sunday school class at Faith Capo. It turned out that I was better, even as an undergrad, at teaching adult classes. So, while he still had me teach the Sunday morning class to the high schoolers, he let me teach the Tuesday night class to the gathered adults as well. That was the first time I ever taught a class on the Augsburg Confession. He also taught me a valuable lesson that has carried through into my various careers managing projects and people. It is better to let people do what they are good at than to force them into a preconceived job description. So, at 1517, we hire good people to do what they are good at, and we don’t have job descriptions. I think it makes us a better, more gracious, and nimbler organization. Thanks for this one, Ron.
Ron was a sinner. You may think that this is something I learned about Ron, not that I learned from Ron, but you would be wrong. Ron was the most self-aware person I have ever met. He knew he often failed as a husband, father, friend, and pastor. He knew that his own pride was what, apart from Christ, separated him from God. He knew that Christ alone was his only hope for salvation. I know he knew it because he would often say it. It was his awareness of his own sin that made him so gracious to others. So, at 1517, we try to remind each other of our own state before a holy God. We know we are an irreverent gaggle of manifest sinners, because Ron Hodel, our Chaplain and friend, taught us to hear it about ourselves so he could absolve us in the name of Jesus.
Preach the gospel of Christ. I can honestly say that I have never known a more faithful preacher of the gospel of Christ Jesus than Ron Hodel. His preaching was never sanctimonious, always brought the killing accusation of God’s law, and always, always proclaimed the gospel, directly, to all the sinners sitting in the pew. He taught me that the gospel alone can do what nothing else can—forgive sins and bring the sinner, by the power of the Spirit, to saving faith in Christ and Christ alone. So, if we at 1517 are too focused on proclaiming the good news, we have Ron Hodel to blame for leading the way. (We are simply following in your footsteps, my friend.)
Ron was the most self-aware person I have ever met...He knew that Christ alone was his only hope for salvation.
1517 would not exist without the leadership, friendship, and faithfulness of Pastor Ron Hodel. I apologize to Ron, and everyone else, if this reads too much like a eulogy to a good man, but a good man he was. Sorry, not sorry. I will miss my friend in ways I cannot describe, for he was more than a friend to me; he was a mentor and a father figure as well.
Ron taught me one last thing. He taught me (as have a few others) that, at times like this, I should mourn, but I should not mourn as one without hope. I stand in the sure hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, all on account of my Savior Christ Jesus. And so do you! So, mourn with me, mourn with us here at 1517, but mourn as the hopeful few who will one day do as Ron is doing right now as he stands face to face with his creator and beautiful Savior.
Ron, we will miss you, my dear friend!