Waiting for Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond

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Perhaps it was his plain talk about the Word of God. Perhaps it was his folksy stories tying that Word to our lives. Perhaps it was because he was, like the rest of us, so fully a flawed and forgiven human being. Pastor Bruce Hemple ministered to thousands over his lifetime of service, yet the simple act of climbing the steps up to the pulpit at Wiser Lake Chapel was nearly impossible for him.

Bruce had one leg. The other was lost to an above the knee amputation due to severe diabetes. He wore an ill-fitting prosthetic leg that never allowed a normal stride and certainly proved a challenge when ascending stairs. He would come early to the sanctuary to climb the several steps to the chair behind the pulpit so he would not have to struggle in front of the congregation at the start of the service. As we would enter to find our pew seats, he would be deep in thought and prayer, already seated by the pulpit.

He often said he knew he was a difficult person to live with because of his constant pain and health problems. His family confirmed that was indeed true, but what crankiness he exhibited through much of the week evaporated once he was at the pulpit. Standing there balanced on his good leg with his prosthesis acting as a brace, he was transformed and blessed with clarity of thought and expression. His pain was left behind.

He came to our church after many years of military chaplaincy, having served in Korea and Vietnam and a number of stateside assignments. He liked to say he “learned to meet people where they were” rather than where he thought they needed to be. His work brought him face to face with thousands of soldiers from diverse faiths and backgrounds, or in many cases, no faith at all, yet he ministered to each one in the way that was needed at that moment. He helped some as they lay dying and others who suffered so profoundly they wished they would die. He was there for them all and he was there for us.

One of his memorable sermons came from 2Kings 5: 1-19 about the healing of the great warrior Naaman who was afflicted with leprosy. Pastor Bruce clearly identified with Naaman and emphasized the message of obedience to God as the key to Naaman’s healing. Like Naaman, no one would desire “Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond” but once Naaman was obedient despite his pride and doubts, he was cured of the incurable by bathing in the muddy Jordan River.

Even upon his retirement, Bruce continued to preach when churches needed a fill in pastor, and he took a part time job managing a community food and clothing bank, connecting with people who needed his words of encouragement. He was called regularly to officiate at weddings and funerals, especially for those without a church. He would oblige as his time and health allowed.

His last sermon was delivered on a freezing windy December day at a graveside service for a young suicide victim he had never known personally. Pastor Bruce was standing at the head of the casket and having concluded his message, he bowed his head to pray, continued to bend forward, appeared to embrace the casket and breathed his last. He was gone, just like that.

He was not standing up high at the pulpit the day he died. He was obediently getting muddy in the muck and mess of life, and waiting, as we all are, for the moment he’d be washed clean.

 

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7 thoughts on “Waiting for Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond

  1. Not to take away from the beautiful tribute to a wonderful and inspirational pastor and high-quality man, but this is what chaplains are trained to do, to “meet people right where they are,” not where we think they ought to be; to with a nonjudgmental, non-anxious, listing presence to people of all faiths and no faiths. In short, to be a pastor to all the sheep including the lost. Would that all of us Christians follow that example of Jesus.

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  2. What a beautiful death. What a meaningful Christ-centered life your Pastor Bruce lived – in the trenches, serving and ministering to the full spectrum of humankind. It may have been the ‘gift’ of his later pain that allowed him to see and to feel the suffering – among his flock – and in the unknown souls who have not yet found their ‘place.’
    Your description of Pastor Bruce’s death gave me chills. I can picture in my mind through the Spirit Jesus leaning down to the dying pastor as he and the deceased were about to be joined together in eternity – as Jesus gently lifted him up His faithful servant and personally carried him into eternal life.
    Thank you, Emily. This story and how I envisioned it will remain with me for a long time — and be recounted to those who will listen and understand.

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  3. I didn’t know Pastor Bruce well but I had the honor of meeting him and his wonderful wife a few times. I have met the Hemple family “kids” and have the honor of being best friends with his wonderful son, Jerry!

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  4. Thank you for your wonderful message about my father. You have touched my heart. My father was and continues to be my inspiration. God bless you.
    Timothy Jon Hemple

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