I Remember a Movie
I was nine years old when “A Man Called Peter” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956. Based on the book by that title that sat on my parents’ bookshelf, it was the story of a young Presbyterian preacher named Peter Marshall who emigrated from Scotland and became the nationally known Chaplain of the United States Senate. It was one of the early childhood experiences that planted the seeds of my calling to be a preacher.
The movie includes the dramatization of the day Marshall preached in the United States Naval Academy chapel. On the way to Annapolis he felt led to change his sermon and took as his text these disturbing words: “You do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 NRSV) He reminded the young midshipmen in no uncertain terms of the tenuous nature of life, the reality of death and the promise of eternal life.
That was Sunday, December 7, 1941. No one knew that while the midshipmen were in worship, the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. It was the last sermon many of them would hear before serving in a war from which many of them would not return.
Hugo Remembered the Sermon
Hugo Schmidt was in the Academy chapel that day and never forgot Marshall’s sermon. A picture-perfect representative of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” he served with distinction in the Navy, returned to Tampa where he met the woman with whom he shared 70 years of marriage, built a business, raised a family and became a leader in the community. He led the Hillsborough County School Board in the integration of the public schools. And he lived the faith he heard Marshall preach at Annapolis.
No one loved his church more deeply or served more effectively than Hugo. He was faithful in worship, even when he had to watch the service by live stream from his bed. He was a ravenous reader, even when his eye sight failed and he listened by audio. He was a ruthlessly honest student of scripture and a facilitator of Disciple Bible Study. Every pastor who served Hyde Park United Methodist became a better pastor and a deeper person because of Hugo and Lou’s wisdom, laughter and friendship.
When Hugo died at 98, we celebrated a life that demonstrated what Marshall preached in the Academy chapel. Hugo knew the tenuous nature of life, made the most of every day, and died in the hope of the resurrection. He requested that his memorial service include his favorite hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” C. S. Lewis could have been describing Hugo when he wrote, “The Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…Aim for Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Touchstone, 1996, p. 119)
As we remember the day that lives in infamy, we can pray that our generation will remember the truth Marshall preached, the integrity with which people like Hugo lived, and make the most of every day we have to live.
Grace and peace,
(Adapted from “Extraordinary Ministry in Ordinary Time” to be released by Upper Room Books, 2020.)