Burl Ives, Bob Wurl, Bill Sharpe at an Identification Packet Testing Facility
William Sharpe’s funeral was on Monday at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fargo ND. Pastor Steve Schultz proclaimed the Gospel of an extraordinary God who claimed an ordinary man in Christ and gave him marvelous gifts, the greatest of which is salvation. Bill Sharpe was an ordinary guy. He wanted to reward me years ago for a particularly difficult issue that I was able to maneuver through by accident. He wanted to take me to dinner. I went with him with visions of sirloin steaks and pate de foie gras dancing in my head. He was pleased to treat me to a giant kielbasa and a bag of potato chips. It was fine because the conversation was classic. A mixture of insults and banter interspersed with sharp observations on everything from politics to medicine and science.
He was interested in everything. We discussed Aung San Suu Kyi and the Free Burma Rangers, the writings of Robert Kaplan, and how many times you could fire a Karl Gustav during training and not get a concussion. He devoured Kaplan’s “Warrior Politics” and “The Ghosts of Tsavo” and could apply lessons from each to travel. My description might make him sound discursive yet he was anything but. A trained Synod reconciler he could get on point and stay on point with painful persistence. I remember a lengthy discussion that lasted for several hundred miles over whether their should be a comma in Ephesians 4:12a. Did Jesus give “pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”, or did Jesus give “pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” That little comma makes a huge difference in how we order the equipping and how we do the building. Knowing the folks with whom he worked he took to reading not only Walther, but Loehe. He made himself an expert on how churches are ordered and recognized since there is no Biblically mandated way of doing that, there is a freedom that makes some uncomfortable. In that uncomfortable zone conflict often arises and reconcilers are called. I told him that reconciliation was based in the Gospel of Christ and the reconciliation brought about on the cross and I feared that he thought a pie social could fix anything.
When I say he was interested in everything it must be understood that the foibles and the vicissitudes that we bring upon ourselves in the church saddened and frustrated him yet he could turn the results into a grippingly funny story. Strongly aware of his own sinfulness he was uniquely able to sympathize with the weakness of others. As a laymen, an elder, a parochial school teacher, principal, reconciler, executive director for a District of the LCMS he came in contact with all sorts and types of clergy and laity. He hung around with Bishops of African churches, Kenyan deaconess’s, educators and loved hanging around with the children. He wanted to know about everything and understand how things in the church could “fitly form together” (Ephesians 2:21) under Christ and when they did not he looked for answers. His interest in the Church as a building fitly formed together on a foundation, and a body controlled by the “Head” which is Christ, gave him wonderful insights as to how things as diverse as LCEF, Mercy work, Disaster Response, Housing Corporations, and (gasp) silent auctions, could serve the Gospel.
Part of his work was Lutheran Church Extension Fund and he was dedicated to that as well. LCEF is dedicated to allowing congregation space and place to worship and share and witness to Christ in word and deed. He believed in stewardship as a whole life response to mercy and not a once a year program.
He was respectful of the Pastoral Office and sympathetic to the pressure and difficulties that are unique to it. He was also a gentle critic and believed that often we “preacher types” as he called Pastors, “buried the lead”. What he meant by that is that our task is to preach the radical Gospel message of the death of Christ being our death, and the resurrection of Christ being our resurrection so that a new person rises in hope to engage the world. Preachers can “bury” that lead when they spend energy on trying to penetrate the motives of why their hearers do what they do or refrain from doing what they think they should do. The new man that is created and brought forth from preaching knows plainly what needs to be done. I know that I am getting into deep waters here because these discussions have gone on for years in the church, but the love of Christ compels folks to do something and Bill was all about letting them do it. At the same time he was a meticulous planner. The planner and the doer in Bill’s life were in constant tension, yet he intuitively “got it”. What he “got” was that our effort and our planning, as important as they are can never be truly relied on. We simply “do” trusting God to provide the success or, yes, even the failure. In the doing and the trusting Luther said that God, “rustles around in this world”.
I could go on and on about this unique person but he would hate that. His joy was his family and children, his dogs, anything sweet, and the fact that God claimed him and turned him loose on the world. He could get furious at injustice and stupidity but he understood the fraility of the flesh that makes it happen. He wanted things done well, not only as a personal motive but for the sake of the Gospel. To do things in s slovenly way in the church was bad because it gave a bad witness. He wanted to do things well and would study hard to make it happen. I went golfing with him long ago and he was truly terrible. The next time I golfed with him he was very good. I asked him why and he said that “he read things” and practiced. He had lots of personal charities that we may never hear about but that would not bother him at all. He had a wicked sense of humor and a prankish nature that never failed. When he filled out a form that registered me for an LCEF conference, he filled in the “special needs” section with the words, “adult supervision”.
He will be missed by LCEF, the North Dakota District, LSS, Project 24 and a host of other organizations that are too numerous to list. I will miss him too. He was on the short list of those that I called when in trouble. His greeting to me was usually the same – “what have you done now”? What I have done now is in my clumsy way try to thank an ordinary man who was enabled by his Savior to do extraordinary things.