Dear friends of Peter Bosscher,
and (to those of you who can call yourselves this),
dear friends of Jesus Christ:
In the massive and magnificent church called St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where
many illustrious people are buried in splendor, there is a modest plaque carved in stone bearing
the name “Christopher Wren.” And under the name is a famous Latin inscription, Lector, si
monumentum requiris, circumspice, which means, “Reader, if you are looking for his
monument – for some glorious tombstone to commemorate his life – then look around
(circumspice). Christopher Wren was the architect who designed and built the great Cathedral.
The whole building, you might say, which is a tremendous feat of design and engineering, stands
as a great monument to the life of Christopher Wren. Circumspice.
Peter Jay Bosscher was an engineer and a professor. His life had more than its share of
accomplishments. There are worthy projects that will be funded because of Pete’s work. There
are villages that will have clean water because of Pete’s work. There are important bridges and
causeways right here in Madison that some of us depend on every day for getting to work, and
then for getting home again to our loved ones, at least partly because of Pete’s work as a Civil
But Pete’s accomplishments are not mainly measured in dollars spent on good causes, or
in gallons of clean water, or in tons of concrete strategically poured according to intricate and
skillful calculations. The real monument to Pete’s life is not a publication, or a physical
structure, or a fund. If you are looking for his monument, for something that will fittingly
commemorate the life of Pete Bosscher, then look around. Because here is his monument: the
people who came here today, the people who will deeply mourn his loss, but who also want to
celebrate his life.
Every one of us who knew Pete Bosscher could offer some testimony to Pete’s place in
our life: to the way he influenced us, the way he helped us, the way he taught us by word and
example, the way he loved us, inspired us, encouraged us.
I have talked to lots of you in the last few days and weeks and months. Pete’s wife
Marcia (and who knows you better than your spouse?) talked to me of Pete’s unwavering faith
(even in the face of suffering and death), and of the way Pete lived out his beliefs in his practice.
Yesterday Marcia and I were working on the layout for the funeral program, and she said to me,
“I wish Pete were here to do this with me; he was the one who knew how to do all this stuff.”
And I knew that she was talking about more than one project. Now, for the first time in 30 years
Marcia has to go through some deep misery without Pete at her side. So while I was glad I could
help, I know it’s just not the same.
How many of us have posted testimonies on Pete’s page of the ‘carepages’ website?
There are hundreds of postings, nearly all of them talking in terms of admiration about the way
Pete lived, and about the positive influence he had on so many people and so many things.
I could add my own testimony. I don’t think anyone had a more formative influence on
me than Peter Bosscher. When I started coming to his church almost 30 years ago, I was a pretty
wild young man. I’ll just say that my hair was more than one color, and that leather and duct
tape featured prominently in my wardrobe. Those things don’t necessarily have a lot of moral
content, but they were symbolic of my spiritual condition. And I was not comfortable with my
spiritual condition at that time. I tried visiting churches, but most of the time I felt like people
saw me coming and silently prayed, “Please, Lord, don’t let him come to our church!” Peter and
Marcia not only welcomed me to their church, but to their home! They let me play with their
kids. I have picture of Anne on my shoulders while I was playing basketball, with a cigarette
hanging out of my mouth. I don’t know if I’d let anyone do that with my kids! But Pete and
Marcia did. and I stayed in their church and in their life for years, until, when I finally left (their
church, but not their life), it was to go to seminary.
And years later, it was Pete who called and asked if I’d be interested in being the pastor
of Geneva Campus Church, a church which, to me, has been shaped by Pete’s character as much
as by anyone’s. A church were we live and breathe the idea that there is simply no seam
between your faith and your life, your relationship with God and your relationship with the rest
of the world. That was how Pete lived, and how Pete thought.
I have to say that despite our very deep friendship, it has always felt a little odd to be
Pete’s pastor. That’s because I had a hard time feeling like his spiritual peer. Of course, the
theology we both love makes allowances for that, because everything is ours by grace (a word
we use for a goodness which most of the time we don’t really deserve). And God lets us be both
givers and receivers of grace. Pete was a man of grace: he let me be a part of his life, and he
even let me be a part of his death.
I think maybe it’s not everyone who could appreciate that, but to be someone’s pastor
requires that they be willing to receive the care you have to offer. And Pete was willing. I am so
grateful for everything about my friendship with Pete and his family, but what sticks in my mind
right now is that I got to watch a movie with him the night before he died, and to sing hymns
with his family the next night, as he was about to leave this world. I would like to say, “Thank
you, Pete, and the rest of your family too.” I would not be the person I am without the influence
of Pete’s life and even of Pete’s death, and how he faced it with no wavering of his faith in God.
I was inspired by his example.
I think so many people would say the same, have said the same, will say the same. I
can’t possibly tell you everything people have said. To give you even a few quotes from the
Carepages website where people talk about Pete’s influence on them – well, that would require
me to do a huge work of narrowing down. In a life as fruitful as Pete’s was, and which touched
as many other lives as Pete’s did, how could you ever say enough?
I’ll just mention two things people have said, because they seem to put it so well. One
student said this: “Initially, I had no idea what a Christian Civil Engineer looked like or what he
should do in the world. Peter showed me what that man looks like, by his actions and his words.
He encouraged me to seek God and further His kingdom.” The other thing I’d like to quote is
from a fellow engineer, Pete’s son Nate, a third-generation Bosscher engineer. A few years ago
when I was making a pastoral visit to Nate with another elder from our church, Nate said, “I’ve
decided that I want to be like my dad.” And he didn’t mean that he wanted to be a professional
engineer. He meant that he wanted to be a follower of Christ and a servant of God in every part
of his life. I always think of that as a defining moment for Nate. And one of the best calls he
could ever make.
I could certainly go on, but I find it a staggering task to narrow down all the things people
said, and to choose from among so many. The only other time I feel this challenged to narrow
things down is when I write my Sunday sermons, especially when I preach on the goodness and
the mercy of God. How can you reduce the glory of a God who takes on human flesh to save
sinful, suffering people (and a broken creation)? How do you reduce that to a few paragraphs?
How can you say enough about a God who delights to show mercy, who blots out sin, who gives
hope to the hopeless, and life to the dead? How can you narrow that down?
And yet, is it not true that this life, snuffed out at the age of 53, mere days before his 54th
birthday, is it not true that this life could have been even more fruitful? If Pete had lived, a lot
more might have come of his life, and the list of grateful friends and beneficiaries might have
been even longer. There could have been much more fruit coming from this vine!
And there could also have been more mercy. Isn’t that a nagging thought at the back of
our minds, that a great and merciful (not to mention all-powerful and all-knowing) God could
have been more merciful than he was to Pete Bosscher? I know that some of us are thinking that
way. “This one is hard to take,” one of our friends said. Pete told me that even his friend Al
Plantinga, who has written elegant books exploring the theological intricacies of this thing
(which we sometimes call ‘the problem of evil’), even someone with a remarkable command of
theology and of faith (which Pete also had) struggles when seeing the problem of evil written in
the pain-etched face of someone he loves and respects. And I’d say that too. To see the man I
knew and loved, to see Pete the way he looked today, lying dead and drained in a coffin – that
seems like an atrocity, an act of vandalism that attains almost cosmic proportions. It’s wrong!
But the truth is, Pete didn’t have much patience for testimonies about his own goodness.
He didn’t really want to read about them, or hear about them. And he also didn’t have much
patience for asking God why he was letting this happen. I know, because some of us tried to talk
to him about this, some of us wondered why, and Pete kind of closed off that conversation.
And I don’t think that was because Pete was struggling in his own faith. And I don’t
think it was because Pete was afraid to ask the question. I think it was because of this: Pete felt
that if God had ever spoken to him, if Pete ever got anything like a message from the Lord, it
was this, and just this simple: “I want you to obey me.” And for Pete, dying was as much a part
of that obedience as living was. And Pete was not mad at God when he died. He was grateful
for the life he had, and for the faith, hope and love that were God’s gifts to him.
Still, it’s almost impossible not to deal with the questions that Pete’s death raises. The
same student I quoted earlier also said, in the same posting, “I struggle with why God would
want such an inspiring, Godly man out of the world so soon.” And I think we all struggle with
But in a way only a fool would try to answer the question, “why?” I don’t think anyone
in this world has the knowledge or the wisdom to know the answer. And even if you did stumble
upon the answer, how could you ever be sure it’s the right answer? Can we really know the
mind of the Lord? And can we be sure that’s really what we know?
Well in some ways, we can. Maybe if we leave the philosopher’s question (why?) alone,
and instead if we ask the engineer’s question (how?), then maybe we can have a bit more
confidence in what we know. We know something is wrong. Even when an older person dies
peacefully after a long, happy life there is a sense that this was ‘not the way it’s supposed to be’.
And when a man, a rather good man doing rather good things, dies in the middle of a fruitful
career, the wrong seems so much more obvious. Something is broken here. How can this be
Psalm 90, which we heard a few moments ago, takes stock of the wrongness. And it
gives a pretty broad hint about why things are wrong when it talks about God’s anger. It tacitly
acknowledges that the real root of human misery is human sinfulness. But the Psalm also
envisions the possibility that the wrong may be righted. That God will make us glad after we
have seen many days of affliction. That God will be a dwelling place in all generations. That
God will establish the work of our hands. How?
Psalm 90 doesn’t tell us the answer. It only yearns in that direction. But I think the
whole testimony of the Christian Scriptures points toward the answers to that question. And I
think this written witness to God’s ways with the human race also give us as much of an answer
to the other question (why?) as we’re ever going to get. Because to my mind (and I think to
Pete’s) the only answer that makes sense is this: that God did not remain aloof from this
suffering, but rather entered it. Jesus was God’s answer to human suffering – the one who
emptied himself of his divine riches, for our sakes, and entered, lived and died in this world as
one of us. The one who took on himself our griefs, who carried our sorrows, who was crushed
for our sins, and by whose wounds we are healed.
If you want to see real cosmic vandalism, consider the scandalous atrocity that Jesus
suffered, as the creator of the world shared in all the misery of those who have been murdered, ,
tortured, hounded, insulted, robbed, beaten, raped and pillaged, as well as those who have been
victims of diseases and natural disasters. Are there any sorrows, the scriptures ask, like his
sorrows? Here is the Son of God, disfigured and vandalized by a brutal human race.
And yet, this is beautiful in its way. God has turned this act of bloodthirsty, wanton
destruction into the one thing that saves us from our sin, and all the misery it entails, causes, and
brings into our lives and visits on our bodies. And God gave the proof of this by raising Jesus
from the dead. Now when you get right down to it, you either believe that or you don’t. But I
want to say this: believing that carried Pete. It was that belief which carried him and energized
him for a fruitful life, and that same belief that carried him through a death that was wrong –yes
– but not hopelessly wrong. Christians grieve, but not without hope. We have the hope that
God will be our everlasting dwelling place; that God will make us glad again, and raise us to life
in a restored creation, and will establish the work of our hands.
And maybe the prayer of Moses, founded ultimately on that same belief that God is our
hope, maybe that helped Pete to die in peace. The prayer asks that God would establish the work
of our hands. In Hebrew that word is Neconenah – establish. If ever there was a word an
engineer could love, that’s it: Neconenah. Put it on a firm foundation, and build it up.
According to the Bible, God is engaged in something of an engineering project. He is
building up a community which is like a house, in which each person is like a living stone. And
that building will be the everlasting home of God himself. That building does not exist only or
even mainly in this world. And it is not something that you can really see and appreciate with
your eyes. But in a sense you can. Because this gathering of people, most of whom believe the
same things Pete Bosscher believed, are part of that building. And Pete’s work in this world is
finished, though its effects will live on. But the real hope is that God’s work is going on. And
what we can see here today is only a small part of the community of God’s redeemed people
which is our dwelling place with God for ever. Of that community, Pete was, and always will
be, a living member. And so will all of us who put our hope in Jesus. The word of God testifies
to these things. And so did Pete Bosscher. And so do we.
Circumspice! Look around!