Monday, May 28, 2012


I do not think that I have ever before put on my blog a sermon that I have preached, but I am doing this today. This week we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States. It is a time when we especially remember those who have served our country in the military. Here in our town, Memorial Day has also long been a homecoming time and the time when we remember all in our families.

I have also felt that it is good to remember our spiritual heritage, and to remember those who have gone on who have been of great influence in our spiritual lives. It is for this reason that in this sermon, I tell part of the story of my great-grandfather, Anders Blomberg who immigrated to Wisconsin from Sweden in the year 1881.


One of the major reasons that we progress in our lives with Christ (or that we do not progress), is how well we have learned the lessons of the past. I am not only talking about lessons that we may or may not have learned individually in our own lives, but also what we may have learned or have failed to learn from history.
We see this fact both positively and negatively in the Bible. One of the most obvious examples is what can be taken from the times of the early kings of both Israel and Judah. During these days, the reigns of the kings and the morality of the societies cycled either positively or negatively depending on how well they had learned past lessons.
The Apostle Paul also reaches far back into the history of the Jews when he was making a point to the Corinthian people about lessons to be learned.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.        Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV)

When Paul spoke of the people all being under the cloud, he was speaking of the cloud of the Shekinah Glory that led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness during the time of the historical Exodus of the people of Israel. This cloud was the representation of the very presence of God as He led them through times of victory and times of trial.
Not only did God demonstrate His presence by the cloud, but the people all had the similar experience of passing through the Red Sea on dry land, eating the manna that formed on the grass like dew, and drinking water that flowed from a crack in a rock. All of these people had the exact same experiences, yet most of them, Paul tells us, learned nothing from all of these things about themselves or about God. Because of the failure to learn, they eventually died in the wilderness and were prevented from entering the objective of their destination, the land of promise.
Scripture also speaks of another cloud of our spiritual history. This cloud is not a representation of the glory of God, but, as the writer of the book of Hebrews says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

This cloud of witnesses consists of the people that the writer spoke about in the previous chapter of Hebrews. These were people such as Abel, who offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, like Noah, who prepared an ark for the salvation of his family, and like Abraham, who, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance. Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going, and by faith lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land (Hebrews 11:4, 7-9).
These were people like Sarah, who received the ability to conceive, even after she was well beyond the time of life when she should be able to have a child. The reason was because she considered God as faithful, and it was God who had promised the child to her. These were people like the parents of Moses, who were not afraid of the Pharaoh’s edict and hid their baby so that he would not be killed, and like Moses himself, who, when he had grown up, refused to take advantage of his position in the Pharaoh’s household, but rather chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God. This, the writer says, was a choice to forgo “the passing pleasures of sin.” Moses considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:11, 23-26).
This is the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews says “surround” us. By speaking like this, the writer does not intend to say that these people are in some way present around us in their spirits, witnessing everything that we do, but only that these are some of the ones that we can look to as examples in our lives. Neither does it mean that every single thing that these individuals did was positive or good, but in the moments when it was the most important, they chose righteously.

The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote in the first century and had the perspective of history from that time. However, did you ever think of what individuals he may have mentioned if he had written from today’s perspective? We could guess at a few, perhaps, and perhaps the individual that I will mention now would not even be one of them. However, if you would allow me, I would like to do something a little unusual this morning at tell you about one of my own ancestors. My cousin Neil Blomberg has been doing a lot of research on our Blomberg heritage, and in my spare moments, I have been putting together much of that research and putting it in story form.
The following is what I have written as if it were from the perspective of Anders Blomberg, my great-grandfather who emigrated from Sweden to come to Ogema, Wisconsin. The source of the stories came mostly from his eldest daughter and my great-aunt, Hulda Marie, and is accurate as far as I know. Only one location is difficult to pin down and also I changed the name of the scoundrel in the story because, well...just because.
In this story, you will learn some of the reasons that Anders Blomberg came to America. He is speaking as an old man now, near the end of his life. He is reminiscing about the past, as old men sometimes do:

There was great joy in my life when I began to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This, however, did not come without cost.  Like others who sought to follow Christ, I and my family were ridiculed and scorned. In certain ways, we were in a sense considered traitors by some, because we had dared to question the state-run church. The state church was, in the eyes of most in Sweden, the true church, and anyone who claimed to follow God must be devoted only to that church.
But I was more interested in following Christ than I was the state church. There were many positive things that could be said about the state church, but for all really practical purposes, it had become like a branch of the government whose role was mainly to record births, deaths, marriages and other civil matters. I, instead wanted to grow in my life in Christ, and to tell others about this as well.
There was one blacksmith who greatly opposed the work that I was doing.  I actually forget his real name, because I came to call him Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus that opposed the apostle Paul.   My Demetrius also worked with metals, and had equal scorn for the gospel. What is more, he was also able to stir up others against me.
One evening I had a meeting in a place about seven miles from our home.  My wife Betty, little Hulda, and our baby Hjalmer were also with me, along with Betty’s younger sister Augusta.  It was pitch dark by the time we were on our way home and we were guided by a small lantern that hung from our carriage.  About half way home, we began hearing drunken singing over the crest of a hill that we were approaching.  I thought it might be trouble.  I even reckoned that it was Demetrius and his intoxicated followers, but we really had no choice but to go forward.  Betty and I looked at each other but did not say anything.  We did not want to frighten the children.  I simply prayed silently that the Lord would allow us to arrive at our home safely, no matter what we encountered on the way.
As we crested the hill, our lantern must have become visible to the drunken mob ahead, but we could not yet see anything.  However, we could hear them.  I could distinguish Demetrius’ voice.
“Now we will stone the preacher Blomberg!”
Well, if I had hoped to keep the children from being frightened, that was all gone now.  Hjalmar was only an infant, so he had not sense of what was happening, but Hulda began to cry in fear.  Augusta held on to her, while Betty wrapped the baby in a blanket in her arms.  Now Betty could keep silent no longer.
“Dear God!” Betty called loudly, “Please deliver us from the hands of these intoxicated fools!”
I drove ahead, knowing that it would be useless to stop or to turn around.  We still could not see much of what was happening, but we did begin to see the forms of men alongside the road.  We saw them throwing what we assumed were rocks, but none of us in our carriage cried out from being hit by any stone, nor did we hear any hit the wagon or the horse.  We did not know what was happening.  However, we continued on ahead until the shouting of the inebriated blacksmith and his bunch of hooligans died off in the distance.  No rock struck us and we arrived safely at our home.
It was not until the next morning that we heard what had happened.  On the night before, when the first stone was thrown, it missed us and instead hit one of their own gang.  This enraged the person who got hit and he crossed the road to take his anger out on the fellow who had thrown the rock.  A general mob fight ensued, and before any of them knew what had happened, we had disappeared into the darkness.

There was another man who had a particular hatred for the gospel, and thus also for me and my family.  This was a man by the name of Oscar Scoglund.  One night he learned that I was to have a meeting in the home of one the workers.  Because of what happened with Demetrius and his gang, I did not take my family with me on that night, and instead of taking the wagon, I walked alone.  Scoglund gathered a group of men and came up with a plan to seize me on the way home, drag me into the woods and stone me to death.  They would not make the same mistake that the first group had.
As Scoglund and his men were on their way to their place of ambush, they passed our house and saw that my family was still at home.  They decided to stop and terrorize Betty and the children.  The mob came to the house and pounded on the door, demanding that Betty send out a housemaid that we had hired.  Betty, of course, refused and locked the door to them.  This angered them, so that they went around to the window to grimace their faces through the window panes and thrust out their tongues.
Scoglund cried out to her, “You will die before my very eyes for this!”
Betty was pregnant with our third child, Esther Elizabeth.  When Scoglund said these words to her, Betty told me that she began to tremble like a leaf.  She became very pale and sank to the floor, moaning in great turmoil.  The trauma that she had endured from the evil faces staring in the window at her was very great, besides the threat of death from a very evil man.
As for Scoglund and his gang, after terrorizing my family, they continued on with their plan to capture me and stone me to death.  The men prepared their ambush by lining the road with cans of stones that they were to use to hurl at me.  As I approached them, I could see their plan. This time it was I who lifted my voice loud to the Lord.  I continued to walk in between the two lines, and just like the first time, no stone touched me, nor did any of the men.  Once I had passed the area, I turned around to see what had happened. I saw all the men fighting among themselves.
I returned home praising God for what He had done.  When I arrived at home, I also learned what had happened in my absence, and how Scoglund had terrorized my family, but Betty told me that in the end, it all turned out well.  However, I could see that it had been a great trauma and time of distress for my wife. Despite Betty’s words of assurance, all was not well.
It was not long after that night that little Esther Elizabeth was born.  From the very beginning we knew something was wrong.  Little Esther did not cry like babies normally do.  Her sound was like she was moaning in pain, the same kind of moan, Betty’s sister said, that Betty had made that night that Scoglund had terrorized her.  Four months after little Esther was born, she died, giving out that same moan until the moment that she passed into eternity.  The poor little girl could only find peace in the arms of her heavenly Father. We did not see Scoglund again after that night for a long time.  However, we were to encounter him again some years later.

Betty and I sold our house, packed up our belongings, and with Hulda and Hjalmer in hand and in arm, we mounted the train to return to Värmland.  This was a difficult move for us, but it would not be the most difficult one that we would be faced with.  The trip up to Värmland was one that both tested and strengthened our character.
As we rode the train north, it rattled its rhythmic sounds over the iron rails, Betty and I mostly sat in silence.  You might have thought that she would be excited about returning to the land of her childhood, and I am sure that in some ways she was.  It is just that I think that she knew that even though this was a return to the area of her childhood, this was not to be a return to those happy and care-free days of her early years.
I, myself was glad for the silence.  The rhythm of the sounds of the train was almost hypnotizing. I began to listen to it as if it were the ticking of a clock, marking off the moments of my life.  As my mind ticked back to my own early days, I remembered my own father as he lay dying, and how sad that he was to leave his wife and young children.  He felt as if he were failing in his responsibility to care for those whom the Lord had given to him.  None of us felt that way, however, and despite the trials that our family had to endure since father’s death, I could see how our heavenly Father had remained true to His promise to never abandon the orphan and the widow.
The train clattered on.  I remembered how, after having to first try to make some money so that I could send some back to mother, I spent many lonely days and lonely nights.  There were many times when I felt I did not have a friend in the world, and being the eldest son, how the responsibility that father had for his family had been laid upon me.  At least this is the way that I felt.  I was determined to carry out this responsibility, but I had no skills, little education, and few resources to help me to fulfill this role.  I did what I could, but it fell far short of what I had hoped.  I understood better what father must have felt in his last days upon the earth.
But no one would ever dream of criticizing father because he died at a young age.  He did well with the time and the resources that God had given to him.  I know also that no one would criticize me, and yet, all of those years, there was a growing sense within me that I was leaving something very important undone.

The train was now rounding a bend.  Up ahead, I could see that we would be crossing a bridge.  Just a moment!  I recognize that bridge!  I had been so deep in my thoughts that I had not noticed that we were passing by an area where Betty and I once lived.  I had worked several months building the very foundations of the bridge that we were about to cross.  I roused Betty from her own deep thoughts.
I placed my hand on her shoulder.  “Look Betty,” I said, suddenly feeling a little excited.  “We are passing through Småland near where we once lived.  And look!  We are about to pass over one of my bridges!”
I called every one of the bridges that I had worked on “my bridge.”  I was very proud of each one.  In fact, I took personal pride in all of my work.  My pride was, I thought, with some justification.  I had constantly taken on the initiative to learn new skills in order to improve or expand my capabilities.  I was also conscientious in my work.  It was for these reasons that my name was known among the construction industry in southern Sweden and why I was called upon to do contract work.
The train was now passing over one of my bridges.  This clicking of the rails held a special pleasure for me.  I remembered working here.  I remembered the friends that I had made and the good feeling that I had when I finished a good day’s work or a good week’s work.  I remembered the satisfaction that I had when we had placed the final stone.  It was a job well done!
But then I remembered something else.  In fact, this was the thought that had come into my thinking just before I noticed that we were coming to the bridge on the train.  It was also in this place that there was great emptiness for Betty and me.  The time when I worked on this bridge is when we lived in Emmaboda, and it was here that we were searching for a spiritual truth that evaded us.  The only counsel we were able to find at the time was to work hard at morally improving our lives until we reached a point where we would have peace with God.  The advice that we received was lacking in real truth and left us feeling only more empty and in a more hopeless situation.
Yes, it was this that I was thinking about when we were approaching the bridge.  This is what I had felt I was leaving undone during all of those years.  I may have steadily been improving in my work and business skills, but my relationship with God was not improving.
Betty looked at me as we passed over the bridge.  Her eyes smiled at me because she knew that I was remembering my work here, but she soon slipped again into her own thoughts and memories.  It was just as well, because as we passed over the bridge, I was also already into my own thoughts.
It seems as if the Lord had to bring us even to the depths of despair before He sent His true word to us.  We had to know that tradition, ritual and good works were not what would give us true peace with God.  It was in Karlskrona, when we were living in what we thought was the most Godless culture that we had ever seen, that God had sent his angel to teach us the way to know how to have true peace.  We had to experience utter blackness before we could see the light.
But why then, after we found the way of salvation, did our difficulties increase?  Before that time, we perhaps had little inner peace, but we had no great difficulties with the world. We were getting along fine in the world and I was finally making a good living.  It was only after we had given our lives to Christ that we began to experience great opposition from the people of the world.  These were the Demetrius’ and the Scoglunds.
These were of the spirit of Cain.  The apostle John told us that Cain murdered his brother Abel because his own deeds were evil and his brother Abel’s deeds were righteous.  Neither then should we be surprised if the world hated us.  It was because of this that these men hated me.
It was not that my deeds were completely righteous, but certainly the deeds that Christ did through me were righteous.  When Demetrius and Scoglund tried to kill me, it was not really against me that they felt rage.  It was against Jesus Christ.  It is only because they saw Christ in me that they sought to vent that rage.
However, it was interesting to me that these men cast their stones at us only to have them fall upon themselves.  This, of course, is what will happen to all who oppose the gospel.  There own works of darkness will turn around and condemn those who did these evil deeds.

(Here, I am skipping over several years of the story to come to the place where Anders and Betty arrive with their family in America. They arrived on ship to Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia
We sat for a time on a long bench at the wharf, waiting for our train to arrive.  There were immigrants from many countries.  It was so strange to walk through the crowds and hear languages that we had never before heard.  I could pick up the Norwegian and the Danish, but there were Italians and Russians, Jews, English, and I don’t know how many nationalities.  I could not recognize what languages they were speaking.
Trains would be leaving for many destinations, but most of the Swedes that I talked to were going to Chicago.  There was already quite a large Swedish population in Chicago.  Most of us knew someone who lived there and even though it was not the intention of all the immigrants to stay in in that city, it was the place from where many of us began the final leg of our journey to arrive at where we would settle.
It was my intention to go to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Some of the men that I had worked with in Sweden had earlier traveled and settled in St. Paul, and they informed me that there would also be work for me there; work of the same sort that I did in Sweden.
After sitting on the bench for a time, I decided to go and see to our baggage, thinking that by this time it must have been unloaded from the hold of the ship.  In the office at the wharf, I inquired as to where I would find it, and soon saw it stacked all together, with my name plainly visible on every trunk.  As I was standing there by our baggage, a policeman walked up to me with another gentleman.
“Hello Mr. Blomberg,” the officer addressed me.  “Do you know the name of this man at my side?”
I looked at the man.  He looked vaguely familiar, but I could not put a name to him.  Certainly he looked like he was Swedish, but not like a recent immigrant.  He was so well dressed and stood in such a dignified manner that I knew he certainly had not come over on the boat that day.
“I am sorry, but no, I do not know who this man is,” I replied.
Now the man broke his silence.  He spoke with his head slightly downward and had a little difficulty looking at me in the eye.  “Anders, I am Scoglund - from Karlskrona.  I am the one that threw stones at you and frightened your wife.”
I was in shock.  Now that he told me his name, I of course recognized him, but he had a much different demeanor than when I knew him in Karlskrona.  I could not speak.  I just stood there and looked at him.  It is not that I did not know what to say; I was not even looking for words.  It was more that the ability to speak had temporarily fled from me.
Scoglund continued: “After you left Karlskrona, I realized that the things that you were preaching were correct.  The Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and I became born again.  I was saved.”
Now he swallowed hard. I could see the lump in his throat move up and down.  I could tell that he wanted to say more, but he was finding it very difficult.  Yet, I could also tell that he was excited and even relieved to say the words that he was about to say to me.
He continued.  “After you left, I also learned of your little daughter’s death.  Everyone said that I had been the cause of it, since I had so severely traumatized your wife on that fateful night.  This was an enormous grief to me, and continues to be so to this very day.  After I was saved, I would often go to the grave of your little Esther in Karlskrona.  I would bring flowers to lay there and sit and weep for what I had put your family through. I often asked little Esther for forgiveness and prayed to God that I would not die until I would have the opportunity to also ask the forgiveness of you and your wife.”
After he had said this much, I could tell that a huge weight had been lifted off of his shoulders, but he was not completely free from what he wanted to say.  And now I could see that Scoglund was waiting for me to speak.  He wanted to know if there could be forgiveness.
I put my hand on his shoulder, the same shoulder that had borne that burden for so long.  “I forgive you brother.  I forgive you and thank you for visiting the grave of our little Esther when we were not able to do that.”
But now Scoglund asked if he could also seek this forgiveness from Betty.  As we walked together to where my family was sitting, I could see the quizzical looks on their faces.  I asked Betty the same question that the police officer had asked me, “Do you know who this is?”  As I suspected, she did not.
When I told Betty that it was Scoglund, she reacted with shock.  Now that she knew who it was, the vision of that face in the window that night came back to her.  The face that shouted at her, “You will die before my very eyes!”
I was very soon able to calm her however, and asked that she listen to what Scoglund had to say.  Scoglund said much the same words to her as he had said earlier to me, and like he did to me, he asked for Betty’s forgiveness.
Betty not only forgave him, but upon hearing how the loss of her little daughter had a part in the bringing of this once evil man to the Lord, began to rejoice that little Esther’s life had had an impact for the kingdom of God.  In many ways, some of the grief that Betty had born all of these years had been lifted.  In fact, with this confession and forgiveness, all of us present felt a great relief.  It was only our first day in America, and we had already experienced freedom from some of the burdens we had wished to leave in Sweden.  This particular burden, we could now leave at the feet of Jesus.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

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