The funeral home called yesterday.
She died on Sunday.
After living 100 years. 4 months. 21 days.
She never really went to church.
Neither did her sons.
Or her grandchildren.
Or her great grandchildren.
But in a moment like this they would like a pastor to be present.
And, to say a few words.
(Their words, not mine.)
Would I do the funeral?
And, so tomorrow I will stand among them and with them.
Not to give them easy answers.
Or glib assurances.
But to reach out with my own faith.
And, my own questions.
And my own sense of the Holy.
And, for a moment
To help them stand in the presence of the mystery we call life and death.
Their mother’s death.
As a part of the few words I have been asked to say, I will say this:
“O God, wrap our lives in your grace that as we face the mystery of death we might see beyond the edge of today and catch a glimpse of your eternity.”
May all our lives be wrapped in that grace.
When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again you will know me. It means that even after I die you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. – Frederick Buechner
This morning I officiated at a Memorial Service for a kind and gracious man whose favorite song was Let It Be. He was not a church goer. I never asked why. I had only met him a handful of times, but his wife worked with me for a number of years as our church secretary. “The best job she ever had.” She said. So, this was their church too which is the way it should be.
As a part of the service, I wrote this:
Maybe I am just getting old which means my own mortality comes more into focus, but I think moments like this have a way of sharpening for us what is important in our lives.
What you value.
How you want to live each day with the days you have remaining to you.
How you chose to treat others.
How you will approach the work which is yours to do.|
How you would like to be remembered when, as a mentor and friend of mine would say:
When everyone comes back from the cemetery except me.
So apart from what you remember about who Robert was, maybe who he was can serve as a reminder of who you want to be. And so I wonder, when you walk out these doors towards whatever the rest of today and tomorrow has in store for you, what choices will you make for how you will live and how you would like to be remembered?
Here are some questions to start your thinking:
- Through the witness of your life will others catch a glimpse of hope and honesty and integrity. The best of who human beings can be with and towards one another?
- Will the other, whoever that other is, gain a sense of respect because of you and through you?
- Because of who you are and what you do will heaven come just a bit closer not just for you, but for others as well.
Only you can answer those questions for your own life.
And, the truth is, whether you do so consciously or not,
You answer those questions anew each and every day.
Years ago I saw a bumper sticker which read:
Live so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.
I don’t know about you, but knowing that someday I am going to be there and not here I would rather have, whoever it is who is standing where I am now, be able to tell the truth.
What about you?
In the last two months I have had four funeral or memorial services.
More than I sometimes have in a year.
Such moments are not only a time to remember and to give thanks for the life and witness of the person who has died, but to step back and glance at my own life, as well. Then there was the post which Kathy DiBiasi wrote on our parenting blog about the imprint we leave on the lives of others. And, this morning there are the Bibles out on a table in Fellowship Hall. Bibles, which in a couple of weeks, we will be giving to the children who participated in our Bible class this spring. Bibles in which you are invited and encouraged to add one of your favorite verses as a reminder to them (and to you) about what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. Finally there was the op-ed piece which a college student sent to me via Facebook along with a message in which she expressed her gratitude to this congregation for the part it played in helping to shape values which continue to be important in her life. Any time I get something like that from a college student or young adult it serves as a confirmation that we are doing or have done something right.
And, there is one more thing.
The bumper sticker I saw years ago which read:
Live so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.
So, my reflection this morning is something of a fruit basket upset.
The result of a random collection of moments over the last couple months all of which lean in the same direction. Let me do my best to pull it together and put it to you this way. If you could only have three words used at your funeral or engraved on your headstone to sum up your life, what would you want those three words to be? Think about it for a moment because I will eventually get back to this question.
The op-ed piece which the college student sent me was a essay written by David Brooks adapted from his book The Road to Character. In his essay he writes:
It occurred to me there were two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral – whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of great love…We all know that eulogy virtues are more important than resume ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching skills and strategies you need for career success than qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer about how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
Let that last sentence sink in for a moment.
Brooks goes on in his essay and, at one point, uses a term I had not heard before.
A language we use to talk about character and virtue and morals and ethics.
A language we use often enough it becomes a normal part of our living and speaking.
A language we use so often it shapes who we are and how we act.
Which makes me wonder…
Do you have one?
Do we have one?
A moral vocabulary?
Foundational concepts or values around which we do our best to build our lives and our households and our community and our country? Foundational concepts which our children come to understand because it is just a part of who we are? Foundational concepts which our friends and co-workers know because they know us?
And, more than that, not just the vocabulary…
The words we say and understand, but the courage and the resolve to put those words into practice. To incarnate those words. To model in our lives what those words look like in ever day human interaction?
In our homes.
In our offices.
In our schools.
On the Village sidewalks and on the city streets.
Kindness and compassion and justice and peace and courage and whatever other words you might link to the essential elements of your faith or would like to have remembered about you and inscribed on your tombstone.
This is not to say resume values are unimportant. We all have a responsibility to do our best to provide for our families and to do our jobs responsibly and well. But, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, it is easy for resume values and eulogy values to fall out of balance.
I am sure there are other ways to do it, but this place…
This particular and peculiar gathering of God’s people is one way.
Maybe that unbalance or that desire for balance is a part of the reason you are here.
Or maybe like me, you need to be reminded, again, of those words and ideas we don’t often hear in the vocabulary of the marketplace. Or, maybe there is some tug on your life or some unsettledness deep within you which tells you there is something more and this may be a place and this may be the moment for that more to move a bit closer to the surface or a bit closer to the center of your life.
Treat others as you would like to be treated.
To be with and around those doing their best to find that way which leads to Life with a capital L. A life which is meaningful and purposeful as well as successful.
That reminder we are to nurture a sense of gratitude which extends into our daily living amidst the wonder and complexity and challenge of the world as it is.
That challenge to ask and to answer that age old question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Some time ago now, as a generation was passing away, following funeral services I would walk through Bedford Union Cemetery on Clinton Rd. with those who were still alive. Marie Worden. Babe Swenson. Fanny Mazurak. Marge Hall. As we walked, they would point out the names on the headstones and tell stories and make family connections. I enjoyed those moments. But, you know what? In all my walking through cemeteries never once have I seen on a headstone inscribed with the job someone had. Banker. Broker. Carpenter. Business Owner. Millionaire. Multi-millionaire. I have only seen written in stone who they were. Father. Mother. Husband. Wife. Son. Daughter. Beloved. Loving. Giving. Kind.
Here is my suggestion to you.
In your bulletin you will find a notecard.
And, if you don’t have one, others are at either on the stand at the back or the table by the side door. here are also cups of pencils in the pew.
Today, before you go, write down the three words you would like others to use when they talk about you at your funeral. Then, take your note card home and put it someplace where you will see it each day.
Carry it around in your purse or your wallet.
So that in the midst of what you do and all you do those three words may be that daily reminder of who you want to be so you learn to live following in the way of Jesus and so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.