Sermon for Year A, Funeral of Jerry L. Marcoe
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 8, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
In the name of God and in the powerful name of Jesus Christ,
And in the name of this congregation of St. Thomas,
Welcome to each of you this morning as we gather briefly
To thank God for Jerry’s life.
His life gave some you your own lives,
And that, if nothing else -- just the fact you are alive today --
That you have been formed up into an upright, thinking, breathing human being --
That alone, it seems to me, is worth taking the time to recognize.
So it’s important, and I’m glad you have decided to do this,
And to be here, individually and together, in this way.
You’ll note in the bulletin that this is a homily. As opposed to a sermon.
The word “homily” comes from an old Greek word that basically means
“To have communion with a person.”
So our job right now is to have communion --
Not in the sense of going up to the altar for sharing of bread and wine,
But in the more colloquial sense: being in communion: dwelling together. Sharing life. That’s all.
We dwell together -- we share life, walk alongside each other -- just for a minute or two.
So it’s not terribly high-and-mighty.
But. Dwelling together, or whatever you want to call it, was a huge part of Jesus’ own ministry.
He hung out with people vastly different from himself, ate in their homes, ...
Healed their kids, even brought one or two folks back from the dead.
He listened to them and offered to them whatever he had to give,
Including his very life.
Mostly, he made himself available to them. Because he wanted to be with them.
God wanted them to know how very much they were loved.
So in Jesus, God came and set up shop in our very midst.
He dwelt among them. They dwelt together.
I should say that because of all this dwelling-together business,
Memorial services and funerals that occur in The Episcopal Church
Are typically not a time to turn a person into a saint,
Or to worship the memory of that person.
These are times to be honest, and not falsify a person’s life
In order to feel better about ourselves by smoothing things over.
The end and the aim of all our worship, including my preaching today, is God.
The aim of all Christian worship, specifically, should be to give thanks to God
Especially as God has been revealed and manifested in one person: Jesus Christ.
That should be the one thing you can always see happening here,
No matter the time of year or any other circumstance.
Christians who don’t talk about Jesus may be confused
About who they are and what they’re supposed to be doing.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about Jerry;
It just means that we use his life as a kind of lens through which to better understand
What Jesus was trying to teach us about God,
By the way Jesus lived and what he taught
And who he hung out with and everything else he did.
There is some element of what Jesus was trying to teach us
That is revealed in each and every sentient life that has gone from this earth.
Almost all of it will pass undetectedly,
But a little of it will be captured and put into the history we keep.
Let me give you a simple example of what I mean.
John told me that Jerry liked to do whatever he could to help people in need,
And that once he got his hands on a situation where a person was really in need,
And once he saw that his help could be useful,
He would go way beyond whatever was practical, or conventional.
John said you could tell Jerry to stop, but it didn’t matter.
That once he set his sights on helping -- you might say, Once he got the vision -- that was it! --
Nothing would knock him off his course,
And he was willing to be pretty massively inconvenienced if it meant helping another.
Here’s someone whose desire to help was foremost.
It’s like putting on blinders to all other practical concerns,
And just being “for” the other person.
Now I ask you, based on what you know or may have heard about the Bible,
Does any of what I’ve just described sound like Jesus to you?
It certainly does to me.
I can think of lots of times in the Gospels with Jesus
Where he seems to become so single-minded about helping someone --
Healing or teaching, or in some cases even scolding people who don’t get it,
Telling them to get out of his way --
That everything else just drops away for the moment. Fades away in importance.
The point where most people would have already stopped is well behind him.
In fact, Jesus often tells people, Either get behind me and follow me, or get out of my way.
And everyone around him is wondering: “Why is he so obsessed with this one situation?”
Maybe he’s aware of this, and maybe he isn’t.
I don’t think he cares either way,
Except that he’s trying to get people to enroll in his vision of how God wants to see the world.
And it isn’t until these situations are over and done with that the reaction of the crowd is recorded:
“They are amazed beyond belief”; “they’re stunned,” et cetera.
The crowd doesn’t get it until it’s passed;
They don’t understand his obsession with a particular problem
Until after he’s done something about it.
If he had lingered for too long and waited for everyone to get on board,
Nothing would have been done.
And then he turns around and he teaches them.
He says to them,
If you would follow me, you’re going to have to go to the ends of the earth
For people you don’t even know.
And it’s not going to do you any good to complain, so you might as well just embrace it.
And he says,
This isn’t just going to happen once or twice, but every day, for the rest of your life,
Until the moment arrives that you can’t take care of yourself,
And even then, even in this deep helplessness, you still must be kind and loving to all.
Jesus says to these followers of his,
You’re going to be inconvenienced for the sake of other people
And not necessarily because it’s going to lead to your personal enlightenment (though it may)
But more because following the ways of God means loving everyone equally.
And loving everyone equally means serving them equally,
Especially the ones in the greatest place of need.
And that calls for constant self-sacrifice.
So, he says,
If you would follow me, this is all non-negotiable;
These aren’t just beliefs we hide in our heads;
They are actual, tangible ways of being in the world.
He gives this whole thing a label: he calls it taking up your cross and following him.
And he cannot possibly mean for this to have just been something
For his immediate disciples and followers.
This is a lifestyle for anyone, of any age, gender, race, living in any time or place.
It is a set of universal values embedded in this one life called Jesus of Nazareth,
Which we have studied and studied and studied
And tried -- tried! -- to imitate as best we can.
So if you see these values reflected in Jerry’s life,
You need to know that it is not by accident.
This is a value that all believers are expected to show forth, period.
Wherever it has existed, we need to shine a light on it
And that hope others will be willing to pay attention.
Because it’s good. It’s the goodness of God, working itself out,
Person to person, situation to situation.
I saw this for myself whenever I visited with Jerry.
I saw a man trying to live a quiet life and do as he felt to help others in the living of their lives.
That’s not making Jerry a saint; sainthood is God’s business; it’s just my honest reflection.
And if you can see these values of Christ reflected in Jerry’s life,
It’s because these values already dwell inside of you.
Something in someone else’s life is sparking up something in your life;
Something about Jerry is calling out to you.
It’s like a mandate,
To know the better part of yourself,
And to go out into the world and to give this better part of yourself away.
I tell you this: when you give your better self away,
You make space for other things -- even better things -- to come in.
Other and even better things.
Your better self gets better.
Could it be that our simple little service today for Jerry
Is also an invitation to something much deeper and richer
With implications for our whole lives?
And that’s it. That’s all.
Thank you, again, for being here.
Now may we continue in our prayers.