A funeral homily based on Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We are gathered here this morning to celebrate the life of RFS, know to us as D. D was a man of many loves: he loved life, he loved his family and friends, he loved his church, and he loved people. D had a particular affinity for the homeless and often spoke of a homeless man he befriended near the “L” station on Chicago Avenue. D was inclined to engage him in conversation, seeing the human being beneath the circumstances of homelessness. D’s passion for the homeless and his ability to see the person beneath the circumstances reminds me of a famous saint in the Christian Church.
St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 13th century part of a wealthy family of merchants selling fabric in Italy and France. His early adult years were filled with fun and excitement as he lavishly spent money on clothing, drink, and travelling. This wild life led him to encounter the darker side of life as well, people who live on the fringes of society, poor people, sick people, street people.
It is said that one day while selling fabric in France he met a beggar who asked him for money. As the story goes Francis reportedly gave the poor man everything in his pockets.
In 1201, while on a military expedition to Perugia, Francis was captured and spent a year in prison. Some think that this time of captivity was the beginning of his spiritual conversion. But another four years would pass before he fully embraced the life that eventually led him to sainthood. Those four years included more time partying and enjoy the rich life. Eventually, though he gave up his wealth and lived the rest of his days a poor man, tending to the care of lepers and animals, those most often discarded by the society he lived in. Francis is credited with starting a monastic community called the Franciscans, a community devoted to caring for the poor. He is known as the patron saint of animals, and we often celebrate his life with a blessing of the animals.
When I think of D, of his passion for social justice, his care for the poor, I think of Francis of Assisi. Now, it’s true that D was no saint, but he was a good man with a loving heart.
I first met D in 2001 when I came here to this church as the parish priest. Back then the church was called Small church’s, named after another saint who cared deeply for God and the Christian faith. Somewhere along the way, early on in my time here, D began asking to meet with me. Over the years we had a number of meetings where we discussed his health, his hopes, and mostly his spiritual wellbeing. Like Francis, D had lived the good life in his younger years and suffered physical consequences from too much alcohol. Eventually though he became sober and spent many years helping others in their recovery. When I first met D he was suffering from another disease, chronic, debilitating, clinical depression. He had left his job at Abbott and was living on disability. But true to D’s nature he didn’t just succumb to his depression he went on a vigil to get well. It took many years and much hard work and therapy but he did eventually become more competent in managing his depressive episodes.
One of the frequent topics of my meetings with D was his desire to do something useful with his life. As many of you probably know D was a voracious reader, especially on the internet. It was not unusual for me to receive five or six emails a day from him outlining some social justice issue that outraged him. I think he knew just about every problem of society that exists and what we ought to be doing about it.
As a result of this passionate heart he did not want to return to selling pharmaceuticals, he wanted to make a difference. He considered briefly, a call to ordained ministry as a priest perhaps. I think he was still considering a call to the deaconate when he died. In the Episcopal Church deacons are called to serve in the world, to tend to the needy and the poor. But in the meantime he returned to school earning a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University. I imagine when he graduated in May of this year that it was one of the happiest days of his life. I know he was profoundly impacted by his work with The Night Ministry, an organization in Chicago that offers assistance to homeless people.
Not only was D a man passionate about social justice and the care for the needy; he was a family man. He loved his parents, his sister, his wife and most especially his son, Tom. They were all frequently part of our conversations, in the best of ways. He was so pr oud of Tom -of his academic accomplishments and participation in band.
D was committed to his faith as a Christian and actively tried to understand the mysteries of God. He loved the Episcopal Church and the way we Episcopalians wrestle with our faith. D found the Episcopal Church to be a place that embraced his heart and his mind. Our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew describes D, a man who believed that in feeding, clothing, and caring for the needy, he was caring for Christ. For D it was not an act of charity that would gain him something, his caring was an act of compassion because it was the right thing to do. He actively modeled what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world.
We gather here today to celebrate D’s life, honor who he was, and acknowledge that he will be missed by a family who loves him and by countless people who were impacted by his life. We also gather to lift up the Christian understanding of death.
As Christians we believe that death is not the end of a life but a life changed. I’m not speaking here of magic, I’m speaking here of spiritual things and the mystery of God.
Grounded in God we come to understand that in death a person is born into a new life with God. We also understand that in death the one we love is able to live with us in a new way. True we no longer see that person, nor hear their voice, nor feel their touch. And that is sad, for we will miss those qualities of human companionship. But as the days and weeks go on there will be moments when each of you, D’s family and friends who knew and loved him well, will have such a keen sense of awareness, an abiding sense of his presence, that it will be as if he were here with you. I suspect he will continue to be a presence in your lives, extending his love to you even though he has left this earthly life.
And so, from the spiritual plane D is now with us all the time, in every way. In death the one we love is alive to us in our memories, in the stories we share, in our laughter and our tears, in our hearts, and in our love. Perhaps, whenever you meet a homeless person, you will think of D and see that person as a human being. Maybe you’ll say hello and drop a dollar for a cup of coffee. In doing so you will keep D alive, you will honor his life and his Christ-like compassion will live on through you. As our Gospel says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
But always remember, no matter how much he cared for the homeless, you, his family and friends, are the most important work of his life and labor. I think this poem, author unknown, posted recently on D’s Facebook, says it all.
....When someone is in your life for a REASON. . .
It is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty,
to provide you with guidance and support,
to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are!
They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then... something... brings the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die.
Sometimes they walk away....
What we must realize is their work is done....
(Some) people come into your life for a SEASON....
Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace, or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons,
things you must build upon in order to have
a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all
other relationships and areas of your life....
Today we give thanks to God for the life of D and for the time we knew him, whether for a season, a reason, or a lifetime.