Friday, July 27, 2018

The funeral for Darwin Strobel

Darwin Strobel
(April 23, 1939 – July 22, 2018)
Friday, July 27, 2018
Congregational UCC Church

Song of Songs 8.6-7; Psalm 85; 1 John 3.1-3; Mark 12.28-34

It is a true honor for me to officiate at this service for Darwin this morning. I have known Darwin for many years through my friendship with his son, Mark and Mark’s family. And so I am very grateful that I can be here today with all of you to remember Darwin and to help commend him to his God.

His is a life that we should remember and for which we should give thanks to God.

As Julie wrote,

“We will cherish all the memories we have of him, and have learned so much from him. He was an amazing dad, grandpa, and above all husband. He had a love for anything sweet, especially chocolate and his sense of humor, wit and one liners have left us with lots of stories! He will forever hold a very special place in our heart and will be missed immensely.”

And Carol wanted all of us to know that right, at 11:00, Darwin would be teeing off for a game of golf.

Today we do cherish all that Darwin was to each of us.  

I am also grateful this morning that his family chose scriptures that reflect and embody the concept of love. If you noticed, these scriptures that we just heard are about love. And, I can tell you, there is no better way to commemorate Darwin and his life than with these particular scriptures. Because, today, although there is sadness, although there is loss, there is also love. Love, as we all know in our hearts, is the thing that will survive and win out over all the other difficult emotions we have may today.

Yes, we are sad. Yes, we feel Darwin’s loss. Yes, the world is now different without him in it.  And that is difficult.  But love prevails over all those emotions. That is what our Christian faith tells us to do again and again. That is what our faith in God and in God’s Son tells again and again.

Love is the prevailing force in this world. I don’t need to tell any of this to Carol. 51 years of marriage is a strong and amazing testimony to love in all its aspects.

On Saturday night, as I gathered with the family to pray with them before Darwin began his journey, love was a palpable presence in that room. Darwin left this world surrounded by love, surrounded by those cared for him and loved him.

So, these scriptures really are appropriate today.  These scripture readings show what love really can do, how love really does prevails.

In our reading from Song of Songs, we hear what we know. We hear,

love is as strong as death.

But we know that not even death can conquer love. Love prevails over even death.

In our reading from the first Letter of John we are reminded that God loves us so much that we are called now Children of God.  That’s not some quaint notion. That is an amazing realization.

We are children of God!

And finally, we have this Gospel reading. Jesus, being asked what he feels is the most important commandment, tells the scribe that it is the commandment to love God with all we have in us, and love one another. This, according to Jesus, is what brings us closest to the Kingdom of God. If you do these, Jesus tells us, “you are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

It is not professions of faith that bring us close to God’s kingdom. It is not sacrifices. It is not living an overly pious life, or fasting, or acting holy and nice all the time.

It is love. Plain and simple.

Love of God.

Love of one another.

And why do this? Why do we strive to love? We love because we are loved.  We are loved by our God, to whom we are children.  That overarching, all-encompassing love God has for each of us is, in the end, our ultimate reality. God’s love for us prevails over all.

God’s love for Darwin and for us is all that matters in this moment. Right now.  That love covers all the imperfections of this life.

In those moments when we may failed in love, when Darwin may have failed in love, the love of God covers it all. God’s love makes up for all of it. This is our strength today and in the days to come.

See, we are not left with empty today. We are not left without hope today. We aren’t despairing today.

We are sad, yes. Of course. We have tears in our eyes, yes. That’s normal. But our sadness is a temporary sadness. Our sadness is a sadness that is, in the larger scheme, a brief sadness.

But, even in our sadness, we know we are loved. We know Darwin is loved. And knowing that, we know it’s all fine. It’s all right. Darwin has been enfolded in God’s amazing and all-encompassing love. He dwells now in this moment in that love. He is being held close to the God who loves him and holds him close. This is what holds us up and sustains us in this sad moment in our lives.

On Saturday night, when I gathered with the family at Darwin’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one.  It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand.  The prayer we prayed Saturday evening was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
be present with your servant, Darwin and to his loved ones.
Make them the equal of whatever lies ahead for them.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

I love that prayer because it says it all. God, who in that present moment, God, who in Jesus stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, bringing hope and courage to Darwin. God in Jesus was there at his bedside.  In that moment, God in Jesus was there to make Darwin the equal of what lay ahead for him.

And what was that?  Unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without Darwin, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and  our pain and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

For God’s will and intention for us is wholeness.  We see that wholeness today celebrated in our scriptures and in our liturgy.  In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—Darwin is now fully and completely himself.  He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with Darwin and his family on Saturday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God.  And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for Darwin.  God has made Darwin whole.  And God will make each of us whole as well. Because God loves Darwin and God loves each of us.  That is our consolation today. That is our strength today. That is what holds up today.

When I heard of Darwin’s death on Sunday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.   This is the prayer I pray whenever I hear someone I knew has passed.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

On Sunday morning, Darwin was received into that paradise.  On Sunday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Sunday, the martyrs received him and brought him home. On Sunday, Darwin was received as a beloved child of his God.  

In his text informing me that Darwin, Mark told me that he passed just as the line from the hymn “O for a thousand tongues” was being sung at Gethsemane Cathedral that proclaims,

“He speaks; and, listening to his voice, new life to the dead receive
the mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.”

Today our mournful broken hearts rejoice as well.  They rejoice because we know that one day we too will be received into that holy city Jerusalem.   One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Darwin is complete and whole and loved at this very moment and for every moment to come from now on.  Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels.  And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, clothed, like him, with a glory and a joy and a love that will never end.   Amen.

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