|Tom & Ruth|
July 21, 2019
+ I am very honored to be here, to help commemorate and give thanks for the life of Tom Stickney and to commend this wonderful man to God.
I am very fortunate to say that I was Tom’s priest, and I would also say a friend.
This was a man who lived a good and long life.
As some of you might not know, tomorrow would have been Tom’s 100th birthday.
So, today, we are truly celebrating Tom and that century-long life.
Few of us can truly comprehend the full magnitude of 100 years.
100 years is something few of us here today will ever achieve.
But as we ponder it, as we ponder 100 years, we have it admit: it’s truly amazing.
All the minutes, and hours and days and weeks and months that make up 100 years is almost overwhelming.
And the experience—the life—that was lived in all of that time is something we should celebrate.
There will be many stories told about Tom Stickney and his long life.
Many wonderful stories.
And his presence will certainly stay with us as long as we share those stories.
I have no doubt that Tom is with us here this afternoon, celebrating this long and wonderful life with us.
He is celebrating his 100 years of life with us.
I am of the firm belief that what separates us who are alive and breathing here on earth from those who are now in the so-called “nearer presence of God” is actually a very thin division.
So, yes, right now, I think we can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, a very thin one.
And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Tom is close to us this afternoon.
He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.
And we should truly celebrate his life.
It was a good life.
It was a life full of meaning and purpose.
And many of us were touched by it in wonderful ways.
I certainly was.
I knew Tom and Ruth for many years as their priest.
I remember their strong and gentle presence.
I remember their kindness and their goodness.
I remember their care and their concern for others.
St. Stephen’s was an important place in their lives.
This was their church home.
And so it is appropriate that the new bell tower that we will be getting within the next few months will be dedicated in memory of Toma dn Ruth.
At the end of this service, in fact, we will toll our new bell 10 times.
That tolling with be for each decade of Tom’s life.
When someone has been around for 100 years, and then they are no longer with us, we are going to feel that loss.
There will be a huge gap in the world and in our lives.
After all, they have been a part of this world, when the world was very different than it is right now.
And, although it is no doubt hard to face the fact that we are distanced from him, we can take some consolation in the fact that although Tom has shed this so-called “mortal coil,” he has now entered into that loving presence of God.
There is a great image we find in the book of Revelation.
We find in the book of Revelation God saying this,
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
As difficult as it is in this moment, as difficult as it is to say goodbye to Tom, we are able to find strength in these words.
We are able to cling to the fact that, although life is unpredictable, life is beyond our control, as Tom would no doubt tell us, life is not beyond God’s control.
God knew us and loved us at our beginning and will know and love us at our end.
For 100 years, God knew and loved Tom.
And, in this moment, that love is fulfilled.
As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.”
As we mourn this ending, we also take great comfort in the fact that we are also celebrating a new beginning for Tom today.
This is what we believe as Christians.
Tom, of course, was a devout Episcopalian.
What I love about being an Episcopalian is that sometimes we can’t clearly define what it is we believe.
Nor should we.
We can’t pin it down and examine it too closely.
When we do, we find it loses its meaning.
But when I am asked, “what do Episcopalians believe?” I say, “we believe what we pray.”
We’re not big on dogma and rules.
We’re not caught up in the letter of the law or preaching a literal interpretation of the Bible.
But we are big on liturgy—on the our worship services.
Our Book of Common Prayer in many ways defines what we believe.
And so when I’m asked “What do Episcopalians believe about life after death?” I say, “look at our Book of Common Prayer.”
Look at what it says.
And that is what we believe.
This service is a testament to what we Episcopalians believe about what happens.
This service is a testimony to what Tom no doubt believed.
Later in this service, we will all pray the same words together.
As we commend Tom to God’s loving and merciful arms, we will pray,
May he go forth from this world in the love of God who created him, in the mercy of Jesus who died for him, in the power of the Holy Spirit who receives and protects him. May we, like Tom, come to enjoy the blessed rest of everlasting peace and the glorious company of all the saints
It is easy for us to say those words without really thinking about them.
But those are not light words.
Those are words that take on deeper meaning for us now than maybe at any other time.
For Tom, in this ending, he has a new beginning—a new and wonderful beginning that awaits all of us as well.
Where Tom is right now—in those loving, caring and able hands of his God—there is no pain or sorrow.
There is only life there. Eternal life.
At this time of new beginning, even here at the grave, we—who are left behind—can make our song of alleluia.
Because we know that Tom and all our loved ones have been received into God’s arms of mercy, into the “blessed rest of everlasting peace.”
This is what we cling to on a day like today.
This is where we find our strength.
This what gets us through this temporary—and I do stress that it is temporary—this temporary separation from Tom.
We know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, God is with us and Tom is with God and that makes all the difference.
We know that in God, what seems like an ending, is actually a wonderful and new beginning.
For Tom, sorrow and pain are no more.
In those 100 years, Tom knew much love and wonder and beauty.
He also knew pain.
He knew sorrow.
He cried probably more tears in that century than any of us can even imagine.
But in this moment, the pain, the sorrow, the tears are all over.
In our reading from Revelation we hear God’s promise that all our tears will one be wiped away for good.
For Tom, his tears have been wiped away.
Tom, in this holy moment, has gained life eternal.
And that is what awaits us as well.
We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any real enthusiasm today.
But we can find a glimmer of light in the darkness of this day.
It is a glorious Light we find here.
Even if it is just a glimmer, it is a bright and wonderful Light.
And for that we can rejoice and be grateful.
And we can celebrate.