Four Necessary Tasks
A funeral homily for a man who died suddenly and tragically
Four Necessary Tasks
Ecclesiastes 8:1ff; Romans 8:28ff
By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Susan, John, Bob; on behalf of those family and friends in attendance today, as well as the countless others who came to the visitation, who made phone calls, sent cards and prayed prayers; on behalf of all of us, I extend to you and your families our heartfelt sympathy at the death of your husband, father, grandpa, brother and friend. The loss of a loved one is never easy, but when death comes so suddenly, so tragically, it is a most difficult thing to do.
Like most of you, I am here today, not as a pastor, but as a friend. Pastor Tim, thank you for your kind invitation to come and preach at Charles’s service. I have been gone from Sioux Falls now 7 years; I have no right to be in this pulpit today. But by your graciousness, Tim, I am here. Thank you.
We have gathered in the place today to do four things. You’re thinking “Holy Smokes, four things! How long’s that going to take?” I don’t have to be back in Stillwater until tomorrow evening at seven, so I’ve got all the time in the world! Seriously, we have come to accomplish four brief but necessary tasks today.
The first thing we do is grieve. Someone once defined grief as “the pain of letting go.” I like that. I think it accurately describes what we do every time a loved one dies; we have to let go, ready or not. And the more tragic the death, the greater the grief, because you’re not ready to let go. So today, we have come to grieve.
But so soften, in that grief, we say things that may or may not be true. Sometimes, we even say stupid things, not to be hurtful, but because we don’t know what else to say. Because we want answers, because we need explanations, we are wont to say things like:
- God needed another angel in heaven today, or
- God took Charles so that people might come to believe in Him, or
- God wanted Charles to die in order to fulfill some mysterious purpose.
All of that is, of course, nonsense! If someone tells you that they have an answer to this or any tragedy, they’re lying. When Charles died on Saturday, I believe that the first one to grieve was Jesus.
Are you familiar with the story in John’s gospel about the death of his good friend, Lazarus? Lazarus is sick, and Jesus, who is only a few miles away, delays his visit for three days. Before Jesus ever gets to the house, Lazarus’ sister Martha meets him at the end of the driveway, shakes her fist at Jesus, and says “Lord, if you had only been here, our brother would not have died!” Moments later, Jesus enters the house and Mary makes the same bold accusation; “Jesus, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” But just a few verses later, standing beside Lazarus’ grave, the shortest verse in the bible describes Jesus’ reaction: “Jesus wept.” And Jesus wept last Saturday morning, when his good friend, Charles, died as well.
In his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” Harold Kuschner says this of his 14 year old son who had died: “I am a better rabbi because of Aaron’s death. I’m a more compassionate counselor, a better listener, and a more loyal friend. But I would trade all of that away in a heartbeat to have my son back again.”
Such is the nature of grief. So, if you are angry today, or sad, or confused, or despairing, then you are in very good company. We have gathered together to grieve.
But we have also gathered to celebrate a life that was well-lived. Charles packed more living into 60 years than any two people I know. Charles Smith was the nicest jerk that I have ever known!
- He never met a lake he didn’t fish
- Never met a coach he didn’t second guess
- Never met a pastor he didn’t zing
- Never met a family who didn’t need a whole life policy, or a tax sheltered annuity, or a Roth IRA.
He was a friend you could call at 2 o’clock in the morning and he would be right there. He was an absolute bulldog when it came to meeting challenges head on and solving them. I recall the journey of financing this new building, and trying to convince the ELCA to loan us $1.7 million. They didn’t believe our growth projections; they didn’t trust that we could repay the money. So almost single-handedly, Charles led our approach to First Premiere Bank, and when we got the loan, Charles came into my office and said “Let’s call Paul Smith at the ELCA and say “neener, neener, neener!”
Judy, he was fiercely devoted in his love for you. John and Bob, he was passionately proud of his two sons. Like many fathers, he may not have told you so, but he told me. John, I remember the evening we went to hear your band play at the Ramkota, and him turning to me and saying “They’re really good, aren’t they?” And Bob, your dad was so proud of you during the building of the first Holy Cross building, when Doug Jones came to your home to visit with your parents about their building pledge. You went into your room, burst open your piggy bank, and then spilled it on the kitchen table. “Pastor Doug, there’s $8.71; if you need more, come and see me!” He was proud to raise a son who knew how to give.
And if there is a legacy that Charles leaves, besides his family, it is this church. Never have I met a man who worked so hard to ensure that a congregation would thrive. I would go on record as saying that Holy Cross is on this spot today because of Charles Smith’s effort. And years from now – 50 years from now – people will still be hearing the gospel proclaimed here because Charles dreamed it so.
We’ve come to grieve, we’ve come to celebrate, but we’ve also come to fellowship. There is a story about the aged sailor who was asked if he knew the meaning of the word “fellowship?” And he said “Yes, I do. It means all the fellows are in the same ship!” Well, that’s true; we’re ultimately in the same ship. We’re all going to die. We’re all going to bury loved ones, and be buried by loved ones. So we gather here today to stand beside the Smith family; tomorrow, it may be our turn to grieve, and we know that they will be there for us.
Following the graveside service, there will be a lunch served, and a time of fellowship. I have discovered that it is at these times, in the midst of the laughter and the tears and the coffee and the cake; it is in the telling of Charles Smith stories, that the healing begins. So I encourage you to stick around for the lunch; it will be one of the greatest gifts you can give today; the gift of your presence.
And finally, but most importantly, we have come to worship Jesus Christ today. Here is the bottom line: Charles Smith is in the loving arms of Jesus today. He is in heaven, not because he was a nice guy, not because he was a faithful husband and committed dad, not because he was a gifted financial planner, or an active member of this church. He is in the kingdom because of the grace of God. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Period. End of story. And Charles knew this. All the bravado? All the confidence? All that cock-sure presence that he always displayed? In the end, Charles knew that he was a sinner and he needed God’s forgiveness. And he got it.
The very best news is that we will see Charles Smith again. When our time comes to die, when Jesus comes to take us to that place he has prepared for each of us, we will share in the same resurrection as Charles, and we will rejoice with him in heaven.
Perhaps there are some here today who have set aside spiritual things because your lives are busy and you are making the most of living. The greatest lie of Satan is that we’ll always have time later to make peace with God. But there are no guarantees in life. And yet you can be certain; you can have a guarantee of eternal life. If you trust your future to Jesus Christ, you can know you will gain the kingdom.
Thank you, Charles, for friendship. Thank you for caring so deeply for me, and for my family. Thank you for your service to this great church. We will see you on the other side. Thanks be to God. Amen.
• Copyright 2008, Steven Molin. Used by permission.