John 6.37-40, Blessing (funeral) (Hoffacker) 2017-03-22T04:44:40+00:00

Sermon

John 6:37-40

Blessing!

A funeral homily for a man who received and gave blessings

John 6:37-40

Blessing!

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

In the course of this service, we will hear much about Oliver and the life he lived among us. There will be remarks and messages, an obituary and a eulogy. There will also be this sermon.

Among these various types of discourse, the sermon is here to fulfill a distinct purpose. And what is that purpose? To declare Christ’s victory over death, and the participation of the deceased in that victory. We are here to mourn, yes, we are here to grieve, yes, but we are also here to celebrate, for Oliver Nathaniel Clark was a man whose character was shaped by divine grace. We are here to celebrate, for his life now finds its consummation, not in oblivion, but with God.

 

If there is only one word you remember from my preaching today, let it be this one: blessing. For Oliver was a man who received a blessing, who bestowed a blessing, and in the full ripeness of his life, became a blessing.

Imagine back to his boyhood, a time before most of us can remember. He was inquisitive, he was smart. He raised chickens, worked as a caddy, labored in a fish market, served at the altar as an acolyte.

Before high school graduation, he had been senior class president, president of the New Farmers of America chapter, captain of the basketball team, and valedictorian of his class.

Picture the old man all of us knew in recent years, but picture him as the young man he once was. Opportunities came his way, opportunities came his way, and he took them, unafraid. He kept rising to one occasion after another.

God sent him these conspicuous blessings, and he welcomed them, put them to use, gained something from them. Aren’t we glad that he did?

He financed his college education, joined a fraternity and two honor societies, and graduated cum laude. Then Howard University in the nation’s capital provided him a scholarship, a teaching position, and there he earned his master’s degree.

God sent him these conspicuous blessings, and he welcomed them, put them to use, gained something from them. Aren’t we glad that he did?

Oliver enjoyed his career in physics and rocket engineering. He was a lifelong learner before that phrase was coined. To be a real scientist, you have to have curiosity, a strong sense of wonder.

He contributed to America’s space program, helping to launch the Vanguard satellite, and was part of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration when it got started.

God sent him these conspicuous blessings, and he welcomed them, put them to use, gained something from them. Aren’t we glad that he did?

Oliver not only had the grace to receive a blessing, indeed many blessings, but also to bestow a blessing, and this he did, many times and in many places.

Oliver and Shirley had their June wedding in 1959 and a marriage that lasted the rest of her life, 47 years. From that union came Kerry and Linda and Penny.

Oliver was not simply a father, he was an active father, engaged in the lives of his children and serving in his community.

Those three were not the only young people he cared about. He was concerned for their schoolmates, and for the students he taught and mentored over the years, and for the children of his neighborhood. He contributed greatly to the local civic organization, presiding annually at the barbeque grill and doing so much else as well.

He was what is known in Yiddish as a mensch, a term that can be translated as “a real human being.”

Oliver responded in all these ways to the opportunities God gave him to bestow a blessing. Aren’t we glad he did?

For over three decades, Oliver was active in this parish,
St. Christopher’s. He served in so many capacities it is hard to name them all. Was there an area where he was not involved at one time or another?

He was committed enough to this congregation that he would attend vestry meetings even during times when he was not a vestry member. That is rare behavior in the Episcopal Church.

Oliver served as a mentor for many. Although he probably did not know it, I was one of them. During my time as interim pastor here, I was a widower, a new one, and I took courage from his example.

Perhaps his most public role at St. Christopher’s was as a choir member Sunday by Sunday, year by year. Rare were the occasions when he was not among those who robed up and processed in and stirred the assembly to song, all to the glory of God.

Oliver responded in all these ways to the opportunities God gave him to bestow a blessing. Aren’t we glad he did?

Several days ago I suggested to the family to include in the bulletin where memorial gifts could be directed. Usually families find this easy to do. However, Oliver made it a challenge because he supported so many good causes! It’s been said that to see the condition of somebody’s soul, look at that person’s checkbook. Oliver were generous with his treasure, as he was with his time and his talent. Here and elsewhere, there are many people who can testify to that, and what the difference it made for them.

Oliver responded in all these ways to the opportunities God gave him to bestow a blessing. Aren’t we glad he did?

 

So he was a man who received a blessing, and bestowed a blessing. Then in the full ripeness of his life, he became a blessing.  Oliver became, at his best, one of those people who no longer have to do anything but simply show up. He would show up, and things were better for that. He was himself a blessing.

If a man reaches this stage, it takes some years. Generally speaking, young men are not yet eligible. You need to be on the far side of fifty.

And in addition to the weight of years, you have to pass through places that are sad and lonely and painful. Oliver had his share of these. Loss of vision.  The death of Shirley. Still others I do not know and maybe none of us does. Then came his final illness.

For us and for others, Oliver became a blessing. He heard heaven’s music, he sang it, and in the end he became music himself, blessing those who have ears to hear.

Oliver was a grandfather. Yes, he was grandfather to Jason and Serita, Deborah and Danielle. But he was grand father in another sense:

First word GRAND,
Second word FATHER.

A father who is grand. A man like that is a blessing. There are never enough of them in the world.

So we are here to mourn, we are here to grieve, but we have also come together to celebrate. For Oliver Nathaniel Clark was a man in whose life Christ was victorious, and in Oliver Christ remains victorious.

Oliver received a blessing. He bestowed a blessing. He became a blessing. But the story is not done. The new blessing he just entered surpasses them all.

It is music that will never cease.

For us and for others, Oliver became a blessing. He heard heaven’s music, he sang it, and in the end he became music himself, blessing those who have ears to hear.

 

Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.