George F was a navy man, a water man. Once a water man, always a water man, of course and he was never happier than when he was on Ocracoke Island with Sarah , breathing in the tang of the salt air. The Irish poet-philosopher John O’Donohue had a brief poem that had much of George in it:
The poem is entitled “Fluent.”
I would love to live like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.
That was George’s love and gift – to flow with the river of life, to observe and delight in its unfolding no matter where it meandered, an unfolding blessed by its Creator. Water – river water, ocean water, baptismal water - was the metaphor for his life.
It is no surprise that he loved water…water, from which he was birthed as a son of Savannah, Georgia, water, in which he was reborn as a baptized Christian. If you have visited George and Sarah’s home, you’ll notice the distinctly nautical theme of their addition – that great comfortable room with charts and pictures from Ocracoke and the brown of the driftwood and the blue of the water wherever you look.
George loved the water, and I would suggest to you today that his life and his passing reflected that love.
A few weeks ago, George and Sarah and Liz came to our Wednesday noon Eucharist and I preached on those prayers we say when we wake up thinking in the middle of the night. As I talked about how the middle of the night is one of the best times for conversation with God, a slow smile appeared on George’s face – that sweet smile we all love so much – and he leaned over a whispered something to Liz. She told me this week that he said “There’s a lot of truth to that,” and that he often did awaken in the night and come down to his comfortable room with those reminders of the water he loved, that room which was his place of communion with his Maker, to converse with God and to read Scripture and to pray.
Yes, he prayed. It was a building project, you see. He was building his raft, a raft made of prayers, to carry him over to the other side.
It was not a last-minute construction.
George, methodical engineer that he was, would never have waited to the last minute.
No, it was years in the building. Prayers in times of joy. Prayers in times of sorrow. Prayers in times of frustration. Prayers in times of quiet satisfaction. Each prayer another sturdy log, lashed to the next one. Building a raft of love.
It was love, love of God and all that God had given him, that moved George so deeply that he prayed continually, and his prayers were not only the ones with words, but the ones that transcended words. This was a man who knew how to love and see God in all that his life held.
As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, George knew that his time among us was a passing state. Paul says, “ we are always confident, even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
This was George’s understanding of his relationship with God. His time on earth, in his body, was meant to be used with love and care and an eye toward what God wanted him to do. So he married, had children, worked hard – even when he faced health challenges that dogged him throughout his life, he served in the church in many, many ways, he was a Scout master, he was a spiritual mentor and friend to many of us. He was filled with the awareness that he was beloved of God, and he wanted everyone around him to feel that same confidence borne of the knowledge of the love of God.
And that love also gave him the courage to face the end of his life.
He knew it was coming. We talked a bit about it. He was grateful for the time he had with his family, whom he loved so dearly. He was saddened that he was losing his breath to the point that he would soon no longer be able to sing with the choir. But he was confident that God loved him, and would help guide him across the water to the other shore. That love drove away any fear. That love told him what was waiting for him on that other shore, that great “Father’s house where there are many dwelling places.” Perhaps he imagined a beautiful and comfortable room with the sound of waves lapping on the shore. Perhaps he simply imagined the transcendent joy of being in the presence of his Lord, whom he had served so faithfully and honored in his life. But enveloping any vision he might have had was that deep and wide love that God had for George and that George had for God, and that gave George the strength to make that final push from the shore when the moment came, to send that raft across the waters.
We will miss George. His soft voice, his gentle smile, his encouragement and love was a model to us all. He was a Christian who looked to see Christ in each person he met, whether he agreed with their point of view or not, whether they were like him or not. Not many of us can claim that. But that was George. His heart was full of love, because that was the gift he knew his Lord had given him on the day when he was baptized, when he was washed in that beautiful water that saves us. That love – we will miss George’s version of it, won’t we?
But the love continues in each of us who knew him, and who know Jesus Christ. We, like George, received that same gift at baptism. We, like George, are encouraged to share that love with others.
So know this: it is time for each of us to build our own rafts. It is time for us to start with prayers of thanksgiving for the gift of George F in our lives, and then find the next prayer to lash to that one, and the next.
The great legacy of this man to whom we bid farewell today is the knowledge that if he could be fearless because he trusted the love of God, we too can be fearless. We can find our courage to cross whatever waters stand between us and our Lord. One prayer at a time. A raft. A sturdy one. Over waters that will carry us to the Father’s house on the other shore. And George will be there, saying “Good job on that raft. Good job!”