Good evening. I am Mary Thorpe, Roger’s daughter-in-law. It is my privilege to say a few words this evening. Please know that the whole family deeply appreciates your prayers, your love, and your presence here as we reflect on Roger and on our faith. This has been a difficult few days, and your care has helped the family weather this hard journey.
Eileen and the family asked for two wonderful texts to be read for this service, ones that resonate as we think of this particular Christian life, now come to its peaceful end. The first is a portion of Psalm 139, the second, one of the most powerful passages from the Gospel of Matthew.
At first glance, it might seem that these passages are not what one would expect at a funeral. Where’s the “In my Father’s House there are many rooms?” Where’s the invocation of the Good Shepherd leading the weary lamb to a place of rest? Where’s the moment when our tears are dried?
No, none of the old favorites that have been preached on for centuries as we laid our beloveds to rest. Instead, something different. Something more appropriate to this man and this moment.
Think of Psalm 139. It is absolutely clear about the relationship between the speaker and the Lord. God knows this person inside out. The Psalmist cannot escape from God’s intimate knowledge of him – that beautiful language of being formed in his mother’s womb, of not being separated even in the darkness, because darkness is as light to God. He lists possible ways that the speaker could be far from God, and in each case, he cannot escape God. God is always present.
In some secular story lines, this might seem a frightening proposition: I cannot escape from this all-powerful being! As the Old Testament scholar Robert Alter notes, we hear the same sort of language in the Book of Job, Chapter 10. There, Job is angry and frustrated and confused and would prefer that God not be so close. But in this psalm, immediately, IMMEDIATELY, there is no fear. This speaker is absolutely delighted that God knows him: it is a marvel to him. The speaker implies, as well, that this deep and close relationship gives him a peek into the mind of God. Not all of it, of course, but glimpses : “17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” The passage closes with a request: search me and know me, and if you find anything vexing, lead me to the right path.
Ah, vexing things! My family will attest that there are more than a few vexing things about me. There are times when I mess up. I sin. And when I sin, I am ashamed. In my shame, I don’t want to be known by God, I want to hide. But the Psalmist does exactly the opposite: because he wants to be the person God created him to be, he not only accepts that God will know his flaws, but he invites God’s examination.
Why? Because he knows his heavenly Father loves him. He knows that God’s greatest desire is his striving for perfection. He also knows that it is probably impossible to be perfect, but that it is God’s good pleasure that he should want to be perfected.
Imagine a life that is based on trust that God’s knowledge of you is not something to fear, but to invite. Imagine a life that accepts that one can never completely know God, but only every now and again see glimpses of the divine, and fully believe that is enough. Imagine a life that is an ongoing intimate conversation between loving Creator and beloved Creation.
Imagine a life like that.
That was the angle of view between Roger and his God. That was Roger’s life.
So hold on to that thought. We’ll talk more on that in a minute…
Matthew’s Gospel. Chapter 25, a final teaching before Jesus’ arrest and death. It’s an apocalyptic vision, the final judgment, the sorting. What are the things that the favored ones have done that get them put into the “sheep” column rather than tossed onto the “goat” pile? The short answer is that they paid attention, way back in Chapter 5 when Jesus taught the crowds the Beatitudes. They not only paid attention, they did something about it. They recognized that it was not enough to simply hear the Word, the Word needed – demanded - to be acted upon. And in this apocalyptic vision, those actions were best accomplished not because followers of Jesus thought God was watching, or the world was watching. They were best accomplished not because they were currying favor with their Creator. They were best accomplished in quiet and invisible ways, when you didn’t think you were doing it directly for Christ, but because every person in the world was beloved of Christ. Lepers, Samaritans, fallen women, tax collectors, Roman centurions, mothers-in-law, anyone…all were worthy of loving care and support, because all were loved by their Creator.
Imagine now a life where medical care was given without the eyes of the world seeing what was happening. Imagine ill people being carried for days to be cared for by the one doctor who served an area equivalent in size to Illinois and Indiana put together. Patients may have been too far gone for the doctor to do more than provide comfort, but he did that. They may not have looked like the Warner Sallman portrait of Jesus so prominently displayed in just about every Covenant Church I’ve visited, but they were cared for as if it was the Lord himself. Imagine a doctor who learned how to grind eyeglass lenses so that patients could see, and who else was going to do it? Imagine a surgeon who brought food from his own home on the mission station to patients who had no one to bring them sustenance. Imagine a life devoted to those whose need was invisible to most of the world, a life of welcoming new babies into the world and ushering dying souls to God.
Imagine such a life.
That was Roger’s life, a life that now has come to a close.
When we come to the end of our life, there is an awareness that there will at some point be a sorting. There is a question that lingers in our hearts: will I be counted as a sheep or a goat? If God looks into my heart and at my life, will I be judged a faithful servant? We know our own weaknesses and failures, and we worry. But we need not do so. Because even if we Christians cannot fully know the mind of God, we do know two things. Our God loves us, and our Lord has saved us. We believe in Jesus’ resurrection; we believe, too, that we will be with him at the end. We need not worry about that sorting, because we have been saved. We don’t believe in works righteousness, where God ticks off all the awesome things we’ve done and weighs it against our failures, and we only get eternal reward if the good side outweighs the other, because we have been saved.
So what does this mean when we look at the life of this good and faithful Christian servant who humbly sought to use his gifts to do God’s will? We see what it looks like when we know God as God knows us. We see what it looks like when we’ve paid attention to the Beatitudes, and we realize that it’s not just the listening to them, but acting upon them. We see the joy of ever being known and ever being perfected by the one who has always known us and has always loved us. This is what it looks like to live a life of belief. Roger did what he did in his life because he could not NOT do it, because of what the Lord did for him. He is saved. So are we all. May he rest in peace; we fully trust he will rise in glory.