Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Way, the Truth, and the Life for Pat . . .

     Those of you perhaps on the fringe of Pat’s life or here to support one of his loved ones may be a bit surprised that an Episcopal priest is celebrating the life of Pat.  As most of us know, Pat was a staunch Roman Catholic until late in life.  He died a Roman Catholic, but he kind of hedged his bets.  I met Pat at the invitation of his best friend some six years ago.  Pat was in the hospital.  He had requested a visit from his parish priest the prior trip, but no one had shown up.  Don asked if I could drop in and introduce myself and offer Pat anointing and Eucharist.  A few hours later, I got out of the room!

     Those who know Pat are probably chuckling right now.  He loved to talk.  His favorite subject was probably opera, but he was well-versed in a number of subjects, as I learned over the years.  As Pat continued the recuperative process, he found his way to St. Alban’s.  He started attending the Eucharist and Bible study on Thursday mornings at my church on the west end of town.  I’d like to think it was the great teaching or the wonderful sacramental efforts which drew him in, but Pat was always quick to remind me that he came for the snacks and for the hugs!  We had eight to twelve women who were willing to share both with Pat, and he enjoyed it!

     As it turned out, we shared something in common.  Pat had explored a call to ordained life in his youth.  It was for that reason he was a welcome addition to our Thursday morning group, that and the fact he was a guy.  Pat used to joke with me that the Bible study would have been a dream come true some years ago in his youth.  So many women, and they were so quick to embrace him!  Pat also shared that he had discerned that he was not called to ordained life, and so he ended up working in social services in Chicago.  We talked a lot about his life as a youth -- dinners with Moses; bar hopping with Tut; fashion adviser for Lincoln.  He gave as well as he got.  Over the years, Pat ended up involved in a number of ministries at St. Alban’s.  He ended up in so many that I offered the last time the bishop came to my parish to have him received in to the Anglican Communion.  He declined.  He said he was pretty sure it didn’t matter to God, but he had spent enough time in seminary to be properly worried.  If it was all the same to me, he wanted to remain a Roman Catholic--in case the Pope was right!  He supported and participated in our ministries, but he wanted to hedge his bets!  He also loved the church in which he explored a call to ordained ministry.  He took great delight in Bishop Amos, the local Roman Catholic bishop, joining us in the fight against Human Trafficking.  He especially enjoyed the discussions of the Ordinariate -- if I was ok for that in the bishop’s eyes, then I couldn’t be too bad a Protestant!  Pat was a character.

     Our readings today speak of gentleness and peace.  Any who knew Pat knew him to be  gentle and peaceable soul.  He was not much for conflict by the time I met him in this life, though he did share that he was not above conflict when it came to his brother and sisters.  But Pat always had a kind word and a quick prayer.  He had a humility about him which did great honor to His Lord and Savior.  As we gather here to celebrate Pat’s life and his passing from glory into glory, there are no doubt a range of emotions passing through those of us here today.  Those of us here who thought we would be able to talk to Pat “whenever he feels better” are probably feeling a bit of remorse now, feeling like an opportunity was missed.  No doubt his brother and sisters feel the loss most poignantly.  Some of you probably are glad he is no longer suffering, and then his death hits you like a ton of bricks.  For that pain to be ended, he is no longer with you or us.  Your emotions rightly range from relief to guilt and a lot of emotions in between.  

     Similarly, those emotional roller coasters have to be raging in he hearts and minds of Kathy and her husband.  (As an aside, I have to confess that John only got a name today, at least in my mind.  Pat always referred to him in conversations with me as “Kathy and her husband.”)  John was defined by his wife’s relationship with Pat.  I hope he called you by your name when with you, John.  No doubt you both find yourself enjoying the newfound freedom of not having to care for Pat.  There are no showers to be given, no trips to the bathroom, no extra laundry, no extra meals, no nagging “Pat, did you take your pills.”  Then you recognize the cost and the absence of Pat and feel guilt.  Know that the guilt you may feel this day or any day in the future was not something your brother ever wanted you to feel, and know that the guilt is not a “message” from God.  There may well be a voice whispering your guilt in your ears, but it is not the voice of your Father or Pat’s Savior, who stands here with us this day mourning our loss but reminding us of His promises.  Pat always spoke of Kathy and her husband as the saints who cared for him.  As much as he did not want to move a few years ago, he recognized how much easier the proximity would make caring for him for the two of you.  To be fair, Kathy, and lest you get a big head around your brothers and sisters, he also spoke of you as one speaks of a sister.  (We can talk about those particular sins either after the service or in the weeks to come -- brothers and sisters are great at getting under each other’s skins and getting each other in trouble!)  He bragged about his nieces and nephews.  He was especially fond of his best friend’s family.  Though I do not know all of you here personally, the simple fact that your are here celebrating his life makes me think you were one of a number of people whom he cherished.

     I cannot speak beyond six years ago, but those things which weighed on him at the end were not really related to any of you here present.  Yes, he wished some relationships were better, but he acknowledged his own role in those.  No, the things which weighed on him at the end, which the enemy of God used to try and prick his conscience were a bit more . . . cosmic in nature.  I have heard several times the past few days how they wish he would have met a girl, settled down, and started a life together.  Pat, were he alive today, might acknowledge that he was in love once with a girl, but it was fleeting.  He would then take the opportunity to remind each one of you that he would wish you would meet a man, a man named Jesus, and fall in love with Him.

     Some two years ago, well before these last two visits to the local hospitals, Pat grabbed me between Eucharist and Bible study.  He was by no means wanting to die, but he wanted to make sure his death was not empty.  “If you are still here when I die,  would you do my funeral?”  I tried to laugh it off, but it was one of those few times, outside a discussion about opera, that Pat was very serious rather than good-natured.  “I don’t have much to offer my family and friends except my love for God and His love for me.  Would you do my funeral if you are still here, so that those unsaid things get said?”  You all know my answer. . .  

     Choosing readings appropriate for Pat’s life was more difficult than I ever thought possible.  Pat was a man of many interests and many experiences.  In one sense, a sermon about his death could be summed up pretty well by the word “duh.”  Pat was loving, gentle, humble, gracious, and any whole host of wonderful adjectives which we disciples are commanded to be.  No doubt his family knew a different side of him, as did dozens of his clients in the Chicagoland area social services, as did our Lord; but Pat tried hard to live a life that honored the God whom he loved.  I am sure he failed, more often than he wished or would like us all to know, but I am equally sure Pat repented.  The ego eimi passages of John were entirely appropriate for Pat.  Pat knew Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life.  In fact, in the way I just described it, Pat is probably chuckling now wishing he could explain the ego eimi and its significance to you.  Let’s be honest, now he understands everything better and would love to share that newfound knoweldge with us.  But even these readings leave out so much of Pat’s life, his real testimony to each one of you, of who he knew Jesus to be.

     Given the endless possibilities of his life, then, I will focus on his death.  So often the Christian message is wrongly passed on as a promise of no problems.  “If you believe in the Lord, He will take away all your cares.”  “If you believe in the Lord strong enough, He will give you everything you need.”  “If you believe in the Lord, evil cannot touch you.”  We do a disservice when we allow those myths to continue unchallenged.  While it is true that God will provide us with all our necessities, there is no assurance that we will not be impacted by evil or the consequence of sin, both our own sins and the sins of those around us.  God does promise that we have no reason to fear the ultimate consequence of evil and sin, namely death, if we accept the offer of His Son on our behalf; but nowhere does Scripture promise us that our acceptance of Christ as Lord of our life will put an end to the impact of evil in our lives.  In fact, I would say it argues the very opposite.  Acceptance of Christ as Lord of lives seems to make us a target.  Those forces which rebel against God and those who serve them seem to delight in our misfortune.  Plus, we tend to forget who to thank for deliverance unless it is obvious we were wholly inadequate to deliver ourselves.  So our message should be a message of deliverance, so as not to create a wrong impression.  Nowhere is that message of deliverance more needed to be heard than at the time of death of a loved one.

     To you his family and loved ones, I cannot begin to address your grief and mourning over the loss of Pat in a few minutes long sermon.  I can tell you that Pat faced his own death confident in God’s promises, though unaware that his death was already being redeemed by our Lord.  A couple weeks before his death, Pat had a particularly difficult day.  When I arrived, I asked if he wanted permission to die or if he wanted to fight.  Pat thought for a few moments and asked for healing.  I anointed Pat and prayed for healing.  As is usually the case, I prayed a particular prayer for Pat.  As I finished, the ICU nurse noted that I seemed to say it like I believed it.  What followed was a five or ten minute conversation reminding her of God’s promises and power.  I am not sure why her faith had ebbed that day.  She is an ICU nurse and surrounded by death and grief, so I can well imagine any number of possibilities.  But had Pat not asked for healing, I wonder what path she would have taken.  I wonder how far into the darkness she would have stumbled.

     As if that were not enough, as she and I were talking, we were interrupted by a third voice.  The man, whose loved one was also in the ICU, wanted to know why, if God was good and all-powerful, was He not healing Pat.  Knowing Pat and his faith, I was able to say with no hesitation that Pat had received the healing he really needed.  In a way, whether Pat lived or died was immaterial.  Pat knew he would live forever with his Lord.  What followed was a longer conversation about the Gospel.  As we finished, I offered to anoint and pray for his wife.  He politely declined, but said he might take me up on it another time.  I had given him a lot to think about, some of which was incredulous.  typical for me, I asked the man which was more incredulous to him: that Jesus died, was buried, raised on Easter, and ascended into heaven and will return to judge the living and the dead or the fact that he, as he got out of bed that morning, would be engaged in a substantial conversation about the Gospel and about faith that same day.  He ruefully admitted that both seemed impossible less than an hour earlier.

     Two different individuals, two different ways in which Pat’s passing was already being redeemed by God to help restore faith in the faithful and to enlarge His kingdom.  Most of us would be happy with that ending, but our Lord is a Lord who likes to go big.  As events turned out, I arrived at the hospital as Pat was dying.  It is my habit to do my rounds after I drop my kids off at school, but that day I had car problems.  A parishioner took my kids to school for me.  Later that morning, that parishioner offered me the use of his car.  After some fighting, I agreed.  I took the parishioner home and headed over to visit with Pat.  I arrived to find that Pat had just breathed his last.  The nurse was stunned.  How did you get here so quickly?  I prayed over the body, made sure the family was being called, and was asked to leave so they could clean him up a bit.  The nurse apologized that no one had given me warning.  No one had called because it happened as I was strolling in.  I told her it was ok.  It was a timing issue and nothing they could have done differently or better.  She remarked that I was taking his death well.  I told her I was sad, but I was also happy for Pat.  He was no longer suffering in this body; he was no longer forced to listen to the crap that was on the radio (why aren’t there more opera radio stations?); he was no longer forced to watch the Cubs blow it year after year.  He was in that place with God where there was no pain, no suffering, only opera, and where the Cubs always win the World Series.  She laughed.  And then, perhaps, in the next sentence or two she proceeded to give the testimony that we should all want when we face our deaths.  You know, nobody comes here unless death is a real possibility.  Pat knew he was fighting for his life, but, when he was lucid, he had a calm about him that you could feel.  When he was with us he would joke with us, and he would talk to us like he cared about us.  What made Pat like that?

     What made Pat like that?  Would that all of us who claim Jesus as Lord would behave in ways to make others ask of us why we are the way we are!  Pat was graced with that peace that passes all understanding, and others noticed that about him.  Pat was a man who knew his limitations and his faults, and he knew that God loved him anyway!

     I shared a special bond with Pat.  Perhaps some of you might have been surprised to learn that Pat once discerned a call to the priesthood in seminary, as I mentioned earlier.  Pat either made a decision or discerned that he was not called, but it helped us to relate to one another.  His perceived mistreatment by the Roman church, and our obvious call to forgive those who had failed him, also helped to forge that relationship.  But as we walked that particular path together, we were both reminded that God takes stubborn, stupid, selfish, and ridiculous men and women as disciples and turns them into saints.  God does not do this because we deserve it; He does it in spite of what we deserve.  Brothers and sisters, have you considered the testimony of this man who lies before us this day?  I know there are those, perhaps in attendance, who will cluck at an evangelistic bent to any words at a funeral, but one of Pat’s few worries was whether he had been clear enough to you, his family and friends.  Pat was a big believer in St. Francis’ advice that we preach best when we are not using words.  Yet, Pat came to realize that so few of his loved ones, so few of you, seemed publicly to share in his faith.  He had no secret fortune to offer his loved ones.  He had no amazing inventions.  He had nothing the world would call “significant” to offer to you, his loved ones.  He left the world just as he entered it.  And yet, in the line between his life and his death, we witnessed how he lived.  He lived a life where he tried to reflect the love and grace shown him first by our Lord.  How about you?  Do you share a faith like our brother Pat and live a life trying to reflect that faith in your life and work?  Or have you bought into the myth that it is a waste, that there is nothing beyond all this?

     Scoffers in the room might well wonder what good all this faith, all this churchy stuff Pat did.  After all, he did not get out of this life alive.  In the end, none of us do, unless we happen to be among the fortunate to be alive at the return of our Lord.  All of us here today knew Pat’s love for minutiae and knowledge.  Like so many who have come before, Pat sought wisdom in all manner of places.  In the end, he settled on the one person, Jesus Christ, who answered those questions which most bothered him.  If the testimony of those who came before is wrong, then Pat and those of us who share his faith are certainly to be pitied.  Most of us have tried to live our lives serving others as we believed He served and called us.  Those in the world around us have been able to take advantage of us, of people like Pat, who trusted that God would redeem all things in their lives, even their deaths.

     But what if it is all true?  What if those who began what came to be known as the early Church are right?  What if He was raised from the dead?  Then everything Pat has experienced, including his death, has already been redeemed.  Certainly, Pat lived his life as if he believed it was true, and already you have heard how his passing was being redeemed by God.  What of you, his loved ones?  Reflecting upon his life and his testimony to you, what do you believe?  A more difficult question needs to be considered as well.  All of us gathered today knew Pat’s faith.  You may have been surprised that an Episcopal priest celebrated the funeral, but I daresay none of you gathered would be surprised to learn that Pat claimed to be a disciple of the Lord Christ.  What if it were you in this casket?  Would people be surprised to learn that you were a person of faith?  Would people be saying “of course, this makes sense,” or would they rather being saying in surprise, “really?”  I ask for two reasons.  Pat, in conversations before the end, worried whether he had been vocal enough to his loved ones about his faith.  He wondered whether he had imparted the importance of faith in Christ and whether he had provided opportunity for questions.  My other reason for asking is, of course, about the nature of your potential passing.  Pat’s passing was used by God to reach into the life of a loved one of someone else who was in danger of passing.  As we talked that afternoon, I reminded the gentleman that our Lord promises that no one will not have chosen either to receive or to reject Him.  Free will is just that.  We would all be doing Pat a disservice were I not to ask the big questions and demand of you your answers to those questions.  I do not need to hear them.  Only you in your heart needs to hear them.

     Our passage from John this afternoon ought to remind us of the witness of our dear Pat.  I joked a few minutes ago about the ego eimi and Pat’s upraised hand wanting to explain it all to us.  But John’s passage summarizes quickly what Pat had come to believe and wanted to share with you.  The “I” in the passage is emphatic.  It not only points to the person of Jesus specifically, but it excludes the possibilities of others.  Nobody else can offer what Jesus does.  And notice, He does not claim to know information about the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- He claims He is the Way, He is the Truth, and He is the Life.  Only He can show us the way to the Father.  Only He can reveal to us what we need to know about God because He, unlike all who came before and have come since, is one with the Father and so able to speak to the mind and heart of the Father.  If Jesus is who He says He is, He knows the intent of the Father and not just the words.  That is why He can interpret and speak with authority and we and all who hear and see can be amazed at His authority.  Of course, it is easy to make those claims, right?  What doubters and seekers want to know is whether the claims are all true.  That He was not subject, in the end, to the power of death is proof not only that He is the Life, but that He is who He claims to be!  If He were a liar, if He spoke out of turn, if He was not truthful, He would have sinned and died like Pat.  And He would have stayed dead.  But, brothers and sisters, God raised Him from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly places and placed all authority in Him!  For His faithfulness, for His willingness to do the will of the Father, Jesus is honored above all things created.  Disease, nature, supernatural powers -- they all bow before Him!  Pat knew this.  Pat lived this.  Pat died in that knowledge.

     And that same person who claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life also promised that He went to prepare a place for us.  That same person promised that He will not lose a single one given to Him.  That same person, Jesus, promised to share His life with all who believe.  That was His pledge to Pat, and that was His pledge to you.  Believe in Me, and live!  Forever.

     What do you believe?  Is Jesus who He claims to be, whom Pat claimed He was?  Perhaps you worry now that you are the one about whom your beloved Pat was worried.  What can you do?  Pat would be the first to remind us of God’s amazing grace, that all we ever need to do is repent and return.

     In a few moments, after some prayers and greeting, we will share the Eucharist.  I know many of you were raised in the Roman Catholic church.  In the Episcopal tradition, this is the Lord’s Table.  The host is the Lord and we all dine at His invitation.  I also understand that many of you, by reason of conscience will choose not to come forward and receive.  That is fine.  I understand the teaching and people’s efforts to be faithful.  But in many ways we do share an understanding of the Eucharist.  During the celebration of the Eucharist, we will all be called this afternoon specifically to remember what Christ has done for us.  We will break the bread, reminding us of His body broken for us; and we will drink wine, reminding of His blood that was shed on our behalf.  And in that mystical, sacramental moment that we share in the Eucharist, we, like Pat countless times before us, will be reminded of the pledge that Christ has made to each one of us.  We who have died with Christ and to our selves in baptism will be reminded of our promise of new life in Christ, even in a mourning moment such as this.  Truthfully, in that mystical moment, you and I will be sharing in the feast to which our Lord calls of of humanity, that feast at which our dear brother Pat dines with us even on this day.

     The Way, the Truth, and the Life -- Pat lived life and faced death praying that we would all come to believe it and share with Him in God’s eternal priesthood.  Now, in peace, let us pray to the Lord . . . 

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