Friday, September 25, 2009

Funeral Sermon for Keith Davies

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
September 25, 2009

Funeral Sermon for David Ian Keith Davies
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
1 John 3:1-2
John 14:1-6a

Believe and Belove

In the passage I just read from the Gospel of John, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his friends and he’s just told them the shocking and devastating news that he will be with them just a short while longer.

As you might expect, the disciples are upset at this news. Jesus is going to die? How is this possible? This wasn’t what we expected. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. How can we go on without our beloved teacher and friend and Lord? How can we go on without Jesus?

In the Gospel, Jesus tries to console his friends by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Frankly, in the Gospel those consoling words of Jesus don’t work at first. The disciples are going to be devastated by what happens to Jesus and they will deeply mourn his death.

At first those consoling words of Jesus didn’t work with the disciples and maybe they didn’t work with us here today either.

There’s a lot of sadness and shock here today and I suspect that believing in God and believing in Jesus might be difficult for many of us.

I never met Keith but hearing Bruce and Wendy talk about him – hearing about his love of life, his sense of fun, his quest for adventure – hearing about all of that has made me wish I had known him in life.

I wish I had known Keith the champion wrestler who also loved English Literature. I wish I had known Keith who surely loved sailing and the Shore but who loved nothing more than spending time with his daughters. Bruce mentioned to me several times how Keith loved singing songs to his daughters as they drifted off to sleep.

I didn’t know Keith, but of course, so many of you here this morning knew him very well. There is much shock – and maybe anger - at his sudden, untimely and unexpected death. There is much sadness and grief that we will not see Keith again in this life.

Sometimes people think it’s wrong to cry or be angry at a church funeral. Sometimes people think that because we as Christians believe that death is not the end, that somehow it’s wrong to feel sad or angry that someone we love has died.

That’s nonsense. What’s happening here this morning is part of the mourning you have been doing all this week. Bruce told me that he has spent so much time on the phone talking with people who cared about Keith – people who care about this family and who want to offer some comfort or just to let them know that they are hurting too. And what a tribute to Keith and his family that so many people have come here this morning.

So one of the reasons we gather here in church is to grieve this very real loss – to mourn the loss of this special and complex person you loved so much. So, just in case you weren’t sure, it is perfectly appropriate to feel sad and even angry at a church funeral.

But, this morning we’re not just about grief .

We are also here to give thanks. We are here to give thanks for Keith’s life. And we are here to give thanks to the loving God who gave the gift of life to Keith and has given all of us the gift of life.

It is God who imagined Keith into existence. It is God who was with Keith every breath, every minute of his life. It is God who knew Keith better than Keith knew himself.

Because it is so hard to face the death of someone we love, Jesus tells his friends – tells us - “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Especially at moments like this many of us struggle with belief. Maybe it would be less of a struggle if we better understood what it means to believe in God.
In my experience most people think that to believe is to kind of mentally agree to set of propositions or claims – sort of a mental checklist. “Yep, I believe this, I believe that and I believe this other thing.”

In a few moments we’ll say together the Apostle’s Creed – and that sure does sound like a checklist of propositions and claims.

It turns out that’s actually a very modern understanding of the word “believe.” As a student of English Literature maybe Keith knew that the original meaning of “to believe” was “to love.” In fact, the English words “believe” and “belove” are related. As one scholar has written, “What we believe is what we belove.”

Believing is beloving.

And so in the Gospel, Jesus is not asking his sad and shocked friends to complete a mental checklist. Jesus is asking for love. Jesus is asking his friends, asking us, to turn to him, turn to God, in love.

Keith Davies lived a life of love and in his life you had a glimpse of the source of love, the God who is love itself.

In Keith’s life of love you had a glimpse of the God who loves us so much that in Jesus he came and lived and died among us. In Keith’s life of love you had a glimpse of the God who loves us so much that death itself was defeated on Easter morning.

Today we mourn the loss of Keith but we also give thanks that Keith is now safely in the presence of the God of love.

And that same God of love is ready to console us and strengthen us, if only we open our hearts, believe and belove.