Monday, March 21, 2011

The Greatest Generations

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
March 21, 2011

Funeral Sermon for Alice Tredup
Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:6-10; 65:24-25
Psalm 23
Revelation 21:2-7
John 14:1-6

The Greatest Generations

As his death approached, Jesus gathered with his friends for one last meal. Throughout his ministry Jesus had warned his disciples what was going to happen to him, yet they couldn’t or wouldn’t understand, refused to accept, refused to believe, that the one they had recognized as the messiah was going to die.

But, that last time gathered around the table, the truth must have begun to sink in.

The gospels give somewhat different accounts of the last meal shared by Jesus and his disciples.

The passage we just heard comes from the Gospel of John – the last of the four gospels to be written – probably around the end of the First Century – several generations after the earthly lifetime of Jesus.

That means this gospel is the product of God’s inspiration working through decades of Christian reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

In this gospel, Jesus reassures the disciples that although he is leaving them, they know the way – they know the way to the place where they – where we - will all be reunited.

The Apostle Thomas speaks for all the disciples, speaks for all of us, when in confusion and fear, and, yes, doubt, he asks Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And Jesus offers his bold, reassuring and, yes, cryptic response: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

And we’ve been wondering what exactly that means ever since.

How exactly is Jesus the way, the truth and the life?

A big part of the answer, I believe, is found just a little bit earlier in John’s account of the Last Supper.

John tells us that during supper, Jesus “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

After he was done, Jesus tells the disciples, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

By getting on his knees and washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus taught them a lesson I’m sure none of them ever forgot.

To follow Jesus means giving away our lives in loving service to God and to one another.

For the rest of their lives, the disciples would have carried in their minds and their hearts the memory and example of Jesus the Son of God getting on his hands and knees and washing their feet.

The disciples dedicated the rest of their lives to sharing with people the amazingly Good News of Jesus.

The disciples left behind the security of their old lives and dedicated themselves to love of God and love of their fellow human beings.

The disciples dedicated the rest of their lives to laying the foundation of the Christian Church – a church that began with just a handful of followers in First Century Palestine and spread - and continues to spread - around the world.

There have been many great and faithful and courageous Christians over the centuries, but the first disciples are our greatest generation.

A few years back Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the Americans of the World War II era – a group of people that he called the Greatest Generation.

He included the famous figures of that time, but mostly he focused on the ordinary men and women who rose to the challenge of living in extraordinary times.

It wasn’t fame or wealth that made them the greatest generation.

What made them the greatest generation was their willingness to sacrifice themselves in loving service to others.

And today we mourn the death and much more we celebrate the life of our sister Alice, a member of our greatest generation.

Today we celebrate the life and example of Alice, who was willing to sacrifice herself in loving service to others.

Today we celebrate the life and example of Alice who in that extraordinary time did her part by caring for American and British soldiers at the Pepsi-Cola canteen in Times Square.

Today we celebrate the life and example of Alice who gave the rest of her life in loving service to her family and her communities and to God.

I only met Alice in the last months of her long and full life. By then we couldn’t get to know each other. Though once when I was visiting her at Harbor Chase there was a show about dogs on TV. Making conversation, I casually mentioned that I’ve never owned a dog. Alice snapped to attention. She turned to me in shock and disbelief that I’ve missed out on what had been such a rich part of her life.

Reading her obituary and reading her son Fred’s remembrance and hearing the wonderful reflection by her grandson here today, have made me very sorry not to have had the chance to know her.

But, you’re the fortunate ones. You’ve all received the gift of Alice. Somewhere along a journey that took her from New York to Oregon to Hawaii to Washington State back to New York and finally to Florida – somewhere along that journey - her life and example touched your life.

Now, Alice’s long and full life has come to an end. Her journey has ended in the loving presence of the God who had imagined her into existence.

Alice’s journey has come to an end, but for us the journey continues.

According to tradition the journey of the Apostle Thomas brought him all the way to India. I’m sure over his long and eventful and challenging journey Thomas carried with him the memories of Jesus and maybe especially the example of Jesus washing his feet and the feet of the others.

Those memories would have sustained Thomas and inspired that member of the greatest Christian generation over the journey of his life.

As we continue the journeys of our lives, we carry the examples of people who have followed Jesus’ example most faithfully.

As we continue the journeys of our lives, we carry the examples of people who have sacrificed themselves in loving service to others.

As we continue the journeys of our lives, we carry the examples of the greatest generation.

As we continue the journeys of our lives, we carry the example of Alice.

Thanks be to God.