Saturday, December 22, 2012

God's Grandeur

The Rev. Thomas M. Murphy
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
December 22, 2012

Funeral Sermon for George Connell
Ecclesiastes 3:1-14
Psalm 23
John 14:1-6

God’s Grandeur
            Today’s second reading comes from the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John.
            And because it’s so important, John takes his time telling the story of the last meal shared by Jesus and his closest friends.
            The story of the Last Supper is a story of time growing short; it’s a story of saying goodbye; it’s a story of the last, most important lessons; it’s a story of betrayal; it’s a story of death not being the end. Ultimately, the story of the Last Supper is a story of all of us – the dead, the living and the yet to be born - united forever with the God who loves us more than we can imagine.
            Which, let’s face it, is impossible to understand and hard to even accept – especially in recent days when we have seen all too clearly the brokenness of the world and the reality of evil and senseless death.
            And so at the heart of today’s gospel lesson there is a question. It’s a question asked by the apostle most famous for his doubts – the apostle whose feast we just celebrated yesterday.
            Thomas - in the midst of his fear, grief, confusion, and, yes, doubt - says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
            This is the gospel passage that we often read at funerals, but it’s especially appropriate today because right to the end of his life George Connell was a man who asked the big questions.
            Talking in the hospital on the last day of his life, Craig, Jacki and Emily all agreed that George was the very model of a lifelong learner – someone who enjoyed learning for its own sake – someone who kept the folks at the Morris County Library busy – someone who loved shows like Nova on PBS – someone who appreciated great art and music.
            George was a man of math and science - with the soul of a poet.
            I remember one time a few years ago I got the call that George was in the emergency room - and it sounded serious. When I got to the hospital I was prepared for the worst.
            I turned the corner into his room and there he was lying happily in his bed reading a book that was called something like The World’s 100 Most Challenging Math Problems.
            I was pretty sure that George was going to be OK this time.
            But that day in the hospital we talked about some things a lot more challenging than any math problem.
            We talked about some of life’s big questions.
            At one point, he looked at me very seriously and said, “I’m not afraid to die. But, I don’t want to because life is just so interesting.”
            That was George.
            At least in the time I knew him, George was on a quest for God. He yearned to know God. He hungered to know how God had been at work in his life and how God continued to be at work in his life.
            As part of his quest, he participated in as much as he could here at Grace – including a few years ago going on the Men’s Retreat.
            As it happens, George and I were roommates for those two nights. To be honest, it was the perfect arrangement because once he took out his hearing aids he slept soundly, blissfully unaware of my snoring across the room.
            Those of us who were on that retreat will never forget the thoughtfulness and depth of what he had to say in our group discussions.
            This man of math and science with the soul of a poet searched for God and found God in the web of life – searched for God and found God in the invisible molecules and forces that underpin all of creation – in the energy that keeps everything going – in the unimagined and secret world scientists are just beginning to discover.
            And as I thought about George’s long quest for God – as I thought about all of George’s questions – I was reminded of a poem by the 19th Century Jesuit priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I don’t know if George knew it, but I bet he’d like it.
            Maybe some of you know it or at least its first line:
            The world is charged with the grandeur of God
            And that’s what George discovered on the quest of his long life.
            The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
            And we all had the privilege of glimpsing God’s grandeur in this smart, caring, sometimes stubborn, and always questing man.
            And now that George is in the place prepared for him by Christ, George knows more deeply than we can yet imagine or understand that the world is indeed charged with the grandeur of God.
            We’re sure going to miss George around here.
            He wasn’t somebody interested in memorials – and, in fact, wasn’t so sure he wanted a service like we’re having today.
            And, the truth is, we can best honor and remember George by living like him.
            So, let’s rediscover a childlike sense of awe at the majestic universe around us.
            Let’s rekindle our love of learning – a love of learning just for the fun of it.
            Let’s dare to be curious – to wonder - and to ask the big questions.
            Let’s go on a lifelong quest for God.
            And, like George, let’s recognize and celebrate that the world is charged with the grandeur of God.
            George’s long quest has come to an end. Like all great quests, it was filled with lots of surprising twists and turns – with sadness and joy, with disappointments and hope, with death and life.
            Now George lives on in the place prepared for him by Christ while, for us, the quest continues…
            Here’s how Gerard Manley Hopkins ends his great poem – a poem that, in a sense, is about all of us – the dead, the living and the yet to be born, united forever with God.
            And for all this, nature is never spent;
            There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
            And though the last lights off the black West went
            Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
            Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
            World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.