Summary: The homily I preached at my step-father's funeral.
R. Joseph Owles
Layton’s Funeral Home
An aged and bitter Mark Twain wrote shortly before his death:
A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;……they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow;……those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last——the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them——and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,...a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.””
This may sound a like a harsh commentary on the matters of life and death, but Mark Twain shared the same sort of blunt honesty about the matter as did the author of Book of Ecclesiastes, who stated that life was the “Vanity of vanities!” to put this into contemporary English, it means that life is Absolutely pointless!
“Absolutely pointless!” says the teacher. “Absolutely pointless! Everything is pointless!” ... Neither the wise person nor the fool will be remembered for long, since both will be forgotten in the days to come. Both the wise person and the fool will die. So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. It was like trying to catch the wind ... what do people get from all of their hard work and struggles under the sun? Their entire life is filled with pain, and their work is unbearable. Even at night their minds don’t rest. Even this is pointless.”
Like it or not, Death is powerful. It is active, it is hungry, and it never seems to grow tired from its labor. John Updike once wrote that “Death, once invited in, leaves its muddy footprints everywhere.” And so we gather here today, mired and muddied from the recent visit of Death in our lives. And we are now left with the task of cleaning up the mess it has left. I hate it! It hurts and I hate it! I am reminded of the words of, Edna St. Vincent Millay, who wrote about Death: “I know, but i do not approve, and i am not resigned, I will die, but that is all that i shall do for death.”
God, I hate death! I hate it! I have seen too much of it! We have all seen too much of it. I’m weary of it. Too many people that I have known have died! I hate it! There is no word emphatic enough in the English language, there is no word emphatic enough in any human language, to adequately capture the measure of hatred I feel toward death. It hurts that life comes down to either watching the people we know and love succumbing to death, or facing death ourselves. This is our curse: Either those we love watch us die, or we watch those we love die. That’s it. That’s life. It all too often seems absolutely pointless. And it hurts! And I hate it!
I don’t think that it is a betrayal of faith to realize and accept that in this world, for the moment, death holds the best hand, and most of us spend our lives attempting to affix our best poker faces as we bluff, pretending to hold on to something that is more valuable than what we truly possess. And in the end we bet and we raise and we lose. Death holds all the cards. And it hurts. And I hate it!
The Apostle Paul promises us that one day death will be subdued by the victory of Christ. But he also tells us that death is alive and well until that time. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed. And when it is finally destroyed we will join together in a taunting chorus, saying, “Death where is your victory? Death where is your sting?” Because the victory of death will have been swallowed up by the victory of Christ. But today is not that day. And it hurts! And I hate it!
Gus was my father and I was his son. I always put the word “step” in front of the “father” and he put the word “step” in front of the “son,” but I know that he was more of a father to me than the man who helped give me life, and I was as much of a son to him as the one he gave life to. There is an old saying that anyone can be a father but it takes a lot to be a dad. Another man may have helped to give me life, but it was Gus who helped to give me a life. Gus was my dad; I was his son. We never said it to each other very often, but we both knew it. Now, for a second time in my life, I find myself without a father. And it hurts! And I hate it!