GOSPEL: Matthew 5:1-8
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
O God our Father, Creator of us all, giver and preserver of all life: We confess to you our slowness to accept death as part of your plan for life. We confess our reluctance to commit to you those whom we love. Restore our faith that we may come to trust in your care and providence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Last Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of “Love”. What an appropriate and fitting theme for this good and gentle man we gather to honor today. The reading we just heard from the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians was fitting for Jim. This Chapter from Paul’s epistle is commonly referred to as the “Love Chapter” and is chosen often as a reading for weddings, but it is appropriate in describing a person whose life was full of love. The Gospel reading from Matthew, chapter 5 comes from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and is more commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes”. The Beatitudes describe as blessed, those simple followers of God that quietly, faithfully, and patiently wait, thirst and hunger for all that is good under heaven. When I spoke with Jim’s family and friends, the overriding memory of him and the words they used when describing his life were words of simplicity, faith and love. These, also, are the traits I would have chosen to ascribe to Jim. I have known, loved and respected Jim and Edith for many years now. When this lovely couple moved to Fonda they not only made Fonda their physical home, they chose this church to be their spiritual home and became faithful, active members. Jim knew that this was where he wanted to be and was baptized into the faith here almost 10 years ago. What a wonderful choice to make. Sometimes being baptized as an adult is a hard decision to follow through on but Jim was not ashamed of his love for Jesus and chose His path to salvation and I, for one, was very, very proud of him.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth”. Jim was a gentle and simple man with a lot of love. You could tell this when speaking to him. Like our reading from St. Paul about love, you could replace the word “love” with “Jim”, for he was patient, Jim was kind and showed no jealousy; Jim did not brag and he was not arrogant. He did not act unbecomingly; He did not seek his own, was not provoked, and did not take into account a wrong suffered. Jim did not rejoice in unrighteousness, but I feel he rejoiced with the truth; Jim bore all things quietly, believed all things sincerely, hoped all things, like any of us, and endured all things, even death. Jim’s stroke last week cut his life short but it may have, in the final act, been a merciful blessing from God. You see Jim had learned that he had cancer and it was serious. The prospect of a long and painful death was not in God’s plan for this simple, loving man of faith. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”. Rather than facing an uncertain future full of treatments and painkillers, God quietly, mercifully and gently took Jim home with him. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.
To Jim’s lovely wife, Edythe and his children and grandchildren I can only say, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Your grief over your loss is intensified and magnified, ever so much, by your deep love for him and he for you. But let this not blind you to the reality of God’s saving grace and His plan for all believers. Your comfort today can rest in the thought that Jim is now with God. His love for you did not leave with him but it will remain with you forever, untarnished by death and time and all the more precious because of it. Jim’s love for his family is his one final gift to you, a legacy that can never be taken away. An inheritance can be spent, the possessions he left behind will ultimately wear out, but his love will last forever. I hope you also take comfort in the presence of all the family and friends gathered here today to share your pain and to celebrate Jim’s life. Their presence here today is testimony to the fact that Jim loved and was loved.
It is hard to describe a lifetime in a short sermon, especially a life as full and as good as Jim’s. But I leave you with a final thought today. Have you ever walked through a cemetery and looked and the engraving on the stones? They generally give the person’s name, the date of their birth followed by a dash and then the date of death. The birth date and death date are important, but the story of their life, how they lived, who they loved, who loved them is all contained in that simple dash between the dates. The dash cannot tell us the story of their life, only that they lived. The following poem was brought to my attention by Jim’s daughter-in-law on Sunday and I thought it was very touching and provokes a lot of thought.
I’m sure, today; that Jim was proud of the life he lived and in the end had no regrets. I pray you too can take solace in that thought. Jim is “loved”. Jim is “blessed” and he is now at peace with God because God loved him and he loved God. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love”. Amen