Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sermon Delivered at Rick's Funeral

Delivered by John Whitt, Saturday, January 10, 2009

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is John Whitt, and Rick Whitt is my father. On behalf of my mother and all our family, thank you all for being here today. Thank you especially to the people of St. Dunstan’s, Good Shepherd in Sun Prairie, and everyone who visited Dad at hospice. Thank you also to all the priests and deacons who brought communion to Dad and anointed him; my father certainly did not lack for spiritual graces in final days. He had so many clergy attending him, you’d have thought he was the pope.

If you are wondering if something is missing here, Dad has chosen to donate his body to the UW Medical School, so the body is not here.

Just a few thoughts to share with you on this occasion…

My father was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Christian faith as an adult, early in his life as a husband and father. Dad discovered one of the great truths of our faith, a truth which St. Augustine famously expressed so many centuries ago when he prayed, “My heart shall find no rest until they rest in Thee.” The great emptiness in Dad’s life which he had been trying to fill with food, drink, women, and little red British sports cars, was finally being filled – with God. My father learned that we are made for God, and nothing else will satisfy us.

If you know my father, you know that he did not become an ascetic, when he became a Christian, but that’s OK. We just heard the prophet Isaiah’s great vision of the celestial banquet, with rich food and well-aged wine [Isaiah 25:6]. If there ever was an image of heaven that was meant for Dad, this is it. And the pleasures of this life are good, if we use them in accordance with God’s holy will, for purposes for which he gave them to us. But if we put them in the place of God, if we place our hope in anything of this world – in food, drink, men, women, wealth, power, politics, even friends or family, if we place our ultimate hope in any of these, we hope in vain. They are false gods; they cannot save us. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. If we try to fill ourselves with anything else, we will still be empty.

So if we want to do something that would make Dad happy, enjoy the good things of life, but seek after Christ, with all our, heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. This is how my father tried to live his life. Dad was always ministering, whether on the radio, driving the bus, or as a deacon. He genuinely loved people and naturally reached out to anyone who needed it. Did he stumble along the way? Of course he did; we all do. But when he did, he got up, turned his face back toward God, and kept going. We just heard St. Paul assuring the church in Rome, that nothing can separate us from the love of God [Romans 8:38-39]. There is no sin that we can commit, that God cannot forgive when we repent of it. When we fail, God picks us up, accepts our repentance, puts us back on our feet, and kindly admonishes us to better. My father did this for me many times. Jesus Christ does it for us all.

In Jesus Christ, we have God who knows the trials and temptations of human life. We have God who experienced more humiliation and suffering than most of us will ever know. In Jesus Christ, we have God who endured one of the most torturous deaths that human ingenuity has ever devised. And he did it all for us – and not us in a vague general way, but for each and every one of else individually and personally. Christ on the cross knew my father’s pain and suffering, and made it his own. And through his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, Christ has opened the way through death for Dad and for all of us who will but follow him.

In St. John’s gospel which we just heard, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that any who come to him will not be driven away, that Christ will loose no one whom the Father has given him, and that he shall raise us up [John 6:37-40]. My father is dead, but he is only dead to us here in this world, and this world is nothing but the vestibule to eternity. That is not to say that this world doesn’t matter. What we do in this life matters tremendously, but it is not the be-all and end-all of our existence.

We have come here today to remember Dad and to share our grief, but we must also pray for him. For he has departed to the God of perfect justice and boundless mercy. He is entering into the true life for which he and all of are made, the endless life of love in God, the life for which his life here was just a pail shadow. So pray for Dad. For him, the real living has just begun.

Praise be to Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. I knew your dad in Green Bay and had no idea he was in the Madison area. I know he's proud of your eulogy.