a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Ronald Holton  29Sept50+20July14

John 6:16-21, 14:1-7

It is a privilege and honor to be with you for this gathering today, to serve you, to bring a word for you.

Other than a conversation with sister Carol the other day, and a little bit of what I’ve heard this morning, I obviously didn’t get to know Ron, though maybe I did at sometime see him out walking Libby. I’m also told that he was a pretty private person, that it was kind of tough for much of anybody to get to know him.

In that way and more, I would say that Ron could be a metaphor for God for us, could perhaps help us understand who God is a bit more, which may be important for this moment now, and also for life going forward. And that’s what I’m here to focus on, the word I get to bring.

See, in that first detail of being a private, reserved kind of person, a quiet intellectual, we may envision some pretty clear parallels to what you could say about God. God isn’t so easy to get to know. In conversations, if you try to talk or pray to God, you don’t get much in the way of clear answers. If you wanted to spend time with God, to be together and hang out, where would you go? God doesn’t really show up as the life of a party, cracking jokes. Instead God is more hidden, apparently off someplace else, mysterious certainly.

That can be difficult, making it hard to get to know and relate. Again, for a similarity, we refer to God as Father. But this isn’t a Father who plops down next to you, asks about your day, gives you a big hug. We have assurances of this Father’s love, but somehow that remains somewhat invisible, it can only be trusted, believed.

Yet we’re not left only with the quiet, somehow secret love of the Father, whether we’re talking about God or about Ron. It’s not just the invisible, hidden God we have to guess our way to, or struggle to uncover, that are constantly left questioning or just have to wish into being.

Our Bible reading from the Gospel of John reminded us that, in Jesus, God is made known to us. In him, the unknown, uncertain God is revealed.

And that pieces together with the other Bible reading in a really vital, important way. The other reading talked about a storm at sea, and some people in a boat, fearing for their lives. Now, we could look at those things and wonder where God is. Some even refer to violent weather events as “acts of God.” So, is God causing the storm and suffering of life? Is God driving the people to fear? Is God so careless about our lives?

In fact, as Jesus makes God known for us in the story, God does care. God calms storms. God preserves life. And God in Christ says, “Peace, do not be afraid.”

Those may be important words as we reflect on Ron’s life, as well. In his career with the Coast Guard, he also embodied caring for life on the waves, striving to drive off danger and to rescue and protect amid the storms, helping ships and boats get safely to the ports where they were going. In that, we could say that Ron was doing some of God’s work, going through danger at times, searching and trying to save, to help life run more smoothly.

Maybe the other thing we notice as we hear those Bible readings is less the direct connections of the details of those stories, but that it is a story in and of itself. See, part of how we continue to know who God is, is by retelling these old stories. Part of how God is a blessing and a resource, how God brings peace and life, is by living again into these old words, by remembering, by listening, sharing, and telling.

And that’s a worthwhile thing as you gather at this moment. Part of what’s helpful in this time of loss is to reclaim some memories. I heard of Ron loving the music of Woodstock. I heard of hitchhiking through South America, and also along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. with your mother, Sharrie and Michelle. I heard that his own favorite memory of the 4th of July in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, his favorite Independence Day celebration. There are memories of Vietnam, of good times and much harder times, of strength, and of sickness—all of it coming to bear now and to be redeemed in our Lord.

I heard of being known for walking along the bike path with Libby, always out for those walks with the dog he cared for so much, and flashing his signature peace sign at those who passed by.

Maybe that story, that memory, is an appropriate conclusion for now. On the stormy waters, Jesus spoke a word of peace and of blessing. And he spoke an assurance that your place is always with God, that nothing will ever separate you from that love, and that life will continue forever. In the care of one beloved and close, and the fleeting signals of peace, there is also the purpose of me being here today, to offer you again the promise that you are cared for, that God is bringing you through the storms, working for love and reconciliation, to bring you together again for the good of life in your Father’s home forever.

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