With Thanksgiving for the Life of Frederick Eugene DuBois
7 January 1936 + 17 November 2015
Isaiah 55:6-12; Psalm 23; Romans 8:31-39; Luke 17:11-19
Maybe you’d prefer me not to highlight it, but did you notice the mention of snow in our first Bible reading? Not only mentioned, but sent by God for a purpose. You may not be ready for that four-letter-word, would’ve preferred to avoid it, and feel the alternative now is just to say, “I don’t wanna talk about it.” But here I am, bringing it up anyway.
In a related kind of way, I’d like you to know that that last Bible reading is sometimes assigned to be used for Thanksgiving worship services, though maybe you think I shouldn’t mention and make that connection here. One of the hard things about death and grief and trauma can be that it bleeds over, feeling like it corrupts what was supposed to be good. Days, places, even whole seasons that had been enjoyable get tainted in hard memories.
We scheduled this funeral to get it done before the holiday week, were intentionally trying to keep some of the separation so that you didn’t have your celebrations of Thanksgiving infected with sorrow and loss. You were intentionally trying to avoid it. But then this moron of a pastor went ahead and brought it up anyway.
So now, I guess, we just need to deal with it. To do that, we can begin by noticing something in this Thanksgiving reading itself. For trying to focus on gratitude and to be more thankful, it’s a peculiar reading. After all, we can’t help but notice that 10 people are healed by Jesus, but 9 of them head on their merry way, going about their business, without even noticing that they’ve neglected to mind the manners taught to them since they were young, not even a slight nod and pause to say thanks to Jesus for what he did.
We could sure come up with all kinds of reasonable excuses why 90% of the people didn’t stop to offer thanks. It might be that they were eager to share their news, or that there was so much of life that they hadn’t gotten to be part of and now were able to, that there was a lot to distract them. That fits with our busy lives, heading into the holiday week. We pay our respects today, but have so much else to do that we can’t let it get in the way, and just want to continue on with life.
Or it might be that 9/10ths of people in the Bible story didn’t feel like they really had reason to be grateful to God. They’d spent so long sick and miserable and were given a reprieve but didn’t have to jump up and down for joy or maybe even notice the good. Again, that can fit our attitudes here today. You may resent talk about being thankful when we’re lamenting the loss of a life, when we have to confront death again, have to figure how to deal with all the complications and adjustments to be able to go on.
But let’s be sure to notice one other detail in this story: all ten are healed. It didn’t matter how grateful or cheery or eager they were. It didn’t matter what their attitude toward Jesus or God was. It didn’t matter if they were distracted from doing the right thing. All received the same care.
Let me tell you about my limited relationship with Fred: I certainly know his daughter Teri and his mother Winnie better than I knew him. He wasn’t a churchgoer. When I went over to the house to visit his mother, to bring her Holy Communion and pray with her and such, Fred was always polite in welcoming me in, then he would immediately leave to go out in the garage to his chair to smoke, staying there until I left.
Fred could’ve had Communion, a reminder of God’s promise and blessing with him, of Jesus’ life given for him, of forgiveness and grace that never leave us. He could’ve had it, but opted not to. He could’ve stayed for prayers and the chitchat of a pastoral visit. He could’ve used that as a chance to say thanks to God for the gifts of life, but he didn’t.
Should Fred have done those things? Well, I would say so. I believe they’re worthwhile. But he didn’t need to. Which is part of the larger understanding that, like for any of us, there were things about Fred that were commendable and to be celebrated, and things that weren’t so great.
I’ve heard over and over what a great friend he was. I’ve heard about serving as a Marine and a deputy sheriff. I’m certainly glad that for the past seven years he’d cared so well for his mother, his presence really being the reason Winnie had been able to keep living in her home.
On the other hand, there were of course other things about Fred that were less admirable, details you know more about than I do. There are things we wish were different in our relationships and stuff in our lives that we’d change if we could. With that, there’s the rather enormous fact that Fred is no longer here with us, the fact of his death.
Yet here’s the thing about God: your attitudes or behaviors neither enhance nor stop God’s care. There’s nothing you can do and nothing that can happen to you that precludes God’s blessing. All are healed, cared for, given life. As our Bible reading proclaimed, no hardships or distress or anything in the world can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Through all of this is the care of Jesus, the promise of blessing, God’s word that won’t return empty but will accomplish its purpose, the Good Shepherd who will never abandon you, is with you through calm moments and through dark valleys, through fights and at feasts, in bright happiness and the bitter of cold, all through life and even beyond death. There’s nothing that can separate you from that, whether you’re ready to say thank you or not.
That is the promise that still holds Fred now. And it’s for us, in bleak and frustrating times, when bad news can’t be kept at bay, when good days get infected by sadness, when it doesn’t go how it should or how we want it to, still the God of life holds you and will never let you go.