Monday, August 3, 2015

I Am the Resurrection and the LIfe

Sermon notes for the Funeral of Carroll Copp "Bud" Philllips (7/30/2015)
(I rarely write my sermons completely so I don’t have a precise script of what I said during my homily. What I offer here are “Sermon Notes,” recollections of what I said, wanted to say, or should have said, all in retrospect.)

I had my first contact with Bud Phillips back in 2000 when I was a young priest at St. Joseph Catholic in downtown Lakeland. The Phillips’s didn’t worship there but even as a young priest I had the need of hardware store. I remember what needed fixing – my TV shelf had mysteriously detached itself from the wall. Rather than tracking down our handyman, I took it upon myself to fix the shelf. Having been in Lakeland only a short time, I went to the only hardware store I knew – the one down the road by the Publix, in that shopping center where Edward Scissorhands was filmed. And that was all I knew of Lakeland at the time.

“Can I help you find something?”

I think all of us who have entered Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware can recall that question being asked, perhaps by more than one helpful face. I related my dilemma. A few heads got together. They open this drawer, then that one, then another. They pulled a few items off the shelf. The man who first asked if I needed some help handed me a little paper bag with a few numbers written on it, a few brackets, and a packet of some plastic gizmo. I took the items with a smile and a nod, not wanting to admit that I was as clueless as I really was. 

“That should get you through. Is there anything else,” he said with that famous Crowder Bros. smile.

When I got back to the rectory, with a screwdriver in hand and the handyman following me up the stairs to my little room, there in that bag was everything that the handyman needed to fix my little shelf.
What service! I honestly don’t know if it was Bud who helped me that day; but I consider that my first encounter with the man I would come to know a few years later when I entered ministry at St. David’s Episcopal. You see, the service and the smile and the courtesy and the pride and the demeanor of the hardware store – it is the one and the same with man.

Carroll Copp “Bud” Phillips began his earthly pilgrimage on March 10, 1929, a second generation Tampa native. His earthly pilgrimage variously found Bud at Augusta Military Academy, the University of Florida, and in service with the United States Coast Guard. His earthly pilgrimage would grow, becoming larger fifty-six years ago when Carolyn joined him on his way. Then came Beth, Bruce, and Andrew. In 1973, he had made the long pilgrimage from his hometown in Tampa, from his family’s wholesale hardware business, to Lakeland, joining John Crowder on the retail hardware end in founding Crowder Bros. ACE Hardware.

Now, today, we accompany Bub on the last stage of the pilgrimage of his earthly life. It was an earthly pilgrimage that included also baptism in the waters of new life where Bud was welcomed into the household of God, confirmation in the Spirit where Bud took his place in the community of the faithful, and Holy Eucharist where Bud had a foretaste of the eternal feast. I had the pleasure of sharing the most Holy Eucharist, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Bud on the Monday before he died. I believe that it was truly a viaticum for Bud, a meal of strength for the final phase of his journey. What a pleasure it was to share with Bud the bread of life and the cup of salvation – the promise of eternity given for us. Now we continue that pilgrimage in this St. David’s Episcopal Church, where Bud worshipped week after week for more than forty years. We assemble to pray to God for the pledge of our inheritance, the gift of eternal life with God and all the saints.

Listen again to those words of eternal life that we hear in the Gathering Anthem. They are the words spoken by Jesus to Martha:

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

Those words are a beautiful commentary on the faith that Bud confessed and also a great consolation for us at his death. With those words, Jesus reveals that the resurrection is not so much about a fact or even about the event. It’s not, in other words, about a confession or about understanding history. Rather, the resurrection is more so about a relationship. The resurrection is about a relationship with Jesus. “I am the resurrection,” Jesus tells Martha. Jesus is the Resurrection. So, for us to experience the resurrection – for us to experience the gift of eternal life, we must respond to this relationship. Jesus offers us loving friendship. He promises that whoever lives in him, even if he dies, will live. When Jesus tells us that those who believe in him will have eternal life, belief is not about an assent to some heady principle or intellectual statement. Belief is about adhering to Jesus, abiding in him as he abides in the Father.

We give great and wonderful thanks that Bud took these words seriously. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and that after he had been “in the tomb four days.” Jesus demonstrates his power over life and death. But what Jesus has in store for us is so much more than what Jesus did for Lazarus. Jesus resuscitated Lazarus from the dead but Lazarus would die again. The resurrection and life that Jesus is and that Jesus offers to us is so much more, greater than resuscitation to continued mortal existence. Indeed, what Jesus promises is a resurrection to eternity, a life that never ends, where you “shall not die forever.”

“Do you believe this?” Jesus wants Martha to seize this truth and he wants to seize it as well. Martha responds, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Martha trusted and was willing to abide in Jesus. In John, chapter 14, we hear the promise again when Jesus implores, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” We all have the opportunity to reaffirm that faith and to trust in that promised life as Bud did: in Jesus, the way and the truth and the life.

The reading from the Book of Revelation heard today points to that same life, the eternal life imagined in the quintessential “a new heaven and a new earth.” The image points to an eternal wedding banquet, a feast of love greater even than the love between Carolyn and Bud – and that was a mighty love, indeed. “See, the home of God is among mortal,” John writes. “He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” You see, eternal life is a relationship with God whose love and life is forever. It is a place where Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” In this new heaven and new earth, death itself is vanquished and the first things will pass away. In the new heaven and the new earth everything will be made new with a place will be prepared for us, a place to which Jesus will come and will take us – will take Bud – “so that where I am, there you may be also.”

I am always struck by the twenty-third psalm. It is at once highly romantic and very brutally honest. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” That is, I shall not go without, I shall not lack. We have it all, with the Lord as our shepherd! This was the faith of Bud. This is the faith of the church, a faith never wavering. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; they rod and they staff, they comfort me.” Bud walked through a dark valley at his the end of his earthly life, but he never walked alone. His wife walked with him. His children walked with him. His church walked with him. But more than all that, the Lord walked with him. Bud lived in the sure and certain hope that comes from faith, from the determination he received in a relationship with One who triumphed even over crucifixion. Bud believed in the One who brought him through the waters of baptism, in whose name he was anointed with the oil of confirmation, and in the One who preparest the Eucharistic table before him. Today in the midst of our mourning, we remember that the Lord is our Shepherd, too, and even if we’re stumbling in the dark valley, the Lord is with us to guide us just as he guided Bud.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies' sake. Amen.

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