“The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” – 1 Corinthians 12: 22
Our brother S N died after suffering a heart attack mid-morning this past Sunday, 16 January. He was 54 years old.
A couple of minutes after hearing of his passing I surprised myself at being overtaken by a good cry. An hour later another sobbing session.
Why did this news move me so much? In some ways S wasn’t at all integral to our Boston/EBC endeavor. He never joined the church, his quantifiable contributions to the ministry never reached even the category of “middling.” And – though this improved as time went by – our conversations were regularly scattered and superficial.
And yet. Even though he never officially came onto the membership roster, over the years I came to realize that his participation in the life of the body was verily “indispensable.”
How so? Well, firstly, churches have always suffered from a tendency toward pretentiousness: an aura that’s 40% smarminess, 30% over-stylization, 30% self-righteousness wafts into congregations.
Well, without any effort or self-consciousness, S performed the task of fumigating the humbuggery right out of the church. For instance: for several months he and I studied through Matthew’s Gospel at his house, and he’d regularly open the door to me with no smile, wearing one of his several Grateful Dead shirts, tersely reminding me to take off my shoes at the bottom of the stairs. Talk about quickly dispelling any sanctimonious atmosphere I might have arrived with!
I recall at a men’s meeting, several of us were batting around sophisticated ideas about some topic, increasingly enjoying hearing ourselves talk. S indicated that he had something to contribute to the discussion, and therein he dropped some reference to (and here memory fails) maybe the movie Caddyshack? or the show Sex in the City? Whatever the allusion was, it raised the hair on the back of the neck…and staved off the encroaching smugness. We men broke into a hearty laugh, the spell was broken.
Yet his contributions to our body were more than the spiritually ambiguous kind described above. Before continuing, let me insert a caveat here: I’m aware, indeed I champion the fact, that love isn’t always or even usually “nice,” that it can come wrapped in severity and strictness and rigor.
Yes, the church needs its theological doctors, militant defenders, assertive evangelists, wild-eyed prophets whose fierceness is often actually love spilling over. But God’s Spirit also supplies Christ’s Body with other, gentler souls. Love has a gentle side too, right? Might could even come off as easy-going?
And that’s the side of love God brought to us with S. He was a tender, mild-mannered man. (Talking with one of his oldest friends today, she described him as ‘innocent’ – that’s accurate). Over the 13 years or so I knew him we had plenty of conversations, and yet I don’t remember S ever saying a bad word about anybody. That’s amazing. If ever a conversation strayed toward anything odious he’d move it back to safer ground, to the familiar topics he loved: Patriots, guacamole, the Grateful Dead.
S was a peacemaker, an encourager. When folks moved on from the church he was intent on maintaining warm relations with them.
And how often! – – those Sundays post worship after I had presided over a train wreck of a sermon, going out the door S would shake my hand door and always lead off the short conversation with “great sermon.”
Now don’t go too far and picture S as too saintly. He’d drop the occasional cuss word. A lot of bantering happened between us: He’d rip my Broncos up and down. I’d savage him about his “jogging,” an amazingly slow thing that amounted to nothing more than his leaning forward and scraping forward one leg after the other. (He’d impress you with telling the amount of time he ran until you discovered how little distance he had covered!) Anyway, he enjoyed ribbing and being ribbed.
Point being: part of his contribution to our church was in being someone easy to be with, easy to talk to, carrying a lightness of being. Boy our church needed that!
Finally, much of his contribution to our church consisted in his ever-growing appreciation and respect for the Scripture. When someone dies who had confessed faith in Jesus, we like to say that they’d been interested in the Bible. Well, with S, we don’t have to imagine it: although it wasn’t accompanied by self-consciousness or any spiritual “atmosphere,” S had a growing DELIGHT in the Word of God.
This delight came out. A couple of examples: As we talked our way through Matthew’s Gospel, several times S was arrested by some concept or phrasing of Jesus’. He loved Jesus’ realism in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Truth is, behind his affability S carried around not a little anxiety; somehow it relieved him to hear Jesus concede that “tomorrow” will, in fact, be hard. As if to say, yes, you’ll have plenty to be anxious about once tomorrow gets here – but wait till it arrives! He would quote those sentences of Jesus all the time.
One Good Friday’s sermon several years ago interacted with Psalm 22: My God, My God why have You forsaken Me? Well, the words of that sermon never left S. He was referring to it up until shortly before we left.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, says Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, remember that now S N has been caught up into the victory of his crucified and resurrected Lord. S was a brand plucked from the fire, given faith to believe that God’s promise to restore all things has reached its apex in the Gospel of the Messiah Jesus. S is with his Lord, the Lord whom on Saturday he knew quite imperfectly, but now knows better than any of we do. Now with his Lord, he awaits the full fulfillment of his being united in Jesus’ resurrection, which is the resurrection of his body and the glorification of sharing in the reign of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for His abundant grace, salvation.
We are honored to have known S and to have been loved by him.