Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A sermon for David

Friday at 10 a.m. I'll be preaching at the funeral of David Gurinak, a priest of the church.

It's the fourth time I've preached at the funeral of another priest--and two others, much older than me (though I'm old!) have told me they want me to preach at their funerals.

This is not an avocation I ever looked for or imagined: preaching for my colleagues at their farewell service.

On the one hand, I am humbled and honored that others of my ilk trust me with this sad task.

On the other hand, it's a tad too much momento mori for me.

And who will preach at my memorial service? I know who I want but don't believe she'll agree. I've even put it in my 'open after my death' letter to Bern. But I don't think she will. So should I put in a 'second choice' and a 'third'? Or is that too embarrassing, to be second or third string at a funeral?

Here's one of the sermons for my friends and mentors and priests:

Sermon for Bill

          You've got the cool, clear eyes of a Seeker of Wisdom and Truth.

          And that up-turned chin and grin of impetuous Youth.
          I believe in you....I believe in you....

          This is a bit embarrassing.
          When Meredith called to tell me of the death of my dear friend, one of my mentors, one of my guides in the mystery of priest-craft, I didn't think of some passage of Scripture or some noble hymn verse or some profound thought from the Christian Mystics.
          What I thought of were the opening lines of a song from How to Succeed in Business without really Trying!

          You've got the cool clear eyes of a Seeker of Wisdom and Truth.
       And that up-turned chin and grin of impetuous Youth.
       I believe in you....I believe in you....

       One would hope that the word of the death of a dear, dear friend, a valued mentor, an extraordinary guide, would prompt thoughts a bit more substantial, a tad more remarkable, something less cliched and banal.
          Yet, there is a certain logic to it.
          Bill Penfield WAS one of the most dedicated 'seekers of wisdom and truth' I've ever known.
          And Bill Penfield, for all his commitment and activism, all his idealism, all his faithfulness to standing with the dispossessed and oppressed, for all that, even into his final years, his grin revealed a marrow deep 'youthfulness'--an openness, an acceptance of differences, a sense of adventure and wonder in the world about him.
          All that and more.

          For almost a quarter of a century now, I have been privileged to be a part of the Waterbury Clericus. We meet every Tuesday morning—most of those years at St. John's in Waterbury and recently at St. Peter's in Cheshire.
          The remarkable thing about that Clericus is that most of its members, most of the time, have been retired priests. Only Armando Gonzalez and Andy Zeeman and I, were consistantly members as 'active priests'—and both Andy and I have now joined the ranks of the retired. So, the beat goes on.....
          In those years I have figuratively 'sat at the knee' of remarkable priests. A great Cloud of Witnesses. Week after week I absorbed the karma of “priestness” from them and learned from them and heard their stories and gloried in their wisdom and experience. I've laughed with them, wept with them, come close to the bone of what 'being a priest' means with them. You could not possibly pay for such wisdom, such truth, such impetuous youth.
          Bill was the Buddha among us. He spoke little, but when he spoke, everyone moved to the edge of their seat, leaning in to listen (because he spoke softly) and leaning into his wisdom and his truth.
          Bill, for all his outward guise of 'respectablilty', was a Radical of the first order. With him dead now, I wonder if I'm the only person left who glories in the description of “Liberal”. I hope there are more, but one of us is gone.
          The only time I ever had cross words with Bill Penfield was after I told a story about how I was disappointed in Bishop Paul Moore during the time when the Yale University pink collar and blue collar unions were trying to form.
          Bill didn't forgive Bishop Moore's lack of support for those efforts, but he gave me an impassioned lecture on the character and boldness and intellegence and generosity of his friend and Mentor, Paul Moore.
          Now it is my turn to be passionate about the character and boldness and fierce intellegence, great generosity of spirit and boundless good humor of my friend and mentor, Bill Penfield.
          Bill was profoundly committed to Incarnational Theology.
          If the Holy had taken on Flesh, Bill believed deeply, then all Flesh is Holy.
          Consider the lessons and music Bill picked for us to hear and sing on this day we remember and celebrate his life....
          Isaiah proclaims that God will make for ALL people a 'feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well aged wines strained clear....”
          Our boy did enjoy a good meal and fine wine....
          Psalm 139 tells us that God is always with us, loving and caring. “You hem me in,” the Psalmist sings, “behind and before and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me....”
          Bill shared with everyone he met, the abiding notion of God's presence.
          The theology of Psalm 16 is pure Bill Penfield: “Gracious is the Lord and Righteous, our Lord is Merciful. The Lord protects the simple....”
          Bill spent his life and ministry standing with the oppressed, the marginal, the simple folk of life.
          “See what love the father has given,” I John tells us, “that we should be called children of God.....” John's gospels echos God's care for us: “Anyone who comes to me, I will never turn away....”
          The inclusiveness of God, the incarnational nature of living, the wonder of song, the joy of knowing the nearness of God, the irrepressible optimism that God cares—those are things Bill offered us, shared with us, endowed us with.
          “Father like, he tends and spares us; well our feeble frame he knows; in his hand he gently bears us, rescues us from all our foes. Alleluia! Alleluia! Widely yet his mercy flows.”
          That's Bill Penfield's God were singing about. The God he loved and served and shared with us as a man, a husband, a father, a friend, a priest.....

          When Bill was Chaplain to the Clergy, he would simply 'drop in' from time to time, genuinely interested in what we were doing,  even more genuinely concerned about how we were being. The only agenda he had when he dropped in was what the concerns of the priests he cared for were. That is a rare thing, a person who is genuinely interested, genuinely concerned, willing to listen, willing to love.

          I probably shouldn't tell you this in front of bishops....But I loved to sit with Bill at clergy meetings and diocesan conventions. I could be as ironic and sardonic and, sometimes, as disrespectful as I wanted to be. He would give me a stern look and then break into laughter.
          Lord, I'm going to miss that laughter. Lord, I'm going to miss that man.
          I know Meredith and Bill's children will miss him most completely. But we will miss him profoundly, wondrously. We were all “Bill's family” in a special way.

          Here are words of the timeless poet, George Herbert: “Where with my utmost art, I will sing thee./ And the cream of all my heart, I will bring thee.”
          Those of us here and many, many others all around, were privileged to hear the song that was Bill's life and blessed to taste the cream of his heart....

          “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”
          “Precious” is the best word to end with. “Precious....”

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.