A funeral sermon —Participation by All

Arising & flying together” (photo by M Malina, August 2022, Kalaloch Beach WA)

Bruce’s death leaves a very big hole in our hearts, and in our church. It is a kind of loss we cannot easily understand. It happened over a relatively short time. And we ask: Why? Why now? Why him? Answers don’t come easily.

In the prayers we will shortly say—standard Lutheran prayers at funerals—we ask God “to help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand.” Martin Luther himself stated: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ.”[1] Indeed, we pray for God to help us in the midst of things we cannot understand. Belief doesn’t come easily in the midst of sorrow.

Being faithful at a time of loss calls us to confess that we don’t have all the answers to life’s toughest questions. We must recognize at a time of death that having faith now doesn’t qualify us to understand why, perfectly.

And I don’t think Bruce pretended that he did. He knew well enough that having the right answers to difficult questions and circumstances in life was not the point of being faithful to the call of Christ.

Bruce knew that the purpose of religion, of faith, at difficult times especially, is not to understand it so much as to participate in it. The purpose of faith for Bruce was not to have everything figured out, to understand everything completely, before acting on it or doing something about it with others. Just do it!

This belief in participation is what motivated him to try getting the men’s breakfast started up again during the pandemic. This belief in participation is what motivated Bruce to gather some chalk and invite school children to draw and sketch on the church parking lot when they walked by after getting off the bus on Meadowlands.

It didn’t matter who you were, whether you were a church goer or not. But just get involved together. 

Bruce also knew Jesus gave some tough instructions and said some challenging things in his sermon on the mount. Bruce had his questions. It’s sometimes difficult to get your mind around what Jesus said, like: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last” and “Love your enemies” and “Blessed are the poor.”

When Bruce was recreational coordinator, a special arrangement was made when the Fisher Park high school was built. The arrangement was between the school board and the local community: that anyone living in that neighbourhood could use the recreational facilities in the school.

As head of the Fisher Park Community Recreational Council, Bruce was careful and firm in spelling out its philosophy: the emphasis of the program was “participation rather than competition.”

Bruce was quoted in the newspaper article written up about him as saying: “Recreation should first and foremost be fun; if the kids learn something, well that’s great too. They’re not here for learning for learning’s sake.”

Though he still asked deep questions of faith right to the end, ultimately for Bruce his faith was how best to bring together diverse people. It was about participating and having fun with others.

Bruce told me recently that the best sermon he remembers my Dad preaching at Faith was when my Dad talked about how each snowflake is unique; God created no two snowflakes exactly alike. Bruce would gaze across mounds and mounds of the white stuff outside and say: “You see all that snow is made up of trillions and trillions of snowflakes each different. But they’re all together.”

Sometimes we can get stuck in the snow. Sometimes participating together is not fun—and Bruce knew this, too. The disappointments, even hurts from different people trying to work together; The pain of conflict, of failure, of good intentions gone awry.

Bruce, in his last days, shared with me a memory I think he cherished about his mother when he was a child. He was playing as many children will do, running around outside and having fun when a dog bit him on the leg. He went crying to his Mom, more out of shock than anything else—it wasn’t a deep wound.

He recalls this moment vividly, when his mother bent down and kissed the owie on his leg. And, just like that, the tears were gone, and he immediately scooted off to continue playing, running around and having fun.

He needed his mother to assure him, to soothe him, to love him when it hurt. When participating in community is challenging, when understanding a situation does not come easily, when tough questions of faith arise, those are times we need each other. We need assurance. We need the divine kiss on our metaphorical boo-boo, so we can continue playing, having fun, participating in and enjoying the life we share in Christ Jesus.

I think that’s what Bruce would want for us today. To keep playing. God doesn’t take away the owie. God doesn’t immune Christians from suffering and even death. God doesn’t insulate us from hardship, just because we say, “I believe”. 

I remember Bruce got excited the time I told the congregation that we need to consider revising some words to that the popular song: Jesus Loves Me—“This I know for the Bible Tells Me So”. Because, in truth, we know Jesus loves us because we are shown love. We have mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends who will hopefully kiss our boo-boo’s and send us off to continue living. We should sing: “Jesus Loves Me This I Know for My Mother/Father/Sister/Brother/Friend shows me so.”

I think Bruce would want each one of us to know this love of God. I think Bruce would be so happy to see us all together in this place today.

Amen.


[1] In his explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostles Creed, Small Catechism

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