Saturday, April 2, 2011

Funeral Sermon - Vernon Stuart Foote, Jr.

I've decided to post the sermon that I wrote for my grandfather's funeral, which was back in February. It was my first time preaching a funeral sermon, and I was honored to be able to do this for him and for my family.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let me begin by saying that I am deeply honored and profoundly saddened to address you all today. On behalf of my grandfather's family, I thank you for being here today and for your expressions of love and support.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Foote family loves to tell stories. This fact probably comes as no surprise to any of you here today. Get two or three – or sometimes just one – of us together, and the stories will flow like water. And the stories we love to tell the most are stories about ourselves. Family stories.

Stories about Marilou's fear of heights. Stories about Lise or Stuart or Kim getting into trouble as children. Like the story about Lise running away and taking the baby Kim with her. Or about the time the kids and Stuart, my grandfather, decided to determine the relative densities of everything in the liquor cabinet, which could only be done by trial and error. Or about Stuart standing on Marilou's wedding dress but being unable to hear her whispered, “Stuart! You're on my dress!” until she said it loud enough for everyone in the wedding congregation to hear.

Funerals, I think, are the best time to tell stories. When we are grieving, when we are lonely, when we feel abandoned – then we need to remember, to share, and to laugh together. We need to tell stories. I have no doubt that everyone here today has a story to tell about Stuart. My hope and my advice for you is that you share your stories with one another today and in the weeks to come, as we all fondly remember Stuart.

The stories about my grandfather reveal who he was: an intelligent, dedicated, loyal man who loved his family. I'll tell you just one story that is special to me, because it's the story of how Stuart saved me as a baby. We were at the family house in Vermont one winter when I was only a year and a half old, and there was lots of snow in the sloping backyard. My grandfather took me on his lap as he sledded all the way down the hill - through the blueberry bushes at the bottom - and into the freezing creek. The sled tipped and he would have landed on top of me in the water. In order to protect me, he wrenched himself around and lifted me up to safety. He broke three ribs in the process, and of course he didn't go to the doctor because after all, they're just ribs.

That, to me, is a perfect story about Stuart - that was his dedication to the people he loved. He didn't hesitate to put himself in harm's way to protect others. He did what needed to be done. And we could all laugh about it later.

Story telling. It's the way we remember our past. It's the way we grieve and celebrate those we love who have died. The Foote family loves to tell family stories. And today we also remember another kind of story, a story that we are all a part of: the story of faith.

As Christians, we tell the story of our faith, the saving story of God's grace. God's mercy and love is a story that stretches from the prophet Isaiah proclaiming hope to God's people, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the faithful proclamation of Paul, and down to us here today. When we read the Scriptures, when we recall the words of Christ and proclaim the Gospel, we are telling the story again and again.

As we tell this story, we are woven into it ourselves. The story of faith becomes our story. The ancient promises become our promises. When we tell the story of Isaiah's prophecy that "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles," we ourselves are lifted up. When we tell the story of Christ's promises that "Because I live, you also will live," we are holding onto those promises ourselves. We are wrapped up into this same story, connected like threads woven into a great tapestry.

The story of Scripture is the long story of God’s love and grace. God brought a message of salvation to the people of Israel through the prophets. Jesus brought the message of salvation to his disciples and followers. And we hear that same story today in our own lives. We can trust that Stuart is held in God’s loving care until the promised resurrection. We can trust in God’s promises and in God’s love.

Indeed, love is the heart of this great story. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Love never ends.” All the impermanent things of this life - sickness and death, grief and pain - will pass away, but love will always remain. God’s love for us is eternal. So is our love for Stuart and for one another. Paul reminds us that faith, hope, and love will remain; and the greatest of these is love.

Story telling: it’s a favorite family activity, and it’s a central part of our faith. As we remember Stuart, I pray that we can share our stories of how he touched our lives. And at the same time, let us remember and tell the story of God’s love, for in this story we find the comfort and hope of God’s promises. Let us celebrate Stuart’s life by telling our stories, and see how our stories are woven into the great story of God’s love for us. Let us care for one another and love one another. Let love be the story we carry forward from this place. Amen.

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