Homily from Pastor Arthur Murray
One of the fondest memories that Laura, Tom and Jon shared with me about their dad was helping him build the family cabin. They worked together as children, carrying supplies, pitching in, following their dad’s instructions. He invited them to join in the work, small though they were and they have never forgotten that memory. Together they built a family dwelling, in a place that many of us know as a paradise here on earth, the Apostle Islands on the shores of Lake Superior.
In our reading this morning, from the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for us, a family dwelling, a heavenly home, in a paradise that many on earth have imagined, but no one has ever seen. Owen is now being welcomed into that eternal home that has been prepared for him by the One who made him. This is the ultimate eternal promise of our faith, that we have nothing to fear, not even death, because there is a place, a good place that has been prepared for us. It is because of this promise that we come together today to mourn, to cry, yes, but also to be comforted in the promise of something more, the promise that it is from love that we come, and that it is to love that we return.
Now I have to imagine that Owen, who was described by his family as the “original Do-It-Yourself guy” a child of the Great Depression, who worked hard, made the most out of whatever opportunity or materials that he had, and encouraged his children to do the same – I have to imagine that this Owen – might be just a tad disappointed to find out that his eternal home, whatever paradise cabin that has been prepared for him, was already finished, complete, done, before he arrived - that he wasn’t able to build it himself! After all, for him most of the satisfaction would have been in the doing, the building, the work.
But then I imagine that Jesus (or whoever is giving him the tour, maybe his older brother, Jim, who arrived a few years ahead of him) would pull him aside and remind him. The kingdom of heaven is not just here, it is with you everywhere. The kingdom of God is not a place but a reality. Even when you were on earth, Owen, you were building the kingdom of God. All those years you spent teaching Sunday School and Confirmation at Hillcrest church, you were building the kingdom of heaven. All those years that you were passing on your love to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, showing them the way to go, leading by example, you were building the kingdom of heaven. All those times that you were building up your first-born daughter, Laura, and encouraging her to follow your path into a career in engineering, you were building the kingdom of heaven, modelling for Tom and Jon the way to build up their own daughters. And from the days you chased Sue, and never gave up, and finally caught her, and joined together in marriage, a mutual partnership of love and respect, you were building the kingdom of heaven.
And then Owen will realize, oh yes, he was involved in the work the whole time. That is the reason why he would say so often, with such conviction “it has been a wonderful life. The Lord has been so good.” His satisfaction came from being involved in the Lord’s work here on earth.
I loved meeting with the family and hearing the story about the family cabin being built, and how important that was to them. It made me wonder where Owen got the idea. Where did he get the idea that the kids could help? What made him want to have them help? After all, as any good Do-It-Yourself-er knows, it’s ultimately a lot easier and faster to just do it yourself. Getting other people involved, especially kids, involves complications, makes things slower, you will need to go back over it and fix their work later. If you want a job done right the first time, you just, well, you do it yourself!
But a little later in our conversation, I got the answer to my wonderings… Owen’s own dad, Grandpa Scharf, had also involved the kids in building their, the original cabin back when Owen was a kid. That experience of being involved, of being given something important to do, grown-up work, stuck with him just as it would for his own kids a generation later. And Owen remembered that! He wanted his kids to have that same experience. He knew it would be a memory to last a lifetime and he would not deny them that opportunity.
This is the way it is with our heavenly Father, too. The dwelling place that Jesus is building for us, well as he says, it’s in his Father’s house. Our Creator chose to involve others in creation, including God’s own Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a team! The Son involves us. The Holy Spirit empowers us, and down the line it goes. Of course it would be easier for God to just do it Godself. After all, we humans tend to mess things up, we don’t get it right the first time and God has to go back later over our work and make fix things up so they work again. But this is the invitation of God, to each of us. To get involved, to take part, to join in the building of the kingdom of heaven. And as we accept that invitation, we too build memories that last a lifetime. When we do it, we too find ourselves saying surprising things like “what a wonderful life this is” even in the midst of trials and tribulations.
Jon reported that whenever Owen talked about his father he would always end with “I really miss him.” Owen, we really miss you too. Your family misses you. Your fellow builders of the kingdom miss you. But we know we will see you again.
And one day, we too, like Owen will see the true fruits of our labor. We will get the tour of paradise and we will see what it is we were laboring on. And we too will be invited to finally rest with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Receive the reward that has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.