Homily from Pastor Arthur Murray
Blessed be the life and memory of Timothy Dean Wuennecke. Amen.
I want to begin by sharing my sincere regret that I am not able to be with you in person today. I also share my gratitude to my colleague, Pastor Eva, for presiding in my place today. Eric and Jason, I so enjoyed talking with you as you shared memories of your dad a few days back. Craig, I was looking forward to seeing you again and sharing my condolences with you in person. Deb, we have been mulling over this service for close to a year at this point, and I am particularly sorry that I am not able to experience it with you today.
When I told Deb a couple of days ago that our family had to go into quarantine because of a Covid exposure this past Friday, she came up with the idea of me pre-recording a message. Thank you so much for suggesting that, Deb, as I do feel much more present in this way than I would have otherwise. I will be watching the livestream and taking part as best I can in that way.
I want to begin by sharing a few words from a book called “Healing after Loss” by Martha Hickman that Deb sent me a few weeks back. They struck me as particularly apt for this day as we remember Tim:
“Where has the person gone [after they leave this life]?”, Hickman writes. “Interpretations differ according to belief and experience. But surely one of the ways a person lives on is in those of us who gather to mourn the passing and to celebrate the life. It’s not simply that we will remember loved ones; they live on through things they taught us and in the way they affected our lives…. Just because a life is over doesn’t mean that that life won’t continue to enrich and bless the living.”
After listening to the stories and memories shared by Craig and Eric this morning, along with Susan’s beautiful poem, it is abundantly clear that the gift that Tim was lives on. We are enriched today by hearing about him. We are blessed today by witnessing the ways in which he lives on in we who gather. He did love. He did teach. He did affect our lives.
In our conversation a few weeks ago Eric spoke of his dad’s firm but gentle, honest but compassionate advice that he used to offer to him. Jason spoke of how his dad would encourage him and always told him he was proud of him, even when he was going through difficult times. Both shared that they appreciated his love and wisdom more in retrospect and wish they could have had more time to share that appreciation with him.
Deb shared with me how much she misses the companionship of her beloved, especially during these months of beautiful weather when they would have been out biking or at home hosting, sharing the duties in the kitchen and Tim taking lead on the BBQ’ing outside. He deeply affected the lives of those closest to him.
He also taught and affected the lives of those who knew him in other circles. “Where has the person gone [after they leave this life?]” Interpretations differ according to belief and experience.” This is the line from Hickman’s reflection that spoke to me as I thought of Tim. Tim had a great mind.. He loved to wrestle with theological and philosophical questions. His dementia did not slow down his wrestling, if anything it increased. His brain was working overtime trying to keep up, and many of the questions were existential in nature. As some who rejects simple answers myself, I always enjoyed the opportunity to hear some of Tim’s wrestlings when he would bring them to me. I don’t know if he was disappointed when I wouldn’t defend institutional religion from his observations. For the most part I shared his concerns. After all, he was a great thinker and a great problem solver. He was also honest. Eric’s quotes him as saying “I’ll never lie to you even if you want me to.” I appreciated Tim’s rare and courageous honesty.
Susan noted in her poem that as he aged: “[He] looked as if a great wisdom surrounded [him], as if a holy peace held [him] tight.” Many faith traditions, if not all, recognize in some way that the line between this world and whatever else exists becomes “thin” as we near death. As our loves ones begin to leave, whether quickly or slowly, there is less space, less buffer, less separation between us and eternity, and they begin to stand in the space between us and the next world. Time spent in the presence of the dying are often referred to as “holy moments.”
The philosopher who authored Ecclesiastes wrote “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The implication is that there is holiness, a divine blessing on every moment. Whether living or dying, whether mourning or dancing, whether weeping or laughing. There is a consistent thread throughout all of life’s ups and downs: holiness, the blessedness of life, no matter what comes. Tim knew this passage from Ecclesiastes, after all he knew the Birds. And he distilled this same philosophy down to a simple phrase, “Life is good.” Life is good. He lived life to the full. He appreciated the goodness in every moment and to quote his family he “didn’t take anyone or anything for granted.”
Which is the reason why we miss him so much. He was one-of-a-kind.
Jesus tells us in our gospel verse today that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it remains a single seed, but when it dies it bears much fruit. He is, of course, speaking of his own journey from death to resurrection, but yet, knowing that that would be too much for our imaginations to handle, he uses a simple metaphor from the natural world to help us understand. Though I die, I will live, he says. Though you die, you will live, he teaches. Though Tim has died, yet he lives. How does that happen? Well, “interpretations differ according to belief and experience” so all I can tell you is my belief and experience, the same one that Tim heard all those years that he sat in the same pews you are sitting in now. This life is not the end. Because Christ lives, so we shall live also, for neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can ever, ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is because of this love, this love that lived and shone so brightly in Tim, that made us love him so much, that we are gathered here today. It is through those who are gathered here today that we see this love continuing to live, and shine, and teach, and affect all of us. And it is to this eternal Source of love that we entrust Tim now. Amen.