A Homily for My Grandfather
In Loving Memory of Bob Parker.
July 5, 1929 – June 18 2011
For 31 years I have looked up to the man we are here to remember today. I believe it was sometime around the 4th grade when I was asked to write a paper about the person I admired the most. For me that was my grandfather, Bob Parker. It was an easy choice, because the man I knew as Da was kind, gentle-hearted, honest, a hard worker, a family man, full of wisdom and overflowing with love, and in the eyes of that nine year old boy who was asked to write a paper on the person he admired the most, there was no one greater on the face of the earth.
I was asked today not to give a sermon, which I am thankful for. I rarely preach sermons at funerals and I certainly did not want to do that today. Instead I would like to share some words with you. Words about a man whom we all loved. Words about one of the finest Christian examples I have ever known. Words about our common hope in the resurrection of the body and the new heaven and new earth. I hope my words will stir some memories within you, or bring you a sense of comfort, but most of all I hope you are moved by a man who first and foremost gave himself to the Lord.
It is not necessary for me to preach a sermon, because my grandfather’s life was a sermon. It was a witness of the power of Christ working in an individual. It was, as Paul says, a letter of Christ written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. Although he was many things, a soldier, a student, a postal worker, a husband, and a father, those who truly knew him, knew him as a Christian.
Even though for the past several years I have lived many miles away, I was reminded daily of his influence upon me. As I was reading the works of Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, and David Lipscomb in seminary I continually reflected on the impact the Korean War had on my grandfather. As a child he used to take me to the movies and one of the last movies we saw together in the theater was Saving Private Ryan. I remember thinking how amazing and realistic the battle scenes were. To a 19 year old kid war was still impressive and exciting, but my grandfather saw through all of that. To him war was painfully real and something he never wanted to experience again. He taught me the importance of always striving for peace and to look forward to the day when Jesus will return and war will be no more.
My grandfather also taught me the importance of using my mind. At a very early age he would buy me books and encourage me to read. It wasn’t long before we were taking road trips to Edmond, which I thought was a far away place at the time, to go to the Christian bookstore. We would peruse the shelves looking for the next great treasure to take home. Rarely, a week goes by that I don’t stop off at a bookstore to scour the shelves and reminisce about all the great memories of my grandfather. His love of books was not a love of knowledge. It was a love for God. He was interested in reading anything that could teach him more about God. In a culture that is always on the go we could learn some valuable lessons from my grandfather. It is good to be still and meditate upon God.
C.S. Lewis, the great Christian thinker, put forth the idea that what we allow to live and grow inside of us will be there for eternity. I know this to be true, because I have seen it. I have seen individuals who have allowed sins such as hate and greed to live inside of them, and when they get older it is often too late. They become calloused as hatred and greed have taken over and consumed their life, but it goes the other way as well. People can nurture virtues, such as faith, hope, and love and those good virtues will consume them. I saw this in my grandfather. Over the last few years he gradually digressed and he began to lose some mental capabilities, but even though part of his memory was no longer there, the Christian virtues were as strong as ever. He constantly reminded us how much he loved us, and how important it is to serve the Lord and remain faithful. Although he may not have remembered what he had for breakfast he could still say the most beautiful prayer you have ever heard. The world would have looked at my grandfather’s situation and thought it to be tragic and sad, and in many ways it was, but I came to understand just how dedicated a Christian my grandfather was. The evil one could take away his ability to work, he could deprive him of his memory, he could even strip him of his dignity, but he could not take away the fact that he was a Christian. In a culture that rarely offers anything of great depth, we should lift up men and women whose roots run deep and we should all strive to be trees planted near the water.
I not only learned the importance of using my mind from my grandfather, but I also first learned theology setting at his feet. Now when I was learning it I had no idea what theology was, but I was learning who God was and all about Him just by listening to my grandfather’s prayers. He described who God was in the first few lines of his prayers better than any Bible class teacher I ever had. God was powerful, mighty, wise, creator, sustainer, merciful, loving, omniscient, redeemer, full of grace, and much more. It was that last one that was especially important. Occasionally we might hear a sermon with little or no hope, but we were always reminded by my grandfather that we were saved by the grace of God. He often sounded like the prophet Isaiah, who before God was nothing more than a man of unclean lips who dwelt among a people of unclean lips, and could only be saved by the grace and mercy of our Savior God. As humans we naturally want to attempt salvation on our own terms and merits, but my grandfather understood very well that salvation is only possible by the generosity of God.
I don’t think I could get away without talking about the influence my grandfather has had on our family. The word patriarch gets tossed around to freely, but he truly was a patriarch, not in a domineering sense, but in his ability to pass along the Christian faith to each and everyone of us. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
“Human beings are not separate. They look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and part of his father as well: and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing – rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other. And not only that. Individuals are not really separate from God any more than from one another. We are feeling and breathing at this moment only because God is keeping us going.”
My grandfather understood this important point. We weren’t connected by just chance. We weren’t connected solely by biology, but we were connected to God. If we were going to be the best family we could possibly be, then we weren’t just going to recognize our blood ties, we were going to recognize our God ties as well. To be a close knit family means not only sharing DNA, but it means sharing in the life of Christ, so that even though one of us may depart to be with God we will all one day be reunited in the resurrection.
There are many more great things I could say about my grandfather, but he would not want this service to be all about him. He was a man full of humility, and he truly regarded others as better than himself. If he could speak to us today I am sure he would tell us how much he loves us and how proud he is of all of us. I am sure he would have something special to say to my grandmother, because they shared an extraordinary bond for many years. But I think more than anything he would remind us of our common bond in Christ Jesus and our hope that reaches beyond the grave.
For many of us it was difficult to see my grandfather in the physical condition he was in the last year of his life, but Christianity is a unique religion. Our hope is not in some spiritual disembodiment, where our soul is separated from our body. Our hope is in the resurrection of the body. Although it was hard for us to see the failing condition of my grandfather the last year of his life, this is not how we should remember him. When Jesus returns he will breath new life into this body and my grandfather will enjoy everything he once enjoyed before, only this time he will be in the presence of God. He will enjoy taking walks and viewing God’s new creation. He will enjoy drawing and he will have many things to draw as he takes in the magnificent beauty of the new Jerusalem. He will be inspired to write poetry as he is overwhelmed by the glory of God. He will sing aloud with the saints in heaven as we gather around the throne of God. My grandfather will experience all of this, but if he could tell us one thing today I think he would tell us that he wants us to join him there. He wants to meet us in the place John vividly described in Revelation 21.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice saying, See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
One day when George MacDonald, the great Scottish preacher, was talking with his son, the conversation turned to this vision which John gives us in Revelation, and his son said, “It seems too good to be true.” George MacDonald smiled and replied, “Nay, it is just so good it must be true!”
Although our hearts are heavy we can take comfort in knowing that this is not the end. One day we will be reunited, but for now we must seek the city that is to come.