As a pastor, I have also conducted several funerals and while none of them were easy, they have not had the effect that Kenneth's funeral is having on me. It has been nearly a week since Kenneth's passing. I had written about my friend Kenneth in a blog that I posted six days ago entitled "A Miracle Of A Different Kind" and have had a hard time writing about his funeral since his passing. In fact, it has been a difficult week and in spite of everything I have tried, in spite of the support of a loving friend, the memories of Kenneth keep surfacing. What I am experiencing is strangely familiar to those that I experienced when my mother passed some years ago.
If anyone tells you that it is easy dealing with the passing of a loved one if you know that their eternity is secure, do not believe them. It is more than likely that they are hiding their sorrow and have built up a defensive wall that will one day crumble. Before I begin telling you of Kenneth's funeral, I want us to know how important it is for us to be sensitive, discerning, and loving with friends who have lost a loved one. Be there for them, don't assume that because they put up a brave front, that everything is OK. I would recommend that you pick up C. S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed" and read it.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had anticipated Kenneth's funeral to be a difficult one on many levels. You see, while Kenneth was not gay himself, he had two children who are, and he was an active advocate and supporter of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transsexual) community. Moreover, many of his friends are either agnostic or atheist.
Once, a few months before his passing, I was accosted by one of his friends in the hallway outside Kenneth's room after we had bumped into each other during one of my frequent visits. The man was livid, "Shame on you!" he exclaimed, "capitalizing on a dying man to sell your religion!" His hostility was tangible and people in the hallway were consciously avoiding our eyes, pretending to be oblivious to what was going on. Thank God that Kenneth heard what he had said and in spite of his weakened condition, dragged himself out of bed and came to the door. "John, you know me better than that!" his voice surprisingly strong, "Chris is my friend and I will not have you speaking to him in this manner! I invited him here and it is I who is asking the questions. If you cannot accept my friend, I will kindly ask you to stop visiting me!" Without waiting for a response, Kenneth turned to me, saying, "Come in Chris, we were talking about faith, I have more questions for you. Oh, and John you can join us if you can keep your tongue civil, you just might learn something." Flustered and obviously a little miffed, John mumbled some excuse about having an appointment and left.
That incident kept surfacing during my preparations for Kenneth's funeral and I would by lying if I said that I was not just a little frightened. Just saying that I was concerned would not be truthful. As a result, I spent many hours on my knees before God, many more than I typically do.
My fears were not unfounded, the atmosphere was absolutely chilly during the viewing right up to the funeral ceremony. The hostility directed towards me, though unvoiced, was tangible. My knees were shaking as I stood up to begin the funeral. I am not ashamed to admit that I was relieved when I called his gay eldest son, Karl, up to give the eulogy. I had no clue what was going to happen next, it was not brought up during my discussions with the family regarding the funeral.
Karl began as one would expect, he talked about his dad and how much he loved and respected him, sharing many poignant and heart rending accounts of their experiences. Then towards the end, he said, "Before my father died, he gave me this letter that he wanted me to read to you." With that he pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket, opened it, and began reading. This is what he read:
|You should not be surprised that I must have the last word even at my own funeral. I would like to think that you all know me well enough by now. I am sure that Karl has already said all kinds of nice and mushy things about me. I want you to know that every word is true! |
I also know that some of you might be thinking that I have lost my mind these last few months. What with me becoming a Christian and all. Some might also be thinking that it is the desperate actions of a dying man who has been hoodwinked by a religious nut. To those of you who think these things, I want to tell you off in the most colorful language that all you know I am capable of. Rather, given the solemness of the occasion, I will settle by telling you to go take a flying leap off the nearest bridge. I know that it isn't the most Christian thing to say, but given the circumstances, I think that God will understand.
As my time approaches, my mind has never been keener. Many of you who have come to see me can attest to this. It has been said that a man's mind becomes more lucid as he approaches the end and I had always thought that it was just a bunch of malarkey. Well, I am "here" to tell you that I was wrong as I have been wrong about many things. This is quite an admission because you all know how much I love to be right. Besides, I am not for one instance admitting that I was wrong about everything. If I did then you have every cause to think that I have lost control of my faculties. I was right, and still am, when I laughed at Hindu mystics who went around tapping on trees and rocks whispering, "God are you there?" I am still right to think that religion is the opiate of the weak. But I want to tell you a few things before my friend, Chris, speaks to you.
First, Chris did not come seeking me. I had asked to speak to a pastor and I had sent two of them packing before Chris was introduced to me. Second, Chris did not convince me or coerce me, he simply answered my questions and presented me a different way of seeing things. All he did was point the way. Third, we did not talk about religion, we talked about faith. Lastly, he was a true friend, even when I was nothing but a pain at times. I am not going to tell you that I found religion because I did not. I most certainly did not find Him by tapping on trees and rocks, and I did not find Him through force of logic and intellect. Chris is good but not that good, sorry Chris. I also want to say that I do not have all my questions answered. I have many more that I will ask Him when I see Him. Instead, I want to tell you that God found me. He tapped on the door of my heart.
I am not a rich man, not poor mind you, but not rich either. So other than what I have left in my will to my family and a few friends, most of you will not be getting anything. Well not anything material anyway. Instead I want to leave you with something far more valuable ... peace. I found my peace and I want you to at the very least have a chance to find it too. For me. there is no fear in death.
So, I want you to behave and listen to my friend Chris. I am too tired to tell you everything that I want to, so I am doing something quite uncharacteristic, I am leaving the last word to my friend and yes, my pastor.
I was holding back tears as I went up to the podium, hugged Karl, looked over the gathering through tear misted eyes and began, "Like all of you, I lost a good friend and am here to say my final goodbye to him. Yet, I know it is not goodbye but a fond adieu. Kenneth will always be with me, as he will be with many of you. He is not an easy man to forget. Kenneth asked me to tell you what he learned from me but he should have known better, rather, I will tell you what I have learned from Kenneth. Jesus said, "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened unto you .."
The funeral went much better than I expected. Yes there were still a few cold stares and handshakes after it was over but Karl and a few of his friends asked if they could speak to me at a later date. Kenneth has opened doors that would otherwise have remained closed.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not going to tell you what I said in my funeral message, that is not the intent of this blog. I do want you to know that I did not preach the typical salvation message but it was a salvation message nonetheless. I also did not speak about the alternate lifestyle that I knew so many there practiced. It was not appropriate. Instead, I want to tell you once again, never to loose hope in your witness. I want to reiterate what I shared in my previous blog about Kenneth,
|8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2Peter 3:8-9 NKJV|
No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in Kenneth. He is at peace.
In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
Kenneth is home now, for that I rejoice.
I apologize for the length of this blog, but I truly do not know how to make it any shorter.
In His love,