Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Memoriam: The Rev. Sinclair D. Hart

Homily at the memorial service, 3 February 2007
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Williamstown, MA
The Rev. Peter Elvin

This prayer is a combination of two written by Sinc and given as table graces at gatherings of the Williams Sideline Quarterback Club. Let us pray:

O God, who has taught us to lift up our eyes unto the hills,
where we find great symbols of your strength and power,
We thank you for planting us in this valley, where town and gown can meet
in mutual respect and enthusiastic support…
You are always present to us, whether in victory or defeat.
We thank you for the gifts, physical and spiritual, that you have given us.
Grant that we may learn to use them to the fullest extent, winning or losing.
Coach us, good Lord, to live victoriously,
that in all our ups and downs we may show forth your praise
and give honor and glory to you throughout all our days.
In your name we pray. Amen.

Now I ask you to hear words from another Anglican preacher, John Donne:

A man is thy Neighbour, by his Humanity not by his Divinity;
by his Nature, not by his Religion:
A Virginian is thy neighbor, as well as a Londoner;
and all men are in every good man’s Diocese, and Parish.

Those may not be John Donne’s most famous words, but they are among his boldest, spoken on Easter Monday in 1622, shortly after London had heard of the massacre of a great number of English settlers by Virginia’s native Americans. And it was they whom he meant, when he insisted “A Virginian is thy neighbor.”

Such courageous insistence marks the vision of the just and truly peaceable. We heard it in Isaiah today, declaring that all peoples will find their place at a feast that God will prepare, and will find one another revealed as neighbors by God’s removal of the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the fear and mistrust that infect and tear apart the human race. Prophetic souls in every generation have dared to have this dream. It was voiced in the 17th century by another Anglican divine, Thomas Traherne:

I bless thee for the communion of saints…
Every one the entire and perfect friend of all the rest,
Every one the joy of each other’s soul,
Every one the light and ornament of thy kingdom,
Every one thy peculiar friend, yet loving every one as thy peculiar friend,
And rejoicing in the pleasures and delights of every one!
O my God, make me one of that happy assembly.

Begun in baptism, that making, that befriending unto God, is a full life’s work spent investing our humanity in our neighbors and our trust in God. Yet it is work completed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the mortal body puts on immortality. We heard Paul say it today, and the victory he sings about is, he insists, given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. What looks and feels like our work is, in truth, God’s work, God’s gift to us received by faith: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life…

What a parson spends an adult lifespan working on is summed up by St. Paul writing to the Galatians: …the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

We are here today to thank God for how we, and a far greater company than could fit with us here, have been touched by a parson, husband, father, grandfather, friend, neighbor who knew what St. Paul knew, and believed what Jesus said, and was ever ready to work with God through his humanity and his nature. He knew what the priest and poet George Herbert knew, that “people by what they understand, are best led to what they understand not,” that the best preaching requires “dipping, and seasoning all our words and sentences in our hearts, before they come into our mouths,” that “particulars ever touch, and awake more than generals,” and that “A verse may find him, who a sermon flies…”

The only thing that counts is faith working through love. New life in Christ starts with the faith that brought us to the font. Being made one of that happy assembly of the communion of saints starts there, continues in partnership between family and resurrection community making, forming, modeling, teaching, befriending in us a lively sense of God, showing the gift of love in the Word made flesh, introducing to us the work of investing humanity in our neighbors and trust in God whose Spirit yearns to grow in us a power to love that is stronger than death because it is the love of God that in Jesus Christ has passed from death to life, swallowing up death in victory.

We thank God for Sinc, who treasured the gift and the work of the Spirit, and showed how the gift is not lost to illness or the nearing of death, and how the work may be done at all times and in all places, in a nursing home, from a wheelchair, in a letter to a friend more gravely ill than he, by a phone call on a birthday. And how it is for God to complete the greater work, the One who united us to himself in Christ drawing us, through the death of the perishable body, to the perfection of that new life that has been pure gift from the very start, holding us when we could not hold it.

Now hear some verse, John Donne praying:

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening,
into the house of God and gate of heaven
that we may dwell in that place
where there is no cloud nor sun,
no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light,
no noise nor silence, but one equal music,
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession,
no foes nor friends, but one equal communion and identity,
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
and keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our callings
that we may sleep in your peace and wake in your glory
to an unending possession of that realm
which your Son our Savior Jesus Christ
has purchased for us with the price of his own blood.

I will end with another of Sinc’s table graces, written at the Feast of All Saints, seven years ago. He refers, I think, to seniors in their last season on the Williams football team… but we will hear these words more broadly:

As today we celebrate those who have been among us for a while,
and who now are preparing for the next stage along their way,
may each one of us, at whatever stage,
open our hearts to the knowledge and love of God.
And, as our ways are blessed from above,
may we honor God by the way we live.