This is a sermon I had the privilege of preaching Saturday at the funeral of my father-in-law, the Rev. Charles Erickson. We differed quite a bit on theological questions but enjoyed being together, remaining good friends for 25 years. He appeared in a sermon posted on this site in February.
The sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:4)
On behalf of Lenny, Anna and Ethan, I would like to thank you for being here this afternoon, and for all your love and support since Charlie died. He has been a constant in your lives for so long that I know his loss is a personal one to you, too.
He was the most faithful of pastors to his flock. His ministry was of a kind that is almost unheard of today: he stayed in one place, devoted himself to one flock, living with the families in his care for more than fifty years. If you were in trouble, he was there. If you were in grief, he was there. If you needed counsel, he was there, always there, with wisdom, patience and understanding.
He was a humble man, neither flamboyant nor attention-seeking, but had a very definite character. He was quite unlike anyone else I have known.
As a child in the largely Evangelical culture of Rock Island, Illinois, Charlie wanted to understand what people meant when they talked about God, what the religious language that tripped off his neighbors’ tongues so unreflectively could mean. What did it mean to be “saved”? What did it mean to say that Jesus was the “Son of God”? This desire to know God and to understand the truth of things was a golden thread that would run through his life.
Even after he had become a Doctor of Optometry and established himself in a practice, this yearning to know God led him to sell his practice and step into the complete unknown: to study theology without any sense of call to the priesthood or of where his studies might lead him. It was only after three years of study that he felt a call to the priesthood.
He rejoiced in puzzles of all kinds. He loved chess and bridge, cribbage, Rummy-O and Boggle.
For Charlie the greatest and most satisfying puzzle of all was God. He would come to the pulpit not so much to proclaim or explain his text as to tease out of it the truth of the living God—to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He was an unabashed progressive who sought to make the world a better, more just, more tolerant and humane place, to bring to reality Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus and his Church were “sent to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to all who are bound.”
His best sermon, though, was his life. His sheep followed him not because he talked a good talk: they followed him because they knew his voice and knew, in their priest, the voice behind his voice.
He stood week by week behind this altar, imaging the banquet of heaven as a feast of friends and a community of love. For Charlie this was not an empty ceremony for Sunday mornings but a reality he lived throughout the week. He loved his circle of family and friends, and such were his gifts that this circle came to encompass the whole of this church. St. Peter’s became a family—and perhaps today it is his greatest memorial. If you require a monument, look around you.
The Welsh poet R. H. Thomas, a parish priest himself, put it this way:
They left no books …
rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.
In his retirement, becoming increasingly blind, deaf and dependent, he continued to teach us by example. He taught us how to grow old, to grow in acceptance and grace. I remember a couple of years ago Lynn Enns, who was making a home visit following a surgery, observing that in all her years of nursing, she thought Charlie was the most positive patient she had ever had—uncomplaining and cheerful in the face of so much pain and frustration.
With Lenny, Charlie taught us all about the sacred mystery of marriage as well.
One of the things about their relationship that charmed me most was that they spent 56 years reading aloud to each other, day by day. They read to each other not just at bedtime but while one was doing the dishes or driving the car. When they were first married they read through the works of Thomas Hardy and Thomas Mann, T.S. Eliot and Dostoyevsky. In later years they discovered Trollop and the new generation of Swedish mystery writers.
The Sunday before last, Charlie and Lenny were nearly at the end of The Stonecutter by Camilla Läckberg. Charlie was enthralled by the plot and wanted find out how it ended. They decided that as soon as they got home from church, they would finish the novel.
After the Eucharist they drove home, and as Charlie was stepping into the house from the driveway, he fell backwards, struck his head and was quickly in a coma.
Death found him traveling between the two chambers of his heart—St. Peter’s and home. It found him taking a step across a threshold in the full of expectation that a mystery would be solved.
Instead of crossing that threshold, he crossed another: he walked out of the shadows and imaginings and into the light.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country….But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.
One of Charlie and Lenny’s favorite prayers is this one of John Donne, and I’ll stop with it.
Would you bow your heads?
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no voice nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of Thy glory and dominion world without end.
Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.
A Dallas Episcopal church has raised $27 million to fund a new campus expansion as well as future and current missions and outreach.
Megachurch?? I think “church” will do fine, thank you.