Last Sunday we held our first of five “Better Be Ready” sessions. The Rev. Maggie Foote and I shared about the importance of preparing for our final days on earth and for our funeral liturgies. We encouraged those gathered that our funeral liturgy can be our last gift to the world, our parting words, if you will. While this is true, I hope that my legacy of love lives on through my children and their children, through people I have ministered with through Episcopal parishes and in my everyday life and listening.
Maggie shared a tool for reflection to get folks to consider preparing for their funerals in deeper ways than filling out our parish’s funeral planning worksheet. We have an excellent funeral planning worksheet, but taken at face value, this planning document fails to get at the “why” of what one wants for their funeral liturgy. Naturally, I understand why our funeral planning worksheet was put together the way it was; in fact, I assisted in putting said worksheet together. An altar guild member needs to know whether or not to set up for Holy Eucharist and how many pews to rope off for the family. The parish administrator needs to know how many bulletins to print and what Scripture readings have been chosen. The minister of music needs to know what music pieces to prepare to play, and so forth. All of the above details are important, but what do they say about our greater understanding of God and God’s role in our lives?
This is one of the reflection questions: “What message do I want to share with those who love me about who God is, and how I have seen God at work in my life?” Who is God to you? How have you seen, how have you witnessed God at work in your life? These are questions we should be considering each day of our lives, especially in the midst of the choppy turbulence of our political climate and in all of the hurtful messages being tossed to and fro about gun violence.
As a follower of Jesus, I am to do my utmost to model my life of faith based on my understanding of and relationship with God through Christ. The Jesus I read about in Holy Scripture is a man of deep and profound love for all of creation. The Jesus I read of in the Bible stood up to the domination systems of his day, Roman oppressors and religious authorities. The Jesus I know is one who strives to bring life to the world, to all the world, through liberation from whatever bonds us.
Who is God to me? God is relationship of complete love, mercy, and grace. God is the eternal presence of truth in our lives that God liberates us from sin, that is, that God liberates us from all we allow to separate us from God’s loving embrace, and God is ever present to us through how we treat one another. God brings out the goodness, the wholeness, the completeness in us that we may help others know of their completeness in God’s infinite goodness.
I have witnessed God at work in my life and in the lives of countless others as they/we see freedom from destructive bondage, as we/they come to the understanding again and again that God is present when we listen to another with hearts of compassion. I have seen God at work as hearts and minds are opened to new ways of understanding and being in the world. I have seen God’s loving hand at work as the Church Universal, as imperfect as it is, works toward reconciliation, works toward social justice, works toward being a sacrament, an outward and visible sign to the world of an inward and spiritual grace. I have seen God at work through the love my family has for one another, through the forgiveness I have received from others and the forgiveness I have extended. I have seen God’s love when people approach one another from all sides of an issue and the approach one another in humility and respect and care for the other in their midst because somewhere deep down inside they recognize that “other” as the image of God.
When I die I do not want for loved ones and friends and family and church to turn me into something I never was. So often we immortalize our loved ones and we act as if they were perfect in their life on earth. I am so far from perfect. I rejoice when occasions call for rejoicing, and I suffer with my sisters and brothers in Christ when the situation brings about suffering. There have been times in my life when I have acted and spoken from a place of fear. There have been times in my life when I have spoken and acted from a position of anger. I have felt like a great husband and father and priest, and I have just as equally felt like a wretched husband, father, and priest. I have helped many on their spiritual journey, and I pray that I have not been a stumbling block to any. I have experienced great faith and trust in God, and I have gone through paralyzing fears, too.
I want my legacy in life and death to be that I served God in and through my brokenness, not in a “woe is me” sort of way, but from a posture of growing in my faith with God. Though far from perfect, I want others to know that I have done my utmost to serve God, to be there for the man, woman, and child when they have been down, that I have offered my ear to listen, my hand to greet and show respect. I want for those who knew me to have experienced God’s grace and love because they witnessed my willingness to allow God’s love to work through me through my gifts and through my imperfections.
God is love, and where love abides, God’s love is marvelously present. May we be willing to work through our brokenness that our words and actions may bear light to Love.
In God’s Grace,
Eric L. Miller+