Funeral Homily for John Steele

Psalm 46, Romans 8:31-39, and John 14:1-6, 25-27
(c) Stacey Steck

Too soon. The deaths of those we love almost always come too soon. We want more – more time, more memories, more laughs, more love. The death of John Steele came too soon, too soon in an age when we expect to live well into our seventies at least, too soon after the deaths of his parents in the last two years, too soon for the people who served with him, much too soon for Joyce, and Mary Margaret and Vann and June, and for all of us. And too soon for God too, if I may be so bold to say. Too soon for the God of life who knows us better than we know ourselves, who knows the number of the hairs upon our heads, who knows that “too soon” leaves behind too many broken hearts. And it’s too soon to think the sorrow will go away any time soon, and too soon to stop being angry at what leukemia has taken from us too soon. It’s all too soon.

But it’s not too soon for some things. It’s not too soon give thanks to God who gave us John. It’s not too soon to remember him and tell our stories about him. It’s not too soon to be here together on this day in this place. It’s not too soon to depend on all God’s given us to help us cope with our thoughts and our feelings, this community of faith, our prayers and words and songs, and maybe most of all, words of promise from Scripture. You see, the Psalmist tells us that “Our God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” We will not fear though our lives, like the earth, should change, though our knees, like mountains, shake, though our tears, like waters, roar and foam, though our voices, like mountains, tremble in their tumult, we will not fear, “because the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” We are not alone and it is never too soon to celebrate God’s abiding presence in our lives, and in John’s life.

That same promise that God is with us is echoed as Jesus talks to the disciples and reassures doubting Thomas, and as Paul writes to the Romans. “Jesus, you’re going away too soon. We’re not finished with you yet,” Thomas is saying, when he asks Jesus, “How can we know the way?” But Jesus reassures him the same way the Psalmist reassures the people of Israel, “Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” That’s easier said than done, Jesus. We have a lot to be afraid of. Like Thomas, we’re not sure we are up to the task of going it alone without the one we love. Yes, it’s hard to make that leap, to put away that fear. But Jesus shows us the way – the way, the truth, and the life – to trusting God to see us through times like these. You see, God too lost someone too soon, but it’s that same someone who is comforting us, and letting us know that even though things won’t be the same for us any more, God will be the same -- the same presence, the same comfort, the same love.

And Paul? He brings us the same promise that God is with us through thick and thin, through the worst we can go through and the worst we can imagine, and that nothing can change that fact. Nothing can separate us from God in Jesus Christ. That’s true for John in death and it’s true for us in life. And that promise too is premised on the fact of God’s gift of Jesus Christ, through whom the promise was delivered on Good Friday and opened on Easter morning. “God did not withhold his only son, but gave him up for all of us.” God was present then, and this is the same God who is present with us now as we gather to say goodbye, and in the weeks and the months ahead when we remember and struggle, and also when our pain begins to diminish, as it eventually will, and when we are ready to meet new challenges that God has in mind for us, and when we are there for others who follow in our footsteps saying, “It’s too soon.”

Tomorrow morning, the Men of the Church here at Thyatira will gather for their monthly breakfast, and it will feel too soon to meet without our President. But it won’t be, because there are bacon, eggs, and biscuits to eat and good news to bring to our Mill Bridge, Mt. Ulla, and Bear Poplar communities that we can only do together. The next time John’s fellow volunteer firefighters head out on a call together without him, they may feel it’s just too soon to leave his gear behind. But it won’t be, because there are lives to save and cats in trees to rescue for desperate little boys and girls. Each of us will greet tomorrow morning without John being present with us in the ways that each of us have known him, and it may feel too soon to think of life without him. But it won’t be, because the love and caring and friendship he showed us simply must be shared with others who need it. He wouldn’t have it any other way. And he’ll be with us as we do all those things.

You see, we are not really without him. It’s hard to imagine, I know, but our faith tells us that he’s in that same house with many dwelling places that we are, only now behind a door that is closed for a little while until it opens up again in God’s good time. This is the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the hope that unites us in life and in death. Maybe that day can’t come soon enough for us, but do not be afraid, because it’s coming. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Let us pray: Grant rest eternal, unto John, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, rest in peace. Amen.