Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I was taught that Episcopalians don’t do eulogies at burial services. It took me a long time to learn why that’s so. It’s so because a person is always more than the sum total of that person’s parts. We are many things to many people and to presume to capture a person’s life in a few words is to dishonor who that person was. I could read a long, long list of accomplishments of John Good, of facts and figures that describe his activities and the various roles he played from husband and father, to accomplished teacher with textbooks to his credit, to priest and pastor, to trusted friend. But it would only scratch the surface.
Instead, what I have come to understand is that the most eloquent eulogies ever preached at a funeral are those that are never heard. They are the silent memories of those of you who are present. Each of you here this morning knew John in a unique way. He touched each of you, Joanne, Ian, Debbie and Rob, friends and colleagues. And, if you’re like me, those are the memories that come flooding back today as we gather to celebrate his life. And it is those memories, offered in the silent spaces of this service, that weave together to create a tapestry more beautiful than any words we could speak.
Having said that, there are some qualities of John’s that I want to mention because they are so much a part of the color and richness of that tapestry we weave this morning.
If you have ever spent more than five minutes listening to John as he described the most recent Cardinal victory or simply seen the picture of John in his Cardinals’ tee shirt and cap, you would see in his face, the face of a kid who’d never really grew up but was captured by this magic game that he knew inside and out. And if you ever heard him talk about his most recent golf game you would have heard the pleasure in his voice – and occasionally frustration.
Last summer, John went to a family reunion where they had their annual golf tournament. John could no longer swing a club – but he could putt. So they let John putt on each hole. To this day, I can see and hear John describing the last putt on the last hole. By the time he got back to St. Louis, the putt was 30 feet long. John carefully described how he read the putt. “It broke this way, but I knew there was a bit of a break back the other way at the hole. And I made the putt!”
And John was a learner. We never had lunch when he did not talk about a book he was reading and the excitement was visible as he described some new insight. I remember him saying, “Oh, if I had only read Marcus Borg earlier in my life!”
John was a preacher and he put the same effort into his preaching when he was preaching for 17 people or for 150. On July 21st, John preached at St. Vincent’s in the Vineyard. He told Joanne that if it that happened to be his last sermon, he would be happy because it was the best he had preached.
He said in that sermon that our preoccupation with “personal religion” shifted our attention away from the true focus of Scripture. “Our personal transformation,” he said, “is intended to prepare us to participate in God’s mission to transform the whole world – especially the communities where we live – into the kingdom of God.” And John was a priest. Not too long ago, Father Dan Appleyard came to call on John and read from the Prayer Book. John said to me later, “David, do you realize how the language of the Prayer Book has formed us!” And that was true of John Good.
The words of Scripture and the Prayer Book provided a lens and a rich language with which he both saw and described his life. John spoke of death and resurrection. He knew the death of alcohol addiction and the resurrection to sobriety. He experienced the death of his beloved wife Norma and received the gift of new life with Joanne. He would say of Joanne, “She’s the best thing that could have happened to me!” In the midst of his own dying, John also faced the coming death of his daughter Becky with the confident faith that “If we have life, we are alive to the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” Becky died two weeks after her dad. John knew Good Friday in his life but it was always trumped by Easter!
On August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, John wrote to his many friends, “In a conversation with my doctor, it became obvious to me that I was not going to win my battle with cancer. I decided to accept the palliative care of hospice to make the quality of the rest of my mortal life as good as possible. This decision has made me very serene. I believe my wife and my children also accept this decision as the best course for the months I have left. I look forward to experiencing the last great mystery of life, and I face the days ahead with joy.” His words sounded to me like the Serenity Prayer. John died on August 18th.
When word came to me that John had died, I was surprised that the first thing that came to my mind was not a prayer but one of my favorite passages from Herb Gardner’s wonderful play, 1000 Clowns. Murray, who is a rebel against conventional society, has care of his 12-year-old nephew and a social worker comes to discuss taking the boy out of Murray’s custody. And Murray expresses his concern for the boy’s future. And his words said “John Good” to me:
“I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason he was born a human being and not a chair. I will be very sorry to see him go. He is a laughter, and laughers are rare.”
Well, that was John, he knew the subtle, sneaky, important reason he was created a human being and not a chair and he lived his life to the fullest. And, if you spent any time at all with John, you know he was a laugher and laughers are rare. He knew the words of the Psalmist, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.” And we will miss him now that he’s gone.
The serenity, grace and, yes, good humor with which John faced that final mystery could only come from a man who believed the confident words of St. Paul:
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.