“Our Brother, Jack Watson, RIP” ©
Thoughts on the 24st Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Watson, husband of Sue, father of Emily, Elizabeth, and Victoria, father-in-law and grandfather, and member of our Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community died on Sunday, September 9 at 1:52 in the afternoon. We will miss Jack’s participation and most especially his Southern tenor voice which made lovely the harmonies of our worship. We are here this morning to mourn him, but moreso we gather in thanksgiving for his presence among us and for his New Life in Christ which keeps him with us now and forever.
Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27)
Not too long ago I was introduced by way of a magazine article to a man who had made a mid-life transition in his life from preacher to humanist. He was really accomplished and very successful in his preaching. In that he showed a certain pedigree having followed in his father’s profession, who himself was similarly accomplished and successful.
One night this man had an accident which resulted in terrible head trauma and months of recovery. One result of this accident and extended rehabilitation was he found that he had come to the decision that he no longer believed in Resurrection. In fact, prior to the accident his life commitment to Christ whose story of New Life which he had preached and brought others to believe in had been ebbing away.
He found, instead, a much older tradition than Christianity which became the commitment of his newfound transformation. It is the vision of western society’s heritage of living a moral life simply for the sake of being good. As we know, 500 years before the birth of Christ the challenge/invitation of Socrates to live the well-examined life became a beacon for morality. Socrates, himself, was really extending from others who had come before him this choice to be and to do good. I tell you all this not to criticize this man or disparage the changes and choices of his life. As a matter of fact, he has made the very positive choice to be a humanist chaplain on the campus of a large university.
I say this only to point out a very specific reality of this faith we share. The point is that the connection each one of us must work out in faith is to answer the very question Jesus asks in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. “Who do you say that I am?”
We read often from scripture teachers that this question is meant to lead to deep theological and historical connections between Jesus and his Jewish heritage. The first reading for today’s liturgy is in that vein. It is one of those passages from the Prophet Isaiah about what scholars have named “The Suffering Servant.” Well, you can go down the rabbit hole of making this theological point and resurface with a good book. (Many have done just that.) Or, you can take this question as a direct connection with Jesus himself.
My own view is that Jesus asks this question out of curiosity. Remember, he is presented to us in Mark’s Gospel as being a very popular fellow. People like what he has to say. He speaks directly and with authority. People also like to see the miracles he performs, this man of the people. It seems to me that it is only natural for Jesus, knowing what he knows about those who don’t like him, to ask the question whose subtext is actually, “How do you experience me?”
It’s in the experience of this Jesus that makes the personal point. Each one of us is given a life’s choice when it comes to Jesus. And that’s what takes us beyond the well-examined life. To experience Jesus is to be very clear about love. Because, as we have come to appreciate more and more deeply, Jesus is not a victim. Jesus loves and my choice of him is to acknowledge that love is of the personal sort.
Last Sunday, Jean, Alice and I received the grace of being with Sue and her daughters soon after Jack died. Sue shared with us how the final days for Jack included his making it clear to them that his personal faith was assured in his seeing old friends who came to accompany him on that journey that passes over to New Life. Jack’s personal faith was full of doing good for others, of teaching and performing the music of his life which so enriched his students and those whom he conducted. How blessed it is for this Servant of God to have experienced his own coming Resurrection.
Clearly, for each one of us this answer to Jesus’s question will be as individual as a personal relationship requires. We gather on Sunday mornings not because we have figured it all out, and certainly not because this love is just so easy. No, we come here to make personal connections with each other, to celebrate faith and to steel ourselves for the chances to do good in the week ahead.
Our brother, Jack, gathered with us, shared with us, prayed with us and now has gone before us. To have known him personally was a blessing. To see in him a companion to Resurrection is a comfort. To rejoice with him will be our constant hope.
A Prayer (JR)
Hear the angels and all songbirds, Holy Creator, who praise your glory. Hear your servant, Jack, who believed that you are the beginning of all life and who now sings your praise in the life to which we are all called.
Soften our grief at his loss and strengthen our resolve to celebrate with him in the days, the months, and the years ahead. Bless his family in their love and thanksgiving for him and all his gifts. Inspire his grandchildren to celebrate each one of their gifts that they, too, may be creative – like him – each in their own life.
May all whom he taught be thankful for this man of God who gave of himself for their benefit.
And keep our family of faith and worship in your care – we are the treasurehouse you grace with faithful members and loving servants who pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen!