Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from the memorial service for Paul B. Eid.
The gospel according to Matthew, the fifth chapter:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.
From an ancient Palestinian hillside, Jesus’ blessings ring clear. They are spoken for those society doesn’t much care for—people with broken pieces. We hear Jesus articulate eight specific blessings in Matthew’s gospel, but I’m confident that this was meant to be a “starter list.” Jesus must have known the collection of beatitudes would grow as his people continued to learn and to love.
This week, as I listened to Paul Eid’s family tell personal stories about their beloved husband, dad, and grandfather; as I learned more about Paul’s professional accomplishments as a church musician and social worker; and as I considered my own sweet interactions with Paul the past few years as one of his pastors, it occurred to me that Paul’s life clearly points to a whole host of beatitudes—blessings—that we might boldly add to the list begun so long ago. They might go something like this:
Blessed are the social workers with full hearts and empty hearts and hearts broken open by those they serve. Blessed are the kids in foster care who want only to feel safe and loved. Blessed are the kids who are carried from orphanages by hopeful hands to homes halfway around the world. Blessed are the fierce maiden daughters and prodigal sons. Blessed are the adults who ache each day with the want to be parents and the parents who struggle through the task of loving without condition; they will be filled.
Blessed are the relationships that aren’t quite working. Blessed are the pastors and counselors unafraid of the pain and shame seated in each one of us. Blessed are the teenagers exploring human sexuality in a world chalk full of unhelpful binaries. Blessed are women in a society created, well, for someone else. Blessed are they who are living and dying with AIDS. Blessed are the self-aware; theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are Christians who willing to step over congregational and denominational boundaries for the sake of relationship and justice. Blessed are the church organists and choir directors who lovingly lead the song of the people. Blessed are the tenors who sing descants far too loudly on hymnody. Blessed are the children of tenors who sing descants far too loudly on hymnody. Rejoice and be glad, Deborah, Jonathan, Kellen, and Rebekah, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.[i]
You laugh. It’s right to laugh. Commentators generally agree that the beatitudes are meant to startle. “The beatitudes have things backwards,” says one bible scholar. “To take them seriously is to call into question our ordinary values.”[ii] They are always reorienting our understanding of the world and God’s interaction with it.
Lois said that “blessing” was the word that kept on coming to her mind when she thought about her husband’s life. Contrary to what we are taught somewhere along the way, a life grounded in blessing doesn’t mean a life made easy. Paul’s family agrees that his acceptance, non-judgmental spirit, and loving compassion for the least of these were born, at least in part, out of his own lived experience. It need not be a secret that Paul lived through conflicted periods in his own life; he, like many of you, knew his share of sorrow and was intimately acquainted with his own fragility. Buoyed by many of you here today, Paul allowed these experiences to deepen his empathy for the sorrow and fragility of others. Son Jonathan said that “[his] Papa, taught [him] that to know oneself is an essential step in perceiving the value everyone has to offer.” Paul’s greatest struggles birthed his greatest gifts—gifts that this quiet maverick shared so freely with you, with me.
Son Kellen says that a certain, embodied peace found Paul in retirement. This man, who was always confidently blazing new trails as a professional at Lutheran Social Service and Children’s Home Society, became more and more himself as he aged. He lavishly loved his grandchildren. He and Lois continued to use their dining table to build community, living up to the plaque that hung on a nearby wall and read: “Sit long. Talk much.” With more free time, he insisted on helping his children with cross-country road trips, Rebekah said, even when his children gently suggested they’d prefer to do it alone. Daughter Deborah said that she watched as her dad, now in his late sixties, moved into an even deeper understanding of God’s grace; Paul’s whole theology came to rest in it.
It was at this point in his life, about twenty years ago, near to the north shore of Ottertail Lake, and with a song in his heart, that Paul Eid made a conscious decision to live into the fullness of the life he had been given. In a poem entitled “Date Unknown” he penned these words:
I choose to stay as now—alive and vibrant,
seeker of wild flowers and flowering weeds,
planter of color in summer gardens,
observer of little things, shapes and shadows;
worshiper of sunset and moonrise and season’s change—
silent enfoldment by a cloak of green,
welcomer of visits by intimate friends,
journeyer with Kathleen Norris through The Cloister Walk.
Norris, the author that Paul mentions, says that “the Bible is full of evidence that God’s attention is indeed fixed on the little things.”[iii] Little things like flowering weeds, shadows, and silent green cloaks.
About ten days ago, as it became clear that Paul was nearing death, Lois asked him if there was anything he needed—if there was anything she could do to make the experience easier for him. He said to her, “All I need is love.” In his little bedroom, with his hospital bed in the center and gentle light filtering through the snow falling outside, that is exactly what Paul was given. God’s attention was indeed fixed on the little things and love infused the room in a way I will not soon forget.
Today, together, we form the loving community that carries Paul on the final leg of his baptismal journey after a full and beautiful and imperfect and blessed life. In so doing, we honor the holy promises that were made to him by both God and the church so long ago. We trust that death does not have the final word. “Even as we return a body back to the earth,” one theologian writes, “[we acknowledge that] this [is] not the end of the journey nor the final word, but that God [is] already speaking a new word, already performing beyond our sight and our full knowing another mighty work of hope.”[iv]
It is in this sure and certain hope that we entrust Paul B. Eid back to the One who lovingly created him 92 years ago, knowing that rest, eternal Mystery, and light perpetual have already found him.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Other preachers have added powerfully to Jesus’ beatitudes.
[ii] Allison, Dale. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.
[iii] Norris, Kathleen. The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work. Costa Mesa: Paulist Press, 1998.
[iv] Long and Lynch. The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and The Community of Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.