The gospel according to Matthew the sixth chapter:
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Word of God. World of life. Thanks be to God.
Welcome in the name of Christ, who knows us and loves us. Amen.
Every morning for the past several years, Gerry sent son Anton a text message. These messages offered Anton encouraging words as the day began. In each, Gerry identified one “part” of Anton that makes him who he is. Gerry reminded Anton of his merit-worthy parts, his awesome parts, and his “you can do it” parts. All of these disparate parts, Gerry said, help to make Anton, Anton.
Today, we gather as a community united by shock, sorrow, and God’s promises, and we remember the parts that helped to make Gerry, Gerry.
Gerry loved his family. On one of Gerry and Karen’s first dates, Gerry handed Karen his professional business card. [When I heard this fact, I said I was surprised that she said “yes” to a second date.] Looking at his card, she asked him what all of the letters behind his name represented. He responded saying that he didn’t want her to know him by his degrees, he wanted her to know who he was. That exchange began a twenty-year relationship marked by mutuality, wonderful trips, shared meals, and deep love.
Son Danya says the whole family liked Gerry’s shoulder rubs. As the family settled on the couch after dinner, Danya would send his dad a text message in the next room saying that he’d like a massage. Gerry would respond saying that he would finish the project that he was currently working on and be there in a few minutes. Seconds later, Karen would send a message to Gerry requesting a back rub. Danya says that as soon as the text message was received they’d hear Gerry’s footsteps coming down the hallway. Gerry adored Karen.
Shoulder rub preferences aside, we all know that Gerry adored Danya and Anton, too. None of us got through a conversation with Gerry without him mentioned his sons. They were a significant part of who he was, and he worked hard to honor the gift that he had been given when they came into his life. He told them he loved them, often saying it in Russian to celebrate their heritage. He rarely missed an opportunity to give them morning hugs—he and Dayna held each other a long time the morning of the day Gerry died. Even in the tough times, when one or both of the boys were upset and would leave the house to walk off some steam, Gerry would say, “When you are ready to come home, I will come for you. Wherever you are, I will pick you up.”
Danya says that when he was younger he wondered why his dad didn’t throw the football with him like other parents he knew. But, as he grew older, wise Danya said that as he learned more about Gerry’s parts, he learned to accept his dad for who he was.
Gerry was intelligent and observant. Karen says he was off the charts introverted, which didn’t bode well for him when she took Gerry, an only child, home to meet her parents and her six siblings. When the family overwhelmed Gerry (which was often), he would simply close his eyes and sit quietly. I’m sure many of you saw him take this posture. Karen’s sisters say they learned, over time, that Gerry hadn’t simply checked out; he was, in fact, listening carefully to the conversation buzzing around him.
Gerry was careful and prepared. He was never a serious Boy Scout, but he did carry many thing on his belt, just in case he needed them. If they weren’t on his hip, they were in his bag. Hand sanitizer, pens, Kleenex, Band-Aids, you name it—if you needed something, chances are Gerry had it. Sometimes his preparedness slowed him down; he wanted to think about a project from all angles before he did anything. He once needed to move a decorative, backyard wishing well, and Karen saw Gerry and a friend stare at the wishing well and discuss it for an hour before they did anything. Danya smiled and added, “It was only about three feet tall.”
Joking aside, that wishing well and many other projects prepared Gerry to help Danya to build an outdoor pizza oven in the church’s rain garden, a project that will inspire community in this neighborhood for years to come. The oven, built over many months and completed just this past week, is Danya’s Eagle Scout project. Last Sunday after worship, church members reported to me that Gerry stood next to Danya’s beautiful project and told all the passersby who would listen how proud he was of his son.
Gerry was deeply spiritual. He was a consistent worshiper in this community. He sat back in that corner, eyes closed during the sermons. Pastor Jay and I, like Karen’s sisters, like to think he was listening intently. About a year ago, Gerry led a memorable devotion at one of our church council meetings. Citing one of the most well-known scenes from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Gerry said that there are times in our lives when we welcome God’s presence. And there are times in our life when we would prefer to keep God at arm’s length. Most of us, he said, see these as irreconcilable opposites, as two parts that could not be brought together. But Gerry said that growth in his spiritual life had come as he learned to hold together the contrasts.
This understanding of theology—that two things can be true at the same time—shaped the way he interacted with the world. Perhaps this was seen most clearly in his work as a family physician who specialized in addiction medicine. In a world that wrongly demonizes addicts, Gerry could see the patient’s addiction and the beloved child of God living with it. He could hold them both at the same time. And he could help others to hold both of them at the same time, too. In one of my last extended conversations with Gerry, he told me that he believed addiction was the “new leprosy” and that the church and God’s people had a role to play in reaching out the touch those the world had deemed untouchable. Nothing was beyond repair and no one was beyond redemption, in Gerry’s mind.
In this way, Gerry pointed us to a truth about the God in whom he placed his trust. Gerry’s life pointed to a God who can hold all of our parts together—those parts we proudly display and those we’d rather no one see; those parts over which we have control and those that always seem to have control over us; those parts that the world praises and those the world considers untouchable. God holds all of them in love, even with others say it cannot be done.
The passage from Ecclesiastes is full of contrasts. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
Thinking about Gerry’s theology, it occurs to me that he’d say that there are times when we need not choose one of these contrasts or the other, but instead when we need to learn to hold them at the same time. Today is one of those times. Today is a time when we weep and laugh. Today is a time when we seek and lose. Today is a time when we keep silent and speak. Today is a time when we mourn Gerry’s death and dance because of the beautiful life he lived.
Today we carry Gerry on the final leg of his baptismal journey. Even in death, “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.” Today is a day when we give all of Gerry’s parts back to the God who so lovingly created him 64 years ago, knowing that grace, light perpetual, and unconditional love have already found him.