a funeral homily for a special friend, John Fry, the founder of Ardent studio. Over 400 people gathered yesterday for the Memorial Service which was graciously hosted by St. John's because St. Andrew is too small.
They say one measure of a man's life is the number of people who come to his funeral. I would add that the type of people who come matter, too. I think, however, the reason that they come is the best measure...
Why are you here? Are you here because John is in the Hall of Fame? Because he was an acknowledged genius at what he did? Are you here because he was an important guy with Ardent Studios? Are you here because he was, in a quiet sense, a celebrity? Maybe, but my guess is many of you are here, because you loved him...
I was John's pastor, confessor and counselor. Most of what I know about him is under the seal. What I can say is that the John I knew was a wonderful guy. His death is a personal loss for me and our parish. You all knew him in other ways, but suffer that same sense of loss. We wish he were still here with us...
John, however, did not want me to talk about him today. He wanted me to share a story about a guy he knew. This guy was from the third world man. He grew up in abject poverty with limited formal education. He was a day laborer. Yet, despite this, He was a remarkably bright, insightful and wise person. John's friend was actually a popular teacher in His homeland. He traveled around from place to place and gathered crowds wherever He went.
John knew that one reason why his friend was so popular was that He had an uncanny gift for making people better. He could heal sick people with a touch of His hand and pull people out of dark places. He gave them a freedom. And He loved everyone. He really loved everyone. I think John tried to act in similar fashion.
John's friend did have one major flaw--He was totally honest. He loved people too much to lie to them, so He always told the truth. He was, therefore, very irritating to people. He expected high morals, including sexual and financial behaviors. He said taking care of the poor and needy was a required for justice. He said family should take the back seat to loving God and the church community. He said that you should be kind and merciful to others, and be truly sorry for the wrongs you have done and grateful for the gifts you received.
John's friend was also willing to confront folks in power. He got cross ways with the church leaders and government because He said they were abusive and hypocritical. Needless to say, no matter how much good you do and how much you love people, when you start pointing out their faults, well, folks just get angry. And if they tell you to shut up, but you keep talking, well powerful folks figure out a way to shut you up. And they did.
John's friend was arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, tortured for several hours. What they did to Him was so brutal that it would have killed a lesser man; but John's friend was physically and spiritually strong and he survived the ordeal standing firm on His own two feet. So they were able to kill Him, slowly and publicly. On a cross. He lingered a few hours, hanging there alone. Then He died.
Obviously, John's friend, the guy he wanted me to talk about, is Jesus. Jesus died in a very gruesome and public manner. Romans did not invent crucifixion, but they did perfect it. It was a brutal death and it was death.
The followers of Jesus knew that He died. When He died, every hope was shattered. After all, lots of "Messiahs" had been crushed beneath Roman power. There was not any reason to believe that Jesus was anything but a deluded dreamer with a gift for healing. Yet, something happened which made them willing to suffer torture and wretched deaths themselves. Something happened which blew their minds and re-ordered their priorities. Something happened which made them think the crucifixion was not the last word: The resurrection.
The enemies of Jesus did not like this resurrection talk. And so the ones who believed in the resurrection were also hunted down and silenced. One fellow, Saul of Tarsus, was especially zealous in this. It was he who wrote today's letter. He wanted to kill anyone who said Jesus rose, until one day Jesus appeared to Him.
"Why are you doing this?" the Risen Lord asked Paul. Unable to refute such concrete evidence, Paul submitted: Jesus was risen. Years later he was killed for announcing that Jesus, a crucified nobody, was the Risen Lord and Savior of the World.
John Fry told me, "I would like the primary text to be 1 Corinthians 15, abbreviated as you see fit." I have done that. Now you know John's parting message to you. If you want to know what John wanted you to know read 1 Corinthians 15.
Why are you here? Why did you come? John wants you to know, whatever the reason, death is not the last word, life is. Resurrection is our hope and joy. It sustains us, even as we weep and mourn this loss, for it is a reminder that all is not as it seems. We, the ones left behind, will all die, but death is conquered. Jesus is Victor.