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November 7th, 2016

As I sat down this morning to write this meditation, I looked at the Scripture the family chose and looked over my notes. In both I saw the theme of “Journey and Destination.” I remembered that someone said, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” so I Googled it. The quote is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but a site called quoteinvestigator.com says that’s probably not true.

I can tell you that whoever said it, I disagree. And I’m in pretty good company, namely, Jesus. The idea that life is not a destination downplays if it doesn’t completely eliminate the concept of life after death, or, as Christian theologian N. T. Wright puts it, “life after life after death.” I believe in the resurrection of the body, in a physical existence in which we enjoy a physical location in the eternal presence of God. Jesus said, “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”

It is never mine to judge a man, to try to determine anyone’s destination. That’s a huge relief, because sometimes I preach funerals for people I did not know well. I’ve been Richard Boyd’s pastor for 23 years, but he lived out of town during all those years and our personal encounters were few.

My favorite encounter was last Thursday. He had been in ICU for three weeks, and for a number of reasons I was unable to visit him at Watauga Medical Center until last Thursday. When I was notified that he was likely in his last hours, I drove to Boone and gathered with Steve and Vicki, Hunter, Marty, and Joe and Janice in his room. I held his hand and recited the Scripture we read this morning from John 14 as well as Psalm 23.

I reminded him of words he almost certainly learned with Dr. Althouse in Confirmation at Corinth back in the 1960s-

Question:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Answer:  That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil. That he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head. Indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

I left the hospital room and drove home. I wasn’t even out of Boone when Steve called me and said Richard had passed. All of us in the room saw this timing as a God-moment, an opportunity to remind not only Richard, to whatever he extent he could hear, but all of us that the destination we call eternal life is not based on what we do or don’t do. It is based on what our faithful Savior Jesus Christ accomplished when at the cost of his own blood he fully paid for all our sins.

If it is wrong to say, “Life is a journey not a destination,” it is equally wrong to say, “Life is a destination not a journey.” The years we have on this earth, whether few or many, are a gift of God to be enjoyed. Richard was fairly close to the age I am – just a couple of years older – so I am fully aware he died too young. But I was so pleased to be able to rehearse his journey Saturday in my office with those who knew him best.

The family lived in the Shuford Development before it was very developed. Steve said it was their hunting preserve, and nearby was Lake Hickory with two miles of shores for fishing. Richard’s mother Jeanne described his early life as one of academic frustration due to dyslexia, but she learned phonics from the first grade teacher to help him get through. Perhaps it was overcoming that challenge that gave Richard his competitive drive in sports. Swimming and wrestling were his athletics of choice, and later in life he also enjoyed scuba diving, white water rafting, cave diving, snow skiing, and ice-hiking.

You see, for Richard, sports weren’t just about competition or even accomplishment. Richard loved an adrenaline rush. He was into extreme sports before the term was invented. While in college he went sky diving, missed his landing, and injured his knee landing on a furniture plant in Raleigh. The fire department had to send a hook and ladder truck to get him down. When his father found out, Hubert said, “Here I fly a B24 in the war and you’re playing in college.”

It was the last time he ever went sky diving, but it was far from his last adrenaline rush. On a trip to Yellowstone, Jeanne said Richard was high on a rock and Hubert said, “Good gosh! I hope he doesn’t kill himself.” Marty added there were many times in Richard’s life people said that about him.

One of those was on a 1999 family trip to Alaska. Richard was having a hard time catching trout in the rushing water. Focused on his task, and with the roar of rapids around, Steve tried to get his attention. “Richard! Richard! Richard!” Finally, he looked at Steve and yelled, “What?” Steve pointed to a black bear in the river only a few feet away from him.

Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor adventures created a bond with his only nephew, Hunter. Marty said there was a reason Richard himself never had children. If he could think of a way to promote mischief, he would do it. Probably no child of his own would have survived to adulthood.

When Hunter was about 6, Vicki consented to let Steve and Richard take the little guy on a fishing trip to Ocracoke as long as they made sure he ate well and got to bed early. In retrospect she maybe should have given some guidelines about movies. “Uncle Buck” might have had a few inappropriate scenes and themes, but since it was Halloween Richard thought they should watch “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Steve told Hunter not to tell his Mom, but when he got home he said, “We had the best time,” and proceeded to tell her everything. Steve told Richard, “We’re in trouble.”

Still, what Hunter remembers about his Uncle Richard was first of all that he always thought he looked like Clint Eastwood and second, that he was always trying to teach Hunter something. Christmas and birthdays would bring an educational book about Native Americans or “Star Watch,” a way to learn the constellations and stars.

For the last decade, the love of his life has been Marty, and she has her own set of stories about Richard. She said he once took her hiking on Grandfather Mountain’s Ridge Trail. She was terrified of heights, but this climb was one that needed cables and ladders. She froze while climbing a crooked ladder, and Richard said, “You need to go on up or come back down.” She decided at that moment that her two choices were either to come down and face his incessant teasing the rest of her life, or go on up, which in her state of mind meant certain death. She chose death over teasing, and said she never would have done something like that without his encouragement.

There are many other stories I could tell about Richard’s journey, and I am sure some of you know many others yet. I encourage you to share them with each other. Life is a journey, and for Richard life was an endless bucket list. Marty said there was more to Richard than just his adventurous side. In her words, “Richard was kind, giving, loyal, helpful, generous, hard-headed, sensitive, loving, friendly, anxious, mischievous, faithful. My friends refer to him as ‘sweet Richard.’ He was a manly man who always treated me as an independent and capable woman. He loved doing for others, and he enjoyed teaching others to do for themselves. He wasn’t afraid to share his fears and his hurts and had the strength to allow others to share theirs.”

 

Marty met Richard at an A.A. meeting, and there is much about A.A. meetings that has parallels to the Gospel and the Christian way of life. A.A. is about community, about people admitting their powerlessness over their addiction, about needing a Higher Power and needing other people. It’s also about accepting people right where they are, without precondition. Richard needed that support, and also gave it to others in that community.

The Gospel we preach, the one that gives us hope for the destination and not just the journey, is a Gospel that is about the powerlessness we have to overcome our fundamental addiction, the addiction to self. Sin is at its heart self-absorption, and it will destroy you. But there is a Higher Power, and we call him God, and he entered our world to take on flesh and share in all the struggles and temptations of our existence, so that he could be merciful and faithful and so that he could offer himself to take our place in death. Then he rose again to conquer death and make a way for us to have life eternal. He wants his church to be a place where there is a community of people who understand their own brokenness and need, and will allow anyone in any situation to join without precondition and be accepted and loved.

Sharing that community is part of the journey, and it makes life so much richer. Jesus established just that kind of community with twelve men during his earthly life. Then he told them he was leaving them. But he added, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” The journey as they had known it was about to change.

Jesus then turned their attention to the destination. “I am going to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return and take you to be with me.”

He added, “You know the way.”

Thomas said, “No, we don’t.”

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is both journey and destination. My role today is simply to remind all of us who yet live what I reminded Richard as he prepared to pass from this life. Regardless of how the journey has played out, what matters at the end of it is that we know this –

That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself, but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil. Amen.

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