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August 5th, 2018

It’s both surprising and unsurprising that we are here today to pay our respects to Stan Meares.  It’s surprising because most of us didn’t know he was sick.  I found out last Sunday.  His family only learned about it a couple of days earlier.  Linda says she thinks Stan knew something was up, but even he didn’t know ten days ago we’d be here today.

It’s unsurprising because Stan was a planner, a man who, once he decided the next step, he took it.  He had already discussed with Linda that he was ready to go and knew where he was going.  Years ago he made all the necessary arrangements – the will, the living will, the finances all in shape.  He decided long ago he wouldn’t battle illness with heroic measures.  And when the reality of inoperable cancer hit, the planner decided to let this life go.  And he did.  He woke up Thursday, still in his right mind and without any clear evidence the end was close.  A few hours later, he breathed his last.

Fortunately, he left us with some clear indications of his wishes, not all of which we are following.  Sorry, Stan, you passed on that firm sense of determination to a few others.  Stan, for example, had been to too many funerals of his peers recently, and he had told Linda he didn’t want any kind of service.  Stan and Linda liked the song that says, “When I’m gone, don’t cry for me; in my Father’s arms I’ll be….It don’t matter where you bury me, I’ll be home and I’ll be free.”  But Linda decided it did matter where we bury Stan, and along with Lisa and Marilee  daughters decided it mattered to have a service.

Stan Meares’ life mattered.  He made an impact.  It is right that we take some time today to celebrate the gift he was to all of us.

Stan didn’t write much in his Bible, but he marked enough to let us know which Scriptures deeply shaped his life.  With some help from his family, I think I know why.  I’d like to focus on three passages he marked in his Bible.

Me and my family (Joshua 24:14-15).

The Old Testament reading was from the book of Joshua, the dramatic conclusion of the story of the Israelites occupying the land God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier.  It’s a wonderful book of the Bible, but at times a challenging book of the Bible.  Here at Corinth, we’ll be studying Joshua beginning in September.

The text Stan underlined comes from the last chapter of the book of Joshua, who dies in this chapter with a recorded age of 110 (29).  He’s one of the first in recorded human history to use what we now call reverse psychology.  Standing in front of the assembly when the land was at peace, Joshua recites their history and tells them they are to serve only the God of their fathers.  They seem to declare rather flippantly that they will do so and Joshua says, “No, you won’t.”  “Yes, we will.”  “No, you won’t.”  “Yes, we will.”  And they erect a stone in witness to their promises, the ancient equivalent of a binding contract.

It’s in the context of that scene that Joshua declares unambiguously his own intention:  “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  Or, as the most recent translations say, “As for me and my family….”

Stan Meares was a family man.  Like other men of his generation, the role of a man as spiritual head of the household evolved, but his commitment to family never waned.  When Stan made decisions, he made them for “me and my family.”

Perhaps the reason family was so important to Stan is that his nuclear family lacked a father when he was growing up in Lumberton, North Carolina.  Stan’s father died when he was 3 years old, leaving his mother to raise a daughter and son through the depression.  Stan said he had “two mamas,” though, since Mary Louise was nine years older.  They were poor, but so was everyone.  His mother taught him generosity early on.  He remembered her scrambling eggs for people who wandered to their back door asking for food.

Evidently Stan was good enough at baseball to be offered a college scholarship, but the extra $100 a semester he would have been required to pay might as well have been $20,000.  He told me he went to N. C. State before and after his military service, but he never finished his college degree.  He and three buddies joined the Air Force, which he would later say was the greatest influence on his life.  Two of the three buddies still survive, and Lisa said he talked to them almost daily even into his 80s.

Stan was married for a total of six decades, twice times thirty years each.  He and Hazel brought two daughters into the world, and he was very proud of both of them.  The admiration was mutual, and both of them shared some of their reflections with me.  Along with Linda, the girls loved his sense of humor.  He loved funny to hear and tell jokes and funny stories.  But when I asked them to share some with me, both Linda and Lisa had the same reaction: “I’m not sure you can tell them in church.”  Some of Stan’s stories he thought were for the parking lot.

One of his favorites that can be told in church is about the pastor who was giving the children’s sermon.  He said, “Today I want to tell you about someone who lives in the woods but sometimes comes in our yards.  Does anyone know who I’m talking about?”  No takers.  “Someone who lives in the woods and comes in our yards and has a big, bushy tail and likes to eat nuts.  Do you know who I mean?”  Silence.  “Someone who lives in the woods, comes in our yards, has a bushy tail, likes to eat nuts, and jumps from tree to tree?  Doesn’t anyone who that is?”  Finally one boy decided to help the preacher out.  Exasperated, he said, “I know the answer’s supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”

Stan’s career after the Air Force was with First Citizens Bank, which prompted moves every two years from Raleigh to Roanoke Rapids to Hickory to Brevard as the bank expanded westward in the state.  He would later return to Hickory, with his instincts and people skills always in demand by a growing company.  In 1970 he was named North Carolina Jaycees Boss of the Year.

While Stan excelled in his work, it was his family that was his priority.  When the girls reached Junior High, he told the bank he wouldn’t move them again – not at that tender age.  Along the way, he passed on to Lisa and Marilee his own love for horses, learned early in Robeson County.  They began showing at an early age – eventually culminating in the national championship in Louisville, Kentucky.

Horses meant barns and trailers and a home-made camper he pulled all over the state.  Barns also meant barn cats, and he would occasionally try to adopt them as inside cats.  Lisa said sometimes that didn’t work out so well.  During one bridge party one of those barn cats climbed the fancy living room curtains!

Only a few years after he married Linda, he retired from the bank and they moved back to Hickory.  He had risen to the position of Executive Vice President at First Citizens, and when the President retired Stan made it clear that he didn’t want the job.  Once again, family took precedence.  He and Linda bought several acres in Bethlehem, just across the Catawba River, raising and training horses for show.  It was a hobby that would endure 25 more years.  But even that was about “Me and my family,” because riding competitively and recreationally usually meant riding with Linda, who had only ever ridden a horse once before she met him.

One of the quotes he kept in his Bible connected horses and marriage.  “If a man has enough horse sense to treat his wife like a thoroughbred, she will never become a nag.”  When I went to Stan and Linda’s home a couple of years ago to get acquainted, she described him as “the last Southern gentleman.”

Stan loved his wife and daughters and grandson.  He never stopped protecting them or providing for them.  Marilee said you couldn’t let it slip that your car needed a new starter or even had a rattle.  If you did, he’d start the hunt for your new car.  At home, Stan made sure he had a security system for Linda, and part of his security system was a gun within reach.  For Stan, family was at the top of his priorities in life.  He grasped that, just as Joshua looked at a mass of Israelites, having accomplished his life calling, at the very end it was about “me and my family.”  We will serve the Lord.

Words  (Matthew 12:36-37).

I’ve preached many funerals during my decades in ministry, but I think this might be the only one where I used Matthew 12:36-37 in the service.  It’s another passage that Stan underlined in his Bible.  What caught my eye first was that it’s in the context of Jesus’ teaching about what’s commonly called the “unpardonable sin.”  Stan underlined those verses as well – that “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

But Linda believed for Stan the more important text followed.  Jesus said that we will have to “give account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” Then he added, “The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”  Linda said, “Stan lived by this Scripture better than anyone I have ever known.”  That’s quite a statement coming from someone who was married to him for three decades.

 

Words mattered to Stan.  He was careful with his words – slow to speak and slow to become angry, as James 1 says.  He believed in what he called “Cowboy Diplomacy,” which is “the ability to tell a man to go to hell and have him look forward to the trip.”

Considering his relative lack of a formal education, he developed a deep love for reading, especially history, especially war history, especially Civil War history.  Linda said, “I learned more from Stan than I ever learned in school.”

It wasn’t just the words of others Stan Meares loved.  Here’s something I didn’t know.  He wrote poetry.  I wish I could read all five poems Linda gave me, but I’ll just stick to three.

LISA

I knew for sure and certain

On the bright day of her birth

That she would make a difference

And leave her mark upon this earth

 

She comes back to me

As a three year old

A wide eyed smile

And a heart of gold

 

The years in Brevard

That seemed to fly

Come back often

In my mind’s eye

 

Then time fast forwarded

On my small screen

And my little girl

Had become a queen

 

High school and college

And all the years since

Have come together

To make all the difference

 

But her greatest role

And our greatest joy

Is as super-mom

To a tow-headed boy

 

And when I cross the River

Unfettered, flying free

I’ll say she was my daughter

And that’s enough for me

 

MARILEE

It was my twenty sixth year

And I knew it all

Had fought a war

Heard duty’s call

 

When out of the clear

The Lord said to me

Soon I’m coming

Your guest to be

 

The gift I bring

Will be so rare

A little girl

So blonde, so fair

 

She’ll give new meaning

To love, honor, duty

She’ll fill your world

With newfound beauty.

 

Her bright smile

And wispy hair

Her sweet heart

Beyond compare

 

Will warm your life

For all your years

With love and laughter

Smiles and tears

 

And when I think

Of His greatest gift to me

It isn’t wealth or health, you see,

But a blonde little girl named Marilee

 

LINDA

As in a dream

She came to me

In a little old town

In eighty three

 

To a friend I said,

“This cannot be,

God doesn’t send angels

To fools like me.”

 

But He did, alas

And from that day since

In my lonely life

She made all the difference

 

Her tender heart

And cheerful ways

Fill my life

With happy days

 

Our lives fulfilled

Devoid of tears

And full of laughter

Across the years

 

And when my final race is run,

And life passed in its lightening blur.

My final thoughts will surely be

Of her, and her, and her.

 

Words.  Stan loved them, read them, spoke them, and wrote them well.

Finished (2 Timothy 4:15-16).

The final Scripture I wanted to mention from among Stan’s underlined passages is that text from the Apostle Paul in what was probably his last letter – 2 Timothy.  Paul had run the race, finished the course.  It’s an appropriate metaphor for Stan, who trained English pointers, German shepherds, and thoroughbreds to compete and win.

As Stan neared the finish line, he was fortunate enough to stay active, to sit on his porch and drink a glass of merlot while gazing at the mountains and telling another funny story.  Marilee said he loved North Carolina pottery and trips to Seagrove for kiln openings.  He enjoyed touring vineyards with family and friends.  He never tired of the trip to Blowing Rock.  Maybe he just decided to live long enough to see them finish that four-lane road!

Stan was a man of deep and personal faith.  He’d been a loyal Baptist all his life, having trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord early in his life.  Just a couple of years ago he decided he needed to switch spiritual homes.  I don’t know all the details, but I can tell you it was a gift that he and Linda chose to become a part of our church family.  He chose to finish his race with us, and I’m honored that he did.

Stan loved his devotionals, especially Open Windows and the writings of Frederick Buechner.  He kept one Open Windows devotional about Bobby Richardson, a former New York Yankees second baseman, who was asked to pray at a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Stan cut out that page and underlined the prayer:  “Dear God, your will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else, Amen.”

Buechner is a common sense storyteller loved by a wide spectrum of Americans yet writing out of a Christian world view.  The Buechner web site says the most persistent them of his writings is the same as the title of the devotional Stan Meares read most: Listening to Your Life.  Buechner believes God is constantly working in and around us, and we just need to pay attention.  This passage from Buechner that Stan had marked in the devotional perhaps sums up his life and faith as well as any other.

The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business.  The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified.  The world says, Drive carefully – the life you save may be your own – and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love.  The world says, Get, and Jesus says, Give.

Stan, you ran the race and finished the course.  Congratulations, and thank you for the joy of loving and being loved by you.  Amen.

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