A Memorial Sermon for my uncle, Chuck Morck
based on John 3:1-16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Most of us know this beloved verse in the Gospel of John by heart but many may not be familiar with the full context of this Gospel passage. The full passage with the back and forth between Nicodemus and Jesus reminded me of conversations with Chuck – not all of them mind you – but definitely the ones that stick with me. Especially the words…
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
The wind blows where it wishes… Sounds just like something Chuck would say while philosophizing. Furthermore, Nicodemus reminds me of Uncle Chuck. You see, Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. Not just a ruler – but a highly esteemed ruler of a group who were often at the brunt of Jesus’ most critical denunciations for their hypocrisy. And yet, Nicodemus was a different sort. Nicodemus would take a stance opposite those prosecuting Jesus later in the Gospel. Like the wind, blowing where it wishes, Nicodemus took a contrary view believing that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God. He was a biblical contrarian of the purest sort.
Chuck fancied himself a contrarian. It was one of his favorite ways of describing himself. He made his “riches” buying stocks that were falling when most investors were selling. Bad news in the market was “good news” for Chuck. He enjoyed disagreeing with people and expressing opinions that were – different. He delighted in a good debate. For the most part – the only time I recall Chuck chuckling was when he went against the grain in a conversation. He had a knack for telling it like it is from the “fact” that he hated my mom’s cooked carrots to the other “fact” that I needed to put on some weight. Sometimes this knack rubbed people wrong and may or may not have contributed to his mostly solitary life. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have a social life. I had the good fortune of working with a former sales colleague and very good friend of Chuck – who filled me in on his exploits as a much-desired catch in their social circle. Sure, he was an odd duck – but a good man, he told me; disagreeable by definition, cantankerous for sure – but a truly good man.
Like the wind that blows where it wishes, Chuck lived his life his own way. Perhaps he had to – being the youngest of four brothers. The wind took him in different directions and supplied him with stories for a lifetime. He would become a king of the road and a master of investing – and an expert on all matters of frugality and simplicity. He truly was a self-made opinionated solitary man.
He also loved to play tennis – embodying the back and forth of a good debate on the tennis court. He was a deep thinker and would surprise you out of the blue with remarkably intelligent insight on all sorts of matters: economics, horse racing, philosophy, politics, religion and even romance. He was a wealth of career advice and was thrilled when I began working for a financial advisor! Along with politics and market news, we would have deep conversations about religion – often leaving me frustrated in my earnest faith with his conviction that “they” – meaning pew-sitters – were all a bunch of hypocrites.” And yet – he never shut me down. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus day – he peppered me with questions I couldn’t find words to answer – and so we left them hanging for both of us to ponder.
In his last days, I longed for a final conversation – but that just wasn’t possible. I wrestled with the thoughts that Chuck was not “right with God” at least by my definition. I prayed that he knew that this life wasn’t it – that so much more awaited him. And so, I admit to crying tears of joy and yes relief, when his hospice Chaplain Dana relayed to me one of their last conversations. She had inquired as to his spiritual state, where he was in terms of his journey and if he believed in God. Chuck thought a moment, and then with great confidence said “I am a Christian.” and then they prayed together.
Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Most people take the road that is well-traveled and that road, Jesus said, leads to destruction. It leads away from meaningful and eternal life. Few people take the road that is less traveled, the road that Jesus said, leads to meaningful and eternal life. The Christian way is by its very nature contrarian.
Baptized by the Spirit at birth, Chuck took the path less traveled. I can’t help but think now, that those sometimes-frustrating faith debates with Chuck were divinely inspired. Chuck made me think differently about the church and my faith – he made me question, wonder about, and hold less firmly to ideas that were of the church but as I read the Bible with clearer eyes – not of God.
In His sermon on the mount, better known as Beatitudes, Jesus said that his followers are blessed when they are poor, when they are hungry, when they weep, and when they are reviled and persecuted because in God’s future they will inherit the kingdom, they will be filled, they will laugh, and their reward will be great in heaven. Jesus also said that those who were rich and full and lived to be well-spoken of did not have much to look forward to in the future. In other words – all those hypocritical pew-sitters Chuck waved his hand at may have some re-thinking to do. The way of Jesus is very much a contrarian way to live.
Much of Chuck’s outlook on life was contrary to my way of thinking – and yet as I think on much of what he said over and over again – never mind his temperament when saying it – it reflects the way Jesus would have us live. That Chuck chose to live alone rather than in community should not negate the depth of insight he had on the ways of the world.
“The wind blows where it wishes…
It’s easy when you are different, solitary, independent, contrary – to get blown in the wind – to feel unknown or cast away by the world, by others, or lost to oneself. I imagine there were times like that for Chuck. I imagine there are times when you feel that way too. But no matter how buffeted by the wind, no matter how far we drift, no matter how alone we may walk – there is One in this life and world to whom we are never lost, from whom we can never become unmoored or cast away. We are never left behind or cast away by Christ.
In Christ everyone, every single person, is loved, called by name, and claimed as a beloved child. Jesus is the one for whom our differences make no difference. “I will never drive away anyone who comes to me,” Jesus says. Not anyone, not Chuck, not you, not me. There is not enough difference in the world to keep us apart from the love of Christ.
“(N)either death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
Chuck’s contrarian ways in this life and world and his firm conviction of faith in death, show us that no matter how different we are, how much we question or profess to be ambivalent to, or refuse to be a pew-sitter for – nothing can separate us from the love of God. He is the witness that in Christ our differences make no difference and that we are never truly or finally lost. The promises of today’s gospel (John 3:1-16) have been fulfilled in and through Chuck’s life, and they are being fulfilled in your life and mine. All shall be well.
God wastes nothing of God’s creation. I no longer wonder about the meaning of the times I spent with Uncle Chuck, the conversations we had and the questions he gave me about life. I no longer wonder what his life might have taught me about mine. I am willing to bet he taught you something about yourself and your life as well. Maybe he encouraged you to enlarge your life, gave you something to think about that hadn’t crossed your mind before. Maybe he encouraged you in your own independence. Maybe he was generous to you in a way you weren’t expecting. Maybe he gave you the opportunity to care about and help him – giving you the gift of giving sacrificial love. Maybe there was a word, an eye twinkle, a shared moment that you will forever cherish that connected with your heart and left you feeling not so different after all.
None of that ends simply because he is not sitting here with us in his lazy-boy. Those things are just as real and present today as they were when they happened – maybe even more so. Life has changed, not ended. So, I will listen to his life – for what he might still have to say to me. Maybe you will as well.
Yes, the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit – So it is with Chuck. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Let it be so. – Amen.