Thank you for it all

Not alone. Marty's last moments.

Homily for Marty Christensen
June 24, 2017
Rev. Kara Root
Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church

Marty would say “You can never have too many friends.” And I imagine his life like a high school cafeteria – each table a different group. His church friends, his bar friends, his Hutch friends, his Astrology friends, His Gunflint Trail friends, his OLD friends.  And Marty, with his lunch tray, effortlessly flowing between them, a full part of each group. 
It was like his superpower in this life was friendship.

And now here we all are, sitting at one big table – in a room together with people whose paths might never have any other reason to cross, except that in some way we all belonged to Marty, and he to us.  I find that utterly enchanting. 

And I believe that Marty has returned to his source, to love, to the force that made him and gave him his insatiable love for people, his boundless passion for the outdoors, his drive to get as much as he could out of life, and give as much as he could to life. There is nothing hidden in him that isn’t revealed, nothing broken-hearted in him that isn’t healed, no pain that he carried or caused in this life that is not released, nothing holding him back in any way from full and complete love.  Marty now rests his whole being in the being that called his being into being. And that is comforting for me to envision.

Alone and afraid. Those were the two words Marty used when he learned his cancer wasn’t responding to treatment and it would likely take him.  It’s the part he dreaded, the part that scared him the most: He felt alone and he felt afraid. 
But those are also the two words I heard used in reference to the day he left this earth, “When Marty died, he wasn’t alone and he wasn’t afraid.” 
And while I believe God answered his prayer, I have to hand it to Marty for making God’s job easy on that front, because Marty let us in. He let us share it with him. He let us be there for him. 
We believe around here that that in Jesus, God came to take on everything inside us, between us, and thrust upon us by the world that makes us feel alone and afraid. That the cross means God bears all suffering alongside, with, and for us.  And because of that, when we are alongside, with, and for each other, bearing one another’s suffering, we meet God.  Marty let us do that alongside, with and for him.  And Marty did not hesitate to be alongside, with and for others. This is a holy, human, sacred thing. It’s where God is.  And when we do this we are not alone, and we are not afraid.

I loved being Marty’s pastor. I learned so much from him these past 18 months.  He would come to me anxious and ask, Do people really want to hear how bad it’s getting? I don’t want to be a burden. And I would remind him that he promised to share it all with us. I would tell him that if he made it look too easy, he was false advertising for the rest of us.  And I would say again what a blessing his honesty – in the whole struggle of it all -  was to us.  And it was true. He changed this community – he showed us to be open and real even in the things you don’t choose and are not glad about.  He gave us a chance to live out with him another of his life mottos – we are here to take care of each other. 
And I would sit with him in a kind of wonder as he would share about a lunch with friends, his face open with delight and joy, eyes sparkling and smile wide. And then a wave of grief would come and he would sob with the deep, heartwrenching sorrow at having to leave this life. And after a few minutes the tears would subside, his shoulders would lift, and a new story would come, one of gratitude, or hope, or wondering what dying would be like, and what would happen to him beyond. And sometimes fear would surface, and he’d talk through the flashes of terror or apprehension until that departed and the next emotion arose. 
And in these times I felt like for Marty the layers we all live with, that insulate us from the raw reality of living had been stripped away, and he was awake for it all. Noticing so deeply, appreciating so profoundly, grieving so honestly, celebrating so freely. In these conversations he would let anger, sadness, joy, gratitude, hope, move through him without resisting, hiding, or censoring. He was done with games. He just wanted to live every moment of his one precious life to its fullest. And he did.

We’ve heard a lot today about what a great guy Marty was and how much dignity he died with. And that was all true. And there might be the feeling that somehow to do him honor we shouldn’t feel sad. We should celebrate his life.  We should be glad he’s no longer suffering. We should avoid the small anger pressing at the base of the scull, the sorrow that claws up the back of the throat. Swallow it down and just try to be thankful for the beauty of his life and the peacefulness of his death.

I am going to tell you not to do that. I am going to tell you that the anger is a gift and the sorrow and grief are a treasure. Because they point to the deeper longing for things that are wrong to be right. They point to how beloved he was, and how much he loved living. They bring us to that place where God is alongside, with and for us. And I will not downplay any of that. It’s too important to skip over.

Marty was taken too soon. That’s just a fact. Most of us are, and we can deal with each of those stories when our own turn comes, but I want to talk for a minute about what makes me angry about Marty’s death. 
Marty should have had a chance to enjoy his retirement. He was SO looking forward to it – oh the plans he had! Marty should have had a chance to turn more of us into OLD friends, and make more new ones to add to his collection. He should have gone to England, he should have traveled and experienced more of this earth he so loved. He should have taken on new hobbies and interests, he so loved diving into something new and exploring it completely. He should have married Nancy and been a grandpa.  He should have grown old along with someone – he told me he always wanted that.  Marty had dreams and longings and hopes that never got to be fulfilled.  
And that makes me angry. It makes me sad. I wanted those things for him too.  I wanted to be there alongside, with and for him in those things, and see him be alongside, with and for others here in the things we all have ahead of us – Helen’s little sister or brother arriving, this generation of kids he’s watched start to grow up graduating from school and heading out into the world.  All the joyous and heartbreaking things that are coming in all the lives of those gathered in this room that Marty would have celebrated and grieved alongside, with and for each of us.  I will wail for the loss of that.  When the feelings come, I will let them come.

And only then, only once those feelings pass through and space is made for the next ones, will I turn to the gratitude.
Oh! What an incomparable honor to have known and been a part of Marty’s life!
To have walked on this earth alongside his soul, to have shared this breathtakingly beautiful planet, filled with a never-ending diversity of interesting people, spectacular views, new challenges, old stories, winding trails and pounding waterfalls and crisp forest air, and lapping lakes at sunset.  To be in this life, every single day - to be alive! 
This is a blessing beyond compare!
And to share it with others!  What purpose!  What privilege! 

We are told that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And that all that separates us from love and wholeness, makes us feel alone or afraid, or keeps us from what should have been, is borne into the very heart of God.  None of it is forgotten, overlooked, moved on past. It is treasured, precious and sacred, the sorrow and the loss, held with tender care by the Love that will not end.  And one day all wrongs will be made right.
And Marty’s being rests in that love now, and all that he just poked a finger into, just dipped a toe in, just scratched the surface of, he now knows and feels fully and completely, just as he is fully and completely known.
Marty is part of our cloud of witnesses, those who’ve gone before whose lives have been tangled up in ours, and, just by being human beings next to us, point us now and then to what’s really real.

Marty loved rituals that opened us to God and connected us to timelessness and the cosmos and each other, so here is how we’re going to finish this service and honor Marty together.  First alongside, with, and for each other now, in both our gratitude and our loss, we are going to recite a poem written by another person who believed “life is meant to be lived outdoors,” a few thousand years ago, a shepherd turned king, Psalm 23. We will say the words shared by people in all circumstances for millennia, words that were also read by a few of us with Marty on his last couple of evenings before he went and left all these scattered groups of friends to gather here as one. 
And after that, we are going to sing Marty’s favorite song, a song that expressed how Marty chose to live his life, What a Wonderful World, and we will let it witness to us, like his life did, a giant Thank you. Thank you for it all.


What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

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