Homily for the funeral of The Rev. Mr. Richard Bennett

Note: Fr. Bennett was the senior priest of the Diocese of Springfield.  He served St. Matthew’s, Bloomington from 1974-1987, and was appointed as Rector Emeritus in 2010 at the wish of the current incumbent.  The homily is punctuated for speaking, not for reading.

Homily on the occasion of the funeral of The Rev. Mr. Richard Bennett, 14 May 2014

As given by The Rev. Mr. David J. A. Halt

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall not die forever. Do you believe this?”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

These are the times that try our faith.  To gather together to “celebrate” a funeral is always a trial of our faith, and though the fact is we celebrate the long and productive life of Fr. Bennett today, this event is still a trial of our faith.  On this day we are faced again with the question of Jesus to Martha, “Do you believe this?”  This is our moment of trial, the moment of choice.

We who know and love Fr. Bennett, know the facts of his life.  We know that he was a fine Navy man, a sonar technician of the highest caliber (though I wonder how many of us know that towards the end of the Second World War he was a key player in mobilizing the fleet to nearly sink an enemy whale).  We know that he was a family man with deep and abiding love for his Alice, Carl, Carol, Chris, Barbara, Rick, their spouses, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  We know that he was a priest of the Church, faithfully preaching the Word, celebrating the sacraments, and responsible for the cure of souls for many in this building today.

We know that he was a man of quick and ready wit, always ready with a story to tell.  He was a punny man.  Why do cannibals not eat clowns?  They taste funny.  The last visit that I enjoyed with Dick ended not with communion (although he did receive), but with this joke—Tell Pinocchio/Jesus Joke.  Often repeated was one his favorite stories about the visit to Roger’s Hospital in Oconomowoc, next door to Nashotah House Seminary, when Alice went into labor.  As he tells the story, the hospital at this time was a rural one without an emergency department.  After “business” hours, a small sign hung next to a bell commanding him to “Ring bell for assistance.”  Following several unsuccessful attempts at raising said assistance, Dick burst into the hospital and was accosted by a nurse who aggressively asked what he needed, to which he stammered, “My water’s wife broke.”

There were always more stories.  Stories in the form of hundreds of sermons. Stories of his past, stories of his family, stories of lasting impact, stories that he used to examine a life and legacy of that life.

There were also tough stories.  There were painful stories.  Stories of failure, betrayal, and loss.

But above all these, surrounding all these, incorporating all these is another story.  A capital Story.  The story of God made flesh in the God-Man Jesus.  The story of the love of God in Christ made manifest in the cross and resurrection.  The story of our participation in that life of love and the hope of our own resurrection and eternal life in the last day. Richard is a part of this story, and loved to tell this story.  For running through his own story, is the story of Jesus, and trust.

Two-years ago, he gave me a copy of his funeral plans, complete with readings and the threat, “Do not play Amazing Grace or I’ll come back and haunt the church”!  I ask that you pay attention, as he would wish, to the readings he has chosen for this day.  The readings from Lamentations and Romans tell us how, and why , to anwer the question that Jesus asks of Martha, with a confident “yes, Lord I believe!” They share with us the confidence that rests on the steadfastness and faithfulness of the Lord.  These texts contain what is Richard’s last, not so subtle sermon to us, “Trust Christ!”.  For that is the core of faith, the true meaning of faith, to trust that God is faithful to his Word.  In Lamentations, we read that that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, that his faithfulness is great, and thus we should/will hope in him.  Again, that though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.  Compassion, to suffer with, is part of the great work of the Cross, where all human suffering is united and redeemed in Christ through his faithfulness. In Romans we hear Paul state that nothing can separate those who are in Christ from the love of God.  Hear Paul say it again, for I am sure 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.  It is Christ Jesus, the crucified, and more than that, the risen one at the right hand of God who intercedes for us.  It is the faithfulness of God in Christ that effects our salvation, the faithfulness of Christ Jesus to the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection, which causes us to share in his risen life, animated by the Holy Spirit.  This is the story in which Richard put his trust.  This is his true legacy.  Behind the good works, underlying his love and devotion for his family, the foundation upon which his priesthood was built, is this legacy—he was, and is, Christ’s, and trusted that the promise of Jesus was not only true but that the promise giver himself is faithful to that promise.

These are the times that try our faith.  Do we believe that Jesus is faithful to his promise?  Do we trust the promise giver?  In the moments that tried Richard’s faith, in the days when he asked if all was worth it, he responded with the same single word written at the bottom of a page of notes composed not long ago, “Trust”.

In this Easter season as the Church celebrates the fact of an empty tomb and a Risen Lord who desires to share with us his risen and eternal life of love, we come to our moment of trial, our moment of choice.  Jesus stands among us and proclaims, “I am the Resurrection and the life!”   He asks, “Do you believe this?”  “Do you trust that I will be faithful to my promise?”  May we like Martha (and Fr. Bennett), respond with “Yes, Lord, I trust”.