A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
Sermon for the funeral of Adrian Gupton
on Saturday, September 10, 2011, at St. Paul’s in Louisburg, NC
Lessons: Isaiah 61:1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, John 14: 1-6
Every event in life occurs in a context. Nothing lives or moves or has its being in isolation. Our mourning happens as the nation remembers 9/11, remembers our loss of safety, our myth of separation. The world was suddenly horribly near, its curses and its blessings. This week-end marks how quickly life is gone, how senselessly, how a generation was in shock and horror and grief.
For some the losses were deeply personal, loss of a spouse, a parent, a loved one, a future, or for survivors, the loss that life was light, easy, uncomplicated. How overwhelming it was …and is.
As one who watched from a hilltop in NJ as those towers smoldered, who walked in the grief of that time and place, I never understood those who grieved so from a distance until I realized we grieved not only the loss of life but the end of the sense we were beyond the touch of such terror on American soil.
The blessings came as well in the massive human care that poured forth. We cared for one another within the nation and care came from without. We became somehow a world community in a deeper way.
But here we have a moment to hold something dearer, one life lived with integrity, and journey, and hope, and faith, that of Adrian Gupton, a life companion, a blood relation, a friend, a man of God. We gather here in this context to give thanks for the life of a good man, a kind man, a man grounded in a faithful relationship, a man grounded in God, grounded in hope.
Adrian was a man who loved family, who loved the joy and complexity of giving himself to another person deeply, Alan; who found joy in work, the caress of a dog, who found home in the Episcopal Church which took his talents and his nature as God’s gift to him. We gather to finger these things, to hold them in heart, to taste our gratitude for his companionship.
But we gather in this space because of his faith. For it is his faith that grounds him now more than ever or does it rather assist his flight, his forever journey into his origin and maker, God?
Our scriptures wish to help us see how consistent is the comfort of God, the love of God, the intent of God. The passage from Isaiah was probably written after the people of Israel returned from Exile. It foretells the total salvation of God’s people: bodily, spiritually, individually and socially.
The prophet intuits that God has “anointed” him, commissioned him to preach and to hear the Word of faith, to understand God’s word, and to be strengthened in following itand to strengthen people broken by life’s harsh realities.
“to provide for those who mourn…
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Alan, Frances, Shirley…all of us, it is hard to see this now, but mourning comes for a season and it can be long. Yet as it passes ever so slowly, it can leave behind a garland, the oil of gladness. Such a garland is made of memory, fingering the parts of your life created in relationship to Adrian, a touch, a smile, a wisdom gained, a habit missed but treasured, an outlook that helps orient your best self. Like some fragrant oil they anoint our heart for healing…in time. These are the treasures in a troubling time.
That is why later today as we continue to gather, we will surely tells stories of Adrian that delight the heart…an early oil.
Israel struggled to believe this as they left slavery in Babylon, greeted the ruble that had been Jerusalem but in time comfort settled in. It will for you as well…in time. Trust God and each other.
The Gospel speaks to us of the tenderness of God that goes both with us in life and in the life to come. Judas has just left the upper room to betray Jesus. If we knew as much as Jesus knows we might panic now…but he does not. He turns with tenderness to the loyal 11.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.
If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
And you know the way…”
“How can we know the way?” Thomas asks.
“I am the way, the truth, the life…you come to the father by me.”
How generous Jesus is, God is. There is so much room. Like some cosmic decorator he is all about making them ready for us…to prepare a place for the 11 and us.
How to get there? Walk my life, learn my wisdom (truth), follow my example (way).
As complex as it seems at times…it is simple really. “Forgive as I will forgive Judas, share your bread daily, heal life as you can, know God…seems too large…then know me. There is so much room!!
And this is Ground Zero for us today. Adrian knew God, knew Jesus. He walked the way and the way has shown him home…eternally now.
As much as we mourn the loss of him, and we do, there is joy hidden here. Who among us is not somewhat obsessed by home either inside or out? Obsessed with the acquiring of home, the care, the decorating, the gardening. This may be what gay men do best…make home! Oh we may argue about where a picture is best hung but we make home with care and style. This is our bed and board. The world is not always welcoming to us, but home is, God is.
Adrian journeyed first in the Baptist faith of his youth, until the rejection of the natural orientation of his affections made that an unsafe place, an unkind place for people whose deepest affection runs to their own gender. Many churches were such places before the mid 80’s, many still are.
After the drift that comes with rejection, he later found a church, a community in God that allowed him to breathe in spiritually and settle in community into the God he long knew.
Fr. Hickey, my home rector who trained me always said “former Baptists make the best Episcopalians. They know the Bible and can teach Sunday School.” But I digress!
Adrian knew the Way the Truth, the Life. So much so that before this last battle to keep life he was able to tell Alan he was at peace. The peace that comes from a life fully and compassionately lived. Not perfect, but rather oriented to his maker, practicing faith, love and hope in a daily walk with others.
This is the life we celebrate and honor. Are we all not on this journey, to make the rising love of Christ more visible in our lives or world?
I asked Alan’s permission to ask one thing of you today, consistent with Adrian’s values. So I put it to you. You can honor and celebrate Adrian’s life in many ways. You can finger your memories. You might make a donation here at St. Paul’s, or to the A.S.P.C. A. You can show care for his loved ones over the long year of grief ahead. These are good and sufficient things.
But there is another thing you might do. I began by saying we mark Adrian’s life in a social context...9/11 remembered. You can honor the faithful way Adrian chose to live out his natural affections in a committed relationship of 20 years with Alan, and before that with Charles whose untimely death created the entrance for Alan.
This state may put before you a referendum to amend the state constitution to ban marriage of same gender couples. Marriage generally is governed by laws. That has been our practice and has been sufficient except where law has done injury to people, or genders or races. Then constitutional amendments have been permissive, not prohibitive.
Should you find yourself in a place to vote on this, remember Adrian. Know he considered his relationship to Alan as solid as a good heterosexual marriage. And think again about what you are being asked to do? That would honor this faithful man of kind and good sensitivity.
And if you believe as I do that our affectional orientation, our desire to love deeply another is a gift from God, this will honor God. If you see it differently, at least a deeper conversation will honor both. Remember you are dealing with real people who live real and deep lives.
To preach the resurrection to eternal life, is to live the resurrection as witnessed in a life by our actions as much as our hopes, which is the opportunity before us.
Let us offer our gratitude to God for so good a life and so faithful a maker, creator and lover of humankind. Amen
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