My homily for my brother, friend and colleague in church: Rick Weber. It was a good day!
Let me get this out there right at the start: I LOVED Rick Weber. He was a big, bold and beautiful personality who lived a full life with vigor and integrity. And I have to tell you that I loved everything about this man: I loved his art – I loved his laughter – I loved his singing voice – I loved his faith – I loved his tenacity – I loved his service to Christ and the world – and I loved the way he loved everyone he met.
I LOVED Rick Weber – so before I go any further I have to ask you – have I made this clear? That I LOVED Rick Weber? It is important for the preacher to know if he or she is communicating with the gathered faithful, so I want to be certain that there is no ambiguity about my first point.
As a pastor, you see, it is both my deepest conviction AND my public duty to share with you some truths from within the foundation of the Christian tradition. And I could not stand before you today as one who loved Rick in this life if I didn’t also remind you of the fact that God’s love enveloped him in his death. If I were here just on my own authority – with just my own words to raise up – I couldn’t do it. I miss Rick too much and his absence causes me too much pain.
But as St. Paul said to the very early church: Beloved we do not want you to grieve as those who have no hope – so I need to talk to you about hope and grief. You will grieve – you will cry and ache and miss and fret – you will be angry and empty and bewildered at times because that is only human. You will grieve and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. We should not truncate our grief, abort its own unique mission in our hearts or try to snap out of it just to satisfy some shallow social expectations of getting back to business, ok
Losing a man as BIG as Rick Weber hurts – it hurts like hell – and we shouldn’ttry to pretend that it doesn’t. Last week, as I was trying to pull this homily together, I broke down three or four times in violent crying jags. I couldn’t help it – AND – I didn’t want to help it because the emptiness and sadness I felt in those moments was somehow deeply connected to the love I shared with Rick during the seven years I had the privilege to serve him as his pastor and friend.
So, I gave myself permission to cry and weep and feel the bottomless ache in my heart. The apostle Paul, did NOT tell us not to grieve. Rather, he taught us that in the midst of our sorrow, we must not grieve as those who have no hope. By faith, you see, we DO have hope: one of the most profound and demanding truths in the Christian tradition is our conviction that when we were baptized into the com-munity of faith we were simultaneously baptized into Christ’s death. So that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glorious power of God’s love, so too shall we be raised up into God’s love.
Jesus wasn’t kidding when he told us: come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden and I shall give you rest. It will be a rest from fear and anxiety in this life, and it shall be a rest from all pain and sorrow in the life to come because where I am going, he told us in John’s gospel, you are going, too. And if Rick Weber trusted anything, it was that God was present with him in all of his trials and pains, joys and sorrows in this life – AND – that God would fully embrace him in love when this life was over. That’s why Rick wasn’t afraid of death: he had hope.
Even when his tired, sweet body was broken and worn out he had hope. A hope born of God raising Christ from the dead – a hope grounded in his own baptism – a hope that trusted that God’s love is not only greater than our imagination and ability to comprehend, but that it is also greater than death. It was an innocent, pure and child-like faith that was rock solid. I’m not sure I’ve ever met such a faithful man.
So we gather today to grieve – but that grief is saturated in love – for like our brother Rick Weber we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
I remember the first time I ever saw Rick: he was walking across the lawn at Tanglewood. I had just been called from Arizona to serve First Church as pastor and teacher – and we were coming through just to check in before spending a month in London – so I happened to mention to Jennifer Kerwood, the chair of the search committee, that Dianne and I had never been to Tanglewood. We wondered if there might be time for the search committee and their families to join us for an outing to Tanglewood. As she does so well, Jennifer made it happen and we met for a picnic on the lawn before a Mahler symphony.
So as we were taking in the beauty – and sipping wine in high style on a golden Berkshire evening – there came Rick making his way across the vast lawn with Donna. He was working hard but had a huge smile on his face. And after taking a seat and sharing introductions, he went on to tell me that he’d played golf earlier that day and did a fine job. He was beaming and radiant – and so glad to be alive. After eating a little gouda cheese, he turned back to me and said with that killer smile: and now I get to spend some time this evening with my dear wife and our new pastor in all this beauty surrounded by all some incredible music. Man, is this life good.
In that moment, I fell in love with Rick Weber. I had watched him struggle across the lawn. I was in awe of his strength and stamina. But I was totaled knocked out by his exuberance and commitment to the joy of living. And that awe and respect only ripened in the years that I knew him. As we worshipped together – and served First Church together – and visited in his home or in the hospital, I came to see that this man was truly filled with the Holy Spirit in such a way that nothing in this life would kill his joy.
Like St. Paul before him, he KNEW that in everything God works for good with those who love the Lord. So he could move through his days knowing that nothing would ever be able to separate him from the love of God – not life nor death, not angels or principalities, not things present nor things to come, not powers, height nor depth nor anything else in all creation.
In fact, I came to think of Rick Weber as a living icon of St. Paul in the 21st century. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 5 wherein Paul tells us that because of the joy he has known in God’s grace, we now boast in our sufferings, knowing that our suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because hope is God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And every time he came down this aisle for Eucharist – and it became harder and harder – there was an almost beatific smile on his face because my man knew that this wasn’t the end of his story. His pain and his wounds were just another way to be closer to the God he loved.
And when I would go to offer him the bread, the body of Christ, he would almost always take my hand and hold it for a moment – he would smile in a way that was filled with such depth and faith – before kissing me on the check and saying: I love you.
Beloved, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve as people who know that God loves us no matter how hard our life is. We grieve as those who know that this present darkness is not the end of the story.
As an artist, a husband, a father, a teacher, an athlete, a friend and an incredible servant of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Rick Weber was a man of this kind of hope. In a moment you will hear a few other remembrances from those who knew Rick in some of the circles he worked in. So let me close by saying that in addition to the love he shared with me and so many others – and the powerful reality of his hope and faith in the Lord – I believe that Rick was very intentional as an artist in expressing his awareness of God’s abiding and transforming beauty in the world within the most mundane things. As one theologian put it, he had the ability to show us the extraordinary in the ordinary.
We talked a lot about art both because he loved the “en plein eir” movement that began in France in the 1870s – the open air school of artistic expression that celebrated natural light and outdoor realities in all their sacred and commonplace glories - but also because as a musician I wanted to hear how this visual artist understood his creativity as a sacred calling. And time after time, whether it was in his living room, his bedroom or this Sanctuary, when he would display his paintings he would talk to me about what the images he painted represented – how the trees symbolized the history of his family, how the clouds showed some-thing of his father, his wife and his son – how the vastness of some of his canvases hinted at the enormity of God’s love.
In our culture, too many think of art as an extra – an incidental – something to consider after all the bottom lines are resolved and accounted for. But not my man, Rick: like the artist and theologian, Mako Fujimura, he understood that his dedication to advancing beauty was NOT a useless act of leisure. No, “every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Rick saw and experienced the enormity of God’s grace. So as the depth psychologist, Carl Jung once wrote, we paint the images our soul needs to see. I believe that part of what Rick expressed in his painting was the depth of his faith – the incomprehensibility of God’s endless love that is greater than all pain – and he did it in ways that our small minds might taste and see.
This is iconography – in a distinctly Western and modernist form, to be sure – but iconography nonetheless. Because icons are physical representations of spiritual truths too great for words – they are visual prayers for our eyes – that always point beyond us to the grace of God. And I see Rick’s profound, child-like but life-tested faith and experience of God’s grace in everything he painted – and in almost everything he did.
Once we were talking about one of his first dates with Donna – he took her into NYC from New Jersey – he wanted to show her a good time. And no sooner had they gotten out of the train station in Times Square when they were surrounded by a gang of young men who were intent on robbing them. Donna said they could see the mounted policeman off in the distance, but he wasn’t going to do them any good because these young thugs were intent of separating Rick from the money he had saved to take his sweetie on this date?
So what did Rick do? Did he try to run for it? Or fight off the muggers? Did he try to distract these bandits so that Donna might escape? Did he scream for help and hope for the best? No with a child-like faith and profound innocence he told the chief mugger that he only had enough money on him to take his sweetheart out to dinner and a show – it wasn’t very much money at all – but that was all he had. So could he please just let them go?
And… he did – he let them go! We were laughing about it the other day saying that given Rick’s sincerity and his profound innocence, he probably converted that young mugger in that moment from a life of crime! We don’t know for sure, of course, but he let them GO!!!
No wonder Rick requested that both Psalm 23 and Revelations 21 be read at his memorial service – they both evoke a trust that nothing can separate us from God’s love – yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for THOU art my comforter and thy STAFF shall protect me. Even at the end of our lives we shall be restored to perfection with the Lord in ways that are too great for human words and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord for- ever. And now that has taken place for Rick Weber – he lived fully in God’s grace in this live – and now he has returned home to perfection in the Lord’s embrace forever.
When Donna and I were talking last week on the day Rick died, I mentioned to her that I believe that every dying person offers those of us who remain a gift in their death if we have eyes to see.
Sometimes we don’t get it – and sometimes the death is too complicated – but in a good death, I have come to see that the dying person wants to bring comfort to those who are living by sharing a quiet gift or even a gentle message. So she told me that she had been wondering why there had been so many ups and downs with Rick’s health over the past five weeks. What was God saying in all of this? If this was really the time for him to go, why were there so many complications? At some point, however, it came to her that perhaps there was still something to be accomplished before Rick was ready to let go and return to the Lord.
She didn’t know what it was – or who had to do what – but when she stopped worrying about what was going on and trusted that this too was part of God’s love, she was more at peace. So when she got the call to go to the hospital last Sunday morning because Rick’s time was close, she thought: I’ve never been with a person when they died – I’m kind of frightened about this – but as she sat with her husband and he slowly and peacefully left this life she said: I wasn’t afraid. In fact, she saw Rick leave this life in a way that was saturated in peace as a quiet serenity washed over him – and she knew it was alright.
Behold, the Spirit of the Lord says to us in Scripture: I make all things new… I will be your God and you will be my people and I shall wipe away every tear from your eyes. Death will be no more; neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain for you for the first things have passed away.
Today I give thanks to God for sharing Rick Weber with us: his love, his art, his faith, his family, his laughter, his music and even his death have been sacred gifts – and as much as I miss him, I am so very grateful for them all.