No media available

Go, and Do Thou Likewise

Good morning and welcome to St. James. A special welcome to Alice, Peter’s wife; to Caroline, his daughter and her fiance, Bruce, here with us from Florida; to Peter Jr and his girlfriend Megan, here from Chicago; to Alice’s siblings here today: Margo, Marion, Rob and Tom; nieces and nephew: Alison, Meaghan and Patrick. 

There are friends of Peter’s here from Millbank, welcome to all of you. Also from George Washington High School, even grade school (PS 187).

The Rev. Tom Newcomb, the former rector of St. James is presiding with me today, welcome to him. Until recently Peter continued to have regular lunches with Father Newcomb and their men’s group--some of them are here with us today, as well.

And of course a very warm welcome to the many parishioners who came out to remember the life of this man who was well loved and respected here, and will be--IS--very missed.

Peter and Alice have been at St. James for over 30 years. They became Episcopalians as a compromise between their two traditions, Roman Catholic and Methodist. This is not uncommon. I’ll never forget, though, Peter’s reason for staying in the Episcopal Church, not exactly a ringing endorsement. These are his words exactly: “you can get used to anything.” :)

But I think he did love it here, and that’s as much for the tradition as for the people--really, more for the people. He gave a lot to this community, serving as treasurer and member of the vestry, consulting frequently on our by-laws, looking at contracts. He was a loyal member of the (old) men’s group (as he called it), a regular at coffee hours. He always saw to it that we sang the Navy Hymn on the Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He was of course a recipient of the Wally Owen Award for outstanding service to St. James.

What I think he’d be most proud of, though, was his generosity to the children of our parish. On the back of the bulletin is a picture from about four years ago of Peter and some kids sitting near the ice cream truck he would commission each spring. It usually came on Pentecost, one of the principal (and most important) feast days in the Episcopal Church -- but never mind that, because everyone really knew this day as Ice Cream Truck Sunday. 

Peter also generously had ponies brought in each year for Palm Sunday for the children to ride--this because of an old, as in centuries-old, church custom of having ponies lead the procession into the church, taken from the Gospel story of Jesus’ entry on a colt into Jerusalem. The Greater Church may call it Palm Sunday, but here at St. James it’s probably better known as Pony-ride Sunday. At least to our younger members.

We have others speaking today after me, but before I invite them up I’d like to point out that every bit of this service was chosen by Peter--every bit. Since I’ve known him, he’s talked about what was going to be in his funeral service. “Media vita in morte sumus”: In life we are in the midst of death. Peter embodied an old-fashioned appreciation for mortality. The more keenly we’re attuned to it This side of the grave, the more fully we can embrace our lives. And he did.

He reminded me just days before he died--and I quote--“I want it to be known that everything in this service reflects my values.” (end quote) From the prophet Micah’s vision of a day when war shall cease so that every man can sit under his vine and under his fig tree, safe and free from harm. To the Psalmist’s joyful noise in thanksgiving for God’s mercy. To the apostle Paul’s celebration of the variety of gifts given God’s people, all of which “worketh under that one and selfsame Spirit.”

Need I mention that all these readings can only (and ever) rightly be conveyed by the Authorized King James Bible itself, the only Bible Peter took seriously?

The hymns in this service all have meaning, too--In the Garden tells the story of Mary Magdalene’s heart-rending discovery of Jesus that first Easter morning. How Great Thou Art is an homage to creation and the humility it inspires -- these come from Peter’s Methodist upbringing. Others I scarcely need to explain: classic hymns and above all the Navy Hymn with which we’ll conclude this service.

But I think the pinnacle of this service and of the Scriptures for Peter was found in the story of the Good Samaritan, our Gospel reading. A man is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Two men--religious leaders of this man’s own people, no less--pass by, hardly giving him a second glance. But a third man, of a different and disreputable tribe, stops to help. Not only that, but takes the wounded man on his own horse, to an inn, where he pays for him to be cared for, and brought back to health. 

It contains everything Peter valued going all the way back to his student days at Columbia and the religious classes he took at nearby Union Seminary, and his days in the Navy--values he formed then and never gave up: mercy, engagement, caring for the stranger, recognizing our shared humanity, and never failing to help someone in need.

The passage ends with what Peter wanted us to hear today, above everything else--his four favorite words in the Scriptures. And for that last line I’m going to have to take some liberties with the King James version because Peter always said they were the FOUR best words in the Bible, and I just noticed in the King James it’s five. I’ll just edit slightly. 

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” Jesus asked. 

“And [the lawyer] said, He that shewed mercy on him. 

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, [and] do thou likewise.”

Today we give thanks for a great man. Whose legacy we will carry on--and carry further, just as he would have wished us to. Go, and do thou likewise. Amen.