The Present Tense

Note: The text of the homily, based on John 5.24-27 with reference to 1 John 3.1-2, I was privileged to preach this morning at the Burial Rite for the Reverend Louis Oleman Miller, Jr., a priest of the church and a dear friend and brother in Christ, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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Beloved sisters and brothers, we gather today to commemorate, to remember, and to celebrate, to rejoice in the life and legacy of Louis Oleman Miller, Jr. (Though he prefers we not use his middle name, which, for him, sounds too much like “old man”!)

It may strike you oddly that I speak of Louis in the present tense. For, yes, he has died. Yet, he is not dead. For though my physical senses tell me that Louis no longer is present in flesh, my faith and Louis’ faith tell me that he is and has been alive forever…

Faith in Jesus who says: “Truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word” (present tense) “and believes him who sent me” (present tense) “has eternal life” (present perfect tense, for eternal life already has begun) “and has passed from death to life” (again, present perfect tense; for eternal life, already having begun, continues).

Now, it would be one thing (and a mighty one thing it is!) if I said that, based on Jesus’ word alone, we can be certain of Louis’ possession of eternal life. But there is more! For in Louis I have seen (again, present perfect tense) the evidence of eternal life.

I digress…

In many Christian traditions, this homily might be called a eulogy. From the Greek, éulogia, literally meaning “to say good words.”

I believe that Louis would like good words said about him. I also believe that Louis, as an expression of his faith, desires that great words be said about God. The God who Jesus says, “has life in himself” (which is another way of saying that God is Life).

And because Louis believes (present tense) in this God, then we know that he always has eternal life. Perhaps the greatest example, paradoxically, is how Louis faced death. As his body failed, signaling to him the inexorable coming sunset of his days in this world, the Son’s Light of Jesus heightened Louis’ trust and deepened his acceptance; banishing all fear.

So, today, in our commemoration and celebration of Louis’ eternal life, we remember and rejoice in his legacy. A living legacy of love…

For God. Louis in this world, rejoiced to remember, in that act of ánamnesis at the altar, Jesus’ Self-giving of his Body and Blood. Louis, in this world, rejoiced to remember, through preaching, Jesus’ teaching, so to inspire faith in the God who called him to stand at the altar and in the pulpit. And, now, Louis stands with “all the saints, who from their labors rest, who by faith, before the world confessed, the Name of Jesus! Alleluia!”[1]

And, today, we commemorate and celebrate Louis’ living legacy of love for us…

His friends and colleagues of whom Rob[2] and I are privileged to be numbered…

His family, especially, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Oh, how Louis loves (present tense) you all, like the God he loves, with an unconditional love; an everlasting kindness…

His bride, his soulmate, Mary Anne; you whose unconditional love for him made daily real the gospel he preached.

We commemorate and celebrate Louis’ living legacy of love. A pilot who loves the peace of flight in space. A historian, an avid reader, and a creative writer who, from the seed to the fruit of imagination, loves to craft with his hands and to tell stories with models of railroads, planes, and ships; all (no surprise!) related to the wonder of life’s movement and exploration. A naturalist who loves the timeless serenity of the sea; which, as “the face of the waters”[3] over which the Spirit of God swept at creation’s dawn, brought life to all.

We commemorate and celebrate Louis’ living legacy of love. Louis who, now, in his death, has been given what, for us, is yet to be revealed. For what Louis knows is that he is like the God he loves, for Louis now sees the God he loves as he is. And what Louis always has known, so, now, he knows fully:

The strife is o’er, the battle done,

the victory of life is won;

the song of triumph has begun.

Alleluia![4]


[1] From the hymn, For all the saints, verse 1, The Hymnal 1982, #287

[2] The Reverend Robert L. Brown, rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC

[3] Genesis 1.2

[4] From the hymn, The strife is o’er, the battle done, verse 1, The Hymnal 1982, #208

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