Below is the text from the sermon I preached at my grandfather’s funeral in Austwell, TX on Monday morning.
I hope it helps you know him even a little bit.
Growing up, I spent a lot of my weekends here in Austwell staying with my grandparents (as all of us grandkids did).
I would split my time between piddling around on the piano with my grandmother and going for drives with Grandpa, bouncing around the passenger’s side of his truck – no seatbelt, because as Grandpa told me once as I began to strap myself in:
“This is Austwell. You don’t need that here.”
Because I was the only boy, Grandpa and I routinely did typical “boy” things that my sister and female cousins weren’t all that interested in: we built a flat wooden car to drag around behind his riding lawn mower, we organized our tackle boxes and cast for redfish from the peer, we played lots of catch, we shot at glass bottles with the be bee gun he had given me at what my mother insisted was much too young an age, and one of my favorites, we burned trash together – out behind their house on the bluff, in an old, rusted out barrel, poking the fire with sticks, sometimes talking, sometimes in silent awe of the flames.
As you all know well, my grandfather was incredibly skilled with his hands, could fix almost anything, was good with pipes, cars, and machinery and was first and foremost a farmer – some of the many talents he tried to teach our family early and often.
One of those teaching days in particular, I remember very clearly.
I was probably six or seven years old and early in the morning, just after our usual breakfast of Post-Toasties cereal with ½ and ½ instead of milk, Grandpa and I pile into his truck and drive out past the grain silos and the old warehouse into the fields, our sun-visors extended, with the staticky AM radio on (the static he always told us was the sound of airplanes coming in for a landing!) and with our hair blowing in the wind, as we had so many times before.
But something is different about this morning…the earthy smell of freshly turned soil blows through our open windows and as we get closer to the fields, I can see the dark black Texas dirt exposed and bare.
“Today is a planting day,” Grandpa says.
He parks the truck alongside one of his smaller tractors and invites me to follow for one of his ‘lessons.’ “This is the tractor we use to plant all the corn in all of those fields.”
He points to a huge metal container fixed on the back of the tractor. “See this tub?”
“Of course,” I say in my six –year-old, matter of fact tone. Offended at such a silly question.
“Well, this morning, you and I are going to fill it with seeds,” he says.
My eyes widen. “That’s alotta seeds,” I say.
“Yes,” he chuckles, “that’s alotta seeds. When you want a big crop to grow, you gotta plant alotta seeds.”
He taught me that each seed or kernel of the maize and corn he planted and harvested was a gem that held great potential inside of it and in order to bear a large harvest, the potential inside had to be encouraged to grow.
Looking back now, I realize that that morning, I learned a little about planting and a whole lot about my Grandpa.
I believe he held for each of us, his family and friends, that same hopeful farmer’s perspective – that he looked on you and me and saw gems holding great potential inside.
I think that’s how he showed his love for us –
not necessarily or usually by affection, but by always wanting to teach others something new, by gently and sometimes not so gently urging that inner potential to be realized,
to grow up and out of all of us.
He showed that love by hiring and befriending people in the community who others wouldn’t hire or who were hard to deal with at times, empowering them to work and help themselves.
He showed that love for this town while he served as mayor for eight years, cleaning up the water and sewer systems, helping Austwell progress as a community.
He showed that love in his compassion for people in need by always being the first to offer assistance whether out of his own wallet or going on middle-of-the-night propane deliveries when families were cold, or by helping other farmers who were short handed.
He showed that love to us grandkids by encouraging our imaginations and playful spirits, whether that was chasing us around the house as a howling werewolf or pretending we were weights hanging on his arms that he was lifting over and over (even when it resulted once in him breaking his collar bone).
He showed that love for his family when he would do just about anything he could to help them, like the time (at least this is how he told the story) the time he snuck around to the end of the firing line during basic training and took the shooting exam in his brother’s place (their uniforms had the same last name sown in them afterall) so that they could remain together rather than being separated in the next stage of their military training.
These stories and countless others that we will have the opportunity to tell and re-tell in the days and weeks to come are examples of how God’s kindness, God’s love, God’s own hope for the kind of people we have the potential to become, were alive and well in my grandfather.
And that is what we celebrate today – the life of our friend, and father, and uncle and brother, and grandfather, which was infused with that divine hope and goodness that sees us as gems and calls out to each of us to learn and to grow into our potential.
And that’s also the reason we mourn today…because our connection with that godliness that was Grandpa, our relationship to that particular incarnation of the divine named Roy William Wise is now changed…not gone, not lost…but surely changed.
And so we grieve, and we tell stories, and we cry holy tears.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they have had something to lose.
Blessed are those who dare to risk loss
for only they have known love.
And yet, if we learned anything from all that God wanted to teach us through Roy, we do not mourn without our own renewed sense of hope. Hope in God’s faithfulness to his promise that death is not the end, but rather just another kind of seed that sprouts a whole new kind of life. The kind of resurrection life that had it’s potential deep down inside of Roy and is now fully grown in his death. We know that God has now transformed Grandpa’s life into a new and even more sacred existence, an everlasting life where he is at one with the gardening God whom we experienced at work in him.
We are here because our lives were touched by my grandfather, because we loved him, and because in some way he helped each of us grow- because he was in some sense, our farmer as well.
And so…today is a planting day.
Another day to learn from him. Another opportunity to allow to grow in us those gems that he saw and nurtured while he was here with us.
Another cycle of harvesting what has grown and using the seeds from that fruit to plant another crop with all those we love and want to encourage.
In these last months, my grandfather took to a fairly atypical response for him when one of us would say, “I love you.”
He began saying back to us, and sometimes shouting back,
“I love everybody!”
And this morning, we say,
“We know, Grandpa. We saw it. We felt it. We learned from it.