Funeral Homily

1 Corinthians 15

The Man Who Kept Moving

A funeral homily for an elderly man who lived an active life

The Man Who Kept Moving

1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Some of you here have known Paul Wesbrook for a very long time.  I have known him for twelve years as a member of this congregation, a friend, and a neighbor.  Paul’s house and mine are on the same block: his faces Center Street, mine faces Military Street.  Many times I would catch sight of him walking his dog past my house, and many times he would see me walking my dog past his house.

There’s nothing earthshaking about that, of course, but I mention it as an entry point into understanding something about Paul.  Throughout his life, he was a man on the move.

Many of you here today know the story better than I do: how he left the family farm along the St. Clair River to drive cars from Detroit to California long before superhighways were built, how he worked on ranches in Montana and Wyoming, his adventures sailing the Great Lakes, and his time as the captain of a private yacht.  As the years went by, Paul kept moving.

World War Two came along, and guess where Paul turned up to serve his country?  In the U. S. Army Transportation Corps.  Once the war was over, Paul worked many years as a truck driver, a member of the Teamsters.  Still he kept moving.

One summer he worked aboard the U.S.S. America and visited several European ports.  Through forty-nine states he rolled as a truck driver, and would have made Hawaii too if a highway reached there from Michigan.  He drove through vast reaches of Canada as well.  Still he kept moving.

In later years he drove down to pick up copies of the Archdiocese of Detroit newspaper for distribution in our area.  This was his ecumenical ministry.  And several times he would deliver me to Detroit Metro airport or pick me up there.  Still he kept moving.

Not all of Paul’s travel was horizontal.  Some of it was vertical, remarkably so.  In December, I would walk my dog around the corner and see strings of colored Christmas lights high up on his house, and I knew he had climbed up there himself and put them in place.  It was dangerous, climbing up there, yet I knew he had to do it, and I for one would never try to stop him.

Each baptized Christian mirrors Christ in distinct ways.  One way that Paul did this was how he kept moving.  Often in the gospels we see Jesus in motion, going from one place to the next, and making his final journey by stages to Jerusalem.  Like Paul Wesbrook, Jesus keeps moving.

He keeps moving until some people believe they have stopped him by nailing him to a cross, by closing him up in a tomb.  But even death does not stop him.  Soon he is moving again, resurrecting from the dead, ascending into heaven, and he will come back to us again before history achieves its consummation.

Last Saturday morning it looked as though Paul had reached his stopping point.  But because Paul is one with Jesus, death did not stop him.  It’s simply a step on the journey, the one that ushers him into a better city than any he ever saw before, a home that will be for him both permanent and ever new.

As the so-called stopping of Jesus in death was soon trumped by his Easter, so Paul’s death also gives way to Easter.  He’s traveling past last Saturday to an eternal Sunday, his own Easter with Jesus and the saints.  For that we give thanks today as here in July we celebrate this Easter liturgy for Paul Wesbook.

Paul not only kept moving through life, but he taught us how to travel.  His way of travel offers us two lessons in particular I would like us to consider and I would invite us to emulate.

A good word to describe Paul is “merciful.”  In the very best Christian tradition, firmly rooted in the Gospel, Paul kept from judging others, and chose instead to show them mercy, to give people in need what would help them, whether it was material goods, a kind word, or a listening ear.

Thus he let go of money, time, and other resources.  This enabled him to travel light through life.  We have in him an example of how we might be unburdened travelers because we give freely to others what they need.

Paul was also merry.  That’s a word we don’t use much today except in Christmas greetings.  Merry “suggests cheerful, joyous, uninhibited enjoyment of frolic or festivity.”  [Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary]  Often, in ordinary settings, Paul appeared to me to be enjoying some frolic or festivity I could not identify, but that I came to believe in one time after another because of him.

It’s been said that in middle age and beyond, we face the great challenge of not becoming bitter.  Paul experienced his share of hardships, but he was manifestly not a bitter man.  In this each of us can find inspiration.

But he did not simply avoid bitterness.  He embodied something rich and rare.  Donald Capps in his recent book Men and Religion describes three forms that a man’s religiousness can take.  One of these is a religion of honor.  Another is a religion of hope.  The third is a religion of humor or light irony.  All three forms are good, but the last one has special value.  This religion of humor can even poke fun at the other two forms.  [Donald Capps, Men and their Religion: Honor, Hope, and Humor (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2002), pp. 100-101.]

Paul Wesbrook was man of honor and hope, but even more wonderfully he was a man of humor, of holy humor, practicing a light irony that lifted hearts  For that we give thanks.

If you’ve read the Harry Potter books or seen the Harry Potter movies, you know about Platform Nine and a Half, that place in a particular railway station where it is possible to enter another world by dashing into a solid column.

Last Saturday morning, Paul Wesbrook, the man who always kept moving, dashed into the solid wall of death.  But let us give thanks yet again.  For by the grace of Christ, it was no solid wall, and he kept on moving to a grander place than Hogwarts and a better place than here.  Paul dashed into death, chasing after Christ, and came out the other side, and finally and forever found himself at rest, at peace, at home.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.