Sermon for Harold Joseph Mathis, September 24, 2021

In Memoriam:
Harold Joseph Mathis
(February 10, 1940 – September 19, 2021)

Saturday in the Seventeen Week after Pentecost
September 24, 2021

Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 23; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; Saint John 14:1-6 

In nomine Jesu!
This we all know: Harold Joseph Mathis lived an undaunted life.  He never gave up.  Not when he tackled anything in life.  Not when he wrestled with death.  As a baptized and faithful child of God, Harold lived his life and faced his death standing foursquare on the firm foundation expressed by Job: “I know that my redeemer lives!”  In his living and in his dying, Harold took seriously the words of our second reading, he was “always confident; he “walked by faith and not by sight,” and as a result, he was unafraid to take all kind of risks trusting in the promises of God; and trusting in the promises of God, he was unafraid to take those risks with honesty and fairness; and, equally important, he was not afraid to share his gifts, his time, his talented, his undauntable spirit with others in the public, church, and academic realms.  Harold was a member of Rotary International and took its motto “Service above Self” as his own.

As I thought about Harold’s living and dying, yet another biblical passage came to mind, Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). In that parable, Jesus tells a story applicable to all of us, about an employer – let’s call him an entrepreneur – who invests in each of his employees by giving them “talents,” five to one, two to another, one to the third, “each according to their ability.”  The first two, trusting their employer, risk everything.  The last one, fearful for his future, risks nothing at all.

We know that Harold was the first of these, endowed by God “according to his ability” with a great deal of talent.  We know he was confident.  We know he took risks, mostly financial, to be sure, but as we all know, risking financially is risking one’s life, as well as the life of one’s spouse and family.  Every time he took a risk, Harold trusted the love of God and the love of Peggy and his family and not unlike that first employee in Jesus’ parable and not unlike Job at the end of his story, Harold saw the risks he had taken prosper.  At that, he might have done an entirely different thing: rested on his laurels and on the first words of the employer in the parable, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

Might have; but didn’t. Might have; but because of his faith, couldn’t.

And so we saw Harold offering his talents, using his gifts, for the sake of others in a whole variety of ways, offering his expertise his church and alma mater, and cooking and serving those in need right here in this congregation. A risk-taker, an entrepreneur to be sure, but with a joy-filled, confident, and overflowing heart.

Harold faced his dying in the same way he did his living.  He took risks.  Risks for treatment, risks for extended life.  Not because he was afraid to die, but because he had things he still wanted to do for his wife, his family, and others; Harold was going to live for others until the Lord decided that it was time for him to rest, to go to the place Christ prepared for him, when this earthly tent is destroyed and we enter the building, the house not made with hands, of God.  With my own eyes I witnessed that faith, propelled by that “service above self” intent, as he and Peggy faced the choice of his future care together.

Last Sunday afternoon, still faithful and undaunted, Harold heard the voice of his Redeemer and the rest of that sentence spoken to all faithful servants of God: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; enter into the joy of your Lord and Savior” and, carried by Christ to the dwelling that is prepared for him, Harold entered into Christ’s Father’s home.

And so, with that same hope and confidence, we gather here today.  To give thanks for Harold’s love and life and faithfulness, to praise God for the peaceful rest he now has been given, and to rejoice and commit ourselves to follow his confident example, for it is nothing less that to follow Christ who is the way the truth and the life.

As we gather now at Christ’s table, we are nourished for that confidence and fed with Christ’s gifts for eternal life.  But we also are blessed with one other gift, the gift of the communion of saints.  For Christ really has only one table, of which this is but an extension.  It is the heavenly Table where all God’s saints, including Harold, are gathered in peace and joy.  Sharing in Christ, we are one with all those saints and they are gathered with us; and that is a gift, on this side of our grave and their side, that God promises never to end.

And so we remember. And so we give thanks – for Harold, his faith life, and his love, and above all for Christ who gave his life and welcomes us all, now, and forever. Amen

Amandus J. Der
Interim Senior Pastor