From Sorrow to Joy

gone-fishing-600x399Funeral Service for Hubert Chester Outland, Jr.

Aug 23, 1944 – Nov 26, 2014 

Esther 9:20-23 NRSV

John 16:20-24 NRSV

Chester never did care too much for funerals. If he had it his way, we probably would not here this day. Yet, I am sure he knew that, unless he outlived all of us, there would be a service.

“Well, if you’ve got to have a service,” I can almost hear Chester say, with a slight grimace, “at least make it a celebration. Play and sing music that is uplifting. Say things that are hopeful. Be joyful.”

Chester certainly did not want this day to be a day of sadness, of mourning, but a day of gladness, of rejoicing. Instead of a sorrowful, solemn sermon, he would want me to preach a happy, hopeful one, to even tell a joke or two, assuring his friends and family that everything is going to be alright.

“Jarrett,” I can hear him say, “Just tell people: don’t worry. Sing a happy song. If anybody ask where I’m at, just tell them I’ve gone fishing. Just tell them I’ve gone fishing with Daddy and Mama on that beautiful shore in the sweet bye and bye. So, Jarrett, if you have to have a funeral, and as much as I despise a funeral I know you have to, please do me a favor and make it a celebration. And please, do everyone a favor, and try to keep it short.”

“Well, Chester, my good friend, that is much easier said than done.

Because, Chester, you just left us so suddenly. None of us were prepared for it. We are having a hard time accepting it. One minute you’re at the Country Club telling jokes about Obama and the next minute you’re gone. Even now, three days later, it seems more like some strange nightmare from which we cannot wake than it does the reality that we must accept.

And the timing of it, during the start of the holidays, seems to make it even more tragic. As I was sitting with Ben at the hospital, he painfully reminded me that this Thanksgiving was Mernie’s and your 45th wedding anniversary. So Chester, please forgive us if we are somewhat slow and even reluctant to celebrate this day.”

And of course, this day is especially sad because we loved Chester so. And he loved us.

I know I am speaking for more than just me when I say that Chester loved me like I was family. I felt I could go to Chester for any kind of advice, from fishing, golf to finances. It was eight years ago that Chester taught me how to fry my first turkey for Thanksgiving. After I rubbed the bird down and injected it per Chester’s precise instructions, Chester made me come to his house to fry it, so he could supervise and prevent me from blowing myself up.

This is a difficult day, for how many of us here will not miss the way Chester loved us with his wonderful, yet peculiar sense of humor.

One day, he and Ben were fishing for trout off the train trestle in Beaufort. While they were fishing, one of his shoes got caught on the trestle, slipped off and fell in the inlet and was immediately swept away by the current. After a great day of fishing, a man noticed Ben and Chester walking off the trestle, Chester limping a bit, wearing just one shoe. The man asked, “Did you lose your shoe?” Chester said: “No, I found one.”

Yes, today is a sad day as we will miss his quick wit, his funny stories and his dry sarcasm. We will miss all the ways he made us smile, by playing a prank or by cooking us a meal.

This day is especially difficult for his family as Chester loved planning and cooking a meal, especially for a family gathering such as Thanksgiving. All who knew Chester knew that his family meant everything to him: his sister Niki and Eddie; his niece Lou, Tim and great nephew Nick; his daughter Emily, her fiancé Joey, his son Ben and Beth; his adopted grandchildren whom he loved as if they were his own blood, Hunter and Landon, his grandchildren Haley, and Jamison; and his wife of 45 years Mernie.

More than anything, Chester wanted all of you to be happy and fulfilled. For when you hurt, he hurt. When you were not satisfied, he was not satisfied. Although he had spent much putting Ben through school to go into law enforcement, he did not get upset when Ben changed his mind. As tight as Chester was, he never showed any disappointment. On the contrary, Chester encouraged Ben to do what was going to make him happy.

While her friends were critical of Emily’s selfless career choice to be a teacher in North Carolina, saying that she was never going to make any money, Chester encouraged Emily to follow her heart and do what was going to give her the greatest fulfillment. As much as he believed in the importance of making enough money to save some for a rainy day, he never complained that Emily did not have a more lucrative career.

And Mernie, for 45 years, Chester loved you, and although there were times you spent more money than he liked for you to, he would do anything he could do to provide for you, to care for you, to make you comfortable, to make you happy. It grieved him to watch you suffer as you have this past year.

And along with his family, this whole community is saddened this day, as Chester sacrificially protected us and our country when he was younger serving in the National Guard. Chester made this a better place to live as he gave himself in his retirement to the country club, and he as gave himself throughout his life to the service of this church as a faithful usher. He was a friend and encourager to so many, always doing all he could do to make us smile, bring us happiness.

So to transform this sad day into day of gladness, this day of sorrow into a day of rejoicing and celebration, is much easier said than done.

But this is what our faith in God is all about. Throughout history, God has always been in the business of transforming: transforming defeat into victory, despair into hope, and sorrow into joy. The cross of our Lord is just one example of this great truth.

In the wonderful little book of Esther, we are told about the Persian Empire’s plot to destroy the Jewish people. Under Queen Esther’s leadership, the Persians are defeated and Israel was saved. Mordecai, who had adopted Esther, and raised her as if she was his own blood, decreed that the days had been transformed “from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness…”

Days of sorrow transformed into gladness. Days of mourning transformed into a holiday. Days of grief transformed into days of feasting and gladness. This is exactly what Chester Outland Jr. would want this day and in these days to come.

But, again, that seems easier said than done. It was just all so sudden. We have all lost so much. And right at Thanksgiving.

Again, I can almost hear Chester’s voice: “Well, that’s the whole reason you should be celebrating.”

“Yes, it was sudden,” I can hear Chester say, “But who on earth has ever said: ‘When it is my time to go, I hope it is slow and drawn out.’ Especially after watching my daddy suffer the way he did after his stroke. I have often said, ‘When it is my time, I hope it is sudden and fast.’ And I hope to be doing something that I love. I hope to be out there giving myself to something like the country club. I hope to be doing physically well enough to play golf if it’s not raining. Right before I go, I hope to feel good enough to tell one last joke about Obama.

And yes, you have lost much, for God had certainly blessed by life with much. God has blessed me in my life with good health, the ability to do what I loved, the opportunity to play golf and go fishing. God blessed me with great friends and a wonderful family. Yes, like all families, we have had some tough times, but I was able to see us through them. Ben and Emily have jobs that they love. Emily is happy again as Joey has come into her life. I have been able to be there for my grandkids, all of them. I have been able to show them that I love each one of them the same. And how many people can say that they have been happily married for 45 years to the same person?

And the timing? Although I missed cooking for my family, if I had to go sometime, (and we are going some time) I can think of no better time for me to go than this week of Thanksgiving. For I left this world grateful, grateful for the life that God had given me, grateful for my family, grateful for the life that I was given, grateful that in the end I did not suffer.

So, please be grateful with me, celebrate with me, rejoice with me, give thanks with me and trust God to do what God has done throughout history and take these days of sorrow and transform them into days gladness, take these days of mourning and make them into a holiday, take these days of grief and make them days of feasting and gladness. Prepare feasts for your loved ones, the way that I taught you. Love each other, the way I loved you. The way our Lord taught us to love. Make one another laugh. Make someone happy. And when you do, think of me, and be thankful.”

When Jesus was preparing his friends and family for his death, he spoke these beautiful words which were recorded by John:

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn…you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain…But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

Just as Chester wanted, I believe our days of sadness will be transformed into days of gladness when, instead of being bitter for what we lost, we become grateful for what we had. These days of mourning will once more become holidays. However, that is not saying that we will not continue to have pain. Even when our hearts are bursting with gratitude, even we are the most thankful for what we had in a friend, a brother, a uncle, a father, a grandfather, and a husband, we will continue to have some pain. However, Jesus promises that all of our pain will one day be transformed into joy.

As a mother forgets her pain during labor when she holds her baby, Jesus says that when we see Chester again, when we see our Lord, all of the pain that we have this day and in the days to come will be transformed into joy.

So, for those of us with faith in Christ, this is a day of gladness and rejoicing. This is a day of celebration. This is a day of hope. And if we listen, we can almost hear Chester say:

“I am with Mama, and I am with Daddy. I am with my Lord. Tell people: don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright. Sing a happy song. If people ask where I’m at, just tell them: I’ve gone fishing.”

Advertisements