October 15, 1968 – September 11, 2017
For those of you who are visiting with us today, I can tell you that the church doesn’t always look like this. If you had come here just 6 days ago, the color on the altar would have been green, not white. This big candle wouldn’t have been here. There would certainly have been many fewer chairs, and many fewer people than there are here today. The choir would have been smaller. And we probably would not have looked quite so “spiffy,” if that is what a church looks like when it’s all decked out in its Easter finest. And there would have been one other big difference: when you walked in, Arthur Strudwick would have met you at the door, smiled a great big ginormous smile, shaken your hand and said, “Hi, my name is Arthur. Welcome to St. Simon and St. Jude.”
Arthur Strudwick was born in Atlanta in the ‘60s, grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and became a man in the ‘90s. He went to college at the Art Institute of Atlanta and majored in music business management; he wanted to be a music producer. But his mother died not long after he started school, and his brother died when he was in his 20s, so Arthur decided that maybe he needed to do something that was a little more practical. So he went to work as a salesman…working for Abie Wise…a kosher foods company. I imagine that he probably surprised those very first customers who wondered what a 6 foot tall black man from Georgia knew about kosher foods. But he won them over with his big smile, his quiet voice and his wide-open welcome.
After a while, Arthur decided that he wanted to work outdoors. So he began working in landscaping – first at golf courses, the working for the city. He learned his trade, put in his time, did the work, and moved up through the ranks. His coworkers will tell you that he treated everyone with dignity and respect. He’d ask about their families, visit them when they were sick, and even invite them to church. All the while with his big smile, his quiet voice and his wide-open welcome.
In 1995, Arthur met Jennifer. She was visiting Atlanta and he asked her out on a date to see the Allman Brothers. It was an outdoor concert and of course, it started to rain. So he unfolded a couple of garbage bags and made them a little shelter. Then, they spent the rest of the time making out to “Ramblin’ Man,” “Jessica,” and “Sweet Melissa.” Not long after that, Arthur met Emily, who was three years old at the time. Jennifer says that she knew he was the real deal when he saw Arthur and Emily fixing breakfast together. A couple of years later, Abigail came along, and several years after that came Hannah. And just-like-that Arthur had gone from Ramblin’ Man to family man. He taught the girls how to ride a bike, how to dribble and shoot a basketball, and how to dance. They jumped on trampolines together, went to the beach together, and learned how to cook together.
For Arthur, his family was the center of his life, and he had a pretty broad definition “family.” First he met Jennifer’s family – Peggy and Anders, Kirsten and Steve – and he quickly became a son and a brother. Then he met the extended family. Arthur told a story about a family reunion in Mississippi one time, when he met a blond haired blue eyed little boy. “Are you a cousin?” the boy asked. “Well, sorta,” he replied. Then he won them all over with his big smile, his quiet voice and his wide-open welcome.
When Arthur and Jennifer decided join this church, Arthur learned that a family could be even bigger. He jumped in with both feet, working on the grounds, teaching Sunday school, organizing cookouts and activities for the kids and serving on the Vestry, our church council. He became particularly active in our outreach ministry, giving up his Saturdays to feed homeless people, many of whom he met during the week as he worked in downtown Columbia. Arthur was the first one to show up and the last one to leave, helping out anyway he could. Yet he never pushed his way; he always made sure that everyone was invited to help out.
Arthur was a faithful husband, a loving father, a son, brother, uncle and a steadfast friend. He was the most open, loving and caring guy you ever met. But he was also something else – he was a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ.
Today’s Gospel reading takes place one quiet morning on a beach. It was after all the storms the disciples had sailed through and Jesus had calmed, all the trails and torture that Jesus had endured. It was after he had died on the cross and been raised from the dead; after the disciples had found the empty tomb. They were dazed and confused about all that had happened, so they went to the beach to get away, to fish a little, and maybe to pray. When they came ashore, Jesus was there. He had a fire already started and he brought the disciples together by fixing them breakfast. He brought them together to eat and talk and share what they had been doing and feeling that week, and also to pray.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’….And then he said, “Follow me.”
My friends, this is what living a resurrected life looks like. Every morning is breakfast with our Lord. Every day is full of the love we share with our family and friends in the best of our days. To live a resurrected life means remembering that we are children of God – washed in the waters of baptism, fed at the communion table, committed to living our lives as Christ Jesus lived, giving everything we have for the sake of those we love. Or as Arthur did it, with his big smile, his quiet voice, and his wide-open welcome.
To live a resurrected life means never having anything to fear. Arthur told he girls this on that last night, “You don’t need to be afraid of the storm until you see me being afraid of the storm.” Of course, the storms did come – not just Hurricane Irma, but also the storms that rocked and socked this family time and time again – and yet Arthur was never afraid because always remembered what Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” And most importantly, “Follow me.”
To live a resurrected life means getting up every morning, as Arthur did, and following Jesus – breaking bread with the homeless, helping them find clothing and shelter; providing a safe place for his family to live; and seeing the face of Christ in every person he met.
To live a resurrected life means being the face of Christ to those who have never seen him. Because for most people in the world today, WE are the only bible they will ever see; WE are the only way they will ever see Jesus. The way we live our lives, the way we care for others, the way we feed Jesus’ lambs and tend Jesus’ sheep will be the only way most people will come to know God.
On the beach that day, Jesus told Simon Peter that living a resurrected life meant meant caring for the people that Jesus loved. And as it was for Peter, so it was for Arthur, too. And so it is for all of us. Because the only way anyone will see the face of our resurrected Lord is to see it in us.
All of us here today are grieving the loss of this great man, but none more than his family. Arthur leaves a ginormous hole in our church, our community and his family. But our tears are holy tears; they are an outward and visible sign of the love we all had for Arthur. God has given us this love so that we might have just a taste of the love God has for us through Jesus Christ. Our sorrow is part of God’s creation, but we do not need to lose hope. For just as the disciples saw Jesus again on the beach that day, so will we see Arthur again one day, when we come to our final resting place with God. That is God’s promise to you, Jennifer; that is God’s promise to us all.
In the meantime, we will continue going out into the world today with a big smile, a quiet voice, and a wide-open welcome, carrying God’s love to all we meet as followers of Jesus Christ – feeding his lambs, tending his sheep, and feeding his sheep.
Thanks be to God.