Funeral Sermon for Martin Gilman

Rev. Donald S. Larsen preached this sermon at Martin Gilman's funeral on Tuesday, March 3, 2009. The texts were Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Peter 1:3-9, and John 14:1-6a.

Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”

Now doesn’t that sound just like Martin Gilman? Martin was born asking questions! For most of us, our first words are something like “mama” or “dada.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the first words that came out of Martin’s mouth were: “what does this mean?” The man was the embodiment of the old rabbinic saying that one good question deserves another.

I think about some of those he posed to me over the last few years. Sometimes they were very specific, of a technical nature—fitting for an engineer.

Which translation of Psalm 51:13 is best, and why? 

Did Jesus teach his followers to pray for the forgiveness of trespasses, sins, or debts? 

Questions like this weren’t just idle curiosities for Martin.  They were the tip of the iceberg.  Martin wanted to know, to know God and God’s ways, to know whether God’s promises can be trusted, knowing perfectly well that trust is a risky mode of knowing.

Not surprisingly, Martin’s questions changed over the last few months. 

What is hope?

What does it mean to be hopeful in old age?

Is it just to receive wonderful medical care in a world where so many do not?

He really surprised me with one a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to know: what kind of questions does God ask? Ah, we talked about that one for a while, as Martin was able. If God knows everything, aren’t God’s questions always rhetorical? If God asks real questions of us, does that imply that God goes on learning with us? And then we came upon this:

Could it be that Jesus is a question posed by God, a question Christians have heard God asking?

Could it be that the rich diversity of the world’s religions has evolved as other communities have heard God asking other questions?

We liked that and agreed to talk about it more. But now that will have to wait.

You see, Martin had come to believe that asking questions and living the answers, no matter how imperfectly, is the very stuff of faith.

Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” Martin understood that Jesus’ word here is not meant to settle anything, once and for all. Martin understood that Jesus’ word here is not a final answer, meant to close the discussion, but an invitation to embrace a path full of questions, some of them dangerous, that can only be explored by walking the path.

In the end, Martin’s hope was as large as the scope of his questions. Against any narrow traditions of exclusion, Martin embraced with Isaiah the hope that God’s salvation is as vast and inscrutable as God’s creation.

Listen to the daring song of salvation Isaiah sings: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; God will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

Not just a faithful remnant will be saved. Not just Israel will be saved. Not just the church will be saved. All peoples, all nations will be delivered. God will banish sorrow from all faces—even ours.

Mildred. Edward. Peter. Your families. Martin’s death poses new questions for your future. Perhaps the most painful of them is this: How will we go on without him? Your friends, all who love you, want you to know that this service is, at least in part, one response to that question. How will we go on? Together. We will go on together, trusting that as we go, God goes with us.

Whenever we parted after a visit, Martin always had the last word. Whether we were in the apartment or in a hospital room, Martin would raise his hand as I left, and that mighty eyebrow, and say, “Grace and peace.”

Grace and peace, Martin.

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