FUNERAL OF DAVID RICHARD NEWBERY
Proverbs 4:1-13 (NKJV) Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding; 2 For I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my law. 3 When I was my father’s son, Tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, 4 He also taught me, and said to me: “Let your heart retain my words; Keep my commands, and live. 5 Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. 8 Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. 9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.” 10 Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. 11 I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, And when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; Keep her, for she is your life.
Psalm 131 (NKJV) LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. 2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Philippians 4:4-9 (NKJV) 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
John 14:1-7 (NKJV) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
THE WAY HOME
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
My father often said to me when I was a child: “From the moment we are born, we begin to die.” It was a stark and perhaps shocking thing to say to a child, but it was a strange kind of love to remind me that a day was coming when he would not be there. His father had died suddenly and shockingly when he was 12. I remembered those words the day in my 21st year when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer and, then, that night six months later when he died. The writer of Ecclesiastes 3 famously wrote: “There is a season for everything … a time to be born and a time to die.”
When we have time to prepare for a loved one’s death as with a chronic illness or old age, the moment of death is no less painful. But when we have no time to prepare, when we have no inkling that this is the time for our dear one to die, it is shocking. To say goodbye as we often do with the casual certainty we will be back in a few hours, and, then the next thing you know there are two state troopers at the front door, it’s unbelievable. It’s unimaginable. Sudden deaths are the worst on the family. There is no time to prepare.
There is a time for everyone to die. God knows that time, but we do not die because of some divinely planned obsolescence. Yes, everyone dies at the appointed time for them to die, and sometimes we cannot see why the time is now. But think of how Dave survived so many times he was in danger during his 73 years. Dave rode his motorcycle through all of the lower 48 states. He has been riding a motorcycle since 1967 during his Army days in Germany the year after he was in Vietnam. Dave survived a war that was as dangerous for medics as for soldiers. Dave survived service as a volunteer fireman in Nassau County NY. Dave survived years of critical care nursing and a lot of personal struggles. But Sunday was his day to die.
There is a time for everyone to die. God knows that time, but we do not die because of some divinely planned obsolescence. Death was not part of God’s original plan for the beloved first man and woman He created in His image to serve Him by serving each other and by tending His good creation. No, death was not part of the original plan. Death came as a loving, logical consequence when they rebelled against their Creator. It was loving, because the Lord God did not want them to be separated from Him forever. Already in their rebellion, there was God’s first promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15). At the right time, the Lord God would rescue them from sin, death, and the old evil tempter. At the right time, the Lord God would send the new Adam, His Son Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary to be the Savior of the world. By His perfect life, by His innocent death, He would destroy the power of sin, of death, of the old evil one. At the right time, God’s Son Jesus suffered in flesh like ours. He died for our sins. He rose again the Victor over death. And now He prays for us as the ascended Lord of heaven and earth. He is praying for you all in your grief.
So, yes, we are all born to die, because we all share in the rebellion of our first parents. One doesn’t have to read Genesis or even believe the story of the first rebellion to know that death comes to everyone and that even the best of us have rebellion in our soul. Indeed, death reminds us that we are creatures and not the Creator. Death reminds us that we live in fragile bodies. We live in fragile relationships. We live in fragile communities. We are not gods. We are not the masters of our fate. We are not the captains of our souls. We are mortals. Everyone dies. There is a God. I am not He. You are not He. All of us must die.
And God is what we rebel against. We can order our lives, decorate our lives, try to control the people in our lives, and even try to control our own lives, and then death comes without our invitation. Death comes suddenly, shockingly, in the midst of all of our careful plans. An old friend always said: “You want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.” You want to pretend you are in charge? Go ahead. You may even get away with it for a little while. But, then, death comes to us rebels. That is why the psalmist writes: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (90:12).
One of my favorite songwriters for more than forty years has been John Prine. He wrote: “ You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder, throw your hands in the air, say, ‘What does it matter?’, but it don’t do no good to get angry, so help me I know. For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter. You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there wrapped up in a trap of your very own chain of sorrow” (“Bruised Orange,” 1978).
Death comes, and we get angry, because we are hurt and because we feel betrayed that the one we love cannot be God. None of us can be God to each other. Build your life entirely around someone else, and death will come and take you or take the one you love. We are not gods. We are mortals. We can promise to love each other always, but we cannot promise to be there always. Everyone dies. So, don’t stoke the anger, because you will become a prisoner to anger you won’t let go of. That is what John Prine wrote.
The Bible doesn’t tell us why suffering and death come at a particular time. Not every drunk dies from the bottle. Not every smoker dies from smoking. Not everyone who climbs on a motorcycle dies on a pretty Sunday afternoon in November. Just one- or two-seconds difference, and Dave wouldn’t have had that fatal wreck. A few miles an hour less. A couple of seconds extra at a stop light. Taking a break to get rid of some coffee. Ponder all of that for a while, and it will make you crazy. It was Dave’s day to die. He had an appointment with death from his first breath outside his mother’s womb on July 3, 1946. He was born to die, and that day was November 3, 2019. No one here could change that. It hurts, but it just is.
Everyone here has some kind of connection large or small to David Newbery. If you have a story to share with his family, write it down. If Dave helped you, write it down. If Dave made you laugh, write it down. If Dave was God’s instrument for saving your life, write it down. Every life is precious. Every life is unique. Every life leaves an impact. David Richard Newbery was God’s gift to his family and to many. He will be sorely missed. His family will grieve for him the rest of their days. Death is our last enemy.
Death does not get the final word. Death is not stronger than life. We aren’t just a moment’s sunlight fading into grass. We are unique from the moment of conception with our own unique genetic makeup separate from our mother or father. We are not junk. We are not only created in God’s image. We are each one for whom God’s Son took on our flesh to live the life we cannot and to die the death we cannot that we might be His own. On July 28, 1946, at St. Christopher’s church in Baldwin NY, David Richard Newbery was baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. On that day, David died the only real death he will ever die. On that day, God promised that David Richard Newbery would be His child, when the Lord Jesus took David’s sin and death to His cross and gave David His eternal life and righteousness as a free gift. The white pall over David’s casket declares that David is covered by Jesus’ righteousness. David’s sins are forgiven. He is alive with the Lord, and David’s body will be raised never to die again.
We live in a culture that is awash in identity politics. That is the way of the world. It is not God’s way. It is not the way of God’s Church. In God’s eyes and in His Church, there is only one identity, and that identity is “child of God.” All our earthly identities, those things that divide, will go into the grave with us. The only thing that survives bodily death is the identity of a child of God. David is a child of God.
At the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for us. He told us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He promised that He is the Way home to His heavenly Father’s waiting arms. On Sunday afternoon around 1 p.m., David went home. He took his last breath in a body that was born to die. He is alive with God, and David will be raised in a body that will never suffer or die again. Last Saturday night, David was here at this altar. He was nicely dressed as he always was for mass. He stood with his eyes closed and his mouth open expectantly to receive the medicine of immortality, the true Body and most precious Blood of Jesus Christ, His Lord. The Lord Jesus went with David from this altar. The Lord Jesus went with David on his last motorcycle ride in this life. The Lord Jesus was there with David at the moment he took his last breath. And the Lord Jesus is here today, and David is with Him. If you are baptized, you are welcome to receive Jesus in the host and the cup. If you are not baptized, you may come forward, crossing your arms, and receive a blessing in the hope that you will be baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, too. He wants all to be His, for He is the only Way home.
We will miss David, yes. You David’s family will miss him most of all. We grieve for ourselves. David is fine. Cling to God’s promise given in the washing of Holy Baptism. Cling to the promise that sustained David in this life: “If we live, we live to the Lord. If we die, we die to the Lord. So, then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s“ (Romans 14:8). Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d. Dr. Samuel D. Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina 28403