August 4, 2016
Rev. Jan Oller
St. John’s Episcopal Church
Crawfordsville, IN


Someone said: “Life is completely fair; sooner or later it breaks everyone’s heart.” When someone we love or admire dies, our hearts do break. Even when we know that death is a part of life, we still grieve the loss. Today we grieve the death of James Gilbert Smith.

Jim lived in Crawfordsville for most of his life. He raised his family here. His business was here. And yet, Jim wasn’t defined by Crawfordsville. His family now lives all over the country. His business successes reached far beyond Crawfordsville. Yet, we still call him our own. One of our own community is now gone and our heart breaks for that loss.

Jim lived his faith. You can see that in the Scripture and in the Hymns he chose for this service. He cared enough about his family to make plans for his death and this celebration in advance. One more time he lifted burdens from those he loved. Jim was kind and caring. He was gracious and a “gentleman” in all senses of the word.

Despite his failing health over these last several years, he still held onto hope and faith. The reading from Lamentations affirms that God loves us even when we grieve. Faith is a daily choice new every morning. Jim didn’t complain but waited quietly for his Lord, even as he was less able to do everyday things. He still cared for Susie, visiting her in her new surroundings even when doing so meant he needed to rest once he traveled from his apartment to hers. Jim knew that God’s mercies are forever and ever, amen. God’s mercy is not something we earn but rather is something freely given to us. We are called to have faith that the one who loved us into being is with us when we die and remains with us who still live. A comfort that great is an example of God’s faithfulness.

Jim was fortunate enough to live beyond the 70 or 80 years that the Psalmist considered a full life span. Perhaps that was in part because he kept active and involved up until the very end. Think about it: taking up skiing later in life- it’s hard enough when you start young! Some of the pictures in their apartment included groups that they skied with. Jim and Susie also believed in giving back and in paying-it-forward. They established the James and Susan Smith Family Foundation to support students in the Wabash/Purdue 3-2 dual degree engineering program. In 2014, Jim was honored by Wabash for all of his contributions to the college and the community.

Jim said “If you are successful in life or business, you should always give back as much as you can. It’s what people should do.” This attitude was also expressed in Jim’s role with the Montgomery County Community Foundation. This Foundation now offers grants that help support so many wonderful programs in our community. Jim and his legacy live on through his commitment to give back some of what he received.

Jim knew his time was getting shorter the last several months. He could have been bitter or angry but I never saw him that way. He could have complained about needing a walker, but he didn’t. Life was what it was and he did what he needed to do. Perhaps because he knew that his God had not forsaken him. He knew, in the words we just sang: “I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine for ever.” The King of love my shepherd is is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 – a favorite of many who find comfort in the streams of living water and the verdant pastures of food as well as fearing no evil as death approaches. Music speaks to us in additional ways and I like to think that Jim is now one of the “holy angels bright who waits at God’s right hand” as our opening hymn proclaims.

Our faith tells us that death is part of life.[1] For us, death is not the end but rather a change. Our Prayer Book reminds us that our liturgy today is an Easter liturgy with all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the death, we, too, shall be raised. Thus, our time together is characterized by joy because, as we heard in the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God, including death. Nothing can separate us from the one who loved us into being.

And, even so, our grief is not unchristian. The love we have for each other in Christ brings us deep sorrow when we are parted from the one we loved through death. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus prior to Jesus raising Lazarus from death. This example can help us grieve following our Lord’s example and even to shout out our Alleluia’s in our final hymn.

Jim also took comfort in the passage from the Gospel of John. Although there is much we do not know or comprehend about life after death, it is clear that Jesus cared for his disciples and thus for us, even unto death. There is care and compassion in the word that “I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.” Once again we are reminded of God’s great faithfulness to and for us. Jim is now with God and is waiting for us when our time comes. Take comfort in telling your stories about Jim. Keep his memory alive as you remember those special things about him. Be at peace knowing he is now living with God, who loves Jim and love us.

Let us pray:

God our Father,

We thank you that you have made each of us in your own image,

And given us gifts and talents with which to serve you.

We thank you for James Gilbert Smith,

The years we shared with him

The good we saw in him,

The love we received from him.

Now give us strength and courage

To leave him in your care,

Confident in your promise of eternal life. Amen.[2]

[1] Book of Common Prayer, 507.
[2] A New Zealand Prayer Book, 829.