Funeral for Michael Taylor

Published: March 23, 2021

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the funeral for his brother, Michael Taylor, in Ponca City, Oklahoma on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. It is based on the following readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 23; 2 Corinthians 5:1,6-10; and Matthew 11:25-30.

Bishop Taylor

How to speak about a brother who I love very much and with whom my life has been intertwined for the last 65 years? He is present in all my memories growing up. We shared the same bedroom for 17 years, me on the top bunk and him below. In Junior High we rode bikes together across town to go to St. Mary’s school. We were in Scouts together and had paper routes. We did go to opposite universities, but nobody bats 1,000!

And I shared his joy and pride at the birth of his children and his determination to be a good father to them, even when they were living in different states. And then his love of the larger family. The house at Lake Texoma and lots of memories of happy days there, Michael and Lynn gathering us in the summer for a family reunion. These last days we have spent time reminiscing about the past and comforting each other with the knowledge that Michael is no longer suffering, even if this is not an easy time for us.

But we are believers and I have long experienced the fact that believers grieve differently. Ours is a grief that is full of hope and so for us this day of loss is also a day of understanding. We confront some of the great realities of life.

But as the 23rd Psalm insists, we can use our time in this dark valley as an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord ourselves, for he can also be our companion, our source of strength. The Shepherd has not forgotten his sheep.

1.) First, we are confronted with the brevity of life. In our daily activity, we can easily begin to act as if this life will last forever, time without end — even if we have evidence to the contrary whenever we see how old we look in the mirror or see our face on our unflattering Marco Polo video messages and every time they give us the senior discount without us even having to ask for it.

Today we see how brief even 65 years is. The Bible always teaches us the truth of just how brief our life on this earth is. Jesus says, “It is like the grass of the field that flourishes for a while, and then is cut down and gone.” Life in this world is not forever. We don’t know how much more time there is. Two weeks ago, none of us expected to be here today. Michael seemed to be improving. You just never know. Life is short.

2.) There is also another, much more encouraging truth — namely, that we matter! And that what we do with our life matters. God has given us life as a sacred spiritual trust and so what we do with our life, with however many years he gives us, really does matter. We know this, but often we forget it. Jesus says, “man does not live by bread alone.” In the Sermon on the Mount we read, “life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.”

Elsewhere the New Testament declares: “Life does not consist in the things we possess.” Rather, life is family and faith — I think of how much Michael treasured his kids and grandkids. They called him “Big Daddy.” I think of Lynn and how faithful she has been throughout this two-year ordeal. What she has done for him — and us — matters a lot!

She has been with Michael every step of the day, putting her own life on hold for a full two years. She kept track of Michael’s medicines and lab results and a thousand other things. She spent countless uncomfortable nights sleeping at the hospital. This life, so long as we have it is precious and what we do with it matters. It is a sacred spiritual trust from the Lord.

3.) The third truth is the most important truth of all, that God is Love. It is strange, but people seem to learn more about God when they are in the shadows of need than when they are in the light. The patriarch Job, who like Michael went through a period of intense suffering, said “I had heard with the hearing of the ear” (when all was going well and life was easy), “but now my eyes have seen him face to face.” And it was beautiful to see how Michael grew spiritually over the course of his disease, especially his courage and his patience and his trust in the Lord.

In the 23rd Psalm, which I often recommend to those who are grieving, we find a very interesting and hope-filled progression. It was today’s responsorial psalm. The psalm begins with beautiful pastoral scenes, green pastures, still waters. Michael before the disease, when all was going well and life was easy. In these verses where things were going great, the psalmist speaks about God in the third person, "He". “The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me rest in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He gives me new strength; he leads me by straight paths.”

He always speaks about God, in the third person, "He." Then, in the middle of the psalm there is a change. The writer enters an experience which he calls “passing through the dark valley.” Or in some translations, “passing through the valley of the shadow of death.” Michael these last two years. And there the psalmist changes from the third person to the second person.

Speaking of God, he doesn't say "He," but rather "You" — that is to say, he changes from speaking about God and begins to speak to God, as with a friend, as with a source of strength. He says, “I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me. You anoint may head with oil; you fill my cup to overflowing. Your goodness and your love accompany me throughout my days, and in your house, Oh Lord, I will live forever.”

It is obvious that the psalmist was closer to God in the dark valley than in the green pastures. And it was that way for Michael too. Michael entered that dark valley two years ago, initially without knowing what was causing his illness. But now he has passed on out of that dark valley back into the light of a whole new birth on the other side of death to be with the Lord.

And now today it is you and I who are passing through a dark valley, the dark valley of grief and loss. But as the 23rd Psalm insists, we can use our time in this dark valley as an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord ourselves, for he can also be our companion, our source of strength. The Shepherd has not forgotten his sheep. He loves Michael and he loves you — and he's here with us as we go through this dark valley ... right now!