Friday, November 14, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Darrell K. Huddleston, RIP

With the Rev. Darrell K. Huddleston
The Feast of St. Francis, 2004 (Blessing of the Animals)
It was my great honor to be asked to preach at the Memorial Service for my friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Darrell Huddleston, today at St. Paul's Church in Concord, NH. Below is the manuscript from that sermon.
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Darrell planned this liturgy very carefully. Far be it from me to mess with that but I want to add just one more reading that I think really fits this occasion - a poem by Wendell Berry called: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. (You can read it here.) 

Darrell Huddleston was my very favorite mad farmer. In his living and in his dying, he practiced resurrection.

Six weeks ago, I drove up here to the Concord Hospital where I had one last chance to visit with Darrell and Bunny. I gave Bunny a hug in the hall while the nurse was finishing up with Darrell and then walked in. He got right down to business:  “Rich, a long time ago I asked you to do something for me, do you remember?” I told him I did. But he continued anyway. “I want you to preach at my funeral – are you still willing to do that?” I told him I was. He seemed relieved, and then came the instructions: “I want someone who can maybe say a couple of nice things about me, but who I can also count on to preach the gospel…”

To his family and friends gathered here today, I want to tell you what I told Darrell. Those are not really two separate tasks. Because Darrell practiced resurrection – inside of the church and outside of it—and because his life pointed to the One he sought to follow as Lord so consistently, my work here today is relatively easy. There are lots of nice things I could say about Darrell, and he was a great person. But more than that, he was a light in this generation - one of the saints. Not perfect, but faithful. His living and his dying bore witness to the One he faithfully served.

Darrell practiced resurrection. We first met when I was a brand new rector in Holden, Massachusetts in February 1998. Just four months later he was ordained to the diaconate at Christ Church Cathedral in Springfield and six months after that it was my honor to preach at his ordination to the priesthood at St. Francis. There Bishop Scruton reminded this long-time United Methodist pastor to “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to fashion [his] life in accordance with its precepts…to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor…” And then these words:

In all you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. 
You have to say these words at an ordination – we are Episcopalians after all, and they’re in the book. But it seemed to me at the time (and even more so now) that the words were almost redundant in Darrell’s case. It’s like that line attributed to St. Francis about preaching the gospel always, and when necessary use words. Darrell embodied those words long before Bishop Scruton spoke them or laid hands on him. The words simply called our attention to what was true – and I think that something like that is the case here today, as well.

Like me, Darrell found his way to the Episcopal Church by way of the Wesley brothers. Neither of us ever felt like we were renouncing our Methodist roots when we became Episcopalians – only that we were going deeper into the true spirit of those Anglican priests, John and Charles. When he was called to serve as priest-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Clinton, we began meeting together with some others as part of a regular, weekly lectionary group – and after he retired from Good Shepherd he came to work half-time at St. Francis as our associate. He was a mentor and friend during the most challenging days of my ministry in Holden, for which I will always be grateful.

I could tell you lots of Darrell stories but I’m only going to share one and I do so, admittedly, with a little fear and trembling because it’s an odd one. The thing is, and you all know this, Darrell knew the Bible and he had all the right credentials including a doctorate in ministry from Boston University. But he didn’t talk like an east-coast intellectual “Reverend Doctor.”  He talked like a Kansas farmer. Around the table on Tuesdays at lunch some of us in my lectionary group would start to talk about eschatology and hermeneutics and how this post-modern, post-Christendom context felt a lot like the Babylonian exile and so we needed to exegete that experience for our congregations. And Darrell would be right there with it all. But then he’d talk about a heifer giving birth to a calf and the beauty and messiness of birth.

And so this one day he told us about a rabid jackrabbit attacking him; running straight at him. I didn’t know how the story would end, but I assumed it would end with Darrell being like the jackrabbit whisperer or something – a modern-day St. Francis with the wolf of Gubbio. Tragedy would be averted, because my favorite mad farmer would save the day somehow. But that was not how the story ended. The story ended with death, because as Darrell said at the time, that’s the only way it can end with a rabid jackrabbit. What did you do, I stupidly asked? I took out my shotgun and filled him full of buckshot. There was nothing else to do, Rich…he was running right at me.

OK. I have to tell you I was stunned, in part because I’ve never seen a jackrabbit (rabid or otherwise) but I was picturing Peter Cottontail, and apparently jackrabbits are like two feet tall and when they are rabid they can be very mean.

As I said, I realize this may be a very odd story to choose about man who was gentle and kind and loved all creatures great and small. And I’m pretty certain it’s not exactly the kind of thing Darrell was thinking I’d share when he gave me those final instructions to try to say something nice about him, and preach the gospel. But I also think if I’d thought of it then and run it by him he would have said, “that’ll do…”

Because here’s the thing. I will never forget him telling that story. It got seared into my brain. And when I called the Canon to the Ordinary in Long Island to tell him of Darrell’s death, the first thing he said to me was, “do you remember that story about the jackrabbit?”  

Darrell knew about birth and death – for real, the ways that a farmer does. That not only made him a pastor who didn’t waste much time with fancy words, but a follower of Jesus who was not afraid of death. He embodied the connection between the teachings of Jesus and lessons from agricultural studies; they were in a real sense of one piece. The lessons that life itself teaches come not from a book, but from learning to pay attention to the rising and setting of the sun, and to the good earth that brings forth its fruit in due season and yes, to the rhythms of birth and death. Including the birth of a calf or the death of a jack rabbit. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

And then in the midst of it all, practice resurrection. Darrell practiced resurrection and trusted that if death has been defeated then it really has been defeated – and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Life is changed, not ended, when our mortal bodies lie in death and there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens. Darrell said those words not only with his lips but in his living – and in his dying. He never let the fear of death keep him from being fully alive, pointing us, again and again, to Jesus. Sometimes even with words.

This liturgy, from beginning to end—all these words—are about the resurrection of Jesus. This is an Easter liturgy. And if Christ really is raised from the dead, then our lives are not lived in vain. If Christ is raised from the dead, then we live no longer for ourselves alone but for him who died for us and rose again. Darrell knew that and he trusted that to the very end. He bore witness to that Truth.

And so he lived in hope, rather than fear. And in a nutshell that is the gospel as I understand it and that is the good news I stand before you to proclaim on this day – even now, in the midst of our shared grief and sorrow at the loss of our friend. Whether our faith is strong or weak this day, our hope is not in some creed but a commitment to a person – Jesus Christ – and to a way of life that goes by way of the cross, to an empty tomb. So:

Love the Lord. Love the worldPlant sequoias. Invest in the millennium.
Practice resurrection.

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