May 18, 2014

Confidence That Breeds Courage
Arthur Boynton Memorial Service
The Reverend Philip Tierney
May 18, 2014

Years ago, I became the rector of a parish in Rhode Island. I was on the road, one day, and had received word from the parish assistant that the mother of a parishioner was near death at a local nursing home. But I had a problem. My assistant hadn’t received the basic information that I needed. And so, I didn’t have the slightest idea what the name of the nursing home was or where it was located. I prayed for some guidance in the matter, and this is what happened. Since I knew my parishioner’s name and had been given both her home and work phone numbers, I pulled over to the side of the road to call her on my cell phone. No one answered at her home number, and so I called her work number. A co-worker answered, and I explained the situation. She told me that my parishioner was at her mother’s bedside. She also told me the name of the nursing home and that it was somewhere in Providence. I knew my destination, but didn’t know how to get there. I called information and got the number of the nursing home. Then I called the nursing home and got the address. Since I was new to the area, I had to ask for directions. The receptionist explained that it was located where the old Lying-In Hospital used to be. Not much help. How could a newcomer know where the old Lying-In Hospital used to be? The receptionist added that it was across from the Newport Creamery. That didn’t help either. But I spotted a Federal Express truck across the street, thanked the receptionist, hung up, pulled up to the truck, and asked the driver for directions to the address I’d been given. He happened to know the way; and after following his directions, eventually, I got to the nursing home. I asked for the patient’s room number, and finally arrived at my destination.
It strikes me that my excursion to that nursing home, that day, is not unlike life. In and of ourselves, we don’t always know where we’re going, let alone how to get there. We may have been told what life’s destination is supposed to be—a good career, economic security, a happy family, helpfulness to others, contribution to society, happiness, serving God, making it to heaven are all contenders. We may ask others what they think or may eavesdrop on their ideas; but otherwise, we grope along, using our reason and intuition—hoping that we’re on the right path. Along the way, we can become focused on and distracted by the details of living, the scenery along the way, and the other travelers. We might become anxious about whether we’ll ever arrive at our destination or become lost altogether.
Affected by uncertainty, we can react to the options of life’s journey in various ways. We can play it safe, and follow closely the instructions others have given us about how to live and what to do. We may be risk averse, find a safe path or groove and stick with it all along the way. We may follow the so-called road less travelled. Or we may approach life as an adventure, perhaps even boldly.
Though I never had the privilege of knowing him, personally, from what I’ve read and heard, that last one seems to have been preferred by long-time St. Martin’s member, Arthur Boynton, in his approach to life. He was bold in his ability to strike out in many different directions in the course of his life—to enjoy the adventure and to enrich the lives of the others with whom he was associated. That took courage and confidence.
Even though organized religion hasn’t often preached it much, that’s the kind of confidence, the kind of courage that Jesus had. And it’s the kind of confident courage that Christ came to instill within his followers. I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” I think he meant don’t be faint-hearted. I’ve come to think that the opposite of faith or trust isn’t doubt so much as it’s fear—fear that we’re on our own and that our lives will lead nowhere or that we’ll get in trouble along the way. But Jesus had something to say about that. He said, “In my Father’s House there are many homes. I am going to prepare a place for you.”
I n part, God sent Christ to assure us that the journey of life actually does have an ultimate destination. And that destination isn’t just a final location. It’s an ultimate state of being, and a reliable one at that—home with God. Now a home is meant to be safe and familiar—secure and restful—an environment for living. A home is intended to be welcoming and accepting, with others who are prepared to love you, embrace you, involve, refresh and restore you. Jesus came to explain where we’re ultimately headed—to assure us that we have a home waiting for us after this journey’s over.
That’s where our loved-ones have gone. That’s where Arthur has gone. And that conviction, the confidence of that destination, can give people the inner peace they need to face life with adventure and boldness. You know, life can be wonderful. It can be full of beauty, full of people to love, of occasions for joy, and opportunities to exercise and challenge our God-given abilities. Jesus came to encourage us to make the most of life and the most of love. He came to assure us that there is life beyond death, that there is a destination—a home secured for us. That assurance is intended to engender confidence. And that confidence can liberate us from fear, to release us to live life courageously.
From the perspective of faith, the adventure of this life is not all there is. It’s a prelude to our ultimate destination, eternity with God. St. Paul used to say that life enabled him to follow Christ and death would be his gain. He was convinced that physical life in this world provided him with opportunities, wherever that led him, and that death would usher him into his ultimate destination—home with God. That’s a no-lose attitude toward life. And that conviction can engender confidence that sets people free to live courageously.
If life is a journey, then it’s possible to feel lost and disoriented at times. Christ came to show us that the journey through life is not aimless wandering—merely to enjoy the view and the resources we may gather along the way—hoping for the best in the end. Life has purpose as well as destination. I’ve come to believe that the goal of our physical lives is to grow into such harmony with God, other people, and the universe, that the transition to our ultimate, spiritual destination and its quality of eternal life will be a natural one. In that sense physical life is a training ground—to provide us with opportunities to learn how to increasingly become the way we will be with God, hereafter. Christ is the mentor that God sent to accompany us, enable and train us, along the way.
With our ultimate destination secured and Christ as a life trainer along the way, we can afford to have confidence to approach what remains of our life’s adventure with courage—as Christ did. I suspect that Arthur Boynton is a testament to that approach to life.