(Note: A year ago this past weekend (12/14 to be exact), my family commemorated the life of my brother-in-law, Drew, in a memorial service. To say his tragic loss has framed the last year for us is an understatement. We’ve learned much about grief, good news, pain, hope, joy and courage. Below are the thoughts I had the honor to offer at his memorial. It’s an ode to Drew, and the “ordinary,” yet sacred, faithfulness he lived. All possible because of Jesus. Themes of Hopeful Realism pervade.)
“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
My name is Joel Busby. It is the great honor of my life to be married to Mandy, Mick and Sue’s oldest, and I’m here to offer a few words on behalf of the family. First, let me just say a sincere thanks to you all for the ways you have loved us, supported us, prayed for us, comforted us in the last week. God gives us the gift of his presence through his people and we have felt that in concrete ways. And, we will need it to continue.
We wanted this service to tell a story, first, you heard about Drew, the fun person, then about Drew, the friend. Well, because I represent the family – Mick, Sue, Mandy, Ashley, Abby, Anna and Abby Clark, I could tell you stories that could top all of it. Because we were privileged to know him longest and best, we could say even more. Simply put, Drew Vigneulle was a wonderful person. He loved his family dearly and we loved him too. This family was crazy about our son, our brother, and best friend.
I’m hear to tell you about Drew, the faithful guy, the faithful to the end young man, AND THEN to turn our attention to exactly who it is that made Drew all these things.
Last Saturday afternoon, Andrew Michael Vigneulle, son, brother, brother-in-law (last time I’ll use that term, we dropped the “in-law” part in this family awhile ago), cousin, grandson, nephew, friend, best friend, mentor, co-worker, acquaintance passed from this life into the very presence of Christ.
I say it this way intentionally and carefully as a very loaded summary statement of his life. Through the pain and sorrow and heartache, there is a basic truth that cannot be missed.
Drew’s story is ultimately a story of great success, great faithfulness, great triumph in the things that matter most.
See, as Christians, we believe that God is good to gift us with a certain amount of days. The number of those days, the when and why and how those days will come to a close….see all of that is not our concern. That is God’s business….not for us to worry about. Ultimately we know that he doesn’t forsake or fail his people, and we believe he is wiser than we are.
But with the days that we’ve been given, the call is actually very simple, not easy, but simple. We are supposed to do our best to love God with everything we are, and to love those around us with a selfless love.
And my brother, Drew, did that. Our family has heard over and over and over from you this week, that our precious Drew did that. So, so, well. For me to be able to say that so definitively…Isn’t that such a gift he gave us? We’ve heard stories of acts of kindness and generosity he showed to people, secretly. Things that we never knew and we never knew them because Drew, more than most people I’ve ever met, and unlike many of us, wasn’t too concerned with himself.
Drew was obviously a phenomenal talent. But, when I think of Drew, I’ll always think of a very simple, genuine, honest, authentic faith, and real and true desire to love the people around him….to be a gracious presence wherever he might go. You all know this, but we’ve never known anyone who was quite like him. We experienced that in our family intimately and personally, his absolute humble, kind gracious presence in our lives, you all experienced that too in school, in your homes, on trips, at camp, at Starbucks, etc. etc…
The last conversation I had with Drew, we talked about these very things. Because I’m a minister, he and I would talk along these lines often, about the ultimate things. That day, at my house, he spoke of his desire to be faithful in the places where God had placed him, the circumstances God had given him, a plain and simple and ordinary kind of faithful.
Here’s the deal: Very few of us, will get to do something outwardly grand, heroic, triumphant, for God….And the older I get and the more life I experience, I’m coming to believe “epic” and “grand” things may be a little overrated anyway….
Instead, our lives will mostly be made of tiny, ordinary, seemingly insignificant moments, each an opportunity to be faithful, to love and serve our great God and and to extend his love to others. An author Drew and I liked a lot called this kind of life a “long obedience in the same direction.” A one day at a time, ordinary kind of faithfulness.
And, here’s the irony, when a life is compiled that has been built on these moments, when it is remembered on a day like today, my gosh is it not something to celebrate?
It is good and sacred and beautiful and inspiring…… and actually far far from “ordinary.”
There are lot of talented people, and Drew was one of them, but there are not many faithful people. And when you meet a faithful person, you have encountered something very very rare.
With what Drew was given – talents, abilities, circumstances, even the challenges, the places he found himself – he did his best (of course not perfectly) and he succeeded, at being faithful to the end.
And here’s the thing: when a Christian does this, serves God faithfully with the days he’s been given – though difficult – it’s a dignified, honorable, noble, appropriate, even good, and an okay thing for them to pass from this life into the very presence of Jesus.
In other words, our Drew did exactly what he was supposed to do with this precious life he was given. And it’s the exact thing we are supposed to do with ours, too. Oh that the same could be said about us….What we are saying and celebrating today, at the end of the day, is the story that we all hope our lives will tell, too, right?
(And one thing I want to say to Mick, Sue, my Mandy, Ashley, Abby, Anna and Abby Clark: You did with Drew’s life exactly what you were supposed to do too. Hear that. You loved him. Supported him. Cared for him. Encouraged him. Championed him. He knew you loved him. You were faithful to the end also with Drew. Be encouraged. You were faithful.)
HERE IS OUR QUESTION:
What made Drew this way? What would make a 25 year old young man this way? I’m about to try something daring and impossible. I’m about to try to explain Drew Vigneulle. I’m going to try to put this wonderful man in context….
Here’s our definite answer: Drew lived this way because the grace and mercy and love of Jesus.
See, Drew believed that his life and his story, was actually caught up in a much grander and bigger story. Drew and I loved to talk about this bigger story. And he would want you to hear this story in a fresh way this afternoon. Celebrating Drew is really about celebrating Jesus. Because all these things we’re saying about him, his life in general, was a sign that point us to Jesus.
And, we all always needed to be reminded of this. It happens to be the best news I know and it just so happens to be all our hope. We need this news today, now more than ever. Humor me, while I tell you this story.
Christians believe that a good God created a good world. And through a crazy sequence of events, the world has become marred and broken. This is true on a cosmic scale, we taste death and evil and disasters and tragedy. Just a few minutes glancing at the news will show you what I mean. But it is also true on a personal level. We are victims of this brokenness, but we are also participants. We feel it in our own hearts, our selfish attitudes, in desire to live in a way that says “forget you God”, our propensity to screw things up and make a mess and hurt people, not to mention our fears and insecurities and flaws and imperfection. We are in bad shape, we’ve lost our way, we are in great need. Our world, and ourselves, are broken almost beyond repair. The key word there is almost.
See, we believe, that because God loves sinful broken things and people, he made a move to begin to redeem, renew and rescue. This rescue plan, picked up steam when God himself, unexpectedly, mysteriously, took on skin, became human, entered into our story, showed up on the scene, entered into our mess. (It’s the very thing we celebrate at Christmas.)
And Jesus lived for us, obediently and faithfully, and in his very person and work, he brought redemption and salvation and his rule and reign into our world.
This work comes to a height when, again, mysteriously, he gave his life on a cross. In the greatest expression of love and grace and mercy, he took on evil, and suffering, and tasted death for you and me. At this cross, forgiveness of sin, redemption and rescue were all accomplished. Because of his work we can be right with God, we can be reunited with him. We can be truly free.
And Jesus was raised from the dead, a sign of at least three things:
1) He had defeated sin and evil and death. Obviously, death hasn’t disappeared yet but it has literally been disarmed. It’s ultimate sting is gone. A death can now strangely and mysteriously be celebrated as a crossing of a finish line, as a “gain,” simply “falling asleep.” Something so dreaded is now just a nap. Our son and brother Drew, because of the work of Jesus is now safe and home and more alive than he’s ever been in the actual presence of this Jesus.
2) That God does some of his best work in the darkest situations. Our family hopes in that today.
3) And Jesus’ resurrection was a sign that he is creating something new and fresh and exciting in the world, despite how things sometimes appear. That our God is at work to repair and redeem, to work good, and to extend his rule and reign to all nations. We believe this Jesus will return again to finish this saving work fully and finally, and to create a New Heavens and a New Earth, where sin and death will actually be no more. We obviously are not there yet. We long for his coming, some days more than others.
When people trust this God, cling to him and embrace his grace and mercy, he makes them new and alive. And while we await his return, these Jesus-followers are then sent out as agents, to extend his rule, to extend his love, to proclaim this amazingly good news with words and deeds and to extend his grace in whatever places they find themselves, to work alongside their God in his work to repair and redeem….To shine light into the darkness in plain and simple ways.
That is what my brother Drew was doing.
That was what he was living. Because he had been loved so generously and freely, he was safe and secure and could freely pour that out grace all around him. He believed that this story applied to him personally.
Make sense now?
He was simply playing his role in a bigger story. The good news of Jesus was the behind the scenes story that informed and shaped his life. And it can shape yours, too.