At the Memorial Service for Carroll T. Smith
June 27, 2009 – John 14:1-6
We gather today to remember, to give thanks and to seek a sure and certain hope in the midst of our grief. We gather to remember, to give thanks and to hope together.
Let's begin with remembering. Carroll Smith was a Georgia gentleman. That is, a gentleman in the best sense of the word. He welcomed you, befriended you, and presented the best of what a loving family and the wonderful state of Georgia could make him.
Carroll had the unusual hobby of homing pigeons. Visit Carroll and he would point out the pigeon coop and talk about his pigeons. It was a life-long hobby until just recently when his health would no longer allow it. You could say he was for the birds, and he would agree. His birds were so very important to him.
There is a lot more about Carroll. He was a great lover of baseball and so many other sports; or, you could say, he simply loved sports. He loved to play when he could and always to talk sports. A baseball player, a pitcher at that, he let his duty to country lead him away from a promising career that probably would have seen him play professional ball. Instead, he joined the Air Force, though he did play a great deal of baseball in Europe during his time of service.
You could say of Carroll that he was definitely a fanatic. After all, that is the word we shorten to “fan” when speaking of folks who are die hard followers of Georgia football and the Atlanta Braves baseball. He was a fan in the true meaning of the word. I am not sure about God's wisdom to allow Carroll to die during the Braves season as Carroll himself told me they were not doing too well. The Braves could use all the fans they can find, and now they have one that will have to watch with St. Peter from the gates of heaven.
Professionally, Carroll worked in what might be called these days, 'human resources.' Employment was his thing and he served as Employment Superintendent and Deputy Director of Industrial Relations at the shipyard. He was good at his job and always tried to find work for those who sought his help.
“The Dawg,” as he was affectionately called, was considered by some to the unofficial mayor of Summerville. I am sure they said that because Carroll was loved by everybody. A loyal son, brother, father, husband, grandfather, co-worker and friend, Carroll was loved by all of us. He will be missed. He will be missed, not because he was somehow perfect or because he was a baseball fan or because he was good at his job. He will be missed because he was a great friend, the kind loved by all.
And Carroll loved all of you. Whether it was a friend to share a good cigar and a mellow drink with, or family he so appreciated, he loved in return. He made you feel comfortable in best of the Georgia way.
It is little wonder that folks say Carroll was loyal to family and friends. You could feel it in his words, his steady and kind focus on you as you spoke. And with all this remembering, we need to add that he was loyal to our loving God who redeemed him in the cross of Jesus Christ. Loyal Carroll was and especially to God who loves him unconditionally.
Thanks be to God for the amazing grace that saves as the old hymn says. It is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that God not only forgives all our sin, but graciously gives us life in the kingdom as well. Carroll trusted that truth and as death drew near he loyally kept faith that God gifts us all with life at the kingdom table of Jesus forever.
I remember reading the novel, “Doctor Zhivago.” There is a scene in it where the young doctor, who has just finished his training, has a conversation with his grandmother who is a devout believer in the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ. Zhivago asks his grandmother how she can believe in the resurrection, in the new life given in the cross. Her answer? Wisely, the grandmother tells her doctor grandson that through death we are born into a new life. Let me paraphrase what she says, “I did not know what was happening when my mother gave birth and I entered this life we have now. God can and will give us birth into a new life that we cannot yet even imagine. If God did it before, God can do it again.”
Indeed, we thank God today for the life we have in the cross, the new life at the kingdom table of Jesus. This life began for Carroll at his baptism. It continues now at his death. Thanks be to God for the new life Carroll and all of us have. Jesus is indeed the way, the truth and life as he says in the gospel reading today. Carroll loyally walked that way. Thanks be to God!
And it is precisely this loyalty, this faith, that gives us comfort and hope as we mourn. Our hope is the same as it was for Carroll, in the cross of Jesus. Our hope is in the cross where God is reconciling all through the unconditional love God has for us. How blessed we are that we do not grieve without hope. The gift of God is the comfort and hope of the cross.
Perhaps the final verse of the hymn we sang earlier says it better than I can:
He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same;
what joy this blest assurance gives;
I know that my Redeemer lives!
As we give thanks to God and commend Carroll to God's eternal care, may these words give us comfort and hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” Amen.
· Pastor Robert F. Holley