I attended a brave kind of a memorial service this past week.
It was courageous in that the family opted for “open microphone” during the observance. And you never quite know what you’re going to get when you do that.
What transpired was quite remarkable. Mourner after mourner stood up and told stories about the way this man had touched their lives. Some told stories most of us already knew; some gave intimate glimpses; some read from a prepared page; some folk gushed from the heart until they simply ran out of things to say; while some merely stood in front of the podium and unashamedly cried.
Here’s the interesting part, and the reason why I am bothering to tell you this. This man was an unpretentious Presbyterian minister, a simple servant who had spent his life in small to medium sized low-profile churches. He was in no way a “luminary.” Yet people had traveled from all over. From Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, even Mexico – where he had volunteered most of his vacations and a great deal of his retirement time.
And when they stood up to speak, these folk all seemed to carry the same message. No-one mentioned a great building campaign, written works of ecclesiastic authority, thousands of converts, or the moral politics of a church bully-pulpit. Instead, they all spoke of a self-sacrificing individual who touched their lives, one-on-one, in a way that radically and completely changed them.
When my wife visited him in the hospital, she asked about his sons. “Which sons?” he replied, “I have hundreds of sons!” Which was the testimony of the open microphone, as individuals from both Mexico and the United States came forward and introduced themselves, quite simply, “I am Glen Nagel’s son.”
What better way to evaluate the progress of our quiet lives than to wonder to ourselves if we have any “children” beyond the immediate family who share our DNA. At our memorial service, how far would people travel to say that they were blessed to have had the privilege of sharing in our living?
Today, tomorrow, every day, we have the opportunity to be the kind of people who make a tremendous difference in the lives of individuals.
That’s all we really need to be concerned about, one person at a time. We may be the one whose love stops the next Charlie Bishop from flying into a building, or through whom our neighbor discovers again the joy in friendship that she thought she would never experience again. It may be one of us who helps put a hurting family back on its feet.
Jesus, in Matthew (25:39-40), pointed out that when we say this: “Lord, when did we see you in trouble and do anything to help you?” Then he will reply: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”