Your Labor is not in vain (David Hayes Memorial)

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

May 14, 2016

Introduction

When Sheila called to tell me Dave’s sons would be in Naples this weekend to take care of their father’s things and asked if we could have his memorial service this afternoon, I immediately began thinking about what I would say. More importantly, I began to meditate on what scripture I would use as the foundation for my reflections today.

The answer came as I exchanged email’s with Dave’s son, Kevin, who is the minister in the family. I had asked Sheila to consult with the Dave’s sons to let me know if there were favorite hymns or scriptures they would like included in the service. Kevin’s choice was the New Testament lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans which you just heard him read a few minutes ago. My attention, however, was drawn to the two verses of scripture that he sends as his testimony as part of his signature to every email. It is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth and reads as follows: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brother, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for you know that your labor is not in vain.”                          

I.

Before I begin to tell you why I think Dave exemplifies these two verses, I’m reminded what the Bishop who ordained me once said: “A text without its context becomes a pretext to mean anything you what it to say.” So let me briefly provide the context of these verses. The City of Corinth is Greece was a major port city in the Roman Empire. People from many cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups were drawn to this place for the economic opportunities it provided. They brought with them their customs and religious beliefs. The membership of the Church in Corinth was drawn from these diverse groups. It is no wonder the several disagreements arose among them. Paul wrote this letter to address these issues.

A central disagreement that arose was that some questioned whether Jesus really rose from the dead. There are many today who would agree with them. These folks believed Jesus was a great teacher whose principles and example we should follow. But to believe that Jesus returned from the grave in a visible bodily form was too much for them to accept. Paul would have none of this. He took 58 verses in chapter 15 to say why, by far the longest chapter in the letter to refute this teaching. He states flatly, if we give up on our Lord’s resurrection, our preaching is useless and our faith is in vain. Then like a good lawyer he presents his case marshaling all the evidence of trustworthy eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive following his crucifixion. He goes on to assert that because Christ rose from the dead, we who have accepted Him as our Savior and Lord have the sure and certain hope that we too will survive our death and have eternal life.

He concludes with the two verses that follows Kevin’s signature. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is clear from this context what victory Paul has in mind. Christ’s resurrection gives us the hope that we too will survive the death of our mortal bodies. Therefore, my brethren, he continues, be steadfast, unmovable, abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor will not be in vain. There are two implications to this statement. First, the church must hold fast to its faith that Jesus lives, and in light of this conviction they should abound in the work of the Lord, knowing their labor would not be in vain.

II.

Now let me tell you why I feel Dave embodies these verses and is an exemplar to all of us. First, I speak of the relationship he had with his family. He dearly loved his sons, Kevin, Brian, Darrell and Eric. He often spoke to me at length about what they were doing and about their families. The pride he had in them showed in every word he spoke. He clearly saw in them his legacy. He spoke to me only one time of his first wife. It was clear in what he said he dearly loved her. But Dave was not one to dwell in the past but to live in the present. He absolutely adored Sheila. I once asked him if he found it difficult being married to someone of a different faith. He responded with conviction, “Absolutely not. Being married to Sheila has been such a gift from God to deepen my faith. Through her, I have come to realize how deeply Christianity is rooted in Judaism and to understand so much better the teachings of our Lord. Being married to Sheila makes me better understand what God promised to Abraham that through his children all the nations of the earth would be blessed.” What a testimony, steadfast, unmovable!

Now let me tell you something of how he “abounded in the work of the Lord.” When I first arrived on the scene almost three years ago, it was not long before I noticed Dave every Sunday sitting in the back seat of the church. We began chatting during coffee hour and gradually we got to know each other. I became aware that was faithful almost every Saturday during season, parking cars at farmer’s market and that he would show up from time to time on Thursday morning to work with God’s Gardener’s It became clear that here was a person that when the need arose, you could count on. Thus two years ago when we needed to appoint a new Disaster Response Coordinator, I found Fr. Tara’s suggestion, “What do you think about asking Dave Hayes,” to be on the mark. When I approached him, he agreed without hesitation.

It wasn’t long before he was in my office. Where was the Disaster Response Plan that I had promised? We read through it together. Then he asked me to take him to the various places where supplies were stored. He started pulling out tarps to see if they were still in good condition. A few weeks later he came back with a complete inventory and a listed of suggested items that either he couldn’t find and through we still needed. Almost every month I saw him outside the back of the church with the remote control making sure the shutter to our stained glass window was in good working order.

That was only the beginning. In his quiet gentle way, he kept reminding Fr. Tara and me how unwise it was to have made all the preparations we developed, but left the windows in the church unprotected – didn’t get need to convince the vestry to invest in shutters or hurricane proof glass. His persistence paid off. You should have seen the smile on Dave’s face when I told him the Vestry had voted to put in these new windows.

That’s when Dave started talking about how antiquated our phone system was and weren’t we going to do something about upgrading our wireless capability. Did I know that he was in telecommunications as a career? Would we like him to draw up a plan of what we needed? Dave lived to see the new system put in place. He oversaw every phase as Comcast did its work. I can only imagine, had he lived, what he would have persuaded the Vestry to tackle next.

III.

I knew, of course, that Dave had a home church on Staten Island, but it has been only since his death that I have come to fully appreciate how involved he was there. Jodi Clair, who also was a long time member of St. John’s showed me several pictures of activities they shared together. She showed me one picture of Dave in a Ten Gallon hat holding out two six shooters as he played the role of a Western Sheriff. I looked at his long drooping handlebar moustache and gasped “Is that real?” Jodi assured me that it was. She told me his work with the young people was phenomenal.

I also contacted St. John’s to see if they would include a prayer that we send when one of our parishioners is buried up north. To my surprise, the Rector, Fr. Roy Cole answered. He quickly agreed to my request, and then asked me to send a few remarks about Dave that he could include in his reflections. When I told him we would be having a memorial service, he said St. John’s wanted to be part of that service too. The altar flowers you see on display are their gift to us. Yesterday, I received this email from Fr. Cole.

“There are many memories I have of Dave, of his faithfulness and generosity, but one memory comes back to me again and again, especially when I take up some of the unseen tasks Dave always did or train others to do what he did so gladly.

“Shortly after I arrived as the Rector of St. John’s, Dave took me on a tour of the church. He told me of its history and significance of many of the stained glass windows. One window he was particularly proud of was the Tiffany Window. He loved to have people look to see if they could see the Tiffany name etched into the glass. You could only see it if you looked carefully and the light hit it just right. He also took me to places in the church that most people never saw. High up into the bell tower, across the long expanse of attic over the nave, and far into the undercroft. He explained how the lights were to be changed and what kinds of bulbs the various fixtures took – much of which I didn’t really understand, but nodded nevertheless. He showed me every shut off value for the water both inside and outside the church. He explained the electrical panel and which fuses went where. In short, he made sure I knew what he knew about St. John’s. Over the years I’d have to go back to Dave for a bit of a refresher when I’d forget some detail about the lights or how the furnace worked. He was always happy to remind me where the switch was I was looking for, or what to do when the squirrels invaded the attic and set up housekeeping.

“For Dave, truly all is well. And you and I have been mightily blessed to have shared a portion of this life with him.”

Conclusion

Once when God’s Gardeners’ were taking a coffee break someone asked Dave what he did at his church up north. Dave gave is classic smile and said, “I guess I sorta of was St. John’s Burton Tucker.” Hearing Fr. Cole’s tribute, I am sure you all agree.

I can only add, “David, thanks be to God who has given you the victory.” You have indeed been steadfast, unmovable abounding in the work of the Lord. Your labor has not been in vain.