The first time I ever heard of OJ was on a clothing tag. It was a short few days after I came here to St. James. It was on the neck of this alb here that I’m wearing now. When I came here, I was using a hand-me-down alb, and you know hand-me-downs rarely fit all that well. It was too big in some places, too tight in others, and I was always worried that I’d trip over it and spill out into the pews and make a fool of myself. And so I went into the closet here, looked around, and found this alb. It fit like a glove.
Over the next few weeks, I heard OJ’s name quite a bit more. He had left not too long before I arrived, but he and Barbara were still the talk of the church. They were always here at the church, always serving at the altar, reading, working at some ministry, or helping folks at another. And every month I’d get a letter from OJ: even living far away, he’d still keep up his donations, still kept honoring the church that he had served for so long.
And in all this I began to see not just a name written on a clothing tag, but a name written on a community. People didn’t have to mention his name for me to know that he had touched their lives. I could see that the people here were formed in something good, that some hand or presence had brought them up, shaped them, nurtured them into something strong and healthy. It wasn’t just OJ, and it wasn’t just Barbara, of course, but these two people had taken their place with others who had grown St. James into the community it was. And this church, this little church on the corner in Coquille, would not be as healthy and as close as it is without people like OJ.
We are formed by more than we know. We may think we’re self-made, but it’s more like we’re other-guided. We are influenced so much by those around us. Some of them we know: maybe our parents or a favorite teacher, a family friend who helped out when all seemed like darkness. Others we don’t. You know, in this little church behind me, there are all these little plaques with names on them. There’s one on the parish hall wall, there’s one on the little box that I take with me to the hospital to bring people communion. There’s even one on the lamp just behind me here. And all these names, they’re just names to some of us, but for the church of St. James, for the people here, they were voices of life and, perhaps really and truly, God-sends.
Behind all good things there is true Good. As our Scriptures tell us, we can’t be good alone. Goodness comes from a source, like a stream out in the wilderness, like a sour-dough starter, Goodness has a beginning. Behind all healthy people, all loving churches, all hope and love is a presence that we Christians call God. Just as OJ and Barbara stand with the heart of this church, so too does God stand at the heart of all that is good and earnest and truthful. All that is beautiful, all that is holy, behind them is God. When we find healing, whether it be from physical pains or from emotional ones, whether a broken spirit is healed or we face, yes with a bit of trepidation, but face even death with a strength and a hope, there is God behind it.
And there’s something important about this presence. This presence of God isn’t just a thing, or some energy, or some source. God isn’t just some tap that we turn on when we want some water. God is a person, a presence like the person sitting next to you, though even moreso. God has a face, and it is the face of a human being just like ourselves, though transfigured to be shining and bright, so that when we look at it our mouths drop open and our eyes go wide. And this God has a voice, and it says just one thing, Love, spoken sometimes in languages that we can understand, sometimes in healing of hurts decades old, and sometimes in the good, honest work of a man who loves his church, loves his family, and loves those things that God has given him.
And it is this presence, this person, that OJ is with right now, even as we sit here on this fine afternoon. And, now, our culture will say that OJ will live on in our memories, but in reality OJ will live on in more than memory. For God, that presence, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, died for us, was raised for us, and all to make that road firm that leads from this world to the next.
And where OJ is now, Heaven, is not just some vague place in the sky, but a world more real than ours here. It is our world that is vague, confusing, dark, and sometimes frightening. Through God’s love OJ has gone now to that world that Isaiah speaks of, where there are no more tears, where Barbara was waiting for him with open arms, and where they both now reside, with Christ their beloved, for all eternity. And they are now praying for us, that we see the love and the hope behind all good things, that we accept that hand that Christ reaches down to us. So let us thank God for all the good things in our lives, for OJ, for those others who gave us life and hope, and for the presence of God Almighty, through whom all darkness turns to light.