February 15, 2012
On behalf of the family, I want to thank you for your presence here today. Your presence is a testimony of your love for Levi as well as your love for his family. Your prayers especially have been a tremendous blessing to them over the past few days. And, of course, they are thankful as well for your kind words of encouragement, food, and just your gentle presence at the house during this unexplainable moment.
Our Father and God, we come to you on this occasion with heavy hearts. The pain that we feel is beyond words. When Levi died, we lost a son, grandson, a nephew, close friend, and intimate companion. We lost a piece of ourselves. We readily admit to you our feelings of confusion and even anger. We are sad, and the sorrow is more than we can bear. Lord, we pray today that you will comfort this family and these friends. Comfort them with the memories he gives all of us, and with the lessons he taught us. So right now we pray for your peace—an abiding peace that comes in a relationship with you. We pray these things in the strong eternal name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to begin with a scripture reading from a portion of Romans 8:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose….If God is for us, then who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christians experience depression, mental illness, and even physical brain disease that sometimes triggers the end of their life. Alcoholism is no different. This is a wretched illness that is raged not only in the mind, body and spirit; it is a battle raged in the heavenlies where Satan and his pitiless cohorts use it to destroy people every day. It is a cosmic battle too. And if you are being pillaged by it, Levi would want you to get help.
And who here has not been where Elijah was—depleted, discouraged, hopeless, lonely and ready to give up? Even Jesus told his disciples that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow even to the point of death.
This was not the way we wanted to say goodbye to Levi. It is a tragedy, but an even greater tragedy would be for anyone to dwell on one moment of weakness or confusion, and neglect the rest of his life as a son, a brother, and friend…a companion, and how he loved his mom, his dad, his brother, his sister, Krystal and his friends. God does not judge any of us on our final act, whether good or bad, but on the totality of our life and heart. I think that’s what the poet meant when he wrote:
Not how did he die, but how did he live? Now what did he gain, but what did he give? Thee are the merits to measure the worth of a man or a woman, regardless of birth. Not what was his station, but had he a heart? And how did he play his God-given part? Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer…to bring a smile or to banish a tear? Not what was his church, or what was his creed…But had he befriended those really in need? Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say…But how many were sorry when he passed away? Anonymous
I want to urge you from the depths of my being, to avoid asking questions that will have no answer until Jesus returns and puts the world to rights. And when our faith falters, we cry out with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, who said to Jesus in John 11 after Lazarus’ sudden death, “Lord if….”
And there’s probably not a person here who hasn’t thought that same thing in recent days: “Lord if only I had acted differently…If I could have been there…If I only would have been more observant. But friends and family....“if” is a word that looks back on a past that cannot be changed. “If” raises a host of questions that nobody can answer right now but God. Even if we did know, our pain would not be any less or our sorrows any lighter. “If” looks backward, but faith looks forward…faith to believe in God’s grace and ruling power…that Romans 8:28 is still true and that in all things (especially in tragic things)…“God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose.”
You know, usually we don’t hear the preacher say much about Psalm 44 where Paul says, "For your sake we are being killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." In the beginning of the psalm, he praises God for all the good things he did for his ancestors…how he defeated the kings in the past…how he delighted in them…in the past…how he saved them from their foes…in the past….But then, he says, "But you have rejected us and abased us…you have not gone out with our armies…you have made us like sheep to be slaughtered, you have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a penny."
This afternoon, tomorrow and for some time to come, you may look into your hearts and they may sound like the psalmist..."God, I’m like a sheep that’s been slaughtered…you’ve sold me for a pittance." And so like him, you too may need to say to God the same thing the Psalmist says later on at 44:23, “Rouse yourself? Wake up! Why do you sleep?” As a friend of mine and theologian paraphrases, "Take your hands out of your pockets and do something." Do something with this pain…do something with this grief. That’s OK. It’s perfectly OK. That’s why God gave us Israel’s prayer book…. My prayer is that you will pray that to God if you need to.
AND, my prayer also, is that you’ll also here Paul right after he quotes that pain-filled psalm. I pray that you hear him clearly today, say, “No!.” “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
This morning we cannot help but be troubled with this tragedy. But, we must look beyond the end to see the real picture and legacy he left behind.
And, you know…there’s quite a legacy. A legacy of love for his family. A legacy of concern about the downtrodden….
Levi would come home from Switzerland or France…and would stay a little while. And, then he would send a letter with a picture of his mom he took from the picture box when she looked…well to us her words. “like a hippy.” And the card said, “Ha mom, trump this.” He was thinking of her.
A Zenith moment for Robin came when Levi was working at Morgan Freeman’s restaurant. He invited Robin, and she was sitting at a table with Morgan Freeman and Ruben Anderson. Levi comes out and has his mother stand up and be recognized before everyone. “You sparked a passion in me when I was five years old teaching me to make crepes.” Robin felt incredibly honored. As she put it, “Even with those dignitaries, Levi honored his mom.” “I upstaged Morgan Freeman and Ruben Anderson!”
When David would visit the Oxford University Club, Levi would buy lunch. But, more than that, after he spent a little time greeting people…which often was a time where people told him how much they appreciated his work…(that’s what you tell the best chef in MS when your eating his food)…but, he turns to his dad and tells the entire room, “That’s my dad.” Levi Minyard was proud to be the son of David Minyard.
Christi knew his love as well. They lived together here in Oxford and in Portland. Christi has many fond memories of how Levi blessed her life. One she shared was about a night in Portland. Levi asked Christi to come outside and climb up in a tree, and said, “I just want to sit with you and look at the stars...I just want to enjoy this moment.” Christi said, “Levi always made me feel special…he made everyone feel special.”
He cared for the downtrodden. David said that Levi might run into a person who needed legal help. And Levi would call his dad. And, make his charismatic heartfelt plea on their behalf. He was not afraid to twist dad’s arm a little, if it meant that someone who really needed it got it.
Levi may have been raised around attorneys, but looked out for the downtrodden. Even if it meant that he had to sacrifice his own skin. One time, he and a couple of friends got into a little trouble with the school board. One friend had a lawyer…and of course…Levi had…David! But, the other young fellow had no one. And, Levi said…., “My friend can’t afford a lawyer. You don’t talk for me unless you talk for him.” He was not afraid to accept the consequences for his behavior, and he would sacrifice his own skin to help someone else. He “would give you the shirt off his back.” He crossed international lines, and knew no racial distinctions. And, since his move to Oxford, Levi was turning his eyes up on Jesus.
I sat with Levi on the bench outside of the coffee shop just about a month ago. He began by sharing with me how he felt a person should do something where they can expresses who they are….as he was quoted saying, “Always have a passion and a purpose.” “That’s what I do in my cooking. Cooking is a way for me to pour myself out for other people. Do something for them. I know that when I’m cooking, it’s not just about me.”
He said, “Lendy I really want to do something for God.” He said, “I want to use the gift of cooking that God has blessed me with to bless others. There are hungry people in Oxford. Do you think you could help me organize a large food line where we could feed some of them? I’d do the cooking. All you gotta do is get’em there.”
And, then we got down to some of the more pressing issues…things he knew he wanted and needed to change. Levi told me he had been praying…how he wanted to be involved with the body…how he was tired of wandering in the dark forests he’d been in for so long. And, we agreed that we would start meeting every Monday. So, you see…he was living back in Oxford….making worship services at OCOC. Building new relationships with disciples…like many who pray for you, people were praying for him. So, Satan was scared…worried…and committed. And, he took a shot at a weak moment.
Yet, I believe we can claim the same truth for Levi we preach and teach for all: The blood of Christ will make it possible for him to pass over from death to life. It is true that Levi made a mistake, but he was not a mistake. And, by the way, you are not either. Christ is present this afternoon to help you find the hope you need today. Broken hearts are not mended with easy answers, but with loving, compassionate truthful ones. I do hope that our time today has provided some loving truth that will help you process this in your own life.
Two final things I want to say and we’ll pray together.
Krystal, you were the love of his life. And, I know that you are hurting. And, this family wants you to know that, while they have lost a son, they have gained a daughter, and they felt that way since the beginning--Robin said immediately. You are family. Robin will forever have in her memory the two of you on a lawn mower, taking care of that property (which is quite a job!).
I think you captured David’s heart when you hiked 15 miles a day with him on that section of the Ozark trail. They want that ‘bring it on attitude” you have in their family. You were the light of his life and it is important that you know that you are not alone. David, Robin, Christi, and Alex want you to know that their home is your home base.
Alex: I know that you want to honor Levi. And, there’s a way to do that. Levi would want you to make good decisions in your life. He told you so. Just as he was turning his life toward Jesus, he would want you to turn your life toward Jesus… …make it your life’s vision to learn to love him. That’s the best way you can honor Levi. Your family loves you, your church family loves you…I love you. And, most importantly, Jesus loves you. Love him…that’s the best way you can honor Levi.
God, when death is tragic and unexpected, it makes us realize how much we depend on You for strength; how much we need the Spirit to hold us together…how we depend on our brothers and sisters for support; and how much we depend on scripture for sustenance. May your truth today from the scriptures eradicate any doubts that Satan will hurl our way, and may Jesus be the unchanging anchor that sustains us. In Christ, the Word and the Lamb of God, I pray. Amen.
Transcript by Brother Lendy Bartlett - February 15, 2012