The memorial service was creeping toward the two-hour mark when I got up to give the "sermon" of the service. 25 years of ministry has taught me this much: No one wants to hear a pastor give a long sermon at the two-hour mark. So I didn't. And I didn't mind a bit.
Don't misunderstand me. The service hadn't dragged at all. It had been a long, beautiful overture of praise, thanksgiving, laughter, stories, pictures, videos, tearful moments, letters and even a joke or two. Most of which had come from three sons, three daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren. It had lasted so long because a family loved telling stories about a good, genuine, kind, humble man. We were all joined together moved to to see a man's children "rise up and call him blessed."
I had a chance to tell the family at the graveside service what Joe meant to me, so I have no regrets about the feelings for Joe that I didn't get to share publicly. I also have this blog.
But there is one message that I didn't get to give. One that I believe that Joe's life, especially the dozens and dozens of pictures of Joe with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren bore witness. It is the sermon that I would have given if the room had only been filled with the many fellow pastors who were there that day.
This is what I would have said to my colleagues in ministry: Do you see what really matters? Joe Stephens wasn't famous. Joe wasn't a renowned pastor or a leader of causes or a man who would be known very far outside of San Clemente, CA. He never published a book nor was he in-demand as a "coach" or "consultant." Yes, he preached for a president. Yes, he officiated at thousands of memorials and weddings and offered thousands of sermons and Bible Studies. Yes, he has a building named after him at the church where he served. But do you really see what was most amazing about him?
He served Christ and he loved his family. And somehow kept his priorities straight. Unlike so many tragic clergy tales, Joe's family didn't resent his call. They were proud of it and they adored him. One by one they stood and honored him. This man had served Christ without ever neglecting his family. He served Christ and now because of his example and love, his family members all follow Christ. And give thanks to God for the man, the father, the husband, the grandfather and, yes, the pastor, that he was. Do you see what really matters?
I had a front row seat.