Today in worship we did something different. We conducted a Celebration of Life service. Normally, a Celebration of Life is a euphemism for a memorial service, but we decided to flip the script and instead really make it a celebration of somebody’s life! In this case, Greg Suzuki. In every church I’ve served, there is a Greg Suzuki. They are the ones who truly exhibit the love of Christ – not just at church but in every facet of their life. They are unselfish and genuine people who constantly give of themselves one way or another. And shouldn’t we tell those people how much they mean to us? Why are we so quick to criticize people but slow to compliment them? It’s the opposite of what God wants us to do as we discuss in today’s message…
A reading from Paul’s writing to the church in Philippi. Please rise for the reading of the Word of God.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9
When I think of Greg Suzuki, this is the image that comes to my mind.
A person with a gentle soul and the peace of Christ evident to all who know him. He is humble enough to tell you he struggles at times, too. That his soul isn’t always at peace. That he needs to guard his heart like the rest of us. And while that may be true, few people walk in Christ the way Greg does. It isn’t a pious act. Greg’s love of God is genuine and he constantly strives toward Christian perfection in true Wesleyan manner. As the chairperson for the Staff Parish Relations Committee, Greg’s patience, perseverance, and kindness have been put to the test time and time again and he continues to exhibit grace and forgiveness in even the most difficult of circumstances. And to top it off – he’s a Star Trek fan.
When we were thinking of people we wanted to honor today, it was easy to pick Greg.
Everyone agreed. Not only would Greg be kind enough to be the subject of such attention, but he is also equally deserving of it. He is always giving of himself for God’s kingdom and has a strong desire to help others know the love of Christ. He volunteers to help, not for his own glory but for God’s. You might find him at a Council meeting or putting up Christmas lights or cleaning the church or passing out candy on Halloween or singing in the choir or doing anything that might help others know God loves them. And his genuineness comes out in the way he conducts himself with each and every person who walks through those doors. Greg tries hard to see the good in each situation. So to honor him, we created this entire service as a surprise and have a few small tokens of appreciation. Greg if you would come up?
This is a celebration of life.
We talk about memorial services using those same words, and they are, but why do we wait? Why do we wait until the people we love are gone before we share with the world why they mean so much to us? Why do we celebrate life only in death? One of the things I like about funerals at a JA church is our tradition of “final tribute.” That’s where people come up and pay final respects to the departed and their family. What I like about it are the revelations shared as people come forward and talk to the family. There’s always some new story the family hadn’t heard, some detail about who that person was and why they meant so much to them no one else ever knew. Stories from the past come out of their hiding places to be revealed and the family walks out realizing their loved one made an even deeper impact than they realized. And I guarantee you, for every story told, there are five more that haven’t seen the light of day.
The reason we are here today isn’t just to honor Greg as deserving as he is.
It’s to remind us not to let an opportunity pass us by to share the good in life with those around us. We live in a culture of negativity. We’re fine ripping each other to shreds when we disagree. We spew hate when someone does something we don’t like. But how many of you are willing to take equal time to share how much you appreciate someone? Before I became a pastor, I did market research analysis and one of the most important factors in market research is knowing your biases, specifically negativity bias. People are more apt to remember something bad that happened to them than something good. According to one guy the Golden Ratio is 40:1. It takes 40 positive experiences to overcome 1 negative one. Imagine that. We tend to focus on the things that go wrong instead of all the things that go right. It’s why we so easily discount people who don’t agree with us instead of realizing we have much more in common than we do different.
The best way for us to turn that around is by recognizing the good in people.
Very Biblical by the way. We’re supposed to lift each other up instead of tear each other down. Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” And of course 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” The truth couldn’t be more clear. We need to build one another up. And it all goes back to Jesus’ final command, “…(L)ove one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”
Who are the Greg Suzuki’s in your life? Who are the people who make you feel loved, needed, wanted, useful, helpful, or important? Who has made a difference? Tell them that. Write them a letter or give them a call or tell them face-to-face, “You make a difference.” The world is so quick to judge us and tell us when we got it wrong. Let’s flip the script and lift each other up by telling those around us that they matter.