God's Story of Robert
Homily for the Memorial Liturgy for Dr. Robert Yuan
April 2, 2022
God's Story of Robert
Homily for the Memorial Liturgy for Dr. Robert Yuan
April 2, 2022
Memorial Liturgy for Robert Yuan
In a recent podcast, Ezra Klein of the New York Times interviewed the author Margaret Atwood, who said the following about stories:
We didn’t develop math until pretty late in our human history [she said], whereas we developed language and music very, very early… Before the age of two… [small kids] are not interested in nine times nine (if ever)… [But] they are already doing little dances; they have a sense of rhythm… they’re interested in words and facial expressions… So stories come naturally to small kids. They understand that there’s a plot, and that there are actors in the plot… Stories [Atwood says] are… “built in.”
Stories are important. And—if we have eyes to see—stories are all around. Advertisements, for example, are ubiquitous and tell stories about who we might be were we to buy certain products. Countries tell stories about national origins and identities. Sports teams tell stories; who better to know than those of us who live in Boston with our “storied” Boston Red Sox (Robert’s favorite team)? And we as individuals are filled with stories, stories about ourselves, some healthy some not—stories that are the stuff of therapists’ couches, whose work ultimately is to help us tell our story in a more life-giving way. Stories are important, and—if we have eyes to see—stories are all around.
Stories are all around, including here in the Church. We in the Church tell stories through our Scriptures; we tell stories in our Sacraments; we tell stories in the hymns we sing; we tell stories by our architecture and by our worship space; we tell stories in our stained glass; we tell stories even in colors and clothing. (Right now I’m wearing a “story.”) Stories are all around, including in the Church; we in the Church know about stories.
One of the things we in the Church know about stories is that the stories we tell are a matter of life and death. The stories we tell tend to either bring together or drive apart; stories tend to either raise up or tear down; they either set free or imprison. Our stories can either bring light or bring darkness; they can either enrich or impoverish; they can either repair or break, create or destroy, inspire or dismay, heal or harm. We know that stories are a matter of life and death. And we know how important it is, then, to tell the story true, so that we may not die, but live.
Deep-down—perhaps because, as Atwood says, stories are from an early age “built in”—I suspect we all know stories to be a matter of life and death. Which is why we are here today. We know that when someone dies, what we do is gather and tell stories. We know that when someone dies we gather and tell stories about life because we intuit, we know deep-down, that if at death we do not tell stories about life, death might overwhelm us.
And so today, in order that we might live, we gather to tell stories about Robert’s life. Since Robert’s death, we here at the church have been sharing stories about Robert. After our liturgy Robin, Annette and Fran will share stories about Robert. At the reception following we all will have an opportunity to share stories about Robert. We share stories about Robert because we want to live, because deep-down we know that if at death we do not tell stories about life, death might overwhelm us.
While I could tell my own stories about Robert, what I want to share today is God’s story of Robert. We in the Church know about stories. And one of the stories we know (at least in part) is God’s story of Robert.
We know, for example, that God’s story of Robert stretches back before Robert was born, for as the prophet Jeremiah writes, even “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (1:5). God’s story of Robert continues in utero, where (to quote the Psalmist) “God beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb” (Ps 139). After Robert was born, God (to quote the prophet Hosea) “was to [Robert] like those who lift infants to their cheeks” and led him “with cords of human kindness [and] bands of love.” When Robert’s parents died and his step-mother took him in, the prophet Isaiah takes up God’s story of Robert when he writes, “See, I have inscribed you in the palms of my hands” (49:16), “I have taken you by the hand and kept you” (42:6). Again Jeremiah tells God’s story as Robert grew into a young man and left China for the United States: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). The Song of Songs takes up God’s story of Robert as Robert met Grace: “Lo, the winter is past, the rains have come and gone… Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” (2:11–13). With the births of Robin, Annette and Fran, God says (through the Psalmist): “Children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is a gift” (127:4). In the book of Sirach, God tells the story of Robert in his career as a surgeon: “Give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; do not let him leave you, for you need him” (38:12). In the Psalms, God tells the story of Robert’s long love for Trinity Parish: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord” (84:1). When Robert and Grace’s grandchildren and then great-grandchildren were born, the Psalmist again takes up Robert’s story: “May you live to see you children’s children” (128:6), and “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting” (103:17). During difficult times in Robert’s life, the apostle Paul tells God’s story of Robert: “God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing… will provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it” (I Cor 10:13). As Robert advanced in years, God’s story of Robert again continues in the Psalms: “And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me” (Ps 71:18). Finally, as he drew near to death, Jesus assured Robert in words from St. John’s Gospel, “I am the Good Shepherd… I am the resurrection and the life… Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (10:14 and 11:25–26).
I wonder if one of the reasons Robert was as faithful a Christian as he was is because that, as a physician, he not only knew God’s story, but he knew the power of healing in God’s story. Deep-down Robert (perhaps like all of us, for whom stories are “built in”) knew that stories are a matter of life and death. And as Robert was drawn toward the healing and the saving of life that his career as a surgeon offered, so was he drawn to the healing and the saving of life that God in God’s stories offers. I pray that in the weeks and months to come, as we remember Robert and continue to share our stories of Robert, we may remember also God’s story of Robert. And may we remember, too, that God—because God wants us to fully live—wants to tell a similar story about each of us, about you and about me. A story (as is God’s story of Robert) filled with love, welcome, forgiveness, compassion, healing, wholeness and redemption. A story that is true; a story that offers us power, now in this life, fully to come alive.
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