The Funeral of the Rev. F. Richard Adams – February 18, 2017
St. Augustine’s Church
Allison Jacobs is six years old. She has known Richard Adams all her life. In fact, her mom Amy grew up at this parish, and she used to babysit Richard’s children. And Richard’s children would grow up to babysit Allison and her older sister Emma.
Allison is one of our resident theologians here at St. Augustine’s. She thinks a lot about God and people, and a good part of one wall in my office is dedicated to her illustrations on those subjects. As she and her mom drove to church the Sunday before last, Allison and Amy must have been talking about life and death and God and Mr. Adams.
I stand outside most Sunday mornings to say hello as folks come to church. Allison started sharing her thoughts with me from the moment her car door opened, while she was still on the other side of the street.
“Rev. Kristin, I think God gives everybody two hearts,” she said. “God gives us one heart to beat and to keep us alive. And God gives us the other heart to love.
“Rev. Kristin, I think God gave Mr. Adams the biggest heart of all,” she said.
“Did not our hearts burn within us?” the disciples ask in the gospel lesson that Richard chose months ago, to be read at this service, on this day.
As they say it, those disciples are filled with – what – joy and wonder and awe? – at the glimpse of a moment, when they see Jesus and recognize that it’s him…and then he’s gone.
But that is not how this story starts out. This gospel story begins at the point of heartbreak. Jesus died on the cross three days before. The sky went black, the curtain at the Temple tore in half from top to bottom.
These two followers of his are walking from Jerusalem to a nearby town called Emmaus. They meet a stranger, not recognizing that it’s Jesus. The stranger sees these two sad men and asks them what they’re talking about as they walk.
“Are you the only one who doesn’t know?” they ask, and then they tell him…about himself: the cross and the tomb and the three days.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they say. Can you hear the heartbreak in their words? Have you said those words? I have. I have said them as I rubbed my fingers together, clutching after something that wasn’t mine to hold. “We had hoped,” they say. "We had hoped."
The disciples go on to tell the stranger about the women, that morning, and their vision and the angels and the confusion. The stranger calls them foolish, and then he goes on to teach them about Moses and the prophets.
As they get to the village, the disciples ask him to stay. And he does. As they sit at the table, he picks up a loaf of bread. He blesses it, and breaks it. And they know. And then he’s gone.
The Rev. Frank Richard Adams lived life with a great big heart. He knew the kind of heartbreak that causes a person rub his fingers together, clutching after something that isn’t his to hold onto. And he knew what it was to feel such awe and wonder and joy that his heart burned within him.
I met Richard through his words before I met him in person. Richard, together with Allison’s mother Amy, crafted St. Augustine’s Parish Profile, the document describing St. A’s as this church searched for a new rector, now more than five years ago. A friend of mine had a copy of the profile. He gave it to me, saying “This is your church.” I read it. And it was. And it is.
Richard was one of the very first St. A's people I met, when he came to interview me at my former parish, and then again when I continued in the process here.
Writing was a vocation of his, but surely not the only one. In December of 2015, Richard’s long dream of being ordained to serve as a deacon of the church became reality.
A deacon’s role is to interpret the needs of the world to the church, calling us to action and service. Richard used his vocation as a writer in his ministry among people who had been incarcerated. He helped them write their way out, and back into a world outside the prison walls, through his work with St. Leonard’s Ministries. He spoke with candor and hope about his life in recovery, inviting others to live into their own. He served alongside the Rev. Ed Bird at St. Andrew’s Church, which stands right next to St. Leonard’s House. He served for as long as he was physically able to. And for as long as he was able, he read the gospel lesson at our Friday morning celebration here in St. Augustine’s chapel.
All of these were sources of joy for Richard. But the greatest reason that his very big heart burned with awe and wonder was his family. Susie and Luke and Ted and Jonathan and Sarah and Katie, your dad loved you so very much. He delighted in you. He was so proud of you, of your families, of your children – his grandchildren.
Richard called me at the end of January, the day after his Katie, as he called you, was engaged to be married. He had fallen a few days before, was in a care center trying to regain his strength. He was so excited that Katie and Sebastian hoped to be married right here at St. A’s. He told me he was looking forward to getting stronger, to coming back to church.
Oh, Richard. We had hoped.
It would be our last real conversation. A few days later, Richard was admitted to Intensive Care. His children and grandchildren and friends all surrounded him, kept vigil at the hospital, at his bedside.
The Saturday before he died, Katie and Sarah asked me to come and pray. As we said Amen, Richard’s oxygen alarms began to sound. He knew. I would come back later that night to pray Last Rites. He prayed the Lord’s Prayer along with us. The words of that prayer would be his last. And three days later, he was gone.
“Did not our hearts burn within us?” the disciples ask.
Listen and watch for those moments of awe and joy and wonder, the all-too-fleeting glimpses of recognition that come as we walk this journey, as we share in fellowship. Come back to them. Come back, and come back again. Come back once more, and keep coming.
You are here today because you have known or learned from or been loved by a man with a very big heart – a heart that had been broken, a heart that burned with joy.
How does your own heart beat within you more strongly now, because of it? How has your own heart grown to love even more?