Memorial Service Homily for Frank W. Youngk

John 21:1-14     May 13, 2019


It was a tragic death – sudden, unexpected.  The group of those who loved him are huddling together, in confusion and despair and even hopelessness.  They are struggling to make sense of a tragedy that they might never be able to fully understand.

Yes, that is what’s going on in the story I just read.  Jesus has been crucified.  He has died.  He was buried – and all of his followers’ hopes had been buried with him.  This had happened in Jerusalem.  Now, they’re 80 miles north of Jerusalem, in the region of Galilee, where their homes are.  They have returned to their ordinary routine lives of fishing – because, what else could they do?  They need to move on, right?

And the risen Jesus appears to them!

And the risen Jesus feeds them!

That is what I need to say on this afternoon.  Christ is risen!  And the risen Jesus feeds us.

*  *  *

We are feeling a swirl of difficult emotions this afternoon: grief, confusion and anger, sadness, regret.  We must not cover any of that up.  You must be honest about what you are feeling, without judging any of what you are feeling.  Your feelings are your feelings.  They come up from deep within you.  They are authentic, genuine.  Being honest with this is the first necessary step, to know where you are, to begin to be open for God’s healing to begin, and for the path forward to begin revealing itself.

And in this gathering, I need to declare to you, and you need to remind yourselves and each other: that Christ is risen!  And the risen Jesus feeds us.

Because without resurrection, there is no hope.  And so, we are gathered in community to speak that sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We declare that human death is not the end.  We speak and sing and eat and drink our resurrection faith.

*  *  *

Frank Youngk was a man of deep faith.  And he was a man who contended with powerful demons.  In this struggle, he desperately clung to two verses that you have heard in this afternoon’s readings, verses that tell the truth when there are other voices telling lies.  From the prophet Jeremiah: For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.[1]  And, on the necklace that Frank wore every day, this verse from the prophet Isaiah: Fear not, for I am with you; Do not be dismayed.  For I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.[2]

These verses come from promises that God made through the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah to God’s people who had spent years in exile, thinking they were abandoned by God.

Depression is a terrible, horrible disease.  The person suffering believes a lie: that others have abandoned him, and even that God has abandoned him.  When folks suffering from clinical depression have described it to me, it has sounded a great deal like those stories of demon possession in the Bible!  Folks describe the feeling of the depression taking over, possessing them; that it’s something that’s within them that isn’t them.  “This is not me,” Frank said to me from the hospital, after his crisis three weeks ago.  If only he had not checked himself out.  If only he had let them treat him …

Here is something else.  A person sinks deeper into depression when he isolates himself from other people, which allows him to sink deeper into the lies that the depression is telling him.  But this is difficult: as depression closes in, precisely when you most need to be around people, you don’t want to be with people!

*  *  *

In the story I read from the gospel of John, Jesus’ followers are huddling together, in confusion and despair and even hopelessness.   But they are together.  They gain strength from each other, strength to go on, to go back to fishing.  They encourage each other.  They support each other.

In the same way, we are gathered here, today.  We are gathered in this place to proclaim resurrection – even in the face of confusion and despair.  In this place, at this time, in what we hear and say and sing and eat and drink, the Holy Spirit reminds us of this: Christ is risen!  We are baptized into Christ’s death, from which comes his resurrection!  For you and me, too, we die, and from that comes resurrection.  For Frank, too, this is true.

*  *  *

In the story from the gospel of John, the friends huddling together come to see that the stranger on the beach is the risen Jesus!  Christ has not abandoned them.  God does not abandon us – even when we feel as if that is true.  Here is the significance of the cross, on which Jesus suffered the worst that a human being can suffer: the cross means that God is closer to us than our own breath, even when we don’t know that, even when we suffer despair and hopelessness; God is suffering with us!  God was present in that way to Frank, even during his last moments.

*  *  *

In the story from the gospel of John, when the friends rush to the beach where the risen Christ is, what do they find?  A charcoal fire, fish and bread.  The risen Christ is continuing to feed them – and the risen Christ feeds us, even when we suffer confusion and despair.  That is what the risen Christ will do in the meal we will share in a few minutes.  That’s what the risen Christ does – he is feeding us – when we are gathered together, holding each other up, remembering and reminding each other of resurrection.

I speak these words to you in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Pastor Andy Ballentine

[1] Jeremiah 29:11

[2] Isaiah 41:10

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine retired in July 2019 after 40 years of ordained ministry. He loved serving as a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!