Father Bill Adam's Homily at Bob's Memorial Service March 24, 2006
When you do your graduate work in theology in Berkeley, California, the only Gospel you’re ever likely to hear taught with any passion is the Social Gospel.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” was, in my seminary, a metaphor for Social Justice, and we were taught that Jesus was a Liberation Theologian some nineteen-hundred and seventy plus years before the phrase was coined by Catholic clergy in Latin America.
“Our religion wasn’t ever meant to make people feel comfortable once a week on Sunday mornings. . . and our religion isn’t just about saving your own hide,” went the mantra. “Our Religion, they told us, is about being ultimately concerned about poverty, oppression, prejudice and exclusivity in ALL it’s ugly forms.”
In other words, Christianity is about seeking justice and loving kindness . . . That’s how you walk humbly with your God.
Well after 21 years as a priest, I have something to say about that: “Those seminary professors were absolutely right!”
But a funny thing happens to you on your way to becoming an experienced rector. You attend a few vestry meetings and a few diocesan conventions. . . and all of a sudden you find that those old theology books are moving over to make room for shiny new books, mostly paper backs, written on more “relevant” and practical topics like “how to grow a church,” or “how to make a church more user friendly.”
You find out that a good portion of questions and concerns raised by many who walk through your doors have to do with how the church can better serve their family’s personal needs, or with the kind of music used in the church, or the style of liturgy, or whether the flag is in narthex or in the sanctuary.
----- Almost without realizing it clergy and people alike can, to put it figuratively, begin to walk by the hurting people left at the side of the road.
Fortunately for all of us, a few Bob Elliotts come along and snap us back into a true Gospel Mind set.
I remember the very first time spoke with Bob. It was 1988, I think, and I hadn’t been rector here at Trinity much more than a year. One of my brilliant ideas was to start a service on Friday nights that was going to draw in every man, woman and child in Amador County and perhaps a few hundred from outlying areas as well. In my infinite wisdom, I called this new contemporary service “Friday Night Alive.” I ran a free ad in a Christian newsletter called “Acts 29" put out by the Charismatic movement of the Episcopal Church.
Of course I knew that the chances of anyone reading my little ad were nil. I knew that the chances were nearly non existent that anyone would actually respond to the ad.
The phone rang, and it was Bob Elliott inquiring about this new service he had read about in Acts 29. I told him how exciting it would be, how wonderfully musical, how positively uplifting it would be.
All the while I was leaning back in my office chair mentally congratulating myself on the absolute brilliance of running that ad.
Then the voice on the other end said “I just have one question.”
Quickly my mind scrambled to try to discern the question ahead of it’s being asked. I figured he was going to ask something like, “do you use Rite I or Rite II in the Prayer Book.”
I was ready for this question, and I invited Bob to ask it.
“Is your church centered on the Gospel of Social Justice?”
Uh Oh! ----- Granted, I hadn’t been on the job very long, but I hadn’t heard the words “social” or “justice” used in the same sentence since seminary graduation, but I remembered what they told me, and quickly composed myself, and I said, “Mr. Elliott, it is my understanding that the Gospel is ultimately concerned about poverty, oppression, prejudice and exclusivity in ALL it’s ugly forms.”
He said, “Fine, We’ll be there!”
So when I read Bob’s biography so elegantly written by Robert Jr., I was not surprised to find out that this attorney who attended Stanford Law School with the likes of fellow classmates Sandra Day O’Connor and William Renquist, began his legal career by helping to “untangle the complicated legal affairs of Japanese Americans who had been interned during WWII. In other words, he began by walking humbly with his God.
Our Trinity Church, here in Sutter Creek, is far from perfect, but it has grown into a church that is very concerned about poverty, oppression, prejudice and exclusivity in ALL it’s ugly forms. I was so pleased when later our Gracious God led Bob and Ann to join our church family, and he could witness this for himself.
I tried to tell Bob on more than one occasion just how much he had to do with that, by boldly going where few men have gone before. . . by using the “S” and “J” words loudly and clearly in the ear of a new Priest just beginning his journey.
Ann, It is clear to me that Bob had a passion and a love for God’s people. . . all of them. But I have to say this even though you know I know you know it --- He loved you most of all. It was apparent every time I saw you together, and from every conversation I ever had with him. He positively glowed when he spoke your name and when he proudly spoke of his family!
Well . . . now you know why the biblical readings today [Micah 6: 6-8 & Luke 10:25-37] were not the usual ones that attempt to paint a picture of the pearly joys of heaven. There can be no joy in heaven without justice for God’s people everywhere. I trust that Bob would consider that message being said clearly and loudly to be a very good way to begin a celebration of his life.
I give thanks for Bob’s life, and I know that one of the ways he will live on, besides making his continuing journey into the God of love, is by continuing to challenge and to mentor us in our journey.
I cannot speak of Bob in the past tense because I know there will be many more conversations, many more book studies, and Bob will be at all of them with that slightly prankish but infectious smile and with the profound gift of wisdom.
Thank you Lord.