Sometimes in life you have to find strength that you don’t know you have.
Today was one of those days as I was asked to lead the service for my father-in-law.
Here are the words of my homily. They come from the most loving place of my heart.
I can remember the first day I met Mr. Hagan. I was in the metropolis of Sylvania for the very first time.
The crew on Sugar Hill was about to drain the pond and have a community catfish dinner at the church. A big weekend for sure.
Before the pond draining started, Mr. Hagan wanted me to see the shop up town where Hagan and Oliver, his business of 40+ years was located.
I got the full tour and then we sat down for a moment in his office before moving on to the next thing.
Trying to get to know the man who I hoped would be my future father-in-law better, I asked him
“So, do you have any hobbies?” Seemed like a simple enough question.
To it, I got. “Hobbies? What’s that? When I get bored with working, I just build things.”
And as I got to know him and the family better over the course of that weekend and the years to come, my jaw dropped every time I was introduced to some new place around the Hill which began with the statement of “My daddy built this.”
From his own house, to the pond house, to the gazebos on the pond to the steeple at the church where we are all worshipping together now, to the outhouses beside the pond house to the one of the most recent projects, the syrup making shed (or moonshine shed however you want to call it)
What could Mr. Wendell not do?
No was simply not in his vocabulary. If he didn’t know how to do something he wanted to do, he’d just figure out for as long as it took until he got it perfect. I mean perfect.
He was always a man with a plan. He was a man with a vision. And he was a man who knew exactly what he wanted.
He wanted a certain kind of bread with every meal (because you know it wasn’t a meal with him if there was no bread).
He wanted to put trash in the trash can in the way that would make you think it was a religious ritual.
He also had strong feelings on how you ate a hot dog when it came to the placement of the cheese and the ketchup.
As well as how you cut the grass and cleaned the pool.
Really what did he not have a strong opinion on?
But besides just these things: his work ethic could be summed up by the words of an ancient proverb: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”
Because if he wanted something done. It would be done.
This week as I was reflecting the legacy of Mr. Hagan I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in the parable of the Mustard Seed, a story Jesus tells to encourage his disciples about how they were to build the kingdom of heaven—not just in the life beyond, but in the here and now world that we live in.
Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is a like a mustard seed— which wasn’t saying a lot.
Because have you seen a mustard seed?
They are tiny!
Yet Jesus says, “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
And so was the vision of Mr. Wendell Hagan. He saw something in this land we are now on.
He saw something in this community where he was born and raised.
He saw value in the resources he had to give to the world and he had faith of a mustard seed.
He wanted to build a little piece of heaven here on earth.
And from that mustard seed Mr. Wendell planted, I dare say his vision came true.
For scripture goes on to say of this mustard seed: “it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
And we are these beautiful branches in the trees of community that Mr. Hagan planted.
For some people having lots of land or buildings or his church almost right next door to his house would be seen as a “status symbol” or “keeping up with the Joneses.”
But not for my father-in-law. He didn’t have time for pretenses.
He built for one reason: to bring people together.
Though he’d never say it in that way. It is just what he did. And Mrs. Rachel wondered some year when he’d ever stop!
But he kept going because he had ideas in his head he wanted to see come to life. He wanted to make his home place a place for others to find joy.
And not just for his immediate family (though these people are important to him) but anyone you needed a place to be.
I always loved watching Mr. Hagan’s eyes right before a family or community meal began in his home or at the pond house. He would often be asked to pray (and boy could he pray) but what most fascinated me was watching the twinkle in his eyes, I could always tell he knew his sweat, efforts and financial investment has been worth it.
He gave well.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth to advise them with these words about giving, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
On Tuesday night, I found these words underlined in Mr. Hagan’s Bible.
And I can’t think of a better way to sum up his life than this. With his kind smile and gentle laugh “cutting up” as it called it, he was a cheerful giver.
He sowed generously—loving his wife, loving his kids, grandkids and great grandkids beyond what they even knew.
He loved his work.
He loved his church.
He loved his town.
He loved his peach cobbler.
And so, he also he also reaped generously too. Your presence here today speaks of how Mr. Hagan has touched your life and you knew God’s love because of him.
But you know, I think Mr. Hagan would not want this day to be all about him.
He’d want us to talk so much his accomplishments or what an awesome a man he was. He’d want us to talk about God.
I think Mr. Hagan would want us to hear this: when you and I die, only one thing matters: not how much money we have, not how many flowers decorate the alter, not how many people attend, not how many groups or societies we belonged to—only one thing—is it well with our souls?
Are our lives in harmony with God? What will profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
Mr. Hagan would want this church to be full not just at his funeral but on every Sunday of the year. (Can I get an AMEN?)
Mr. Hagan would want us to keep praying, keep studying and keep living our faith.
Mr. Hagan would want us to keep loving each other, holding on tight in the good times and the bad and know that find God in our hardest moments in each other.
And taking care of what he built around here as well.
It’s not easy to say goodbye today to such a man who embodied love and was love in our lives—even Jesus didn’t say it was easy.
He told his disciples over and over how hard this life would be. But he did say in the tough times, he would be with us always, he would never leave us. Jesus would always give us comfort.
The best comfort I know this this. If you know these words why not join with me in saying them?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Today, we know this: Mr. Wendell Hagan is at rest. And I thank God that he is. It was so hard to see him struggle especially in his last days.
Yet, we are still going.
Let us take this moment not only to honor his life but to join in his mustard seed faith—
Because who knows what the next chapter of this community, this church and this family will be? If we keep on and hold on to our mustard seed of faith just like he taught us too.
There is one thing I know for sure; we’ve got our dear one cheering us on from above, saying, “Keep going. And don’t do it the wrong way.”
We promise, Wendell, Daddy, Granddaddy, we’ll try to make you proud. Thanks be to God for your life.
We were so glad to know you. And for you to be ours.