Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dr. Robert Carl Block

Burial Office
Robert Carl Block, M.D.
November 1, 1933 – August 22, 2015
August 26, 2015

Jesus speaks to his disciples in the 14th chapter of St. John.  Very familiar traditional words to all of the Christian family:  . . . Let not your heart be troubled . . . . In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. . . .  Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.  He says this in the night of the Last Supper, with the whole story of Good Friday and the Cross about to play out for him and for his friends, and for all of us, at all times and in all places.  You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there.  The guiding light of the Easter Candle to show the way. 
I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

And Maryrose, Paula, Diana, Carl, and all your families, friends and loved ones here this morning--simply to pray that the words of our Lord for all of us would shine a bright and steady light.  As we have been caught short by Bob’s death.  Such a short time between this last medical diagnosis and this day—and I know it has been and continues to be so much to take in.  Rich memories and thanksgiving for a life well-lived, of course, but also just the jumble of the unexpected.  Moments of life that we prepare for in one way, but find ourselves not entirely prepared for in so many others.  And so we would continue to encourage one another in prayer, day by day, in the sure confidence of God’s unfailing love and of the victory of the Cross, so that the grave and gate of death becomes for those who rest in Christ a new door opening wide to all the blessings of eternal life.

It is very much for me an honor and a privilege to share this morning in this service for Robert Carl Block, who entered this life on November 1, 1933, and who entered Greater Life this past Saturday evening, August 22, 2015, at the age of 81.  To remember his life in all its richness.  Husband and father—his life of service, in medicine and science, his career in the Navy—of which we would all be very proud, and later in this service we will honor that part of his life and career with the singing of the Naval Hymn, “Eternal Father.”  And then in practice here in Western Pennsylvania for so many years.  Remembered by friends and colleagues.  As we offer together the prayers of the church, not just as we say the words but as we gather the faith and life and witness of the whole Christian family and offer the deepest knowledge and desire of our hearts to almighty God.  As we hear the words of scripture, the psalms, the lessons, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I was and am very much touched by the two readings selected by the family and read by Bob’s grandsons this morning.  The reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, with those powerful opening words, “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God . . . .”  And then, “the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.” Remembering today this man of such deep integrity, such great dedication, and with all that, these words: grace and mercy.  And I’m recalling the quiet sense of dignity that was about Bob, and also his kindness, and his good humor.  I know friends here at St. Andrew’s will have such warm memories of so many mornings in the space of time before the 9 a.m. service, wonderful conversations around the table over a cup of coffee.

And then of course the extravagant words of St. Paul in the 8th Chapter of Romans.  So deeply in the heart of every Christian, the affirmation of faith, our victory in Christ.  Who can separate us from Christ?  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, to angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In the two decades that I’ve known Bob there has been so much that has impressed me about him, so much about him and about his friendship that I have enjoyed.  His warmth, his generosity.  I recall one very fun conversation over in our Parish Hall when he explained to a group of us all the problems with the lab work on television shows like CSI.  And I would even say just a short while ago over at St. Margaret’s Hospital when he and I were talking about his recent diagnosis, suddenly he began to give me a little lecture on what happens with metastatic cancer.  There were gaps, of course, when he would search for a word.  But when he got going he was drawing diagrams in the air with his fingers and giving definitions in a simplified way for me, his non-medical audience.  It was like going back several years, actually, and just a really touching moment.

Thinking about the interest and enjoyment that he felt in our quieter 9 a.m. Chapel Service here on Sunday mornings, —the great friends over those years.  Not exactly a starry-eyed mystic, perhaps, but a man who knew deeply and experientially the presence and care of God. 

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”  “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.”  You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there.  Jesus is talking to his disciples about something more than what we might call our religious opinions and theories, our interpretations, our theological positions or understandings of various issues and concerns of the day.  The whole of ecumenical, Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue in some ways at the home front.  Right here in Pittsburgh prayers from St. Andrew’s and St. Scholastica’s and St. Bede’s all rising to the throne of Heavenly Grace.  But of course what Jesus is talking about is a deeper kind of knowing than that.  The kind of knowing that we talk about when we say that a child knows his mother.  It’s about relationship, connection.  About the word we use in the Church with real meaning and sincerity: about faith.  About being in relationship with God deeply and securely.  “You know where I am going, and how to get there, because you and I are going to the same place, returning to the same home, to that mansion that the Father has prepared for us.”  To hear again, I am the way, the Truth, the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”

Remembering the prayers we shared just a few days ago, as Bob was over and over again covered with prayer and anointed with holy oil, to hear assurance of God’s blessing.  “The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Funeral Sentences from the ancient prayers of the Church, “In the midst of life we are in death.”  Thinking how very fragile we are in this short life.  How precious every day is.  And so as we come together hear, to remember, to comfort one another, to give thanks, we might also hear an invitation.  Bob might be an inspiration for us in this way.  Courageously, with a great and open and tender heart, to love one another, to do good work, to enjoy the good gift of the life, the family and friends God has given us.

In the sure and certain hope of life in Christ Jesus, what we all have to be about this morning, with all the sadness that there is—what we all have to be about is to learn to live every day of this short and precious life in the love of God and of one another, serving God and one another, knowing that to be such a privilege.

If you would please stand with me now and we will turn in the hymnal to Hymn #390, where we would sing together the selected hymn, and such a great Christian message on this morning, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.”

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