(This is a funeral talk given by a good friend of mine who gave me permission to post this. I like this talk because it pulls many good quotes together into a good theme-based funeral talk.)
Stephen Harmon’s Funeral
Good morning brothers and sisters. As we’re assembled to memorialize Stephen and his life, my thoughts today have also lead me to many good people who’ve fairly recently passed on—people we’ve known through our years in Maple Valley and who have also touched our lives. I’m thinking of Person A, Person B, Person C, Person D, Person E, and others. All good people. And now we add Stephen to that list. So, as we memorialize Stephen, I feel humbled and blessed to be doing so in a place and with a group that we’re both fond of and very familiar with.
In Ecclesiastics 12:7 we read, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” As members of the restored church of Jesus Christ, we understand that death to be merely another step along our path of eternal progression. We understand that Stephen has passed beyond the threshold separating his mortal body from his spirit. In time, Stephen will put on an immortal body–one that is perfected and cannot die. He has passed the test of time and now prepares to enter his glory in eternity.
To fully appreciate where Stephen now resides, it’s important for us to understand from whence he–and all of us–came. Prior to his birth nearly seven decades ago, Stephen was in the presence of our Heavenly Father. At that time, through his diligence and desire while in the pre-mortal existence, Stephen accepted the invitation of coming to this earth. It was then, in 1934, that he left his first estate and came to earth to join his eternal spirit with his mortal body. He understood then, as he does now, that this earth life is but a temporary state. This was his–as it is ours now–the second estate. The purposes of this second estate are primarily two-fold; (1) to allow us to receive mortals bodies, and (2) to be tested, or as the prophet Abraham wrote, “to see if (we) will do all things whatsoever the Lord (our) God shall command . . .” (Abraham 3:24-26).
Speaking of our first estate, the poet William Wordsworth, wrote:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting
and cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
William Wordsworth, “Ode on Intimations of Immortality”
And speaking of our second estate, Elder Dallin Oaks recently said:
“Another powerful idea we should teach one another is that mortal life has a purpose and that mortal death is not the end but only a transition to the next phase of an existence that is immortal. President Brigham Young taught that “our existence here is for the sole purpose of exaltation and restoration to the presence of our Father and God” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978, p. 37). The idea of eternal progress is one of the most powerful ideas in our theology. It gives us hope when we falter and challenge when we soar.”
Elder Oaks went on to say:
“Every follower of Jesus Christ knows that the most powerful ideas of the Christian faith are the resurrection and the atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of him we can be forgiven of our sins and we will live again. Those powerful ideas have been explained in countless sermons . . . They are well known but not well applied in the lives of most of us.”
Elder Oaks then concluded with this provocative thought:
“Another idea that is powerful to lift us from discouragement is that the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “to bring to pass the … eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), is an eternal work. Not all problems are overcome and not all needed relationships are fixed in mortality. The work of salvation goes on beyond the veil of death, and we should not be too apprehensive about incompleteness within the limits of mortality.”
Thus, death is a necessary part of the process of eternal life. Some of us may be asking ourselves the question, what is Stephen’s current state? The prophet Joseph taught, “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is . . . And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130: 1-2). The sociality that he enjoyed here is with him now. I interpret that to mean he is now enjoying the love of other family members and friends who have passed before him. His mother and father, his brothers and sisters. All of us will one day again find ourselves in that same sociality with Stephen, his family and others of our loved ones.
The prophet Alma taught us, “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23). In other words, we will lose our bodies in death for a brief span, but they will be returned to us more beautiful than we have ever known them before, and they will be as real and tangible as they are now. Certainly this will also be the opportunity for Stephen.
The gift of resurrection belongs to us all, through the act of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, resurrection is a gift to all men. To the Corinthian Saints, the apostle Paul taught, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22).
The lyricist, Charles H. Gabriel described it as follows . . .
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me; I tremble to know that for me he was crucified, That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine. To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine; That he should extend his great love unto such as I, Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt! Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget? No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat, Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me, Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!
Death of a loved one is the most severe tests that each of us will ever face. If we’re able to rise above our grief and put our trust in our Heavenly Father, then we’ll be able to surmount any other difficulty with which we will face.
One of America’s most gifted writers, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote of this after his wife died three years before, but he longed for her still. Time had not softened his grief nor eased the torment of his memories. He had no heart for writing poetry. He had no heart for anything, it seemed. Life had become empty for him. He finally told himself that life could not go on this way. He was letting his days slip by uselessly. Life was not meant to be so empty. He felt the need to be up and going again.
Suddenly, Longfellow found himself writing with a surge of inspiration, the lines coming almost too quickly for his racing pen;
I’ll read only three verses of this immortal and inspired message to those whom he loved:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and not to wait.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Apostle Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” One of our late beloved Prophets, President Harold B. Lee, said of this; “ If we fail to understand this great truth, we will be miserable in time of need, and then sometimes our faith may be challenged. But if we have a faith that looks beyond the grave and trusts in divine Providence to bring all things into their proper perspective in due time, then we have hope, and our fears are calmed.”
As a mason, Stephen used his hands throughout his life to construct and build. Some of us here have benefited from his work and I suspect most of us have seen his work. He was very good at his trade. Two of our sons worked for Stephen as hod carriers. Masonry is hard work and they can attest to Stephen’s great skill.
Brigham Young once said that “The difference between God and the Devil is that God creates and organizes, while the whole study of the Devil is to destroy” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 69).
In that contrast we have an important example of the reality of “opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). Remember brothers and sisters, our Savior, Jesus Christ, always builds and never tears down or destroys. As a mason and builder, perhaps the following poem best describes what Stephen’s wishes would be for all of us . . .
A Builder Or a Wrecker
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”
“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play’
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can’
Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and my labors be
That which will build for eternity!”
I’m thankful for the knowledge we have of death and the faith by which we can live our lives. Death indeed is merely the passageway to eternal life. As we remember Stephen today, may we also remember how we should live our lives as builders. And to that end, may we look to the Master Mason, even Jesus Christ. I Stand All Amazed at the love Jesus offers me, you, and especially Stephen this day. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.