Sermon for the Repose of the Soul of Geoffrey Davis
March 4, 2020
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
Today we gather to celebrate the life of Geoff Davis. Geoff has been a part of this congregation longer than I can remember. I have been here for over 30 years and it seems hard to remember a time when Geoff was not present. On February 4th we were saddened to hear that Geoff had been found deceased near the AT&T building across the street. One of the places where he would spend his days. Geoff had been ill for a while with what appeared to be flue like symptoms. Lynell, and others, tried to get him to agree to transport to the emergency room but Geoff refused. The paramedics told us that as long as he could say no to the transport there was nothing that they could do. So we tried to get Geoff to eat. Chris and others would insist that he try to eat something. Other members of the congregation brought him cold and flu medications. We all did what we could.
Today is not a day to second guess what we could have done differently to help Geoff. Geoff was very private and did not trust people who he didn’t know. We know that Geoff had a hard time on the street and felt safe hanging out around the church.
Today we are here to remember his presence in our lives and in the life of this church. Today we are here to thank God that Geoff is in that place where pain and grief or no more, neither sorrow but life everlasting.
St. Paul’s is one of those places where we try to welcome those that society sees as outcasts. On Ash Wednesday Lynell commented that our sign should say “St. Paul – the other” People that many just use labels to identify. The homeless, the gays, the other. Geoff was not a homeless person to this congregation he was Geoff – a beloved child of God. He was always welcome here. He always felt safe here. And now we can give thanks that he is safe in the bosom of God.
Our gospel lesson today is part of what we call Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus is talking to his disciples and telling them that he will soon depart from them. He is trying to comfort them. Jesus tells them that they too will eventually go where he is going. That they will be reunited with the creator who made them. Jesus assures them that there are many rooms in God’s house. Enough rooms that they will not have to worry. Jesus promises that we will know the way to God’s mansion. The promise is that we will return the creative force of Love that created this planet and desires that we work to create the many dwelling places on this side of the veil as there are on the other side.
I know our rational brains sometimes have trouble believing that God really loves all of us. It is so upside down for the societal norms. Norms that say that people like Geoff are not loved. Norms that put down anyone that does not look like a cis-gendered white male in a suit and tie who has clawed their way up the corporate ladder. No offence to anyone who identifies that way – I admit is describes me.
If we read a little further in the Gospel we would hear Thomas asking who would we know the way. Perhaps that is what I love about Thomas response. He says what I am sure the rest of the Disciples where thinking. “We don’t know the way!” How are we supposed to find this place where Jesus tells them there are many dwellings? Jesus tells them that they do know. It is that place where the Love of God is present. That the Love that became incarnate in the flesh of Jesus has shown them the way. It is a place that we are invited to create here too. Not waiting until we reach some heavenly place in the clouds but create a society her and now where no one is unhomed.
I give thanks that Geoff has found that way to the place where there is not a housing shortage. I know that Geoff is a beloved child of God. I frequently saw that love reflected in him. Let me tell a few stories of that showed Geoff’s uncanny ability to call me back to the Love that is our God.
As I said it is hard to remember a time when Geoff was not hanging out around the church. Frequently sleeping in the 15th street porch. But even if he was not on the grounds he had an uncanny ability to know when I was going to show up – even if it was simply to drop off communion bread for the next day. By some miraculous sixth sense Geoff knew when I was coming down to the church – I swear he had a tracking device implanted on my person. And I know I am not the only person at St. Paul’s who found that to be true.
I would show up and next thing I know there would be Geoff. For many years he never called my by name – that was a more recent thing. I would come to the church and would hear “Hey man”. I knew it was Geoff without looking. I would respond with “Hi Geoff. How are you today?” He would respond sometimes with “OK” or he would ask to use the bathroom or to get a sack lunch.
Geoff also seemed to know when I was going to be here for a longer period of time – such as when I would be down here to work on an upcoming sermon. Then I would invite him in to get out of the weather and to be in a pace of sanctuary for as long as I was going to be in the building.
When I was in seminary I was enrolled in a hybrid distance learning program which meant that for the fall and spring semesters my learning was on-line. I did all of my class time and all of my writing and exams in the office up in the balcony. I was here every evening after my day job from about 4 until 7 or 8 in the evening. Geoff was always here when I arrived and would usually stay downstairs while I worked upstairs. Sometimes he would leave before I did other times he would leave when I did.
Most days I stopped for a snack to have while I was studying and I would bring something for Geoff too. As you might guess around midterms and finals I was here for longer periods – until 8 or 9 or later. One evening Geoff met me at the door as usual when I arrived. He came in and had a snack and after awhile I heard the door open and close. A little while latter I hear Geoff’s knock – I recognized Geoff’s knock over other people - so I went down to let him in. He followed me up the stairs and handed me a 7-11 subway sandwich that he had purchased for me. He held is out and said “hey man- you must be hungry”. Then he left again.
On Sermon Saturdays Geoff would sometimes come up and sit in the office while I wrote. I think he liked that I listen to organ music while I write. One day he came up when I was not listening to music and asked, “Hey man – are you going to play some tunes?” So, I restated the internet and streamed organ music for Geoff.
Geoff came to trust me. He started calling me by my name – instead of “Hay man” it became “Hay Rik” He would shadow me around the church and help the best he could. After midweek services he would frequently help close up the church. Geoff attended just about every service here at St. Paul’s and almost every concert too.
Many people at St. Paul’s tried over the years to find ways to get Geoff on some sort of benefits but those efforts where stonewalled by Geoff. He was not letting any of us in that close. Geoff did allow us to start storing clothes for him in a tote in the parish hall. Our parishioners Doug and Mark would take the dirty clothes home and wash them so Geoff always had a clean set to change into. Goeff would also allow Doug, a nurse, to look at his bad legs and his wounds and clean and dress any injuries or ulcerations.
I saw God’s love shine in Goeff when he trusted me enough to reach out and hug me during the peace or sometimes just when he walked in the door. I sometimes think he was sent by the holy spirit to remind me of God’s love when I needed to see and experience it from what many would call an unlikely source.
I will always have a special place in my heart for Geoff. Last Holy Saturday – the day before Easter, I was literally hit by a pick-up truck crossing J street. As would be expected a small crowd gathered around me as I sat in the intersection bloody from landing on my head. As I looked around Geoff urgently came up to me and reached down to help me stand up. The concern in his face was palpable. In Geoff’s face I saw the love that created me. In Geoff’s face I saw the promise that we are all beloved children of God.
When we did ashes to go last Wednesday I heard from people that work in this neighborhood stories about Geoff. Stories. I heard how he interacted with folks who work at the AGs office and the folks that worked in the security office for the convention center and memorial auditorium. It was heartwarming to hear stories about their interactions with Geoff. I know that the safe space for unhomed youth group that meets on Tuesdays in our parish hall had a soft spot for Geoff and fed him – even though he was obviously outside of the age range that they normally serve.
We are peculiar people in the church. Today’s service is an Easter liturgy. We are here to remember Geoff and to give thanks that he is finally housed. He is finally in a place where he doesn’t have to worry about being beaten up or robbed. He is finally in a place where I will not need to buy him another sleeping bag or pair of shoes. Geoff, the beloved child of God has followed Jesus to that place with many dwelling places – a place where there is no housing shortage. A place were there is no shortage of available bathrooms. Geoff has been welcomed into the creators loving embrace. Geoff now knows for certain that he is loved.
The Apostle Paul said “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We are here to mourn that Geoff is no longer in our lives. We are also here to give thanks that nothing that happened to Geoff on this side of the veil, nothing that Geoff ever did has separated him from the love that is our God. We are here to give thanks that Geoff truly is in that place where pain and sorrow are no more, neither sighing. Geoff is in that mansion that was made for us from the time of creation. Geoff is now residing in the love that is God.