The Honorable Herbert Edward Tucker, Jr.
March 10, 2007
Wisdom 3:1-5,9; Psalm 1; John 14:1-6
Let us pray. Loving God, we ask you to bless all who have died who have struggled for freedom, justice and equality for all people. May they rest in peace, having lived their lives for the good of all. Grant to those who love them comfort in their mourning and a sure and certain hope in the days ahead; in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
As I said earlier, our celebration of Judge Tucker’s life this afternoon is in three parts that I have titled Fraternity, Faith and Family. But I have to confess it is difficult if not impossible to try to separate these areas of Herb’s life into neat and tidy categories, because each area spills over into and informs the others to the point where it is virtually impossible to tell where one area ends and another begins. Each played a major part in his character and formation, molding him into the unique and special person that we each knew and loved in our own unique and special ways.
I would venture to say that the man Herb became was not simply as a result of those three broad categories, but rather as a result of the combination of many contributing factors: his childhood, the barriers that were raised up in his path throughout his life as a result of the subtle and at times overt racism against which he worked professionally and struggled with personally in almost every area of his life; the obstacles that he had to overcome to get into law school, pass the bar exam and establish his career. These struggles informed his later work with the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP both here on Martha’s Vineyard and on the national level. I suspect that all of this was founded and grounded in his youth, with the lessons in personal and community responsibility and integrity that he learned from his extended family by way of his upbringing.
Yet those struggles were balanced and I am willing to be eclipsed by the 70 plus year love affair that commenced when he met a beautiful young Howard University nursing student. Mary, you told a reporter at the time that you were just out for “a lark”, much to the dismay of your mother and family. But that was no lark. It was and continues to be, the real deal. You and Heebee founded a dynasty. The good that you have done both individually and together, will live and carry on long after all of us here have gone on to be with Herb again. I commend to each of you here this afternoon the poem Mary dedicates to Herb in your service bulletin as a testament to this remarkable love story.
We have been blessed to witness the farewell of Herb’s fraternity brothers; we have just heard two eloquent tributes about the Judge from his beloved Gwen and Gretchen, and we will all have time shortly to share our own memories with one another in the Parish Hall. Right now, though, I want to take a few moments to pay tribute to Herb’s Christian faith and witness, both here at Grace Church as well as to this island community that he loved so dearly and which played a major part in the formation of this amazing Christian gentle man, with his keen sense of humor, his patient impatience, his razor sharp intellect, and who was just plain and simply a joy to know and to be around.
This last Wednesday afternoon, while I was visiting with Mary, Gwen and Gretchen, they shared one of Herb’s most recent favorite quotes with me. I say most recent, because we all know that there are so many favorite quotes, not to mention the songs of Peggy Lee and films of Ingrid Bergman that he loved so much that we would be here for days were we to attempt to remember them all. But this particular one stands out, and speaks to me of what we are about this afternoon. It is from the book “Acolytes” by Nikki Giovanni. It simply says, “The saddest thing about your death is that you will miss your funeral.”
If you knew Herb at all, you know that he loved all of the pomp and circumstance, all of those things done “decently and in order”, which is probably one of the main reasons that he, like many of you, loved the Episcopal Church. But that’s a story for another time. Let’s just say that he and Mary are devoted to this Church, this parish, and the bell tower in its current incarnation is an enduring testament to that love and dedication. Every time the bell rings, I give thanks for them.
Like all of you, I have known many good men and women. If we would review the Ten Commandments with them, most of them could probably say in all honestly, that "I have honored my parents, I have never murdered anyone, committed adultery, stolen, lied about my neighbor, or desired to take anything that belonged to my neighbor." Many people are moral people, but we are also called to be godly people.
I remember as a child, seeing Charlton Heston playing the role of Moses and carrying down those two great tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments, from off Mt. Sinai. The laws that I just mentioned were all found on the second tablet. The first four laws don't relate to our morality, but to our relationship with God. God said, "1) Never have any other God. 2) Never make any carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water. Never worship them or serve them. 3) Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly. 4) Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day. It is possible to disobey these four laws and have a moral life, but according to God, if we do that, we cannot have a godly life. The opposite is also true: We can lead a godly life and fail to live a moral life.
Many people who are not members of a church seek to please God by leading moral lives. Many people who are church members seek to please God by being Godly, but they then fail to be moral. We need both. Herb possessed both.
The Jesus who instructed us in the Gospel of Matthew to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the naked, and visit the sick or those in prison, also said, "First, be concerned about his (God's) kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you." (Matthew 6:33)
We cannot go through life without trusting, without faith, yet there comes a time when we must ask, "What can I trust, ultimately? What will gain me entry into heaven?"
When the Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Rome, he said, "All people have sinned…all have fallen short of God's glory." (Romans 3:23) We all want God to gaze fully on our strengths, and to wink at our failures. But Jesus said we need to "Be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:20) God sees all, and in seeing us in our need loved us. In loving us, God sent Jesus Christ to remove us from this spiritual dilemma. There is no one who can lead a perfect life and by doing so gain the right to enter heaven. Only Jesus has done this and he is the heir of all the spiritual treasures in heaven.
There is an old joke about a man who was very rich and was called to heaven. Because he was rich, he negotiated with God and finally God allowed him to bring one suitcase of his worldly treasure along with him. The man died and as he stood at the pearly gates, Saint Peter came to greet him. The man looked through the gate viewing the glitter of golden streets, and gems of perfection and such immense size that he was amazed. Peter saw the man with the suitcase and said, "This is strange. Nobody ever comes here with a suitcase.” The man explains to Peter, "I negotiated with God, and he said I could bring whatever of my wealth that I could fit into one suitcase.” Peter said, "I will check it out with God, but first let me see what is in the suitcase." The man opened the suitcase and Peter takes a look. Inside the case were several bars of gold. Saint Peter looks at him in amazement and said, "This is the wealth that you brought? You brought pavement!"
We think our goodness has value. God says, "Our goodness is as nothing in the sight of God." We think our godliness has value. Jesus says, "Unless we are more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees, (who were the goody two shoes of their day), we shall never enter the Kingdom of heaven. What you may be putting your faith in may be totally without value to God.
Instead, put your faith in what Jesus says. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” He also says, "Look, I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in and we will sit down and eat together." (Revelation 3:20)
As we gather today to celebrate Herb's life and to remember his faith, we are also called to remember that as Herb is now, so one day we also shall be. One day each one of us shall stand before God. Some will stand alone before the judgment throne of God, because they have always relied on themselves and they have faith that this is enough. Others will not stand alone for they have asked Jesus Christ to stand with them and for them. Without Christ, there is only fear. With Christ Jesus, there is no fear.
Herb Tucker does not need to fear, because he was and is a man of faith and integrity. He lived a good life, a godly life, a moral life as a way of getting into heaven; but he also lived a life in service to and for his beloved family and others less fortunate and disenfranchised as a response to the call of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book, “Living a Life that Matters”, asks the question: “When we have loved someone and that person dies, what happens to all the love we invested in that person? The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai offers a bold and arresting image to answer that question. He suggests that a person’s body absorbs and stores all the love it receives in the course of a lifetime, from parents, from lovers, from husbands and wives, from children and friends. Then, when the body dies, it pours out all that love ‘like a broken slot machine disgorging the coins of all generations,’ and all the people nearby, and all the world, are warmed by the love that has been returned to them. People die, but love does not die. It is recycled from one heart, one life, to another.”
Live the moral life; live the godly life, trusting in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and entry into heaven. There is no other way! And take a measure of the love that you have invested in Herb and that he invested in you as a starting point, and share it with someone else who is hurting, someone who is hungry for it, someone who is in desperate need of it. And then each one of us, like our brother Herb, will have the Blessed Assurance of where we stand with God, and the certainty that heaven awaits each of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.