Tombstone Evangelism

The best writers are not the best bloggers.  Case in point, my brother Wesley, pastor of Estes Brook Church in rural Minnesota.  Wes has a gift with words and ideas that I can’t begin to approach.  But I am a better blogger simply because he doesn’t blog. So, occasionally, I offer a guest post.  In this case, after visiting the remote family cemetery in northern Kansas, he sent musings in an email to his siblings.  I’ve expanded, reduced and adapted so that the main ideas are to his credit, but altered to the extent that all blame should be directed to me. Unaltered sections will be in italics. Brackets indicate my explanatory notes.  Final commentary is mine.

***
Subject:  Cemetery Theology Committee 334665179__mg_9529

David and John, [our brothers who live in reasonable proximity to the noted Wesleyan Cemetery of Clay County, Kansas.  Other brothers have come perilously close to being more identified with Calvinism instead of Wesleyan theology,  So how did a Calvinist become the chairman of the Wesleyan Cemetery Theology Committee? Did he just choose to be the chairman out of his own free will? We will have to leave that mystery to God’s sovereignty.]

One of the first things the committee must do is remind Christians who own plots in the cemetery to remember their duty to put Scripture on their tombstones.  Our witness for Jesus should continue after we die.  In 2011, I took photos of several Macy tombstones and of all the photos I took, only 3 [out of 22] have Scripture on them … or any reference to God.

Clayton & Leah: “I shall be334676168__mg_9545 satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:5)

Alton & Ruth: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4)  [our parents]

Bob & Ginny: “Go ye into all the world and spread the gospel” (Matthew 28:19)

The cemetery is called “The Wesleyan Cemetery” and thus should reflect the primacy of Scripture in all things, especially in death and the hope of life everlasting.   As chairman of the Wesleyan Cemetery Committee on Theological Verities, I hereby appoint David and John to put this new policy in place immediately and assure that.. [future] stones … give a clear Scriptural word about our hope in Christ.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this essential matter.

Sincerely,

Wesley A. Macy, chairman of the Wesleyan Cemetery Committee on Theological Verities (and tombstone meaningfulness)

As evidenced below, my brother’s best writing is often found in a P.S. or footnotes.

P.S. further consideration will need to be given to the matter of tombstones inscribed with golf clubs, apple pies and wheat stalks.   We would need to discern the motives of such persons.  If the apple pie means that the woman lived out her whole life as an apple pie person and people remember her fondly for her apple pies, but do not remember her fondly for her faith in Jesus, it would be most unkind to inscribe an apple pie on her tombstone and report in perpetuity to every tombstone visitor that the woman had her priorities horribly mixed up.  However, if the woman was a diabetic who had not eaten an apple pie since 6th grade, and her eyes were fixed on Jesus and all the blessings of heaven, and the apple pie is illustrative of all the blessings Jesus has won for her and she is looking forward to eating apple pie with Jesus, then by all means (ethical means only) inscribe the pie on the tombstone.   We will no doubt need a sub-committee on motives to interview the predeceased about their motives for the tombstone markings they desire.

In later correspondence, I inquired if Wes had seen the apple pie on the tombstone or just used his imagination.  His response:

When we were in the cemetery, I didn’t  think about taking pictures of the egregious stones.  I’m sure I saw a pie on a stone somewhere. The wheat was on the inside of Grandpa’s (Ralph) casket – at the time I thought that was pretty cool. I should take a tour of graveyards and see what other symbols there are.  I do know that 4 wheel drive John Deere tractors are featured in the lids of some caskets.  And there are caskets that are supposedly John Deere green!   You can probably get an IH casket too, among others. [The tractor imagery obviously reflects the rural culture and commentary about which tractor brand is favored, John Deere or  Case/IH – International Harvester.  So, the debate about the preferred tractor can now extend into perpetuity, taking meaningless arguments into the grave with you.]

What does your tombstone say about your life? Does it reflect eternal values or just passing memories?

bushrod  washingtonThe most memorable tombstone I recall ever seeing was at the cemetery on Mt. Vernon where George Washington is buried.  Just across from George’s tomb is a large gravestone of his nephew, Bushrod Washington, one time associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. Look for it the next time you visit Mt. Vernon.  One side acknowledges his career as a judge and his family; the other  includes comments about his character, but ends with this text. ending with “resting his hope of eternal happiness alone on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” That was my greatest discovery on my first trip to D.C. in 1976.

Now, to be sure, if your evangelism is limited to Tombstone Evangelism, that could be the cowards way out, saying “I left a rock that testified to my faith in Christ,” when my living testimony for Christ was weak or absent.  I affirm that many of those buried in the Wesleyan cemetery, though no overt witness is found on their stones, were truly living and vocal representatives of the Gospel.  And not many nonbelievers will think to go to the Wesleyan Cemetery in the middle of nowhere Kansas to find eternal hope.  But if your eternal hope is in Christ, why not a simple acknowledgement of that in the cemetery?

 

 

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