We will gather today at Springfield Baptist Church in Washington, DC for the homegoing service o fa remarkable man. For those of you who do not know the term “homegoing”, it is a celebratory Christian funeral. When a believer dies, she is leaves this life for the next instantaneously. She goes home. We celebrate the life they lived here.
In the story that Christ tells about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), we are told that when Lazarus died, he went to a place of rest with Abraham and those whose lives were judged righteous, while the rich man who had ignored him on Earth was sent to a place of torment. On the cross, Jesus tells one of the thieves being tortured with Him that he will go to paradise with Him on that day (Luke 23:41). Massive arguments have been, and are still being formulated concerning the state of those who are dead to us. I won’t argue the theology – I am well aware of the many references in the Bible concerning our taking a rest as we wait for the end of time. Those passages will be read at the services today. But what we are celebrating is the fact that Deacon Eli Gavin has slipped away from this world, from this dimension, and is resting.
Deacon Eli Gavin was an awesome man. I wish you could have known him. He lived on our planet, in this little square of DC, for 82 years. He was my Dad’s current age when he passed last week. I was not as close to him as others who will write about him, and sing tribute at the service, or deliver the eulogy. But his life touched mine in a profound manner. I met him as the head of the New Member’s class at SBC. I immediately felt I was dealing with a quiet version of my own father. I was immediately put at ease by his presence. He was confident without being overbearing, authoritative without the ego, He was kind, gentle and generous with his praise. All of that in the first encounter!
He was a someone who gave us a prime example of love in how he loved the late Betty Gavin and each of his children. His eyes would light up when one of their children or grandchildren headed in his direction. The first time I noticed that was over 26 years ago. I caught myself staring at the interaction more than a few times, marveling at the transparent love in that look. Seeing that made me realize how often I took it my parent’s love for granted, and allowed me to see that same look in their eyes. I’ve delighted at their greetings ever since. I hope my children see past my weariness or petulance to know that I do delight in them.
He set an example in how he loved him some Betty Gavin. Sometimes it is nice not to be close to those you admire, because I never heard a cross word between them. He would occasionally want her to move along quicker so they could leave the church after service, but his insistence always appeared to be a good humored exasperation, if that is a possibility. After a couple of attempts, he would tell someone else to tell her to come on as he headed for the door. That would be the only time I saw him with a cross look on his face. It never lasted long. I would look as I left the church and she was coming out, because honestly, these two people were important to me. I was not stalking! To my relief, he would usually greet her with a smile when she finally came out.
He was a man of ethical conduct (tsadeyq – righteousness). He set an example as a steadfast church member. I imagine he played the same role in his acapella singing group, The Spiritual Volunteers. Unflappable, willing to compromise if it did not violate his principles, and always prepared. Whether for the Sunday School or new members class that he taught, his duties as the church clerk, his leadership of Senior Choir #1, or serving communion, he was a steady light in occasional chaos. If I was not sure how to react in a situation at a church business meeting (notorious for unChristlike behavior), there were several older people to look at in the middle of the situation for guidance. Deacon Gavin was one of those folks. He kept the same slight smile on his face while flames were going up all around him. He took detailed notes in those meetings, including who said what and sometimes even how they said it. He would dutifully read the minutes back at the beginning of every church meeting, including the good, the bad and the ugly, sometimes laughing as he recited the text. When it came time for him to step down as clerk, he chose a man with his temperament as his replacement. Cool, calm and collected.
He was a beautiful tenor. He sang a solo a few weeks before his death. Again, it was not just what he said, but the example that he set that counted. He and others formed the Spiritual Volunteers and traveled extensively. One of his sons is now leader of a band that is well know in the DMV. He and his wife sang with wonderful, clear as a bell voices. Their oldest daughter is a highly in demand psalmist, their sons are (were) musicians, the other daughter is a singer, thespian and well respected event organizer. Like their parents, they manage their dual careers with excellence, reaching the ears and touching the lives of thousands. Their children’s children carry on the excellence taught by their grandparents, racking up school, church , performance and other accolades up and down the East Coast.
That excellence will be his greatest legacy. Deacon Gavin did not do anything halfway. The cab that he drove for decades was clean inside and out. He always knew the Sunday School lesson and the liner notes every Sunday that he taught. His minutes were detailed. Even his most enthusiastic singing had discipline to it. Whether you were related to him or not, he expected you to excel if you said you were going to do something. He encouraged and inspired many of us, whether he knew it or not. One of the world’s quiet giants went home to be with the Lord. We will miss him. We will celebrate him. I am so glad I was blessed to know him.