This afternoon we honor the memory of Norman Gale Gilbert; a son, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and/or friend to all those here assembled. Norman was born to Henry and Eva Gilbert on February 6, 1945 in Whitesburg, KY; the fifth of seven children and the first of two brothers. He left this world on April 16, 2008 from Lawrenceburg, IN; having lived for 63 years.
Norman is survived by his wife Robin, his children Karen, DeWayne, Shannon, and Angelica, his sisters Glenna, Lorene, Anna Sue, Henrietta, and Sherri, and his brother Jimmie. He is also survived by several grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
These simple and brief facts concerning Norman’s life took only seconds to read, and they are only able to provide a muted sketch of the man. The details are few and brief; inadequate to fully express the character, influence, and impact of his life. The sketch may only be filled in and colored by your memories. Those memories are able to transform a rough sketch into a vibrant and expressive portrait of a life worth remembering.
My childhood memories are fully stocked with images and sounds of Uncle Gale. What stands out to me is his laugh. It seems to me that Gale was always laughing with, or more likely, laughing at someone whenever the family was together, and there was no mistaking his raspy cackle. I remember that he loved to give people nicknames. I was affectionately referred to as “Skidrow.” I also remember being confused by his nickname; never fully understanding why some people called him “Slim”.
What I remember most, however, is the summer of ‘87. That was the year that Mom and Dad bought the Dillsboro property and began to build the house in which they currently live. I remember going out to the building site every day with Dad, and Uncle Gale was always there to help. Yes, we had occasional help from other family and friends, but Uncle Gale faithfully and consistently aided his younger brother in building that house. Those are special memories, and they dominate my portrait of this man.
He gave me a new nickname during that year: “Gopher”. During that hot, Cicada flying summer, while working side by side with a shirtless Uncle, I finally asked the question that had bugged me for so long: “Why on earth do they call you Slim?”
He looked at my shirtless 14 year old frame and promptly christened me with yet another nickname. He said, “Because I used to look like you, Boney Maroney.”
It is those types of memories that fill in the tiny dash between the years 1945 – 2008. Those numbers are innocuous; no different from any other person who shares those identical dates. Your memories however, are unique, emotional, and full of information that tells who Norman Gilbert was.
All of us are building a legacy. We are spending our lifetimes establishing what that timy dash between the dates will mean. Think about that before you speak and act, before you make decisions. What will your legacy be?
All of us are gathered together this afternoon so that we may celebrate Norman’s life, honor his memory, and comfort one another, especially his family as they grieve over their loss. As a pastor, I can think of no better place to turn for comfort than the scriptures. At such times as this I draw particular comfort from John 14:1-6:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, ‘Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’
This passage is so comforting because it records what Jesus said to His closest friends and followers on the night before he was to offer himself as the sacrifice for mankind’s sin. He understood that his friends and disciples would be sorely grieved at his death, and he was preparing them for the pain, shock, and dread that they would inevitably experience.
He did not comfort them with lies, because to a grieving heart lies only provide temporary comfort, if even that, and leave a person more devastated than before once the lie is revealed. He did not comfort them with a promise of wealth, fortune, or fame. He did not comfort them with a trite statement such as: “It will be alright.” A phrase like that is borne out of a desire to say something helpful but not knowing what is helpful to say. In such cases it is perfectly acceptable and infinitely wise to stay silent. To be a shoulder on which one may cry, and an arm on which one may lean.
The Lord, however, was never at a loss for words. He always knew what to say and how to say it. He knew that things would actually become worse for his followers before they would be better. So when their hearts were naturally and understandably troubled, he said, “Don’t be troubled.”
How was that possible? Is that possible now? It was, and is possible because Christ was going to prepare a place for them, and because he promised to return for them.
Here is the good news that I want to share with you: Jesus Christ is our hope. He is our only hope. Thomas asked Jesus the question that all of us ask at some point and in some manner. He said, “How can we know the way?” The answer that Christ gave was the hope of Thomas’ salvation, and it is the only hope of salvation for you and me. The answer, our hope, is Christ. Christ alone is the road that leads to so great a salvation. Christ alone leads to that perfect home in heaven. Christ alone is our promise of ultimate joy and reward, in this life and in the life to come. We know this is true because Jesus said that He was, “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
This is the good news of the gospel. That Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried, and three days later he rose from the grave, according to the scriptures. Christ was the acceptable sacrifice for our sins. His death on the cross satisified the holy justice of the loving God. Only Christ could atone for our sins, and he did. Only Christ could conquer death and the grave, and he did.
Christ is our only hope, and faith in Christ is the only way to be saved. Through the course of our lives we place our trust in a great many things, but only by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ will you be saved and have a place prepared for you in heaven.
Death is real, and it is painful. Salvation is real, and it is blessed. Salvation is real because God is real, and because He is the God of comfort and compassion; holiness and justice. He loved us enough to sacrfice His son on the cross in our place. If you believe in your heart that God raised Christ from the dead, and if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord then God will save you.
I can think of nothing which will bring any of us any greater comfort than that.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also.