In Memoriam (Boyd Leyburn)
Over the past few years, one of the first things to greet you arriving at Oglethorpe on a Sunday morning would have been the warm welcome of Boyd Leyburn. He was, among many other things, one of our regular greeters. When we decided to add some photos to our stairwell that illustrated life at OPC, it was only fitting that we give a prominent spot to Boyd's smiling face. In a sense, that photo says something about what we do here today. It is only an image; and it is not Boyd himself. But it does remind us of him in a very powerful way. Boyd may not be with us in body. But he is with us in memory and in spirit. That photo to me says so much about Boyd and his personality, especially as I got to know him over the past few years. If I had to some it up, I would call it a character of gracious, generous welcome. The first time I met Boyd was when he and about twenty other members of the church met the U-Haul when we moved back to Atlanta to help us unload. What a welcome to this community. And one of my earliest memories of Boyd is of the two of us introducing ourselves to a visitor in his twenties after worship. Boyd shook the young man's hand and then said, "Now I'm a relatively new member, so are you visiting with us, or are you a charter member?" I remember thinking to myself, "Now that's how you welcome someone!"
When Boyd ended his term of Treasurer of OPC, a role that meant he spent at least two mornings a week here, I wrote him a letter of thanks on behalf of the Session. In response I received a hand-written note thanking me for my thank you note in a way that was more gracious than anything I ever could have written!
But what I will remember about Boyd the most is his deliberate presence in so many meetings and education classes. And the more I got to know him, the more I was sure that he knew more than I did about the subject at hand; and I also suspected that he knew more about the subject than anyone else in the room. And yet, he always waited to speak up; he gave everyone else the benefit of the doubt before he chimed in. And when he did, he had this gentle way of sharing his thoughts that managed to affirm you even if it was questioning your opinion. Those moments were, for me, glimpses of that same character of gracious, generous welcome.
Today, I join with all of you in grieving Boyd's death. It came too soon. I ached to see his weakness over the past few months. I hated to have to visit him in the ICU at St. Joseph's. And yet, it meant so much to me to have those moments with him and his family, even after he was unable to speak. It was, in a sense, the least I could do to return that favor to him of welcoming me.
But here's where the comfort is for me today. I am grateful for having known Boyd; and in knowing him as I did, and as many of you did here today, I am sure that this character of gracious, generous welcome was not only something that shed light on Boyd, but also gives us a glimpse of the God whom Boyd so loved and served. We read in our texts this afternoon of a God, known to us most powerfully in Jesus Christ, who welcomes us with arms wide open. Rooms are prepared; comfort is offered. No barrier is too great, no chasm is too wide to separate us from God's overarching mercy and love.
There is no doubt in my mind that God knows far better than we do; and yet, in God's wisdom, like a loving parent, there is this unseen wisdom of holding back just enough to let us do as we see fit. We may never get it perfectly right; but that's the central meaning of why we gather today. We give witness to the cross, of God's promise of resurrection. Hope has the final say. Death, however it might grip us in the here and now, never has the last word. That hope may sit patiently, gently, but it is always there.
The last time Boyd and I spoke, it was in prayer a couple of weeks ago. We gathered around him, all of us desiring that he recover from these physical frustrations. But we all knew that this might not happen. And I am convinced, that Boyd, more than any of us, knew that as disappointing and as sad as a day like today might be, that ultimately things would be OK in the end. I am sure that, even in his final days, he trusted himself to the gracious, generous, welcoming arms of God; that same God whom Boyd worshiped and served, and in whose image he was created. He will be missed as he was loved.