Sermon for Woody Castleberry, April 20, 2019


        The first member of the family I spent time with after Woody’s death was Annaleigh.  We sat on the couch and she told me about her grandfather.  Libby and Annette joined in after a while and together they painted a picture for me of a wonderful, loving, and FUN grandfather. Annaleigh asked if we could have his funeral service here at St. Paul’s, then said she wanted it to be filled with happy memories.

        So, we are here today to celebrate the life of Woodrow Franklin Castleberry, who lived a life filled with love.  Without a doubt, he loved his family, and he loved his community.  He was a member of St. Paul’s, but I did not have the privilege of knowing him.  So clearly, he did not attend faithfully, during my time here.  After spending time with Melissa, Casey, Annette, Lindsey, Deann, and, of course, Annaleigh and Libby – I believe I do now know the man, we are here to remember today.

        There was a part of him, he did not share with anyone, the part we wished he would have shared so that perhaps we could have helped him and had him a part of our lives for many more years to come.  The manner of his death makes it all the more painful and confusing.  As is often the case when someone we love dies, we find ourselves playing the “if only” game. 

        We cannot change the past, nor may we ever be able to fully understand why.  As a person of faith, I can say that I believe that nothing – not even death itself can separate us from the love of God.  I am convinced that God’s love ultimately wins over death.  As the source of love, God is holding Woody close, and he is in our hearts.  God’s love may not offer us answers, but it is available to support and comfort us in our grief.

        One single act does not define a man, and certainly the manner of Woody’s death does not define him.  So, today, we are here to honor Woody and remember what did define his life.  The lessons he taught those he loved – and those he loved were considerable, were among what defined him.  As I said, he may not have been a church goer, but he was a principled man who imparted the importance of being fair to his sons.  He taught them that things were not important; that the gifts we have to give to those we love, the most valued gifts, are gifts of time and experiences. 

        From an early age, Woody, with Melissa’s encouragement, involved his boys in the things he enjoyed:  hunting, fishing, sports, and golf – taking them on trips and outings.  He taught them how to enjoy life, and how to be safe.  Later in life, he loved spending time with his granddaughters.  He still spent time with his boys, now men, even going so far as to keep his field nicely cut for Casey to practice his golf swing – Casey was, after all, always on the verge of mastering his swing. 

Once, when Casey and Annette, were scrambling to find someone to watch Annaleigh for an afternoon, Woody volunteered.  He took time off work and, at the end of the day when the big event Annette was working concluded, she arrived to pick up her daughter and was greeted by Woody wearing an apron – he and Annaleigh were baking cookies – more likely burning them – but having fun.  Woody’s love for his grandchildren caused him to do things he wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Making cannonballs into the swimming pool was something he might have done before the birth of his granddaughters, but doing it over and over again so the girls could play in his waves was another example of him bringing joy into their lives. 

He invested time in the lives of his family.  Family was important to him.  People were important to him.  Upon learning of his death, one of our members told me Woody was mentor to him; I understand he was a mentor to many.  And, he worked hard to make Batesville a wonderful place to live.  He was an important part of bringing UACCB to Batesville.  He was active in the Chamber of Commerce and the economic development of Batesville, and he served on the hospital board.  He believed in helping others.  When I discussed scriptures for this service, the family spoke first of the Golden Rule, then of Isaiah’s call to bring good news to the oppressed.  “Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus says in Luke, and Woody believed it was important for us to help those who are oppressed, those who are poor, those who are in need.

        In addition to the scripture from Isaiah and the Beatitudes (our reading from Luke), the family spoke of this passage from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is asked:

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (22:36-40).”

Remember, I said Woody was principled.  Sometimes we get too caught up in a person saying the right words, worshiping “correctly,” and we forget that the greatest commandments are about love – loving God and loving each other. 

At the last supper Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, “to love one another as I have loved you.” There is a quote that is attributed to St. Francis that seems appropriate for us when we remember Woody’s life: “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.”  Woody didn’t use words, but he did preach the gospel – the gospel of love.

So, we remember him today as a man who was fair, honest, moral and principled.  That, and a bit obsessive.  Woody lived by his lists – which he created in Excel Spreadsheets.  His annual fishing trip with his boys required getting up and leaving at 3:30 in the morning to be at the boat in Mississippi by noon.  They would not stop for anything, except gas.  They might be able to get him to agree for them to slow down enough for a drive-through breakfast, but there were the Castleberry “Rules for Travel,” and he would not permit anything that was “Against the Code.”  They would usually arrive about an hour and a half before noon.

        Once on the boat, however, he was different man.  Calm and relaxed. And, from what I gathered, the granddaughters softened him up quite a bit.  Still, his lists and principles made him a wonderful teacher and father.  Without a doubt he was a family man. 

Casey and Annaleigh want to share some of family stories. And, after visiting quite a bit with this family, I look forward to hearing what they have to say – Casey . . . 

Let us pray.

        Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort:  Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.