KOH2RVA: 120

sailorIn my sermon a few weeks ago I told the story of my friend Harvey Michael, who was headed for Japan on a Navy troop ship during World War II, certain that he was going to die in combat, when—to his amazement—the war ended, the ship turned around, and he found himself the owner of a life he never thought he would have—a “bonus life.’ He said he thought he should do something good with it and decided that he would either be a Baptist preacher or a high school English teacher.

The preaching didn’t work out.

So, for most of his life he was a high school English teacher, and a good one, but the thing I admired most about him was the way he lived his life, as if each day were a gift. I told his story in my sermon on December 23 and then, a few days ago, got this letter from Deborah Hocutt, one of our newer members:

Dr Somerville:

I’ve listened to your message on the “bonus life” over and over. Oh, how I wish it would sink into the hearts of those at FBC and beyond!

For over twenty years I have been living that “bonus life.” Knowing that the doctors had never seen anyone survive with stage 4 cervical cancer like mine, I am keenly aware of what a God-given miracle each day is for me, and that each “bonus day” is an opportunity to give back to God by being His human arms to embrace, and His human smile to show love and compassion. I don’t take this responsibility lightly but with much love and gratitude.

If others could, just for a moment, know what it’s like to live “God Days”—that bonus time—oh, how we would see heaven on earth! So don’t stop shouting it from the rooftops. Don’t stop praying and witnessing. Don’t stop talking about a bonus life!!!


OK, Deborah. I’ll keep talking about it. You keep living it. And let’s see if we can find some others who will use their “bonus lives” to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia. Maybe some of them will comment on this blog, and tell us what they’re up to.

Death Is Only a Horizon

I did a funeral today for a lovely lady named Eleanor Wiley.  In my remarks I quoted an old poem that reads:

We give them back to Thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us; yet as Thou dost not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, O Lover of Souls. What Thou gavest, Thou takest not away, for what is Thine is ours always if we are Thine. And Life is eternal and Love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.*

I picked up on that last line and agreed that life is eternal.  Jesus said that “whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Eleanor was one of those “whosoevers,” and I believe she has already laid claim to her everlasting life.  I also agreed that love is immortal.  I asked Eleanor’s husband, Herb, if he loved her less today than before she died and he said, “No, of course not!”  That’s because his love for her is still alive and well.  It is stronger than death.  Finally I agreed that death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.  I said it like this:

If you stand on the shore long enough and watch a cruise ship sail out to sea, there comes a time when you can’t see it anymore.  It sails beyond that curve in the earth’s surface that obscures it from your sight.  It doesn’t mean that it isn’t there; it only means that you can’t see it any longer.  For those people on board life is going on as it rarely does on shore, with fine dining and ballroom dancing and moonlit walks on the promenade deck.   In her death Eleanor Wiley has sailed beyond the horizon.  We can’t see her anymore, but that doesn’t mean her life isn’t going on.  It is.  Although I have a feeling that as we gather here this morning to mourn her death she is standing at the stern of that ship, looking back toward the shore, standing on tiptoe and waving her handkerchief to let us know that she’s all right—that death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.

Bon Voyage, Eleanor!



*In my research, I was not able to come up with the undisputed author of this poem.  While most of my sources cite Rossiter Raymond, people who claim to know better say it was William Penn.