In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

It is my task to speak to the faith dimension of this occasion. However, I wish to begin with a personal note, which is my special thanksgiving for the life and service of Clark Clifford. In 1969 I was a nineteen-year-old Army private and Combat Medic in Vietnam when Mr. Clifford, then Secretary of Defense, had the courage to speak out against our war in Southeast Asia. I was one of the first soldiers to be withdrawn from the battle field to the United States. Just as it took courage to be a combat solider, I know it took political courage for a person of his position to speak out as he did and I and thousands of surviving G.I.‘s are grateful.

We refer to this service as a “Celebration and Thanksgiving for the Life of Clark McAdams Clifford.” But you and I know that this gathering, and any such requiem, is much more. Much more because we have chosen to hold the event in a sacred space rather than a civic hall, government rotunda or university auditorium. Much more because we have chosen music and words of faith: “All Glory be to God on High”; “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.” We entered with words of faith: “I am the resurrection and I am the life, says the Lord” And we confessed, “I know my Redeemer lives….After my waking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.” Yes, we come to this moment with expectations of faith.

Even as we think of the country Clark Clifford loved and served, we have chosen to sing a prayer for America: “American, America,…God mend thine every flaw….God confirm thy liberty….God shed his grace on thee.” Yes, we acknowledge that this gathering is about more than thanksgiving for Clark Clifford. For even though we are deeply grateful for all that he has chosen to given to his family, his profession, his nation and even to the world, by choosing to gather in a sacred ceremony we acknowledge that our ultimate thanksgiving is to God, the giver of all life and the gifts of life.

I believe we have also gathered in this sacred space, amid these choices, not only for the memory of Clark Clifford, but because of our own existential reality; that is, the solitary, individual reality of our being and our mortality. A reality we may seldom confront until one we love or admire dies. In such moments our own morality comes to the fore—that is if our souls are not too seared with cynicism, and if only for a moment, we can understand that no matter what we achieve in this life, no matter what monuments of fame, notoriety, wealth and power, nor how many people will remember us, love us or hate us…it all still comes to this.

And without the meaning we find through faith in God, expressed in the hymns, prayers and Scripture and sensed in the solemn moments of quiet reflection, without what faith provides it is so easy to accept that life is futile and that in the end all that matters are “earthly eternities.” Life‘s visible end as futility leads us only to believe that all that remains of value is the memory of family and our cultural legend; that all that is important is that we are remembered in the annals and monuments of history; that we will be most respected in the trophies of acquisition and achievement we leave behind.

But the faith we sing about, read about and pray about on this day is saying something quite different. It is a promise that by faith we can know that which is unknowable; by which we can believe what is unbelievable; and trust that which seems intangible. That which we have know to be true, but easily forget in the demand of our personal and professional living.

We all know that personal and political power is fickle, that fame and acquisitions can fail. We know that in the struggle to hold on to our values, to live and serve and love with integrity is very hard. We know that our well-intended choice can error, our grip on integrity may slip and even the integrity of our good name can fail. It is clear that Clark Clifford understood this. But as true as this may be, he must have understood something else from his faith. Did you hear it in the words of Isaiah? “[T]hose who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up [as] with wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

We come remembering one we love and admire but see no more, remembering the joy and tragedy of his life. But as we come, do we realize our own human frailty and our mortality? Can we grasp faith enough beyond the reasoned limits of this life to know and take comfort in the words of our Lord read in the lesson from Revelations? That beyond the passage of death there is an existence where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Can we hear the voice of God saying to us, “See, I am making all things new”? Clifford has been made new and if we can keep our souls, someday you and I will, also. A basic faith can help us remember the core values, the moral compass of life.

Clark Clifford understood this. In his Memoir, Counsel to the President, among his philosophical quotations he chose existentialist Christian thinkers like T.S. Eliot and the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, who believed that, “Life is lived forward but only understood backwards.” It is only when we look back that we know what our real values and commitments are, because we have lived them.

Clark Clifford seemed to have a special appreciation for T. S. Eliot‘s poetry; perhaps because Eliot, like himself, was an Episcopalian and a native son of St. Louis, Missouri. Now I hasten to say that theology is by no means even a minor intent of Mr. Clark‘s book. Yet, the choice of such quotations seems to a pastor like little windows into his soul. At the beginning of his book, in the author‘s notes, he quotes Eliot:

…the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

And then, as though to be sure we had understood what he felt was the critical essence of his pilgrimage he wrote, “At the end of my exploring I have arrived, in a sense, where I started. [In retrospect] I see a young man whose career and life would be transformed by events on faraway continents, yet who would never change certain values and attitudes he had first acquired in St. Louis just after the turn of the century…. [Now] On that note,” he writes, “let me begin [my memoirs].”

It is hard to hold on to the core values that early we come to know are true. The moral compass that can be nurtured by faith. Yet, when all else is stripped away (the symbols of our accomplishments, even the respect of those closest to us) what is left is what is true, our personal sense of integrity or truth.

This is what lasts, whether others remember it or not. This is the self to which we come full circle and encounter as though for the first time. For even if all else remains, we do come to the place in life when nothing else matters. It is when we look back from the place of our beginning, when we come full circle. Kierkegaard believed that the ethical life was one in which one lived by the discipline of core values and faith commitments. Others live by reacting to whatever whim life offers or imposes. It is said of W.C. Fields that on his death bed an acquaintance found him reading a Bible. When challenged about the anomaly of this behavior he replied, “I am looking for loopholes.” Clark Clifford, even in his last days was clear that he lived by principles of integrity and faith. His family shares many stories of his readiness for death and his efforts to encourage them not to lose faith or courage.

The value of faith and such a moment as this is that we do not have to wait until old age, or the end of life or some great crisis. It is in the rhythm of the religious life, in the words of the hymns and the prayers, the Scriptures; in the moments of sacred solitude that we can sense that the fullness of life is more than two dates on a tombstone. Rather, the quality of faithfulness to which we hold on to what is true.

St. Paul‘s advice to the church in Philippi is appropriate to people of faith in any age: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things…. [and if,in this life you can, by faith remember these things then] the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8).

We have come to this solemn occasion to celebrate and give thanksgiving for the life of Clark McAdams Clifford. But we have also come to think on things eternal and their meaning not only for our dying but for our living. Today, we remember that Clark Clifford has come full circle, to the place where he first began, in the nearer presence of God. May this also be a moment for us all to remember the place we began, the values and faith that can anchor and guide our lives and in the end assure us that in all that we have done, we have keep our souls.