God was merciful to Warren.
Warren knew he was dying. I mean, you and I know we’re dying, too, but maybe we don’t let ourselves think much about it. I think Warren was a little different.
Not many of you know me, but I was one of Warren’s law partners for more than 20 years. When I first arrived at the firm in 1993 he had already been there for 17 years.
He had gone to the University of Florida as an undergraduate and as a law student and he received honors like Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. I know Order of the Coif sounds like an award for hair — and most of you are skeptical that Warren could ever have won an award for his hair — but of course the reference is to the wigs worn by lawyers in England, and the Order of the Coif is the honor society for U.S. law school graduates.
So you can see that he was intelligent.
After law school he came to the venerable Jacksonville law firm of Bedell, Bedell, Dittmar & Zehmer, where he worked (through many name changes) for 46 years. (I dare say very few of you have worked in one place for 46 years.) He learned at the feet of some great lawyers, but Cay can tell you it was no picnic.
In the first year or two of his career he was in a trial with Earle Zehmer in Daytona Beach. Some time into the trial Mr. Zehmer had a heart attack and Warren had to continue the trial without him. Other lawyers from the firm came from time to time, but knowing nothing of the case they were only able to give moral support to the young associate. The trial continued for fourteen months before the case settled.
So you can see that Warren was not a flighty person, he stuck with things.
Warren thought a lot about what it meant to be a lawyer — the attention to detail, the need for honesty and professional courtesy — but what he told me early in my career was that lawyers were basically writers who had to explain complicated issues so that they could be understood. Sometimes, though, he would ask me to write something and I would agonize over what exactly he wanted.
Over his career, most of his practice was in the area of construction law — usually litigation in the aftermath of a building project — so he knew a lot about how buildings were built and the roles of contractors and subcontractors, and architects and developers and owners. By their nature these cases are highly technical in nature, and Warren burrowed into the details. He was good at it and he was in the first group of Florida lawyers who became Board-Certified in Construction Law in 2005. He was highly respected as a litigator, and arbitrator and a writer and many of his last cases were arbitrations in which he was one of the arbitrators. He was a very good lawyer.
Being a good lawyer is no guarantee of being a good person, of course, but Warren was both.
In the last few days the Firm has received many emails from people who practiced with or against him, and uniformly they have said things like a “good guy, a smart guy, and always a gentleman.” The staff in the office have reminded me of “Warren stories” including
- his love of cherry lifesavers (which he would filch from the variety bag before they ever got into the candy jar);
- his concern for a stray cat hanging by the Bedell Building — he would make sure Andrea gave it food and water every day; and
- his willingness to talk one-on-one until they would say “Mr. Tripp, I’ve got to get back to work.”
One secretary told me:
I have something that I will never forget about him. Years ago, a family friend was going through a tough time with cancer. . . . I wanted to help and so I . . . sent an e-mail here at the firm to see if anyone would be willing to give. Many people did. I did not know Mr. Tripp very well at all, and when I received a routing envelope from him containing a check for a large amount (the biggest donation, in fact), I was shocked. I knew in that moment that he must be an extremely generous and caring person; just a little quiet and introverted. . . . Someone I didn’t know well gave a huge donation to help a person he didn’t know at all. It just meant a lot and I think it shows the type of person he was.
You can see that he was kind.
Smart, persistent, kind.
But he suffered many hardships and in his seventy years Warren learned something that many people never learn. He learned that it wasn’t enough.
- It wasn’t enough to rise out of poverty and family disorder to graduate from college and law school and become a well-respected professional who worked in an air-conditioned office.
- It wasn’t enough to have a beautiful, graceful wife and three wonderful children (and later two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law and eventually five granddaughters he doted on).
- It wasn’t enough to be known as a good man.
These things didn’t heal him from trauma or protect him from suffering and they certainly did not prevent him from becoming ill. If you have beauty, brains, courage, compassion, education, eloquence, wealth or wisdom, you will still come to this same place.
But God was merciful to Warren, in that he let Warren see that he was dying.
Most of you know how important music was to Warren.
Many of the stories he would tell were about music and musicians. He had known some of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and had seen many bands and concerts. (He told me the almost unbelievable story that he had seen Jimi Hendrix open for The Monkees in the summer of 1967, and I looked it up and it was true.) He kept up with the music world all his life.
In his last weeks he made lists of songs and Scriptures he wanted to be part of this service. Almost none of them were “obvious” songs for a funeral — not “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art” or even “Shall We Gather at the River?” Warren drew on music that had touched him and he ruminated on the lyrics. (Warren was a world-class ruminator.)
As the family was talking about how to incorporate the list into this service, his son Tyler made an insightful observation that Warren was using these songs to build a narrative for us, to tell a story about his life. And so I realized that I had one last writing project from Warren.
The story is about dying, of course.
Listen to the lyrics:
Everybody I talk to is ready to leave
With the light of the morning
They've seen the end coming down long enough to believe
They've heard their last warning
Each has his own ticket in his hand 1
You can see your death coming, and it is a destination everyone travels to alone.
When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready? 2
We know it’s coming, but will we be prepared?
Warren was prepared (he was always prepared as a lawyer), he knew he was, but that did not take away the question. It doesn’t take away the question for us, either.
And Warren wanted us to be comforted today
When I go, don't cry for me
In my Father's arms I'll be
The wounds this world left on my soul
Will all be healed and I'll be whole 3
All the trauma and illness and suffering — all healed:
So weep not for me, my friend,
when my time below does end
For my life belongs to Him,
who will raise the dead again 3
And with that healing, maybe what we do here today isn’t that critical:
It don't matter where you bury me
I'll be home and I'll be free
It don't matter, anywhere I lay
All my tears be washed away
All my tears be washed away 3
Warren is home. Warren is free. And his tears — many shed in private — have been washed away — all of them.
One of the other songs 4 talks about what remains of our earthly suffering and says that the only remaining scars in heaven will be Jesus’ scars. You see, it is part of our faith to believe that the sufferings of Jesus have purpose. That purpose is to reconcile us to God.
You see, God has no reason to be drawn to us — we rebel against him and curse him and (worst of all) we turn our backs on him. God has every reason to condemn us.
But Jesus . . .
Jesus — the one through whom the universe was made — entered that universe as a mere human. He started as a baby, even, born in poverty in an unimportant country which was under the dictatorial rule of Rome. His life was a hard life and though he distinguished himself as a brilliant teacher and as one who was zealous for the one true God, his own people rejected him and turned him over to be killed by the Roman machine.
His death — as a willing victim — is what has the power to reconcile us to God. The apostle Paul wrote:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old [life] has passed away; behold, [a new life] has come. . . . [through] Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their [sins] against them . . . . We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 17-20.
And so back to Warren’s songs:
Gold and silver blind the eye
Temporary riches lie
Come and eat from Heaven's store
Come and drink and thirst no more 3
Warren is saying this in his song story — it is so easy to get lost in the things of this world, please, please, come and be reconciled to God through Jesus.
And listen to this
Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead 5
Jesus was executed, and he died and was buried, but that was not the end for him! It is not the end for us either.
Jesus was raised from death and Jesus will raise his own as well:
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles' wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise, I will rise 5
Death is not just the end of tears, the end of pain. For the one in Jesus’ hands, it is the beginning of a new life, an eternal life of praise.
Warren wanted you to know that, so he gave us all a list of songs and he asked me to make a sermon out of it.
I hope I got it right, old friend.
NOTES: 1. Jackson Browne, “For Everyman.” 2. Robert William Crawford, Scott Yancey Avett and Timothy Seth Avett, “No Hard Feelings.” There is much in this song about being reconciled to other people and letting go of wrongs done against you. It is worth ruminating on. 3. Julie Miller, “All My Tears.” 4. John Mark Hall, Matthew West, "Scars in Heaven." 5. Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher, “I will rise.” The last song was Randy Houser and Craig Monday, "Lord, Lead Me Home," which fit the message, but not the time we had been allotted. [Youtube link] The lyrics are available below: