This morning we gathered to celebrate the life of a wonderful lady, taken from us far too soon. The many gifts and gracious moments of her life serve as a reminder to us that the many miracle of God’s grace are found in the everyday miracles of our common life together. The sermon delivered at her service of Christian Burial is below:
This morning we come together to pray and celebrate the life of our sister in Christ, Helen. As I have prayed and remembered Helen these past few days, the picture on the front of your service bulletin is the image that comes to mind for me…a person of gentle spirit with a loving smile and joyful eyes. I have been very privileged these past few days to hear her husband, Al, her sons Todd and Tim, and others share their stories of Helen; stories that have revealed how she touched so many people’s hearts and spread so much joy into the lives of others. These stories were all powerfully filled with God’s grace because they captured moments of everyday life filled with thoughtful purpose and love. As many of you know, Helen worked in a doctor’s office throughout her career and she had an amazing memory for people. Al shared with me that a day wouldn’t go by where Al and Helen would encounter someone Helen knew…and she remembered their names, their children, and important dates and events in their lives. These connections might seem like brief encounters that are easily forgotten, but not so because each memory connects us in relationship, these small stories have great importance to our lives. I believe we can easily forget this important lesson in the hectic world we live in today. Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century Anglican priest and author, wrote about society’s preoccupation with the big events and large achievements in life (I guess these concerns consumed their days, even in the 1600’s…): “some lose the day by longing for the night, and some waste the night in waiting for the day. Filled with expectations of fantastic accomplishments is how many spend their lives; and while with passion we search for our personal desires, we throw away a precious year, and use it but as the burden of our time, fit to be carved off and thrown away, and those pleasures which at first steal our hearts, finally steal our life.” Taylor is urging us to live life as Helen lived her life, with thoughtful attention to the many little miracles given to us each and every day…miracles that fill our hearts and minds with hope and joy.
Hope and joy are exactly the transforming gifts of grace that are in Christ’s reconciling work of the Resurrection. This transformation is beautifully captured in Paul’s second letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth, which he hear today in our second lesson. “We do not lose heart,” Paul wrote; “for even though our outer nature, [our mortal bodies] are enduring challenges each and every day, our inner nature is being renewed [being transformed] day by day. [And this transformation] is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Paul’s words present us with a challenge, for there often is a comfort in what can be seen, can be easily understood, can be grasped with our outstretched hand…and those things that are beyond our reach can be difficult, for we must approach and understand them in a different way. And at the center of this “different way” stands the Risen Christ, waiting to bring us into the presence of the almighty and living God. Paul’s message to us this morning is confidently filled with hope that death will not have the last word, that Christ’s resurrection will bring us to eternal glory with God, even though that moment may be difficult for us to see today. Paul proclaims that God has given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of God’s love and care for us; “so we are always confident…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” And as we continue to walk our earthly journey, I believe we can only dimly imagine God’s great promise to us, perhaps catch glimpses of God’s grace in our lives. This was Helen’s great gift, her ability to see God’s loving grace in the everyday moments of our common lives together.
In her wedding memories book, Helen wrote down the many details of her wedding and her life with Al. One of the many details that caught my eye was listed on the Reception page, noting the band…two musicians that were named, “Hum & Drum;” and she thoughtfully noted “which I might add were excellent.” On this morning, as we both mourn and celebrate our beloved friend, Helen, we are blessed to know that God’s love and grace has been given to us by her witness: her devotion to her family and friends, her care of others, and her thoughtful attention to the everyday miracles of life, even the miracles that may seem so “hum drum” to us. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Remember: if you want to make progress on the path that brings you close to God, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.” Helen’s example to us, Helen’s memory in our hearts and minds awakens us to the love God intends for us. Filled with hope and confidence through the power of Christ’s resurrection, and filled with God’s grace, we pray this day for Helen and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in eternal peace. AMEN.