July 2, 2014
My last pastoral visit with Jean was a week ago Monday, at her home.
She was sitting in a chair near the hospital bed you had put up near the back window.
The back yard was so green and full of life, and when I remarked on the view, Jean said, “Well, it’s Honduras out there.”
We had a good conversation, talking about her decision to start hospice care, the peace she had, what she was still seeking, life in general.
We talked about big things, some little things, how glad she was that Allison was home, that her family was together.
She asked about my family too – she did things like that.
After awhile I asked her if she wanted to have communion, so she and I and Gary sat down and shared communion together.
I remember having this little conversation with myself – what scripture reading should I share? – and I immediately thought, I didn’t want to share the Sunday gospel, which had been some of Jesus’ hard sayings about discipleship.
“So have no fear of them,” Jesus begins.
He is talking about discipleship and persecution and hard times and division, and I thought those verses just couldn’t be applicable on this particular day.
I just didn’t want to read those words.
But then I remembered that there were those verses about God watching over the sparrows, so I decided to read part of the Sunday lesson anyway.
I remember getting to the part of the gospel reading where Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul….”
Right after this Jesus reminds his disciples about the sparrows…. And says again, “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Well, we talked about that for awhile; we talked about death and life and not being afraid, and about always being in God’s hands.
We talked about sparrows and how much God loves us and numbers the hairs on our heads.
We talked about the fact that Jesus doesn’t promise us that nothing bad will ever happen to us. He just doesn’t.
But when I left, I still thought that I would see Jean again.
I was surprised and heart-broken when I got the message that she had died on Thursday morning.
In the gospel reading that you chose, Allison, Jesus tells his disciples, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I can’t think of any verse more appropriate for your mother – for our sister in Christ, Jean, than this verse that reminds us of Jesus’ promise of abundant life. Appropriate and heart-breaking, because we are here today to celebrate Jean’s life and to mourn her death.
We are here today to remember her, to give thanks for her, and to give thanks for the promises of God for her.
And one of those promises, a promise that Jean embodied, is this one: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
How can I say this?
How can I say it about one who I am sure died too soon?
She died even though I am sure if she had her way she would still be baking bars for funerals, still be working in her garden,
still be giving good advice to her children,
still be working and living together with her good husband, still be helping to nurture healing with patients,
still be discussing scripture in Bible studies with good friends.
She loved you and she treasured her life, and she knew what was important, she knew what was precious.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
It’s hard to read this and not to think, just a little, that this particular life should have been a little longer, a little more abundant.
It’s hard to read this and not wonder a little about what Jesus means by abundance.
I will tell you one thing: it is not exactly what our culture often means when we talk about abundance.
It’s not just about “more” – whether it’s more space, or more ‘stuff’, more success or more popularity.
Abundant life is not about what you can acquire.
But it is about loving and being loved. It is about believing you have a purpose in life, and that your purpose is to reflect your creator.
It is about living not for yourself, but for something bigger for yourself – for other people, for God.
It is about knowing that each day, each moment, is a gift – both that you receive – and that you give.
Perhaps Jean came by it naturally – as she was raised on a farm near Stewart Minnesota, and surrounded by life in many forms.
She entered nursing school, where she learned both the skill and the compassion needed to be a healer, and where she developed enduring friendships. She practiced hospitality (I have a couple of her recipes), she nurtured gardens of beauty and deliciousness (raspberries, yes?), and she treasured relationships above everything – with her parents, her husband, her children, her extended family -- her friends.
A good conversation was worth its weight in gold to her.
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Right before, he calls himself the gate – the gate for the sheep, where they can go in and go out and find life.
He calls himself the gate – but the sheep don’t just follow him into the pen – they follow him out into the world, where there is adventure and pasture and life and freedom.
They follow him out into the world, and they go where he is – because the truth is – wherever he is – there is life.
Where-ever he is, there is life.
Abundant life. Eternal life.
Here in this world that Jean loved, that Jesus loves so much, there is life.
And there, in the world where he welcomes us, in the new world where there will be no more cancer and no pain, no hunger and no homelessness.
Where-ever he is, there is love. Abundant love.
Love that looks to the horizon and counts the cost and never looks back. Love that knows the value of sparrows and sheep and every single one of us.
Love that is willing to die. Love that is willing to live.
About a year ago, I visited Jean in the hospital.
She was there to receive a stem cell transplant. It was a Sunday afternoon and I brought a church bulletin, again.
We visited, talked about the future, the present. She talked about what was going to happen to her, the risks, the possible outcomes.
It was all very technical to me, and I didn’t understand a lot, but I knew one thing: once you begin, you can’t go back.
You begin the course of treatment, and your put your hopes, and your life, in other hands.
You can only go forward, putting your hope, your trust in those hands.
And talking to Jean that afternoon, I realized the truth: this is what the life of faith is like.
It is putting our lives in God’s hands, trusting the one who loves sparrows, and us, knowing that our hope, and all of our healing in his hands.
This is what the life of faith is like, day by day, until we, like Jean, stand in the presence of God.
“I came that you have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says to Jean today. And then he opens his arms and raises her up to join the feast, the abundant and eternal feast of light, of love, of home.