Monday, July 23, 2012

"Blessed Saints" -- a funeral sermon for Harriet Wrolstad

I meant to post this back in April

I thought I knew Harriet Wrolstad pretty well:  she was one of the first people I met when I arrived here several years ago, and she didn't waste much time having me over to her house for coffee.  Perhaps it was because at the time, we were both single women; perhaps it was the fact that I had lived in Japan for a while.  Whatever it was, I thought I knew Harriet pretty well, but in these last few months I discovered something I hadn't known before, a devotional practice that she had:  every day she would always take the time, usually before she went to bed, to recite ten blessings.  I discovered this because Cathie made sure that I knew, so that I could do this with her when she was at the Augustana Home and at Mount Olivet Care Center.  Perhaps some of you who visited her also took the time to name ten blessings of the day.  I remember that she often named her friends and family -- and her birthday -- and her home -- among her chief blessings, although there was one time in December we had to give thanks for a Christmas present, a nice box of chocolates.

Today we are gathered to say goodbye to our sister in Christ, Harriet.  We are here to celebrate her life and to mourn her death, to name the blessings that came our way because she was in our life.  We are here to remember the promises of God for her, to give thanks for her presence with us, and to grieve her absence from us.  One of my favorite writers, Gerhard Frost, once said that to mourn for someone is to pay them a great compliment; it is to give meaning and significance to their life.  So, today, we say about Harriet, "You were an important person in my life.  I'm different because I knew you."

So today we give thanks:  of the pastor's daughter from Granite Falls who ended up traveling all over the world.  We give thanks for a sister, daughter, aunt godmother and friend respected businesswoman and volunteer. We give thanks for Harriet's work with the Ebenezer Auxiliary, where she insisted that they sing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," because of the line in verse 2 -- "Here I Raise My Ebenezer".  By the way, the word "Ebenezer", which always causes many people to wonder, means "stone of help," and is a story from the 1st book of Samuel.  It is a story of how the Israelites returned to God after a period of wandering, and how God gave them victory over their enemies, the Philistines.  To remember this victory, and God's help, the judge Samuel had the people set up a stone -- called Ebenezer -- to remind them of God's victory, God's faithfulness to them.   (There was a stone for each person who came to the luncheon.)

Today we give thanks for Harriet -- who would think to have a stone for each of us to carry back home with s today so that we can remember that God is faithful to us.  That was the teacher in her, I suppose, I didn't know this, but she did teach English for a few years before she started her long career at Northwest Airlines.  We give thanks for Harriet -- who valued education and wisdom, faith and learning, Norwegian and Lutheran heritage, family, friends, colleagues.  We give thanks for Harriet, who was generous, loyal and opinionated, and who let me know more than once that she valued smartness in a pastor more than she valued niceness.  We gives thanks for Harriet, who was faithful here in worship on Sunday morning and for Wednesday matins, and who counted her blessings.  We give thanks for Harriet -- who was proud of the fact that she was the only employee of Northwest Airlines to have stayed overnight in every city to which the airline flew.

She was part of the communion of saints throughout the world, but, unlike many of us, she got to experience a little bit of it, and she LOVED to tell stories about it.  And I think Harriet would say that she was blessed, not just blessed by world travel and opportunities, but blessed by friends and family -- and faith.  She was blessed to be able to I've in Granite FAlls and in Tokyo, she was blessed in large ways and in small ways.


To be blessed -- to be a saint -- it's the same thing:  did you know that?  So if you are ever at a loss to describe what a saint is, here's the absolute truth:  A saint is someone who is blessed.  It's why we read the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday.  Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed... when Jesus first spoke these words, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, some of them might have been a great shock to the people who heard them.  They would be thinking that you could tell those who were blessed by their material abundance, by the ease of their lives, by their success in worldly terms.  But Jesus spoke and began ty lifting up the poor in spirit.  I like how another translation puts it:  "Blessed are those who know they need God."  They are the saints.

Saints are the ones who knows they need God, who know they need the word of God, who know they need the promises of God in their lives.  Saints are the ones whose stomachs are growling for a good word from God, and who are thirsty for the water only God can give.

A long while ago I visited with an old woman from my congregation.  She was dying, and I came to give her communion.  This woman was mostly past speaking at this point.  She would fall asleep, and we would wake her up again.  We read scripture and said prayers.  And after communion, I raised my arms and I said the benediction,  "May the Lord bless you and keep you/ May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you/ May the Lord look upon you with favor/And give you peace."  And this woman looked up at me with a twinkle in her eye, and she said, "he did!"  The Lord DID bless me and keep me all these years, she said.  The Lord had blessed her through the hard years of the depression, and even in the time of the death of one of her children.  The Lord had blessed her in times through times of scarcity and times of abundance.  The Lord had blessed her.

She was a saint.

She was part of the communion of saints -- and so was Harriet and so are you and me.  We are blessed. We are blessed not because of anything we have done and not because of anything we have accomplished, but because of God's goodness to us in Christ Jesus.  We are blessed whether we have traveled around the world or spent most of our lives in Granite Falls, because of Christ's victory over death for us.  We are blessed whether we are wise or foolish, in our grieving and in our joy.  We are blessed because Jesus came here, and walked among us, healing and forgiving and feeding us.  We are blessed because Jesus gave his body and blood for us.  We are blessed because he is our "Eben-ezer", or stone of help, forgiving us and giving us new life again and again.

We are blessed because we are here today, singing together and praying together (and later on, eating together) and because God has given us to one another.  And we are blessed because we will see one another again, when we gather at the throne of the Lamb, where our tears will be wiped away, where the table will be set, where God's arms will be open wide to us as they are open wide today to our sister Harriet.

Today, each day, we name ten blessings, the ones we can see:  a box of chocolate, Swedish meatballs, Norwegian coffee, faithful friends, a smooth stone, water.  Today we name ten blessings:  our homes, our families, our faith, the mercy of God.  But those are only the ones we can see with our eyes.  With the eyes of the heart, we can see many more, as the old Norwegian song so well expresses:

O Blessed saints, now take your rest;
a thousand times may you be blest.
For keeping faith firm unto death and scorning worldly trust
For now you live at home with God
and harvest seeds once cast abroad
in tears and sighs, See with new eyes
the pattern in the seed.
The myriad angels raise their song,
O saints, sing with that happy throng.
Lift up one voice, let heaven rejoice
to our redeemer's song.

Go with God Harriet Sophia.  May God's light ever surround you.


1 comment:

Fran said...

Diane, this is so wonderful - very rich. Thanks for sharing it here today.