A wonderful neighbor died last week after a long illness. Here is the homily I gave at her funeral this morning.
When you move to a new home, you want to make a good impression on your neighbors. You try not to be noisy, you keep your property neat and tidy, and you do your best to respect your neighbors’ privacy. Well, when the Meyers moved to Tine Road some 16 years ago, we didn’t make a good impression. You see, Bubba Meyer, our 110-pound Labrador retriever, was prone to wandering, and a few weeks before Christmas, he paid a visit to the Persons. After a polite call from Jeff informing us that Bubba was in protective custody on his front lawn, Jessica and I rushed down the street to collect him. We knew the Persons’ house as the one that was beautifully decorated for Christmas, so you can imagine our horror at finding Bubba on the Persons’ front lawn wrapped in the Christmas lights that had once adorned Jeff’s and Lynn’s bushes. Jessica and I left that awkward first meeting feeling blessed that we had very forgiving neighbors in Lynn and Jeff. We also saw something very special in Lynn that day and every day since – a joy that turned lemons into lemonade. Lynn lived a joy-filled life, and our readings this morning explain how.
In this morning’s readings we learn about trusting God. Our Psalm and our second reading teach us to trust that we will see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living because just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too will live in the newness of life. That’s why our Gospel implores us to let not our hearts be troubled, to trust that “Heaven is as wide as the heart of God, and there is room for all.”
Trusting God in a world plagued with sickness, pain and suffering can be very difficult and seemingly impossible, but Jesus didn’t trick people into following him. “He frankly and honestly told men and women that they might expect both glory and pain if they followed him.” But he also promised to shoulder those burdens with us as he shows us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. All we have to do is trust that through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus destroyed the bonds of death and opened the gates to an eternal life of peace, joy and love beyond all imagination.
So how do we know when we really trust in God’s promises through Jesus Christ? We live a joy-filled life. Just think about it, if we really trust that Jesus destroyed the bonds of death and opened the gates to eternal life, we have every reason to rejoice, no matter what challenges we face on this earth. “God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all.” When we really put our trust in God, we empty ourselves of fear and anxiety, and we’re filled with God’s joy. When we really put our trust in God, God’s love, which is stronger than death, empowers us to live a joy-filled life no matter what life throws at us.
Now, those who know Lynn may see where I’m going with this joy theme. But Lynn left specific instructions for her homilist that our celebration of the Eucharist today shouldn’t be about her; it should be about Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. My first reaction to Lynn’s instruction is, she’s absolutely right. The Order of Christian Funerals makes clear that “[a]t the funeral liturgy, the community gathers with the family and friends of the deceased to give praise and thanks to God for Christ’s victory over sin and death, to commend the deceased to God’s tender mercy and compassion, and to seek strength in the proclamation of the paschal mystery” in the Eucharist. That said, my second reaction to Lynn’s instruction, is that I’ll just have to beg Lynn’s forgiveness like I did some 16 years ago while untangling Bubba from her Christmas lights. This celebration isn’t about Lynn, but Lynn is a wonderful example of how we can find strength and live a joy-filled life when we trust God and center our faith on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I know of Lynn’s unfailing trust in God first-hand from our many encounters as neighbors, from the countless conversations we shared about our faith, and from the home-made cards she sent us on every occasion. I know the powerful impact that her joy-filled life had on so many people through beautiful stories about how she helped her fellow chemo patients laugh their way through treatments, how she encouraged others not to feel sorry for themselves, and how she never allowed us to feel sorry for her. And just this past weekend, I was blessed with a special glimpse into Lynn’s deep faith and trust in the Lord when Jeff let me borrow Lynn’s Bible.
Lynn loved Scripture, and she found great comfort and strength in God’s Word. As you can see, Lynn’s Bible is well-used; so much so that it even smells of her perfume. It’s highlighted and underlined on every page and filled with handwritten notes, memories, prayers and profound spiritual insights. In it I found notes from friends and gifts from her grandchildren. There are prayers for Laura and Jeffrey (you’re in there a lot, Jeffrey), and a most-fitting tribute penciled next to Psalm 92 that the one who “shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon, majestic, stable, durable and incorruptible” is “my husband Jeff.” I wonder if she used pencil on purpose, just in case. Lynn’s Bible is documented proof that she turned everything over to God – her joys, her sorrows and her deepest desires – that she put her trust in the Lord and found great strength in God’s Word. This Bible is documented proof of how Lynn lived a joy-filled life, even in the face of a grueling illness.
After Lynn was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, the Person’s Christmas decorations changed. Lynn had a message for her neighbors, her family and friends, and for all who drove down Tine Road. So she asked Jeff to build a new decoration to be placed at the foot of their driveway next to the Nativity. That message consists of three, 4-foot high, candy cane-striped, dog-proof letters: J-O-Y. With that simple message and her powerful example, Lynn challenges us to put our trust in God no matter what we may face so that we, too, will be blessed with a joy-filled life, just like she was.
Readings: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11; Psalm 27; Romans 6:3-9; John 14: 1-6