Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third after Pentecost, Proper 8A

Matthew 10: 40-42

Good morning, grace and peace.  It is wonderful to see you on this summer Sunday.

In the last few weeks in our Sunday lectionary we’ve been hearing and reading together the Tenth Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  What the 17th and 18th Century English Biblical Scholar Matthew Henry called Jesus’ “ordination sermon.”  Not that we’re supposed to think about the twelve disciples here as  ordained or about-to-be ordained clergy, but more we would think about how Jesus is ordering his church—we might say, “giving us, all of us, our marching orders.”   Perhaps it was this moment with Jesus and hearing these words that St. Peter was thinking about many years later when he wrote in the second chapter of the letter we now call First Peter “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his glorious light.”  Chosen, possessed, called.  The “ordination service” for a “royal priesthood.”

In any event, in the first part of Matthew 10 Jesus confers spiritual authority on his twelve disciples.   Have to remember back a couple of weeks.   In verse one of chapter ten, anyway, he gives them, “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”  Wow.  They were to go out into the highways and byways, the towns and villages, seeking the “lost sheep of the house of Israel:” not simply to talk about the Gospel of the Kingdom, but to put it into action, effectively and with power.  And then a few verses on in this commissioning sermon Jesus tells them that this kind of power isn’t necessarily going to be received well.  On the contrary.  That it can and will incite anxiety, jealousy, even hatred.  Violence.  He warns them about the certainty of opposition and persecution.    As we read last week, he reminds them that all that opposition and persecution is not really just about them, but that it is a part of the deeper and we might even say the cosmic rebellion of evil against God.  The students are hit by the arrows aimed at the teacher.  That as his disciples suffer, they participate in the deepest way possible in his battle and then, finally, the victory of his Cross.  “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” he tells them in verse 22, “but he who endures to the end will be saved.”  The last sentence of the portion we read last Sunday, verse 39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Serious business.

This ordination sermon, the marching orders and commissioning and commendation that Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out into the field, coming to a rousing conclusion in these final three verses of chapter 10 this morning:  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”   Encouragement perhaps after the words of warning.  These moments on the road, in these little villages and towns, as you offer what I have given to you to the poor, the broken, the lost, one by one, in quiet rural corners and dusty back alleys.  Seems like not much: marginal moments.  But really, this is cosmic, what you’re doing.  The whole arc of history bending to this hour.  Don’t underestimate for a minute what is going on here.  God working in and through and with you to set the world back into order, to renew and refresh, to cleanse, to heal.  Straightening things out.  Calling to repentance.  Proclaiming forgiveness.  Just think about that!  He says, I am with you every step of the way.  And then, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.”  This is what is happening.  As you are a prophet, speaking God’s Word, the one who hears you and welcomes you and  receives that Word, becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  As you are righteous, walking with me, announcing the new work of the Kingdom, putting the love of God into action as I have commanded you, and as the healing you offer is received and welcomed, that one becomes one with you, as you are one with me, and I am one with the Father.  “And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   It’s not the scale of the response that matters.  Don’t expect or even concern yourself with fireworks and drama.  Not about filled arenas and national cover stories.  Not about Sunday morning attendance statistics or pledge drives or capital campaigns.   A story those metrics can’t even begin to reflect.  So much bigger, wider, deeper than all that.   It’s how the Holy Spirit has worked in the sincerity of the heart.  Converting and renewing.  Exercising spiritual authority over the forces and the force that rebel against God, casting out demons, pronouncing forgiveness, healing, restoration in the love of the Father.

So marching orders this morning.  Giving shape and substance and direction to his church. 

And off they go.  The Twelve.  The Church.  Commissioned and launched into the fray.  About as unlikely a bunch as you could imagine.  This is the plan?  Shaking our heads a little bit as we look around in the pews.  You’d think the Creator and Master of the Universe could come up with something at least a little  better than this.  Peter, Andrew, James, John.  We picture them out on the distant margins.  Broke, uneducated, rustic, the lowest rung on the social ladder, flawed in just about every way.   And the whole arc of history bending to this hour . . . . 

I’m reminded in all of this actually of the really lively and interesting conversation we had this past Tuesday evening over at Chris and Beth Schunn’s house for our first summer “Cottage Meeting” to discuss the Summer Book, Dwight Zscheile’s “People of the Way.”  Talking about bout issues of control and trust in the life of the church.  About not trying to organize God’s life and work for him, not trying to force the Holy Spirit into boxes and top-down structures that we imagine we can manage and direct.  How the church always seems to want to make it about a program, a strategy, a plan.  Which is of course not a terrible thing—so much important Christian ministry and mission accomplished over generations and centuries through program and strategy and plan.  But it can also be quicksand.

 Thinking instead here.  About how vulnerable these disciples are when Jesus sends them out.  About how they need to dig deep into their own hearts to trust that Jesus is with them, that he has gone on ahead of them and is already there, working secretly in deep and powerful ways in the places they are going.  Unfamiliar places.  Unsafe places.   Obviously some fear.  Sailing out of a harbor and into the open sea without a map.  How they have no idea what to expect.  Maybe that’s where some of us are right now in our lives.  No longer connected to the familiar mooring.  And even as we think about the life of this congregation.  A moment when something new seems to be approaching, but we’re not exactly sure what.  Standing in the sandals of the Twelve on this day with Jesus.  Trusting somehow, somehow, that they will be able to exercise the spiritual gifts that he has given them when the time is right.  “I’ll tell you what to say when it’s time to speak.  I’ll tell you what to do when it’s time to act.  Don’t worry.”  Trusting that he is with them, even when they can’t see him.  That even when they can’t see any results, or that even when the results they see may be negative, even if they are rejected, persecuted, killed, for his sake, God will receive their faithful offering and in his own time and in his own way use it to accomplish his purposes. 

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second after Pentecost, Proper 7A

Matthew 10: 24-39

Good morning, and grace and peace as we roll on now in summer, officially as of 6:51 yesterday morning, and today, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A , at the beginning of the long green season of ordinary time following Trinity Sunday that will carry us through the summer and fall with a couple of festival interruptions all the way to Advent.  In the far, far distance perhaps we can already hear the children of St. Andrew’s beginning to rehearse the traditional carols of the Christmas Pageant!

 In any event--through this “Year A” in the Sunday lectionary we are continuing to read a good deal through the Gospel of St. Matthew, and this morning in the 10th chapter I found myself humming along with the well-known Martin Luther hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” remember especially the great rousing and triumphant conclusion of the fourth stanza,

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

#688 in our hymnal.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “

“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Back in the early 18th century the great English Biblical scholar Matthew Henry wrote of this passage, “Our Lord warned his disciples to prepare for persecution . . . .  Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith.  He tells them what they should suffer, and from whom.  Thus Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost.”

That we might then  hear this passage this summer morning, be confirmed in our faith, and that we might be prepared and strengthened in heart and mind and body for the steeper climbs that are bound to come sooner or later as we walk with him the Way of the Cross. Persecution turns out in some difficult way to be good news.  Not that we would seek it out, but that when it comes, it comes with the assurance that we continue in his care.  That we experience a reinforcement in faith, as we share in his suffering.   Remembering the unsettling conclusion of the opening Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

In recent weeks of course we’ve read and heard a good deal about renewed and reenergized and horrific persecution of Christians in places like Nigeria and Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt.  Story in the New York Times this morning about a young Christian convert from Afghanistan who lives in hiding and fearful of attack from his own family.  Assaults and murders, homes and churches fire-bombed, women and children brutalized.  Whole communities living under a shadow, in fear, because they are associated with the name of Christ.  And in those moments some amazing stories of courage and faith.  To read about them, to remember them daily in our thoughts and our prayers.  (And please do.)  Inspiring and I think humbling, and perhaps their stories and those prayers as we open our hearts and our imaginations will re-frame our own stories with a gentle discipline.  Seems odd to read about these things while I’m eating my Cheerios and drinking my coffee in the early morning, before heading out into the sunshine of a bright Pittsburgh day.  Thinking about priorities and identity, and with questions of character and value.  What is really important in my life?  Could I withstand the challenges they face?  Just so hard to know.

Certainly to be thankful to live in a local context where this kind of suffering isn’t a part of our day to day reality.   But not closing ears to the cries of those who are suffering so far away, and as well and importantly  to have in our minds that well-known word from Jesus in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, about stewardship.  Including I suppose how we use our material resources, but in a wider frame than the annual pledge campaign.  What we do with our lives.  In any event, Luke 12: 48, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.”  As we pray for our brothers and sisters and fellow Christians around the world, probably to say that the best way to put that prayer into action has to do with being faithful where we are.

At the conference I attended last week one of the points of reflection and conversation about our lives and ministries we explored by brainstorming some familiar phrases about vocation, and what came to my mind at one point with great affection,  but also in a way that was and is a little challenging, was the title of the Oswald Chambers famous book of meditations, “My Utmost for His Highest.”  Is that what we can be about?  Every day, every day,  to be a day of discernment and stewardship, and to offer my best gifts,  as we so often say in one of the Post-communion Prayers, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord, with gladness and singleness of heart.”  For this first Sunday of the summer.  My utmost, for his highest.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I'm very thankful that my good friend and colleague the Rev. Kathy LaLonde will preach and preside at St. Andrew's tomorrow morning while I complete my week at the CREDO II Conference in Delray Beach, Florida.

I would share this link to a lovely setting of "I Arise Today," the poem attributed to Patrick of Ireland and so often sung in an adapted version on this feast.  

St. Patrick's Lorica

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Grace and peace on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--the conclusion and grand finale of 10 days of Ascensiontide and the long and rich 50-Day Easter Season.  Trumpets and flourishes.  A dazzling moment.   The traditional name “Whitsunday” from “White Sunday,” and referring to the historical status of this day as a baptismal festival, in those ancient days when the liturgical colors for the day would have been not Red for the Spirit but all Easter resurrection white and gold, in the fresh baptismal robes of the newly baptized.

The holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit.  A perfect day.  My childhood friend Martin Cohen, now a professor of anthropology out in California, told me the other day that if on Thanksgiving we all enjoy turkey and pumpkin pie, on Shavu’ot Jews customarily eat cheese blintzes and cheese cakes.  Very lovely, and a Pentecost tradition I’d like our Hospitality Team to consider for next year!

Why a menu in milk and cheese?  You can look that up.  In Hebraic imagery “the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” []

Whitsunday.  Pentecost.  In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides and nourishes the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God.  The Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel.  And now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of that same God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, and now we ourselves just like the first disciples that afternoon in Jerusalem marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose.  The New Covenant doesn’t replace the Old, of course.  God speaks himself in the Word of Scripture.  But in these latter days, he speaks himself afresh  in the Son, and in the midst of our he speaks himself in the Holy Spirit.  The Torah and God’s one holy Word continues to stand in its definitive way in our midst.  Now fulfilled and perfected.  Shavu’ot, Whitsunday, Pentecost.

And in the New Testament reading for this Pentecost morning, with all the jumble of the many tongues of the Gospel echoing around us, Jesus says, “as the Father sends me, so I send you.”

It’s a bit of a turn-around.  So often we talk about our lives as Christians in vocabulary about where we “go.”  A new neighbor might notice that our car rolls out of the driveway regularly on Sunday mornings and ask, “Where do you go to church?”   And we might reply, and I hope we would, “St. Andrew’s—it’s a great church, and perhaps you’d like to come with us next Sunday?”

But Jesus on that first Easter evening isn’t saying, “this is a really great Upper Room, and I hope you all will keep coming back here Sunday after Sunday, and bring your friends.” Let’s hear that as we get read to celebrate the great conclusion of our “Opening Doors” campaign this September.   Jesus doesn’t say, “come back here.”  He  says, “as the Father sends me, now I am sending you.”  Out from here, unlocking the locked doors, and certainly as we heard in the traditional reading from Acts this morning, out into the streets, out where the people are who aren’t in the Upper Room with them.  Who haven’t heard the news.  Who are lost, broken, hurting, and without the slightest idea how to move out of that psychological underworld, the realm of the dead.  Who yearn even though they don’t have the words for that honest meeting, not for pleasing superficial feel-good affirmation, but for a real assessment, and for the possibility not of another anaesthetic, but for real healing, real peace, mercy and forgiveness. 

This day not about where we go on Sunday mornings, but about where Jesus sends us, about the people, the life-situations, waiting for his presence.  Waiting in darkness for the light of his Holy Spirit, which would be burning and shining forth in us like those tongues of fire over the disciples as they tumbled out the door all those centuries ago to tell the news.

Nothing small about this.  Not just crumbs falling from the table.  But cheesecake!  Cheese blintzes!  ““the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” []

What the soul needs, what the world is yearning for.  To whom we are sent.  From this place.  Doors opening out, swinging wide.  For what the world needs.  Jesus.  The one who is the first and the last.  What you and I need first, who we need first: and then out in expanding circles, wider and wider.  Going out from here: Whitsunday,  Shavu’ot, Pentecost.   And in him, reaching out through us,  healing, peace, mercy, forgiveness.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sermon for Jean Haslett

The Rev. Jean Haslett was an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church who became a part of our St. Andrew's congregation about 15 years ago when she was called to ministry as a Chaplain in the Pastoral Care Department of the West Penn Hospital, in Bloomfield.  Before preparing for ministry at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Jean was a music teacher and a church musician at the United Methodist Church in Aspinwall.  She was a dear friend to so many of us, and her gentle spirit and wise counsel will be missed.

Services were held this past Saturday morning, May 31, at Jean's family's Calvary United Methodist Church, in Johnstown.  Several of us were able to attend and to express Christian sympathy and friendship--but I know many others were not able to make the trip and so could be present only "in spirit."  The preacher at the service, Jean's friend and chaplain-colleague, the Rev. Paul Edwards, was kind enough to share a copy of his sermon, which I'm glad to post here.

Memorial Service for Jean Larraine Haslett (My dear Jean)
Calvary United Methodist Church
Chandler Avenue, Johnstown, PA,
May 31, 2014
Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5:1
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:1
Topic: “I know”
Intro: First, allow me to express words of sincere condolences to the Haslett family and all Jean’s other relatives and friends, on behalf of the President, faculty and staff of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Alumni Association; dear friends of Jean’s - retired Chaplain, Rev. Elizabeth Wrightman, (with whom Jean attended seminary and worked with, at West Penn Hospital in the Pastoral Care Department) and retired UMC Minister, Rev. Gail Walker (with whom Jean also attended seminary) I would also like to add to that list, my wife Delease and our son, Najiv. Jean holds a very special place in their hearts and you are in their thoughts and prayers. I also want to recognize Rev. Paul Henry, Chaplain at West Penn Hospital, who also worked with Jean at West Penn, and who is here with us today, with whom I travelled to be here.

Moments like these are never easy. There is nothing easy about losing someone we love. No matter what anyone says, we are never prepared when it happens. Jean and I have talked about a day like today for the past, oh, about 19 years, and I feel numb and unprepared to wrap my mind around the fact that she’s really gone. Please indulge me a bit. I’m a Baptist preacher, so I hope everyone had a really big breakfast. If not, I hope you brought snacks along, because we could be here for a really, really, long time! Jean and I have covered many trails and an hour and a half is not enough time for me to say all I need to say.

Okay, so, I met Jean way back in the days before GPS was invented; way before cell phones weighed less than lead, way, way before e-mail was a popular mode of communication and way before Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram were even words, let alone, ways that people communicated with each other and disseminated information. During that time, Jean and I became close friends. Matt and I were talking recently about how close we were and he mentioned the word “twins”. I think that’s a fitting descriptor of our bond. Talking with Jean was easy, because we shared so much in common. We both liked to think things out and plan ahead, as much as we realistically could. We had shared views on just about everything – I mean…..everything! Politics, religion, social justice issues….you name it. I’d hear a report on the news, or read something in the papers and I’d immediately think, “Hmm. I can’t wait to talk with Jean about that! We are going to have a good time dissecting that one!” And, guess what? We’d have fun, poking holes in some dumb statement made by a politician (I hope we don’t have one here with us) and wonder out loudly how on earth did such folks get elected, always thanking God that we certainly had enough sense not to vote for him/her. We’d joke that perhaps one of ought to run for office. We could certainly do better than what we were seeing! At least there’d be some guarantee that the people had someone with a brain, a bit of common sense and a heart for doing the right thing.

So, I speak to you today, as a friend, a dear friend of Jean’s; someone who shared seminary classes, and chaplaincy training with Jean; someone who logged a lot of miles, on the phone, getting together for lunch when our schedules allowed. I speak to you today as someone who has been there for her when she needed me to and someone who received Jean’s wisdom, love and encouragement when I needed it. This is a hard place to be today, and I am honored, Bill, that you asked me to do the homily today. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you that might help us find some perspective. My hope and prayer is that somehow, these words might help ease the pain and sadness we all share today. It is not going away any time soon, but maybe, just maybe, we can embrace it, instead of fearing it. Maybe, just maybe, we can embrace it, instead of avoiding it.

In recent years, when Jean and I would talk, I’d end my calls with, “I love you Jean.” She’d respond, “I know. I love you too, Paul”. Allow me to suggest to you today that not only did Jean know that you loved her; she also loved you, and that’s not news to you because… know. In keeping with that thought I want to invite you to reflect with me on this thought: “I know”. In writing to the church at Corinth, in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, and verse 1, the Apostle Paul wrote: - “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Allow me to put some perspective on that might help us in this new reality of the moment. Like a good Baptist preacher, I have three thoughts that come to mind.

1) She knew she was losing the battle
First, Jean knew she was losing the battle. She knew that one day her physical body (what the Apostle refers to as the earthly tent) would not be able to keep the fight going. Sure, she wanted to be around for a bit longer. She had plans to return to Johnstown and resettle here; to enjoy her family and relax, after a life of service to others in the church, the schools, and in the community. As the challenges of her health (that really appeared out of nowhere) loomed large, Jean was acutely aware that her earthly tent was losing the battle. As we talked about options and outcomes, I’d tell Jean that only she knew how she felt; how her body felt. I further told her that she’ll know and when that time comes, even though I’d be sad, she needed to tell me when that time came. So, three weeks ago, to this day, Jean realized that and said to herself: “I know” it is time. She wanted to keep on fighting. She wanted to fight her illness, not for selfish reasons, but for everyone she cared about. Jean might have lived in Pittsburgh, but her heart was always in Johnstown. She and I talked about you guys all the time. I got family updates about her nephews and her cousins, the twins, and everyone. She was the person who went grocery shopping with a dear friend and seminary colleague who needed a friend when others were too busy to care. She was the one who did not mind going on doctors’ visits with her friend Patty and being support to her when she received a diagnosis that required treatment. It was just Jean’s way. It was her way of showing that she cared about what was going on with you. It was not just pure talk. And yet, one day, she looked at all she was facing, weighed all the facts, examined all the possibilities and admitted to herself: “I know”. She knew the fight was too intense and she just was not winning. In her words, “Paul, I’m losing ground.” She knew.

2) She knew she was grounded in her faith
Secondly, Jean knew what it meant to have faith, even when we ourselves at times struggle with how that is and how we express that. Jean was always vocal about how traditional religion tends to try to box folks into certain molds. As chaplains, we saw our fair share of folks who did not fit the traditional molds but, for whom their faith was just as deep as anyone else’s. It was always a joy to talk with Jean about such matters. She was a brilliant woman, who had the gift of being unsophisticated when talking about God and faith. I wish more of us would display an unpretentious, “down-to-earth” outlook on issues of faith. Somehow we manage to make faith and spirituality far too complicated, when it’s really quite simple. For Jean, faith in God was important. It had to be, when she had to jump through so many hoops in order to become a full elder with the church. All she wanted to do was to be ordained to the Word and Sacrament, so that she could fully serve as a hospital chaplain. That was her passion and she pursued it with dogged determination. While that process was so uncertain at times, one thing she was certain of was this: she knew she was called of God. She knew God, and God knew her, and God knew of her desire to serve God’s people in specialized ministries, even in the chaplaincy. And it did happen, despite the obstacles. It was going to all come together. She knew. A few weeks ago she said to me, “I don’t want to go now, but if I have to, it’s okay. I’ve done all I needed to do. I am really okay”. She knew.

3) She knew there was a new body awaiting her
Thirdly, Jean not only knew that she was losing the battle with this earthly tent (this physical body); not only did she know, with great conviction, that she had faith; she also knew that there was a new body that awaited her beyond this beyond this reality. That’s precisely what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote: Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. That’s the whole purpose of having faith. It is that which sustains you when all else is inadequate. It is not simply a way to explain away or wish away, into denial, the hard, harsh things of life. Rather, faith gives substance and meaning to those things that cause us to stop and evaluate everything that is important in our lives.

One thing I simply admired about Jean (and I know I’ve said it before) is that Jean was never really sophisticated when she talked about matters of faith. She was sure that things do get better, on the other side. That is our prayer, as we gather here to reflect, to cry, to embrace each other. The sadness of this moment is indeed great, and that’s okay. We do know, that Jean’s body is no longer filled with life, but, as people of faith, we are confident that Jean has a new body.  Why do we know that? We know that because Jean knows that. We know that because the Apostle Paul assures us that when this reality ends for us, to quote him, “We have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands”. He knew and Jean knew that too!

So, as we have come together to remember Jean and to celebrate her life, we also need to draw comfort from the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote about this changed reality – from death to eternal life. Hear his words again: - “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” I pose a question to you. What do you know? While you are thinking about that, allow me to suggest a few things. Know this: that you are loved. Jean loved each and every one of you. Her family was everything to her. It was not just words that she used. She followed that through in her actions. She was back here on visits as often as she could. She made arrangements to be actively involved in caring for her mother in her mom’s later years, before her mom predeceased her, at that time spending more time in Johnstown than she did in Pittsburgh. Oh, and she never forgot birthdays and special anniversaries and holidays. If anyone else forgot, Jean did not. Her “Birthday Book” made certain of that! And those phone calls, at times when you needed them, served to reinforce the fact that she loved you.

For us, the words of the Apostle Paul are encouraging because they reinforce our Christian faith that assures us that this is not the end. Yes, it is a change in the way things have always been, and we who are left have no choice but to try to adjust. However, as Jean knew, so we also know, that when the current form in which we exist is no longer, “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands”. My prayer is that all of us, collectively, will be able to not just hear the words of the Apostle, but to also echo his words as our own confession of faith and say, “We know”. And so, we await the day when those words will indeed become more than a statement of faith but an affirmation of our transition to that eternal place of peace and rest; that place where we know Jean is. Amen.