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…..you 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.