Monday, October 22, 2007

Last Lecture

Watching Oprah today (yes I actually typed those words), she had a show with Dr. Oz about death. They focused on two people who dying of cancer. She had Kris Carr who was the star of a documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer. She also had on Randy Pausch who is dying of pancreatic cancer. He has become a big hit on the web because of his last lecture that he gave at Carnegie Mellon University. You can check the whole lecture starting here, although on Oprah he gave a shorten version of it.

These two people are facing death in the eye and they are doing it well. Although I was sad that neither of them called themselves Christian. They said they were spiritual but never used the word Christian or Christ. I had two of my parishioners pass away on the same day, last Friday. One I was really close too, even though I only knew her for four short months. She was a spiritual matriarch of our congregation and she will be missed.

She died with the most dignity and the most hope I have ever seen. She demonstrated faith and love like a true follower of Christ does. I wanted her life to speak outside the congregation as well, just like Oprah allowed these two people to have a broader audience. What made them so special is their hope in these dire times. Jackie had the same, yet even deeper hope.

Below is my eulogy, my testimony to her life she had here on this earth. She is in the presence of God know, with no pain, and no suffering. She is resting in peace, a peace unlike the world can give. Jackie we will miss you...

Today is a good day to cry. Today we can cry because we will miss Jackie. Jackie is participating in the next step today. She has gone back to the world that she once knew. Today is a good day to cry because we are happy that Jackie is no longer in pain and her suffering has stopped. Today is a good day to cry.

As we cry together we need to remember that our tears do not dissolve the certainty that Christ, in his death on the cross, conquered sin and death for us and for our salvation. Our crying does not contradict our faith in Christ, and does not drown out the fact that the Resurrection is real. It is in these tears, in our vulnerability that we can see the risen Christ in our midst. His spirit is here with us and his love will always be in our hearts. That is something Jackie knew well and found hope in.

I only had the pleasure of knowing Jackie for the four short months I have been here. But like anyone who met her, she made an impression. Everyone that knew Jackie talked kindly of her. Actually the didn’t talk kindly, they glorified her. But to ask her, she was truly humble about herself, her life, and her faith. Jackie was a women of dedication. She dedicated 57 years to the love of her life, Bob. They feel in love when she was only 18 and they loved each other more in these last months then in their whole marriage. Jackie told me that Bob and her were never closer than they were in these last months. They were closer mentally and spiritually. That is a testament to the type of love they shared with one another. That is the type of marriage that others admired and people strove to emulate. Bob and Jackie were a team. They did everything together and loved every minute of it. It did not matter if they were driving across the country on I40 or square dancing all around the nation. They loved being together.

One of the closest things to Jackie’s heart was her family. I have to be honest today, I have had a hard time keeping track of who is who and who is who’s. When she spoke of daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, uncles, sister-in-laws, it was hard to tell you apart. It was hard because every time she would mention your name, she did with such compassion, love and care. It was how people talk about their own children. That amazed me. She loved each and every one of you equally. She would welcome people into their homes. Her door was always open, literally and figuratively. There was no time when I saw her at Hospice that her door was shut. She welcomed all into her care and into her heart. It was a type of unconditional love that I have never truly seen before in a person. I know only one other person with that type of love and Jackie and Him are enjoying each other right now.

I know her family will miss her dearly. They will miss her strawberry shortcake, chicken and dumplings, and potato salad. I heard she was a great cook and many of her dishes were requested at every family event. They requested it so much that one time Jackie wrote Uncle Harvey’s name on the potato salad with pickles to let him know it was for him. Now I cannot give Jackie all the credit for her cooking because Bob will rapidly remind you that it was him that did the grocery shopping, picked the strawberries and cut up the onions and other things for these recipes. Like I said, they were a team.

On the other side of her heart was the love for this church. A little over a year ago Bob and Jackie moved and they wanted to move so they could be closer to this church. They went here for many years and she touched everyone in this place. She was a spiritual matriarch. It was her optimistic and hope-filled way of seeing life that made it impossible not to be transformed by her faith. She regularly attended a Tuesday night Bible study. She attended every single night when she was feeling well. The people who attended with her will tell you that she was able to find the good in anything. They would all wait on baited breath to hear what wisdom would come from her about the subject they were studying. We will look back at our last studies together with her with fondness. And I know they will cherish those memories forever.

Jackie made such an impact on this group of people that about a month ago, right before she went to hospice, they decided to name their group after her. Now I have waited until now to publicly announce this because she was truly embarrassed by it. She told me that she could think of at least three other people the group should be named after instead of her. She was truly humbled by this honor, which speaks volumes about her character and spirit. But from this day forward, the Tuesday night Bible study will be known as the Jackie XXXX Bible Study.

As I got to know Jackie better and we talked, she told me how much she loved this congregation. I told her that she has a unique and wonderful opportunity to craft this service as a way to remember her but also to inspire this congregation. I asked her if there was anything she would like me to say to Trinity UMC. She told me that she feels like this congregation is warm again. You all have gone through a tough time and the sanctuary in the past felt cold to her. But there is warmth once again and she hopes we never lose it.

This illness has been hard on us all and probably hardest of all on Bob. Bob said the toughest thing he had to do was to call his girls and tell them that their mother was going to die. Jackie knew this day was coming, we all did. But she would be quick to tell you that she enjoyed her time here. She had a great life and she looked upon this day as a celebration and a time of joy. She died with dignity and went just like she hoped. She passed on from this world to the next holding the hand of her friend, her partner, the love of her life. They did every thing together and this event in their life was no different.

For Jackie death did not scare her because she had faith that the grace found in Jesus Christ was real. Jackie won the battle with cancer because she can boldly say today, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Jackie wanted us to celebrate today because she is taking part in that next step. In our sinning ways, in our poor attempts of praise and thanksgiving, in our happiest times in life and in our last days here on earth; Jesus Christ, Son of the One True God, promises that he will always be with us. Death for us, the believers, is just a door into a world we once knew, a world that is filled with the peace, the love and the grace of our Creator. Today is a good day to cry because we deeply cherish the faith, hope and love with which Jackie lived and shared her life with us. Today we come to remember the life she shared with us and celebrate that now she has a new life with God. We can find peace today knowing that God is here in our mourning and cries with us, but God is also celebrating that another one of his children are back home. Death is not the end, but really the beginning, the beginning of a new life with our creator, our Sustainer and Our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN

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