Yesterday, along with many of you, I attended the funeral service for Ben Smith, former rector of Good Shepherd, beloved pastor and priest. That belovedness was felt throughout the service in various ways – words shared – music listened to – the cracking of the voice as tears leaked out.
The word friend was shared often – by family and colleagues – describing a priest who was a person who preached gospel through friendship. Although we were reminded that his words preached well – too.
I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier this summer, when I visited a good friend. Now, we both have daughters, and hers were home from college, and one had brought her friends. As we were enjoying a relaxed afternoon on the sun porch with a delicious cheeseboard – one of the young women asked me, I heard you are an Episcopal priest? Yep.
I’m Episcopalian, she said. My grandfather was an Episcopal priest and rector at our church when I was growing up – and remember I loved sitting in the pews and listening to him preach.
Really? I said – what was it that he said? What did you love listening to?
Oh, she said – I have no idea – I don’t remember any of his sermons – I just remember that he talked to you. He told stories and he just talked to us like he was a regular person. And because I was he granddaughter and stayed at my grandparents house during the week – I saw how much he worked on those words, writing and writing and rewriting – but the sermons never sounded like that – he just talked to us about God and how much God loved us. And he made me feel special.
Maya Anjolou said – I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
That’s the belovedness that was shared yesterday at the funeral. That’s the belovedness the young woman was sharing with me.
Sometimes the words Jesus uses to convey God’s love and how special we are in God’s eyes, sometimes the words help us feel that – and let’s face it – sometimes they don’t. Like, dare I say, this morning. “When you eat my flesh, and drink my you abide in me – and – whoever eats me will live because of me.”
(A few years ago, I was a guest preacher up in Maine at a chapel of mostly strangers and this was the text to go along with a beautiful baby’s baptism – nothing like talking about eating flesh and drinking blood to have everyone feeling good on a summer Sunday holiday. I focused my words on the baptism.)
We know these words. We sing and say them every Sunday, and yet, they are still strange. Even the disciples feel that when they hear them.
Does this teaching offend you? Jesus asks them. Yep. Some let him know their feelings by leaving – turn around, I’m out. But the discomfort doesn’t drive all of them away. Peter, good old Peter, friend of Jesus answers with plain and truthful words to tell Jesus how he feels -
Lord – to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to trust you.
Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words – that’s a line from the musical rant sung by the character Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Exasperated and frustrated and maybe even offended by all the words the professor uses when all she wants is love. To feel love and for him to see her for who she is.
We all want this don’t we? To be seen – to feel as though we have been seen for who we are. To be fully known – without all the words. St. Paul’s well-known description of this – now I see through a mirror dimly – but when the complete comes – then I will finally and fully know you – God – just as you have always fully known me.
This is a difference between you and me – and Jesus. Not our humanity – he’s just human as we are. Not our failings – Jesus made some mistakes, changed his mind. A difference between you and me and Jesus – maybe the only one that matters - is that he is fully known and he fully knows – and he knows this, always regardless of how he feels.
He knows who he is and whose he is no matter who he meets or what he endures. And with his actions and also words, words, words he tries get us to know this too. Eating and drinking, I think, is simply to help his disciples and us understand that God is a part of us, just as bread and drink can be. We take it in – there is no disconnection. We are, as we all know, what we eat.
There is a word, we move quickly through in this passage that helps me. A word that speaks to the love a granddaughter might feel in her grandfather’s presence when words are wrapping her feeling love. A gospel word that came to mind yesterday as we were reminded that when people we love go before us, they are forever with us.
Abide in me. Abide in me as God abides in you. I am the vine you are the branches – abide in me as I abide in you. Abide is a forever word. Abide is a word of safety of blessed assurance Jesus is mine.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me (Hymnal 1982 #662)
Life is the constant living between the befores and the afters. Before we were adults and were grandchildren. After we were young, before we were old – or older. After someone dies – before we’ve fallen in love.
After we hear the word of God – or before the experience that enables us to really take the words in.
Through all our befores and all our afters – God abides. God abides in us and we in God. We feel that love in so many ways – and we can trust that belovedness even when we do not feel it. These are not just words. This is the eternal promise shared by the one who is the Word that was and is and forever will be God.
Abide. Jesus abides in you and in me and we abide in him. Thanks be to God.