“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” - John 14:1-7 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. - 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)
If you know my Mom, there are two things you know about her. First, she is not a very formal person. Second, she absolutely loves people. So, I want to start things off informally and ask anyone present to share their first, best memory about my Mom. It could be something funny….it could be something serious. Whatever comes to your mind and you wish to share. I'll start off…..
My Mom was a TERRIBLE joke teller. One time when I was around 12-ish, we were all sitting around the dinner table and my Mom announced she had a joke to share. Everyone at the table knew what this meant, so we all looked at each other and collectively thought, 'oh no'. Before we could say anything, she asked…(my apologies to any one of polish descent), "How do you get a one-armed pollock out of a tree?" In the middle of asking this question, she began to laugh uncontrollably and could barely get the last half of the question out. She continued to laugh uncontrollably while we watched in this weird mix of 'what's the answer?,' 'what the heck is going on?,' and 'this must be good!' Finally, she gained control enough to reveal the punchline to us…once again barely able to squeeze out the words in between her uncontrollable laughter. "YOU PULL HIM DOWN!" Now… my sister or myself did not find this funny. Nor did my Dad who knew the actual punchline. He said quite calmly, "Gloria, it's 'you wave at him!'" She continued to laugh… and we finally laughed as well… not so much about the joke, but how my Mom got another joke wrong… again.
There was this other time when I was around ten or eleven and I was experiencing my first heartbreaking rejection from a girl. I expressed to my Mother… at length… on the various ways my life was over. She listened… as she always did… making me feel like I was the only person in the entire world. When I was finished, she held my hand and looked me in the eyes. She said to me, "Sam… if you love something, set it free. If it is yours, it will come back to you. If it doesn't, it never was." For some reason, that made everything clear to me. I have never forgotten those words, which I know were not originally hers. They have echoed in my mind countless times in my life thus far… and continue to help and guide me.
Her nephew, CJ, stood up and shared how she always told it like it was, but always with gentleness and respect.
Her grandson's mom, Miranda, stood up and shared how she always was there for Colin, as well as all her Grandkids.
Some folks she met at the YMCA during her weekly water-walking shared how fun and inventive she was. (She actually explored patenting a flotation contraption for her oxygen tank. She decided she would just give it away for free to anyone who wanted one).
Her niece, Angie, shared how they spoke often in the afternoons while Angie drove home from work. Mom always seemed to be able to put things in perspective for her.
Her son-in-law, Pete, shared how they were 'partners in crime' and some of the shenanigans they got into.
…all of them expressed how much they love her and miss her…
I remember always calling Mom on Sundays after church. (I called her several times throughout the week, but Sunday at 1pm was set in stone). We talked about a lot of things. Of course, the subject of Jesus would come up and we would talk about Him. My Mom loved Jesus… she really loved His style. She also understood something about Jesus that, sadly, many folks outside the Church don't know about Him… and, perhaps sadder still, many of the folks inside the Church don't get about Him. Jesus came and did many things in His thirty-some-odd years of life… one of those things was He came and answered two of the most fundamental questions all of humanity have asked since the beginning of time. WHO IS GOD? and WHO AM I?
Jesus answered these several times throughout scripture, but none as clearly and connected as what we heard in the gospel of John. Here is Jesus, eating His final dinner with His disciples before He is to be betrayed and crucified. In the midst of the dinner, He tells them that He has to be going, but not to worry. He is going to prepare a place for them and will come back to them. He tells them they know the way to this place. He then transitions quickly and tells them that when they see Him, they see the Father in Heaven.
To paraphrase, Jesus is saying to His disciples… and to all of humanity… "Look I know you want to know who created you. I know you want to know who God is. Well, here He is because when you see me you see God. You see how full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control I am? This is who God is! Do you see how full of grace, mercy, and love I am… this is exactly who God is!!" Then He goes on to answer the second question. Jesus says, "Now that you know who God is… now you know who you are. You see, you were made in our image and our likeness. Do you see how full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control I am? This is who YOU are! Do you see how full of grace, mercy, and love I am? This is who we made YOU to be!" It's almost like Jesus is saying, "don't you see guys…my life is the truth on the best way to live life!"
Later in one of John's letters, John wrote this simple statement that "God is love." This leads us to an inevitable conclusion. If God is love that means WE ARE LOVE. My Mom got this about Jesus, loved Him for it, and tried to live this out the best she could all her 71-years.
Funny thing about life. Today I was supposed to officiate a wedding. At almost every wedding I preach, including when my sister and Pete were married, I have preached on 1 Corinthians 13. I preach on it because it has nothing to do with a wedding or marriage, but it has everything to do with how to live into our full humanity. I have never preached on 1 Corinthians 13 at a funeral. However, I can't think of a better text to preach on when it comes to my Mom. When I preach this at weddings, towards the end of the sermon, I take out the words 'love' and 'it' and replace it with the names of the bride and groom. Today, I will do it with my Mom.
Gloria is Patient… even when she didn’t need to be
Gloria is Kind… to everyone she ever met
Gloria does not envy… she never cared about what other folks had
Gloria does not boast, Gloria is not proud... at least not about herself… only about and for others
Gloria does not dishonor others… she never said a bad word about anyone…even if they were bad
Gloria is not self-seeking… did she ever do anything for herself?
Gloria is not easily angered… even when the situation called for it
Gloria keeps no record of wrongs… I wasn’t the greatest son... never would have known it
Gloria does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth
Gloria always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres
Gloria never fails
You see, a love like this can never die. So it goes back to what Jesus was talking about in John. When we love like this… when we live and love the way that we were created to… we can never die. So my Mom will never really die and is very much still alive!
If you know my Mom, you know that she was obsessed with this idea of "Paying it Forward." Many times in the past few years, we have discussed, strategized, and lamented on her Facebook efforts to get her movement and message out. Although her movement was not a Facebook success, I think it was more successful than she was aware. I can say this, I know if my Mom could speak here, she wouldn’t want us going on about her. Rather, she would ask you where can you Pay it Forward? I will say, if my Mom was ever one of these ‘loves’ to you, where can you be love? Where can you be a reflection of what God created you to be? Maybe it is to someone in this room. Maybe it's someone at work. Maybe it's someone you love, or even someone you don’t love so much. I know this, we are never truly ourselves until we love like this.
I will miss my Mom. The world will be darker without her in it… but I will see her light again. (WE will see her light again… if we’re looking.) Here’s the thing… I won’t have to wait until I die to see it. I will see it every time I or someone else is patient, kind, graceful, merciful, or loving.
Because this is a promise from the Father… this is the promise from the Son… and this is a promise from the Holy Spirit.