Monday, December 14, 2009

Funeral Sermon: Betty Marquis

Since I don't preach from a manuscript, there's no guarantee that this exactly what I said at Betty's funeral. But, it was close.

Betty Marquis was known by many names. A few of you called her mom. A few others of you called her Gram. Most of us called her Betty. Just don't call her Elizabeth. That always elicited an eye roll! Betty was a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a "fairy" godmother, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend to many.

Born and raised in Berlin, Betty was a life-long member of this congregation. She was shaped by early events in her life: helping her dad with his florist business - and then losing him when she was only 13. How many of you know that she started driving at 13, to help her dad deliver flowers. She told me THAT story last week, with a gleam in her eye.

Her dad's death was hard on her. She never forgot the pain of losing him so young, and what that was like. His death also meant a move to a new neighborhood, where she would eventually meet Jim. After marriage, they lived in the house Jim grew up in, on fourth street for all but two years of their married life.

Betty had hoped to go to nursing school, but there was no money for that training. Instead, she worked in the office at the Brown Company and she worked seasonally at Gill's. She did book-keeping at home. She raised wonderful children. She crafted and knit. And she contributed much to the life of this congregation.

When Rev. Ellie arrived at St. Barnabas, Betty handed her a piece of paper onto which she'd written all of the things that she did for the church. It had 27 different things on it. And, she'd say, with that characteristic Betty twinkle, that's not all of it.

Usually in a funeral homily, the preacher tells a bit about the person's life, and then tries to connect it all to God. With Betty, there was no distinction. All that Betty did flowed out of her love of God and her faith.

On Sunday, Leo and Pamela Carrier and I were talking about Betty. Leo said that Betty was responsible for the character of this congregation. "If we are welcoming, and hospitable, and have a sense of mission in the community," Leo said, "it's because Betty modeled that for us." We are a better place because of her being in the midst of us. She taught us all, by word and example, how to live.

Last night, Scott's friend Dave, one of the pall bearers, essentially said the same thing. Betty and Jim welcomed him into their home when he was young. "I was like the fourth child," he said. "And now, as an adult, I try to model that same behavior for my boys, so I can pass on the gift and values the Betty and Jim gave to me."

The gospel reading that Rev. Ellie just read for us from John's gospel is part of the service that we use in this church for communion under "Special Circumstances." Betty and I had many communions under special circumstances in recent months. At home, when she didn't feel well enough to come to church. And several times in recent weeks at AVH. I always read this passage to her, and then, in my reflection I would tell her that I'd chosen it because it reminded me of her.

Betty's faith was a deep part of her life. Her conviction was always strong. Even in the hospital, even when she felt really lousy (though she never complained about that), her faith and trust in God, and her joy in life never failed. A few days before she died, I told her that on the outside, she seemed really cheerful (despite being in the hospital and being enrolled into hospice). "How is it in here," I asked? "Just the same," was her smiling reply, that twinkle in her eye.

On Friday night, the night before Betty died, her friend Sophie had a dream. Betty (and all the knitting ladies, I think) were in Sophie's kitchen. I have to go home now, Betty said, standing up. She buttoned up her coat. I have to go home now.

Friends, the grief that we feel now at Betty's death is normal. Our hearts are broken because we loved her, and she loved us. It's hard to imagine a world without Betty in it. But Betty is home. She is reunited with the God she loved so well and loved so deeply.

And, she lives on in each of us. She lives on in the stories we tell. She lives on when we are loving and hospitable. She lives on as we pass on the values she taught us to the next generations.

And so today, I give thanks for the life and witness of Betty Marquis. I give thanks for having known and loved her. And I give thanks for what I have learned from her. I also give thanks that the physical suffering that she endured in recent months has ended and that she is free from her earthly body and is now living in closer communion with her God. AMEN.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 3 Sermon: Philippians 4:4-7

I don't usually write a manuscript for my sermons. However, when Betty died yesterday; I decided to jettison my JBap sermon in favor of preaching on the Philippians passage. I began writing this post this morning before church, to help me get my thoughts in order; I finished it on Sunday night. I have no idea how much this represents what I actually said, because once my sermons are preached, they are over. However, several friends have asked what I said this morning. It went something like this....

Friends, this isn't the sermon I was planning to preach this morning. I had prepared what I think was a pretty good sermon on John the Baptist. It talked about the ways in which Luke's version of this story differ quite markedly from Matthew and Mark's versions, and what that might mean for us.

And then, Betty Marquis died yesterday morning. Her daughter-in-law Lisa called to tell me the news; I hung up the phone, and these words, from Philippians 4 came into my head unbidden: May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God's son Jesus Christ. We use these words often in this Church. We use them as the blessing every Wednesday in the chapel at the 10AM service, and I've been using them as the Advent blessing here in the church on Sundays.

As I thought about this passage, and our grief, I realized that today, we needed the comfort of these words. I don't want to presume to speak for anyone else, but I know that today, I feel a combination of relief and sadness, joy and grief. Relief because Betty is finally free of the body which gave her such pain and grief in recent weeks and months, and sadness because I miss her. Joy because Betty has gone to be with God, and grief because she's no longer here with us. Perhaps you are feeling some of the same things.

They say that preachers often preach the sermon that they most need to hear. I know that this is the sermon that I need to hear this morning. I hope it's also the sermon that you need to hear. I found these words from Philippians comforting; I hope that they will be the same for you.

Paul wrote this letter to a church that he founded. He had a deep relationship with the people there, and loved them deeply. He wrote to them from prison. His primary reason for writing was to offer thanksgiving for a monetary gift they have sent to him. His secondary reason is to express his love for them and to encourage them in their faith. It's a short letter, and very beautiful. You could read it in one sitting, probably in 15-20 minutes. And I encourage you to do that.

The Christians in the church at Philippi faced some of the same issues facing the early church all over that region. There was some disagreement among church members. There were those outside the church who were trying to draw believers away from God. Christians faced persecution. Paul wrote to encourage the Philippians in all of those situations.

Today, as we gather together to worship God and join together in fellowship, these words that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi have particular meaning for us. Here the words that Paul speaks to the church at Philippi. Rejoice. Be gentle. The Lord is near. Pray. Rest in the peace of God.

Paul's words of exhortation serve as encouragement to us, as well. If you want a brief description of the life of faith, this one would serve.

Certainly, those words describe Betty and her life. She was a model for us of living out a life characterized by joy, gentleness, prayer, and faithfulness. She never doubted the nearness of her Lord. We who knew Betty and loved her are lucky. We had, in Betty, a living example of what living out this life of faith looks like.

That joy thing - it's complicated. Today, we lit the pink Advent candle. That candle stands for joy. There's some irony in that for us, I think. Today, we might not be feeling particularly joyful. Life as we know it has both sorrow and joy. Last night, when Betty's family gathered to begin planning the funeral, we laughed and we cried. I learned things about Betty that I'd never known. Did y'all know she was a speed demon?? That's how life is: God is with us in our sorrow and our joy. It's not up to us to fabricate that joy for ourselves.

In the coming days and weeks, as we continue to gather and tell stories about Betty, we will give thanks for her life and witness among us; we can honor Betty's memory by following her examples.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sometimes You CAN go Home Again

Before I went to seminary, nearly all of my working life was spent in retail. The vast majority of that was spent as a bookseller. From September of 1991 until I left for seminary in July of 2003, I was first a staff person at, and then the manager of, The World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, MA.

The World Eye, as most folks call it, is a wonderful store. It survived a fire in 1996, from which it came back better and stronger than ever. For many years, I thought I would be there forever, buying the store and living in Greenfield, my adopted home-town.

God, as we now know, had other plans. I love my life and my ministry, and don't doubt for a moment that I've made the right response to God's call. Despite this, every so often, I get a bookselling twinge. Today, I got to go home again.

I learned in conversation with my friend-for-life (and World Eye owner) Ann that she was going to be short-staffed today. And, I was going to be in Greenfield with a bunch of free time. So, from 11-2:30, I was back in the bookselling saddle. I discovered a number of things:
  • It's amazing what your body remembers. After 6.5 years of not accessing this information, I can still find fiction (or travel, of the baking section of the cookbook area) without having to stop and think about it.
  • I can still run a cash register, and it's mostly the same. I can still make change in my head, and count it back to the penny.
  • Certain movements are ingrained in my body: the set of motions it takes to apply a price tag to merchandise with the most efficiency; the patterns of the keystrokes to open the cash register drawer; how to write up credit slips.
  • Time marches on. Several times, I discovered that I was answering questions based on information that was 6.5 years old. (Of course we have Dungeons and Dragons books [nope]. I can't tell if this book is in stock at our distributors [yes, I can, there's a live stock link].
  • I knew faces quite readily, but many names were gone. It was fun to watch a few people double-take.
  • I'm not reading enough books these days (lots of magazines, blogs, and a newspaper, but precious few books). I dreaded being asked for recommendations.
My only disappointment was that more of my old regular customers didn't wander by.

For the 12 years that I worked there, I can count the days when I hated my job on one hand. Every day was different. Most days were more fun than you can imagine. Today was fun, too. I'm perfectly happy to go back to my day-job, and I am so grateful for a chance to play in my old stomping grounds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day Tales (Past and Present)

I think there's a part of me that will always be a kid. When I heard that there was a snowstorm coming in last night; I really (really really) hoped for a for a snow day today.

When I woke up this morning, it wasn't really snowing. I looked out the window in disappointment; I was reminded of snowy mornings when I was a kid. I remembered that disappointment of hoping school would be postponed, and then waking up to discover no snow. My dad was a teacher, and we had a particular routine on school mornings. He got up, did his thing, and then woke me. We often ate breakfast together. He taught in a different school district from where we lived, and his superintendent called school off more than ours. Predictions of snow often caused much good-natured ribbing. I loved the days when I could go back to bed and Dad had to go to work.

Back to today, by the time I left for church (slightly late) the snow had begun. A few intrepid folks came out for our weekly 10AM service, but there was no going out to lunch afterwards. I ran some errands in the late morning, and got really worried about whether I would make it home; the roads were wretched. We live at the top of a fairly steep hill, and our driveway is very steep.

In the early afternoon, Susan and I met to plan music for Christmas. I got the word that my late afternoon meeting was cancelled, because of the weather. I skipped a home visit, postponing it to tomorrow. After a very slow drive home, I made it just fine, a good three hours earlier than usual.

While this didn't feel like a true snow day (since I didn't get to lounge around in my PJs), I did wind up with a day that felt more like a holiday and less like a real work day. In the end, it was a good snow day.

I'm still not sure of our total snow accumulation; I haven't measured, but I'm voting for about 6 inches.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on Marriage Equity

As New Jersey legislators hear arguments about Marriage Equity, this article appeared in The New York Times online edition. In it, members of the Petrow-Cohen Family talk about the way in which a lack of marriage equity has affected them. The most powerful words come from the testimony that their teenage daughter was to give today to the state legislature.

The article quotes Jessie Petrow-Cohen's testimony in full. Please go read it. I was brought to tears by one sentence:
The only thing that’s different about my family and every one of yours is that we have to stand here and ask you if we can legally be a family, when you can be one without asking anyone.

Jessie is right, of course.

I have no desire to force those for whom gay marriage is uncomfortable to have one, or attend one, or participate in any way. But no kid should have to wonder whether her family is safe. No kid should have to ask to have her family recognized as legitimate.

The Messiah

I'm not sure when I first encountered Handel's Messiah. I didn't grow up in a house where we listened to this kind of music. Clearly, at some point it entered into my consciousness. For a number of years, listening to it during both Advent and Holy Week has become a part of my spiritual practice.

Sunday night, for the first time, I saw it live. I invited myself along on Margaret's excursion to the Concord Community Chorus's free performance at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord (this was the 79th annual performance). The concert was to begin at 7. We met for supper at 5, and then stood in a line (where, amazingly, we were numbers 2 and 3) to get in. It was chilly in Concord; my puffy jacket kept me warm, but a hat would have been a smart addition to the ensemble.

We saw a number of folks Margaret knew. I met some NH Episcopalians I hadn't met before. The concert got off to a late start because a soloist was late, so we had extra chatting time. Our seatmates were a lovely older couple. The woman, age 75, grew up as a member of St. Paul's and told me a bit about the church of her youth while we waited.

The music, when it began, was top notch. Three cheers for the Concord Community Chorus and the wonderful soloists.

Those who know me well know that I don't always have great musical memory. Because I am so familiar with the Messiah, hearing and seeing it live was a totally different experience for me. Repeatedly, I was transported by the music. Sometimes I forgot to breathe. At others, I was near tears, because the music was so beautiful. By the end of the night, my facial muscles hurt, because I'd been smiling so much.

Here's Margaret's video of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Seven Loves

I came across this meme on my friend Margaret's blog, and thought it was great. I hope it gets me back into the scheme of blogging.

The question: What are your seven loves? For me the answer falls into categories, more readily than it does individual items. They are: Loved Ones, The Church, Reading, Music, the Beauty of Creation, Travel, and Food.

Loved ones
I've been really blessed in my life with good relationships. My parents were (and are still, in my mother's case!) good people who loved me unconditionally, and showed it. Through the wonders of Facebook, I am in touch with a friend from Nursery School, friends from elementary school, high school and college, friends from seminary, and friends from the various places I have lived. I have always been a people person, and I'll always choose hanging out with friends over virtually everything else. Whenever I return to a place where I have lived, the most important thing to me is time with the friends who are still there. When I go to Western Mass, I make date after date, so that I can see those I love. (Ditto: Virginia, Michigan, New Zealand).

I could give up virtually everything else in my life, but I couldn't live without my friends. There are those who think I am addicted to technology. But, for the most part, my love of technology feeds my desire to be in touch with those I love who don't live right here, right now.

Please note that loved ones aren't limited to human loved ones, either. These days Birdie, Outtie, Sam and Basil make my heart sing, as do a number of others (including my new canine BFFs).

The Church
I've been a church rat since I was a kid. I was that girl trying to persuade the priest that girls should be altar boys, long before that was allowed. When my church started a kids' choir, I was there. I joined the youth group when that was possible. I was active in a number of campus religious organizations. I've never in my life been without a church community. And, I've never not been active in whichever church community I have joined.

Now, of course, behind that love of church is love of God. But for me, the church is the place where my love of God is strengthened and encouraged. It's the place from which I am sent, in order to be Christ's hands and feet in the world. I personally can't live out my Christian faith without a church community to do it in.

Somewhere, there is a picture of me, age two, in my father's lap, reading a book. It happened every day. I taught myself to read around age 4. And I've never stopped. My reading habits have changed - I read fewer romance novels now than I did when I was a teenager. In fact, these days much of my reading is of magazines. But, I never go anywhere without reading material. And I can tell, because I get grumpy, if I haven't taken enough time to read. These days most of my reading happens at breakfast. I'm up early, and I sit at the island in the kitchen eating my breakfast, drinking my coffee, and reading. It's a wonderful way to start my day.

While I can read music, and sing passably, my real love of music is as a listener. I traced my history with music for a friend the other day. I began with records. I used to stack them up on my parents' record player, and then lay on the floor and listen to them. I had a brief foray with 8-Track Tapes, and then moved on to cassettes. Now I'm at CDs, periodically, and mostly just electronically downloaded or streaming music.

My taste is rather eclectic. In the recently played section of my iTunes, you'll find: Paul Simon, Lady Gaga, ABBA, Men Without Hats, Girlyman, U2, and a whole collection of Classical Music. As Advent progresses, I'll start listening to the Messiah, almost exclusively.

Music soothes me, makes me happy, energizes me, or relaxes me, depending on the music and the occasion.

The Beauty of Creation
I originally wrote that I loved the outdoors. But, when I wrote the first line, I had to go back and edit. Because, it really is the beauty of creation that drives my passion here. It doesn't much matter to me whether it is the red rocks of the southwest, the crowning beauty of fjords in New Zealand, or the view from my deck. I am constantly awed by the beauty of this world we live in. I'm the girl who pulls the car over by the side of the road to gape at some new scene. In the southwest and in New Zealand, sometimes my jaw would hurt because what I saw made me grin. Repeatedly.

I think that life is one big adventure. I love going to new places and seeing new things. So far, I've been to the UK (twice) and Ireland, New Zealand (many times), all of eastern Canada, plus Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, The Bahamas, and 45 of the fifty states (I only need to go to Hawaii, Alaska, North Dakota, Alabama, and Louisiana to have been to them all!). I'll be going to Jerusalem in February; I'm already giddy with anticipation.

I love to eat. I love to cook. I love to try new things. Need I say more? One of the things I love about traveling is the chance to try new foods. I'll eat anything once. I also have old favorites: Lobster. Scallops (particularly the fried ones from the Dairy Bar, right here in Berlin). Really, any kind of sea food, including sushi. I also love having adventures in the kitchen. I made a great Thanksgiving dinner, and everything but the turkey was an experiment.