a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Judith Ann O’Leary

25 July 1942 + 14 November 2015

Psalm 23 & 139:1-18; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; 2Corinthians5:1-10;  Romans8:31-35,37-39; John15:9-17

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, this may have been a long time coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier for you, does it Tom, and Judy’s family, and you of the Sisterhood, and all the rest of you who found her so dear? On the one hand, we celebrate the amazing 24 years of life since her transplant. But we still can say that that’s not enough. We mark all the time in hospitals over the last years, and how cheerful she remained and with what strength she continued to fight (and live!), but that doesn’t prepare us for this moment, for when the struggle is ended and she is in peace, but when from our lives a bright and beautiful light has gone out.

So what do we say at this moment? How do we deal with the loss? What does God have to do with it? These are our questions, the words we try to supply for each other along with hugs and cards and all the compassion and support we muster in shared tears. The question is directly asked by one of our Bible readings: “What, then, are we to say about these things?”

Pat and Christine chose for us a very fitting Psalm to try to get answers from God’s perspective. It fits this moment, and also fits Judy herself. That 139th Psalm gives a perspective that God has been attending to us and caring for us and planning for us from before we were born, and when we first enter the world, and who made us to be what we are. Those are words for Judy, for God’s care and blessing for her that held her throughout life, from the start to the end. Those words also apply specially to Judy, who continued to see herself as the Neonatal Intensive Care nurse where she has so kind-heartedly served her vocation. The Psalm’s words go with her concern for all of those tiny, tiny babies on the NICU whom she helped to live, and—we’d have to expect—it is also for those who didn’t, when her best medical attention and wisdom and devotion was still not enough to make life last. Judy had perspective—probably better than most of us—of the intricate and precious value of life, the miracle of how are bodies are built, the frail blessing of our existence.

Yet that raises more questions for us of where God is when babies don’t survive, or have birth defects, or amid the pains of the NICU, and beyond. We believe God is present in the healing and the compassion, and holding us even through the tears. Nor even at the far end of life can we say that it was just Judy’s time and so God took her. The Psalm said that God knows all of our days, but we shouldn’t take that to mean God plans our loss or sorrow or random problems. Sometimes life continues against all odds, but we can’t predict when or how. We know that bad things happen, even to good people.

So our human perspective can only be that we face a whole lot of different things in life, good times and bad, sorrows and joys. As we have seen our first snow, we know we’re transitioning into a new season. Some of these things seem like cycles that come and go, while others seem like a trajectory, as we go from young to older, from health to infirmity, from birth to death. The same Judy who was worn out in a hospital bed was the one who used to get dressed up for dates and steal her parents’ car. Her glowing smile said it’s the same Judy, but with it we’d note how much life changes us through it all. “There’s a time for everything,” was the observation from Ecclesiastes.

Which may have some honesty, but it still isn’t all that satisfying as an answer, is it? It remains unpredictable on when changes will come, how long they’ll last, what we can expect. In these last months, we had to wonder with Judy on when she’d finally improve and get back to life, when she’d be able to overcome the falling and clots and infections. Or if the tiring process of dialysis was really worth it.

Amid that is where we turn to a larger hope. This is not just sad mortality. Even as the 2nd Corinthians reading reiterated that our bodies are fragile and groan and wear out—like clay jars, it says in another place—still we expect and trust that there is something more, beyond this earthly tent we wear now. We presume that it is not only for this temporary, broken life that God has made us and destined us. We trust that our Shepherd does prepare a place for us in his home, an eternal dwelling place that will not wear out. We cling to that promise today for Judy, the assurance of things hoped for and as yet unseen. We eagerly believe the heavenly promise in which she rests, the promise that awaits us, again with her. This is the best of good news.

But even looking forward to that, we may still wonder about the present moment. Why did Judy linger in suffering so long, even with her positive attitude? What do we do now without her? For this, at last we turn to our Gospel reading, a word of love. This is what remains, what abides, what sustains us for now and forever. As Kathy reminded us, it’s a good word for Judy, in whom we knew so much love, as a partner, as a mother and grandmother, as a coworker and dear friend, as one you cherished each in your own ways, and who treasured you in return, holding onto you with that sparkle in her eyes.

This is also what we’re doing here today, continuing to practice love, trying to help each other. This is what Jesus has given us. He says that we may know his love holds onto us through life, will bring us through death, and will mean even more. And because you are held in his love, he has chosen you, appointed you, even commanded you, to share that blessing for each other, to love as he loved you, as you and Judy loved each other. In spite of tired, worn out, hurting bodies and uncertain lives, this love cannot be undone even by death.

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Christ the King & Author

sermon for Christ the King Sunday (John18:33-37; Revelation1:4b-8)
This is a day that begs us to slow down and think what we’re saying.

First is that when we say “Christ the king,” we have to notice that we don’t have a king, and so don’t relate much to that idea. The closest we typically come is the King of Hearts and Burger King, neither of which promotes much reverence or devotion, unless in a pretty warped sense.

Further, we’re also instilled with this Revolutionary American notion that we want to get away from kings. Freedom from kingly pressures is exactly why we attribute those alleged forebears of ours—the pilgrims whom we recall at this time of year—were getting out of Dodge and sailing across the ocean in the Mayflower and why Paul Revere rode at midnight and Boston became the site of that rebellious Tea Party.

Of course, we can’t say “Tea Party” without calling to mind the present political climate and those who view government still as too authoritarian, too oppressive, too domineering, and perhaps monarchical, that almost any government is a shackle to be cast off.

So, again, as we celebrate Christ the King, how does that relate to other authorities? What sort of king is Christ? There are, on one hand, Christians who resist, still believing we need to get away from kings, even Christ, and they avert any references by systematically excluding terms like king and lord from worship. I understand the notion, but it undoes what Jesus was already trying to undo, how he was working to subvert regimes of traditional patriarchies.

Perhaps on the reverse side are Christians who are so totally subject to worshiping Christ as king that they refuse any other sense of order, claiming Christ must be victorious in visibly and noticeably ruling our lives.

Being the sort of folks we are, I expect we’re more apt to find ourselves in the middle. To begin, we’d say that following Christ directs us to the obligation to love our neighbor. We may, then, see governments in service of this task, welcoming the stranger in immigrants or in preventing hate crimes, and feeding the hungry through food stamps, and making sure we can’t kill each other willy-nilly. Those are roles that our government should be up to, according to the perspective of trying to follow the order of Christ.

Yet, for us in the wise middle, we also observe neither an evil empire nor shining beacon, not demons or heroic knights, but an awful lot of gray area. We would be reluctant to equate anything in our society—much less in our own lives—as all that “Christ-like.” As much good as we do, and for all the successes of our government and society in caring for the vulnerable and oppressed, we’re also met with glaring examples of falling short.

With that dual perspective, scripture tells us in one place (Rom13:1) that we ought to respect the governing authorities, and remember that they are in place to do God’s work. Yet our Lutheran forebears held that verse and let Hitler get away with way too much. Even today in our Gospel reading, the government official goes exactly counter to the will of God: the crafty Pontius Pilate finagles the system and ignores integrity in order to have Jesus killed. He is clearly not on the side of justice. So much the opposite, in fact, that while he’s trying to entrap Jesus in his words, Jesus counters by saying that his role is to testify to the truth.

It reminds me of a favorite quote of my Grandpa Utphall, that he’d “been lied to by experts.” We are much too accustomed to lying experts. That is our default understanding, fitting with the tragic joke that asks, “how do when you know when an authority is lying? Their lips are moving.” This accusation is most frequently leveled against leaders, but also against news reporters, and against salespeople and corporate mouthpieces, and sometimes medical professionals, rallied against teachers, applied to the church, and on and on. If anything, our basic sense of society becomes that we are always being lied to and manipulated and most everyone is for hire or is just so selfish that we can trust no one.

So maybe Christ the King is the start of reversing that trend. If our usual sense is that authorities can’t be trusted, then we can begin again to reground our hope and find a foundation in this one who came to speak the truth. The basis of our faith is, in fact, that God’s Word is good, that God keeps God’s promises.

The clearest case-in-point today is the baptism of Ada Florence. Her grandmother, Sally Keyel, is well-involved in this community. But that isn’t the reason for the baptism. Sasha and Anna aren’t even going to live in this state. She’ll not be part of our Sunday School. With the news of my impending departure, we’re faced with the rather direct reminder that, even though I’m doing the baptizing, I won’t be around to care for her and raise her in the faith. Even more, I like to remind families that there’s the possibility that this would never be mentioned again. We baptize babies who’ll have no individual recollection of it. And yet we believe that Ada will be held as a beloved daughter in God’s care for all her days no matter what, amid her successes and failures, in celebrations and brokenness, as long as she lives, and even beyond that. We trust that God’s promise is good.

With that, we’re getting closer to the heart of what it means to recognize Christ the King. In the Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. We might first take that to mean that his kingdom is up in heaven. But I believe there’s something more striking and meaningful. See, where the President presides over this country, or where a Burger King rules over the other burgers and the King of Hearts may be the most powerful of his suit, where an earthly king reigns over a territory and dictates what is or isn’t allowed in that area and fights to make sure somebody else doesn’t take away his power within his boundaries, the kingdom of God isn’t about power or a locale exactly. This is different.

Here’s a phrase we heard today from Revelation: Jesus is making you into his kingdom. That wording is really, really important. He’s not bringing you to his kingdom, as if it’s someplace else and you’re not there. He’s not making you fit for his kingdom, as if it’s about following a certain specific set of rules. He’s not waiting, as if it’s for you to acknowledge who’s really in charge. He’s made you his kingdom.

When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, that is not in defeating another religion or overcoming fundamentalist radicals per se. Neither is its success marked by making our own nation somehow more quote-unquote Christian. We may have any of those as our pet projects and firmly want to believe we are doing right. Yet, since Jesus somehow discounts the fighting, evidently this kingdom is not identified by the spread or resilience of those triumphal marks or any of our other worldly standards of combative competition.

Rather, the truly shocking and almost ridiculous thing is that the kingdom of God is founded in you, your unstable, uncertain life, followers who betray and hand him over. Yet Christ the King makes you the kingdom. You are his turf. Not just his subject who should be obeying his orders. You are his territory, his realm, the place where his power is wielded and manifest, where his claim is. You are the kingdom of Christ.

To say it in another way, Christ is your authority. Except because our ears are attuned to lies and our lives accustomed to rebellion, even that we need to understand afresh. He is not the authority meaning the boss of you, at least not most fundamentally. He is your authority as in the one who authored you. Christ is your author. You have been created by God and owe your existence to God, just as a character of fiction would not exist if an author had not put a pen to her paper.

And now, like a fictional character, you’ve soon taken on a life of your own. Stan Lee no longer controls Spiderman. JK Rowling couldn’t have known what Harry Potter would become. They’ve grown in unexpected ways.

For us, too. The stories of our lives collide and part ever in new ways. The circumstances of our world bring us with each passing calamity and each bright invention to something new, to become something we weren’t before. It can feel worrisome, since there’s no prescription and it doesn’t leave us with much clarity. We wonder what will happen with the decisions we make and if we’re doing the right thing amid anxious possibilities. We have regrets that linger and too many endings that continue to haunt us with sorrows. Such flux involves some very nervous tension in the present.

Today is the assurance that little Ada Florence is blessed by God. Her story was thus begun by God, but it isn’t pre-written or prescribed. She will live it in her own unique—and creative—way. But neither is it that she as God’s good creation is only to be released to try to succeed in life or to try to follow the rules as best she can and had better or to struggle solo against the horrors and frustrations of life in this world. After all, she is the kingdom of Christ.

So here’s where we come to the other part of Christ the King. He is Alpha, your creator, the one before you, your author, your source. He is also Omega, your destination. From Alpha to Omega, from A to Z, he is with you. He has the final word; it all wraps up with him. And somehow he will bring you to the ending in him. It’s not because he manages to manipulate every moment of your existence. It’s not predictable. Just the opposite, though we are in the messy middle of things that seem unclear and worrisome, though so much seems out of any control, still he will not release you or fail you. You are his kingdom and the ending is secure in him.

If an author begins a story, I wish we had a word for the one who can gather the chaos of terrors and somehow bring it to its goal. It’s not just an editor, for God can’t erase your wrongs. Rather, this must be a word for one who manages to tie it all together, holding it all, redeeming the worst, making hurts whole, and bringing it to majestic and glorious fruition. I guess our only term for that is “Christ the King.”

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a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Frederick Eugene DuBois

7 January 1936 + 17 November 2015

Isaiah 55:6-12; Psalm 23; Romans 8:31-39; Luke 17:11-19

 

Maybe you’d prefer me not to highlight it, but did you notice the mention of snow in our first Bible reading? Not only mentioned, but sent by God for a purpose. You may not be ready for that four-letter-word, would’ve preferred to avoid it, and feel the alternative now is just to say, “I don’t wanna talk about it.” But here I am, bringing it up anyway.

In a related kind of way, I’d like you to know that that last Bible reading is sometimes assigned to be used for Thanksgiving worship services, though maybe you think I shouldn’t mention and make that connection here. One of the hard things about death and grief and trauma can be that it bleeds over, feeling like it corrupts what was supposed to be good. Days, places, even whole seasons that had been enjoyable get tainted in hard memories.

We scheduled this funeral to get it done before the holiday week, were intentionally trying to keep some of the separation so that you didn’t have your celebrations of Thanksgiving infected with sorrow and loss. You were intentionally trying to avoid it. But then this moron of a pastor went ahead and brought it up anyway.

So now, I guess, we just need to deal with it. To do that, we can begin by noticing something in this Thanksgiving reading itself. For trying to focus on gratitude and to be more thankful, it’s a peculiar reading. After all, we can’t help but notice that 10 people are healed by Jesus, but 9 of them head on their merry way, going about their business, without even noticing that they’ve neglected to mind the manners taught to them since they were young, not even a slight nod and pause to say thanks to Jesus for what he did.

We could sure come up with all kinds of reasonable excuses why 90% of the people didn’t stop to offer thanks. It might be that they were eager to share their news, or that there was so much of life that they hadn’t gotten to be part of and now were able to, that there was a lot to distract them. That fits with our busy lives, heading into the holiday week. We pay our respects today, but have so much else to do that we can’t let it get in the way, and just want to continue on with life.

Or it might be that 9/10ths of people in the Bible story didn’t feel like they really had reason to be grateful to God. They’d spent so long sick and miserable and were given a reprieve but didn’t have to jump up and down for joy or maybe even notice the good. Again, that can fit our attitudes here today. You may resent talk about being thankful when we’re lamenting the loss of a life, when we have to confront death again, have to figure how to deal with all the complications and adjustments to be able to go on.

But let’s be sure to notice one other detail in this story: all ten are healed. It didn’t matter how grateful or cheery or eager they were. It didn’t matter what their attitude toward Jesus or God was. It didn’t matter if they were distracted from doing the right thing. All received the same care.

Let me tell you about my limited relationship with Fred: I certainly know his daughter Teri and his mother Winnie better than I knew him. He wasn’t a churchgoer. When I went over to the house to visit his mother, to bring her Holy Communion and pray with her and such, Fred was always polite in welcoming me in, then he would immediately leave to go out in the garage to his chair to smoke, staying there until I left.

Fred could’ve had Communion, a reminder of God’s promise and blessing with him, of Jesus’ life given for him, of forgiveness and grace that never leave us. He could’ve had it, but opted not to. He could’ve stayed for prayers and the chitchat of a pastoral visit. He could’ve used that as a chance to say thanks to God for the gifts of life, but he didn’t.

Should Fred have done those things? Well, I would say so. I believe they’re worthwhile. But he didn’t need to. Which is part of the larger understanding that, like for any of us, there were things about Fred that were commendable and to be celebrated, and things that weren’t so great.

I’ve heard over and over what a great friend he was. I’ve heard about serving as a Marine and a deputy sheriff. I’m certainly glad that for the past seven years he’d cared so well for his mother, his presence really being the reason Winnie had been able to keep living in her home.

On the other hand, there were of course other things about Fred that were less admirable, details you know more about than I do. There are things we wish were different in our relationships and stuff in our lives that we’d change if we could. With that, there’s the rather enormous fact that Fred is no longer here with us, the fact of his death.

Yet here’s the thing about God: your attitudes or behaviors neither enhance nor stop God’s care. There’s nothing you can do and nothing that can happen to you that precludes God’s blessing. All are healed, cared for, given life. As our Bible reading proclaimed, no hardships or distress or anything in the world can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Through all of this is the care of Jesus, the promise of blessing, God’s word that won’t return empty but will accomplish its purpose, the Good Shepherd who will never abandon you, is with you through calm moments and through dark valleys, through fights and at feasts, in bright happiness and the bitter of cold, all through life and even beyond death. There’s nothing that can separate you from that, whether you’re ready to say thank you or not.

That is the promise that still holds Fred now. And it’s for us, in bleak and frustrating times, when bad news can’t be kept at bay, when good days get infected by sadness, when it doesn’t go how it should or how we want it to, still the God of life holds you and will never let you go.

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Saints, Death, Weeping

sermon for All Saints Sunday (John11:32-44; Isaiah25:6-9; Rev21:1-6a)

A fair question to ask is why in the world would we think of this facing death again today as a joyful festival?

Memories, even of those we really admired as saintly, are helpful and to be cherished, but are no celebration.

On the worse side, some of us can’t walk into church without it calling to mind those we miss. It may be you can’t help but dwell on losses you grieve, the people who shaped you and brought you to church in the first place. Or that one of the last times you were in a place like this was to say goodbye at a funeral service. There are such intense emotions that it’s painful even to come through the doors, that it’s almost too much to face. I understand that, and some of that feeling is exactly what we’re dealing with today.

But before we go into more of that, I also want to put aside a different idea. Some feel uncomfortable in church because of grief and overwhelming sadness. But there are also those who feel uncomfortable at church because they suspect it’s not a place for them. If I could weed out one persistent comment and stop it from crossing people’s minds or lips, it would be the idea of being unwelcome at church or that God would be opposed to you. Too many times to count, I’ve had people say that if they walked into a church, lightning would probably strike or the roof would cave in. It hasn’t happened.

I’m not sure where that view of God comes from or how it gets fueled, but I’d wish never to have to hear it again. Because whatever causes it, that is not the God we have, not the God of the Bible, not the God embodied for us in Jesus. If you think God is out to get you or doesn’t like you or thinks you’re not good enough to be around, then you’ve got the wrong idea of God. Just the reverse, if you’ve got that notion, then God is eager to be with you, already on your side, particularly when things are bad.

That, then, brings us back to the hard confrontation of death today. Being at church can be tough because we face this mostly head on. When you’re watching sports or reading a book or working on a project, mostly you can keep distracted, with death out of your mind. Even following the news—and even when it’s just awful news—still that can mostly seem far away and not need to be dealt with. Even in late autumn days, turning chillier and darker, when trees are getting bare, still we divert our focus to the colors of beautiful leaves. Or we think about compost, and somehow separate that distinction, that leaves break down to become new soil that will nurture future life. That’s a gain, but death in our families isn’t. That kind of death is loss.

At church, we don’t talk around it. We don’t say you need to brighten up and act happy, as if you’re not actually torn up. That’s an important distinction. Sometimes this faith gets manipulated into some sort of antidepressant or motivational poster. God gets misused to whitewash over the pain or to skip ahead. We end up with trite phrases like, “she’s in a better place.” I don’t have to tell you that consolation is crap. For the people around me who have died, the place I want them to be is still with me. That would be better. I’ve also been there with too many of your loved ones whom we’ve placed in the ground, buried in a cemetery, kept in an urn. That’s not a better place. If we ignore that part of our reality then our faith becomes some escapist lie. It isn’t that we don’t hope for more, but if we jump too quickly to the end—or, still worse, if we impose that on others amid the despair of death and brush aside their sorrow, then that is not honestly our faith.

So, again, just as we don’t have a God who is out to punish those who haven’t been in church or feel like they’ve done something wrong, as God won’t ever withdraw a promise of blessing for you, neither do we have some sort of fairy tale God who always has a smile on and watches cute cat videos while ignoring our reality and dreaming that we’re all living happily ever after. That is not our God.

This takes us into our Gospel reading, where Jesus encounters the death of a dear friend, one he loved. Here, as in other places, death makes Jesus angry. It says “he was greatly disturbed.” And then he began to weep. In some versions of the Bible, that is the shortest verse. John 11:35 is only two words: Jesus wept. (There is one other verse that competes for brevity, but we’ll have to come back to that.)

For now, we should probably notice this most encapsulated theological statement of our Scriptures. What does it say to us that the briefest conception of Christ, the most summarized synopsis, the tiniest little kernel we can compress God into is this weeping? I’d say that it focuses our belief on a God of compassion. A God who sympathizes with our hurt and sorrow and pain. A God who is absolutely and utterly with us, in dejection and disappointment and despair. Who laments with us and aches with us. One who knows that death stinks really, really bad. When we face that, it’s right to be sad and broken and confused. We can’t ignore sorrow. So God knows this pain and our longing and our tears. Jesus wept.

It struck me as remarkable this week that when our readings from Isaiah and Revelation tell us that God will wipe away every tear, that that includes God’s own tears. God also longs for something else, the time when mourning and crying and pain will be no more and death will be no more.

Again, we’ll come to that. But we ought to reflect a moment more on this God of compassion, because that identity is both good and bad, to be treasured yet also not fully satisfying.

We know the blessings of sharing in grief, of being able to lean on each other. That’s among the central reasons to gather in church, especially when our lives have been fractured. I heard St. Stephen’s described that way this week, that this community helped in time of loss: in the death of a son, as a husband was struggling with terminal illness. It is the blessing of Bold Café and Soup for Schools groups, this intimate support network that can offer care and be there together in the roughest times. This is part of why it’s important to be invested in the life of the congregation, because this compassion, this shared love and concern, is such a reciprocal relationship of harvesting what you’ve put into it.

To have God identified with such compassion is the ultimate in caring proclamation. More, this love won’t fall apart, is not dependent on your investment in it. God doesn’t get distracted or have to leave to attend to other business; God is with you always. You can always lean on God and share with God. The old song goes:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear—

all because we do not carry ev’rything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged—take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness—take it to the Lord in prayer.

So for one who encounters your suffering with you, it can’t get any closer and more intimate than that.

Yet—and here’s the part that isn’t so satisfying—compassion only goes so far. Misery may love company, but we need some company that doesn’t love misery. It’s good news that God isn’t against you, that—just the opposite—God is with you especially when you really need it. But having a God who knows your sorrow and your longing is not quite enough. You also need a God who can and will do something about it. A God who not only shares your tears but will, indeed, wipe away those tears, and every tear. We have this sense that death shouldn’t happen if the Lord is with us.

At this point, my proclamation to you falters. There’s a hiccup in this good news. God went into death for you, was killed on a cross to destroy death, and rose on the third day to conquer the grave and give you the victory…but, well, this doesn’t exactly feel very victorious or glorious or celebratory at this point. God, it seems, didn’t decide simply to undo death, to erase it, to make everything suddenly better. I don’t like that. I don’t like that we are still here grieving, that we’re stuck with our tears, that we still have to confront death that destroys our good relationships and steals loved ones away from us, or sucks away our own happiness or wellbeing or life.

I can proclaim to you that death is not the end. It has not won. There is more to come. And that changes everything, even if it’s all too eventual and gradual for what we’d wish here and now today. There’s a promise we have now, but we experience it not yet. Jesus rolled away the stone from his loved one’s tomb. His own stone was rolled away on Easter. And no grave will capture or bind you or your loved ones or any of the beloved of God, any of God’s good creation. That is the promise. God will wipe away every tear, and death will be no more. Then we’ll join together at the feast.

Even as we’re still stuck in the messy middle and it can seem so hard to go forward—to face another day, to get out of bed, to hear what the doctor has to say, to deal with our memories, to worry about forgetting, to live in this world—even though that is so much of our reality now, we trust the end of the story. And that changes everything. We don’t need to pretend things are okay when they aren’t, don’t need to stop grieving.

Instead we grieve with hope. I said we’d come back to the other shortest Bible verse. In the original language, there’s a verse that’s shorter than the compassion and shared sadness of “Jesus wept.” It’s not only shorter; it’s a counterpoint that also looks past our present sorrows, since “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans8:18). The shortest verse? “Rejoice always.” (1Thessalonians5:16)

Hymn: In Deepest Night (ELW #699)

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