a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Louis Don Nowicki

2 July 1957 + 1 July 2015

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Acts 10:34-36, 39-43; John 14:1-6

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

“I go and prepare a place for you.” These words from Jesus are good words, good news for us and for Louis, at this time now for him, and for all of our lives held in God’s caring embrace.

Much as the disciples ask Jesus, “What is the way, and how can we know it?” we may well want to ask where our place is. In our lives, and for Louis, we can label some of those places that are ours, that we call our own, call “home.” For him it began on the farm up north, and it is near there that he’s going to return as at Wednesday’s graveside service we commit him to his final resting place.

We might also well say that the place for Louis was in a kitchen. For a family that loves food and has hardly finished one meal before you’re already talking about what might be part of the next, Louis was in the right place; his talents and skills were well-founded. Yet it wasn’t only about meeting the needs of hunger. Louis was not just sharing the nourishment of serving food but also the meticulous creativity and care of décor, from winning dishes displayed for school and on to his dedicated work for the charter train that carried celebrities and special guests to Super Bowls and all over the country. With his careful, artistic eye and attention to those details of meals, Louis could transform even something plain and regular into a beautiful dish, spectacular and extraordinary. Yes, Louis found a passion and a good place for himself in the kitchen.

And again, in thinking of his place, there was also the house in Greenfield, the place he called home with David, a relationship that was also his place for more than 25 years. To change our perspective a bit and think about the place of that type of relationship in our society, we’re only now coming around to the place where the rest of us should be. When Louis invited me in to his apartment to show me photos of his life, I delighted in it. But I could tell it was still a nervous thing for him, going out on a limb even to be able to talk about this partner whose death he was still grieving, still in deep pain over.

There are too many even yet in society who would want to put Louis in his place, to label sins and to cast stones. Well, I’d say those stones are being cast in the wrong direction. Rather than being the one needing forgiveness, Louis embodied a gentle and forgiving presence toward the sort of people who too long condemned him and made life more difficult, less than what is should fully have been, those who would have tried to exclude Louis.

And that’s a fitting place to turn again to our words from Jesus. He goes to prepare our place, and in his Father’s house there are many rooms. If we try to insist that you have to love the right person or act the right way or believe the right things in order to get into the house, we not only limit God’s work and welcome, but also push Jesus himself out the door, disabling him from being our gracious host by our partiality.

Jesus prepares the place for us, no matter who we are. And in this household there is much room, for everybody, not just those who are alike or who fit into each other’s company. The many rooms, we must believe, aren’t so that the Father will tuck us into to our own little individual compartment. It seems more likely that there are people in the Father’s house who are so different they couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other, but nevertheless they are welcomed, with a place secured for them by Jesus.

So, with apologies for being part of church that has too long been a place of shaming and excluding, I’m eager and delighted to proclaim that these words from Jesus are meant for Louis, “Behold, I go and prepare a place for you.”

I also want you to hear how these words are meant for you. Particularly as his family, you’ve said that you could spend lots of time worrying for Louis, about how he never planned for rainy days when things would go wrong, about how you worked to care for him and put life back together for him.

When you told me, Ed, this terrible, shocking news that Louis had died, you were struggling with grief and questions of failure, that you had tried to help him, that you all had made it work for him to move here to Madison, that so many of you—including this church community—worked to help him have a good place here, to fit in, to find friends, to be active and healthy.

But that didn’t always seem to go well, as Louis continued to confront dark and sad days with a troubled soul. There were times he withdrew from everybody, so quiet, losing track of any delight in life. Through that, you continued to encourage him, to try to motivate him, to make things better, right up until now, when we can’t do any more to care for his wellbeing.

But for your frustrations and worries of failure, for preparations that fell through, for your wishing you could’ve done more, for the loss now in this time of separation and hurt, the word of Jesus is for you, too. Jesus prepares a place for Louis. As much as you tried to make life succeed for him here and elsewhere, ultimately it isn’t your care and concern but God’s embrace that holds onto him, especially now.

And the same as you walk through dark valleys and face death, as you feel attacked by so many hardships and concerns, in the places where life won’t go as it should. Your Lord finds you wherever you are, serves you, and fulfills every need. He has prepared this table before you and offers himself to you here. And he continues to make a place for you, to welcome you home. God’s forgiveness and unconditional love and eternally abundant life is not only more than you can manage, but more than you can imagine.

Thanks be to God.