Many thanks - a lifetime of thanks, really - to Sherry and Keith Strohm, the other two teachers at Making Disciples, who let me leave early to preside and preach at Sue's funeral. The Church was full of her friends and colleagues (don't know what we would have done if school had been in session and the students were there in force...). Ten of her priest friends were there to concelebrate, as well as her mother, father, and brother from Massachusetts. I still am in denial that I won't see her again - at least in this life. She was a sister to me, even though we had what we liked to call an "interspecies relationship," since she was an OSU Beaver Believer and I was an Oregon Duck. The picture shows me wearing a gift from the Corvallis Catholic community after I preached a mission there last Lent: an OSU Beaver scarf.
I hope you don't mind if I include the homily I preached. She was a great friend and a tremendous servant to everyone. As Barb Anderson, a pastoral associate at St. Mary's, Corvallis, OR, preached at her wake, Sue's mantra was always, "What can I do to support you?" I can't count how many times I heard that from Sue - and it was always genuine.
The readings for her funeral were: Isaiah 25:6-9; 1 Thes 4:13-18; John 11: 17-27
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines…
Isaiah, the prophet, the dreamer, foresees a generous God preparing a feast for all peoples, not just a chosen few. It’s quite an extravagant meal he describes, and for a people who often suffered from famine, it was the very essence of heaven. That feast on the mountain of Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, is foretasted today, in this eucharist, an extravagant feast set before us by the host who provides his own body as the main course. That feast was also foretasted by all of us who were blessed to experience Sue’s hospitality. I remember how delighted she was to learn that such a humble, often undervalued trait was actually a gift of the Holy Spirit, a way in which she participated in God’s hospitality.
And yet hospitality was at the very heart of Jesus’ culture, and Jesus himself. All we have to do is look to the meaning of word itself to see that. Hospitality comes from the latin, hospitalitem, or “friendliness to guests.” Well, that doesn’t sound very remarkable. Almost like “being nice.” Until, of course, you know that hospes, the Latin word at the root of hospitality, meant “enemy,” or, more commonly, “stranger.” That same meaning of stranger is also preserved in the Latin word hostis, or “host.”
So let’s revisit Isaiah’s vision of the final and eternal meal, for a moment.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines
God is, indeed, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of strangers. The very first meal recorded in scripture – a snack of forbidden fruit – is accompanied by a promise “eat this, and you will be like gods, knowing everything.” For we all are estranged from God by our own strange dream of taking God’s place and becoming autonomous; by doing our will, rather than God’s. The result is described in Genesis 3: estrangement – alienation from God, from each other, even from nature. In this estrangement, death is the physical manifestation of a spiritual reality of life apart from God. The rest of the Hebrew scriptures recount God’s faithfulness to us and our continued unfaithfulness to God – what St. Paul recognized as our absolute inability to follow God’s will as described by the Jewish Law.
To remedy this intolerable situation, God did what ancient myths in various cultures dreamt of.
He came to us.
God sent His only Son, literally made him “welcome.” Like “hospitality,” the word “welcome” has interesting roots - the Old Engish wilcuma "welcome guest/stranger," literally, "one whose coming is in accord with another's will.”
Jesus was our guest – a stranger in our midst. Strange because he was like us in all things but sin – and thus full of life, not a trace of death within him. So he can truly say to Martha, “I am the resurrection" – the overcoming of death. He truly is the life who came that we might have life in abundance.
But this abundant life, expressed by Isaiah as a bountiful, never-ending meal, is found only through belief in him: “whoever believes in me, even if she dies, will live.” But this death-defeating belief is much more than mere assent to doctrines and dogmas, for “even the demons believe, and shudder.” Jesus says those who believe in him and live in him will never die. They will be so full of life that death will have no lasting power over them, and St. Paul assures us in our loss that those, like Sue, who have lived in Jesus will be among the first to rise on the last day. Why? Because she died as she lived: in Christ.
What I mean by that was, Sue showed us a particular side of Jesus. He manifested himself to us in a special way through the gift of hospitality that he gave her when she was joined to him in baptism. During his earthly ministry, he had “no place to lay his head,” yet he offered hospitality to those who were strangers to God. He welcomed sinners and ate with them; that is, he willed that sinners should come to him. That was, and is, the will of His Father. He dined with those he knew would abandon him in his darkest hour – even with one who would betray him. And he still does that today, in this eucharist, where he is found in that piece of bread-become-His-flesh we call the host – the stranger – who is in our midst.
In Sue and through Sue, Jesus continued to show us that hospitality. Not just around Simple Suppers at Newman, or at her own table loaded with fresh breads and homemade soups; Mexican casseroles and always a smackeral of something sweet.
No, Jesus revealed the radical nature of his hospitality in Sue’s dream of a Church in which all were welcomed to struggle together towards genuine discipleship. The Jesus she knew and loved welcomes the obvious saint and obvious sinner; progressives and traditionalists; men and women; "people of every race, language and way of life"; clergy and laity – yes, even Beavers and damn Ducks. So that’s what she did – or, better, what Jesus did through the gifts he gave her. Like St. Paul who rejoiced that in Christ there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, Sue gently, persistently worked to overcome all the ways we make each other strangers of one another. And in doing that, she worked to overcome ways we make ourselves strangers to Christ.
It is so fitting – God’s providence, really - that we celebrate Sue’s life on the feast of St. Martha, the woman who shared with Sue the gift of hospitality, and who had the privilege of offering it to her Lord. In Martha’s home, as well as in Sue’s, Jesus found a place where he was not a stranger, but a friend; he relaxed before a hearth filled with gentle human warmth; a place where not only the door was open, but the door of a heart was recklessly opened to receive him.
Let us pray that Sue is “welcomed” into heaven by Martha, the woman she so resembles, and by Jesus, whose people she so hospitably served. Let us pray that her coming there is "in accord with the will of" Jesus, who loves her and gave his life for her. Let us pray that we welcome Jesus into our life, that at it’s end he may not be a stranger to us. And finally let us sing of Sue and take up her dream, which is so beautifully expressed in the song, "All Are Welcome"
Let us build a house where love can dwell And all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions; All are welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place
Let us build a house where prophets speak, And words are strong and true,
Where all God's children dare to seek To dream God's reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness And a symbol of God's grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:All are welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place
Let us build a house were all are named; their song and vision heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word
built of tears and cries and laughter; prayers of faith and songs of grace
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
[I concluded by singing a final verse a capella; a verse I modified for this occasion.]
God has built a house where love now dwells And all do joyfully live,
A place where saints with childlike hearts all know how to forgive.
Fulfilled hopes and dreams and visions; Sight, not faith; a vault of grace;
Where the love of Christ ended divisions;
Sue is welcome, Sue is welcome, Sue is welcome in that place.