Sunday, June 9, 2013

Memorial Service -- June 9, 2013

B.J. Robertson

Romans 8:31-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.* 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What then are we to say about these things?  What to say indeed.

One of the challenges in putting together an obituary or meditation for someone who lived as long and as fully as B.J. is that you are inevitably going to miss something important.  Even B.J.’s dear cousin Linda confessed that she kept B.J.’s newspaper obituary deliberately short as she was pretty certain she’d miss something significant if she tried to list all of B.J.’s organizations and activities. 

I know how Linda feels.  I feel entirely inadequate as I approach the task of meditating on the life and faith and witness of our beloved B.J.  I am sure that everyone here this afternoon had a very particular way of knowing her.  B.J. played such a meaningful role in the lives of so many people. As a volunteer. Board member.  Teacher.  Choir member.  Quilter.  Neighbor.  Cousin.  Aunt.  Friend.  The long list of her accomplishments, activities and relationships is reflective of an active and curious mind that never stopped learning and a generous heart that never stopped giving to her community.  And already, I’m certain that I’m leaving something important out.

I will, however, boldly go on to speak about B.J. because her life had such rich meaning beyond what an ordinary resume or lengthy obituary can possibly capture.

When I think about B.J., the image that comes to mind is that of a precious gem – a diamond -- with a multitude of endlessly gorgeous facets, all of which reflect and throw out incredible, dazzling light on all of us who were fortunate to be caught in B.J.’s unique sparkle.  B.J. was one of those people who just shimmered, wasn't she?

But today, in this place, in this particular moment, what matters most is that we name out loud the source of B.J.’s extraordinary light.  And that task is a simple one.   The wellspring of all that B.J. was and did and meant to all of us was her deep and abiding trust in Jesus Christ who was and is her Lord and Savior.  If anyone ever tried to faithfully be Christ’s light in the world, it was B.J.  And absolutely nothing about her faith was hidden.  She did not hide a single God-given gift under a bushel basket.  The Christ-light in B.J. shined for everyone.  With perpetual humility and grace, B.J. gave all the glory to the Christian witness of her family and to God the Father in heaven.   B.J. was blessed beyond measure, she knew it, and she never stopped thanking God for every single one of those blessings.

For all of these reasons and more, a person like B.J. is the kind of person everyone wants to be around.  A person like B.J. is the kind of person you want to call when you have been utterly wiped out by life and are standing in the need of prayer, which is why B.J.’s number was the first phone number on the church’s prayer chain.   A person like B.J. is the kind of person you want in your Bible study because her faith is mature and deep enough to acknowledge that there’s always something more for us to discover about ourselves and about God in scripture.  A person like B.J. is the sort of person who makes the world a better place simply by her presence, which is why we are all sitting here today with a big old B.J. shaped hole in our hearts and the awareness that we are all better people for having known her.

So to consider B.J. a rare and cherished gem is not overstatement.  She was all of that and so much more.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, ““I am convinced neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  As B.J. was united with Christ in her baptism, so too has she risen with Christ.  She has been united with Christ and with all the saints who have gone before her.  Her grandparents and her parents and her sister.  And with all the saints of this church whom she loved well for more than 9 decades.   She has been received into the presence of Almighty God, and as God’s child she will dwell with her heavenly forever.

The problem is that we are not exactly certain how to fill the space that B.J. left behind here on earth. Who on earth can do that?

I remember my first Christmas here at Emsworth -- my first Christmas as a new minister.  After all the work of Advent and the anxiety of leading a Christmas Eve service on a Saturday night, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself about having to get up and lead worship on Christmas Day.  And then, B.J. came into my office and gave me a copy of a poem she thought I might like.  I didn’t know it then, but the poem was written by one of my theological heroes, Howard Thurman and this is how it reads:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart

B.J. knew better than anyone that being a Christian means doing the work of Christmas by actively engaging in the mission of Jesus Christ.  Hers was a lively faith thoughtfully lived out with warmth and love.  She walked the talk better than almost anyone I’ve ever known.  I’m sure many here today would say exactly the same of her. 

I know it's true, because one of you told me about B.J.’s skillful work with young children struggling to learn to read and the great patience she showed in untangling the mysteries of language for each and every child lost in the confusing world of letters and words.  Another of you told me about B.J.’s extraordinarily low tolerance for gossip and how nobody dared to say an unkind word about anyone in B.J.’s presence because B.J. always chose goodness over meanness.  Kindness over controversy.  Peace over discord.  B.J. did not overlook the suffering of others or attempt to gloss over difficult situations.  Rather, B.J. directly engaged with people and their needs.  She was Christ-like in her desire to serve rather than be served.  And her example challenges us to do the same and be to others as B.J. was to us – the bearer of Christ’s light in the world. 

When we come to the Lord’s Table today, we enter into communion with all who have died and now live eternally with Christ.   We cannot come to this table without finding mystical union with all who are in Christ.  At this table we meet prophets and apostles.  At this table we meet great leaders of our faith like Augustine, Luther and Calvin.   Here we meet the ordinary men and women who poured their hearts into this church and this congregation.  Here we meet our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, our children and our friends whom we still love and will always remember.  And at this table we meet Betty Jane Robertson,  a child of God and an ordinary saint who has left us to feast in glory with God forever and ever.

I know that B.J. is waiting to have communion with us today.  And if you listen closely, you can hear her and all of the saints that have gone before us encouraging us to follow in their footsteps of love and kindness and goodness and mercy.  To take on the work they have begun in Christ.   To finish our race with courage, empowered by our memories of their strength and love. Here at this table, we are lifted into the presence of the risen and ascended Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is Christ who invites us to this table and it is Christ who sends us back out into the world to be light and salt.  For a struggling child learning to read.  A hurting friend.  A hungry neighbor.  A lonely shut in. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Not even death.  Thanks be to God.

With thanks to cellist, David Bennett who played both of these pieces during the service, as well as a beautiful medley of B.J.'s favorite hymns: