"There's a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in"--A Funeral Sermon for Beverly Stauffer
A Funeral Sermon for Beverly Stauffer
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are gathered together here today to celebrate the life of Beverly Stauffer long-time friend and member of the Cathedral, beloved wife of Vince.
One of the ways to hear our passage from John’s Gospel today, is as an affirmation of our unconditional acceptance and belovedness in God. That there are “many mansions in my father’s house,” means in one sense that there is a place for each us at the banquet of divine love. Each of us, with our faults and foibles, our quirks, and our unique gifts is invited to participate in the love of God, to make God’s life of self-giving love our own that He might live his life in and through us.
The way each one of us lives out the love of God is going to look differently in each of our lives. This is the adventure of the Christian life that is both a discovery on our part as to what it looks like to co-operate with the presence and action of God in our life, and a discovery on God’s part of what it looks and feels like, to discover himself in the unique confines of our life. God seems to delight in diversity and never misses an opportunity to discover Himself in us. The playful humility of God is such that He never misses an opportunity to join with us in living out what love looks like in the unique, unrepeatable circumstances of each of our lives.
That means that while there is a basic trajectory to the Christian life—becoming more and more like Christ—there is no limit to how this basic pattern can be expressed. My way of becoming more Christ-like will be different than your way, and Beverly’s was different from each of ours. There is no single pattern of what putting on the mind of Christ looks like, and part of our job as Christians in community is to seek, name, and celebrate the loving presence of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in the lives of each other, and today in the life of Bev.
When I was in seminary, there was an old priest who had suffered a severe stroke. It affected his vocal chords and he had a marked tremor in his hands. When he celebrated the Eucharist with his hands in the orans position he used to joke that he looked like an oversized chicken that was trying to fly. What’s more, he insisted on singing the Eucharist despite the damage the stroke had caused to his vocal chords. Outwardly, this old priest’s “performance” was anything but perfect. He was shaky, his voice quavered wildly or simply fell silent in the sursum corda, and he frequently lost his place in the altar book. Looking beyond the outward appearances, however—"for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 15: 34-16:13)—I caught glimpse of something else. I saw an old priest offering himself, all of himself, even in his fragility, to the praise and glory of God. He embodied Paul’s phrase that in “weakness is his strength.” At his weakest, at his least perfect, this old priest shone with the love of God in a way that youth and vigor and getting it all just exactly perfect often obscure. “There is a crack in everything,” writes Leonard Cohen, “that’s how the light gets in.”
Those of you who knew and loved Beverly know that she loved to sing. She knew many of the hymns in our hymnal by heart and would sing them in full-throat. Did it matter that she was sometimes a little off-key, ahead of the music, or even on a different page? Not in the least! In fact, I’ve heard from people who sat near her in the East Transept that she showed them what it looked like to know that God loves us, accepts us, and is working in and through us just as we are. Beverly embodied a most powerful lesson for us. That giving glory to God, singing God’s praises, is done from within our mortal human frames. We sing with the voice we’ve been given. We love with the hands we’ve been gifted. When we realize that we don’t have to become someone else to be beloved by God, our little uniquenesses become instances through which God gets to reveal Himself in previously hidden ways. Our lives, plain and ordinary on the surface, are places where God happens. And in accepting our acceptance we open the door to others to know themselves to be loved by the One who is Love.
This is one of the unexpected gifts of Beverly’s life among us. That we might know ourselves to be loved, just as we are, and use our lives to the full-throated praise and glory of God. Bev’s gift to us is that she reminds us praise and glory aren’t an audition for American Idol. Giving praise and glory to God doesn’t mean we have to pretend to be someone or something we are not. Bev’s life reminds us that praise and glory simply mean we be ourselves, and practice giving ourselves, the entirety of ourselves, away in full-throated gratitude for precious gift of our life, for what God has done for us in Christ, and what God is still doing in the surprising work of the Holy Spirit.
May the soul of Beverly and the souls of all the departed rest in peace.