Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Friday, November 4, 2022

Rhea Oberlin Hollar

Rhea Oberlin Hollar, 11-4-22
Psalm 121
Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39
Psalm 23
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In most cases, when it comes to planning a funeral, I find myself sitting with family members suggesting which readings to choose, and I usually end up choosing those readings myself.  As you probably know, this was not the case with Rhea Oberlin Hollar.  The readings for this service were chosen long ago, as was the music for this service.  The one person who had input on what we will hear and sing today was Rhea.  The rest of us are just along for the ride.

And I have to say, I wish more people took time to plan out their own funerals.  Because, in some ways, doing so sends a message to those of us who gather to honor and to mourn.  In a way, it’s one final act of evangelism.  A chance to remind the living that there is hope, that God is present, and that we will be together again.  And, I can tell you, Rhea chose well.

For example, as we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  We sort of give intellectual assent to that claim, but I think we also carry around a secret list of the exceptions.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God . . . except, you know, drinking and smoking, or voting for the other party, or loving the wrong kind of person.  We all want to add the “except for” to Paul’s words.  But the word here is “nothing.”  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  Nothing.  We are safe, and we are loved.  Thanks for that reminder Rhea.

And then that reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  How a seed has to die in the ground before it can blossom into what it was meant to be.  There is no better metaphor to hear at a funeral than this one.  What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  A seed goes into the ground, and a beautiful flower comes forth.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  Where indeed!

And then, we come to the beloved 23rd Psalm.  And many of us share a love of that little piece of ancient poetry.  Maybe it’s the pastoral imagery.  Or maybe it’s the assurance of God’s presence in our lives.  Or maybe it’s just that final line, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

But what I really love about Psalm 23 is the actual language of the part that gets translated as God’s goodness and mercy following me.  The Hebrew word that becomes “follow” is actually more aggressive: like chasing, or hunting down.  Goodness and mercy don’t just follow us home, like a stray kitten, or something.  No, God’s goodness and mercy hunt us down, like a tiger.  We cannot escape them, even if we wanted to.  And notice that it is not God’s wrath that hunts us down: no, we are being relentlessly pursued by God’s goodness and mercy.

Rhea lived her life hunted down by God’s mercy and goodness, and she did not mind getting caught.  And receiving that goodness and mercy from God, she turned right around and passed it on to others, her family, her friends, and her church.  I hope you will find inspiration in that, and continue to do the same in your own lives.

In these readings this morning, we have heard of God’s love and mercy.  We have heard that we do not need to be afraid.  We have heard that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  And that God’s goodness and mercy will never stop pursuing us.  These are good lessons for us to hold onto as we leave this place.  No one is ever beyond the reach of God, and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.  Because everyone is constantly being chased by God’s love and mercy, even when we see them no longer.  God loves you, and God will catch you, no matter where you are.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  Where indeed!


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