A Homily by the Reverend Craig Stinson
on the occasion of the
Celebration of the Life
Sarah Jane Jones (1938-2016)
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly
but then we will see face to face
now I know only in part;
then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
(I Corinthians 13:12)
Anyone who is interested in history, even a little bit, soon discovers that what we were taught as youngsters is only one view of the narrative of what happened, and why, and how that contributed to the way things are today.
Many of us were taught one narrative about the history of our country, or even of the world. Then, as we grew older, we were exposed to various revisionist histories… parts of the story that had gone untold, sometimes unknown, with a wealth of other characters, many of whom we knew little or nothing about. Each had their own point of view. And sometimes these revisions were a complete reversal of the narrative we had been taught.
Nowadays there are new correctives to those revisions. The victims were not always as innocent as the revisions have made out. A whole host of new characters have entered the story. We live with multiple narratives. We are, all of us, trapped in time and space, and our attempts to stand above and see things for how they truly are, not just what they seem, always fall short.
“Truth? What is truth?”, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, who stands there, bound, before him. Is Pilate just being cynical? Or is he bored, toying with Jesus? Or maybe he does really want to know? What is truth?
Even with a story like his, late in the narrative that is very near the center of our faith, there is more than one way to look at it. What does this life really mean? What do our questions mean? What is the truth?
The truth is, there is not one narrative, but multiple ones. Sometimes we say we are like a book. But we are not like a book, with one narrative and one unifying theme. A whole universe lives inside all of us.
Even so, we are never outside God’s awareness or God’s presence. With God, there is nothing hidden, nothing unknown.
Thousands of years ago the Psalmist pondered,
“Where can I go from your Spirit, or where can I flee from your presence?” [Ps.139:7]
If I go to heaven, you are there. But even if I go to hell, you are there.
If I go to tomorrow, you are already there. And yesterday, you were there. There is no place in time or in space where God is not. And what we cannot know, at least in full, God knows. God knows.
The truth is, on this side of eternity, we will never know in full… even to know the full narrative of our own selves. It is as if we are looking at ourselves and our loved ones and even at God in an old, antique mirror; the silvering on the back is pulling away and flaking off, and what we see is distorted from revealing the true beauty and also the true blemishes of our own selves. But some day we will see face to face. Some day we will know fully, even as we are fully known.
And on that day, what? When all is ended… when we know fully, and when we are fully known, what then?
Our faith says that in God’s economy, all is finally redeemed.
There is no place that God was not already
from the moment we were hoped for
from the moment we were conceived
from the moment we were born
In every moment of our lives
those moments we remember and cherish, yes,
and also those moments we have long forgotten,
and even the moments that have brought sorrow or pain
those moments or days or months when we have not been what “we could so easily have been, or ought…” (David Ray)
In every moment of our lives
and in the moment of our dying…
from the moment of the Big Bang
to the moment all things end
What we know is, we are loved, all of us, eternally, by God
who is the ultimate and final Author of all narratives.
And in the meantime, what?
On this side of eternity, in the meantime,
Love bears all things
believes all things
hopes all things
endures all things
it is patient and kind
it is not envious or boastful or rude
it does not insist on its own way
it is not irritable or resentful
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing
but rejoices in the truth.
So we live in the present by faith, we prepare for the future in hope, And what about the past?
The poet David Ray puts it beautifully in his poem, “Thanks, Robert Frost”:
“Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings a strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.”
So be it, Amen
(“Thanks, Robert Frost” by David Ray, from Music of Time: Selected and New Poems, The Backwaters Press, 2006)
The Reverend Craig Stinson, Director of Connectional Ministries of the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Sarah’s nephew.
Service at Southern Hills Christian Church, Edmond, OK, April 5,2016