In Memoriam (Jan Woods)

Isaiah 65:17-25Psalm 139: 1-12 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 Mark 10:13-16 Luke 15:1-7

Jan was a teacher. It was in her nature. This is why she went back to school. This is why she had contests with her children, when they all found themselves attending school at the same time, to see who could get the best grade. Jan was a teacher.

And as a teacher, her favorite students were the rascals, the troublemakers. And she clearly made her mark on them, as the class full of troublemakers for which she subbed wrote messages to her on balloons and released them into the sky on her birthday, just two days ago.

Maybe it was because Jan liked the challenge, loving those who gave her the most difficulty. Perhaps it was that her desire to teach was so strong that no one was too “far gone” to be her student. But if we look at the rest of her life, her engagement with politics, her own experiences as a single mother and a second-career student, we see someone who was continually engaged with and living in the margins of society. Jan loved the troublemakers because they were on the margins. They were outcasts, behavioral lepers that others had given up on. And when we recognize this, we may just see what it is in Jan’s life that calls to us as a community of faith.

When the church is at its best, we are that teacher who looks for the rascals, the ones who are on the edge. When we are at our best, we open the doors to our fellowship and worship and mission and say to the homeless, “Welcome home.” When we are at our best, we are that teacher who welcomes the little children, and rebukes those who turn them away. “These are the ones who enter the kingdom of heaven,” he says. And when we are at our best, we are that shepherd who seeks after one lost sheep, not willing to cut our losses. “We can do better than 99 out of 100,” she tells us. The sad truth is that the church is not often at its best, too comfortable to risk it all for the sake of the gospel. But when we do, it is a marvelous thing. When we do, we finally recognize that each one of those lost sheep, each one of those troublemakers, each one is a precious child of God, created in the image of God. Each one is as fragile and vulnerable in this earthly tent of human flesh as Jan was. And God loves each one as God loves Jan, even and especially now.

Bill, Barbara, Katie, Schuyler, Sue, Bill, I do not know what comfort means or feels like to you right now. It has not yet been two months since Jan died. It was her birthday on Thursday. I can only guess that your loss is still very real, and that there is still pain in all of this for you. I have no desire to gloss over any of that. But I do have hope – hope for you, and for each one of us who is gathered here, surrounding you with our love and our prayers. My hope is that we can see in Jan and in her life that small glimpse that points beyond just an image of God to God’s very self. In that glimpse, we see our loving creator, who knows the pain of deep loss. In that glimpse, we see the fragility and vulnerability of Christ our Lord. In that glimpse, we see the promises of new life, a new heavens and a new earth, where momentary afflictions and earthly tents give way to eternal weights of glory and heavenly homes. And in that glimpse, we see that open divine hand of grace, always reaching out to those on the margins, the ones for whom the rush of the world has little time, and we hear that voice that says, “Welcome home.”

sermonsMarthame Sanders