Note: We celebrated the life of one of our church members in worship this morning. I've decided to share the bulk of the sermon, but I've removed the section where I recount the life of our beloved church member.
There are few callings in life as risky and dangerous as that of a prophet. Remember how Jesus told the folks in Nazareth that prophets aren’t always welcome in their hometowns (Lk 4:24). Moses found out the hard way that even if God sends you to deliver people from slavery, they may resist your efforts. So, Jeremiah may have had good reasons to question his calling to be a prophet to the nations. It didn’t even matter that God had made the choice in the womb, which is why Jeremiah told God – “I don’t know how to speak because I’m only a child.” No one is going to listen to me. I’m too young and inexperienced.
What does God say in response to Jeremiah’s questions – he simply says – “my word is your word.” I’ll give you the words to say, so don’t worry about the rest – just go and proclaim my word to the people. Just because you’re young and inexperienced doesn’t matter to me! I’ve called you – so go and speak my word.
You may be wondering what Jeremiah’s story has to do with our desire to remember the life of Imogene. A simple answer is that this is one of the lectionary texts for today and I’d decided to preach on it before Imogene’s death. But after we decided to bring the memorial service into our Sunday service, I decided to keep the text and title, because – it just seemed right. It seemed to fit the person I’d come to know since my arrival here in Troy.
In many ways Jeremiah’s story is very different from Imogene’s. In this passage Jeremiah is a young man who isn’t sure about whether he’s cut out to be a prophet of God. For her part, Imogene lived a long and fruitful life, dying less than two weeks shy of her 98th birthday. So how are these two lives related?
I think the answer to this question can be found in a line from Imogene’s obituary, where it says that she’s survived by two sons, four grandchildren, and five great grandchildren, who “carry on Imogene’s legacy of individualism, honesty, candor, and toughness.” If you’ve gotten to know Imogene, even a little, you’ll see her in these words. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, to share what she believed was right, true, and just. That is the prophetic spirit.
I’ve been trying to find a word that fit this woman I’ve come to know, and I decided that the best word to use is “feisty.” It was only in the final weeks of her life that I began to see that spark drain away. Even though she faced many challenges in life, she was always a feisty and candid individual, who lived life fully and did so with a strong reliance on God’s presence.
But, you say, well, Jeremiah was young and inexperienced, but Imogene almost made it to 100, so how are they related?
Well, I’ve learned something else about Imogene. As far as I remember, she never spoke harshly or condescendingly of young people. When I would visit her, she’d tell me that her great grandchildren had visited, bringing with them their young friends. Young adults don’t bring their friends to visit an older person, if they don’t believe that they will be warmly received. I think she would have been okay with Jeremiah, despite his youth! No, she would’ve received his word as God’s word.
There’s another line in the obituary that confirms this observation. It reads that “her greatest role in life was probably as ‘Granny’ as she became known to one and all.” In this Imogene reminds me of my own great aunt. Although she never had children of her own, she was known to everyone as “Auntie Grace.” If people outside your family speak of you in familial terms, then you know that you’ve lived well.
As we consider the ministry of Jeremiah and the legacy of Imogene Thorpe, I hope you will see in her one of God’s beloved children – even if she was at death an older child of God!
[In the interest of privacy, I’ve removed the eulogistic information that I shared at this point in the sermon]
As Imogene neared the end of her life, after she had moved from the Fountains to the assisted living center in Troy, she asked me to come for a visit. She told me – I don’t want people pray that I’ll be healed. She simply asked that we pray that she would find peace, and that was the prayer I would share in each of my visits.
Imogene would not have us mourn, because she has been ready to go home for sometime. She was at peace with her life. She knew that she was counted among the Beloved. She’d accomplished what she’d set out to do in life. She had raised her sons to be strong and resilient men and watched as a family blossomed to life, creating a legacy that couldn’t be denied!
These final months of life weren’t easy for her. She lost the freedom she cherished, but that spark remained present. So, whether or not you knew her, I invite you to honor with me the memory of one God’s saints, and we can do this by following her lead in living out our faith with boldness, candor, honesty, and grace.
Before we close, I’d like to point to one of the other lectionary readings for today. You’ll find an excerpt on the bulletin cover. It speaks of a love that’s committed to the welfare of the other. That was Jeremiah’s message to his people, and I believe that Imogene embodied that same understanding of love, as she gave of herself for family, friends, neighbors, and the broader community. Let us be glad this day that Imogene has found her peace in the loving arms of God, and is now numbered among God's saints.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
4th Sunday after Epiphany
February 3, 2013