Thursday, April 21, 2016

Funeral Sermon - Edith Haney

Burial of the Dead – Edith Weaver Haney
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; Revelation 21:2-7; John 5:24-27
21 April 2016
© 2016 Evan D. Garner

I met Edith in the hospital, and I said goodbye to Edith in the hospital. In fact, during the four and half years that I knew her, I saw her in the hospital more than anywhere else. And I think that suited both of us. She wasn’t able to go anywhere, so I had a captive audience. And, since she was the patient, I was willing to let her talk about whatever she wanted to, so she had a pretty captive audience, as well. And anyone who would sit and listen for half an hour as she showed pictures on her iPad of the ancestral research she had done was alright in her book—even if he was the preacher.

That doesn’t mean that I never saw Edith in church. I did—just not within these walls here. (And you’ll notice that, somewhat appropriately, her remains still aren’t in church today.) But I saw her pretty often working in the Flower Guild room. That’s where we saw her gifts come alive. Even, when she was having a hard time breathing and had no business walking up and down those steps, she was up here arranging flowers for the altar and for the church and for the God whom she loved. She had a gift, and she wanted to share it, and she did. And it will be missed. She didn’t really come to church on Sunday mornings very often—or ever, for that matter—but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t one of us—a part of this church family and a part of God’s kingdom. In fact, in many ways, I think she was the flag bearer for that kingdom, standing right out in front of everyone, reminding them what the kingdom of God is supposed to be.

In case you didn’t know Edith, she loved politics—and by “politics” I mean celebrating Democratic causes and trashing Republican ones. I consider it a treat to have known her—again, in the hospital—through two different presidential election cycles. When I went to visit, I could always tell if she had been doing well. If so, the channel was tuned to CNN because, as Edith would remind you, they didn’t carry MSNBC in the hospital. But, if she hadn’t been doing well, her family left the television on Fox News as a motivation for her to recover her strength enough to get up and change the channel. Even when she couldn’t really talk, her eyes would light up when I asked her about the election or other political issues she cared about. And, when she could, she would talk so much that she would wear herself out of breath because the oxygen was going into her nose, which she didn’t have time to breathe through while she was telling me about what the latest idiot in Washington had done. I regret that she didn’t live through this November’s election. Either way, no matter who wins, it would have been fun to watch her celebrate the victory she wanted or lambast the electorate for choosing the side she didn’t support.

But, for Edith, politics weren’t just about winning and losing. She was passionate about them because, for her, they were about justice and peace doing something right for all people. She cared about them because they make a difference in the lives of real people, and she believed with all her heart that all everyone should have a shot at a good life. Isn’t that the hope of the gospel, too? Although not particularly religious, Edith was committed to gospel principles like taking care of the least of these and lifting up the downtrodden and setting the oppressed free. She believed that society’s outcasts should have a seat at the table and that someone should speak up for them until they did. As Jesus said in the gospel reading from John, she heard that word from Jesus and believed that it was, indeed, God’s will for the world. She believed that all things would be made new, and she looked for that day when everything would at last be made right—when all tears would be wiped away and finally the world would be as it should. She believed that was possible, and, in her own way, she fought for it. And, to that end, she would argue with you about it until you just couldn’t stand it anymore.

We knew Edith and loved her, and we also knew that she wasn’t like anyone else. This was her home—Courtland and Decatur—and she was one of us, and she loved us, too, but at the same time, she didn’t really fit in here. She didn’t want to. Instead, she lived a life that was both fully here and that also belonged somewhere else. She lived with her feet and mind and voice right here, but her heart and her spirit seemed tied to another place—to a realm where all things are indeed made new. I don’t think she would have described that place as the kingdom of God, but that’s what I saw in her life and heard in her words. She brought all of us a little closer to it.

When Lynn and Jody and Kate met with me to choose the readings for Edith’s funeral, they all felt a connection with the lesson from 2 Corinthians: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” Doesn’t that fit Edith Haney to a T? For years, her family and friends watched her body weakened by illness and struggle, but her spirit did not waver. She fought hard because she loved life and loved those with whom she shared it. She loved her husband and children and, especially, her grandson, Henry. They all might have had their own peculiar way of showing it, but they loved each other and filled each other’s lives with joy. Yet none of them expected this body and this life to be fulfilment of Edith’s hopes and dreams. This body, as St. Paul wrote, is an earthly tent—temporary. And Edith had that confidence that, although at home in this body, something better was awaiting her. And now, at last, she is gone from us and is finally at rest.
There is a deep sadness that we feel today because one we love so much is gone. There is no one like Edith. She could never be replaced, and she will always be missed. But we know that what is next for Edith and for all of us is that kingdom that she always looked for and fought for. In that place, there is no death, no poverty, no oppression, no war, no violence, and no hate. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus are a testament to that hope—that evil cannot win, that not even death can rob us of that hope. In her life, Edith taught us to hope for those things and to work for those things and even to fight for those things. She reminded us that this world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be and that there must be something better ahead of us. She reminded us of God’s kingdom, and now we wait until we will meet her there.

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