Sermon delivered by Rev. Roger Lynn on September 30, 2017
Roberta Hodges was a nurturing friend and sister, a loving parent, a founding mother of this community, a worker for social justice, and a student of the mysteries of life. She read extensively, loved Thomas Jefferson and others of profound thought. She listened with non-judgmental interest. She traveled to India to study and learn. When something excited her, her eyes would sparkle and her words flowed with life. She embodied the spirit. She was a healer and a spiritual guide. She was a flamenco dancer of the Holy Spirit. All of us here are to one degree or another, and some of us in a very large degree, better because Roberta Hodges was part of our lives. She was kind and loving, courageous and insightful. So today, we are here to mourn her passing and celebrate her life.
She is gone and she remains in who we are. She is here not only in our thoughts and memories, but also in the fabric of our being and the ground of our community. It is more than fitting that we celebrate her life and honor her memory this day and in the days to come, a central part of who we are requires it. Were we to leave this day blank, an enduring emptiness would exist in our lives. So we celebrate, we sing, we pray, we tell stories to affirm who Roberta was and to acknowledge who she is in who we are.
But our celebration is tinged with sorrow. Regardless of how great our joy in the memories or how deep our appreciation of what Roberta has given us, our sense of loss and the realization of our own mortality, can easily tip the balance toward despair and darkness. So we easily turn away denying the reality of death in one way or another. Some simply do not talk about it or think about it. Others sugar coat with platitudes. We don’t die; we ‘pass on’. We no longer have cemeteries where we bury our dead; we have ‘memorial gardens’. Preachers try to comfort with words about life after death as a simple extension of our earthly existence but free from pain and sorrow, life on the edge of the heavenly golf course where every drive is a hole-in-one and all our loved ones cheer.
Today it has become a measure of existential courage to disavow such beliefs and disparage the denial of death’s finality. So, Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night, … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” However, as much as I admire this existential “realism”, it denies an important part of our existence and makes it difficult if not impossible to be present to the profound importance of moments like this: Standing on the precipice between life and death.
I would like to suggest something different, by looking carefully at Roberta’s life and what it tells us about this moment. Roberta was a healer, but not just of the body. She was a spiritual guide and healer of the body and soul. To this end, she looked deeply into the depths of the ineffable. She began this work here in Minneapolis as a massage therapist and her work deepened as awareness grew through her yoga practice and meditation. It is why she studied in India, moved to the Christine Center in Wisconsin and ultimately to the beautiful cabin she built in the woods right next to it.
She came to understand through her studies and meditation, that this life, that seems so real, is actually an expression of a deeper reality. The Spirit does not dwell within the physical. The physical is an expression of the Spirit, embodies the Spirit, which is constantly creating it. When we die, the spirit does not leave the body, the body leaves the Spirit. In the words of David Bohm, a nuclear physicist, colleague of Albert Einstein, the empirical that we can hold and measure, bounded by the four, space/time dimensions is the Explicit Order. This empirical reality is a constant expression of the Implicit Order, a reality before, beneath, and beyond the limits of our fourth dimensional reality. This Explicit Order, the world we experience, our life on this mortal coil, is like a whirlpool whose existence is dependent upon the constant flow of the Implicit River giving it life.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the same truth calling it “Eternal Life”. What he spoke of and revealed in his life and resurrection was not something to be gained after death. It was and is a present state of being, a constant gift from a Loving Creator, inviting us to participate in the creation of God’s Beloved Community. As we ground our lives not in the empirical, transient world, but in the Being that is creating it—not in the whirlpool but in the River—we partner in moving this transient world toward its intended end. Being so employed, we have and experience Eternal Life. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, not things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39, NRSV).
Unfortunately, through the ages, the church and its theologians have squeezed these profound words about the nature of a universal existence into a narrow promise that applies only to the few who have been sanctified by an institutional power elite, the very model of those who sent Jesus to be crucified by the Romans. Roberta saw beyond this strangled view of reality. She understood, lived her life and healing practice in the flow of the loving, creative Spirit. You, who have known her, have been loved by her, have been healed by her, know, in the physical fibers of your beings, the reality of this Holy Spirit. Trust it as Roberta did, and know, though it is a mystery beyond our words, the love, the healing, the community you have experienced because of her, goes beyond the reality of this mortality and illumines Eternal Life, the deeper reality. She showed us the truth of Jesus’ words: “God’s Beloved Community is near at hand.”
Roberta knew we are falling through existence. Death in its many forms awaits us. When we find within and around us the Life-giving Energy that was before the beginning and will be after the end, the Energy that is constantly creating us and our whole universe, giving us breath, the beating of our hearts, flowing to us and through us, we can relax into this energetic field, this Loving Presence, that will never let us go in this life or beyond the grave. Here is Eternal Life allowing us to live in the beauty of every moment and to appreciate those who have died but are still present in the Greater Reality that continues to create us as we move inexorably not toward death but toward God’s Beloved Community.
I invite you to read carefully and perhaps post in obvious places the words printed in the last page of your bulletins:
Roberta, you loved your life, lived it your way, and now you are in the great mystery of Life’s full arc.
All of us who hold you dear will now rely on your presence in our lives in a new unencumbered spirit way.
We celebrate your life as it was with us and now your arrival in Heaven.
“Roberta walked in wonder and joy, and with the veil between two worlds now lifted,
Her wonder and joy are full” (The Rev. Steven Brice).