Sermon: A Heart of Compassion

Tuesday, July 26, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Connie Muhle • Obituary

Readings:

I never got the chance to meet Connie, but I have heard many of the stories about her, from Rick and Diane, and from others in the community who knew her well. And, reading through her beautifully written obituary, I’ve gotta say it’s really a shock that Rick’s sister would be remembered as a storyteller and a prankster who loved to make people laugh. 😜 Heh – it’s even more of a shock that this family would choose to celebrate Connie’s life by gathering around a table to share food and to share stories. (Just kidding. 😉) I get the strong sense that there’s a streak of good humor and a little bit of orneriness that runs deep in this family.

But above all, everything I have heard or read about Connie just glows with the love that so many had for her. She was a loving mother, grandmother, wife, sister, and friend – someone who showed up with enthusiasm to support the people she cared about.

I was especially moved by the stories about Connie’s deep love for animals. Her dedication to caring and advocating for the vulnerable and the voiceless is truly inspiring. She went to great lengths to protect those who could not defend themselves and did everything in her power to find loving homes for them. These stories speak volumes about what a kind heart she had, and what an extraordinary spirit of compassion.

The two psalms that we read today, as well as the verse from Proverbs on the back of the bulletin, were all favorites of Connie’s. They reflect both her strong sense of faith and – of course – her love for animals. But reading these verses, alongside the stories about Connie, I kept finding myself thinking about this passage from the gospel of Luke.  

In this part of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and thousands of people keep turning up to listen to the things he has to say. He’s just finished answering a question from a man who is worried about property and fighting with his brother over a family inheritance. And in this moment, Jesus turns to his disciples – these twelve who have left everything behind, family, property, and inheritance, in order to follow him – and he tells them: do not worry. Consider the ravens, he says – consider the birds of the air or the wild animals roaming the wilderness – they have no need to worry about what they will eat or how they will live, because God cares for them all. And if God cares so greatly for the rest of creation, down to the lowliest creatures, how much more will God care for you! God knows what you need and will make sure that you have it – in fact, it is God’s good pleasure to do so!

It is God’s own compassionate heart and abundant care that Connie reflected so brightly in her life. Her concern for animals and her loving devotion to her family point us toward the Creator in whose image she was made. Her life bears witness to the God whose deep love knows no boundaries – to God who generously provides for us and for all creation, unfailingly giving us everything we need.

Even in this moment, God is here among us. God is present in the mutual love we share and present in the depths of our troubled hearts, tenderly caring for us as we gather to say this painful goodbye. And in the days and weeks and months and years to come, God will continue to hold us close and comfort us when the waves of grief come crashing over us. God’s compassionate presence will be with us always.

Because, even as fiercely and as passionately as we humans may love one another, our deepest love is only a drop in the deep ocean of God’s love and compassion for us and for all creation. God’s loving care for us is not even limited to this life; it goes much further, even beyond the grave. In our readings, the authors of both Psalm 27 and Revelation speak boldly about this hope we inherit – hope of life that will one day conquer death. The psalmist writes:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
This I believe—that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:1, 13-14

And the writer of Revelation shares this glorious vision of all the peoples of earth gathered before God’s throne, in a multitude that no one can count. And from the throne, a voice thunders down:

“See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away… See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:3-5

This is the hope that we cling to – the hope that is ours through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – the hope that we too will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

And even until then, I know that Connie will continue to live on among us. She lives on in the love you all carry in your hearts. She lives on in the stories you tell and in the laughter you share. A part of her will stay with you always – until that day when we all join that multitude of people standing together before God’s throne.

So do not be afraid, little flock. God will be with you in these difficult days. Allow yourselves to rest in the care of one who cares for ravens and for lilies, who cares for stray cats and skittish deer, the one who cares for us all – in life, in death, and in the life to come.

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