Sermon: Gentleness and Quiet Beauty

Funeral of Denise Dubsky
December 7, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
watch this service online (readings start around 12:38; sermon starts around 17:53)

Readings: Lamentations 3:21-25, Luke 6:27-36

The first thing you’d notice when you met Denise Dubsky is… well, actually, at first, the truth is you might not have noticed Denise Dubsky at all. Denise was a quiet, soft-spoken person – she was never really the person you would find standing out in front, the center of attention, making all the noise. You’d much more likely find Denise behind the scenes, making sure all the work got done. 

But the second thing you’d probably notice about Denise is her warmth – both physically and in terms of personality, haha. Denise’s hands were always warm when you’d go to shake them – it was always nice to share the peace with her during worship in wintertime! – and her family remembers her always complaining about being too hot! But Denise also had a warm and caring soul. She had a spirit of kindness and gentleness and quiet joy that you could just see reflected on her face.

However, [her daughter] Sara does argue that your mileage may vary on this if you’d happen to wake Denise up from a nap. I believe her exact quote was, “I have never seen someone with more murder in their eyes.” It’s always the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for. 

But on the whole at least, Denise believed in treating others with kindness and gentleness. When I asked her family what scriptures should be read for the service today, they barely had to think about it before saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s how Denise lived. Denise did her best to respond to the ugliness in the world and even to the bad behavior of others by choosing to imitate Christ by acting with kindness.

Denise was also a wonderfully creative person – I wish we could have dragged the bulletin board down the hallway off the wall and brought it in here to show off some of her work; even incomplete, it’s still beautiful. She delighted in creating festive and artistic displays for others to enjoy all throughout the year – but she never drew attention to herself or wanted praise for it. She did it simply for the love of creating something lovely, for the sake of bringing a little more beauty into the world.

Denise was an incredibly sweet person; again, both in terms of personality and physically, because she was – to use the technical term – a chocolate fiend. In fact, you’ll see later in the fellowship hall that her family has chosen to pay tribute to her in a very fitting way: all the tables are decorated with chocolate candies and with snowflakes and poinsettias that Shirley and Christine have made. And everyone is invited to take some piece of this home with them. It’s just a perfect way to remember someone as creative and generous and sweet as Denise.

I’m grateful that I got to spend quite a bit of time getting to know Denise as her pastor. She was a faithful churchgoer and loved singing; she helped out with the altar committee and the Holiday Fair, and she was always one of those folks you could count on to turn up for events other than just Sunday morning worship. In fact, I’m sure Denise would have been here tonight even if it weren’t literally her funeral. Normally on Wednesdays during the season of Advent, we gather here for something we call “Training Disciples” – we come together for a meal and then sing this service we are singing tonight: Holden Evening Prayer. It was a service Denise loved, and so it only seemed fitting to send her off by singing it with her one last time.

I always loved having Denise at Training Disciples, not only because she was just enjoyable to be around. She also just had a knack for connecting with other folks who were quiet and hesitant to let their voices be heard in the larger group; her gentleness had a way of drawing them into the conversation.

As quiet as Denise was, though, there was one evening at Training Disciples earlier this year when she really surprised me – it was something I will not soon forget. We were on the second week of a bible study/discussion about evangelism that was focused on storytelling, which is really the core of evangelism. Denise had missed the first week when I’d told people to come prepared to tell a faith story of their own the following week. So it was quite a surprise when we went around the table sharing faith stories that, rather than pass to the next person, Denise opened up and told the most amazing story about an experience she’d had years before during a cardiac episode: as she was being taken by emergency personnel, she had this vision of light, and a powerful sense of God’s love and presence surrounding her. I can’t do the story justice trying to describe it, but Denise described the experience so powerfully and movingly.

A story like this one reflects the great depth of faith that Denise had. She lived out this faith through her service to the church and in the community. But even just by who she was, Denise pointed us toward the loving Creator in whose image she was made. God’s own kindness and gentleness, God’s generosity and sweetness, God’s creativity and love for beauty were all things that Denise reflected in her life. We know God better for having known her.

Denise lived and died full of faith in a God whose steadfast love never ceases, whose mercies never come to an end. As the writer of Lamentations writes, Denise was a soul who waited for the Lord, who sought after God with all her heart. She believed in the promise of her baptism – that we have been joined forever to Christ in both life and death – and that because he lives, we too will live.

And for all of us who gather here today, so full of grief and shock over this sudden loss, this same faith to which Denise clung tightly can also give us comfort and hope. It gives us comfort that God walks beside us even now, holding us with gentleness and love. And it gives us hope that while one journey may be over, the story doesn’t end here.

Today, we give our beloved sister Denise over into the care of the God whose love she  so brightly reflected. We say our goodbyes, trusting that God will keep her and care for her. And we carry with us the flame of hope that Denise herself carried – hope rooted in the faith that God will keep God’s promise to restore all creation, God’s promise to raise us up to eternal life with all those who have gone before us.

And as we go forward, I think the best way for us to honor our beloved sister Denise is to follow her example: 

To do unto others as we would have them do unto us. 

To be beacons of gentleness and lovers of beauty. 

To be faithful witnesses to the great mercy of God, who loves us unfailingly both in this life and in the next.

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