Saturday, June 27, 2020

The memorial service for Jim Coffey


Jim Coffey
1929- 2020

June 27, 2020

+ Well, we gather today not really wanting to be here.

Yes, we knew this day was inevitably on the horizon somewhere.

But it still seems a bit too soon.

It was supposed to be different.

I guess imagined a time in which we could all say our goodbyes in person.

But, again, as Jim would tell us, this is the way it sometime happens.

And, in many ways, this might be better.

Whatever the case, all I do know for certain today is that I am very grateful.

I am grateful for Jim and for all he was.

I am grateful for the incredible and amazing life he lived.

I am grateful for the love he had for Joy (and the love she had for him).

I am grateful for all of you—his legacy in this world.

And you are all an amazing legacy to an amazing man!

And yes, as sad as today is, we are also able to rejoice.

We rejoice in Jim.

We rejoice in all that wonderful and beautiful and brilliant in Jim.

I am very honored to have been his priest.

I am very grateful to help commemorate him today and give thanks for his life today and to commend this truly wonderful man to God.

I say I am his priest, but I would say I was his friend.

And I am grateful for that too.

Today, is not the end of anything.

Yes, we are saying goodbye.

But we are not going to stop loving him, or remembering him, or sharing all these wonderful stories about him.

And as you all know, there will be many, many stories told about Jim Coffey in the years to come.

Many wonderful stories.

And his presence will certainly stay with us as long as we share those  stories.

I have no doubt that Jim is with us here this afternoon, celebrating this long and wonderful life with us.  

I am of the firm belief that what separates us who are alive and breathing here on earth from those who are now in the so-called “nearer presence of God” is actually a very thin division.

So, yes, right now, I think we can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, a very thin one.

And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Jim is close to us this morning. 

He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.

And we should truly celebrate his life.

It was a good life.

It was a life full of meaning and purpose.

He made a real difference in this world.

And I’m not just meaning in the life of you, his wife, and children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He made a difference in the lives of so many others.

Those he touched and affected as a doctor.

Those he knew and cared for.

Those many people who called him a dear friend.

He was remarkable in so many ways.

He was a man of science.

But he was also a man of deep faith.

And I got to see that side of him on more than one occasion.

Now saying that, I’m not saying he was some deeply over-pious person.

He was not that.

And even with his faith, he could still caste a critical doctor’s eye.

I remember very clearly one Christmas Eve, after Mass, we were talking and he said, “A virgin birth? Impossible!”

But he did have a deep and abiding faith in God.

I saw it again and again in his life.

And, toward the end of his life, whenever I would come to visit him, he would mouth the prayers he knew so well and, when he was able, he would always faithful receive Holy Communion.

That faithful life made itself known in so many ways.

All of us were touched by all the kindness he showed to us.

I will never forget that strong and gentle presence.

I will never forget that that kindness and that goodness that he embodied.

I will always remember his care and his concern for others.

Of course, St. Stephen’s was an important place in his life.

This was his church home.

Beginning in 1964 Jim served as Senior Warden here seven times, and as Junior Warden four times.

I am so very happy that his ashes will rest here in our memorial garden.

This was a person who truly lived out in his life the great commandments to Love God and to love others as you love yourself.

It was that love—love of God, love of others, love of his family and friends—that truly defined Jim Coffey.

As Jesus said in our Gospel reading for reading.

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…”

That is the perfect summary of Jim’s faith and life.

He kept those commands of love of God and love of others in the best we he knew how.

And we—all of us here today—are better for that love.

We all felt it.

We all were embraced in it.

We all knew how wonderful that love of Jim’s was.

As a faithful Episcopalian, Jim know that is that sometimes we can’t clearly define what it is we believe.

Nor should we.

We can’t pin it down and examine it too closely.

When we do, we find it loses its meaning. 

But when I am asked, “what do Episcopalians believe?” I say, “we believe what we pray.”

I think Jim would’ve appreciated that definition of our beliefs.

We’re not big on dogma and rules.

We’re not caught up in the letter of the law or preaching a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But we are big on liturgy—on the our worship services.  

Our Book of Common Prayer in many ways defines what we believe.

And so when I’m asked “What do Episcopalians believe about life after death?” I say, “look at our Book of Common Prayer.”

Look at what it says.

And that is what we believe.

This service is a testament to what we Episcopalians believe about what happens—this service of Resurrection, of life unending, of the fact that today is not ending, but is, in fact, a great and wonderful beginning.

This service is a testimony to what Jim himself believed.

Later in this service, as we commend Jim to God’s loving and merciful arms, we will pray,




You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Jim the poet would get those words.

Jim—who could recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service from memory (that always amazed me—and I’m a poet!)—would have “gotten” the poetry of that passage.

Jim—whose amazing and incredible photography reflected his keen poetic eye—would really “get” what was being said in those words.

He would understand that, yes, even now, even here, at the grave, what do we do?

We rejoice.

We sing our alleluias today.

Because we know.

We know that what we are rejoicing in today is Jim’s new life, his new beginning.

Where Jim is right now—in those loving, caring and able hands of his God—there is no pain or sorrow.  

There is only life there. Eternal life.

At this time of new beginning, even here at the grave, we—who are left behind—can make our song of alleluia.

Because we know that Jim and all our loved ones have been received into God’s arms of mercy, into the “blessed rest of everlasting peace.”

This is what we cling to on a day like today.

This is where we find our strength.

This what gets us through this temporary—and I do stress that it is temporary—this temporary separation from Jim.

We know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, God is with us and Jim is with God and that makes all the difference.

For Jim, sorrow and pain are no more.

In those 91 years, Jim knew much love and wonder and beauty.

In those 91 years, he also gave much love and wonder and beauty.

All of that is not gone.

It still goes on.

Jim, in this holy moment, has gained life eternal.

And that is what awaits us as well.

We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any real enthusiasm today.

But we can find a glimmer of light in the darkness of this day.

It is a glorious Light we find here.

Even if it is just a glimmer, it is a bright and wonderful Light.

And for that we can rejoice and be grateful.
And we can celebrate.   
May angels welcome you, Jim.
May all the saints come forward to greet you.
And may your rest today and always be one of unending joy.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Memorial Service for Jason Gould

June 26, 2020
Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home

I really want to keep this very informal.

Jason would want this to be very simple.

And I don’t think he’d be too happy to know we’re all talking about him.

But, it’s good to talk about him, to share memories of him, to remember the good things, and try to forget the bad things.

I say that, but forgetting the bad things is hard to do.

But, what I realized is that I can’t blame him really for the bad things any more than I can blame myself.

For Jason, he had a tough life, from the very beginning.

When he was born in September of 1959, he was born into a bad time in his family.

His grandmother Laverne was dying of Leukemia.

She was able to see him shortly after he was born on September before she died on Sept. 23, 1959.

The other issue going on was that, according Mom anyway, the marriage between her and Roger was pretty much over by that time.

They were both unhappy.

Mom talked about how there was a kind of pall over Jason’s pregnancy.

And she said she didn’t even set up his nursery until just few weeks before he was born.

Of course, as we know, he was born with scarring on his brain.

Mom had no idea how that happened.

This was the time of Thalidomide babies, but she always said she didn’t take any type of drugs during that time except for vitamins.

In 1961 and again in 1962, he almost died.

Michelle remembers the seizures.

He was hospitalized for long periods of time.

It was a terrible time.

Then, Dr. Lee Kristoferson was able to figure out what the issue was and prescribed a very powerful anti-seizure medication.

As much of a miracle as the medication was, it also wreaked havoc on Jason.
And for the rest of his life he struggled.

His parents’ divorce was particularly hard on him, especially being the youngest.

Michelle and I talked the other day about how he would sit at the picture window in our old house waiting for his father to come home from work.

I also remember Mom talked about how the medication made him hyper.

So she would hand him pots and pans and a wooden spoon and he would drum to the music on the radio.

She especially how he became really good at drumming along to “Love Me Do” by the Beatles.

When Mom married Dad, Jason has a hard time with it I know.

And when I came along—man, that was not good.

Or 10 years Jason had been the baby. Of the family.

And now suddenly there was me.

I don’t think he ever got over that.

His teenage years were really rough.

He dropped out of high school.

He went into the Job Corps.

I remember when he boarded the plane for South Dakota.

He was scared, Mom was crying. We took a trip down to Rapid City the following spring. It was there he learned how to weld.

He came back and worked O’Day Equipment, then at Skarphol.

He continued to have really bad seizures.

As I say, it was not an easy life.

But he was a good guy.

Everyone who knew him said, he was a good guy.

He loved hockey.

 That was his favorite thing in the whole world.

Even as a little boy, he loved playing hockey.

And for a guy his size, he could skate better than most people.

He also loved kites, and flying kites.

He would spend hours and hours just flying kites.

I think he just loved how it was a way to kind of escape life.

And he was funny.

He was a true clown.

He could make anyone laugh—well, except for Nana.

His jokes drove her crazy!

I am happy that all the hard times are behind him now.

I am happy that there no more seizures, no more epilepsy, no more pain, no more frustration in this life and all that life threw at him.

I hope more than anything else, that he is finally happy now.

I hope he is whole and healthy and fully himself.

I’m happy Mom never had to live to see this day.

She feared this day all those years.

And I am grateful that they are together again.

They loved each other.

And it’s good to know they’re back together.

I hope for the rest of us we can remember him for all the good that was in him.
And there was a lot of good in him.

I hope we remember his laughter and his joy and his ability to goof around, even if it went a little too far sometimes.

I hope we will always remember him.

Because he deserves our remembrance.

When Jason was baptized on October 18, 1959 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo, he was of course baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But, at the beginning of that service there was a short formula that was used (it was used at my baptism 10 years later as well when Iw as baptized at Bethlheme Lutheran Church in Fargo).

During the baptism service, the Pastor Lloyd  Zaudtke made the sign of the cross on Jason’s forehead and said, “Receive the sign of the holy Cross, in token that henceforth thou shalt know the Lord, and the power of the resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.”

In many ways, that summarizes Jason’s life, I hope.

He wasn’t, by any sense of the word, religious.  

But he was loved by God.

I know that.

And throughout all of his sufferings, throughout all of the many hardships of his life, he was still marked by that cross.

He lived, whether he was aware of it or not, in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings.
And now, we can believe, he lives right now in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

That is my hope, and my consolation in this moment.

May angels welcome you, Jason.

May all the saints come to greet you.

And may your rest today and always be one of unending joy.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

3 Pentecost



June 21, 2020

Matthew 10.24-39

+ Even during a pandemic, pastoral care still goes on.

And probably the biggest pastoral duty I have had during these last few months has just been listening.

Listening to people who have called me or reached out to me.

And I would say that the majority of people who are reaching are dealing with issues of deep and abiding fear.

Let’s face it, it’s a frightening time right now.

Covid is still raging through our country.

The political differences between people are leaving us divided and frustrated and angry

And the protests against police violence toward black people, the fact that black people are being killed in disproportionate numbers, is definitely frightening.

Add to that a HUGE spike in homophobic and anti-Semitic attacks in these last  two or so years has been sobering.

It is a truly strange and uncertain time we are living in.

This year of 2020 has been a particularly hard one.

And it’s only June!

And there’s still an election coming!

Sigh.

All of this reminds me very much of some of the petitions we find in a service in our Prayer Book we use only two time a year.

In our Prayer Book, beginning on page 148, we have something called “The Great Litany.”

I love the Great Litany!

The Great Litany, and especially the Supplication, which can be found on page 152 is a special prayer service which is often used “in times of war, or of national anxiety, or of disaster.”

It’s not a liturgy we, thankfully, use very often.

We use on the first Sunday of Advent and the First Sunday of Lent here at St. Stephen’s.

And although some people find it ponderous or even theologically uncomfortable, it is meaningful, and let me tell you, it speaks volumes to us in these current times.   

In this time of national anxiety, I have occasionally prayed the Great Litany privately here in church on an occasion or two in the past.

I actually have prayed it a couple of times here in church during the pandemic.

Fear like that can be very crippling.

And, as you’ve heard me say many times, fear in this sense is not from God.

Fear is a reality and there’s no way around at it times, but it is not something we should allow to dominate our lives.

In a sense, that fear is possibly what Jesus is hinting at in our Gospel reading.

Well, there’s actually a lot going on in our Gospel reading for today.

There are layers and layers in our Gospel reading.

And some really fairly unpleasant things.

But essentially it is about our fear of doing the work of God—doing the ministry of Christ—and…about taking up our cross.

Certainly it seems all this is bound together.

Essentially, probably our greatest cross to bear is our fear.

A fear like I referred to at the beginning of my sermon.

A strange, overpowering fear that is hard to pinpoint.

A fear of the unknown.

A fear of the future.

A fear of all those things we can’t control in our lives.

Let’s take a moment this morning to actually think about the symbol of our fears—this thing to which Jesus refers today—the Cross.

And I say that because the Cross is a symbol of fear.

It certainly was to people of Jesus’ day.

It was an instrument of torture and pain and death.

It was the equivalent of a noose or a guillotine

There was nothing hopeful or life-affirming in it to them.

And yet, look at how deceptively simple it is.

It’s simply two pieces, bound together.

Or, as the our crucifix in the corner shows, it is a cross on which a  man actually died.

I love the symbol of the crucifix, especially.

In it, gazing on the figure of Jesus who hangs there, we cannot deny what the cross is or what it represents to us.

For someone who knows nothing about Christianity, for someone who knows nothing about the story, it’s a symbol they might not think much about.

And yet, for us, on this side of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Cross is more than just another symbol in our lives.

It is a perfect example of how something that is a true symbol of death, destruction and fear can be transformed.

The story of the Cross is amazing in the sense that is as symbol of absolute terror and darkness transformed into a symbol of unending life, of victory of fear and death and despair. 

Jesus knew full well what the cross was all about, even before he was even nailed to it.

In our Gospel reading, he says,  “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

He knew it was a terrible dark thing.

He knew what is represented.

And by saying those words, he knew the people of his day did not want to hear those words either.

Taking up a cross? Are you serious? Why would anyone do that?

Taking up the Cross is frightening after all.

To take up a cross means to take up a burden—that thing we maybe fear the most in our lives.

To take it up—to face our greatest fear—is absolutely torturous.

It hurts.

When we think of that last journey Jesus took to the place of his crucifixion, carrying that heavy tree on which he is going to be murdered, it must’ve been more horrible than we can even begin to imagine.

 But the fact is, what Jesus is saying to us is: carry your cross now.

Carry it with dignity and inner strength.

But carry it without fear.

And this is the most important aspect of today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus commands us not once, but twice,

 “Do not be afraid.”

“Do not be afraid.”

He isn’t saying that in some nonchalant way.

He isn’t just saying it flippantly.

He is being blunt.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid of what the world can throw at you.

Do not be afraid of what can be done to the body and the flesh.

Do not be afraid of pandemics or racism or violence

Taking our cross and bearing it bravely is a sure and certain way of not fearing.

It is a defiant act.

If we take the crosses we’ve been given to bear and embrace them, rather than running away from them, we find that fear has no control over us.

The Cross destroys fear.

The Cross shatters fear into a million pieces.

And when we do fear, because we will experience fear in our lives, we know we have a place to go to for shelter in moments of real fear.

When fear encroaches on our lives—when fear comes riding roughshod through our lives—all we have to do is face it head-on. 

And there, we will find our fears destroyed.

Because of the Cross, we are taken care of.

There is no reason to fear.

I know that sounds complacent.

But there is no reason to fear.

Yes, there will be moments of collective, spiritual fear we are going through right now.

Yes, there will be a palpable fear we can almost touch.

Yes, we will be confronted at times with real and horrible fear.

But, there is no reason to despair over it  because we are not in control.

God is in control.

“Even the hairs of your head are counted” by the God who loves us and cares for us.

This God knows us intimately.

So intimately than this God even knows how many hairs are on our head.

Why should we be afraid then?

Because each of us is so valuable to God.

We are valuable to God, who loves us.

When we stop fearing whatever crosses we must bear in our lives, the cross will stop being something terrible.

Like that cross on which Jesus died, it will be an ugly thing of death and pain and fear  turned into a symbol of strength and joy and unending eternal life.

Through it, we know, we must pass to find true and unending life.

Through the Cross, we must pass to find ourselves, once and for all time, face-to-face with our God.

So, I invite you: take notice of the crosses around you.

As you drive along, notice the crosses on the churches you pass.

Notice the crosses that surround you.

When you see the Cross, remember what it means to you.

Look to it for what it is: a triumph over every single fear in our lives.

When we see the crosses in our lives, we can look at it and realize it is destroying fear in our own lives.

Let us truly look at those crucifixes and see the One who hangs nailed to the cross.

Let us bear those crosses of our lives patiently and, most importantly, without fear.

We are loved by our God.

Each of us is precious to our God.

Knowing that, rejoicing in that, how can we ever fear again?

Let us pray.
Holy God, we do live in fear. We do avoid taking up the cross Jesus tells us we must bear in our following of him. Dispel from our lives these crippling fears, these fears that prevents us from living into our own full potential, from the fears that separate us from you, and help us to live fully into this world without fear. We ask this in Jesus’ holy Name. Amen.