Eulogy for Linda Kay Elliott Christopher

I brought this obituary, eulogy and message at the memorial for my first cousin on March 5, 2015 in Sumter, SC

All human life is sacred; in its being born, in its living, and also in its dying. All human life is valuable. Thus, Linda Kay Elliott Christopher’s life was sacred and valuable, and lived in her own special way, with her own personality and qualities. The gifts and graces which she offered are never lost. The unique attributes which she brought to us in her life and relationships lies now within our own lives and travel into the future with us. Our lives have been changed because we knew and loved and lived with her.

Linda Kay Elliott Christopher was born March 20, 1954 in Coshocton, Ohio. She was the daughter of William Earl Elliott and Betty Lou Roof Elliott. Linda enjoyed sewing and was very active in the Girl Scouts as both a child and an adult. She loved camping and playing cards with her friends and family. Linda served as a lay leader and preacher in this church and at Santee Summer Ministry. Linda enjoyed music and was a talented singer and pianist. Her true joy in life was spending time with her grandchildren. Linda Kay Elliott Christopher died on Sunday, March 1, 2015, at her residence. She will be remembered as a loving daughter, mother, grandmother, sister and friend. She will be dearly missed by all that knew her.

Surviving in addition to her parents are: three daughters, Carrie Gulledge and her husband, William, Jessica Young and her husband, Terry, and Kimberly Christopher and her husband, Arthur,

two brothers, Kevin Elliott and his wife, Candice, and Kris Elliott and his wife, Carol; five grandchildren, Christian Gulledge, Daniel Davis Jr., Keyon (Kee-on) Young, Kamora (Kah-mar-a) Grice and Keyra (kear-ah) Grice;

five nieces: Michele Swanson, Chris Thyret, Jennifer Valdez, Megan Elliott and Dylan Elliott; Linda is also survived by her special friend, Henry Gregg.

Linda was preceded in death by a sister, Lori Sue Elliott, and brother, Kip Alan Elliott.

Scripture:

Let us be assured by these words of Jesus from the 14th chapter of the gospel of John:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places. ? If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place I am going. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

“I’ll Fly Away”

I want to begin by sharing that I wish I could stand before you and offer you unequivocal and certain responses to the question that probably occupies most of us in this place, Why did this have to happen?! But I can’t, because I don’t know what the answer is…What I can do is state the truth about Linda’s passing. It really stinks. This is not what God intended or intends for any person. God’s intentions are that each and every one of us would have long, happy, fulfilling lives. As a parent and a daughter, I can’t thing of anything else that is sadder or harder than facing the demise of a close, special loved one. As a family member, the pain of loss is close and real. I know how sad and frustrated you must be. I am too, and I stand with you in that dark unhappy place before God. It is my conviction that God honors and welcomes us with all these emotions, because God also grieves Linda’s loss to us. Additionally, it is my conviction that God offers each of us and will continue to offer for as long as it takes; that comforting, reassuring peace in which Linda now resides.

I want to help us remember together during this time the person Linda was and will continue to be for us all; for the gifts she gave will live on…

My memories of Linda are centered in the circumstance of our being first cousins. We were 2 of the group of 8 of us, who were the children of the three Roof sisters—Betty, Gerry, and Barbara. Linda was second in line, behind her brother Kip in age. Years of being together at our Grandmother’s on holidays, visiting each other’s homes have produced quite a collection of great reminiscences. We 8 spent many hours ensconced in the basement of Grandma’s little house playing games, terrorizing each other, and putting on programs for the adults. Linda’s musical abilities were always in great demand for these. I remember one specific program we did where we sang the songs from sound of music. Because uniformity was important to the two elder kids, the rest of us had to all change our last name to Elliott when we were introduced at the start of the show. Linda is also responsible for my introduction to the music scene of the 1970’s. Her collection of 45 records always seemed to come along when she visited our house. Through her, many popular artists like the Carpenters, Carly Simon, and in particular, the hit “In the Year 2525” made their way into my personal favorites.

It is a particularly bittersweet privilege to eulogize one of your childhood heroes.

Betty and Bill remember a quiet little girl 3 year old, who never cried about being brought into their home. Kip had so wanted a little sister and he was especially glad to meet her; he said he wanted to take her right to Sunday school to meet everybody there. At her first Sunday dinner, Linda was strongly encouraged to eat her lima beans. Not liking lima beans, she hid them in her panties. Uncle Bill remembers that Linda did grow into a young lady who had no problem whatsoever at sharing about how she felt about something or what in particular she wanted. Aunt Betty recollects that she loved to be given tasks to help with in the kitchen. Linda herself remembers some highlights of her growing up in the letter she wrote to Betty for her 80th birthday:

Linda’s daughters remember their mother as an excellent grandmother—“Memaw” or “Grandma Linda”—who delighted in all the grandchildren. They have fond memories of innumerable card games and being encouraged to participate in Girl Scouts where Linda served as a leader. Jessica shared the lyrics to those oldie but goodie girl scout songs at the kitchen table the other evening: Make New Friends, and I’ve Got a Smile in My Pocket.

The lyrics to “Wind Beneath My Wings”—some of which are in the bulletin today– have special meaning for Carrie after a conversation with Linda when Linda told Carrie that she in fact was the Wind to her mother’s wings. Kimberly has written the following letter…

Such rich memories, but certainly not enough. And I have to wonder—what do we have left besides the memories? What remains of Linda in our world to accompany and comfort us?

In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says this about love:

If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become an adult, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

While we often use this passage as a celebration of romantic love; it’s useful to remind ourselves here and now that the Greek word used in this passage for love is AGAPE ! It’s that special love that we recognize and understand as being a special gift of God and defines unselfish and sacrificial love. This is the love that is the very essence of the divine; the love that can influence and inspire of all of our relationships—human and divine! We see it in its truest form as we consider the sacrifice of God’s only child Jesus as he died for us all. We experience it as we truly and completely live and act for someone else. It is this love in which we know and have experienced the best of Linda’s being…

Love is one of the core eternal pieces of Linda which will persist: It was there when she was born, and as she lived as a daughter, a mother, a grandmother; it was there as she left the pain and limitations of this earth on Sunday morning. Linda’s best legacy is love. It is love that enables her –and us– to be eternal beings, with a destiny that unfolds on the “other side” of our earthly life. Her life and our lives are never-ending stories; birth, life, death-rebirth, eternal life. “Linda Love” continues to permeate and infuse each one of us as we walk with one another, as we live and work and play and rest. Love—and UNIQUE, WONDERFUL Linda—CONTINUES to energize and enliven our world: as we act individually to maintain loving relationships; and as we act together as a family and a community to show and share this love with anyone we meet, and finally—ultimately– as we each realize the coming of God’s eternal reign.

Thanks be to God for the life of Linda Kay Elliott Christopher, and thanks be to God for the blessings her life will continue to reveal in us and those that we love.

In conclusion, I would like to share a poem that once more offers the vision and expectation that Linda Christopher continues to love and influence each one of us forever:

I give you this one thought to keep—

I am with you still—I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night

Do not think of me as gone—

I am with you still-in each new dawn.

 

Let us look again to God in Prayer:

O God, You know the lives we live and the deaths we die- woven so strangely of purpose and chance, of reason and the irrational, of strength and of weakness, of happiness and pain, of laughter and tears.

Into your hands we commend the soul of Linda Kay Elliott Christopher. Through your grace, that can do far more than we can think or imagine, fulfill in Linda your purpose that reaches beyond time and death. Lead Linda home, and into her destiny as a beloved child of your kingdom. Continue to bring solace and support to Linda’s family and friends. Allow their memories and the love they share together to sustain and comfort them. Into your hands also, we commit our lives. Hold us in your keeping and enable us to live into the intentions you have for each of us. Guide and direct us through the power of the Holy Spirit and with the example of your son Jesus, who taught to his disciples this prayer, that we will now pray together:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and power and the glory forever and ever, AMEN

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Message for 03-01-15 “The Scarlet Journey–week 1: Money and Sex”, scripture Mark 14:3-9

The schedule of Bible reading for this year—known as the Lectionary—does what I think is a strange thing…You’ve heard me say that the featured gospel is supposed to be Mark for 2015; well during Lent and Holy Week the powers that be decided to switch to primarily readings from the Gospel of John. I don’t really know why—except that Mark is the shortest of the four gospels and maybe they were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough Mark to last the whole year. Anyway, as you’ve probably noticed from the bulletin, I have decided to go ahead and be attentive to Mark’s story in spite of the Lectionary. I am doing this because I believe that Mark has a particular way of telling the story that is important. I am not alone in this; my friend Caspar Green has written a study book on the story of the passion in Mark for this very reason. I will be relying on his material—which he calls the Scarlet Journey– for our little adventure here at Adirondack Meeting. He uses the word “scarlet” to emphasize that his perspectives will not follow this year’s traditional journey to the cross. Our job on this journey is to pay special attention to what Mark—and only Mark—says. This shouldn’t be too onerous; the passion narrative is only about 3 chapters in Mark. Our job is also to notice where we get surprised or shocked by what we learn, for this may well lead us to new understandings about Jesus Christ; as well as influence or renew our faith in ways that help us live it out in today’s world.

Let’s start by hearing what Caspar says about the particular importance of the gospel of Mark: “it’s the earliest of the four gospels in the New Testament. As such, it reflects in many instances the stories about Jesus that are closest to the way they were originally told. As with any story told orally, over time details change, and the significance of events are rearranged. Written thirty-something years after Jesus’ crucifixion, even Mark’s accounts have already been retold to address the concerns of the second generation of Jesus followers. Still, so close people and events that touched off the Christian movement, they reflect a highly similar understanding of the circumstances in which Jesus and his original disciples lived. The first readers of Mark would have had the chance to see the Temple in Jerusalem with their own eyes, and would have experienced the competing claims of the same religious and political authorities Jesus experienced. In other words because this is the oldest version of the Jesus story, the similarities it has with the actual world in which Jesus lived, ministered, and died are very close. The culture, those in power, those NOT in power in Jesus’ life closely resemble what is depicted in Mark’s story and in Mark’s world.

Along with his commentary and interpretation of this part of Mark, Caspar has also created his own translation from the Greek of the particular passages he considers. I will be sharing these as well each week, in hopes of allowing a fresh approach to the texts. You are invited to follow along from the back of your bulletin as I read again Mark 14:3-9 according to Caspar Green:

Jesus was at Bethany in Simon’s house. (Simon was a leper.) While they were eating diner, a woman came with a bottle of Clive Christian perfume. She smashed the jar and poured it all over his head. In anger, several of the company protested, “Why was this perfume wasted like that? We could have sold that for more than $200,000! Think how much we could have given to the poor with that!” And they excoriated her.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you berating her? She’s done me a great service! You’ll always have poor folk with you, and you can always be kind to them. But I’m not always going to be here for you. She’s just doing what she could to help. Now I’m ready to go to my grave. Seriously, wherever people tell this story all over the world, people will tell this part. And they’ll remember her.”

First, a little background information:

What kind of picture do you get in your mind when you think of Simon, “the Leper”? What does that even mean? Most of our Bibles suggest that leprosy is similar to what we know of today as Hanson’s disease or another skin disease…For all we know, Simon had a birthmark or a mole or a boil. He’s NOT sick; he’s unclean. Cleanliness has nothing to do with germs here; it’s all about whether someone is in conformity with the rules or laws. The important question is; are you behaving or appearing like the law indicates is “normal?” In addition, anything touched or possessed by Simon is ALSO UNCLEAN by association. Eating at his house would be like having dinner in a gas station restroom for us—REALLY ICKY. What’s more is that Jesus cannot “heal” Simon, because he isn’t sick. Purification requires going through the ritual at the temple that makes one “clean”, which includes the purchase of a specific animal sacrifice. It is very likely that Simon is not only “unclean”, he’s poor as well. What the heck is Jesus doing hanging around with him?

And then, there’s this woman with a jar of nard or perfume. When you look at the website for Clive Christian Perfume—which is used in Caspar’s transation, you’ll see that it claims to be the world’s most expensive perfume…She comes forward and anoints Jesus, breaking the expensive container as well as spilling out completely the costly oil. This sets up a number of crucial contrasts…

Here you have poor old unclean Simon on one hand, a social outcast who can’t afford the cost of purification, and on the other, a woman—of course ALSO an outcast—because she’s a woman, who has lavished in excess on Jesus a perfume used only by the wealthy.

On one hand you have the followers who are scandalized at the woman’s behavior, assuming that the expense of the perfume could have been used to feed the poor there’s the money issue—not seeing beyond the value of the money involved; on the other there’s Jesus who has just taught his followers about caring for the poor. But in this case he praises the actions of the woman, calling her a true disciple that everyone should remember and learn from; which is something that hasn’t been done over time; there’s the sex or gender issue—not seeing beyond the fact that a WOMAN is involved.

On one hand, you have a crowd who sees Jesus’ presence at Simon the Leper’s as an opportunity where they can capitalize on the difference between them and him to stroke their own egos, and on the other there’s Jesus who wants merely to eat with folks in an attempt for them to know Simon as an equal outside of the constraints of the social and religious mores.

What conclusions can we reach from this setting? First off and foremost: Jesus IS ALL ABOUT breaking down the barriers of class, and social oppression. He eats with, helps, and LOVES ALL. THAT IS THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD THAT JESUS BRINGS.

Secondly, Jesus here is offering his followers an opportunity to really SEE the situation and make a difference. It isn’t enough that they condescended to come into Simon’s presence. They COULD BE looking for ways to help solve his problem. The woman’s interruption with a sacrifice of such extravagance boggles the ordinary person’s mind and proves the poverty of the assembled company’s hearts. She had a lot and gave it without hesitation. It’s about one’s willingness to do what needs to be done with what is available in the moment. Unfortunately the only person who sees the extraordinary generosity of her act was Jesus. That’s why he says she should always be remembered for her actions. It’s too bad she was judged only by her gender and that her gift was misunderstood by the crowd.

AS I considered this story, I couldn’t help but think of the recent incident in Hudson Falls involving the effort to establish a recovery center for heroin addicts within a church building in a residential neighborhood. A local clergy person offered the facility from a place of really seeing and understanding the situation at hand; he himself is a recovering addict. Initially this seemed as if it was going to be an important initial step in combating the epidemic of addiction in our area. Unfortunately the neighbors to the church see this as a threat to their community. Their fear is that those visiting the center would put the locals “at risk” and create an undesirable environment for family living.

As I view this situation up against this passage in Mark, I can recognize some common issues. Those in recovery seem to be viewed as unclean; their circumstances are not really understood nor are they readily incorporated or welcomed into the status quo of normal community living. Most of those who live nearby claim to be in support of “somebody doing something” to counteract the heroin epidemic, but they don’t want it in their “backyard”—that would certainly be as over the top as throwing expensive perfume all over a revolutionary leader. If we open our eyes to the situation and really see the truth of drug addiction recovery and prevention work, we might see that there are most certainly already addicts in varying stages of recovery in that neighborhood; that the problem isn’t about THEM—it involves US ALL. Why throw any lip service or money at a problem that can be addressed with time and space and people who care and are equipped to help those that want help? What will it take for us to look deeper than the money and sex issues in this case that cover over the reality that exists beyond cultural assumptions and prejudice? Here, it IS NOT ABOUT just throwing money at “the poor” or “a problem”, or making assumptions due to gender or social class. These block and destroy a real effort to resolve or relieve the situation. It is about trying to use our abundance in ways that really see the problems and doing the best we can when we have the chance.

Where else in our lives are we being called by Mark’s Jesus to get beyond the assumptions made by our society in order to deal meaningfully and responsibly with an issue that threatens to destroy the gifts and opportunities of our common humanity?

Where or how do we see ourselves or our faith community acting in response to the status quo of our culture in order to allow Good News to flourish?