Faith Works 9-6-14
In Memoriam, for a passionate proclaimer
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the good news to the poor . . . to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the Favorable year of the Lord."
Those words from Luke's fourth chapter, out of Isaiah as read by Jesus in his own hometown and place of worship, are before me now. They speak where I cannot.
Truly, words, my words, are not sufficient to the occasion. Today at our church, the church where Deb Hayden and I both were members, we will celebrate her life and mourn her death.
There are words, and many will be said, but they say little enough. Music will be shared, on CD, from the organ, sung a capella (which is Latin for "camp style"), but it will not be the whole song.
Deb was just 62, had been married to Rick for over forty of those years, and while she had needed to retire officially from active ministry due to her increasingly problematic health, she was far from done.
We had talked on Facebook messages and e-mail chains about counseling and caring ministries that she had the skills and the training for, and the heart to engage in, even if her body would keep her limited. She had challenges, but no one in her family, her church family, or her deep and wide circle of friends in ministry and the community expected this.
A sudden illness, a siege in the ICU, and then an end on Labor Day. For Rick and the kids, a week to focus on plans and preparation for today, for all the rest of us, time to consider what it means to die in the middle of plans and anticipation, and perhaps to you, another face and name in the obituaries, online or in print.
But her passion always was for the downtrodden of which Jesus (and Isaiah) spoke, and her words were more often those of forebearers in the faith, from Jesus our Lord to the prophets of old to laborers for social justice today. On that score, at least, she would like the idea of passing on into glory on Labor Day, if only we were to get the point.
"Good news to the poor" was a question she often wrestled with, and the idea of "kairos," Greek for "the right time" or "the teachable moment" as a Christian educator would say, would track with Isaiah's "the year of the Lord's favor." For the poor and downtrodden, Deb would note, it was always going to be their year soon, next year, later, but the wicked will prosper and it always seemed to be the year of favor for those who already had much, to them's that's gots who gets more.
Crying out against injustice, and healing the wounds of the hurting: that's why Deb Hayden's ministry was as much in counseling and chaplaincy as it was in parish ministry. She was seeking, right up to her last week, the right place, the acceptable time, the favorable year in which she could use her gifts to serve God. She might cry out herself in frustration and anger, but her heart was aimed at knocking down doors for a Sovereign Lord to enter in as a Prince of Peace. She might accidentally knock you aside if you got in the way of where she believed the Lord was leading her, so it was always a good idea to head in the same direction as Deb – you always knew something interesting would happen along the way, anyhow.
We lay her body to rest, and set her anointed spirit free to finish God's plan for her eternity. Her energy and drive and passion will find their true outlet in perfect intention and blessed assurance. She leaves us tasks undone, so that our work might be mixed with hers. To that end, we can say as Deb has already heard: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Go in peace."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; say a prayer for those mourning this day. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.