Joan Herbon

John 15:1–16

Jesus said,  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. 

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples. 

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants[d] any longer, because the servant[e] does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Pastor Joan loved dialogue sermons. She told me she preached them with seminary students; she wanted to preach one with me. Perhaps today we will. Joan assured me that no one could do her funeral as well as she. I’ll try to give her a voice in the preaching. After all, regardless of the topic, Joan’s and my dialogue was always the same.

Joan would share her vision, her inspiration, the way things could be, should be, and what I needed to do right now to get them done. Then I would remind Joan of reality, of the way things are, and that I don’t have the authority to do what she wants done. Joan would invoke the Holy Spirit. I would remind Joan that the Holy Spirit works through the decisions and processes of the church. After all, it was a church process that called Joan to Lord of Life. Joan would tell me that she appreciated that I wear a flame-shaped miter because it assured her that I understood that the Holy Spirit runs the church, not bishops. We would laugh. Then we talk about Jesus and how much she loves her church.

So, today, Joan would run to Philippians and with Saint Paul challenge us to, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” With Isaiah, Joan would bid us who thirst to come to the water and drink; Joan would call us who have nothing to come and receive wine, milk, and rich food. Joan would lead us up Isaiah’s Mountain to partake of the Lords feast of rich food and well-aged wine and to witness as God destroys the shroud, that is overall people, wipes away tears from all faces, and swallows up death forever. Joan would have us haul in the Easter, lilies and proclaim, “Christ is risen, indeed!”

And I would say, “We will. But not yet.” Just days ago, the church confronted the ash of our existence and confessed that, left to ourselves our destiny is death. Now we follow Jesus  to the cross. We know that Jesus wept outside his friends tomb before calling Lazarus from the grave. We know that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried before rising from the dead on the third day. Yes, Jesus transforms death into new life. But the pain and loss of death remain very real. So, as Paul says, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Still, we grieve.

From near and far, we have kept vigil with Joan and did our best to accompany her as she made her 14 month Lenten journey. The loss was very real. Joan implored me to use my bishoply power to restore her to her past ministry at lord of Life. When that could not happen, Joan insisted I use my bishoply power to accomplish all the things she felt she had left undone. In time, Joan demanded that I use my bishoply power to relocate her so that she could spend time with her children, and have adventures with her grandchildren. Even as we know Joan is with God, we experience her absence, long for conversation, and  grieve.

The psalmist declares, “You search my thoughts from far away. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” Whatever we are experiencing today, the right hand of the Lord holds us fast. Like branches to a vine, Jesus says, we are connected to him. Nothing, not even death can break that bond.

So we continue our Lenten journey, commending our sister Joan to God even as we cherish her companionship in our hearts, our minds, and our memories.  We continue our Lenten journey, cleansed by Jesus’s word, loving one another,as Jesus loved us, receiving Jesus’s very presence in the bread and wine of the feast as strength for our journey.

Giving Joan the last word in this dialogue, sermon: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” For we will reach the mountain of the Lord, feast on rich foods, and witness, God, swallowing up death forever. For Jesus laid down his life for his friends, and God will raise us with him. For Christ is risen, indeed!

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