I should begin by saying that though Mike has known this church in various capacities over the years, I didn’t know him. But I wish I had.
I’ve gotten to know a bit about him from all of you and from talking to others, and so I have come to admire the man who always kept learning, always demanded more of himself, never stopped reading, and drawing, and creating, and helping, and loving.
Mike had that gift that makes one successful in advertising—that gift of being able to find interest in everything and everyone. Not in a surface way, but in a way that sees, understands, and hears.
As one person has written to me, “Mike was one of those rare men capable of seeing the other side, of respecting another’s view—and of changing his mind. He could compromise. He could apologize. He could forgive.”
The scriptures today both point beyond their current circumstances. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is trying to inspire a whole nation. Things are going to get better, Isaiah says. And then, Isaiah becomes an artist and paints a picture of a whole world beyond, a place in the future, close to God. It’s a place of continual feasting. A friend of mine says that her view of heaven is a place where you can drink as much as you want without getting drunk and you can eat everything in sight without adding a calorie! That’s a little of the view of Isaiah—a place of perfect health where tears are wiped away and life awakens new each day.
In the Gospel of John we hear the words of Jesus saying, “Don’t worry. All shall be well. I’ve going ahead of you to prepare the way and so when you’re ready, the way will be clear, and good, and true.
That little phrase, “All shall be well” (especially in Episcopal and other Anglican churches) is a kind of hyperlink to the life, faith, and words of a medieval holy woman named Julian of Norwich. Scholars think that Julian probably lost her son and her husband in a plague, and so she committed her life to service in the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. She began a life of prayer and before long, people began to come to her for advice and wisdom. She became a kind of spiritual guide.
She received a vision from God and she wrote down two versions of that vision—a vision a little like our scriptures today—a vision in which God assures Julian that love prevails. Love wins. Love is never defeated.
Julian of Norwich takes to God her deepest question: Why is there sin? And more specifically, why has there been sin in my life? Why did I do that, say that, think that, go down that road, etc, etc, etc. Julian writes about this and says,
… Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved. (Showings, Long Text, Chp. 27)
Mike knew in this life what it meant to “come to,” to wake up to a new possibilities—new ideas, new friends, new ways of being of service and in community. In another story of Jesus’, the famous story of the Prodigal son, when the young, hell-raising son returns home to his parents, poor, broken, defeated, and at his bottom; the scripture says that the prodigal “come to himself.” He “came to.”
And that gets us back to what heaven might be. I think of heaven as a place in which we come to ourselves and we come to our Higher Power in a way that is a little like someone turning the lights on in a dark room. We’re not afraid. We’re not startled. But we’re quietly surprised at what we. Heaven is a kind of “Ohhhhhh! 😊 I had no idea!” We see, say, and breath relief as all questions are answered, all rough places made smooth, all resentments dissolved, all shortcomings completed—we come fully to ourselves, which is to say, we come face to face with our Creator and our Creator’s highest, most loving intentions for each of us.
Ann Lewin is a British writer and poet who reflects on those words of Julian,
“All shall be well….”
She must have said that
sometimes through gritted teeth.
Surely she knew the moments
when fear gnaws at trust,
the future loses shape,
The courage that says
all shall be well
doesn’t mean feeling no fear,
but facing it, trusting
God will not let go.
All shall be well
doesn’t deny present experience
but roots it deep
in the faithfulness of God,
whose will and gift is life”.
Let us give thanks that we have all been touched by the life of Mike Lawlor. With faith, let us give thanks that he has come to himself and to his God in light and love. And may we live with hope and faith and great gratitude. Amen.