Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message at the funeral for Darlene Janice “Dar” Klein on Thursday, June 2, 2022.
Among Dar’s personal effects was a hand-written letter that she penned several years ago.
Dar’s family shared it with me while we were making funeral arrangements, and since it provides such an intimate and heartfelt witness to faith and belief, I now share the letter with you. Here’s what Dar wrote:
Dear God, thank you for everything! It’s December 19, 2019, and I can’t thank you enough for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They are all different, and that’s what I love. Thank you for memories of Alma, and Mom, and Daddy. They’re all good. Thank you for Mert. He’s so good and understanding. Thank you for Gary, my ex. I’m so glad he’s a part of my life. God, you are perfect – I couldn’t live a day without you. That is why my [daily devotional] book “Jesus Calling” means so much to me. I love it, love it, love it. Last year, I was in the nursing home – you were with me all the way. Then, I had breast cancer, and you were with me all the way. I just wanted to write this letter to you to thank you for everything. You make me happy. Thank you, Dar.
The devotional book that Dar so cherished, “Jesus Calling,” fuels my own daily walk of faith, and I “love it, love it, love it,” too.
What makes this little book so powerful is that its author, Sarah Young, writes in the first-person voice of Jesus. So, when you read each day’s devotion, it’s as if Jesus himself is speaking softly and tenderly to you. Through the words of Ms. Young, here’s what Jesus had to say in the devotional reading for Thursday, May 26 – the day that Dar died.
“In a world of unrelenting changes, I am the One who never changes. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Find in Me that stability for which you have yearned. I created a beautifully ordered world: one that reflected My perfection. Now, however, the world is under the bondage of sin and evil. Every person on the planet faces gaping jaws of uncertainty. The only antidote to this poisonous threat is drawing closer to Me. In My Presence you can face uncertainty with perfect Peace.”
For Dar, the prospect of death loosed a crashing wave of uncertainty.
Yes, Dar accepted death’s certainty, and she knew hers would come sooner rather than later. And she was OK with that, certain that the place to which she was headed would bring healing and wholeness, joy and happiness, reunion and celebration, even if she really didn’t want to have to say goodbye to any of us.
But uncertainty lay in the process of dying, in the unknown journey of stepping from this world into the next. When cancer is the evil that attacks the body, the mind knows the journey won’t be easy. And the prospect of a prolonged, painful death is horrifying, sufficiently intimidating as to weaken even the strongest of knees and quiver even the stiffest of upper lips.
Yet, Dar faced the end of her earthly life with courage and dignity. She was ready to go, even if none of us was ready to let her go, and Dar stepped off this earth and into heaven with a kind of grace that arises only from deep faith in the “One who never changes.” That’s probably one of the reasons why Dar wanted us to share Psalm 23 together here in our time of grief and sadness:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul and leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me. Your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
Dar basked in the same glow of hope and assurance that filled the writer of Psalm 23.
And the word that describes what both Dar and the psalmist experienced is “glory” – the raw power of God made real; the vivid, dazzling intensity of the Lord; the white-hot holiness of the divine that stuns and amazes beyond description.
Glory is big. Glory is bright. Glory is bodacious – a loud, multisensory blockbuster of an extravaganza that you surely can’t miss if you’re anywhere near glory’s orbit when it bursts forth.
Then, along comes Jesus, who in the Gospel of John rewrites the definition of “glory” in a surprising way and seemingly unlikely place.
Continue listening for God’s Word to you this day as we travel to Cana and join the wedding party where Jesus turns water into wine.
On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)
When he quietly transforms water into wine, Jesus does far more than simply fix an embarrassing open-bar shortfall and help a family save face before their guests.
This, somehow, according to John’s Gospel, is the first revelation of no less than Jesus’s glory – so sufficiently revealed that it rouses Jesus’s followers to put all their trust in him.
Really? Glory in wine? Glory in providing another round or two, or three, or four, to folks who’ve already had a few too many? Where’s the “glory” in possibly making the next morning’s hangover even more brutal?
Well, as it turns out, glory is right there, in the quiet man who initially hesitates but eventually intervenes. Surprisingly, Jesus flies under the radar when he does what he does. Nothing suggests that anyone in the larger crowd of wedding guests ever knows what really happened. Only Mary and the disciples – and the servants who’ve done Jesus’s bidding – realize what’s up.
Even so, those stone jars now filled with delicious Bordeaux nevertheless are revelations of glory – glory poured so generously that faith and belief intoxicate the hearts and souls of the disciples!
Somehow, they discern Jesus to be God’s long-promised Savior, the One who would bring abundance where there once had been only scarcity.
Somehow, they ferret out an echo of all those soaring Old Testament prophecies about how, when God’s kingdom fully comes, all the good things we need will flow freely in never-ending abundance.
When needs are met – even needs as commonplace as the one in Cana that day, somehow joy follows, and that inebriating joy distills from the glory of God.
One of the great fathers of the Church once said that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Without question, God desires us to flourish, enjoy, and delight in God’s Creation, even as God does at the dawn of time. Dar’s days of living life to the fullest surely reflect that truth. If you look at the many pictures of Dar displayed in the Fellowship Hall, you’ll notice that there isn’t a one in which she isn’t smiling.
But God’s heart breaks over the spectacle of poverty – when people abiding in God’s abundant Creation experience shortage and scarcity that are physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.
Granted, running out of wine for wedding guests who already may well have had their fair share to drink might not seem like the kind of dire want or desperate need that breaks God’s heart. And perhaps it didn’t.
But John’s Gospel is surely confident that Jesus is the real deal who brings this Good News: Wherever God’s Messiah shows up – invited or not, abundance always follows. Jesus, after all, doesn’t make a mere case of wine but hundreds of gallons. He doesn’t make a cheap, watery wine but a rare vintage better than most had ever tasted.
This entire story smacks of being “over the top” in so very many ways.
There is an extravagance here, almost a hint of luxury, that seems to burst the narrow confines of the moment. It’s as though someone asks for a bottle of water, and Jesus provides the whole of the Mississippi River! It’s as though someone asks for $20 to buy a child a toy, and Jesus opens the doors to an entire toy warehouse!
Thus the disciples see glory – the glory of God in providing more than is requested, more than can be imagined. It’s the glory of God giving access – if only for just a little while – to the abundant fullness with which God endows Creation in the beginning. Indeed, we must revise our definition of “glory” because of what that wedding party in Cana reveals.
And maybe, just maybe, such a revisioning of glory means that we’ll see divine glory a whole lot more often in our lives – like when those who weep and mourn find their endless tears dried and their broken hearts mended by the Gospel comfort of resurrection to come. When we see these and so many other miraculous things happening in our families and in our communities, then we are seeing the glory of God, as the Holy Spirit continues to guide us back to places of abundance created with each of us in heaven’s mind.
In her daily living, Dar saw plenty of Jesus’s glory, too, which likely explains why her letter to God overflows with thanksgiving and why she faced death with integrity borne of faith and bravery sustained by assurance.
What Dar apparently understood is this:
Stunning moments like the goings-on at Cana remind that we are claimed by and serve a God whose effusive overflow of providential gifts knows no measure or bounds. Spectacular events like Cana’s remind that the Lord is also often quite content to simply watch as his people soak up the goodness brimming in his creative work.
Accordingly, we offer our thanks to God for the wonderfully creative and colorful gift of Dar’s life among us and, as Dar proclaims in her letter, for being with us all the way. In a world of unrelenting changes, God is the One – the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End whose gracious love and generous provision never change.
Life without Dar surely won’t be the same. But that doesn’t mean life won’t still bring moments of laughter and dancing, grace and peace, joy and glory.
For that is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Scott Hoezee, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, St. Irenaeus, and Sarah Young inform the message.