All You Need is Love

            Every pulpit presents a unique challenge to a preacher.  Sometimes the pulpit is enormous and 5’5” preachers like me can barely see over it.  Sometimes they’re equipped with microphones that amplify every breath you take.  St. Martin’s has its own special thing:  when you stand here, the eyes of Jesus bore into you from the choir loft.  Shawn painted that bigger-than-life Jesus headshot with eyes that have the uncanny ability to follow you.  His fingerprints are very much alive in this room.

         Thank you, Jan and family, for inviting me to be with you today.  It is an honor to be part of Shawn’s service. When Jan called to talk about today, she mentioned that I knew Shawn for many years…and that is certainly true.  Before I knew his name, I remember people talking about the “Hot guy in biker shorts” at St. Martin’s Saturday night Eucharist.  Shawn would bicycle to the church and then serve as a lector or a chalice bearer.  The muscle tone he built as a long-distance cyclist was remarkable.  Just a few days before he passed, Jan and I sat across from each other, holding Shawn’s hands.  His grip never lost its strength.  Even Parkinson’s could not steal it away.

         A year ago, I began visiting Shawn and Jan regularly.  We always chatted for a while…reminiscing about shared stories from the past and catching up on what the kids and grandkids were doing.  And, then we would read the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday.  We’d talk about the text…Who was the original, intended audience?  Who was the author?  What is the story being told by the author? And how does this story intersect with today?  In short, we were writing a sermon together.  At the end, I’d always ask, “What would be the title of your sermon if you were preaching on Sunday?” 

         As I began reading the Gospel text for today, I reflected on all those conversations.  And I began wondering, what would Shawn hear in this text?  How would he connect it to this moment?  What is the message, the sermon title, he would choose for us?



         Martha is a close, trusted friend of Jesus.  They’re not acquaintances.  They’re not kin.  They are chosen family.  Jesus is comfortable being in her home…and she is comfortable saying to Jesus, “If only you had come more quickly”.  It’s not really an admonishment…Rather, I think she’s acknowledging that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death.  And he did not.

         When I put myself in Martha’s shoes, I want to read some righteous indignation into her voice:  ‘How could you dilly dally when Lazarus’ life was on the line?’  It’s the human “this isn’t fair” response.

         Yet, what is written does not seem to have that tone of voice.  Martha says, “Even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask”.  It’s as if she’s saying, “I don’t understand why this happened….but I know there is nothing you cannot overcome”.

         Martha has walked with Jesus, eaten meals with him, watched him perform miracles, seen the healings, and the feedings, and all the other Signs of Jesus’ divinity.  She is not—even for a moment—questioning the authenticity of Jesus.  She tells us that she knows Lazarus will rise again.

         Martha is a prophet…and a wise woman who has knitted together the impossible things she has witnessed…and now she is testifying to her faith in Christ in the darkest hour of her life.



         After the Parkinson’s diagnosis, Shawn returned to an old passion—art.  A few years later, I commissioned him to create a painting for my husband….a Formula 1 race car.  Shawn didn’t know anything about Formula 1, but he researched it and painted an image of a racing car in motion coming toward the observer….he used techniques of impressionism…and the result was unlike anything he had painted.   He wanted to exhibit his art…and I volunteered to host.

         On a Saturday morning the week before his exhibit, he came to my home and spent a few hours imagining which pieces he would hang and where he would hang them.  

         After a while he came to the kitchen where I was pulling cookies from the oven and placing them on cooling racks.  He grabbed a cookie and asked, “Do you do this often?”  “No,” I said, “this is my first art exhibit”.  As he reached for a second cookie, he said …”Not the exhibit…the cookies…do bake cookies often?”  Shawn loved cookies and conversation.  Over the next few years, cookies, conversation, and art were staples in our diet.




I was serving on the Arts Council board and saw new murals on the walls of the council’s building…work that Shawn had completed.  It had never occurred to me that he could paint with such a large canvas.  And the CPA firm had just built a new office building…with a 15’ kitchen wall that was blank.  Shawn came to look…and I asked if he could paint a mural that would transport our staff from the long tax season hours to a restful place.

         He spent a month working on the wall.  The mural put the observer on a front porch of a cabin in the mountains.  There were snowy evergreen trees and mountain ridges.  Cabins with smoking fireplaces dotted the landscape. Some days, an artist friend of his would sit with Shawn and talk about the mural…how it spoke to the observer. 

         Many times, I’d pass through the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and he’d point to something he’d painted and ask, “What color is that?”  I had no idea he was color blind with certain colors. 

         One day, he painted the CPA firm’s coffee cup onto the front porch rail, with steam rising from the coffee.   It felt as though you could reach out and grab that mug.

         While he was painting, another staff member was in and out of the kitchen…her name was Jan Hardy…and, one day, her name would become Jan Rees.  I reckon there was more than coffee brewing in the kitchen.

         John tells us a beautiful story about chosen family.  Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are siblings…they open their home and their lives to Jesus.  Their relationship deepens.  In their home, just days before the crucifixion, Jesus will be anointed…preparing him for his death.  It’s as if they know…and have always known…that he will die prematurely.  They accept and welcome the reality of his life into their lives.

         As I watched Jan and Shawn grow in relationship, I marveled at the path they were choosing.  Shawn had Parkinson’s, they both had children whom they loved dearly…and all of this family came together into one strong, loving, embrace.  Careers were hatched, grandchildren were added to the mix, and the smiles on Jan and Shawn’s faces never dimmed when talking about family. 

         They accepted the reality of Parkinson’s … the certain knowledge that today would come … and chose to savor every moment along the way.  Visits with Shawn were not boring.  There was always laughter…even when he no longer could do more than a whisper, there was laughter and a twinkle in his eyes.

         By May of this year, Shawn had moved to a special care facility where his needs could be met around the clock.  It was a hard transition for him and for everyone who loved him.  There was no denying the progression of Parkinson’s. 

         Jan, Shawn, and I gathered in his new place and we blessed the space where he lived.  And then we read the Sunday Gospel…it was also from John…It was the story of the Good Shepherd, whose sheep hear his voice…and the promise of the Good Shepherd that he will not lose even one of his sheep. 

         Jan read the Gospel that day…and when she finished, Shawn began to weep. 

It was a powerful, holy moment.  All three of us had heard this Scriptural lesson hundreds of times.  How many “Good Shepherd” stained glass windows have we seen?  When we are young, and strong, and our lives are in front of us, the image of the Good Shepherd seems a bit silly.  We’re uber confidant…We’ve got life by the horns.  Bring it.

But when you are dependent on someone else for everything, the image of a shepherd who knows his sheep, who loves his sheep, who will not lose even one of his sheep, is everything.   On that day, my friend heard the Good Shepherd’s voice…loud and clear…and the message of love, particular love for him, was overwhelming.  His tears were a testament to his faith…in the darkest hour of his life.

         What message would Shawn want us to know today?  I think he would want us to know that we are loved, eternally, by our Creator, and by him…dad, grand-dad, husband, friend.  I think he would want us to know that he never lost Hope, capital H…that he was surrounded and uplifted by love, prayer, and community at St. Martin-in-the-Fields….that his family was, is, and always will be the treasure trove of his life…and that the Great Shepherd has wrapped Shawn in a bear hug for eternity.

         The title of Shawn’s sermon, I think, could be borrowed from a Beatles tune:  “All you really need is Love”.