Florence Taylor Memorial Service — May 9, 2015


Psalm 103:1-5

 Bless the Lord, O my soul,

   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live*
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

We’re here together today because Florence’s time to die had come.  We’ve lost someone we loved, loved a lot, for a very long time.  So we cry.  We grieve.  We embrace one another.  That is what we do when someone we love dies. 
But it’s not all about grief and sadness today.  Florence lived to a good old age.  She hit that sweet spot I think all of us would choose if we were able to write our own ending.  She did not die too soon and miss out on too much of life’s sweetness.  She did not live too long; despite her physical limitations, Florence had amazing light and life within her.  She looked forward to each day with joy.  Even her physical therapists were amazed at her sunny outlook and energy and stubborn determination to keep living as well as she could.   And, thanks be to God, her death was not drawn out.  Her last days were spent peacefully, without pain, surrounded by her children and her grandchildren.  Everyone got to say goodbye.  For that, I know Florence’s family is truly grateful. 
It’s not all about grief and sadness today because it is also a time to keep and laugh over all of the good memories we have of Florence.  For me, I will never forget the way her face lit up when Tom and I went to visit her.  She was always ready with cookies and candy and a good story about her grandchildren in whom she took so much delight and pride.  And I was so grateful for her prayers and her encouragement and the way she always made a point to ask me about my family, particularly my son whom she saw only once a year when we came at Christmas time to sing carols for her.  She was one of the folks that I would say formed me as a pastor in a very real way.  I am sad that I’ll no longer be able to sit and chat and laugh and pray with her in her cozy living room.  But I am happy that she’s completely safe now in the arms of Jesus. 
It’s not all about grief and sadness today because days like this provide a time for peace and love.  It’s a day to reacquaint ourselves with folks from whom we may have drifted away and touch base with one another as family and friends connected by this incredible lady we have come to celebrate.
So here we are.  As the great mystic Julian of Norwich put it, we are feeling a “marvelous mixture of well-being and woe.”  Life is sort of always like that, but days like today make that more apparent. 
Florence did not miss out on life’s good stuff, but she didn’t miss out on life’s bad stuff either.  Nobody gets through life without a certain level of sorrow and disappointment. But what we most certainly know about Florence is that her deep faith sustained her.  She faced many challenges, yet emerged from those challenges renewed thanks to her reliance on God’s goodness and mercy and blessing.  
It is not surprising that one of Florence’s favorite scripture texts was from the Psalm you just heard read.  Psalm 103:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
   and do not forget all his benefits—
   who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
   who redeems your life from the Pit,
  who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
   who satisfies you with good as long as you live
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
 If I could think of a word to describe Florence it would be, “satisfied.” “Satisfied” is a funny word, isn’t it?  It’s probably a word many of us would want to avoid as a description of ourselves.  In fact, many of the people I know are never satisfied – they want more.  Better jobs.  More money.  More love.  A slimmer waistline.  A bigger car.   It seems in our modern understanding, being “satisfied” has become equated with settling for something less than we deserve. We don’t normally celebrate “satisfied” people.  We tend to lift up those who are strivers.
But in Biblical terms, being satisfied as the psalmist describes it means being deeply grateful.  Satisfied means being overwhelmed by the overflowing goodness of God.  Satisfied mean remembering all the good things God gives to us and trusting in God’s love and mercy.  Satisfied is a deep sense of thankfulness for all that is good in our lives.  And so much of Florence’s life was good because she chose to see life as sheer gift.  She lived from a position of great gratitude. 
When I arrived at the church a few years ago, I was astonished to meet the half dozen or so women who defied all of my pre-conceived notions of what a “little old lady” should act and look like. I have been trying to figure out how it is these women who live well into their 90’s manage to be so incredibly awesome.  I have learned so much from them.
Here’s a couple of things I’ve observed about Florence and all of the so-called “little old ladies” of this congregation…
They do not hold back from loving deeply.  Several of them have loved and lost, and some of those losses have been incredibly painful.  But they go on loving anyway.  Nancy told me that Florence said she’d gone through at least four sets of friends in her long lifetime.  When you live to be 95, I guess that’s inevitable.  Some of the friends died.  Some moved away.  But loss of people dear to her didn’t stop Florence from reaching out to new people, make new friends, and love them just as dearly. 
Second, they keep their priorities straight.  And for all of these long-lived women, their first priority is family.  They keep their focus on the people God entrusted to their care.  Florence loved her children and grandchildren, fiercely.  And those children and grandchildren responded to that love by flourishing in the way well-loved people usually do flourish.  And best of all, those children and grandchildren have grown up to become loving people themselves. 
Lastly, these are all women who are deeply faithful and thankful.  They are SATISFIED people, in the best sense of the word.  Florence knew who she was, and to whom she belonged, in life and in death.  When she was frightened, she trusted Jesus to keep her strong.  When she was sick, she trusted Jesus to be with her in her pain.  When she was with the people she loved, her youth was renewed like an eagle again and again by the Lord she loved deeply. 
Any questions that Florence might have had about life and about death have been answered for her.  She has entered into eternal life with her Savior. And when she met Jesus face to face, I have no doubt that his face lit up.  Florence had that in common with Jesus, I think.  His face lights up when he is with the people he loves.
The rest of us still living have plenty of questions still about life and death, love and loss.   We’re not satisfied.  We know we have work to do.
But we can live lives in the manner that Jesus taught us, and that Florence did her best to follow in this life:
To love deeply and unconditionally.
To love the people God has put in front of us, and all around us.  Our family, neighbors and friends.
To love God, trusting that God’s provision is certain and secure.  We can live satisfied lives, knowing we are God’s children.  And nothing can ever separate us from the love of God made known to us in Christ Jesus.
When I think of Florence, I am reminded of the lyrics of the old Shaker hymn:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.