The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Oh my goodness, this Psalm today. Is there any other chapter in the Bible that is so expansive and unfathomable yet so personal? Is there another passage in our scriptures that reaches for the galaxies whose light has traveled billions of years—because the universe is so big that we can only measure distances in time—and then tells us that that light lives in you, in me, in the person sitting next to you?
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has a slightly different interpretation of what we said/sang today:
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
It’s that last line that’s different. Today, we said/sang: “to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.” That’s very different than: “I come to the end—I am still with you.”
There’s a reason that this Psalm is often read at funerals. The words remind us that our lives are so much bigger than we can comprehend. They are bigger than our births. They are bigger than our tremendous joys and our deepest suffering. They are bigger than our deaths.
For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
This Psalm is saying that you are a galaxy, immense, unfathomable, because God made you and God is immense and unfathomable. But you are a particular galaxy, a unique galaxy, whose light we see within this lifetime but that existed before the light was visible and that will go on even after the light seems to go out in this world.
I come to the end—I am still with you.
But even in that vastness, God is present in our lives right here and right now. Which is to say that vastness, that awe, is present in our lives right now.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
God is present in our lives. In a friend’s hug when we’re going through a hard time. In a piece of music that stops us in our tracks. In a child’s smile. In a sudden ah-ha moment in our therapist’s office. And, yes, maybe even at the communion rail when we feel the elements move through us.
The vastness distilled into moments—real moments, everyday moments.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
God is present in our lives. Sending us the people we need. Moving through us as intuition. Nudging us along through scripture and books and sometimes a child’s observation. Are we paying attention? Are we ready to embrace it? Are we ready to hear God’s call in our lives and all the different ways it manifests? Are we ready to step into God’s vastness that is present in ourselves? Are we ready to live like we are a galaxy?
Which brings us to Deacon Laurel. A galaxy unto herself yet someone so present in our lives. In my life. In the life of St. Luke’s.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
I don’t know if you had a chance to read Jim Hart’s delightful story about his wife and her call, but it is, as he wrote, the story of persistence, presence, and patience. God’s persistence, presence, and patience with her. And Deacon Laurel’s persistence, presence, and patience with the world.
We learned that Deacon Laurel felt called to the altar when she was a teenager but at that time only boys were allowed to serve. Finally, decades later, when she did find herself able to serve as a lay Eucharistic minister, she felt God nudging her towards ordained ministry—the diaconate. But then life got in the way. As Jim wrote, she realized that being a deacon would not be a good way to support her second marriage.
God kept searching her out, discerning her thoughts from afar, and guiding her. It took a devastating divorce and, finally, a spouse who would support her, to pursue a call that had been decades in the making.
The diocese saw it fit for her to serve as a deacon here, at St. Luke’s. And what a blessing it has been. In these past eight years, it was Laurel’s leadership that made the columbarium a reality. It was Laurel who invited our community to do deep discernment around race and faith through the Sacred Ground program.
It was Laurel who guided me, a brand new priest, when I arrived at St. Luke’s for my very first call. Who was patient with what I didn’t know and graceful in teaching me. Who has always honored my decisions, even if she didn’t totally agree with them—except when I touched the cup of the chalice.
Laurel has a knack for knowing when someone needs a bit of a kick in the pants or some patient conversation and loving prayer.
I know you all know what I’m talking about.
And now she comes to the end of her ministry here. We won’t see her here again in this building for a long time. And that is appropriate. She will need to adjust and grieve. We will need to adjust and grieve. That takes time. And distance.
So today, we celebrate all the gifts that Deacon Laurel has shared with our community. Her persistence, presence, and patience. Her wisdom. Her love. And we send her off with joy. And with sadness. And with deep, deep gratitude.
Thank you, Laurel. We will miss you. We love you.