Yesterday, the congregation of St. Cyprian's & numerous friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Ruth Maloof. Each of her six children shared inspiring stories of Ma Ruth's unique journey. If a screenwriter out there is looking for inspiration, you should talk to this family! Below are the words I shared, after the gospel text.
14‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’* 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In the portion of John’s gospel chosen by the family for today’s service, Jesus is speaking with the community of his disciples whose hearts are troubled having realized that their teacher is about to get in some serious trouble, with the religious and political authorities and ultimately they are going to kill him. Jesus, in what I imagine wasn’t unlike our beloved Ruth Maloof’s confident, persistent, determined style, gives those disciples a serious talking to --- “don’t get me wrong,” Jesus says, you’re coming too & we’ve got some work to do. We can get to Detroit by way of Arkansas --- you know the way.
All the stories I’ve been privileged to hear about Ruth Maloof from her children, friends, and fellow congregation members at St. Cyprian’s speak of her as a woman of tremendous energy, enthusiasm, deep wisdom & courage. She was not someone who took no for an answer --- she must have found early in life that source of peace that passes all understanding --- that wonder working power of the Spirit deep within her, that makes ways out of no way, lunch cooked on the engine of a car, bon appetite, no room in the algebra classroom for her son, no worries she’s brought a chair for him. Trying to help a young person get a decent education, she’s on it. Wedding in Tanzania, her bags are packed.
That kind of confidence, that kind of clarity, that graceful persistence is a gift of the Spirit. I regret that I didn’t know her as the person who starts dancing at a party when music hasn’t even started playing yet, or the person that would entertain a friend or sister for hours on the phone with stories from her travels around the world or recognized on the street as someone who helped ensure a child got the best education possible. But even from her bed at Marin Hospital or Laguna Honda, that powerful energy came through --- this was a person to be reckoned with. Her quiet dignity --- and the swirls of energy from her family nearby and far away --- the way people’s eyes in this congregation would open up a bit bigger at the mentioning of her name --- the joy I felt pointing out her image on the wall of Ella Hill Hutch Community Center on a walk around the Western Addition with our summer intern a few months ago.
Jesus’ says to the disciples --- “in my father’s house there are many dwelling places” --- some scholars suggest that the greek for dwelling places, Monai is best translated as temporary resting place for a traveler, as in the caravans of old traveling across great distances, one group would often travel ahead to make sure there is adequate water and shelter for the whole contingency. Jesus goes ahead of the disciples through suffering and death to make room for them and us --- to ensure that we have what we need to find rest on our life’s journey. Ma’ Ruth in her life worked hard to make sure there was adequate provision for everyone, especially the opportunity to get a good education --- and now she’s dancing with the great provider --- creating space for all of us to find refreshment, and peace – and even if it’s a bit crowded up there --- “don’t get me wrong” we know she’ll make sure there’s a spot for all God’s children.
Thank you Ruth Maloof for helping all of us find the way --- for your persistence, courage and faith, for sharing your life and light. May we each be inspired to live our lives so fully, and audaciously. AMEN