Sermon from Frank Schramling’s funeral by The Rev. Martin Elfert

April 29, 2021

Lessons:

  • Song of Songs 4:16–5:1
  • Psalm 104
  • James 2:1–9, 14–17
  • Luke 24:13–35

 

It is an uncommon privilege to speak at Frank Schramling’s funeral.

We’re here in a place that Frank Schramling loved: the courtyard of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church. We’re officially out here for Covid reasons. But it seems to me that this is an enormously fitting place in which to remember Frank. This place is Frank’s Cathedral. The flowers and trees around us are in many ways the work of his hands.

Frank collaborated with God to create so much of this beauty.

And here in this Cathedral, we are surrounded by stories of Frank. Some of them are written down on paper and hung from the walls around us. And still more of them ae hanging in our hearts.

In the Creed, it says of Jesus that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. And maybe we can picture that judgment as a courtroom scene, with Jesus way up on a bench or a throne ready to send you to prison or to set you free. So kind of fearsome. But maybe we could also imagine it as a scene more like this one. As a place, a garden like the one at the beginning of scripture, with all of the stories of your life – all of the stories that people tell about you, all of the stories that you tell about yourself – hanging from the trees like leaves.

And at the end of your life, you walk through this forest of stories with Jesus at your side. And together you read them. Jesus will periodically point at a story and smile and say, “What do you think about that one?”

There’s an opportunity, then, to apologize – to say “I’m sorry” when you read stories about folks whom you have hurt or let down. There is an opportunity to forgive, as you read stories of people who have hurt you or let you down. There is an opportunity to hold the wistfulness of stories that might have had a different ending, risks you didn’t take, choices you didn’t make, paths you didn’t walk.

And there is an opportunity to be surprised, maybe, about the things that you said or did were a big deal for other people. About the acts of kindness and generosity, large and small – some so small, at least to you, that you may not even remember them – which were a source of healing or encouragement to someone who needed it.

If the day of judgment is anything like that, what do you suppose that Frank is noticing as he walks through the stories of his life? What do you think that Jesus is pointing out to him?

Probably Frank is noticing how many stories that describe him use the word curmudgeon. I expect that is not a surprise to him. Frank knew that he had a temper, knew that he wanted things a certain way and that he could become seriously irritated when he had the sense that someone was horning in on his territory: see Nancy Entrikin’s story about the several months in which he referred to her as That Woman. Frank holds the record for quitting Grace Memorial the most number of times – sometimes he quit more than once in a single day. It is a record, I suspect, that will never be broken.

But I hope as well that Frank is noticing and being surprised by and being delighted by how deeply people loved him and by how much his work mattered to them and how his acts of kindness changed them.

If Frank lost his temper sometimes I suspect that was because he was carrying within him a fear that a great many of us carry within ourselves. I suspect that there was part of him that was afraid that no one noticed him or appreciated his work or maybe even loved him. And sometimes, when that story would get a particularly solid foothold inside of him, it would blast forth as anger, as I quit!

I hope and trust that there were times here at Grace when he knew that that story was never, ever true. And I hope and trust that now, in the resurrection, Frank knows that that story was never, ever true. We noticed all of the ways that he served God and served neighbour. We loved him. His ministry changed us.

Consider Jo Bronson’s story. It is Maundy Thursday. And Jo’s young Goddaughter Clair is there with her doll. The moment of foot washing comes, Clair and Frank and Jo go up together. And Clair presents her doll to Frank. And Frank – the parish curmudgeon – carefully, gently washes the doll’s feet.

There is Maundy Thursday summed up in a single moment!

And maybe Frank guessed that this act of loving kindness was source of comfort for Clair. But I suspect that he did not guess that, as Jo Bronson witnessed this moment, her heart was broken open. That this was a moment of profound holiness for her, that it was a God sighting.

Jo says that, to this day, she cannot tell that story without weeping.

Or consider Elissa Hare’s story. Elissa is a time of depression and poverty. (This is not poverty of a metaphorical sort but of the I don’t know how I am going to buy groceries sort.) She comes by the church a lot and so she sees Frank a lot. And he always has a kind word for her. They talk about what it is to be poor – Frank knows about not having enough money, too. And Elissa feels less alone. She says that these moments with Frank are, for her, an oasis.

Consider all of the days that he set the table at the Friday Feast, all of the times that he came early to get ready for quilting. If James is right, and we find our faith in work, Frank taught us about faith then.

May now, in the resurrection, Frank knows how deeply his kindness mattered and how profoundly he was and is loved. May you and I catch a glimpse of the same truth: that when we wash a doll’s feet or are kind to a woman enduring a hard season in her life or prepare a meal, we invite God’s kingdom a little nearer. In such an action, we – like Frank – plant a holy seed that grows in God’s garden.