Her name was Laura. She was in her 80s and I was 15 when we met. I remember how her voice trembled when she spoke, how the world opened at the warmth of her smile, how her eyes shone wisdom even when there seemed to be no answers for what was going on in my young life. Her laughter dispelled things like sadness and darkness. And, to be honest, she was incredibly bashful when compliments like the words I’m writing would come her way – and they would come, often, from more people than just me. For years on end, she taught elementary school; those who had her as a teacher would excitedly tell about Ms. Koskela’s antics as their teacher.
I was not lucky enough to have her as a teacher. We met because, one Sunday before worship, she sat down next to me in the pew. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. When worship began, her frail voice and strong heart joined together to confess her sins, to give thanks to God for the gift of forgiveness, for the Word read and preached, and to take the notes on the pages and render them sung joyfully, with gusto, to a God who she had known her entire life.
She never harangued me into coming to Church; she revealed God’s love to me by the way she worshiped, the way she got to know me over the remaining years of high school, by the way she told me she prayed for me every day, through her laughter and her listening and her telling me stories about her life. She never married, but she knew a love so deep and wide in Christ Jesus that she shared it with the world around her, with great generosity and hope. She wasn’t perfect; faithfulness, not perfection, was the rhythm of her life. If anyone accused her of being imperfect, she would smile and say, “Oh, you don’t know the half of it!” More than her stunning imperfection, she knew the grace of God, which, as Paul the apostle proclaims, is “sufficient,” so much so that it is made perfect especially through our weakness. For this reason, Paul writes, “whenever [we are] weak, then [we are] strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
I wanted to tell you about Laura because, amid the craziness of life, we don’t always recognize in the moment who has been formative for us in our faith (or in any other way, for that matter). In the moment, I had no idea that Laura had the kind of influence on me that she obviously had. And I certainly had no idea as I was getting to know Laura that God was using her to reveal God’s love for me in Jesus Christ. I had no idea how God was working through her to teach me something about the healing that comes from confessing sin and hearing words of forgiveness that unleash us, springing us back to life. I had no idea how kneeling next to Laura at the Lord’s table, receiving bread and wine with her, would teach me the truth about what Luther says when he writes, Where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation. I had no idea at the time how praying next to Laura would pique my interest in love and care for neighbors I would never meet and whose language I do not speak, yet whose flourishing I care deeply about. I had no idea how conversation with Laura would broaden my imagination for the ways that God’s love, grace, and mercy are on the loose in the world. I had no idea; God, however, does.
You, dear brothers and sisters, are a community who has already revealed God’s love to me in ways large and small. How God will use us to reveal God’s love to one another and the world around us is yet to unfold. The good news, though, is that God’s love has ahold of us. And because of this, we have hope!
Pastor Paul Lutter