We’re gathered this afternoon to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of Doris Peyton Guthrie, by any measure a remarkable woman. In a long and generous life, Doris had an impact on so many people. As one whose life she touched in so many ways, I am honored and a bit overwhelmed by the invitation to preach today.
Like hundreds of other seminarians, I first met Doris when I came to theological school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doris had her own professional life away from the seminary, but she was deeply committed to the school community and the lives of the students there. As did many others, I came to know Harvey in the classroom and the chapel. I came to know Doris sitting at her kitchen table and drinking her French Market coffee, bracingly laced with chicory. There were many wonderful things to learn in getting to know Doris, perhaps the most surprising of which was that she turned out to be even more radical than Harvey.
This next doesn’t speak particularly well of me, but I have to confess that one of the first things that came into my head after Harvey told me of Doris’s death was, “I guess this means I’ll never have Doris’s lemon merengue pie again.” I know, a pretty self-centered observation, right? But if you ever had Doris’s lemon merengue pie (or, a close second, her blood orange sorbet) you will know what I’m talking about. It was delicious. It was authentic. It was simple and yet sophisticated. In some ways, Doris’s lemon merengue pie was an epitome of the woman herself.
What I’m trying to say is that Doris was the total package as a human being. She was fiercely intelligent. She was politically committed. She was empathetic. She was generous. She was prayerful without being pious. She was also a lot of fun to be around. And before her accident on the ice in Michigan many years ago, she was one of the most buffest people I know. Like so many of you, I could talk for hours about Doris and what she means to me. But we’re here in church and we have these Bible readings to think about. So enough from me. Let’s hear what Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus might have to tell us.
Our first reading, from the twenty-fifth chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 25:5-9], gives us an image of how things will be at the end of time. In this year’s dreary and creepy election season we have been treated to dystopian, apocalyptic visions of our future. But those visions are not the Bible’s vision. The Bible, in the voice of Isaiah, views the end time as “a feast of rich food” which “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples.” (Here Doris would want us to note the absence of “extreme vetting” or Trumpian border walls.) What Martin Luther King called the “arc of the moral universe” bends not only toward justice—it is pointed also toward fullness, abundance, blessing, and peace. When Isaiah says, “Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation”, the us here is not an us versus them. The us for Isaiah is all of us, an us where there is no them.
So the first thing the scriptures ask us to remember this morning is the gospel vision of justice, blessing, and peace in the light of which Doris lived and to which she dedicated her energy. I’ve known a lot of social activists over the course of my life, and frankly Doris ranks first among them in my heart because she actually cared about people, especially the people who were up against it. Doris generously and tirelessly served the poor, the oppressed, the stigmatized, and she did it quietly and without any egoinvolvement. For Doris Isaiah’s eschatological banquet was a lived reality here and now. She didn’t just pray for people to be fed at the end of things. She herself fed them—both literally and as an advocate—in the here and now.
Our second reading [Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39] is a passage often read at funerals, and that is because it concludes with these memorable words:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When we think about the list of oppressive forces that might presume to stand between us humans and God’s love, we can’t help but think first of the “principalities and powers” of sexism, racism, homophobia, and selfish affluence which Doris worked against for so long. But oppressive forces can also be personal challenges, such as the extreme pain Doris endured in the last several weeks of her life. In this passage from Romans, Paul wants to remind us that God’s love is the truest thing about us and that there is nothing—not even death—that can separate us from that love: not tyranny, not sexism, not poverty, not extreme pain. God is always in there in all of it with us.
But here’s the thing: as I read that scripture for the millionth time with Doris Guthrie in mind, I was caught by the phrase that begins that remarkable passage. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” A lesser theologian than Paul would have praised us as conquerors, as victors in the oppressive struggles of life. But Paul has it that we are “more than conquerors”. Our contest with oppression, violence, degradation, and even pain is not a power play. We don’t win and pain doesn’t lose. The God from whose love we cannot be separated does not prevail by crushing the opponents. And if God is not about power, then living with, following, and loving that God is not about power either. God “more than conquers” life’s oppressive forces through transformative justice and love.
Doris’s life and witness are a testimony for all of us about what it means to be something more than a conqueror. We stand, as she stood, against violence and oppression not by mimicking them but by living abundantly and generously in the style and image of the God we know in Jesus. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. That is as true in death as it is in life. The truest things to say about Doris are that God loves her and that she knew it. We are more than conquerors. We are missional lovers. God’s love is not a power trip. It is an invitation into universal blessing, wholeness, and peace.
And finally we have the gospel [John 11:21-27] in which Jesus tells Martha as she mourns the death of her brother, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Martha has complained to Jesus that if he had only been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus responds that even those who die are part of the resurrection now.
Those of us who follow Jesus have so gotten used to talking about resurrection in the future tense that we have forgotten to look for signs of it in the here and now. I have no doubt that Jesus’s promise is real, that in and through him and the one he calls his father you and I and all creation will participate in that glorious banquet proclaimed by Isaiah. And if I know anything, it is that nothing—not even death and not even the pain of her final days—can separate Doris Guthrie from the love of God that she knew all her life not only in Jesus but in her marriage and her family and in her friendships and in her ongoing work for justice and peace.
But here is something else I know, and it is something we often miss at occasions like this. I know that every once in a while someone like Doris comes along who shows you what resurrection actually means. When we’re lucky enough to know someone who lives as Doris lived, we get a sense of resurrection not only as a future promise but as a lived reality now. And as painful as it is to lose Doris from the day-to-day experience of this life, it is in a sense easier to hand her off to the next stage because for almost 92 years she was already living the promise she hoped for. Doris Guthrie lived a risen life in the here and now. And in so doing she made it possible for those of us who knew and loved her to live that life too and to trust that the promises of universal justice, peace, and abundance might just be not only possible but also trustworthy and true.
Today’s scriptures remind us why we so loved and will so miss Doris Guthrie. Her life was a banquet. She loved and was loved by a God who does something more than conquer. She chose to live as a person who knew what resurrection looks like today. We are coming now to the Eucharist—the meal we share with each other, with Jesus, with Doris, with God. This meal is a foretaste of Isaiah’s banquet. It is presided over by Jesus, the one who refused to be a conqueror and in so living showed us something about weakness as it moves into grace. This meal is another moment in our shared journey into what it means to be with Jesus, with Doris, with the saints, and with each other in resurrection and life.
No, I guess I never will get to have Doris’s lemon merengue pie again. But I can be with her at this meal, as we gather around God’s table, and for right here, right now, this moment, and beyond,that will be enough. Amen.