The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
As a minister, it is of paramount importance to know the difference between a sermon (like what one might do on a Sunday morning) and a memorial service homily! A sermon on a Sunday morning is a reflection primarily grounded in the Word, Biblical narrative, and Scripture. A memorial service homily likewise has Scripture, but the Scripture, the sacred text, the stories and narratives that give a funeral homily life don’t come from the Bible or from Christian tradition. Rather, our Scripture today is the life, the love, and the legacy of the one we are remembering: Geri Stutheit. Today, we reflect on the lived Scripture of a life well lived. We remember the life, laughter, smile, grace, and love of Geri Stutheit, and honestly I cannot imagine a better Scripture to reflect on for this or any day than the life Geri led.
The first verse of today’s Scripture According to Geri is a verse about her love of nature. Happily may I walk… may it be beautiful before me. May it be beautiful behind me. May it be beautiful below me. In beauty it is finished. This Scripture of Geri begins in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming as one of Hildred and Loyd’s five children. As a family, they traveled together through Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park where her father worked as a park ranger. It was in these early years that Geri found a deep love for the mountains and cultivated her eye and keep perception of the beauty in this world. Her love of nature, the mountains, and for God’s Creation is a narrative that played out throughout Geri’s life. On the walls of her home, the homes of friends and family, and down the corridor of learning in the North Wing of this church, one may find testimony of this sustaining gift in Geri’s life. Her artwork and connection with beauty is profoundly felt. For Geri, art wasn’t just something commercial or the process of applying paint to a canvas. Rather, Geri’s canvas was her whole life. Her paint was her connection with others and the relationships she nurtured. Geri’s art legacy exists in the art of living. Art.
The second verse of Geri’s life, and the most important verse, is her vocation and dedication to her family. It is in this part of her life that we hear the resonances of Scripture: 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. Wil, for almost 70 years you and Geri walked together in Christian love, marriage, and as parents to four beloved children: Brian, Paul, Kendy, and Lynn. This love that you shared and that was a Hallmark of Geri’s life and philosophy of loving never ends and will be with you always. Geri was an activist, an artist, a friend, a favorite parishioner… but most of all she was mom and sister and daughter and spouse and family. Love.
There is a third verse of Scripture according to Geri that connects with what Hal read to us from the Book of James. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves[b] in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. Geri’s sense of right and wrong, her sense of what her Christian faith called her to do, her internal courage to stand-up for the LGBTQ community, for those in need, volunteering for non-profits, working for women’s rights, the environment and gun control. Geri cared deeply in the same way that Jesus showed us to care about this realm. Her whole life, and especially here at Plymouth UCC, Geri was not one to simply talk about doing things, talk about making changes, talk about impacting the world for good. No, Geri was a doer of the word. This is the Gospel of Life According to Geri Stutheit: Love of God and Church community, Love of Family, Love of Nature, Action for Others, Dedication to cause and conscience. She didn’t just talk the talk, but Geri also walked the walk. Action.
Three verses of Scripture this afternoon: Art, Love, and Action.
What we can see immediately today is the impact of Geri’s love for her family. And so it is with God’s love for us: as Paul wrote: “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Even if we aren’t perfect spouses, mothers, siblings, grandparents, and children –- nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s kind of reassuring to know that in spite –- or because –- of our imperfections, God is always there reaching out a hand, yearning for relationship with us.
We continue to hear the voices of those we’ve lost over the years. The cherished folk in our lives continue to live on in us and through us day by day. The advice they give us stays with us. The love they showed to us continues through future generations.
None of us knows exactly what the next world looks like. But do we do have the gospel hope that we will get to be with those who went before us again… and you know—I bet that Geri is painting or smiling and bringing joy to everyone today in the Realm of God. Geri has left us in this world, but her legacy and love remain with us in this place today and in the years that will follow.
None of us know exactly what comes next of course. But God has brought us this far; why wouldn’t God bring us along on the next step? Geri was never alone at birth, she was not alone in life, she was not alone in death (Geri’s husband and children were with her), and she is not alone in life beyond death.
Geri had a saying that is printed in your bulletin along with some of her favorite quotes and prayers. “What’s important in life,” she would often say, “is not what you have, but what you give.” Geri believed this. She believed in a Gospel of giving, of openness, and of beauty.
Art, Love, and Action.
May the Scripture and the memory of Geri, her love, her presence, her teaching, her love of the mountains and rivers, her love for Wil and her children, and her life be a blessing to all of you both today and in all your tomorrows. This is the sort of Scripture… living Scripture some ministers only get to preach on once in a career—so may we all learn to live and love and believe in something like Geri did.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.