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This week I left the fortress of the coffee club to go to Rome–Georgia, that is–to officiate at the funeral of a college friend’s mother. The mother and I certainly knew and loved each other. She wanted to adopt me as her other son. Ten years ago Marguerite said, “I want you to preach my funeral.” She was then dealing with the recurrence of cancer. She dealt with multiple cancers over a span of fifty years, and the cancers did not win. Marguerite’s statement was neither question nor command, but I knew that I would fulfill the promise.

So on Wednesday I became pastor-priest-celebrant of life-preacher-theologian-storyteller at a Service of Death and Resurrection for her. A small crowd attended. We prayed together. Music in the service spoke of faithfulness. I read aloud three passages from the Bible. I spoke about Marguerite and connected her life in a gentle way with the life of Christ. I spoke about the ways in which she lived a quiet faith through acts of love and how she embraced people with the energy of that love. I connected her love with God, the source of all love. We prayed together. I was my normal traditional-nontraditional self.

When the service ended, people lingered. People talked with me about what they heard or experienced. And mostly they said, “We’ve never been to a service that had such a sense of love in it.” When I asked questions about their experience at other funerals, I received strange looks and odd responses. The collective response was “Usually the preacher tries to scare people with the threat of Hell and then has an altar call. You didn’t do that.”

I hope that they all discovered something about God’s unconditional love—that theological concept known as grace. The God evident in the life of Jesus offers such unconditional love to all people and says, “You are my beloved. I am with you in the peaks and valleys of life, the times of celebration and the times you would rather forget.” I hope that more people will hear that gentle message from God. I hope that’s a part of the message people get from A World Worth Saving and from other materials I have written and edited.