Celebrating the Life of W. Michael Losinger
Preached on April 27, 2013
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Albany, New York
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 100; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 5:1-16
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? …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.”
Nothing – nothing at all – can stand between us and the God who loves us.
These words from St. Paul reflect our deepest conviction as Christians about life and death. It is self-evident to us, as it was to Mike, that this world of ours, with all its glory and sorrow, is God’s world. God made it. God sustains it. God resides in it. We belong to God and live with God – whether we know it or not. The love we experience with our friends and family is a reflection of God’s love for all creation and for all of us, God’s children. We are made in God’s image and invited to share in God’s love.
Mike grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and in his youth, he frequently heard the opening words of Sunday worship from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made… let us rejoice and be glad it.” Psalm 100 echoes that same theme of rejoicing in God’s goodness. And Mike always did – always rejoiced in the good things: natural beauty, good food, friendships, young people, Bach, Bob. Whether listening quietly to a recording of English choral music, working in the several gardens he and Bob created, enjoying sunset at Adelphi Lodge on Mountain Lake, kidding with a young person, reveling in a meal Bob had prepared – Mike made time to enjoy God’s goodness. And he delighted to share that goodness with others. Having fun expressed an appreciation of God’s gifts. Any time with Mike included time hearing him laugh.
It is the appreciation of giftedness, of being given gifts of love to share, that motivates us to carry God’s love into the world. As Mike wrote in his instructions for this service, today should be offered “in thanksgiving for all the blessings God has given me and whatever gifts I have been blessed to share.” You, all of you, of several generations and several communities, represent those gifts. Because Mike felt so gifted, it was not possible not to act. Taking personal responsibility for doing God’s work in the world was the major commitment of Mike’s life. “Here I am; send me!” He was, in many ways, a man of remarkable courage – never backing away from a challenge because it was new or difficult or dangerous. Difficulty simply meant that one had to be smart about how one did the work. But stepping up and stepping in was expected. How many of us were mentored by Mike around and through difficult challenges in our own lives? How many of us strategized with him for justice – against the war in Vietnam, for prisoners at Attica, for migrant farmers, for the citizens of New York, for people living with AIDS? How many times were we asked to reflect on what we had learned, so that we might be more focused, more effective, the next time? The movement, the momentum, is always forward – into the world and toward God’s reign.
Mike spent his whole life deeply embedded in large, bureaucratic institutions – The Episcopal Church, the Democratic Party, NY State Government, and the Eddy Visiting Nurse Association – and he did wonderful and creative work for them. But he was never actually committed to them as institutions. Rather he saw institutions as vehicles for working out his true commitment – the renewal of the world through the power of God’s love. What he was actually committed to was the Body of Christ – that universal and invisible church of all times and places of which the institutional church is only occasionally a visible manifestation. The Body of Christ appears wherever people are at work making all things new. Wherever the world is being redeemed, there is the church – sometimes in the form of institutions and whether or not the participants know they are being the church. Folks might think they are simply running an election campaign, or reducing paperwork, or visiting a sick friend, or planting a garden, or painting the camp. But actually, they are being the church. Mike spent his life shaping and nurturing and cajoling and encouraging us all to be the people God had made us to be – whether we knew it or not.
Most of us probably first experienced this nurture and encouragement at Mike and Bob’s table. Hospitality was, perhaps, Mike’s foremost gift and tool. In the more than 40 years I knew him, he never stopped introducing me to new people. He would meet someone, take an interest in him, invite her to table, introduce her to someone “you would like,” and inexorably draw him into a fellowship of mutual support – the invisible church. And over time he might engage you in a conversation about belief, invite you to share the three things you had learned about this or that, challenge an idea or encourage a next step. And soon you might find yourself reading a book or attending to your spiritual life or actually saying some prayers or going to a church. For Mike hospitality was a sign and a foretaste of the reign of God: a reign that was and is and is coming, and that cannot be thwarted by the machinations of county or state government, of Democrats or Republicans, or of The Episcopal Church. Even as all these inevitably show their feet of clay, the work of welcoming others into the Body never ceases – because God’s work never ceases and is never in doubt. We might, in the visible church, call such work evangelism or formation or transformation, but in truth it is all one work – building the Body of Christ and redeeming the world.
In recent years, Mike’s work with the gay and lesbian community and with AIDS care teams, and the advancing age of his circle of friends and family, led him to a vocation as a preacher at the time of death. He was galvanized, as always, by a sense of the injustices of this world, of the oppression experienced by gay and lesbian people and other marginalized groups. He grieved over the bitter deaths he experienced. Yet his preaching was always full of light and hope because what he saw was not only the visible trauma, but also the hand of God: in the faithfulness and spirit of volunteer care-givers, in the steadfastness of partners and spouses, in the solidarity of families and communities. What he saw was the life-giving presence of the invisible church making things new – whether it was named or not. It’s making things new that matters – and God doesn’t need the credit.
So, dear friends, what three things have we learned? Well, actually, that we – of all people – we – family and friends, church people and unbelievers, politicians and care givers – we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. God has given us this wonderful world to enjoy out of God’s love for us, and we have been invited to share it. We have been called into the work of love and asked to do that work wherever we find ourselves. And we have become, almost without knowing it, members of Christ’s body, that number that no one can count who are at work alone and together to make all things new. The love of God, which we have received, never fails and, therefore, neither can we.
And neither has Mike. His parting from us causes us deep sorrow, but we are not overcome because we trust he is being made new in God’s nearer presence. We now say, “I love you and goodnight” to Mike with aching hearts, but also in the sure and certain hope that he is with God and that God still calls him and all of us to make things new.
May it be so. Amen.