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Summary: Funeral for Stephanie Parker, a jazz and blues singer and spiritual seeker, done at the request of her sister, a member of our church.

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He saw that most of us seem destined to live in frustration. Most of us will never be able to do what we would really want to do. Most of us will never truly fulfill what we believe God has planned for us. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” We will never step out of the shadows. We come and go, day by day, unhappy with who we are, dissatisfied, feeling we could be more, but obscure, hidden, leading lives of quiet desperation.

And since that is so, it is all the more powerful when someone moves through this life for whom none of those things are true. It is all the more striking when someone refuses to live in despair, lifts up a voice, and steps out of the shadows. It is like a star in the heavens when someone acknowledges her gifts and steps forward into the spotlight. It takes our breath away, for, when we know a person like that, we know we have been in the presence of something special. And we know that we too, if we could be in touch with the right power, could come out from that quiet desperation. To be around a star who will sing in the spotlight does not make us feel more desperate; quite the contrary. To be around someone who will sing in the spotlight makes us see new possibilities in our own souls.

Stephanie Parker was such a one. The shadows were not for her; for her the spotlight, the grand stage, the glorious music. For her the decisive gesture and the great moment. Stephanie Parker would not live in quiet desperation; and so let us not despair at her death. Let us instead celebrate her life and listen for the power of her heart.

The Scriptures interpret the meaning and power of a life like hers:

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

I

Stephanie lived in the spotlight, God’s light. She had a passion to perform. Whether it was radio, or on Broadway; whether it was with her sister in an entertainment setting, or just on the telephone, imitating Garland or Minelli, her need to perform was irrepressible. It seemed to help her. Performing helped ease her pain. Am I wide of the mark if I suggest that her pain was eased because when you are doing what you believe God put you here to do, you are closer to Him? The mass of men may lead lives of quiet desperation, but here was one woman who lived a live of exuberant hope – because she had found the spotlight, God’s light.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

II

Stephanie lived in the spotlight, God’s light. The light in which she lived and moved often searched out other people and their pain. She was not slow to respond. A small child, not her own, but God’s child, lost and lonely on a street corner, brought Stephanie forward to help that child get home. A young man in a grocery store, hungry to the point of despair and therefore taking some food, rescued by Stephanie’s money and Stephanie’s compassion. The terror of war, wept over by the young performer on the stage, feeling deep in her soul the pathos of a generation in Vietnam. For her, living in the spotlight meant that you do not ignore or pass off lightly the plight of others. You feel it, you identify with it, you take it into your heart. And you do something. You do something in the name of justice. You do not sit idly by. You create the moment -- if you live in the spotlight, God’s light.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

III

Stephanie lived in the spotlight, God’s light. God’s light. Her spiritual search was as passionate as the rest of her life. I do recognize that in this room we will not agree completely about the details of that search. Some of us are Christian and some are Muslim. Others, doubtless, claim other allegiances or none at all. Nonetheless, surely on this we can agree – that Stephanie Parker knew herself to be a child of God. Her heart and her spirit yearned for the light of God’s truth and sought Him. She sought Him in song, she sought Him in faith, and she sought Him in compassion and love for others. How striking it is to know that only a few months ago, when the man in her life was dying, she literally prayed that his pain would be transferred to her! Our Scripture tells us that if we bear one another’s burdens, we will fulfill the law of God. Stephanie knew instinctively the power of that truth. Love and compassion for the suffering. A spiritual spotlight.

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