Summary: A funeral sermon in which we learn about the person something of her relationship to herself, to others, and to God.
Jutta was one of those people that make a preacher’s job easier – or really, the job of anyone who speaks in public. I came to know Jutta at the vespers service held each Thursday evening at the Manor. She always sat close to the front – on the second row, in fact – and…I don’t know how to put this, except that, week after week, each time I spoke, she was with me. I could see it in her face. She made me feel like what I was saying was the most important thing on her mind at the time.
If you’ve ever made a talk to a group of any kind, you know how the audience can make the difference – or, if not the whole audience, just one or two people who give you the green light. They’re the people who are into what you say. They are receptive. They seem to resonate with you…and you with them. If I can put it in kind of a churchy way, they are a blessing.
That was Jutta. Then…afterward, she would never fail to come by and say how much she enjoyed the service. In time, we developed a little ritual in which she would say how much she enjoyed it, and I would say, no, I’m the one who got the most out of it. And she would insist, and so forth. And we would have what you might call a benign verbal battle, each trying to convince the other. I never tired of it.
Now, with nothing more than that little snapshot of Jutta, you can make three observations about her. One is her relationship to herself. A second is her relationship to others. And a third is her relationship to God.
Let’s start with Jutta’s relationship to herself. Jutta had what I would describe as a healthy esteem for herself. When I say healthy, what I mean is that she didn’t have herself on her hands. She didn’t need you and me to take note of her. She didn’t demand to be the focus of our attention.
There are people that do. The world has to revolve around them, or they don’t feel significant. They are self-absorbed, self-important, or self-conscious. Their sense of who they are depends on what others think – or, really, on what they think others think.
Not Jutta. She was very secure about herself, and, because she was, she never felt a need to direct the conversation to herself. She always wanted to talk about you, to listen to you, to pay attention to you.
Jesus talked about this with his disciples. On one occasion, these men who would later be known as St. John, St. Matthew, St. Peter, and so on – these larger-than-life figures in our minds turned out to be pretty small-minded…at least, until our Lord confronted them. You know what they were doing? They were arguing among themselves about who was most important. And when Jesus questioned them about it, they were too embarrassed to admit it.
So, Jesus said to them, “You know that in the world those who have the power lord it over everyone else.” And then he said, “It shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be the servant of all, whoever would be first must be last. For even the Son of Man” – he was talking about himself – “even the Son of man,” he said, “did not come to be served but to serve.”
Jutta had learned this at some point, and it had become part of the fabric of her identity. She had an incredibly exciting life – growing up in her native Germany, living in the U.S. and Japan, working as a chemist, pursuing her interests in art and opera, raising two sons, and teaching for almost three decades – and yet, when she engaged you in conversation, it was you she wanted to talk about. That’s the sign of a strong, integrated sense of self. Instead of being a taker, she was a giver.
I could see that she had this remarkable relationship to herself in my brief exchanges with her on Thursday evenings after vespers. I could also observe her equally remarkable relationship with others.
In the 2003 movie, Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton play opposite each other. And there’s a scene in the movie where the Jack Nicholson character says to the Diane Keaton character, “Erica, you are a woman to love.” It was a moment filled with ambiguity. But I would say of Jutta – and I think you would agree – that she was, without any equivocation, a woman to be admired.
She lost her mother when she was only six, and that could have been devastating for any child. But she and her sister and her brother not only survived that loss; they managed to thrive. And they all became fascinating people. Richard has said of his mother, “There was no one like her,” and he was certainly right.