Skip to main content

Funeral Sermon: “Many Places to Belong” Rev. Wiens Heinsohn

I want to thank all of you for gathering here today. We are celebrating the life of Fu Li Kalter, and we’ve just had the privilege to hear about her life from some of those who knew her and loved her best. My name is Lisa Wiens Heinsohn, and I am the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, where I’ve been the past ten months. I am heartbroken that I did not have the chance to meet or get to know Fu Li or offer her love and compassion and care. The reason I am here is that Fu Li, in what sounds like her full throttle, force-of-nature style, researched many different faith traditions and ended up picking St. John’s, and the Episcopal faith, as her spiritual home. I understand she also continued to resonate with the Jewish tradition and often visited Shir Tikvah Synagogue in Minneapolis, where I know and love the rabbis. Three years ago she was baptized and confirmed at St. John’s. So that’s why I have the honor to be here. Fu Li’s family wanted to honor Fu Li’s sense of spirituality out of their overwhelming desire to love and celebrate her in this time of great loss and pain. I want to honor Fu Li, and them, and all of you—I know that in a gathering like this, there are as many different spiritual journeys as there are people, and I honor the fact that we do not all speak the same language about faith, and spirituality, and God. The ancient Sufi poet Rumi said this: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

What I want to say to Fu Li, and to all of you, is that from our perspective at St John’s, there is no where that you can go, nowhere you can journey, nothing that you can do, where in God’s eyes you do not belong.

In the reading from John’s gospel in the bulletin today, Jesus is talking with his disciples on the night he is about to be betrayed by one of them. He knows, although they do not know, that he will be betrayed, and arrested. He knows his outcome is bleak, and that he is likely to suffer greatly, and to die. So this is his farewell address to them even though they don’t know it. And what he finds important to tell them is that in God’s house, there are many rooms, and that the separation that is coming is not an existential one; it is not forever. He is telling them that wherever they journey, wherever they go, in God’s house they can be together again. He is telling them that there are many places to experience togetherness even when it seems impossible. There are many places to belong. From the perspective of Christian faith, to use the language Fu Li came to know and love, God so intensely desired to communicate belonging to us that God took human form to be with us in Jesus, to communicate solidarity and togetherness and healing with us in the actual gritty reality of human existence, including the experience of loss.

Fu Li experienced joy and curiosity, and also pain and struggle in her life. She struggled with wondering why her birth family abandoned her. She had autism, so she had to learn to understand peoples’ emotional reactions to her, which were sometimes wonderful and sometimes not as kind as they might have been. What Jesus is saying in today’s gospel reading is that wherever Fu Li has been, in the eyes of God, she has belonged. In the electric plant where she was found as a baby, God saw her, and God will spend an eternity with Fu Li to help her experience belonging in that part of her life. When she was adopted and became Olivia Kalter, she belonged. When she went to school, she belonged. When others could not see her with kindness, it didn’t matter what they thought: she belonged. When she came to St. John’s, she belonged. When she was at Shir Tikvah, she belonged. When she became an emergency medicine technician, she belonged. When she went to Idaho, she belonged. And even when she chose to end her own life, she belonged.

Now in our hearts and memories, she belongs. Now united with God, she belongs. There is nowhere she could go, and nothing that she could do, that in the eyes of God could take her out of God’s house—“In my Father’s house are many dwelling places…I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

In God’s house of belonging, there is togetherness. There is family. There is connection. There is healing. There is nothing that has ever happened that is larger, deeper, outside the scope of the love of God. In God’s house, no one is invisible: God saw Fu Li, and God sees us, with kindness, clearly. I know that for Clay and Carolyn and Mia, nothing Fu Li did, even choosing to end her life, could make them stop loving her, even though they must have all kinds of feelings, confusion and anger and so much hurt. But the love remains. From the perspective of Christian faith, our own greatest love is a faint echo of the vaster, deeper, endlessly compassionate love of God that holds us all in belonging and an invitation to healing and life.

From the perspective of human effort, we could not heal all of Fu Li’s pain. From the perspective of an eternity of belonging with God, there will never be an end of the invitation for Fu Li to heal, an eternity to revisit the places of pain and not-belonging, and to see God’s presence in them—beyond the worst we can do to each other, to discover a place of kindness and togetherness and life. Jesus is saying, out beyond whatever you have done and whatever you could do, out beyond whatever you understand and can’t understand, out beyond your overwhelming hurt and anger and confusion, and your love and humor and numbness and everything else, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.