Funeral Sermon for Kristi Hoffman: The One About God’s Steadfast Love

Based on the story of the Road to Emmaus found in Luke 24

Grace and peace to you, Josh, Zach and Gabbie, Hunter, Sophie, and Jackson – as we mourn together with you as we lay to rest your dear wife, your soul mate, your mom, your Kristi who loved you so much.

Grace and peace to you, Chee Chee and Boise, Don and Pam and as we gather with you to grieve the death of your daughter, your daughter in-law who loved you so much.

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers, cousins and nieces and nephews, dear friends and co-workers, neighbors from Hutchinson and Madison, from Dassel-Cokato and Litchfield as we gather together to mourn your friend who loved you so much.

We gather today and our hearts are broken wide open. I am so sad. We are so sad. None of us wants to be here. Yet it is so important that you took off of work or you drove the miles or found the babysitter to be here. Death is never convenient and it matters that you are here. There is something powerful about getting together in the same room and breathing in and out our sadness; breathing in and out words of faith; breathing in and out our love for Kristi together. This time of public mourning is important for you, for Kristi’s family, for our whole community. Thank you for being here to walk together, to say goodbye, to remember, to celebrate, to laugh and to cry.

Our personal journeys of grief have begun now, and grief plays by its own rules. It doesn’t follow a linear path but ebbs and flows as we figure out how to live without Kristi. Wherever it is you are in your grief, I hope you will find encouragement and promise in today’s worship service. Josh and Zach, Gabbie and Hunter, Sophie and Jackson – you’ll never get over losing your mom, your Kristi, your soul mate. There isn’t closure that will come where you are done remembering and missing her. Instead of getting over her, you will learn to live without her and you’ll learn how important memory and story together will be. People will expect you to be fine sooner than you are – simply because you look fine – but it’s ok to not be fine, it is ok to not be ok. It will take a long time to grieve and to learn to live in this new way. Some days it will feel like you’re taking steps backwards. Just take the time to grieve. It’s yours to take.

The story from Luke today meets us right where we are as it’s a story that is all about the grief and sadness that follows death – in the story, the death of Jesus. And we join two people on the road who are just trying to make sense of the events that led up to his death. A refresher in a nutshell: Jesus ticked off both government officials and religious official and was tried in a rigged court and never once opened his mouth to defend himself and then it was done and his closest friends all abandoned him and Jesus suffered and died. We know what it is to join these 2 people on this road of disbelief and sadness, recounting the whirlwind of the last 5 months and the impact of stupid rare cancer she got and now reeling in a life without Kristi.

Of course, Jesus is with them the entire time and they don’t recognize him until the end of the story when they appear to fall all over themselves with, “I knew it was him – didn’t you – when he was talking about the scripture – my heart was burning – wasn’t yours?”

We’ve been on the road, walking with Kristi for a long time, long before cancer was part of her story.

Chee Chee and Boise, you were on the road with Kristi as her parents. You raised such an incredible woman who, when she was just a kid, would lay down in the rows of beans to get out of picking weeds or picking rocks. The same little girl who liked to have a bowl of popcorn and a glass of milk with her dad. The same little girl who, along with her brother, drove the brand new snowmobile into the side of a car and then parked it behind the garage, thinking no one would ever know.

Some of you walked with Kristi in her teenage years and watched how compassionate she was with the kids who weren’t popular, even though she never had to worry about a date to the prom.

Zach and Jackson and Hunter, you walked on the road with your mom – she got her first taste of being mom with you. And what a gift those calendars are to you now – the ones she kept when you were little, writing daily, short things about what you said and did each day. What a gift she’s given you to remember how much she loved you. Hunter, you can remember your mom by all the books she bought you, doing anything she could to encourage you to read. No pressure. And you will always remember how she read to you, giving each character a different voice. And she was a great story teller. Gabbie and Sophie, Kristi got to practice being your step mom, your very own Kristi. What an awesome thing to have more adults in your life who love you like crazy. What a gift all of your parents have given you to be loved by her.

Some of you walked with Kristi on the tennis court or the golf course, and I’m sorry about that because, well, raise your hand if Kristi beat you in either of those games. Her competitive attitude is reflected in this sentiment, she would say: “What’s the point in playing if you don’t try to win?” And, as the 5 kids she and Josh shared together emphatically said, she wouldn’t let you win – she showed no mercy. In the words of her oldest son, Zach, “it’s not fun when you lose to your mom.” And she wasn’t a sore loser either. Well, unless you rubbed her face in it.

Some of you walked with Kristi for exercise, and I am certain you solved all the problems with all of the things in the whole wide world, so thank you for that. Kristi’s idea of relaxing always involved at least a 4 mile walk first.

Some of you walked with Kristi in your professions with the public school system and you got to see Kristi’s soft spot for the kids who struggled to understand school or who needed an extra hand. She set a high bar for her kids and for herself as their teacher. You got to see how generous and thoughtful she was and was always willing to step up to help get something done. And she delighted in telling stories about her kindergarten kids. And you should know, not even 2 weeks ago, she was giving direct orders to Sara about a student of hers from last year and to help that student get the help she knows they need. When Kristi was too weak to help even her own self, she was trying to help others. Her brow furrowed, “Kristi yelling” at Sara to get it done.

And she walked with you, Josh, as spouse and soul mate, as competitor and partner and the one who kept the house humming, the schedule rolling, everything in its place. She was your rock, and you were hers. Together you traveled and you helped each other find your best and confident voices, your own ideas. The times spent at the cabin were so precious – it was her favorite spot where she could be schedule-free and just soak up the sun and time with her family. Kristi threw in at cards with the guys and always held her own. She had incredible wit and would stun you with one liners delivered at lightening speed and just audible enough for you to hear. She had a whistle that would surprise you that it came out of that gentle woman and it would get your attention on the field. She had a rock star wardrobe no matter what she was doing or where she was going. She had an eye for detail–for classy, everything in its place detail. She was the expert and was unquestioned in her taste. She was stunning, wasn’t she? Inside and out.

And now, we’ve all been together on the road with Kristi being sick, logging onto her CaringBridge site over 84,000 times by last night’s count, wearing our Team Kristi necklaces, eating at Main Street Sports Bar and McCormick’s to help support the incredible finances it takes to fight cancer. We’ve dropped off food and sent cards and flowers. River of Hope showed up on the lawn just underneath Kristi’s bedroom window when she could no longer get out of bed, and we sang her favorite song, “Down to the River.” We’ve all wrung our hands trying to help, knowing that in the face of terminal illness, it is hard to help.

And Kristi and Josh and Josh’s sister Sara — and, Kristi would correct me and call Sara her sister too – well, you know what they did for us as we walked this part of the road with them? They pointed us to scripture. On that CaringBridge site, at the end of hopeful posts and posts with devastating news, Sara and Josh would end with words from scripture. Like Jeremiah 17:14: Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. Words from John 14:27: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  From Matthew 17:20 Nothing will be impossible for you. and from Psalm 56:3 But when I am afraid I will put my trust in you. and from Philippians 4:6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. and Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. And from Psalm 77:14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.

Wasn’t your heart burning as he opened up the scriptures to us?

And do you know who Kristi was during this part of the walk down this particular part of the road? Well, she was Kristi, to a T telling her mom, after her mom had stacked the towels and put them away, “Now that I’m sick, I’m not as fussy” which told Chee Chee that she hadn’t done it quite right. Her quiet strength was always part of these past 5 months and I loved to hear her give Josh a hard time about the medications or which cup she wanted and what she wanted in it, even as it was hard for her to drink. But the thing that most defines Kristi in these last weeks, these last months, was the phrase, “I love you.” Again and again, she spoke words of love. I love you. “I love you, buddy” she said to Jackson each time she saw him.

All along, we prayed for a miracle for Kristi to be healed, to not die this too early death. But maybe our ideas of the kind of miracle we wanted prevented us from seeing the miracle that is before us today. Because the miracle always consists of God’s steadfast and sure love for Kristi. While Kristi showed no mercy on the court or the golf course, God’s main move with us is mercy. God was and continues to be faithful to Kristi. And mixed in with that miracle of how God loves Kristi is the miracle of how her husband, Josh, tended to her with compassion and care and just treated her like the Kristi he knew and loved, never “sick” Kristi, but Kristi his soul mate. When I remarked to him of the quality of his care he said, “it’s easy – I love her.”

Did we get the miracle we wanted? Maybe. Maybe not. But we depend on the miracle we cannot see. We hear its echo in the timber of our broken voices as we sing and pray together this awesome miracle of a loving and saving God who is faithful to us and who gives us eternal life where we can only see death, where we only see endings. We grasp as its truth as we grasp hands and know that the truth of Jesus Christ is what binds us together.

Cancer did not win today, folks. Kristi was clear about that from the beginning. She’s always known she’s not been alone on this road. She recognized Jesus the second cancer showed up and has never let him out of her sight. The attitude she brought to the sports she loved, her husband, her kids, her family– she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. She showed cancer no mercy. Yet all the time she knew that in death she would not be abandoned but would be raised to new life. New life even our wildest dreams can’t imagine. She knew she would win.

Nothing separates her from the love of God through Jesus Christ – not death, not cancer. God did not give Kristi cancer and God did not take Kristi from us. God did not need another angel or a pretty flower. God is not that needy, greedy or co-dependent to do something like that. Instead I want you to know that God is with us as we grieve, broken in our brokenness. That’s the cross, folks. There is a broken and dying savior who meets us there and comforts us and says that not even death gets the last word. God does.

Today we get to walk Kristi the rest of the way home. Our walk on the road from here on out will be lonely without her and a lot less classy. We will miss her good heart, the way she quietly loved and led. We’ll miss her stories. We will miss you, Kristi and we love you. But today, we help Kristi finish her baptismal walk. She can’t do it without us. This is the part of the walk where we carry her. And then we will let her go into the arms of a loving savior where all of life is redeemed. It is a miracle. She is free.

Thanks be to God.