“Butterflies and Rainbows.” A funeral sermon for Angelika Cote

angelikaButterflies and Rainbows.

This was what Cindy said to me when we went next door to meet Jim at the house.

Butterflies and Rainbows.

“That was who Angelika was,” Cindy said.

Free-spirited. And in awe of the creation around her.
Chasing a butterfly.
In awe of a rainbow.
Enjoying a glass of wine with Jimmy at the beach at sunset.
Discovering rocks to bring home.
Hiking. Running. Picking up trash along the way.
Getting her hands dirty in the garden.
Taking time to get each kid a shovel too,
So they would learn awe and wonder and find that same inspiration.

Butterflies and Rainbows.

They are two Christian symbols.

The butterfly is a reminder that in death comes life.
That after Good Friday comes Easter. The Butterfly is an Easter metaphor.
Death is not just dust and ashes and returning to the precious Earth from whence we came, but is also the beginning of a new story. The Jesus story. Our story. Angelika’s story.
Where God makes all things new.

The rainbow is God’s sign put in the sky after the flood.
It is a wonder of science – light refracted through the raindrops, also captured through a prism. For us today it is a reminder – that one day mourning, and sorrow and pain will be no more, that the reign of tears that holds us captive breaks way to something more beautiful than we can really describe; it must be experienced to fully know it and see it for oneself.

The rainbow reveals to us that God is present. That we have not been abandoned.
That we are not alone. That God promises to stand beside us when things look most bleak or dire; and all we want to do is crawl into a hole or under the covers in the dark wanting it all to go away.

Butterflies and Rainbows.

Yes. Angelika was all that. And she was much more.
Funny. Caring. Open. Welcoming. Organized.

Whether it was managing at Old Navy; or setting up the family logistics,
Or figuring out where to stay, where to eat, and in what order to go on rides at Disney – She was on it.
But not just out of duty or responsibility.
She did it as a labor of love. She did it for those she loved.

Butterflies? YES! Rainbows? YES! But also Mom. Wife. Daughter. Friend.

Tammie and I had the great pleasure of being her friend.
She made our lives better for being part of it. She helped us see Butterflies and Rainbows.
It seems hard to see them now.

Butterflies and Rainbows. Not quite yet.

First, the cross.
First, the unexpected death.
First, the dark place.
First, the storm.
First, the shock.
First, the loneliness.
First, the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Which is exactly where Jesus meets us.
Christ comes not just in times of joy – but especially in our sorrow.
In death. In shock. In pain. In tears. In mourning.
The cross is God’s answer – when we don’t even know the question.
He meets us on the cross not just in our sin and brokenness,
But in our suffering, fear, worry and time of despair.

Butterflies will come. But not until Winter yields to Spring.
Rainbows will come. But not until the storm is over.

The promise of God meets us in the dark. In the cold. In the rain.
And where everything we think is certain is suddenly ripped away.

What is that Promise?

That tears will be wiped away.
That death and mourning and crying and pain will be banished away forever.
That indeed, one day, all things will be made new.
That Good Friday will become Easter.
And this time in between. This time of waiting. This time we in the church call Advent.
Will break open the dawn of Christ’s coming completely around us.
God’s reminder for us in this time between is that Christ is already in our midst and at work as we wipe each other’s tears away.

Butterflies and Rainbows are coming.

It is no great irony to me, that quite literally the cloud of this week is already opening to sunshine. This week began so normal. Texting between our families who would take the kids to school. Off to work. Off to our day. Off to our business as usual.
And then the rains came after everything had changed.

This rain has been torrential. Cold. Wet. Damp. Miserable.
Matching the somberness of mood. And the melancholy of our collective spirits.

But then the love poured in.
Neighbors and family members.
Friends both far away and near.
Food and visits and calls and plans put into action –
Within the community and within this church.

And hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.
The sun started breaking through the clouds.
And though tears still fall– they became not just tears of pain, but also tears of laughter, stories and celebration, and enough light shining in the darkness to catch that prism for a rainbow to form.

“Peace I leave with you.” Jesus says.
Not just an end to struggle and all that is broken.
But peace. The kinds that surpasses any understanding.
Deep peace that transcends who we are – to what God is calling us, and forming us to be.

To be people who care for one another; like a community and church gathered around a grieving family. In love. In generosity. In care. In faith. In friendship.
That will still shed more tears – but will also be there to help wipe them away.

Butterflies and Rainbows. Yes. They are real.

Angelika knew them well. She taught us to look for them, and dream, wonder, and share among us.

So do it. Take in a sunset. Go for a walk. Take up a run. Pick up some trash.                           Play with a child. Laugh. Sing. Give thanks to God for it all. Know that comes, but in death there is life – that often comes by a cross and leads to new life in Christ.

His love and peace go with you. AMEN


Genesis 9:12-17

12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Proverbs 3:5-8 (Responsively)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge God,
and God will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.

Revelation 21:3-6

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

John 14:27

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

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“Stay Awake” an Advent sermon on Matthew 24:32-44

Advent 1

Sermon on Matthew 24:32-44
“Stay Awake”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Themes of Advent: HOPE

solid-rock-faithPastor Richard Neil Donovan recalls this story [online available: https://www.sermonwriter.com/hymn-stories/hope-built-nothing-less]

In 19th century England there was a boy named Edward. His parents were non-believers; likely thinking that Christian faith was just wishful thinking. When young Edward was old enough he was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker – who happened to be a Christian. It was not long under his influence that Edward became a Christian too.

As Edward grew older he set out on his own, becoming a successful cabinetmaker himself. And while busy with his business, he made time for music, and he made time for worship. Over the passing of some time he began to write hymns.

One day he kept humming to himself a line over and over. One of those ear-worms that keep playing in one’s head. So he wrote it down with some words. Before long he had composed four verses.

A friend’s wife had gone ill and Edward went to see them. As his visit was on Sunday,    they requested that they read some scripture, pray, and if it wasn’t too much trouble;   sing something. So he pulled the song he had created out of his pocket. He sang it. They all sang it together. When they were finished, the ill woman liked it so much that she asked for a copy. Edward had several copies made and before long it became popular, and still to this day a well-beloved hymn in the church. In his fifties Edward Mote discerned a call to ministry, and served for over twenty years as the pastor of a Baptist church in Sussex, England before his death in 1874.

What is this hymn? Can anybody guess?


What was the line he kept humming over and over?


Hope is the Solid Rock in which we stand.  Everything else – wishful thinking included – is sinking sand. In our passage from his letter to the Romans tonight Paul said:

Suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character;                                       Character produces hope; and hope does not disappoint. (Romans 5:3-5)

Why?  Because we are standing on Solid Rock – Jesus the Christ.

Paul even goes so far as to say we boast in our sufferings – not because we are so awesome at it – or we have all the tools to do it – or we have some distorted draw to pain or death. We can boast in our sufferings – on account of what Jesus does for us.

Standing on the Solid Rock of Jesus – isn’t something we earn or deserve – we stand in grace – Paul says – justified by faith, or to put that phrase another way –


 And this is a HOPE that will be put to the test. Sometimes it all feels like sinking sand.

What sinking sand shifts beneath you?

On Monday our friend next door went to work like any other Monday. We coordinated who was driving kids to school like any other Monday. We went our own ways like any other Monday. Until Tammie got the call around noon that she had a heart attack. And another at 2:00 that she was gone; leaving three kids and her husband behind.

And it has been HOPE. Not platitudes. Not clichés. Not wishful thinking that it will all work out somehow, but HOPE – that in Christ all things are made right and all will be made right – that has brought both of our families through this ordeal so far.

The funeral is Saturday. We’ll need a lot of HOPE to get through that too.


I asked some colleagues what they thought HOPE is. My friend Pastor Scott Schul replied: HOPE is grounded in experience, relationship and trust. Even Jesus on the cross calling out being forsaken in Psalm 22 had HOPE. We stand on solid ground, remembering God has brought us through sinking sand in the past. And if God has delivered us in the past, why would God not deliver us in the future? Why not now? Experience. Relationship. Trust. Not sinking sand. Solid ground. Standing in Jesus.

Let’s stand here together.

With Edward Mote. With my neighbors. With one another.  With a hurting world.     HOPE. Hum. Until we all burst into song. Amen


Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:1-8)

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WORTH THE WAIT (min msg for Advent)

Psalm 25:5 from the Magic Kingdom (shot on 11/08/2016)

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Sunday Night: Interview with Joseph


St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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“What kind of Kingdom is this?” a sermon on Luke 23:33-43

Christ the King


Sermon on Luke 23:33-44

“What kind of Kingdom is this?”

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Old Saybrook, CT

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Sitting at the table after your side either wins or loses an election 

The election is over. Now what?

As the holidays approach, many people will break bread with friends and/or family members for the first time since the election. Around that table may be a spectrum of political views. Some may want to discuss and process. Others may seek to argue. Remember: unity often starts at the table when common ground seems hard to find. 

Here are a few suggestions on how to handle yourself:

1. Don’t be a jerk. Remain civil even if you feel like you are being provoked or baited. Be the bigger person. Watch your tone. Listen. Learn. Seek to gain understanding. 

2. Let people grieve and/or celebrate. There is a lot at stake in every election, and the long slog of negativity generated in the process gets more intense with each cycle. We all have emotions involved. Own yours. Give people some space to own their emotions too.

3. Heal. Win or lose, the election has taken its toll. There are wounds. There are the wounded. Tend to them.

4. Regroup. Find your friends and discover new allies, come to terms with reality and start thinking about next steps that bring people together; without making the future about “us” and “them.”

5. Come back to the Table. There are winners and losers in any election, but this particular election has tapped into an underlying anger that needs addressing and has surfaced in both troubling and menacing ways. The election may be over, but serious divisions remain. Some people are really scared. It is difficult to even talk to each other, and it is tempting to either tune-out or just walk away. Please don’t. There is a lot of rebuilding to do. Sit. Stay. Eat.

Look for new entry points into conversation by sitting with those who are angry, afraid and/or hurting (including but not limited to those around your table this holiday season). Your neighbors need you too. We all need each other at the table now. I pray we get there soon. Please, pass the potatoes.



Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do no let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)


Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

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