NORMA DYSON 6.25.1932 – 5.26.2021
In the scope of the many of you who decided to come out on a rainy Saturday morning, during Memorial Day Weekend after what all of us have been through in the last 15ish months, I can say with certainty that with honesty I probably knew Norma the least – at least when it came to the fun, adventurous and quirky sides of her personality.
I knew Norma as a having a reserved elegance when it came to church and the things she cared about here – yes on hymns, no on amazing grace, yes on liturgy, no on music during the prayers (a lot of us like it, but she didn’t care for that); yes on flowers and decorations, she once created beautiful cactus and desert flower display for Lent she created to call attention to Jesus being in the desert for those 40 days. She was always more keen on Organ than the Piano (of course she played organ, and played it here – so that makes sense) and when it came time to renovate this facility about five years ago now – she was one of the first people I talked to about the opportunity and her incredible generosity not only helped make the beautiful spaces in this building happen – it also made ministry happen year after year, every year this congregation existed – as she and Dick were founding members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Old Saybrook, CT.
Norma and Dick will both be forever remembered among the saints of this church. For them I am grateful.
Alongside Norma’s reserved elegance she also had a definitive wisdom and faithfulness. When I sought her counsel or opinion on something – I kind of already knew what her thoughts were going to be on the subject. When she shared those views however, they came from a place of depth and caring – that bolstered one’s confidence to face whatever it was we were working on with new resolve. Norma had my deepest respect. I hope I earned hers. After funerals she would always tell me that I would do her funeral one day with a smile of approval. I took that as a good review. I’ll miss her quiet confidence.
But there was another side to her – the fun and much more carefree side – which I am sure will fill most of the conversations this afternoon – from playing crazy 8s, to going on bus trips to dogsled rides in a blizzards, to her friendships in the garden club and the yacht club and of course the many many family gatherings where she was in her primary element with those she loved most. I didn’t really know that side of Norma all that well, but I did catch a glimpse of it once.
When we dedicated the building after the renovations were completed in April of 2018, We asked Norma to cut the ribbon before we had the party in the fellowship hall. Brooke Milburne and Cora Sullivan held the ribbon tight and we gave Norma a large pair of scissors to do the cutting. We all stood and faced the back to watch it happen- and when the ribbons split in two – everyone cheered of course – but it took by sunrise for moment and she did a little side step and looked up with a giggle and a smile on her face that was if she was a little girl – it was pure joy.
That sidestep and giggle is my fondest way to think of her – a side of her I hope you have all experienced, because deep down I think that was the real Norma, elegance caught with a joyous giggle that just had to come out among loved ones.
While services like these are good moments for us to both release and experience our emotions – Norma didn’t want today to be sad. She wanted everyone to know that she believed that she had a great life, she was incredibly grateful for it – to God, to you, and to all those she loved. She wants all of you to know she is at peace. She wants us to party!
These passages of scripture capture, I hope, the Spirit in which Norma shares that sentiment of gratitude, peace and generosity with us today.
The reading from Isaiah envisions a time beyond the exile when all can gather to celebrate God’s faithfulness and abundance. After this last year and some odd months we have all had – a party would do us good, and we have Norma’s generosity to thank for it – so thank you!
Both Psalm 23 and the Gospel from John proclaim the Good Shepherd – The one who leads us in and out, protects us in danger, and leads us to the rich abundance of faith and faithfulness. Norma found strength and identity in following the Good Shepherd’s voice, and invited us all to listen to that voice and follow him too.
And then there is this passage from Romans, where Paul reveals that God’s claim upon us is unshakable, that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – which is a pretty remarkable claim given our usual state of affairs.
Yet that is the promise – that not even death itself can keep us from that love that knows no bounds and holds us close for all eternity. Knowing the truth of that promise with all of our being is what Paul calls in Philippians – “the peace that passes all understanding.” It is how Norma knew she’d be at peace and be grateful to God as we gathered today. It is where we are invited to explore how amazing God’s grace is in our lives, even if we don’t end up singing about it.
But maybe that’s ok.
Maybe we could keep a little of Norma’s reserved elegance for a day like this.
Or maybe it is better if we do a little side step and giggle like we are little kids.
Because when God’s love for us hits us – the joy we feel is just like that.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me