The Gospel passage we just heard builds up to later in the same chapter when Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” It’s important to mention in this world that’s broadcasted over how much peace is at a premium; when violence and war and fear have taken over the headlines. But I believe those words of our Lord are just as important to mention this morning because when I made the drive to Dowagiac over the last few years, I found an incredibly special sense of peace in Agnes Pawlicke.
Now I never had the chance to see Agnes in her prime. I had to hear the stories from Janice and Jerry about their travels to California and Florida, including the first time Agnes was ever on a plane at ninety years young, and as the plane soared at 600+ miles per hour she was asked how her first flight was going. Her immediate response? “We’re hardly moving!” Or evidently Agnes’ drink of choice was never any alcoholic beverage, but instead it was cranberry juice. Except there was this time when she was in Florida, and she was, for some unexplainable reason, falling asleep after she had her breakfast with what she thought was her usual cranberry juice. Well, that similar-colored beverage inside a clear pitcher was actually from a bottle of sangria. Turns out the alcohol didn’t bother Agnes that much after all.
I never got to hear such stories from Agnes. I never got the chance to see her in her prime, and yet, I have to stop myself from saying that, because even at one hundred years strong, she was still very much in her prime of the absolutely loving, kind, gentle soul that she had been throughout her life. You ask, “Where is this peace that Jesus gives us,” in a world so overcome with none of it at all. Well, I found it in that very room in Dowagiac, where God never failed instilling peace through Agnes Pawlicke not just for me, but for the people who worked at The Timbers of Cass County.
After all, some of the most difficult jobs in the world are the ones of the medical profession, where the highest standards are expected to be met to absolute perfection at the most rapid speed possible to patient satisfaction, and that includes places like The Timbers, where many elderly patients not only suffer physically, but also out of loneliness and depression, and so nurses and other staff deal with the sheer brunt of dissatisfaction, to say the least. However, even in that place, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” I know it’s true, because Agnes was that very peace that surpassed any human understanding, including my own.
Because if anyone was entitled to simply give up, to stay in her room, let life pass her by, feel sorry for herself, and expect everyone else to wait on her hand-and-foot, it was Agnes. Except, that wasn’t her at all. She refused to stay in her room. She went to Bible studies and arts and crafts, and outside on nice days. Evidently God didn’t wire Agnes that way to just give up on life. There was too much “life” to experience outside her room.
It may not seem like such a big deal to us, but for someone who was confined to her wheelchair, for someone who struggled to remember the names of the people she saw every day, to face those frustrations head-on and live life to the fullest all the way until the end, Agnes forced all of us who were blessed to be in her presence to realize that this Jesus Christ of the Resurrection, of this triumph over death, of victory of life everlasting; she made us realize that our Savior was very much alive and well, no matter how bleak this world may be. Jesus was alive and well in Agnes Pawlicke through a century of life.
Every conversation I had with her left me in amazement. She would always praise the people who helped her these last few years. She had this mind-boggling patience to encourage nurses to help others before herself. She had this unbelievable calm, optimistic, and joyous presence about herself. And it sounds like that’s just the way God had shaped Agnes throughout her life, all the way back from when she baked homemade doughnuts for the first Easter breakfast at St. John’s while Janice was in Luther League or helping out with blood draws here at the church. Evidently Agnes had this idea that this life was about loving and serving others and bringing this wonderful serenity of peace, just the way God intended life to be all along. This precious child of God, even at one hundred years strong, got it right.
Agnes and I would always end our time together with Holy Communion, when she would get this sense of peace from Jesus. And before she would have the body and blood of Christ we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together even on the days when she struggled to remember what happened only hours before. Nevertheless no matter how much her memory had faded, she still remembered that Lord’s Prayer by heart, and I mean, by her heart. You see, when we often speak that prayer in worship it’s done out of routine, without much emotion all; spoken out loud among ourselves, but not as much prayed. Agnes sounded like she had this deep connection with God, as she poured out her most tender soul into that prayer, into that longing for God from her very heart. Agnes was still very much in her prime as a child of God, still with a passion for this gift of life.
So as I look back on the rather minimal time I had with her in comparison to all of you, it’s safe to say that Agnes ministered me more than I did for her. And I have a feeling that goes for many of you as well, including Janice and Jerry, Bob, Carolyn, Melissa, Mike, Bobby, Pattie, Braden, and Michael. But, Jerry and Janice, I thank you for the blessed opportunity I had to be with her, and it goes without saying that today the two of you are surrounded by family and friends united by this sense of loving peace that Agnes instilled in all of us; but also the peace knowing that she is in the tender care of our Lord and Savior who was with her from the beginning to the end of this life and beyond.
If only this world could be filled with Agnes Pawlicke’s; how much the headlines would drastically change, how much peace would completely overflow the Creation, but thanks be to God that we had the sacred honor of a lifetime to call her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, and, most importantly, sister in Christ. May our Savior’s love and compassion and peace that surpasses all understanding that came to life in our beloved Agnes; may it continue to soar in all of us through the rest of our life. Thanks be to God for Agnes, precious child of God forevermore! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon