John 14:1-6 - Sermon
How many of us gathered here today to celebrate Bruce’s life are part of the St. Luke’s Players Alumni? We the diaspora have a lot of shared experience and some wonderful memories. Bruce Burrows was a brother in arms. But you may not know how the St. Luke’s Players developed as a theatre group or the critical role Bruce played in bringing this annual effort to life. More than a decade ago Elaine Forhan and my colleague Carolyn Palmer were thinking on how to bring young people together in the Bay area. Elaine imagined that theatre would be a great way to channel the talent and creativity of the Bay youth and so she and her daughters recruited some amazing actors and singers. They performed Godspell to sold-out shows and then other productions. But as with many grand experiments time changed things, the youth graduated and moved away and there was a feeling that the St. Luke’s Players was an idea whose time had come and passed.
But about that time the congregation here was experiencing a large influx of few people, the size of the church family doubled. You had a group of people who had been with the church a long time and another group, roughly the same size, who were new to the area, new to St. Luke’s and new to the United Church. How to bring them together? So Elaine and I began a campaign to recruit members of the church to act and sing in Christmas production called Scrooge. We secured the “anchor” for the production, the multi-talented Jeff Parks but there were many, many other cast members to find. That’s where Bruce Burrows came into the story. Bruce knew everyone, the familiar and new faces in the church and at coffee hour he would move around the Hall asking people to join the project. “I know you, you would be great, I know Elaine will have a part for you”, Bruce would say. And Bruce had credibility. I would hear him say, “Look I am not the greatest singer, I am no actor but I am in this and I know it’s going to be great. Join us!” Bruce had three qualities that made him a great catalyst for this role, 1) he was interested in everyone, 2) he knew how to reach everyone and 3) he had tremendous and infectious enthusiasm. Because of Bruce we had a full cast that winter and most importantly it brought the church together.
Linda chose the Gospel text today because she said, “it gives me comfort”. I understand that. But did you know the reference to “In my Father’s House there are many mansions/rooms/dwelling places” is less about a Heavenly Palace where we are all richly rewarded for our good deeds and more of a reference to the early church and its efforts to include everyone? That early church grew because it attracted the 75% of people who lived in slavery or deep servitude and the rich, women and men, Jews and Gentiles, people from the area and refugees from far away. And this post-Easter movement brought these people together in local homes. The reference to there being a room for everyone was a direct appeal for expanding this movement.
And John’s Gospel tells us that this effort to bring these people together, as one family, will be carried out and inspired by the Holy Spirt. The Spirit will be our Advocate. I felt that Spirit alive in Bruce Burrows. Bruce brought people together, he brought out the best in us, and he made us all feel like there was a room for us all.
Bruce could draw out the best in others. I remember one time at St. Luke’s when he convinced one of our youth members to join him in a duet. She didn’t think she could do it but Bruce knew otherwise. Bruce encouraged her, he affirmed her, and together they inspired us all. But Bruce could also push himself to be the best he could be. I remember the production Mudsongs, a play about the diaries of First World War Canadian soldiers. We were a small cast and we welcomed three new cast members; Jim, Danny and Michael. They were all very nervous about their first acting experience but again Bruce was there to be a catalyst for what we can do, using the best we have and offering something magical as a result. But when it came to Bruce’s big solo it was not coming together. Try as he might Bruce was just not connecting to “In Flanders Field”. But Bruce would not stop trying and he pushed and he pushed and he pushed. And on the night of the dress rehearsal he nailed it! In all the lines and all the scenes I never witnessed a moment like that one, of true elation by the cast for one actor. Bruce touched something special.
And we are told that when we live in the Spirit of Jesus life never ends. I believe that. I believe in the Spirit that brings life to everyone and everything. But to do that you need a catalyst, you need a Bruce Burrows. I believe every time you are faced with a community that needs building, a people who need to come together, we will all need to channel the Spirit and experience Bruce alive, encouraging, strengthening and affirming. Thank you Bruce, you brought beautiful things to life. Amen.