“See what love the Father has given us, that we might be called children of God, and that is what we are.”
Most Sundays, for the past couple of years, a member of our parish named David Powell would drive Pieter to church. I tend to stand outside to welcome people as they arrive; Pieter would make a point to walk up and greet me by saying “I give you three Dutch kisses,” and then he’d kiss me: right cheek, left cheek, right cheek. And then he would laugh, as he did, and always inquire about how I was, and about my family, and he would ask about anyone in the parish that he hadn’t seen for a while.
It wasn’t easy for him to hear, so he was grateful that I printed copies of my sermon to share with him. Sometimes he would ask me to come visit so that we could talk about those sermons, or so he could ask questions about matters of faith.
He loved his family: Miepje; their children - Pieter and Johanna and Leonard. He loved this church. He loved his friends. He loved you.
Early on in the time after my family and I arrived at St. Augustine’s, Pieter and Miepje invited us to dinner in their home. They told stories of their lives – of how they met, of their work as psychiatrists, of how they found their way to the Episcopal Church through Bishop Anderson House, a chaplaincy program through the Episcopal Church, housed at the Rush Medical Center.
Pieter talked sometimes about his childhood in Holland. He shared stories of the Dutch Resistance during World War II, about being forced to work as an interpreter when the Nazis discovered his fluencies.
He took an interest in our daughter Grace. When he learned that she was studying German he made a point of speaking to her in German each time he saw her.
“See what love the Father has given us…beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
Pieter and Miepje lived with honesty and integrity as guiding principles. In their work, they helped people find a way toward wholeness. When Miepje woke one day, two and a half years ago, and told Pieter that she had lost her memory – the diagnosis an aggressive and incurable brain tumor – Miepje and Pieter manifested those principles again to all of us. They showed deep love to this whole community, in their willingness to share the journey of saying goodbye. And in sharing that process, in preparing for Miepje to die a good and holy death, they helped members of this congregation find our own way, as well, as we talked together about what our wishes were for the ends of our lives.
Not long after Miepje’s death, Pieter moved to the apartment at Three Crowns Plaza where he would live for the rest of his life. His reasoning was sound – of course it was. He would be less isolated there, could share meals with people and have easy access to the resources he needed. He could still come to church without too much trouble, could join our monthly men’s breakfast at Panera, as he did at least briefly when they gathered the first Saturday of August. I’m not sure if he knew before he moved about the group that assembled each evening at Three Crowns for a glass of wine and a discussion of the day’s news, but those of you who are here should know that he looked forward to that time together each day.
Pieter brought the things he loved with him to the new apartment: books and special pieces of art…and lots and lots of pictures of Miepje. He talked often about being with her again – not knowing when that would be or what it would be like, just trusting that it would be.
See what love…
In April, Pieter traveled to Florida to be with his family on the occasion of his birthday. He walked on the boardwalk at a nature refuge, spent time with his children and grandchildren. He looked forward to frequent visits from his daughter, Johanna, and from his son, Leonard; he was grateful to see his son Pieter almost daily. Just two weeks ago, Johanna took him to a concert at Ravinia, and afterwards to dinner at the Happ Inn.
The writer of the second lesson that the DeVryers chose for today, from the First Letter of John, has seen a community strained by turmoil. John’s letter is testimony to the essential identity of that church, and – I would say – of this church, of every church. He writes emphatically at the outset: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…”
That word of life, this author contends, is love. Love is the essential character of God. Love is the clearest shape of that which binds us together.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we might be called children of God. And that is what we are.”
Shortly after returning home to Florida after her last trip and subsequent concert at Ravinia, Johanna sent me a message saying her dad was failing, asking me to visit. I was still in Oregon at the time, so I reached out to our ministers of care. Julia and Ray Joehl went to see Pieter the next day. Pieter talked with them for close to an hour, walked them to the elevator when it was time to go. He was himself, to the end. He was who he was – still playful, still asking about the well-being of others. By Saturday, Leonard said, he stayed in the apartment. By Sunday, he was mostly in bed.
My family arrived home late Monday night. Tuesday morning I woke at 6:00 to Leonard’s call asking for prayers. By the time I arrived at 6:15, Pieter was gone. Leonard and I talked together, laid hands on Pieter and prayed him out of this life.
I returned later that day to spend time with the DeVryers, to ask about their hopes for today. As I was leaving the apartment, I commented on a photo of Miepje hanging on the wall in the living room. I said that I hadn’t remembered that picture being there, the last time I visited Pieter. It was taken in Alaska, with Miepje sitting in front of a mountain. She’s looking directly at the camera, looking exactly like who she was. It’s a stunning picture. “Yeah, that was Dad’s favorite,” Leonard said. “I think it replaced a Chagall that used to hang there.”
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
None of us can know those things that have not been revealed to us yet. But we have promises. We have God’s great promise of love. I pray for that greatest revelation to be made manifest now, for Pieter and Miepje, and for all those we love and no longer see face to face, that blessed cloud of witnesses, that communion of the saints.
May each one of us see what love the Father gives us, that we should be God’s own children. For that is what we are.