The video of the live stream of Bishop Croneberger's funeral, held March 18, 2023 at Christ Church, Reading, in the Diocese of Bethlehem. (Time: 1:43:51.)
Bishop Hughes gave the sermon. To go directly to it, click here. (Time: 17:48.)
Transcript of Sermon
In the name of the God who loves us. Amen.
Please be seated.
As we think about the life and ministry of John Palmer Croneberger, I want to take us directly back to those words that Jesus speaks to the apostles, that Jesus speaks to those who are following him, and that Jesus speaks directly to us. They give us a framework for looking at who this man is and all the things that we've heard about him and that you know about him already. It gives us a framework to look at how he lived his life. So, listen to those words again:
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (John 6: 39)
And I'm certain if the disciples weren't quite sure what all of that meant, I'm sure those who followed Jesus through the centuries weren't quite sure what all of that meant. And I imagine even we aren't quite sure what all of that means. Jesus is talking about the people that are there with him. Jesus is talking about his own connection to God. Jesus is talking about his very life. Jesus is talking about his authority and his power. Jesus is talking about the fact that his life doesn't end on this planet but will carry on into eternity. Jesus is talking about his divinity and his humanness, all of those things happening at the same time. And he says that God who sent me has no intention for me to lose anything that God has given me and that, indeed, I will raise it up on the last day and we go right after the Cross. Something happens, but it's not just that: it's everything. All the people that Jesus knew, all the power that Jesus had, all the divinity, all the humanity, that all of those things are raised up on the last day.
I want us to hear this in a slightly different way. You could call it the Carlye –my name is Carlye – the “Carlye revised version of the Bible” of Jesus' words:
- And this is the will of God, who sent Jack: that he should lose nothing of what was given him and raise it up on the last day.
- That this man would take everything that was given to him, hold onto it, dearly cherish it with all that he has and not lose a single bit of it, and carry it with him to the last day.
- That he would raise people up.
- That he would raise institutions.
- That he would raise faith up.
- That he would take people from one place to the next place the entire time building up how they saw themselves so they could see themselves as God, see them, saw them and then he would lose none of them.
- That his heart was big enough to hold all who came in his direction and continue to hold on to them.
Let me just ask you one question. All of you who knew Jack – because I didn't know him, though I have benefited from his ministry – but for those of you who know him, and I feel like I can answer this question even though I never had a face-to-face with him, but for those of you who knew Jack Croneberger: is there anybody in here who felt like Jack raised them up? Raise your hand.
It's more than a few people. Most of the room have their hands up. And for those of you that had your hands up, I'm going to ask you to raise your hand again if you think it's even remotely possible that Jack, in the heavenly country, might be talking to our God about you, making sure that you stay lifted up, making sure that you do not get lost, making sure that you continue to be that person all throughout your life who God has planned for you to be, that Jack is the kind of person who didn't give up on people.
And I want to tell you: this verse is so important because it shows us about how we are meant to live the Christian life.
We are also always so busy trying to follow a rule, and as Episcopalians, please give us a book study. If you can just give us the book! If the book says, okay, here's what I'm supposed to do next, I'm going to do that next. Let me try that. Okay, what did the book say next? We just want the rules and we want to follow those rules and we want to get it right. But here is the thing: there are the things we hold onto as faithful people and as people in a liturgical church.
We believe that as some of you are going to come and receive communion, as some of you may come and receive a blessing, as you are hearing all of these prayers, and as you are hearing all the stories of this man's life, we believe that all of these things are going to touch you in some way. They will start to shift in shape and transform you in some way.
The words of Scripture can do the exact same thing.
We put so much emphasis on communion that sometimes we forget those words that Jesus says or words that we are meant to hold onto, that we are to learn them by heart, that we take them fully in to become part of who we are. I would go so far as to say that about these words and probably other words in Scripture. I don't know that these were Jack's favorite words. I'm just using them as a way for us to understand how this man lived the Christian life. He wasn't following the rules as St. Paul would say in the letters when he kept talking about the spirit of Christ, that the spirit of Christ would take up residence in us, and when the spirit of Christ resides in us, we become more and more like Christ ourselves.
But hear me right! I am not saying we become Jesus. That's a pathology you need to work with a therapist on. [Laughter.] I am saying we become more like Jesus when the spirit of Christ takes up residence in us. We can't help but see God in each person. We can't help but see the plan God has for somebody. We can't help but make room for other people when the spirit of Christ takes up residence in us. I would say that Jack Croneberger wasn't just trying to lead a Christian life. He was trying to be as Christ in his Christianity. He was trying to see the way God sees, to know the way God knows, to love the way God loves, to be as Jesus Christ in the way he lived his faith in this world. You can hear it in these stories, that incredible sense of making room for people, of speaking for people who could not speak for themselves.
And here is the interesting thing. You speak for one group of people, they can't speak for themselves. Inevitably, another group is impacted and suddenly we're making room for all kinds of other people. When Jack entered Virginia Theological Seminary – my alma mater, by the way – when Jack entered that seminary, I was entering the first grade in a segregated town, in a segregated neighborhood, and a separate, but most certainly not equal elementary school. I was get going to get the same substandard education that every other little black child was getting in my neighborhood. There were a lot of people that worked at that. But I am here to tell you, I am a visible example, a tangible example of what happens when a person makes room for other people. There is no logical reason, but I am the 11th Bishop of Newark in the white Episcopal church. There is no logical reason other than people like Jack, but most especially Jack, making room for marginalized people, including the ordination of women. Opened a doorway not knowing who was going to walk into it, not knowing how many other lives were going to be impacted. There are little black and black and brown girls in Newark right now who think this is what a bishop looks like. Someone, yes, has asked me: can men be bishops?
Little ones, they see what's in front of them and they get it. This is having Christ take up residence in him in such a way that it was impossible for Jack to do anything but make room for all of God's people. That intense sense of love. One of the bishops who's here sitting in the back there because he drove 11 hours to be here, is sitting there for most of the service and then he is going to hop in his car and drive 11 hours to be back because he's got to be in a church on Sunday morning and lives that far away. But when I asked him, what do people really need to hear when I talk about Bishop Jack? He said it was this incredible sense of joy and delight, this sense of being a leader who was and had so much joy in doing what he did.
Bishop Kevin [Nichols of Bethlehem], who's up here also, said to me that there was this sense of hopefulness that he shared with other people that things are always going to get better. There's always something coming. And I love the way that Bishop Kevin put it also: that you felt enveloped in his heart, that you were surrounded by that love.
That love comes from God. It's one of the many blessings God gives us. When we have a real sense of who God is, our heart opens up so largely, so wide, so exuberantly, we can take more people in. Then we have the ability to love more and the ability to be in more relationships to encourage more. I don't want to scare all of the introverts out of the room, but all of us have that ability to love in that particular way. Think about this. In the world that we live in right now, expansive love, enveloped by someone's heart, a sense of joy and hopefulness: how many places in the world, how many places in our country, how many places in your family could use some of that right now as that spirit of Christ inside us?
The last piece that I just want to highlight is the sense of leadership that you all talked about, this sense of authority. There is no doubt that Bishop Jack was in charge when he was in charge, but as Bishop Prince Singh said to me, he held his mitre lightly. Sense of humor becomes so important. It keeps you from being a prince of the church, someone who's slightly above it all. And there was a time, that's what we liked in our bishops in this church, people who were slightly above it all, that butter wouldn't melt in their mouths and their upper lip was so stiff that they found that they never cried. You actually couldn't even see anything move when they talked. They were just so cool. But that sense of holding a mitre lightly, of holding authority loosely, of recognizing that all of God's people have something to give and then if I'm in leadership, part of what I do is help you be in leadership too. And then we lead together. This is who he is. And we have the thought that people are just born the way they're born. And maybe Jack was just born this way and all of it would happen this way. But I tell you what, I am a Christian and I know he was a Christian too, and part of that was him. And part of that was Jesus. Those two things came together, and this is the part that is important for us as we go forward. This was not just meant for Jack.
Jesus means to take up residence in all of us. The spirit of Christ is available for all of us. All we have to do is say, yes, I am ready. Yes, I will try. If you need a book study, God will get the book study to you. if you need a good priest or confidante, we will get that person to you. What God can't do is make you be willing the way Bishop Jack was willing. So, I want to end basically with where I started, this sense of that being given things that we are not meant to lose, that we are meant to raise them up. Let me read this again:
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Now think for a minute, I'm going to ask. This is your quick homework. I'm going to ask everybody to do this homework right here, right now. Think of a person that that might be depressed, might be lonely or overwhelmed. Think of someone whose confidence has been broken. Think of someone who's feeling hopeless or feeling trapped.
I'm going to stop talking for 15 seconds so you can focus on a person. Do you have a person in mind? Just nod your head if you do. If you don't, just keep thinking. But if you have one, nod your head.
Let me ask this final question: Is there anybody here who is willing to do for that person what Jack has done for you? Are you willing to raise somebody up? That is all of our callings, not just bishops, not just priests, not just Episcopalians, not just Christians, but all of us are all over the world are meant to raise another person up.
I am grateful and we can all be grateful to look at somebody like Jack and say, okay, that's how we do this. If I can't figure out how to do it myself, let me do what my friend, my dad, my grandpa, my brother, my priest, my deacon, my bishop, that loved one in my life. Let me do what Jack did. And Jesus Christ will help you with all the rest. Amen.