The Rt. Rev. Frank S. Logue gave this sermon at Calvary Episcopal Church in Americus, Georgia on January 9, 2023.
From the cradle to the grave and beyond
A sermon for the funeral of the Rev. John Lane
Revelation 21:2-7 and John 14:1-6
We gather as a people who mourn, in the confidence that our friend and brother, Deacon Johnny Lane, is with Jesus.
Our reading from the Book of Revelation tells of a coming time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
We are not to that time of the Kingdom of God. Now we still mourn. It hurts so bad to get news of a cancer diagnosis and then so quickly, John is taken from us. But Deacon John was not taken from Jesus. He has passed through death to the life eternal, where he is with his savior. In his dying days, his faith did not dim. We can be strengthened by John’s faith.
This was faith he learned in the cradle. Born at home, in the little Central Florida settlement of Clay Sink, the entire population were his family by blood and marriage. He was at birth added to the cradle roll of Clay Sink Baptist Church. While his family would move around the Lakeland area, church was a constant for his parents, for Johnny, and his four brothers and three sisters. He was a steady presence in Sunday School, sang in the youth choir, and took part in all the activities for youth. He made his public confession of faith at the church in Kathleen, Florida, where four generations of his family are buried.
His family was oriented to their community and their country as well. During the Second World, his parents placed three blue stars in the front window, giving thanks when all returned home with the blue star being replaced with a gold one.
This idea of service to a great good was significant for John, who saw in the parable where Jesus took a coin in the Temple and told those questioning him about whether they had to pay taxes something I had not seen before. Jesus said render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and what unto God what is God’s. John saw in this, his savior teaching citizenship. We are to be good citizen of the Kingdom of God and a good citizen of this world in which we live.
Life changed when his father died in 1948. John was the only one still at home. His mother went to work and, on graduating from high school, John joined the Navy. He chased the American Dream and after four years in the Navy, he married, earned an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Florida and landed a job with Western Electric. To know and love John Lane is to appreciate his engineering brain. Very loving and caring, he could seem stoic when his brain that was so adept at problem-solving would have him working to solve a problem in logical steps. But then there is also his quick wit and his big smile.
Work went well. He moved around a bit, serving the Navy again, now as a contractor. During this time, he and his wife adopted Ricky and a few years later, Tricia. They joined a Baptist Church, but travel for work prevented him from connecting there. In time, his first marriage came apart at the seams and ended in divorce. God does not create the tragedies in our lives, but God does use what happens in our life to enter in. God works all things together for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. God used the divorce to bring John closer.
In time, he met Beth. As they decided to marry, John said they more importantly committed to each other that Christ and the Church were going to become permanent members of their life together. They have not missed many services in the 45 years since that decision. With five children in their blended family and grandchildren on their way, life was good.
John had been a faithful Baptist. He became an Episcopalian the old fashioned way, just like I did. He married one. John said that he told Beth, “It doesn’t matter to me where we go to church as long as we go.” Beth told him, “It does matter to me. I’m a cradle Episcopalian. We will go to the Episcopal Church.” We are all most appreciative Beth!
They found their church home right here at Calvary where Bishop Paul Reeves confirmed John in 1980. Beth sang in the choir, served on the Altar Guild, and was active in the Episcopal Church Women. John became a lay reader and a lay eucharistic minister. Never having lost his community-oriented upbringing, John also worked in the food pantry and with the soup kitchen. He said he worked with the children from the barely potty trained to preschool. The next thing you know, his heart for servant ministry had John taking the Eucharist to shut-ins and helping to organize a chaplaincy program at Sumter Regional Hospital. Feeling called to the ministry of a deacon, he entered discernment and then formation and was ordained here on November 11, 1990.
Across the next decades of servant ministry, John continued to faithfully take the church out into the world and to bring the needs he saw in the communities he served to the attention of the church. He served here at Calvary and then for a year at St. Stephens in Leesburg. Next, he went to St. John and St. Mark in Albany, where worked in the food pantry, taught Sunday School, and worked with the acolytes.
He went back to St. Stephens to assist Father Bill Stewart as he worked on the steps to faithfully close that church, before going to Christ Church in Cordele. There he served as the Deacon in Charge of Worship on the Water, their summer outreach ministry. I loved serving with John on the resort dock on Lake Blackshear. He was always so passionate about that ministry and so grateful for assistance. To speak of John’s ministry is to also speak of how John and Beth have been a team. He was living his best life when he and Beth were helping other to get set up for Worship on the Water. In a Hawaiian shirt clergy shirt greeting the congregation arriving by boat.
John reflected in 2010 on what was then more than 30 years of ministry, writing that his ministry reminded him of the scene with Jesus on the beach with Peter. This was after Peter’s denied he even knew Jesus. On the other side of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me.” Three times, Peter says “Yes Lord, I love you.” Each time, Jesus told Peter, “Then feed my sheep.” John looking back on years of serving the need through organizing and managing food pantries and soup kitchens. Years of working on providing low-cost housing. Years of being a servant to those who would otherwise, be lost and left out. In all these ways, Deacon John faithfully fed the sheep that the Holy Spirit sent his way.
In our Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling his first followers, “Do not let your hearts be trouble.” He goes on to say, “I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
John has been with Jesus from the cradle to the grave and now is with Jesus beyond this life, into the life eternal. We mourn, because we have lost him, but we mourn as those with the same sure and certain hope that he held on to even in his last days. We pray for Beth, his beloved wife and partner in life and ministry; and we pray for his children, Steve, Rebecca, David, and Tricia; and we pray for all of us who mourn.
As we mourn John, we can honor him in a way befitting a deacon. When you miss him, pick up some food to drop by a food pantry or volunteer to serve in a soup kitchen. Not only will these actions honor Deacon John Lane, these steps to assist those in need will continue his servant ministry as you feed the sheep as Jesus taught us to do.