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Fran Simonson

September 10, 2021

Homily from Pastor Arthur Murray

Fran was a born teacher. She taught for 25 years in Minneapolis Public Schools. She taught at church. She taught at home. She was hard wired to be a teacher.

Some of us in our chosen professions, when we aren’t working find something completely different to do in our leisure time. Others of us seem to find more ways to keep on doing the same thing, even when we aren’t working for pay. That’s the way it was with Fran. When she wasn’t teaching at school, she taught Confirmation here at church, or Sunday School. She also put on her teacher hat at home, taking her girls to the theater, teaching them to appreciate the arts, or leading them in nightly family devotions before bed. She even branched out into teaching through writing with several articles published in local papers including one titled “Women who work!” She was a worker!

If Fran wasn’t teaching, then she was probably learning. She was a life-long learner. She rose at 5am each day to study her Bible and write in her journal. She was an avid reader and traveler. She and Dale traveled the world from Switzerland to China, South America to Egypt, Europe to India, she traveled and she learned.

Fran had high expectations of herself and of others and valued preparation, whether it was the girls getting their homework done, or her own preparations for the classroom, or preparing for a Bible study at church, Fran was diligent, faithful and prepared.

She was also kind. And that kindness showed through especially with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She loved to host. She was an avid letter writer, would send postcards from all over the world and loved to celebrate birthdays.

She was a faithful presence. As her daughter Karen said, “she was always there for us.” And Laurel added “She would always check in to see how I was doing.” That faithful, reliable presence will be greatly missed. With Fran, her family always knew they had someone in their corner, always available to help when asked.

While Fran had high expectations for herself and for others, she also had high expectations for Jesus. She had a tag ending to many of her letters: “My hope is in Jesus.” “My hope is in Jesus.” It was a refrain that was deep in her psyche. Deep in her soul. Instilled and distilled by years upon years of devotions, of Bible study, of active worship and involvement in her faith community, Transfiguration, and before that, Richfield Lutheran. Even as she learned, even as she broadened her horizons and lived a life of constant curiosity with an ever expanding circle of knowledge and wonder, yet she remained rooted and grounded in this simple truth: no matter what comes, “my hope is in Jesus.”

It is this simple truth that kept her heart soft in the midst of a life that had more than its fair share of challenges. Fran knew and lived this truth, that, yes, we can have high standards for ourselves and others, but ultimately our hope is in God not in our own ability, or that of others, to always hit the highest goals. I have no doubt that Fran knew by heart, from all her years of teaching confirmation, Luther’s explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit: I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith… Or to paraphrase, “my hope is in Jesus.”

In honor of Fran, I want to take a further slight detour into some basic Lutheran Confirmation teaching. One of the most well-known reforms to the church that Martin Luther instigated 500 years ago was in the area of Christian vocation. Specifically, what type of work should a Christian, a follower of Jesus do in the world? For the preceding 1000 years or so, the answer had been very simple. If you were a follower of Jesus, then you would become a monk or a nun. You would take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and join a community. That was what it meant to convert, to become a Christian. There was no other vocational path available to a serious follower of Jesus.

Given Fran’s avid study of the Bible, and her level of commitment to the faith, I have no doubt that if she were born more than 1000 years ago, Fran would have become a nun. She loved Jesus and that is what people who loved Jesus did back then. Plus, nuns were very often teachers, so she would have fit right in!

But 500 years ago, when Martin Luther came along, he scoured the Bible and came to the conclusion that this narrow view of vocation was nowhere to be found in the Bible. In fact, Luther said, practically any vocation, any profession, can be used to serve the Lord, to glorify God. Luther even specifically named parenting as one of God’s chosen vocations for a man or woman to engage in as a pathway to following Jesus, living as a Christian, every bit as holy and as righteous as being a priest, a monk or a nun.

Fran lived deeply into her Christian vocation as a parent, and for many years, she did it on her own. She raised three girls to be strong, to be educated, to be faithful. She made mistakes along the way, as we all do. But when she welcomed her beloved husband, Dale, into their family, when the girls were 20, 18 and 16 years of age, he found himself joining a family with three strong young women who knew who they were and who were ready to join Fran in welcoming a new source of joy and love into their lives. It was with Dale that Fran traveled the world and found a joy that she probably never dreamed would be hers.

When a nun takes her vows, they sometimes will include the language of a marriage ceremony, in some traditions they consider themselves to be married to Jesus. Fran had that same kind of devotion to Jesus and God blessed that faithfulness with a joyful marriage in this world, and an eternal communion for the next. Through it all, Fran’s hope remained in Jesus.

In our reading from the gospel of John we heard Jesus promising his friends and followers that he goes on ahead to prepare a place for them. Fran, who always valued preparation, who always had high hopes for Jesus, will not be disappointed. With Dale waiting there to welcome her, she will be ready to enter into the glory of her Creator, the one about who she studied and learned all those years. She has graduated to the next level of life-long learning, on a journey that never ends.

We close with Luther’s final words from his explanation of the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, she will raise me and all the dead from the grave. She will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true! Amen.

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