John 14:1-6

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me.…For I go to my Father’s house and prepare a place for you there.”

To “prepare a place” for someone is an incredible gift of hospitality. It means to provide, to set aside, to reserve a clearly designated parcel of space for someone specific to enter into and occupy. But it’s more than just “saving a seat” for someone, as you and I might do for a friend at the movies. It means going beyond the physical to give something of yourself unselfishly, so that someone else can enjoy the benefit. It means showing concern for another’s well-being. It means anticipating someone else’s need, making sure such needs are met and they are comfortable in this new setting. It means inviting someone to a place you know well and there sharing something you yourself treasure so another may find pleasure in it. To prepare a place for someone means making sure that once they arrive, they are greeted with warmth and kindness and find it to be a place of peace, a place of rest, a safe place, a pleasant place, a place of sanctuary, a home away from home. In today’s Gospel lesson, the Son of God promises to prepare such a place for you and me in the life beyond our existence here on earth.

We are here today to remember our dear friend, Dieter Goldkuhle, and to celebrate the gifts he shared that have enhanced all our lives. You see Dieter knew something about “preparing a place” for others and devoted much of his life to this holy work.

As I learned to care for churches and cathedrals, I soon found there are two kinds of people who work with stained glass: those who are in it for the love of money and those who are in it for the love of beauty. Without question, Dieter most prominently figured among the latter. That’s because, for Dieter, stained glass windows are not simply lifeless, inanimate objects—mere commodities to be bought and consumed like cheap, vinyl siding from a home improvement warehouse. No, stained glass is so much more! It’s the means, the filter through which God’s divine light, the light that never can be harnessed or quenched, pours down from heaven into our places of worship, dazzling our eyes and filling our hearts with joy and wonder. These glorious windows, translucent icons of brilliance, speak to us of God’s most sublime nature and penetrating love. Their indescribable beauty provides a glimpse, a hint of the miraculous grace that surely awaits us in the place our Lord promises to prepare. Their dynamic quality, their ever-changing illumination and patterns of color that splash across walls, floors, and columns, reveal the constant motion of our earth revolving around the sun, and remind us of our place in God’s greater creation. Transcendent qualities all! Yet, Dieter also spoke of stained glass as if it were human—of colors being able to sing, of certain designs being stubborn, of others brimming with vitality and sparkle. Certain windows even caused him to speak lustily—saying he couldn’t wait to get his hands around them! For Dieter, stained glass holds ineffable qualities—qualities that convey timeless truths and values—and for him, it was a privilege to work in such an ancient and hallowed art form. It gave him great pleasure to shape, to prepare such places where you and I can come and find ourselves face-to-face with the transcendent.

Dieter also was a man of deep character and integrity. It showed in the devotion and skill he applied to each day’s tasks. It showed in the twinkle in his eye as he worked from the scaffolding. He may not have been the artist, with flamboyant personality and boisterous ego, but he was the consummate artisan—equally important, quiet, and self-effacing, who made sure the artistic vision of another would become a reality—that the window, in fact, would stand up to the forces of wind, rain, and gravity and not easily buckle into a thousand pieces. At times, Dieter was called in to repair the short comings of those with lesser talent and did so with the same unwavering eye for excellence he devoted to the most exquisite projects. I remember Rowan LeCompte, who worked with Dieter on a great many windows, telling me of an instance when Dieter was conserving a window in this Cathedral that Rowan felt wasn’t worthy to be repaired. Half in jest, Rowan pleaded with Dieter not to do it, saying the window wasn’t worth the effort and that Dieter’s work would give this inferior window longer life than it deserved and he should just stop. But Dieter, in complete seriousness, replied, “Rowan, I cannot.”

St. John wrote in his Gospel, “…those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (3:21). Euripides, the ancient Greek playwright, once wrote, “When good men die their goodness does not perish, but lives though they are gone.” Surely, as we look around this great Cathedral and other places of worship in this country, we see evidence that both of these statements apply to the man whose life we celebrate today.

Many of us here grieve Dieter’s death—grieve because it seems like a special light has gone out and the world now is a darker and dimmer place. Our pain is real and should not be dismissed casually. Yet, it’s important to remember the truth the Christian faith proclaims. It proclaims not that death is insignificant, but that death is not the ultimate state: death does not have the final word. It is not the end for which you and I were created. Yes, we have bodies that will die, but we are not simply bodies; we are embodied spirits, created by God for eternal life.

I am reminded of Dieter saying that for him, one of the most magical moments was in the evening, after a good day’s work on the scaffolding, he would come down to the floor. And there, as daylight dims, he said he would see the windows gradually passing away, losing their life. All taking on a calmness, a quietness, a loneliness, and an otherworldliness. Only to find, the next morning, the windows once again are alive with light, with brightness, with clarity, richness, and sparkle.

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me.…For I go to my Father’s house and prepare a place for you there.”

Jesus’ promise to prepare a place in heaven is comforting as we let Dieter go to take his rightful place in God’s heavenly realm. And there Dieter joins the ranks of the other giants in the pantheon who prepared this place for us on earth, the giants on whose shoulders we now stand—Satterlee, Bodley, Vaughan, Bratenahl, Mackrille, Frohman, Walker, Sayre, and Perry, just to name a few. They all reside now in that place—the City of God. The place prepared by Christ for each one of them and for each one of us.

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