Celebration of the Life of Vincent Anthony “Jim” Konetsky (12 July 1952 – 2 January 2017)
Isaiah 61:1-3 |Psalm 139 | Romans 8:35-39 | John 6:5-13; 27-40
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
I first met Jim about a year ago when I came to St. Michael’s and I especially got to know him through his work with Saturday Kitchen, our outreach ministry to feed the homeless and hungry. Every Friday I would come in and find Jim’s sense of joy and enthusiasm brimming over the hustle and bustle, bubbling up among the busy volunteers who were hard at work preparing meals to serve the next day. Jim was an incredibly kind, generous and grace-filled person – always willing to stop what he was doing to lend a hand or an ear if he saw someone in need of help.
A fellow co-worker and friend, David shared:
“I believe pastoral care is one of our highest callings in urban parishes, where families often are personally or geographically remote from even the smallest kindnesses we all need in moments of crisis and loss.
Jim was an ombudsman for many years at God’s Love We Deliver, connecting clients with services for a variety of needs beyond the food we provide them. In a real sense, he provided something akin to pastoral care for our clients. When one of my best friends was diagnosed with AIDS and almost died, Jim connected him and his partner to the medical and support services that allowed him to concentrate on recovering, and he is still alive today and doing well. Jim delivered his care with compassion and real life experience, and I believe in a way that was informed by his faith.”
Jim dedicated most of his life to a ministry of offering a loving, listening presence to others. He was the type of person who could walk up to anyone in any given situation and simply offer up all that he had to be of service. And whatever he offered, no matter how much or how little, he knew and trusted that it would be enough to work wonders.
In the gospel story, I have no doubt that Jim would be the one walking up to a couple of distressed disciples before an enormous, ravenous crowd to say, “hey, anybody hungry? I have five loaves and two fish…can you use these?”
For Jim, loving and helping others came as freely and easily as breathing air. I imagine this is what it’s like to know and experience God’s love – so natural, so inspiring, so abundant. It’s this kind of love that transforms five loaves and two fish into a meal that feeds five thousand. It’s this kind of love where everyone comes away feeling satisfied with twelve baskets full of leftovers waiting to be spread around and shared. God’s love, the kind that Jim so freely and easily shared with us takes everything that is hurt, everything that seems to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, and irreparably damaged—takes all these things and recognizes them as whole, as lovely, as radiant in God’s light. This kind of transformational love becomes for us the bread of life that nurtures us, sustains us, feeds us for the journey ahead.
But life’s journey is not always a walk in the park. There can be sudden twists and turns, valleys to descend and mountains to climb. Jim certainly knew this in his own life. In these last months, Jim was overwhelmed by so many sudden changes: the sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer; sudden physical limitations; sudden changes in life’s plans and schedules; sudden hospitalizations. Jim knew he was in the late autumn of his life and that time was short. Yet, Even in the midst of the incredible chaos and darkness, Jim continued to stay the course weathering life’s surprising storms with amazing grace. Sure Jim at times felt frustrated, anxious, or overwhelmed, but when I saw him, I saw a man reaching out to share his love with friends and family; a man reaching out to connect and befriend new people including a rookie hospital chaplain intern. I saw a man of faith who prayed and found comfort in God’s peace. In spite of life’s twists and turns, mountains and valleys, Jim stayed the course weathering life’s surprising storms with love, serenity, and joy.
He recently wrote, “At long last a ray of light has penetrated the darkness through my illness and I can see and think a little more clearly now. I know this adjustment will continue. Thanks to all who believe in me, others and themselves. I love you all.”
I knew Jim was in the late autumn of his life, but I thought we had more time to walk this journey together. But winter came sooner than expected. And like many of us gathered here, I never had the chance to really process and prepare for Jim’s death. More importantly, I never had the chance to say goodbye—to tell him how much I appreciated all that he had taught me about being a good priest and a good person. I never got to really tell him how much he had blessed me with his generous heart, his beautiful resilient spirit, and his willingness to love and care for others. I never had the chance to say thank you for sharing with me the bread of life. To say I love you one last time.
Now, it is our turn to weather life’s surprising storms as we weather the sudden, overwhelming loss of such a life-giving, loving presence among us. Now it is our turn to be like Jim, to stay the course as we find our way through the mountains and valleys of grief. It is our turn to stay the course sharing Jim’s love, serenity, joy and amazing grace with others along the journey. It is our turn to give one another the bread of life.
During my last visit with Jim in the hospital, he shared with me how much he loved images with hands. He loved the idea of hands reaching out and touching each other. Hands that are connecting, supporting, upholding, protecting, nurturing, and loving. Whenever Jim saw an image of hands, he saw God’s hands reaching out to touch us and love us. Likewise, he saw us reaching out to be with God and longing for that eternal embrace. The image of hands gave Jim comfort and consolation throughout his life, but only near the end was he able to understand fully what these hands had meant.
Look around you at hands in this place. Look and see the image of hands in the windows; hands in the people gathered here, even your own hands. Look around you – these hands are the hands of God; hands reaching out to touch, to connect, to support, to love; hands that have now joined with Jim’s hands. The hands we have known and loved—hands that continue to reach out and gather up the lost fragments of our lives giving us new life; hands that continue to hold us, carry us, guide us and celebrate us throughout life’s journeys.