Wednesday, August 28, 2013

funerals: asking 'what about me?'

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I'm sure you've all heard the old joke about the funeral service where the preacher was telling the mourners about what a wonderful, kind, and caring man the deceased had been. And about half way through the sermon, the son leaned over to his mother and whispered: 'Are we at the right funeral?'

As I never met Kildare Dobbs (& here) in this life, I might have been at risk of giving that kind of sermon today. Luckily, we have not one, but two speakers after the service who can talk about him from personal experience. I'm sure they'll be able to give a far more accurate picture of him than I, who has no idea whether he was a saint or a sinner.

Well, that's not entirely true. As we are all saints and sinners, I have no doubt that Kildare was something of a mixture of both. I'm simply not in a position to say what kind of a balance he struck between the two. What I do know about him is gleaned from his autobiography, a copy of which Linda kindly sent me. From it, it is clear that he was a fine writer who lived a life that was often quite exciting and adventurous. But the saint or sinner question goes largely unanswered – he says at one point he doesn't really like the idea of making his confession on its pages. Indeed, other than describing himself towards the end as a 'lapsed Protestant' he doesn't really address the issue of religion or faith much at all. Whether because that was too private a matter for his reading public or simply because he had no real interest is a question for those who knew him more intimately than I.

Which leaves a stranger such as I no closer to answering the saint or sinner question. That is perhaps as it should be. Christ in the Gospels when asked about who was righteous, who was a sinner, who would be judged and found wanting, or who would be saved, would typically respond along the lines of: 'forget about those others; what about you?'

Maybe that's the important question for all to ask themselves at a funeral or a memorial service – what about me? The decision as to whether the absent loved one was more saint than sinner or the other way round is beyond us now. It is in the hands of our loving God. A God, who in the vision he granted to St John in Revelation, let us know that the heaven he holds our to us is a place where there is 'no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.' A place that his Son assured us, as we heard in our Gospel reading, where there were many mansions, a place where he went before us to prepare a place for us.

On these occasions 'what about me' is the more important question because it gives us the chance to re-assess our own lives; to consider for ourselves where the balance for us is between saint and sinner; to perhaps knock us out of the miasma of daily life that causes us to about eternal life and live not only as if we will live forever, but that it matters how we live; to remind ourselves that not only is sin real, but true holiness of life is indeed possible; and if we think perhaps after careful consideration that we have let ourselves go too far in the wrong direction on that scale, what it is that we might do in the time we have left to redress the balance. Maybe for you that means go to Church more, or read the Bible more, or pray more. Or simply say sorry to God more often for having gotten the balance wrong.

I do have one slight clue as to where Kildare might have struck his balance. When we were organising this memorial service, his sister Sally said that one of his favourite hymns had been one we'll have later: 'For all the saints, who from their labours rest.' If he loved a hymn that was about those who having led holy lives attaining heaven at the last, is it too much to think that he also wished to lead a Godly life, even is he didn't write about it much?

And if that is so, we may also hope that a man who was successful at so many other things, had equal success in this venture … hope that he was received at the last by his loving and merciful Father into one of the many mansions prepared for him by his Lord and Saviour. I pray that he was; and that one day you shall be also, even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

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