Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A Funeral Sermon: for Jim May (with reference to Ecclesiastes 3, John 14 and Gram Parsons' "In My Hour of Darkness" and "A Song for You"

When I asked Gram and Jesse what it was that defined their Dad, they told me it was music. We talked about family connections and relationships and the challenges they experienced in that area. But the conversation always came back to music. Jim played it and listened to it. It was, as Gram put it, rather beautifully, I thought, "the centrepiece of his table."

So it was fitting, too, that we should listen to the two songs we heard a few minutes ago, both sung by Gram Parsons, after whom Gram May was named.

And what are the chances of that fact that Gram Parsons was once associated with The Byrds who made Pete Seeger's song, Turn, Turn, Turn, a hit in 1965. Pete Seeger got his inspiration for that song from the Bible passage from Ecclesiastes we heard a few moments ago. They sang Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses one to eight pretty well word-for-word.

What help is that for us today? It reminds us that for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. In particular, there is a time for each one of us to be born. You're here because you had a relationship with Jim May. He touched your life in some way. All of you who knew and loved Jim are here because there was a time for him to be born and you're glad of that. You'll also be glad for the times to laugh, to dance, to embrace and to love that came along with the relationships you enjoyed with Jim.

You're also here because there also came a time for Jim to die. Too soon, we say, and so we have to go through this time to lose, to weep and to mourn.

There is a time for everything. What we're doing today reminds us that, one day, our time to die will come, too. We don't know when. So how are our other relationships doing? Is there anyone we need to forgive, or with whom we need to be reconciled? Do the people we love know it? Remembering Jim today reminds us to make sure they do, because tomorrow may be too late.

Because of Jim's death, this is an hour of darkness for us much like the one Gram Parsons sang about in the song we just heard. He wrote In My Hour of Darkness with Emmy Lou Harris. Some lines that resonated for me were
he was just a country boy
his simple songs confess
and the music he had in him
so very few possess. 
I don't know whether Jim could be described as a country boy, but his son, Gram, described him as a "simple man." That was a compliment. And the music that Jim had in him—the centrepiece of his table—was his simple passion. The song goes on,
In my hour of darkness
In my hour of need.
Oh, Lord grant me vision,
O Lord, grant me speed.
Who or what Lord is that?
    Gram Parsons sang about him in, A Song for You, the first song we heard.
Jesus built a ship to sing a song to
It sails the rivers and it sails the tide
Some of my friends don't know who they belong to
Some can't get a single thing to work inside. 
The ship Jesus built is his church. It's the safe place in this world where, in his presence, for he is the captain of that ship, we find the comfort and vision we need whenever we experience these hours of darkness and need.

As we heard in the reading from John's gospel, let not your hearts be troubled in such hours of darkness and need as this. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you. One day, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” But Thomas, one of his disciples, said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 

Gram could have been singing about a guy like that when he sang, "Some of my friends don't know who they belong to." 
Do you know who you belong to? Some of you are here because you belonged to Jim May in some way, or you're here because Jim May belonged in your life in some way and you belonged in his. 
I'm here because years ago Jim's parents belonged to St Barnabas Anglican Church where I'm the priest. I was invited to preside today because ot that. St Barnabas and I belong to Jesus. We sing songs to Jesus and the ship (the church) he built. We sail the rivers and tides of belief, and love, and forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus brings. And what's more, when there are things we can't get to work inside of us (as the song says), things that have stopped working because of our addictions and resentments and bitterness and meanness, Jesus helps us to get them working again. He navigates us out of our darkness and need and gives us vision and direction and gets us up to speed again with a full, rich and healthy life. It's like we heard in the reading, Jesus, the one who built the ship, the one who grants us vision and direction and gets us up to speed, says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

A good ship's captain and navigator shows us the way home. I hope Jim has found his way to one of those rooms Jesus talked about. We who are left still have time to secure a reservation if we'd like one.

Because of Jim May's life and death we have this time to consider to whom, or what, we belong. To whom, or what, should we sing our songs? Who, or what, should be the centrepiece of our tables?

Let's pray. Lord, in this hour of darkness and of need, please grant us your vision for what could be in our lives and bring us up to speed so we can move on in health and healing from today. Thank you for the ship that Jesus built and for the opportunity to set sail with him into the rest of lives. Lord, help us to know who we really belong to in this life. Help us to get things working inside—our emotional and spiritual lives—so we can make the most of the time you have given us.