Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A Short Funeral Sermon with Reference to John 9.1-7 and Cerebral Palsy: for Gary Hooper

An unusual reading for a funeral, but I think it is a good one for us to hear and consider as we honour Gary Hooper. Gary Hooper wasn’t blind. Far from it. But, like the blind man in the gospel story, Gary carried an affliction, cerebral palsy, from birth.

“Who sinned,” the disciples asked Jesus, “that he was born blind?”—or with cerebral palsy? We might be tempted to ask the same thing. It’s a common question when things go wrong. What did I do wrong to deserve this? Gary’s parents may have asked something like that.

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents,” Jesus replied, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

So with Gary Hooper. The works of God were displayed in him. Just look at his accomplishments.

Was there sadness in his life? Yes. There is in every life. Tragedy? Perhaps. But my sense of Gary was that it was not those things that defined him. Far from it.  He made the effort to live his life to the full. In doing so, he carried his affliction with grace, intelligence and dignity.

More than that, if we read on in John chapter nine, we find that the blind man in our story had some attitude. He didn’t let the religious leaders of his day who questioned what and how Jesus healed him push him around. Gary Hooper didn’t let the challenges he faced get the better of him, either.

Jesus spat on the ground and healed the blind man with mud he made from saliva and dirt. An earthy, gritty solution. Gary’s physical healing has finally come in just as earthy and gritty a way. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. We wish it could have happened earlier in his life so he could have enjoyed his physical freedom with us for a while. But that is not the way in which God the Father chose to display his works in Gary.

In any case, Gary is now free of his affliction and for that we are grateful even as we may regret and wonder about what might have been.

And we remain. How shall we honour Gary’s memory? How might the works of God be displayed in us as we do that?

Jesus said, “We must work the works of him (God, the Father) who sent me while it is day.” What works might they be? They are all summed up in the commandment Jesus left for us to love one another. The love he’s talking about here is not warm feelings. He didn’t say like one another. Love is the word. It is to will the best for one another no matter how we feel about the other. It is love lived out in our day to day, mud and saliva lives; loving spouses, children, parents, brothers and sisters, workmates, strangers and especially those less fortunate than ourselves.

One more thing. There was a special light in Gary’s life despite his many challenges. That light was his belief in Jesus, Son of God, Saviour and Lord, and, as we heard in the our gospel story, the light of the world. Because of that, like the blind man, Gary is washed and healed, freed not only from the limitations of this life, but from sin and death itself.

We, too, can choose to overcome our limitations by leaving the darkness of our sinfulness, lovelessness, sorrows and afflictions and coming into the warm, life-giving glow that only comes from the light of the world, Jesus Christ. He is to be found in His Church, the Bible, and ordinary mud and saliva, dust to dust followers of Jesus like Gary Hooper.

Gary made the effort to live his life to the full despite the limitations with which he had to live. Are we prepared to make an effort to overcome ours?

Following his example in such a way would be a good way to honour him.