Friday, 30 July 2010

A Short Funeral Sermon with Reference to Ecclesiastes 3, Isa 46, John 14 and Hair: for Alf King

Alf’s time on this earth to build and tear down, to mourn, to keep and mend, and all we heard about in the reading from Ecclesiastes has come to an end. There’s sadness in that, but there was sadness in his condition for these past years, too, particularly for faithful Barb.  So there’s relief and joy that he is now in the presence of and in full communion with King Jesus. And we’re all glad that there was a time for Alf to be born 81 years ago. He is one who, the LORD says through the prophet Isaiah, had “been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:3–4 ESV). A true statement from God’s inspired word for all of us who choose to place ourselves under his loving authority, and especially true of Alf King, even as he lay silent in his bed, lost in the dementia that claimed him (now there, harking back to the Ecclesiastes passage again for a moment, is a thing to hate and upon which to make war if ever there was one).

That Ecclesiastes reading really resonates for me when I think of Alf. The Hebrew poetry reflects life’s cadence, its rhythm. Things come and they go. His being a barber fits. Our hair grows, and we cut it back. Many of us start out bald and we end up bald. It’s part of the rhythm of life. It goes on. Alf was an integral part of it for a season (especially for Barb and his friends and for those of us whose hair he cut), and now he’s not, except in our memories, but the rhythm continues.

Hair, cutting it, and how long it should be is even an issue in the Bible occasionally. In addition to the Isaiah passage with its “to gray hairs I will carry you,” for example:

Proverbs 20:29 (ESV)
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men and women is their gray hair.
Proverbs 16:31 (ESV)
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.
Samson’s supernatural physical strength was tied to the length of his hair. Particularly dear to

Alf’s barber’s heart, I’m sure, would have been Judges 16:22 (ESV)
But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Mary Magdalene wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair before he went to the cross for you and me.

The Apostle Paul cut his hair for a vow. He also wrote that men ought not to wear long hair and that, for women, long hair was their glory but that it ought not to be braided so as to attract undue attention.

Then, the more challenging Luke 12:4–7 (ESV)
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
The hairs of Alf’s head were numbered. So are the hairs on all our heads. (For many of us, as time goes on, hair numbering becomes an easier and easier task for God.)

What does that fact require of us?

First, to give thanks believing that despite the negatives, Alf was and is valued and loved by the God who created and continues to sustain him.

Second, to decide whether or not we also want to acknowledge, accept and respond to the fact that, as I quoted from Isaiah 46, we have been borne by a living, loving, holy God from before our birth, carried from the womb; even to our old age and gray hairs, if we are so blessed. Carried and ultimately saved. If we do, then there is only one way in which we can do that. Jesus tells us how in the reading from John.
John 14:1–6 (NIV) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 
To have one of those rooms reserved is to be saved. I believe Alf has one of them, so he’s free and clear. We don’t have to worry about him. What about you and me? Because of Alf’s life, love and friendship we all have this opportunity this morning to think about eternal things. Is what Isaiah and Jesus say true? Alf believed so. So does Barb. How do we secure a reservation for one of the rooms Jesus tells us about? John 14.6:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 
Nobody gets one of those rooms other than through Jesus. Trust in God, trust also in Jesus, he said. Jesus is the way. Follow his example. Jesus is the truth. Learn about that truth in the Scriptures. Jesus is the life. His heart on earth now beats in his body the Church. Become a part of the life of the church, his life, so your heart will come to beat in time with his. The Church is where his truth is taught and where we learn to live our lives in The Way he taught. The Church is also where Alf King devoted a fair portion of his life.