Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A Funeral Sermon: Life, Guitars and Guitar Playing—for Harry Winkler

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn), there is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn), and a time for every purpose, under Heaven (thanks to Ecclesiastes 3, Pete Seeger, The Byrds and Wally Garrioch)

We're here this afternoon because there was a time for Harold Winkler to be born and we're glad of it. We're also here because Harold's time to die has come. We're not so glad about that.

I get the impression that two of Harold's main activities under heaven were laughing and dancing. I only met him a few times and mostly in hospital but it was always a cheery visit. I'm not sure whether he and Catherine were dancers, but Harold must have provided the music for thousands of them over the years. What a legacy! To have made it possible for so many people to enjoy themselves—to laugh and dance, do a little embracing—there are probably people who fell in love while dancing to Harold's music—and all in a world where crying and grieving and turning away are all too common.

And here's what warms the cockles of my heart; this Baptist who became Catholic for love and marriage, took his girls to church ("dragged" is the word they used) even on mornings after the late, late gig nights. I'm not sure who was the prime dragger, Harold or Catherine, perhaps Harold was a drag-ee along with the girls, but good for him and the example he set. That would be a major part of the reason why both girls are women of real and living Christian faith.

Because of all Harold's music making—much of it on the guitar—and to honour his memory, I thought it might be an evocative exercise for us to think about guitars, guitar playing and life.

Guitars improve with age. The older they get the better they sound. Richer, fuller, sweeter.

Lives well lived are the same.

Most guitars have six strings. Those strings sound best when they are played together in chords, pairs and triads. Harmonies happen. You can pick out a tune with one string; some people can do that with great skill and panache, with lightning speed, but guitars sound best when the strings are played together.

Just so, life is best and most joyfully (although not necessarily easily) lived in groups: families, communities, churches. A solitary life can be notable: a few people are called to that kind of life, but most of us need other strings, some higher, some lower, with which to harmonize. We sound best when strummed together. Harmonies delight.

Guitars need to be played. Often. It keeps them supple and tuneful.

Life needs to be lived. The instruments of our bodies, minds, emotions and spirits need to be played; exercised and stretched to keep them muscular and supple so what we're living is a life-song to one another and to God.

A guitar has to be in tune to sound good. There are different tunings but they all require a set pattern of intervals.

We also need to be in tune with the other strings in our lives—with one another, especially the people closest to us. As the song said, there's a time to be born and a time to die. It's true for all of us. As Connie said we neveer know when our moment will come. One day, our earthly music will be over. There'll be the occasional refrain, or melody or riff still playing in the lives of the people we knew and loved; perhaps even remembered and sung or played by the folk we leave behind. What kind of tunes would we like those to be? Tunes that comfort, bring a smile to their lips, or ones, like a bad commercial jingle, that make them roll their eyes and plug their ears and hit eject or shuffle in our memory players.

Are you out of tune with any one? Get back into tune, forgive, tell them that you love them, be reconciled. As Connie said, Don't miss any opportunities. Take stacey's five more minutes now while you can. Get the chord that particular relationship represents in your life back into harmonious tune. Do it now. This gig doesn't last forever.

And what about that? When this gig ends is the music just over or is Jesus telling the truth about the rooms in his Father's home we heard about? Is it true we know how to get there? Thomas thought he didn't. Do we know the key to that tune?

Jesus said, "I am." Play your life song in the key of me.

Jesus said, "I am the way." Play your life song according to the score I wrote especially for you because I love you.

Jesus said, "I am the truth." My song is true. I have perfect pitch. Play your life song like I played mine. My word, the Bible, is the best, most tuneful, most trustworthy, cheat-book of all time.

Jesus said, "I am the life" of the party that counts and which never, ever ends with a hangover.

You can trust me, Jesus says. If you want eternal life in one of those rooms in my Father's home, you must join my band, the church. A unique set of instruments, which is beautiful but sometimes difficult to play—people aren't always in tune and some play too loud and try to drown others out—but which I created to sing my song, the sweet love song of heaven, on earth. Come learn my chords of kindly harmony. Come make heavenly music with me.