Monday, 11 March 2013

Our Purpose Under Heaven: a Short Funeral Homily With Reference to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Matthew 28:16-20 and “I’ll see you again” by Westlife—for Dorothy Palmer

“You’re gone now, gone but not forgotten,” we heard in the Westlife song earlier, and yet “Always you will be part of me.” True for all of you. Even though Dorothy Palmer has died, old and full of years as the Bible says, she will always be a part of your lives as you continue, as we heard in the reading from Ecclesiastes, to live out your purpose under heaven. There was a time for Dorothy and all of us to be born, her time to die has come, so will ours one day. We share that with her and one another—as we continue our seasons on earth, planting and plucking up, killing and healing, breaking down, building up, weeping, laughing, mourning and dancing. 
So today we honour Dorothy and you enjoy your good memories of the seasons you shared with her. As we do that, however, Dorothy has unwittingly provided us with something important to think about. Something to do with the meaning of life. When we were deciding what should be a part of the service, Dorothy’s daughter, Linda, told me that Dorothy had made some notes in her Bible, one of which was “Lo, I am with you alway” which comes from the last verse of Matthew’s gospel, part of the second reading we heard this afternoon. That section of Matthew’s gospel is called The Great Commission where the Risen Christ Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders, or, using the phrase from the Ecclesiastes reading, their “purpose under the heaven” (Ecc 3:1). 
The physical earthly life part of Dorothy’s purpose under the heaven has been carried out. It included bringing her family into being, the blessing she has been to you—beer and dilly bars, humming and singing, rock picking?— both family and friends, and other purposes which only God knows. Those purposes, begun during Dorothy's life, will continue to play out in your lives. But what about you and me? What is our purpose under the heaven? What is the meaning of our lives as we do our embracing and refraining, getting and losing, keeping and throwing away, being silent and speaking up, loving and hating? Jesus tells us in the Great Commission. 
“And when they saw him, they worshipped him.” (Mt 28:17) Our purpose is to look for Jesus (he is to be found in his church) and to worship him, to give him worth, in other words. That's number one. 

“But some doubted.” (Mt 28:17) We all have them. Our purpose is to be honest about our faith or lack of it. It is not to have all the answers. Doubt is allowed. It is often a part of a healthy, lively faith. Don’t let it put you off or cause you to give up. Jesus doesn’t so much provide the answer to all life’s questions as he provides us with grace we need to live with them. 

I believe there’s a difference between doubting and deciding not to believe. Doubt does not necessarily risk our salvation. We can decide to believe and still have doubts. Deciding not to believe is a choice. So is letting the question of what we're for slide, hoping for the best. 
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Mt 28:18) Our purpose is to be agents of and witnesses to the power Jesus has been given. This kind of power is not for beating, manipulating or dominating others. It is not the power by which we always get our own way and win. It is the power to give up our own advantage for the sake of the people around us. Many of you will have been blessed by Dorothy when she exercised the Jesus provides in that way. It is the power which enabled Jesus to submit to a cruel and unjust death on the cross, to give up his life for our benefit, the same power which then raised him from the dead, also for our benefit. 
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20) In other words, go and tell. It's good news. What do we do when we have good news—like a good movie, a good price, a good restaurant? We share it, wherever we go. Jesus is at least that good. 
To sum up, our purpose, what Dorothy, you and I, were made for is to give worth to Jesus, believe in him honestly, demonstrate the power he has been given, and to tell others what we've experienced and what we’ve learned about him with gentleness and respect. 
Which brings us back to Dorothy’s scribbled note in her Bible. Mt 28:20 Jesus speaking, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” We do not live out our seasons under the sun and our purpose under the heaven alone. Dorothy was not alone before she died. She was not alone when she died. She is not alone now. Neither are we. We live our lives in the presence of The One who created and loves Dorothy and who created and loves you and me, too. 

This afternoon we celebrate and give thanks for Dorothy’s rich and long life and for her influence in your lives. The note she scribbled in her Bible invites you and me to think about our purpose in life, what we’re made for. Is it the one to which Jesus calls us? Or something else? 
“I’ll see you again,” says the chorus and is the title of the song we heard earlier. Something to hope for for those who love Dorothy. Living as if our purpose under the heaven is to what Jesus calls and sends us is what will make that come true.