Friday, 16 August 2013

A Short Funeral Sermon for Art Carlson: Brother, Husband, Father, Poppa, Surveyor, Hairdresser and Farmer—with reference to Ecclesiastes 3, John 14 and The Farmer's Song

You had to be there for some of the references which come out of the wonderful tribute from Art's grandchildren. 

As we heard in the first reading,
There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecc 3:1)
Art’s life was rich in seasons and activities—a marvelous mixture as we saw in the video—a brother, husband, father and Poppa—a surveyor, hairdresser and farmer, teaser of grandchildren and no mean dancer I’m told! (I saw a lovely photograph of him dancing with one of his granddaughters.)

That Ecclesiastes reading really resonates for me when I think of Art. The Hebrew poetry reflects life’s cadence, its rhythm. I’m particularly intrigued and delighted by the variety of seasons and activities in Art’s work life.

Art’s first career was as a surveyor. Surveyors measure angles (Art's theodolite is back there on the table),  mark boundaries and plan routes. In his case, it was for the TransCanada highway which was to be the way for people to travel across Canada quickly, and by the most direct route, so they would arrive at their destination safely (kind of like that Rafiki guide in The Lion King).

That reminds me of Jesus, the man I work for; God’s Son and divine surveyor; because he, too, was all about going ahead of all of us to find the quickest and most direct route to the safest and most wonderful destination there is; better than DQ, or visits to the farm, where there is no more pain or tears or dementia or need for cloves of garlic other than for flavour. Jesus describes it in our reading from John’s gospel: it’s his Father’s home, a home with many rooms, prepared in advance by Jesus, so that when everything is ready, and our seasons and activities on earth are done, and we move back into that deeper eternal rhythm of life and death, he will come and get me and you so that we can always be with him, where he is, if we want to.

We’ll come back to Jesus in a minute, but first, another season and activity, another kind of rhythm in Art’s life. Hairdressing. Our hair grows, and we cut it back. It’s part of the rhythm of life. Hair, cutting it, and how long it should be is even an issue in the Bible occasionally. For example, Samson’s supernatural physical strength was tied to the length of his hair. Particularly dear to Art’s hairdresser’s heart, I’m sure, would have been, “But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” (Judges 16:22)—customers just had to keep coming back. The Apostle Paul cut his hair as a vow of faithfulness and commitment to God. Mary Magdalene wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair before he went to the cross for you and me. “The hairs of your head are all numbered.” said Jesus, ‘Fear not; you are of more value (to God) than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)—hence that heavenly home full of rooms Jesus describes. The hairs of Art’s head were numbered. So are the hairs on yours and mine. (For many of us, as time goes on, hair numbering becomes an easier and easier task for God.)

And then, there was Art’s season of “Straw hats and old dirty hankies,” and activities as a “Dusty old farmer out working his fields, Hanging down over his tractor wheels,” as Murray Mclauchlan sang in The Farmer's Song earlier. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew something about that, too, times, as seasons came and went, for calves to be born, times to plant and to harvest (Ecc 3:2), to kill, to tear down and rebuild (v3), to gather stones (v5) and to mend (v7)—Art would have known that rhythm of activities well, for nineteen years.

And then there was the season of retirement and, finally, Art’s return to that deeper eternal rhythm I mentioned before—which brings me back to Jesus, God’s surveyor Son, and the Father’s heavenly home full of rooms we heard about earlier.

How do we get there? "I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is The Way. Trust in him. Follow the path he surveyed for us. His truth and his life, as laid out in the Scriptures and the Church, draw the only reliable map showing where that promised heavenly home is. Jesus also keeps the reservations. If I want one of those rooms I have to connect with him. So do you.