Friday, 7 March 2014

Knowing the Way: a Short Funeral Homily for Betty Dunn—with reference to Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 and John 14.1-6

Jesus said,
Don't be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14.1-3)
Quite a statement. Comfort. Promise. Plainly put. Good to hear on days like this—if he’s telling the truth.

And then he says, “And you know where I am going and how to get there." (John 14.4) Do I? How can I know that on a day like this? Not sure. Here’s what I do know.

Even though Betty Dunn 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 times and seasons and activities under heaven. There was a time for Betty, 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 to live out our seasons and activities on earth; planting and harvesting, killing and healing, tearing down, rebuilding, crying, laughing, grieving and dancing. All true, so far.

So today we honour Betty, and The One who created and loves her, and you enjoy your good memories of the seasons you shared with her. As we do that, however, Betty has unwittingly provided us with something important to think about. Something to do with the meaning of life and what we can know about that.

This we know: the physical earthly life part of Betty’s activity under heaven is done. It included bringing her family into being, the blessing she has been to all of you in one way or another, her pride and joy in starting and continuing a little Anglican Sunday school in Taylor Flats fifty years ago, her love of travel, picnics, her little drives, camping and reading, and other purposes which only God knows. The times, seasons and activities of Betty’s life will continue to influence and play out in your lives.

And we know that, like Betty, we have times, seasons and activities in our own lives, too. When we encounter death, we often find ourselves pondering the meaning of life and what we’re for, as all the embracing and turning away, searching and losing, keeping and throwing away, being quiet and speaking up, loving and hating continues in our own lives, unabated. And we have the opportunity to consider what we know and whether all our times, seasons and activities are appointed by God.

Which brings me back to what Jesus says in the reading from John’s gospel. If we’re honest, most of us can relate to Thomas a times like this. Thomas didn't know what was going on. “"We haven't any idea where you are going," he said, "so how can we know the way?” Doubts and questions. We all have them. I believe Thomas’s honesty give us permission to be honest about our doubts and questions and faith or lack of it. Thomas gives us permission 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. Besides, to quote Spanish writer, Miguel de Unamuno, "Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself."

Okay, full disclosure, as you might notice from my outfit, I’m talking to you from a place of trusting in God and trusting in Jesus. I’ve decided to do that. I’ve decided that Jesus is telling the truth, so I have good reason to not let my heart be too troubled by the hard things in life. I’ve decided to believe that Jesus was being plainly truthful when he said he has gone on ahead to prepare a place for me (and Betty, and you, if you want) and that, when everything is ready, he will come and get me, so that I will always be with him where he is (John 14.1-3). I believe Betty believed it, too. I take comfort in that, for her sake and mine.

What is the way to the place Jesus is talking about? His answer is characteristically plain and simple. “I am,” says Jesus.