Sunday, 27 July 2014

Purple That Counts: a Short Funeral Sermon with reference to 2 Timothy 4.6-8, Psalm 139 and Matthew 5.1-12—for Gail Clarke

The more observant of you may have noticed that the colour of the hangings and my stole this afternoon are purple. Usually they would be white for a service like this—the colour of Easter and Resurrection. Gail’s family chose purple because it represents a theme, a sort of running joke for the family, Meredith says, having to do with a grandmother who wore purple pants and resonating with Jenny Joseph’s poem about wearing purple when she is old—that's why we were all invited to wear purple this afternoon.

It is a good colour for today for some other reasons. Purple is the colour of Lent, a penitential season which begins with Ash Wednesday when, as we are marked with a cross of ashes, we are reminded that from dust we came and to dust we shall all return. A good reminder for days like this.

It works for another reason. On Ash Wednesday we are charged to observe a holy Lent by self examination, penitence, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and reading and meditating on the word of God. In other words, we are all charged to observe good spiritual accounts because one day we will all die. Another good reminder for days like this. I can hear such a reminder coming from the straight-shooting Gail Clarke. And its fitting, too, with Lenten purple in mind, that Jenny Joseph’s poem is called Warning.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick flowers in other people's gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
So purple is good for Gail, I reckon. Don’t you?

But even more this afternoon, purple is the colour of royalty and that reminds me of King Jesus, and brings me to the readings we just heard.

When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew tells us, he spoke to them and taught them. Jesus sees us just as clearly as he did them. (Mt 5.1) And Jesus is also speaking to us and teaching us through the words he spoke to them and his disciples then. “Blessed,” or happy, “are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” (Mt 6.4) he said. And I believe it’s true. I’ve found words in the readings this afternoon that seem perfectly tuned to help us remember and appreciate Gail. There’s comfort in them, too.

For example, if ever there was a woman who finished her race having fought a good fight and kept the faith (2 Tim 4.7), it would be Gail Clarke. She believed she was in the hands of The LORD all through her illness. She believed that God healed her through prayer. As Erin reminded us, she refused to let the illness define her—none of the bad things, only the good. Lack of hair just meant ritzier hats. I admired her for that.

I’m fascinated by the way the words of Scripture we heard seem tuned to resonate with Gail’s life and what she did for a living. Consider, for example, the reading from Psalm 139, verses 17-18 in particular: “How vast is the sum of God’s weighty thoughts! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” As an Accounting Technician, Gail did a lot of sums and counting in her life. She did it professionally, and in her personal family life, too. She counted pros and cons yet when she came to the end, like the Psalmist, she still considered herself to be with The LORD. I suspect it was that kind of process she went through each time she went on one of her pro-shopping trips and when she decided that cancer treatments had to wait until trips to Quebec to visit daughter Erin and her family took place. Counting can be important. Abraham, we are told, “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." (James 2.23)

More from Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel (6.11-12):
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
On my account. I wasn’t aware of Gail being reviled or persecuted or falsely accused of evil because of her faith, but I think it’s reasonable to say that her life was lived on Jesus’ account. She was a worshipper here, an active parishioner who helped keep this parish's accounts in order and she engaged with the issues that face the church. Her life’s transactions, assets, liabilities and operating results were accounted for as part of her real, matter-of-fact Christian faith.

Jesus continues in Matthew:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Great reward. Jesus promises great reward, a good return or profit, for a life lived on his account.

That's certainly what the Apostle Paul believed:
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness. (2 Tim 4.8) 
Reserved. Accountants, Accounting Technicians and Stewardship and Finance committees (in which Gail faithfully served for most of my fifteen years at StB) are always on about reserve funds, which are, according to Google, accounts “set aside to meet any unexpected costs that may arise in the future as well as the future costs of upkeep.” I find comfort in the fact that Jesus set up a divine reserve account with Gail’s name on it to cover all costs and in which is deposited a crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4.8) for her, and not only for her, but for all who long for his appearing. The time of Gail’s departure has come (2 Tim 4.6), but from now on (2 Tim 4.8), that reserve account kicks in.

Gail Clarke’s life counted. Our lives do, too. Jesus promised Gail, and you and me, a great reward, reserved in heaven. All we have to do is believe that is true and make sure our accounts are open and well kept in Jesus.