I once had conversation with `George Alfred` in which we laughed about today. I thanked him for giving us so many things to smile about. So many things in fact that now moment has come I found it hard to know where to begin. In one sense it`s small impressions which stand out so, for example, I will think of him sitting at the organ in Jesus Church … nothing unusual there perhaps… but on this occasion he had a well-deserved gold-panning medal around his neck!
Or, I think of Alf, kindly leading wedding couples through their choice of music; devotedly caring for his beloved wife, Jean… or spontaneously choosing just the right piece of music to match what I`d falteringly tried to say in my sermon! Or transforming what could have been a really stuffy school parents evening with, yes, a comedic fabric report! So many stories….
But then I thought, although I`m not in the habit of beginning occasions like this with either a personal anecdote or a visual aid … if you`ll bear with me I`d like to do both, largely because I think it captures the texture of our thinking about Alf today.
So, I`m remembering a little girl with a long-term illness who looked out of her bedroom window at the most beautiful cherry tree in blossom. She was simply heart broken when the tree had to be cut down. It was Alf who was given the wood from that Cherry tree… and a couple of months later he presented the little girl with this beautiful box, which he`d made from it. On the back it says: George Alfred Henderson….
Now, the tree was in the Vicarage garden, that little girl was my daughter… and that act of kindness was more appreciated than he would know. What I`m trying to point out is that, this was an act of kindness which had a quality to it which was about more than George Alfred. Although Alf was the vehicle for that kindness and yes, I thanked him warmly; the point is that I found myself giving thanks to the God who had graciously worked through him; and enabled him to be such a blessing. And it`s this, I think, which gives a particular quality or texture to Christian thanksgiving on occasions such as this.
Because for the Christian a Funeral or Memorial Service is not some kind of posthumous `Selfie`. It`s a moment when we acknowledge the ways in which the qualities we have seen in this particular person became, as I have just said, a reflection of something more… In short, a window onto the goodness of God. Or, in other words, this person became a means of bringing his blessing to the world.
Of course, we don`t imagine for a moment that those whom we commend to the Lord were entirely perfect; far from it. We don`t need to justify their existence or provide the Almighty with CV that would make them `acceptable` in the Kingdom of Heaven! No, they were a `work in progress` just as we are. But the `hallmark` of our thanksgiving (Don`t you think that`s clever reference to gold?) the hallmark of our thanksgiving has everything to do with where that life pointed. It`s summed up in some words of John the Baptist: When he spoke of Jesus, John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.30)
And the same theme is there in the Gospel reading we heard a short while ago. When Jesus says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.20) he`s saying exactly this. He`s calling us to a pattern of life well beyond what we might call conventional goodness because our purpose is to point beyond ourselves.
This is what happens when we are filled by his Holy Spirit… the one whose coming we celebrate at this time of year. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In other words, it`s not about US. The goal of our lives is not `celebrity`. The goal of our lives is not to become a `star` so much as a `mirror`.
For the time being; yes, a perhaps tarnished one; an inexact one…. But nonetheless, one that reflects something of the goodness of the living God. Because, in the end, that is what we`re for… that is all that matters. So, pray for the coming of the Spirit in your own life that others may see… “and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
And pray for George Alfred, that he may rest in peace and rise in glory.
Thanks be to God