This sermon was preached at his funeral in a packed service at Rumney Methodist Church, Cardiff on Monday 13th October 2014:
May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.’
It may sound really bizarre to say this, but today, here at Rumney, as I stand here to preach…
It’s both a privilege and a cause of great sadness. Allen was not only a Steward, he was to me, a friend and an encourager even to this young spring chicken of a Minister [It always amazed me that a 89 year old Methodist had a Facebook and Twitter account and knew exactly how to use both!] – we had similar interests and similar views on Ministry in the Church and he was to me and to many others I’m sure, a spiritual father.
In many ways, I’d hoped to not have to do this – for Allen to gain even more years and to age slowly over time and live well into his 90’s, perhaps I’d even have moved on to my second appointment leaving another Minister to have this enormous privilege.
As usual, God’s timing is not my own.
This has happened. We are here. Allen is no longer with us.
We come today, with a range of feelings and emotions.
With different perspectives and questions.
Because ultimately, even though Allen wasn’t young – his death still hurts and confuses, and upsets.
Because death whenever it occurs never feels natural.
Death never feels easy. Death never feels acceptable.
And it’s for those of us who are left behind to pick up the pieces, to make sense of this and to trust in each other, in our love and prayers, but more importantly to trust and rely on God.
And the pain and heartache and confusion exists as much for those who knew Allen well as much as it exists for those of us who only knew him for a few months or years!
We are here.
Because Allen’s presence in our lives mattered, because Allen’s presence in our lives was important, and because his physical absence from our lives will leave us feeling unbalanced, uneasy, and maybe even for some of us closest to him – heartbroken.
The reason for those emotions and those feelings is simply because of Love.
Love is costly, love is beautiful, but it’s also painful.
And when you lose someone you love whether as friend or family, it causes us pain. Because we were invested in them, and they were invested in us, and love asks for sacrifice, and sacrifice asks for commitment and commitment and sacrifice and love are things of the heart.
In many ways, Allen’s death was a complete and absolute shock.
There was no warning.
And there will be things we wished we had said and things we wished we could take back, and things we hadn’t even thought of; that we might have spoken, had we known.
We might even feel guilty that none of us were able to be there for someone who always did his best to be there for us.
As his Minister, I can say, that never has the saying “You don’t know a good thing until it’s gone” been more true than in this moment.
Allen was the true example of what it means to be simply Christian.
He loved his Lord and he followed Him. Not just in the outward, obvious things.
But in the small, mundane, everyday things too!
And just as every good Methodist knows, Allen knew that there was not ONE area of his life, not ONE area of his experience, not ONE area of his character which God did not want to be at work in, that God was not already at work in or which God could not use.
Every area of Allen’s life was linked, and connected to and inspired by his firm – unshakeable faith in his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…
Oh that it were the case for each and every one of us here this afternoon!
That our faith, might be one that was founded only on Jesus.
That as people looked at us, they saw only the life and ministry and message of Christ.
That as we showed kindness and love and generosity, others came to know the love and care and grace of God.
We might make it our prayer then, those words of Charles Wesley:
‘Give me the faith which can remove
And sink the mountain to a plain;
Give me the childlike praying love,
Which longs to build Thy house again;
Thy love, let it my heart overpower,
And all my simple soul devour.
Enlarge, inflame, and fill my heart
With boundless charity divine,
So shall I all my strength exert,
And love them with a zeal like Thine,
And lead them to Thy open side,
The sheep for whom the Shepherd died.’
We will hear/we heard in our Gospel reading from John those words of Christ:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…..‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
Many people may have used the kind of experiences Allen had as an excuse for bitterness and a lack of love – Allen didn’t have the easiest life, he outlived most of his close relatives, including his wife Mollie and his daughter Shirley.
Yet, Allen remained steadfast.
He knew that apart from God he could do nothing.
He knew that the life God had given him, was to be used for God’s purposes.
He knew that there was always more to do, and Allen did what God asked of him with joy and love and carefulness.
In all the societies and groups that Allen was a part of, it would be true to say that in all of them he was dedicated and committed. Nothing was entered into lightly, there was no laziness or slack and even when things were not quite as he wanted – rather than get up and leave – Allen would state his viewpoint, but nonetheless he would remain actively involved.
I remember Allen telling me, with a smile, that he wasn’t too keen on some of our creative acts of worship in the East, but I always found it fascinating because even though that was how he felt – he was ALWAYS present. ALWAYS active. ALWAYS thankful.
Allen was a Methodist steeped in the Wesleyan tradition – a tradition out of which (I say tongue in cheek) all the best Methodists come.
Allen was a true Christian. The kind of which we don’t see very often!
Totally committed. Totally engaged. Totally in love with Christ.
This Church is richer for his presence here over the years.
This Community is richer for his presence here.
Our lives are richer for his presence amongst us.
Allen has left us a blueprint of what the Christian life can be like – and in his death, I think, he leaves for us a challenge…
Will our anchors hold?
In all that life throws at us, in all of its uncertainty and mess and difficulty. Will our anchors hold, as Allen’s did – to that rock which does not and cannot and shall not move – the rock of Jesus Christ.
Will we be faithful?
Will we be selfless?
Will we do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever as we can?
Will our lives reflect the grace and beauty and truth of God – will we leave a Christ-shaped hole in our communities and our churches and our families – or will our lives have been wasted? Used for our own means and ends?
Because the reality is, that we all have the ability to use the lives that God has given us, to be a blessing to God’s world as Allen has been a blessing to us.
Charles Wesley wrote many hymns – many of them would have been played and sung by Allen throughout his lifetime, I want to close with the words of one of Wesley’s hymns – for in it we find the message of Christian hope, and the glory of heaven into which Allen has entered.
‘The earth with all her fullness owns
Jehovah for her sovereign Lord;
The countless myriads of her sons
Rose into being at His Word.
His Word did out of nothing call
The world, and founded all that is;
Launched on the floods this solid ball,
And fixed it in the floating seas.
But who shall quit his low abode,
Who shall ascend the heavenly place,
And stand upon the mount of God,
And see his Maker face to face?
The man whose hands and heart are clean
That blessed portion shall receive;
Whoe’er by grace is saved from sin,
Hereafter shall in glory live.
He shall obtain the starry crown;
And, numbered with the saints above,
The God of his salvation own,
The God of his salvation love.’
To God’s praise and glory.