We were all shocked to lose John from among us so soon after he had joined St Mary’s. John’s contribution to the life of the church had been significant since he joined us in 2014/5, chiefly in working with me on the Moorings Scheme by developing the Business Plan and negotiating with those entitled to moor at St Mary’s. This was a breakthrough contribution for us. But, all that aside, chiefly it was his warm character and faith that shone through. We send our love and prayers to Sue Hughes and we give thanks to God for all that John was.
This is the sermon I preached at his funeral.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Cor. 13:7)
I first met John maybe two and a half years ago, or something like that. It’s not every day as a parish priest that someone comes to see you pretty much out of the blue to talk about their life journey and the role of faith in it. But that was John – keen to talk, keen to explore, and ready to begin a new interior journey, and to allow that internal exploration to shape his direction in life.
Talking with him was simply wonderful. He is one of those people I will always remember. Sometimes you just connect with people and our conversation, as he explored what the next stage of his life was about and his re-emerging sense of God’s presence in his life, was as much a blessing to me as it seems it was to him. I’m sure many of you will recognise that from your own relationships with John, his openness to your ideas, his receptivity, his generosity, his intelligence, emotional and intellectual, which he combined with a strong sense of his own identity and experience to make an extraordinary rounded human being. He was a formidable businessman of course as well – he and I had a memorable meeting earlier in the year with two ecclesiastical lawyers, all emollience and cufflinks, in which I asked him to be ‘bad cop’ to my ‘good cop’. After the meeting, as he returned to the John I knew, I said to him, “John, when I said bad cop…”. He gave me that rueful grin and said, “well, we got what we wanted didn’t we?”.
But to return to our more familiar conversations, I don’t think either he or I thought that his exploration of God and his commitment to following the Way of Jesus Christ which he expressed through being confirmed in November 2015, would be tested and proved in the cruel and tragic way it has. He faced his illness with profound honesty – he was able to voice his deep fear, to weep at the death he knew to be a strong possibility, to rage against the dying of the light and yet to continue to hope, and to express his love of life and the people around him. His sense of God’s presence remained throughout, squeezing my hand in affirmation of faith when could no longer speak, able to both believe and trust and love while living with the ultimate questions that came so sharply and brutally into focus. In the midst of it all, something truly good and remarkable remained, and that something is the thing that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That thing was love, human and divine. Shakespeare put it like this, “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.”
Like everyone in this church, John was not perfect, but he knew that life was about becoming more and more the person he was made to be. Vocation is not a popular word in our culture. We think of career, progression, advancement, status. John had begun to see and live his life vocationally long before he renewed his faith. That was clear to me in the way he spoke of his mentoring of colleagues in business. He gained pleasure from seeing them grow and develop, just as I did as I see faith become more central to John’s life. But, in these recent years, my sense of John was that he had found in the Christian faith a Guide for this vocational living, someone who could walk with him on his life journey, wherever it was to take him next, and that guide was called Jesus Christ.
Which leads me to invite you, in the middle of shock, grief and anger, not to be afraid of seeking such a path yourselves. If we think of faith in God at all, we often think of faith as a small part of life, something to be brought out at moments of crisis or particular celebration. John knew that such faith was essentially uninteresting and useless. Bad religion is a poor substitute for life-giving faith. John had discovered that faith is a thread that runs through his whole life, a journey with the One who walked with disciples in Galilee through all the changing scenes of life, who walks with us through work, career, relationships, marriage, family, failure, success, ambition, profit, loss and even motor sport. In the end John had to discover that this One also walked with him ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’. He knew he was not alone in that final walk we each must take. And I know he would want you to know that you are not alone as you now journey through grief.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. May you know that One who is Love in the days ahead. Amen.