I was privileged to be able to lead and speak at the Thanksgiving Service for the Life and Faith of my friend, Kath Morris, on Friday 14 September 2018 at Emmanuel Church, Billericay. Many people have been asking for a copy of my talk, so I’m posting the full script here.
Every now and again someone comes into your life and leaves an indelible mark that will remain for a lifetime. Kath was one of those people.
I first met Kath when she came to Emmanuel early last year with her mum (Dora) who, having just moved into Billericay, was looking for a church. We’re not a traditional church and I think it took some time for them to get used to us (or me!). However, as the weeks went by, I think the warmth of our welcome, and the love of the church family, helped both Kath, and Dora, to feel at home.
I remember when Kath first told me she had incurable cancer before one of our services in May last year. I prayed God’s peace and healing for her and explained that our Prayer Ministry Team would be available to pray for her at any time. I think it’s fair to say Kath made good use of this amazing group of people and they, along with many of us, kept Kath in their prayers.
Many of you may feel as though your prayers weren’t answered. But I believe they were. I say that, because answers to healing prayers can be found in a variety of ways: spiritual, emotional, psychological and relational – and there’s no doubt Kath found healing in many of those areas of her life.
This is a quote from one of her many emails to me after a service of healing here at Emmanuel. It was headed: The Power of Prayer.
I’m praising and thanking our gracious Lord for hearing my prayers. I felt so peaceful and surrounded by love even though I was still in some pain. My church family are awesome and lift my spirits and inspire me.
The strength and depth of Kath’s faith, as a relatively new Christian, has been inspirational. She touched the hearts of so many of us in a wonderful and unforgettable way. One day we may know the answer to our question: Why? Why do these things happen to people like Kath?
I have to be honest and say I don’t know the answer to that question. But it’s worth remembering that it’s a question Kath herself never lingered on. Kath texted me about this very subject:
These are the cards I’ve been dealt with in life now it’s down to how I play them. I still remain faith filled and trust in our good and gracious Lord.
Kath knew the peace of Jesus in her life and she was a wonderful testimony to God’s saving and sustaining grace.
Kath was determined to fight the BIG C as best she could, rebranding herself as the ‘Warrior Princess’ determined to make as many memories as she could with whatever time she had left.
I often find myself in the privileged position of being able to share in conversations that others are not able to have. None-more-so than on 9 August when, along with Brian and Dora, we spent a couple of hours planning Kath’s funeral and talking about what it means to die well.
Whilst Kath would say I was ministering to her she was, in fact, ministering to me.
Kath lived a faith filled, determined and gracious battle before the Lord called her home just a week after her 53rd Birthday on 22nd August. I was able to commit Kath into God’s loving mercy soon afterwards surrounded by Brian, Dora, Denys, family and friends. It was a very moving and special time.
What was so lovely to me, apart from the peaceful smile on Kath’s face, was that she was holding a wooden cross I gave her in one hand and her Bible in the other.
The idea of a Holding Cross is that when times are hard, and prayers are difficult, we hold onto the cross knowing that Jesus loves and cares for us. What’s remarkable about Kath’s Bible is that Kath has marked dozens of verses that gave her encouragement and hope. At her bedside I read Psalm 121 (as I did at the Crematorium) I didn’t know until yesterday, when Brian gave me Kath’s Bible for today, that she’d marked vs1&2 of Psalm 121. Quite a God-coincidence.
Kath chose the reading from Matthew 6:25-34 for today. I can’t help but think it’s a message to all of us from beyond the grave (It’s actually the first time in 21 years I’ve preached on this passage at a funeral).
These words of Jesus are taken from the Sermon On The Mount where he speaks about not allowing our lives to be consumed with anxiety. Three times he repeats his wise counsel: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry’ (vs25); ‘So do not worry’ (vs31); ‘Therefore do not worry’ (vs34). This repetition underlines Jesus’ conviction that worrying about material things serves no real purpose other than to suck energy from our lives.
The types of worry that Jesus identifies are all too familiar to us: What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? (vs25 & vs31). But he simply responds: ‘Is not life more important?’ (vs25). Jesus challenges us about our priorities, too: ‘The pagans (those without faith) run after all these things’ (vs32) so why are you?
There are three points I want us to think about from this passage.
1) Firstly, we are to Recognise we are precious in his sight and know that we are loved. Jesus asks us to consider the birds of the air (vs26) and how they are cared for. The Theologian Martin Luther wrote: “Jesus is making the birds our teachers. It is a great and abiding (mystery) that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men.”
2) Secondly, we are to Reconsider our priorities in life. Jesus asked: Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (vs27). Jesus promises that our essential needs will be met without having to waste energy in worrying.
There is a remarkable story about the 14C German mystic Johann Tauler that shows something of the attitude Jesus was looking for in his followers.
One day Tauler met a beggar.
‘God give you a good day, my friend,’ he said. The beggar answered, ‘I thank God I never had a bad one.’ Then Tauler said, ‘God give you a happy life, my friend.’ ‘I thank God’, said the beggar, ‘That I am never unhappy.’
In amazement Tauler asked, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well,’ said the beggar, ‘when it is fine I thank God. When it rains I thank God. When I have plenty, I thank God. When I am hungry I thank God. And, since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases him pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?’
Tauler looked at the man in astonishment. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am a king,’ said the beggar.
‘Where, then, is your kingdom?’ Tauler asked.
The beggar replied, ‘In my heart.’
3) And thirdly, and not always an easy thing to do, We are to put God first in our life (vs33). Jesus calls us to a way of living that is out of sync with the ‘way of the world.’
Jesus encourages us to turn our backs on materialistic concerns and focus our thoughts on the kingdom of heaven. And, whilst that can be a difficult first step the benefits, literally, are out of this world.
And that’s because one of the unique things about the Christian faith is that we worship a Saviour who is alive. Because when Jesus rose from the grave on that first Easter Sunday morning, he abolished the power of death once and for all. And, because of that victory over the grave, he gives all of us a certain and sure hope that death is not the end but only the beginning. Kath, we believe, is now resident in the glory of heaven worshipping the Lord Almighty with the angels and saints of thousands of years. What an amazing, awe-inspiring experience that must be!
Some of you might say, well believing in Jesus may be OK for Kath, but it’s not for me. I’m sure that was Kath’s view when she first started coming to Emmanuel. But, at some point on her journey, she started to believe and trust in Jesus – and, there’s no doubt it both changed and enhanced her life.
Kath was planning to be Baptised by full immersion on Easter Sunday as a public witness of her ‘new found’ faith. Unfortunately, Kath was admitted to hospital the night before and it didn’t take place. But did not doing so lessen her faith? Of course it didn’t.
If you are interested in finding out a little more about what Kath believed, may I give you an invitation to join us on our next Alpha Course which starts on Sunday 30 September from 6.00 – 8.00 pm. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the Christian faith and find out answers to what we call the first order questions of life: Is there a God? Why was I born? What happens when I die? If you’re not sure whether you can, or want, to commit to eight Sunday evenings, why not come along to the first session: ‘Is there more to life than this?’ and then decide if you’d like to continue afterwards – there’s no obligation.
I say all this because I know that Kath would want each and everyone one of you to know that same peace, hope, joy, purpose and comfort in your lives as she knew in hers.
In closing, Kath’s faith and confidence in God, her friendship and her approach to her illness, was a true inspiration to so many of us.
May I suggest that you don’t allow Kath’s death to pass without resolving to make a difference to the lives of those around you – in the way Kath would? Might each of you, in Kath’s memory, do all that you can to be more loving and caring and let that be the legacy she leaves in your hearts and minds for the rest of your lives?
And finally, in amongst all your emotions, doubts and sorrow, can I urge you to be thankful for the opportunity you’ve had to know and love Kath. Can I also urge you to put your hope and trust in Jesus and not to turn away from the compassion and love, comfort and strength that you can receive from Him, not only today – but in the difficult days and weeks that lie ahead. Amen.
This is a copy of the service sheet we used at Bentley Crematorium and Emmanuel Church Morris (Kath) Funeral Service Do remember that Kath chose all the songs, poems and music for her services.