An Address given by Fr. Martin at the funeral of Ben Richardson
14th May 2016
The rubrics tell me that the purpose of a sermon at a funeral is to proclaim the gospel in the context of the death of this particular person.
The sermon is also in the context of the gospel reading which we have just heard. Towards the end of his human life, Jesus had been welcomed into Jerusalem by the crowds, and later he and the disciples had gone to sit down on the Mount of Olives. The disciples had asked Jesus about what was to happen and about the end of the world.
And after a number of conversations and parables, we have the account of the Last Judgement that we heard in our gospel reading today. It is a reading that has been especially chosen for this service, because it is so appropriate to Ben’s life.
This reading encapsulates the Christian social gospel – those wonderful words ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world’. And who are those who are blessed? They are those who have cared for others in need, and who in serving them have in fact served Christ.
The gospel we proclaim in about both faith and good works. Ben had both. It must have been nearly three years ago that Ben and I had a conversation about faith. He was somewhat peeved that he had been turned down as a godparent in the past, and might be again in the future. He did not understand why he was not good or moral enough to be considered by some one else as suitable. We talked about what it meant to be a godparent, and what was being promised: it was not about being good and moral, but about offering our own faith and belief for that child and encouraging that godchild in the ways of faith, and I pointed out to Ben that it was difficult for him to make that commitment for someone else if he had never done so for himself. In fact, I related all this to Ben in terms of Scouting – what did it mean to make your Scout promise; what should your commitment to scouting be once you had made your promise, and so on.
Just before he was baptized and confirmed, Ben was asked to write something about his life for Bishop Richard to read. I hope Ben will not mind me sharing with you what he wrote: I know that he did let one or two others see this at the time, including Joanna.
“I have always enjoyed volunteering, mainly with Scouting, and making it happen. I don't have a corporate bone in my body, and will always assist where I can. My father once said to me that if I were to work as hard as I volunteered, then I would be rich. Whilst I have his trait of being a work-aholic - or rather a volunteer-aholic - and not that I ignored his advice, but for the last decade I have worked for charities too - supporting other volunteers and communities to make it happen too. So, whilst I will never be financially rich, I am certainly life-rich. I thoroughly enjoy my profession and extra-curricular activities, having made most of my life long friends through volunteering, including my beautiful partner in crime, Joanna.
For a long time now, the part of my promise to God had been something I had needed to pledge in order to be a Scout - and had always placed to one side to 'deal with another day'. This is largely because I hadn't been ready in my own mind to look at what it meant for me and the life I was leading.
That was until my youngest sister had asked Joanna and I to be God Parents to their most recent addition to the family - very recently new-born Charlie. I was asked the same by my older sister a few years ago, and whilst I am recognised as a God Father to Millie and the family, this hadn't been recognised by the Church. For me, this caused some upset but I hadn't felt I could explore the wider meaning of this at the time. However, Fr Martin had offered me an opportunity to take a Journey of Faith this time around, and so decided that I had put this issue to one side for long enough. So, since February, on a Friday night, I have been attending 'God Class' to explore and start building a relationship with my faith and God.
I take this journey seriously, whilst injecting the usual large portion of fun that I add to everything I do - and have enjoyed getting to know the community in the Parish of Brede. Whilst I have known Fr Martin for the best part of 20 years, and he has acted as a Scout Chaplain for me on many an occasion, I have also appreciated the opportunity to explore this journey with him, making it far more meaningful and relevant than perhaps another Priest would have done. But most importantly, the relationship I have been building, and will do so for years to come, with my faith and God has been very enlightening. For me, it has brought about a new perspective on life, the events that take place and how I reflect on why things are the way they are.
I have a long way to go - but I am pleased that I have, at last, taken the decision to undertake this journey, as well as now being able to say my Scout promise and mean every aspect of it.
Being Ben, he also told me that if he was to do this, he would do it properly. No mucking about: it had to mean something for him to go through with it, and it would then be some thing that he fully embraced for his life.
Ben was true to his word. Not only did he take the journey of faith seriously, but he told others what he was doing via social media. ‘God classes’ became a regular posting, and when some eighteen months ago Ben came to this church to be baptised and confirmed by Bishop Richard, he invited others to come and support him. The other candidates each had half a dozen or so supporters. Ben had a vast number, about sixty I think, who turned up – some of whom he had never met before, but who had followed him on Facebook or whatever.
Ben put his faith into action. He was a regular communicant right up to the time he died. He lived out his faith through scouting and through helping others, be it through Timu Rafiki , or the Muffin club or work in the voluntary sector. He was impatient to get things done; he did not see why any of us should delay, nor did he appreciate it if you said you would do something and then didn’t get on with it.
Before leaving this earthly life, and despite his illness and having spent some weeks in hospital, Ben was able to achieve his last two wishes: he married Joanna according to the rites of the church and then he returned home.
Ben also recognized the hope given in the gospel and in many ways this service is Ben’s gift to you – it is his testimony to the faith he held so dear, and would wish you to have as well. As he was fed and strengthened by the sacrament of the altar, so he invites you to be in the presence of that sacrament yourselves today. Ben gives you an example of Christian living, and invites you to share with him in the love of Christ. For Ben, today is not the end of his life, but a new beginning. He has gone from this earthly existence into a newer and more intimate relationship with God in our heavenly home. He is no doubt by now CC of heaven, and who knows who he will be encouraging to join scouting!
Of course, we will all miss Ben. But this is not a sad occasion, for we have cause to rejoice in a life well lived, short though it may have been; a life we will remember because of the mark it has left on us. And we celebrate Ben passing from this world to the next, strengthened by our love and prayers, to be greeted by the angels and saints and welcomed into our heavenly home, where he will be with the risen Lord. Because for the Christian, death is not the end – it is a glorious new beginning for those who believe in the God of love, for we believe that he sent his Son Jesus, that part of the one God that became man, to live and die for us, and to rise again, opening for us the kingdom of heaven. Jesus shows us the way to the Father, where every tear will be wiped away, where pain will be no more, and where death is vanquished.
I know that for us that hurt of parting for now remains. But have courage and hope, for, pray God, we will all meet again one day in paradise.