A sermon preached at the funeral of Rev Bill Lockhart by Rev Peter Lockhart.
Before I preach, I would like to share little story I tell about why I am a minister. About 37 years ago give or take I was sitting in church and dad was preaching. Now dad had a predilection in his preaching to tell personal stories about people.
During the sermon, he said this, “a young man came up to me the other day. I'm not going to tell you his name because it would embarrass him, and he said dad.” At which point the entire congregation turned to look at me. This is because at that point in our lives Ian was still at boarding school and I was the only son around.
So, my motivation for being ministry stems from the idea that one day I'll be preaching and I'll say, “I saw an old man the other day but I won't tell you his name because it would embarrass him and he said to me ‘son.’”
Dad this one is for you.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Lord our strength and our redeemer. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
As soon as we started talking about dad's funeral, I think it was Judy and Sue who suggested the reading about loving one another or loving our neighbour as ourselves. And it was Judy who said, we should sing A new commandment. The notion of loving one another was central to dad’s understanding of what it meant to be a minister. I would concur that a core teaching of Christianity is loving one another as God has loved us. Jesus’ teaching is a simple and as complex as that. I wany to look at its simplicity, then contemplate its complexity.
The concept of loving one another was expressed in many ways through Dad's ministry. During the week I was in contact with one of dad's contemporaries from the New South Wales Synod the importance of dad's pastoral ministry. Dad had a great sense of care and concern for the people in his congregation. He sought to love them. This was reflected in a piece of advice he once gave me about pastoral care. Thinking about his time in the country he said, “if you can't talk to a farmer about his sheep, why would you think you can talk to him about God.” Dad understood a basic principle of loving others was to be engaged with who they were and what mattered to them.
His love of his time in the country was also reflected in his commitment to the development of the Rural Ministry Unit in NSW. I met Simon Hansford, the now Moderator of the NSW Synod, a few years back who expressed how inspirational dad had been within the rural ministry network and to him personally. He saw dad as something of a legend.
His pastoral ministry and serving of others were not something just for his congregations. In his early years, dad worked in the mission in the Kings Cross area, and he was influenced by the social gospel. He had a deep commitment to seeking the good of the community that he was part of. The other night when we were going through some of dad's things there were references to his involvement in the Lions Club, in the Rotary Club an in school P and C's.
At Kyogle, which he indicated was possibly his favourite place as a minister, he was involved with the brass band committee, although he was not a musician. He helped develop a school music programme and became a bandleader, although he was not a musician. And he worked with the local youth community support scheme which supported especially young people who were at risk. To love others meant to bring transformation to their lives.
As I look back there was almost a naïve hopefulness in dad's engagement with this idea that living out the gospel was about loving others and changing the community. But there were moments where I believe the Holy Spirit worked through him and God’s love was encountered in deep and meaningful ways for people in his congregations and the communities he was a part of.
‘Love one another as I have loved you’ it is a simple and as complex as that.
The complexity of what it means to love one another was also part of dad's ministry because loving others can be hard work and being loved by others can be even harder. The difficulties dad encountered in ministry and the flaws in dad’s own character shaped my understanding of God and the church. This was so much the case that when I shared with mum and dad that I was candidating for ministry mum exclaimed “You should know better. You know what its been like.” Nevertheless, here I am and the stole I am wearing today was dad’s. I feel somewhat like Elisha to dad’s Elijah, who handed on his mantle before he ascended into heaven.
Now I do not want to dwell too much in the negative experiences that dad had and that I observed of his time in the church. However, by simply skating across the imperfections of life some we can contemplate the complexity of what it means to love one another.
As a person dad did have a bit of a temper. He was far from perfect but. But it is the encounters in ministry and the church that I would briefly highlight. There are just a few stories that I want to share. Firstly, my recollection of a group within the congregation at one of dad's placements that broke away from the congregation and prayed that dad would leave town. In another situation, a group of ministers within a Presbytery excluded dad because he was a former Presbyterian, and they were predominantly Methodist in background. More than that they had all been an Emmaus walk together and so dad was treated as if he were not in the know. We were supposed to be a Uniting Church but his experience in this Presbytery was anything but uniting.
The difficulties that he had around the time that he had a stress breakdown in Bundaberg also stand out in my memory. This was after tensions in relationships with colleagues and a range of conflicts that had built up over time.
As much as he strived for changing the community sometimes the work did not necessarily bear the fruit he might have wished for. It also, again, created tension with congregation members. Even within the church, or maybe especially within the church, he did not always find that loving one another as Christ has loved us was present.
This all brings me to say, I was with an older man the other day and I won't tell you his name because it would embarrass him, and I was explaining to him some of the challenges of my placement in the school. Within the course of the conversation, I said “Dad, I think I am finding where God is in the school.” Without batting an eyelid, this old man, said to me “Son, it's not about you finding God, it's about God finding you.”
In the same way that dad gave me this piece of advice, it was our last significant conversation, my response to his ministry, seeking to love one another I would remind him, it's not about us loving God or even each other, it's about how much God loves us. When we get our loving of one another wrong it does not mean God's love for us ceases rather it continues and deepens as we encounter grace and forgiveness. This is the hope of the Christian faith that becomes flesh in Jesus – in him God is love. And our lives are hidden in his.
To conclude, another short story about why I am a minister. As a teenager I noticed that dad always seemed to manage a post lunch nap, a siesta. I thought to myself who would not want a job where you can come home and have a nap after lunch. Sadly, my placement at the school has interrupted this aspect of ministry, but the importance of the Sabbath rest has not been lost on me. In Jesus resurrection we see the beginning of a new creation. It is the eternal Sabbath rest in which we enjoy God's presence. It is my view, my hope and my prayer, that dad now, with mum, has entered his post life, after lunch nap, the eternal Sabbath rest in God's presence, his final siesta.
To echo dad’s final words at the end of many of his sermons “And now unto him be all the glory, honour, and power now and forever. Amen”