Damn, this really sucks. I’ve been home four times in the last two years and two of those trips have been emergency trips for funerals. Such is life, I suppose. This really sucks. There were probably some muffled gasps when I dared cuss across the pulpit. That’s OK, that was the first phrase that came to my mind when I heard the news, so that’s how I decided to lead this off. Oh, and I’m not wearing a black suit…the nerve. We’re all gathered here today to celebrate the life of Betty Jones. And by all accounts, it was a pretty good one. Did she go to Heaven? Well, some would say so. Some might say that she’s in paradise where Jesus said he’d see the thief on the cross after the crucifixion. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t become an Angel yet, though. I tend to think she’s sitting next to that thief, and a lot of other people, in paradise drinking some sweet tea. She used to always have sweet tea at the house. With enough sugar in it for the spoon to stand up in the cup. That’s how she always made it. Grandma’s sweet tea, I’ll always remember that stuff. I remember we used to play tennis, go to the pool, and do who knows what else that I can’t remember. I can remember a couple stories that I’ve heard over the years…humourous now, but maybe not so much at the time for those involved. I remember one of the kids saying she’d gotten a fair bit angry and decided to spank him with the broom. Somehow the handle broke…it’s said that he was told to go to the corner store to get another one. Another story is when a different kid didn’t want to go to church one day…she wanted to go see the Coastal Connection play music. That story has a humorous ending as well. But who is this person we’re all gathered around to celebrate?
Well, she was born a couple years ago, October 8, 1928, to be precise. Well, we think precise…apparently there might be a discrepancy with her birthdate, her driver’s license said October 11 for the longest time. Who knows the cause for the error. She said that she never knew her birth mother because her mother died 28 days after her birth. Sad story. I don’t have a great amount of details about her life from birth until marriage. But I know that on May 25, 1947 she got married to dear old Julius Nicholson Jones…you know, I had a random thought on the drive down from New York on Thursday (yeah, that’s right, in spite of my voice, I currently live in New York City)…who in here watches the TV show Mad Men? I totally think they patterned Don Draper off of our dear relative. The birth dates would be fairly close, wearing suits, combing over the hair…and other things. Totally ‘grandpappy’ as some called him. But they had five kids, which is now 11 grandkids, 18 great-grandkids, and 7 great-great grandkids. Please, nobody take your shoes off to verify my math. If I got those numbers wrong, I’m sorry about that. It can get confusing counting that many generations. If I left you out, then I’m sorry for that. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the upheavals of the 1960’s, Civil Rights, the Cold War. She saw the Berlin Wall go up, then be torn down. She saw men walk on the moon. She lived through the administrations of fifteen Presidents. She grew up in North Carolina during a time when businesses had signs that read “for Whites only” and she died in a time when a black man is the President. Through all these times, the one thing that she didn’t put down, even in her later years when she was no longer able to go to church physically, was her Bible.
She used to sit down with at least some of us grandkids and read various Bible stories to us. I know Julia posted that she used to tell us the story about the armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-20. No, I’m not going to read the whole passage. But it’s various ways that God protects all of us. I remember at one time she bought me some toy set of armor and I wore it around as the armour of God. I remember that she took me to Summer Bible School at the church for a number of years. She was always really involved in the couple churches that I remember her attending. I remember she used to pray quite a bit…some people might find this funnier than others, but I heard a joke once that mothers pray so often to keep from breaking broom handles across the backsides of their kids…I guess considering the number of days that she lived with kids in the house, the fact that she only cracked one broom handle would indicate that this is a pretty successful method. But we know that she loved family and she died spending the night with a family member. She had faith in God and that kept her strong through some of the troubles of late. She outlived two of her children, which can’t be easy. She lived the last 9 and a half years without her husband. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a passage she probably read countless times “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I think it was that faith that kept her strong. She strongly believed that the various people she’d meet people again in heaven because they’d been baptized into the church however many years ago. Even though some of these folks she was outliving had not seen the inside of a church in 40 years, her faith that their baptism was old was all they needed kept her strong. She believed in that passage in Romans that reads “for I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels not principalities nor powers, nor things preset nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It was that faith right there that comforted her while she was outliving friends and family members. It’s that faith that can comfort us right now as we mourn. Someday, we can be together again.
Now is the time for us to be here and celebrate together. She knew it was her time and I think she’d hate for us to be sad and carrying on. We read in the Gospel according to Luke that “A huge crowd of people followed, along with women weeping and carrying on. At one point Jesus turned to the women and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me.’” (My seminary teachers would be annoyed with me for using that passage because I’m using it totally out of context) Don’t cry for me, Jesus said. Don’t cry for Betty Jones, I say. In some of the last conversations that I had with her, she talked about how she was ready to go. She was ready to go be with those already departed, ready to see those gates, ready to go to Heaven. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” she was saying. Let’s celebrate the life she lived. This really sucks, but we can get past it and have a smile.