A minister was asked to do the funeral for a real rascal. A man approached him and said, “I know my brother was a lying, drunken cheat who ran around on his wife and never amounted to anything. But you will refer to him as a saint.” That was a tough assignment! The pastor knew both men were lying, drunken cheats. In fact, younger brother had a worse reputation than older brother.
Funeral time came, and the pastor decided to shoot straight. He said, “We all know this man was a horrible, no good, miserable low-life, but compared to his brother sitting over there, he was a saint!”
Conducting funerals is not an easy task, but they are easier if there is good stuff to say. The best funerals are those in which the person has already preached his or her funeral by the life he or she lived. I recall the funeral I preached for Jennings Key several years ago. Jennings did a lot of good living between May 10, 1913 and January 11, 2000. Jennings did not just go through the motions. He chose to live life.
Jennings always had a positive attitude. Someone said that your attitude determines your altitude, and Jennings soared. He was born into rough, rural conditions. He lived at one time in railroad cars while his father made a living working the railroad. He saw the depression up close and personal. He knew cold winter nights. But he rose above his circumstances as many of his generation did and worked hard to make something of himself. He was never super well off, but he was happy.
When his wife developed Altzheimer’s disease, Jennings devoted himself to her every need, standing by her with much patience and courage. When her mind was gone, Wynelle would constantly ask, “Do you love me? Do you love me?” She asked it a hundred times each day. Jennings would never ignore her. He was once asked, “Jennings, you don’t have to answer ‘do you love me?’ every time, do you?” He responded, “She likes to hear that I love her.” And he did.
Jennings was well thought of in his church and community. He always had a special relationship with his pastors and really reached out to me as his “preacher.” He was a dear friend who encouraged and always had a good word. He never let me pick up the tab after we ate lunch together. He’d say, “I like our arrangement just fine.”
Jennings loved the Lord and loved his church. He lived his faith. When you think of Jennings, you think of words like committed, faithful, active, present, concerned, dedicated, serving. He sang in the choir. He served as a deacon. He contributed his handy-man talents as he helped to keep the church building fixed-up. He was generous.
During one of my last sermons before moving to this pastorate, I was preaching on fellowship. I suggested that maybe we could get to know one another better and meet new members by sitting in a different pew each Sunday. I suggested we try it next Sunday. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and noticed Jennings shaking his head “no.” I kidded him about it the next week when we went to lunch and he said, “I’ve been sitting on that pew for over 80 years. My daddy sat on that pew.”
Now, Jennings understood the church belonged to God, but after that conversation, I understood that pew belonged to Jennings. He wasn’t about to move. On the afternoon before his death, some church members visited him. They were commenting that a certain fussy acquaintance had moved to a nearby town. He immediately replied, “That’s not far enough!” He was a colorful guy.
I share about Jennings to remind us that we have the same choice Jennings had. We can choose to live life, keep a positive attitude, and be a good influence. We cannot necessarily control the number of days we live, but we can make each day count. We can’t add years to our life, but we can add life to our years. What we do with that dash between our date of birth and the date of death is entirely up to us. What kind of material are we writing?
Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor of McDonough Road Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The church meets at 352 McDonough Road. Bible study is 9:45 a.m. and worship is 10:55 a.m. Please plan to join them this Sunday. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org.