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The two sermons which follow were preached by Robert E. Coleman at the funerals of his parents. His father, James Henry Coleman, was buried January 7, 1975, and his mother, Helen Hood Coleman on August 21, 1985. Both messages offer fitting tribute to loved ones, and provide a model for bringing comfort and inspiration in the funeral setting.
Dad Looked for a City
I remember one night several years ago, as we were sitting by the fire at home, Dad turned to me, and asked: “Emerson, where does one go when God takes him out?”
Seeing my bewildered expression, Dad said: “Does it matter? You are with God, and you go wherever He wants to go.”
Dad was thinking of that experience of Abraham when “he was called to go out unto a place which he should after receive for an inheritance.” And in obedience, we are told, “he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8).
“By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country”–moving from place to place–never with his children, “the heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9). There was no discontent with the arrangement. In fact, he found happiness in it, and his family prospered. But through it all, he fully realized that this world was not his permanent home. “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
That is the way it should be with any person who has heard the call of God, and gone out with Him. You can not really feel at home in this world anymore.
Dad came to this kind of perspective. Along life’s way he heard that still small voice of the Lord. As he understood the call, he went out, not knowing clearly what to expect–sometimes missing a milepost, sometimes falling down–but always looking for “that city which hath foundations, those builder and maker is God.”
I don’t know if you ever noticed it or not, but it seemed to me, especially in these last years, that he had a far-away look on his face, as if he was gazing on something beyond you. The glint in his eye almost intimated that he knew a joke on this world, which made its attractions seem ridiculous. It was not that he was unmindful of the human arena, for in his eighty-three years–as soldier, lawyer, farmer, businessman–he saw more of this world than most men. But he understood all too keenly that nothing the world had to offer could satisfy the soul. To him it was indeed “a strange country.”
Turning from its hollow allurements, he sought neither the world’s comfort nor its fame. He found delight in obscurity, living a simple life at home. Anyone who ever visited him there would see how much he loved the commonplace, the quiet beauty of nature, the peace of solitude. Though not generally seen by the outsider, there was a deep, unassuming kindness about his nature, especially empathizing with the lowly and weak. One of the last things he did the night before he died was to go out on the back porch and make a little bed for a stray cat that had no place to sleep.
Dad cherished his family. It was to us he gave most freely of his life. His affection was not something celebrated, or even talked about; we just lived in its security. Whatever the need, we knew that he was going to see us through.
Those of us who lived with him also knew that he did not hesitate to say what he thought. His forthright manner may not always have been the most winsome, but we could never mistake what he meant. There was a basic integrity about him. He believed that a man’s word was his bond, though the stars fall. The stubborn determination by which he adhered to principle set before his children an example of faithfulness seldom seen in this world of compromise and expediency. In this loyalty to truth, Dad taught us devotion–devotion to each other, and supremely, devotion to God. Above all, he wanted us to set our affection on things above … to look for “that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
I was so glad that a few months ago Dad and Mom could visit my home (then in Kentucky). As it turned out, it was our last time together.
One day Dad asked if he could go over to Lexington and visit the University of Kentucky. He wanted to see his old Alma Mater, and also to see an Annual of the year he graduated in 1916. So we went and walked the campus. So many changes have taken place in the last fifty years that he could scarcely recognize any of the buildings. Then we went up to the top of the high tower building where we could get a panoramic view of the whole city. I remember Dad again looking perplexed. He spotted a few old landmarks, but most of the buildings which he once knew had been torn down–and the new city seemed to him like “a strange country.”
After awhile, he turned to me and said: “Emerson, I’m ready to go home.” I replied, “Wouldn’t you like to see more?” “No,” he answered, “I have seen enough.”
As we drove back, he seemed so relaxed and content. And on his face was that far away look … as if he was viewing another city. The next day we drove to Hopkinsville where he visited his two sisters. They had a beautiful time together. Before parting, they decided, because of their physical infirmities and the distance between them, that no one would try to attend the funeral of the others. Lovingly they said their goodbyes, knowing that they would not see each other again in this world.
And, somehow, I sensed that, too, when I looked upon Dad’s bright face the last time. Yet we knew that our goodbye was only temporary. There was going to be a reunion someday in the sky … in a place no longer strange to our souls … a “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
We honor the memory of Dad today, but we do not say Farewell. We have a bond in Jesus Christ that is not affected by the dissolution of our body, nor the passing of this age. More than ever before, we are made aware that this world is not our dwelling place; our spirits feel the tug of another country, “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Celebrating A Life That Sang
Mom liked to sit out on the lawn in front of the house, and it was during these times when I was home that we had some of our most delightful conversations. One day I recall as we were talking, Mom mentioned how meaningful to her were the words of the hymn:
Jesus the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills My breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
Knowing what was central in her life, I could understand why she liked to sing those words. Jesus was indeed the source of her strength. In these last hours, however, I have come to realize in a deeper way why the anticipation of resting in the presence of Christ was so reassuring, for faith now has turned to sight, and Mom can see her Savior face to face.
Yet even while looking through the glass darkly in this present life, Mom’s life reflected an extraordinary measure of that grace which becomes maturity in Christ. The apostle spoke of it as faith, hope and love–and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Defining what this quality is, he said:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
That’s the way I remember Mom. Her life was the explanation of love. Not a gushy, superficial kind of sentimentality so often put on in public gatherings. No, there was nothing pretentious about Mom. Hers was a quiet unassuming love which overflowed in gentle deeds of kindness. She saw the best in people. Even when it must have been difficult, she remained uncritical. Nor did she even take into account a wrong suffered. However painful, whatever the slight, Mom never complained.
If she had a fault, it was such an intense loyalty to her children that she could not see our shortcomings, or at least, she never let us know it. Her children were perfect. If we got into trouble at school, it was the teacher’s fault. While we knew better, it was comforting to know that we always had someone who would stand by us.
Mom dearly loved the church. There had to be a compelling reason for her to miss a service, even when in her last months she had to come in a wheel chair. She took an active part in the Sunday School, too, and for many years taught a class.
The Bible was clearly her most cherished book. It was always close at hand. One of my last remembrances is seeing her there in the big chair, holding a magnifying glass close to her eyes, reading the Holy Scriptures.
But it was her prayers which, I think, most eloquently spoke of her love. As with Dad, she talked with God with such an overwhelming reverence that sometimes her voice would break, and she would need a few moments to gain composure to continue. I can remember many times at the dinner table or after evening devotions, when we raised our heads from prayer Mom would be wiping the tears from her eyes.
Her love for Jesus embraced her love for the world. She saw the big picture and thought in global concepts. The missionary mandate was especially on her heart–a concern very evident in her prayers and gifts. She lived for the Kingdom: that reign of Christ in the hearts of His people, a Kingdom that will come to completion when His Gospel at last reaches the ends of the earth, and His church is gathered from every tongue and tribe and nation to praise Him forever.
That was the vision Mom cherished. It was not a creed, but a life style.
What a beautiful memory! And it brings an ever more wonderful expectation. For someday there is going to be a reunion in the sky, where there will be no more farewells. While it does not yet appear what we shall be, we know that when the Lord appears, we shall be like Him. Then we shall see Him as He is. That is why we celebrate Mom’s life today. She lived the words of the hymn she sang, and in a way for which I will be forever grateful, she made them live for me.