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Sermon at Patrick Mayhew's funeral

 

Sermon given by The Revd Hugh Nelson

at the funeral of Patrick Mayhew

6 July 2016

Readings: Joshua 1:9, John 14:27,15:12-16     

 

Not many people’s death results in letters of condolence from Prime Ministers past and present and from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Few of those who receive such honours also have a funeral packed out like this - full of family and friends, and people who knew Patrick in his village, his local church, and as their much loved MP.

We know the role that Patrick played in building peace in Northern Ireland. We honour his service to the nation, often in demanding situations. And we’re proud to have known him - a man that we knew who did such important things.

And we also know the small things that he did for us. The little kindnesses, the attention he paid us, and the way he took us seriously. That was Patrick. A man who was able to make big decisions of national importance and a man who cared about the ordinary stuff going on in the lives of people like you and me. Both mattered. Both were important.

Someone told me this week about a time when rubbish was being thrown over the fence into their garden. It was a small thing, but as well as being Northern Ireland Secretary at the time, Patrick took this local problem seriously, and sorted it out. 

Someone else spoke of how, whenever they came to Kilndown Church - where Patrick worshipped every Sunday - he would always greet them, chat to their small children and then kneel down to get the toys from  under the table and lay them out on the floor, immediately making them feel welcome and at home.

Someone described Patrick to me yesterday as the humblest gentleman they ever met. High Office and ordinary life; great decisions and local bothers; corridors of power and the bar at the Globe & Rainbow. Patrick was at home in all of them. Prime Ministers and local farmers; Leaders of Industry and school children; Archbishops and the PCC. Patrick was at ease with them all. 

And Patrick was brave.

He and Jean knew that when they said yes to the call to take on the Northern Ireland job, they were accepting a very real threat to their safety, not just for the period that Patrick was in office, but for the rest of their lives. But together, they said yes to that challenge, because together, Jean and Patrick followed a God who tells us over and over again, do not be afraid.

That one phrase - which we heard in both our bible readings just now - appears over 130 times in the Scriptures ‘Do not be afraid’. To be a Christian is to be someone who does not have to live under the power of fear.

And we can live without fear, whether we’re facing massive decisions of national importance, or the irritating hassles of everyday life, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The man who carried the fate of the entire Universe on his shoulders, and who loved every person that he met with a gloriously personal care.

Patrick knew Jesus Christ. Patrick knew that he was loved. Patrick knew that he could face all that came before him -  the great decisions and the personal interactions - without fear. 

And Patrick faced his own death in the same way. Full of bravery, and without fear.  He joked of his Parkinson’s disease: ‘I was once a mover, and now I’m a shaker.’ He knew he was loved by God, and that that love wasn’t about to run out or end. That it wasn’t with him for a while and then over. It wasn't alongside him while he did grand things, but not while he did the small stuff of everyday life. He could be brave, because, as the first reading says, ‘the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’. In Belfast, Kilndown, Westminster, and Tunbridge Wells. On earth, and now in heaven. God was with him, God is with him. Always.

And the result of that life of humble service, lived in grace and trust and without fear? 

Patrick’s life is exactly what Jesus promises all of us, if we trust in him. A life that bears fruit, and fruit that will last. 

Patrick trusted God, and his life reflected the love of the God that he followed all his life. A God who carries the whole Universe in his hands, while also knowing every one of us inside out and back to front. A God who is Sovereign over the affairs of nations and empires, and who hears our every whispered prayer.

Patrick lived in trust, and so was unafraid, and in that trust and courage, his life was immensely fruitful. Fruitful in his contribution to peace in Northern Ireland. In the significant decisions he took that shaped the nation. Fruitful in his family. So wonderfully fruitful, in so many ways, in his 53 years of marriage to Jean.  And fruitful also amongst us - in the goodness that has come from a thousand conversations and kindnesses shown to each one of us here today.

Do not be afraid. Know that God will be with you wherever you go. Follow Jesus and you will bear fruit; fruit that will last.

Patrick Mayhew, courageous, humble, servant-follower of Jesus Christ, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Amen

 

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