You are the light of the world!

From Rev Peter Beale


(Published in News First, May 2005 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church) 


The recent death of Ellinbank member and lay preacher Alan Keys, at age 69, is a great loss to his wife and family.  His death is also a very significant loss to all who knew him in the many and varied parts of his community centred life, and to all of us in the Central Baw Baw Cluster.

On the day of his burial I was given the privilege of giving two brief messages: one at the graveside, and one at the Thanksgiving service. For those that were unable to attend either or both of these, here they are in full.

At the graveside, following the reading (John 14:1-6, 17, 18):

Most of us are afraid of death, and our fear is heightened when it is close, whether it be our own, or someone we love. According to John’s gospel, as Jesus said the words, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” death was a matter of hours away. The betrayer was busy ensuring that Jesus would be taken prisoner and sentenced to death, by crucifixion — the most prolonged, horrible death of the time.

I’m sure if Jesus had his choice he would have wished for a quick, painless death. But that wasn’t to be. Instead, he suffered agony of the cross, and felt abandoned by everyone, including God.

Over the past four years, Alan has suffered greatly, and at the lowest times, when all looked bleak, he may have wished for a quick and painless death. But that did not come. Instead, Alan was able to hold on through those dark times because of Jesus’ sufferings on the cross. Alan knew that Jesus suffered for him, and was there beside Alan, shouldering his burden, and giving him the strength to endure to the end.

As the recent events of Easter remind us: as surely as death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, so death is not the end for those that we love, not for Alan, nor for us.

Jesus’ words remain true for each one of us. Death cannot hold us from the presence of God; it is but a door to a new existence with our creator.

What this new existence with God is like, none of us know for sure. The disciples’ experience of Jesus resurrected, gives us some insight— it changed them completely.

They were convinced that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive, and soon they realised that he was living in and through them. Through the Spirit of Christ in them they were changed from fearful cowards to fearless ambassadors for the “gospel” of new life in Jesus.

The promise of resurrected life in the presence of God was Alan’s hope, and is our hope, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it becomes our reality.

So do not be worried, or afraid.

At the service of thanksgiving, following Matthew 5:14-16

According to Matthew, these words of instruction were given by Jesus to his disciples on the mountain, with the crowds listening on. It is part of a long sermon, placed by Matthew early in Jesus’ ministry, and directed to those who would follow him. So while the metaphor of people “shining their light”, seems to be obvious common sense, this is no counselling session aimed at encouraging the use of gifts, or building self esteem.

No, Jesus is calling his followers to be bearers, bearers of the good news of God’s kingdom: not just hearers, but doers, sharing the gospel through word and action. Wherever Jesus travelled around Galilee and Judea,
he was a beacon of light, drawing people to himself.

He taught, healed, restored and released, crossing social, racial, purity and gender boundaries, all the while bringing glory, not to himself, but God, whom he revealed as Abba, Father. And he calls his followers to do the same: to be beacons of light drawing people, not to themselves, but to the source of the light: Jesus.

As we have heard through so many people today, Alan was indeed a light shining brightly, and not just white light, a multicoloured light. Alan was active in so many things, and in each of them he would give of himself to the fullest of his ability.

Yet what stands out for me as I have got to know him has been Alan’s humility, his graciousness, and his ability to point to God and Jesus as the source of his strength and motivation in life.

Alan was a man of many gifts and abilities, and that is why so many of you are here to honour him because he has touched you in some way. Yet arguably his greatest gift is that he sought to be what Jesus called him to be: a light to the world of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness.

All who wish to follow Jesus are called to be the light of the world. Take up that call. Follow Alan’s example, and be that light.

Thanks be to God for the life of Alan Keys.