Funeral Service for James Sulton
In one of his books, A.M. Hunter, the New Testament scholar, relates the story of a dying man who asked his Christian doctor to tell him something about the place to which he was going. As the doctor fumbled for a reply, he heard a scratching at the door, and he had his answer. “Do you hear that?” he asked his patient. “It’s my dog. I left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient, and has come up and hears my voice. He has no notion what is inside this door, but he knows that I am here. Isn’t it the same with you? You don’t know what lies beyond the Door, but you know that your Master is there.”
Today as we gather here to honor and lay to rest the body of James Sulton, we do so on the one hand with sad and heavy hearts: sad and heavy because from this side of heaven we lose a friend, brother, a grandfather, a father, and husband. However, as sad as we are, we rejoice on the other hand because those who knew him best knew that with great anticipation he stood on this side of the door wanting to be with his Master.
Preparing for this time I tried to think of some favorite memory I shared with Brother Sulton, but what I loved best about him were the times around the table at Catfish King or at the River Bend Café, talking about the Bible and church and the Lord. I loved the way he would get fired up about something and get louder and louder until Gwen would elbow him and say, “Tom! Be quiet! Nobody wants to hear you preaching.” One day we were eating and I asked him a question about some thing I had been working on and he looked over at Gwen with that sheepish grin and said to me, “Well brother…I’d like to answer that, but Gwen told me I couldn’t talk about the Bible at lunch today.”
My heart goes out to you Gwen, and to all of you who loved him so dearly. I know that others here today hurt for you, and we want each of you as family to know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. There is no doubt in my mind that if it were possible, those who have come today to support you would take away the pain and loss that you feel. Death is a sure reality in this life. The writer of Hebrews said, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.” The scriptures speak the same truth in James 4 when they record:
“Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
The text is a warning against presuming on tomorrow; on forming plans stretching into the future without a proper sense of the uncertainty of life and our absolute dependence on God. All plans are wrong if they are formed in this attitude. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Our life is like a vapor. It is frail and uncertain.