Summary: Funeral sermon for Buford Pervall: deacon, usher, church clerk. To know your own value means that you learn to trust God in large matters and you seek positive change.
Someone once remarked that a cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Isn’t that an apt description of our time, when we will pay inflated prices for houses, we will spend $75.00 to fill up our SUV’s, and will hire basketball coaches for forty million dollars only to buy out the contract? So many of us are aware of the price of everything, but know the value of nothing.
Yet, at the same time, there are those who live by another standard. There are those who have seen another set of values. And not only do they live by those values, they find joy and satisfaction in them, and ultimately, they find eternity.
Buford Pervall was not only a mainstay of this community, a loving husband and father and grandfather, a deacon of this church, and at one time its clerk. He was also an usher here. His station was right here, at this door that leads to and from the parlor, not six feet from where I stand right now. Sunday after Sunday he would stand here, greeting worshipers, offering programs, helping people find a seat. And it is in that role that I remember something that has become an icon for how I think of Buford and what mattered to him.
One year we decided to dress down for worship as the summer began. The deacons announced to the congregation that for a month we were going to experiment with casual dress. We said that everybody should feel comfortable and should not find it necessary to be a fashion plate on Sunday mornings in the heat of summer.
And so all of us began to calculate just how dressed-down we would be. Some of the ladies switched from dresses to slacks, and some went to designer jeans or track suits. Just about all of the men got rid of suit jackets and those ridiculous nooses we drape around our necks. But the discussions and the calculations went on; just how dressed down did we really want to be? As pastor, I decided that I could do without the robe, and that I would join my brothers in being coatless and tieless, but that the pulpit carried with it a certain dignity. So I would still wear dress shoes, good slacks, and a long-sleeve white shirt. No self-respecting preacher would appear in anything less. (I’m not quite like a friend of mine in another denomination who was described as having been born wearing a clerical collar, but I’m not far from it!) Truth to tell, most of the church members were in that same camp; we set aside the unnecessary and really uncomfortable garb, but we did want to be middle-class and respectable. No cut-offs showed up, no short shorts (although I do remember seeing more of one deacon’s knees than I really wanted to). We were sort of hesitant how much to dress down for worship.
Except for usher Buford Pervall. When I came through this door to start the service, in my dress shoes, good slacks, and preacherly white shirt, I saw this fellow in a baggy open-necked shirt, wrinkled khaki pants, and the biggest, baddest pair of running shoes I had ever seen! Buford was spectacularly dressed down. We looked one another over very carefully before I proceeded to the pulpit; and he said, “I think I may have gone too far.”
After the service he approached me and said the same thing, but I assured him that it did not matter, and that really he had taken more seriously than the rest of us what the deacons intended to do. I did my best to reassure him that he had not offended. But, to tell the truth, because he had seemed so shaken by the contrast between the two of us, I really expected that the next Sunday I would see him in something different – maybe even in one of those deaconly black suits. I suspected he would back down from his comfort clothes and fit in with those of us who were having a hard time being casual.
But came next Sunday, we lined up for worship in the usual way. I opened this door, once again wearing my uniform of dress shoes, good slacks, and a long-sleeve white shirt, and before me stood Buford Pervall, in – are you ready? – that very baggy open-necked shirt, those still-wrinkled khaki pants, and that same biggest, baddest pair of running shoes! And as he gave me a copy of the day’s bulletin, he whispered, “If it’s okay with you and the Lord, then I guess I’m not going to worry about what I wear.”
And that, brothers and sisters, tells me all I need to know about what Buford Pervall valued, about how he lived his life, and about his eternity. For over against an age when we know the price of everything and the value of nothing, here is a man who had heard the Lord Jesus say,