Summary: Funeral sermon for Helen Hastings, long-time church financial secretary
In a throwaway world, it is good to have known someone whose life reminds us that there are some things worth keeping. In a society where last year’s fashions are pitched out and yesterday’s values are passé, it is important to have known someone who understood how to keep hold of the right things. Helen Hastings knew what was worth holding. Helen understood that you might let go of many things, but please, keep hold of what is truly important.
Around our church, we thought of her as the watchdog of our finances. She guarded with diligence the integrity of our resources. Some of our church leaders found, to their dismay, that she was not about to let them play fast and loose with money. She kept a close hold, not so much on the money itself, but on the way it was handled. The rigor she brought to her task was not really so much about money; it was about loving the right things, it was about integrity, it was about keeping faith with God Himself. Helen Hastings knew what was worth keeping. Helen understood that you might let go of many things, but please, keep hold of what is truly important.
The apostle Paul, writing to the young Timothy, offers us a perspective on Helen’s life and values. You see, I’m confident that some have misunderstood Helen; some have believed that money was all that she was about. But that would be a serious misinterpretation of her life. She was about so very much more than that. And Paul’s words provide clues to the things Helen really kept hold on. It wasn’t really about money; it was about loving the right things, about integrity, about keeping faith with God.
For example, there is that wonderful phrase with which Paul ends this passage – “take hold of the life that really is life.” The life that really is life. Life with zest and intensity; life with excitement and energy. Helen lived her life with intensity. Part of that intensity came from her determination to keep hold of old patterns. She clung to habits that had served her well. She once told me that she had kept every bill she had ever paid, and that if I needed to know what she paid for electricity in 1962, it was here somewhere. She kept to old patterns. And yet her zest for life also took her into learning new things, like computing, Allen, with curiosity and energy. She kept hold of the life that really is life.
Let me ask you: when you stopped by Helen’s house, for “just a minute”, did you ever leave after “just a minute”? Could you just transact business and leave it at that? By no means; she would invite you in, insist that you stop and talk a while. If you were bringing church financial business, she would take it from you, thumb through it and grumble, “These people sure do know how to spend money; what IS all this stuff?”. And then she would put it all down on the couch and say, “Aak. How are you doing, kiddo?” I think I came to see Helen just so I could be called “kiddo”! It doesn’t happen much any more!
What a zest for life! Warmly welcoming, although wary of new people. At this time of the year, our church goes through a leadership transition; all the committees elect new chairmen. She would call me up and say, “Who is this that signed this voucher?” I would say, “Oh, he’s the new chairman of such-and-such committee.” And she would answer, “I never heard of him. Who is he? Why can’t we just stick with (whoever last year’s chairman was)?” She loved to keep old friends, and would talk with me for hours about people who left our church long before I even got here. At first, she would seem uncomfortable with new people. And yet, once any of them came by 208 Dale Drive and she got to know them, they were quickly accepted, they were warmly affirmed, they were treasured. Helen knew how to keep hold of people; Helen put energy into her friends, and thus kept hold of the life that really is life.
What was Helen Hastings all about? She was about loving the right things, about integrity, and about keeping faith with God.
But not only does the apostle tell the young Timothy to keep hold of the life that really is life; he urges him to “keep the commandment without spot or blame”. In solemn and awesome words, Paul instructs his disciple, “In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you