Summary: A sermon preached at the memorial service for the Honorable Graham B. Purcell, Jr.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
June 14, 2011
Witness to the Resurrection
Graham B. Purcell, Jr.
(May 5, 1919 - June 11, 2011)
ON BOARD WITH GOD
Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Graham Purcell was on board with God. If you knew Graham at all, you know that. Bob Pierce, for many years the leader of World Vision, once wrote in the flyleaf of his Bible, ‘Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.’ And Graham knew that sentiment.
He knew that God’s heart was broken over the brokenness of humanity. Same as Jesus.
When Jesus gathered his disciples on a Galilean hillside to lay out for them what was on his heart, he began talking about people in pain -- his very first words. He started with poverty of spirit, and then he went on to mourning. We know what’s that about, don’t we? We know the pain of grief. Today we do. And that‘s the kind of thing that broke Jesus’ heart.
That and hunger and thirst and the things that come between people and create a need for someone to take the risk of being a peacemaker. These are the things he talked about in the Beatitudes, these first several verses of his Sermon on the Mount.
Graham was captivated by Jesus. He shared with our Lord his sorrow over the reversals of human existence. That, I believe, is why Graham took up law. Actually, I don’t know whether that was his motivation at first. But I know what drove him in later years. Sitting behind the bench never separated him from the anguish of others. Much of it, yes, they brought upon themselves. Don’t we all? But even those who stood before Judge Purcell because of their own folly were simply proof of what Jesus saw in people. Just a few short chapters after this one in Matthew’s Gospel, we read that ‘when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36).
If you know Graham’s goals in adjudication, you know that he was never satisfied simply to see a crime punished. What he wanted was to see a criminal changed. Now, I do not mean that he ever spared himself the hard work of matching consequences to behavior. He didn’t. No one simply ‘got off’ in Judge Purcell’s courtroom. He placed due value on justice. But his eye was on your redemption. He saw hope for you, and he wanted you to see it for yourself.
And why was that? It was because Graham’s whole outlook was shaped by God’s. He was on board with God.
When God formed the first man from the dust of the ground, he knew that Adam would have many sons and daughters. But it was not his purpose that any of them should be poor or that any of them should have to mourn or be hungry or thirsty or risk their lives being peacemakers because others disturbed the peace. Poverty and grief and thirst and conflict -- these were all alien intruders into God’s design.
In fact, on the sixth day of creation, when everything was complete, we are told that God surveyed his work, and he said, ‘It is good. It is very good.’ And at that time, there were no poor, no mourners, no victims of hunger and thirst. There was no oppression, no persecution. That would all come later.
But it would come as no surprise to God. Before ever he created a thing, before ever he said, ‘Let there be light,’ he anticipated that things would go wrong. He knew, when he made Adam, that Adam would defect. And he knew that it would introduce into his good creation a host of evils that only he could address. Sin and, with it, fear and despair and injustice and death. Death -- that ‘last enemy,’ the Bible calls it.