Summary: Funeral message for Mr. Jeremiah Reese, a businessman to whom one of our members had witnessed in his closing weeks, and who requested that his funeral focus on Ecclesiastes 3.
The other night, as all too often happens, I fell asleep in front of the television set, watching who-knows-what and who-knows-why. It’s just one of the more disturbing realities about getting a little older – that if I sit still for more than about twenty minutes, I’ll get sleepy. I’ll try to bear that in mind this morning!
But I feel asleep, woke up when some loud commercial message broke through my slumbers, and went to the bedroom at about ten minutes after one. My wife, who had long since gone to bed, heard me shuffling around with my shoes and sat straight up. “Are you leaving? Are you on the way to the church?” Now some of our members think I ought to live here at the church, but I don’t. And I can’t think of too many times when I’ve needed to come here at one in the morning! No, the problem was that she didn’t know what time it was. Awakened from slumber, she had no reference points, no immediate experience, nothing to tell her what time it was, and so she assumed I was going to work, when actually it was time, past time, for me to take my rest.
When we have no reference points, and when we are suddenly awakened, we may not know what time it is, whether it is time for work or time for rest. But when we figure out what time it is, everything falls into place. If we have no spiritual reference points, we may not know what time it is in our lives. But when something wakes us up, and we figure out what time it is, if we are wise, we let everything fall into place.
What time is it? What time was it for Jeremiah Reese a few months ago, when he discovered that his illness would be fatal?
If you were to ask me to name a favorite passage of Scripture, I might name many passages, but I would not list anything in the Book of Ecclesiastes. I might tell you to read the majestic prologue to the Gospel of John, or might encourage you to linger long in the eighth Psalm. I might dwell in Jesus’ beatitudes and might quote several passages in the Book of Revelation. But Ecclesiastes?! With its pessimistic outlook? With its pronouncement that “all is vanity” and that “there is nothing new under the sun”? No, that’s not my cup of tea.
And yet it was for Jerry Reese. He told us all, he made sure we wrote it down – The Book of Ecclesiastes, and especially that third chapter with its poem about what time it is. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” And then that strange list, some of which you and I question – a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal”. What is this about, and why did it matter so much to Jerry Reese? What is his word to us through this Scripture?
Let me lead you through my own limited but captivating experience with Jerry and with the Scripture. My visits with him were all in this last phase of his life, and were of necessity very brief. But I heard and saw some things that made me take notice of what time it was in his life and then what time it is in my life. Maybe the same can happen for you. What time is it for you?
First, with a businessman’s exquisite sense of the market, Jerry Reese faced reality about what time it was in his life and what he must do about it.
Business is about timing. Anyone who dabbles in the stock market will tell you that. Investing is about timing. Selling is about timing. And the clothing business in which Jerry was involved is all about timing. Sensing the trends of the moment and being ready with the product the people will buy; and knowing when the trend is over. Many is the clothier who assumed that what they are buying today they will also buy next year, only to be stuck with a huge inventory of the wrong thing. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that somewhere there are still whole warehouses full of polyester leisure suits. That fad died a well-deserved death. If you were in the clothing business, you had to feel the timing or else take a very large loss.
Jerry Reese knew what it was to sense the right time and to face reality as a businessman. When then he heard the medical verdict, he knew what time it was in his life. A time to live and a time to die. All of us know we are going to die, some time, some way. The difference is that most of us live in denial of that. We pretend that it is not really going to happen to us -- that it is a remote, far-off event, to which no attention needs to be paid. We postpone writing wills, we put off making critical decisions, we do little about our personal affairs. We think that that time will never come for us. But of course it will, as it has come for Jerry, and he faced it. Thanks be to God, he faced it, he accepted it, and he chose to work toward it.