Today, as many of you know, was the funeral service for George Watkins. George was 95 years old, and had been coming to Bethel since he was 9! In all that time, George has had a reputation of being a man of integrity, dignity and generosity – so it was a real honour to pay tribute to him today. Here’s part of what I shared at his service:
George Watkins – Warmth, Strength and Faith.
When I think of George, there are three words that come to mind: Warmth, Strength, and Faith.
In the hours and days after George’s passing – many memories and tributes came flooding in as the church came to terms with his death. But the things mentioned most by the most people was his genuine smile and his deep interest in others.
George was a true Gentleman, humble, polite, compassionate and understanding. I can’t tell you the number of times when, as we talked, he was far more interested in asking about me, my mum and dad, our children – and even our dog!
He always spoke with such deep pride and affection about his family, he was so proud of all of you, his eyes positively lit up when he spoke of you – that deep love for you all was so clear to everyone.
He loved to have visitors at the house and garden, and was well known and loved by his neighbours on the road where he had lived for so many years of his life.
Dominic (George’s grandson) read for us a passage of scripture earlier that George had highlighted in his bible, and it does not surprise me at all to know it was a favourite of his; it expresses his character so perfectly:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
These were more than mere words to George – they were the guiding light on his path in life, the true North on his compass, his comfort and counsel in difficulties. As a young man, George had come to follow Jesus and he lived out that shining example of what it means to seek to live like Jesus in this world.
But with that warmth, there was also:
George was a strong man in so many ways. Gill would often wake up from a nap on the sofa and find him out doing jobs in the garden, or even up on the roof fixing the tv aerial. That was George through and through – if a job needed doing, he would much rather just get on and do it!
As some of you may know, we live just up the road from their house, and when I driving down the road on the school run in the mornings we would so often see George up and dressed in a suit and tie – walking to get his daily paper. Whatever the weather, nothing seemed to faze him at all.
Whenever he was called upon, George stepped up and stepped in. His was an utterly devoted husband, father and grandfather, who would do anything for you. You didn’t have to wonder if he loved you, the evidence was all around in all he did so quietly, patiently, happily and generously.
But his inner strength was even deeper than that, he held himself and his character to a honourably high standard. No-one had a bad word to say about George – but more importantly, he never had a bad word to say about anyone else, despite a few people giving him reason to from time to time. He didn’t allow himself to indulge in bitterness, wouldn’t never entertain gossip, and rose above it all by choosing right action over rash words. This strength of character served him well, and won him many good friends.
As a church member, he was so faithful, supportive and encouraging. He had been attending Bethel since the age of nine years old! And even when his increasingly years meant there were many activities he could no longer physically engage in, you could always rely on him to be there, (even if he couldn’t always stay awake for the whole of it!)
And this special combination of warmth and strength, was due in large part to his:
That was yet another way in which George was so strong. His faith was steadfast, steady and sure. It was said of Jesus that when the time came for Him to go to the cross He “set His face like flint towards Jerusalem.” George had set His face towards Jesus, fixed His eyes on Jesus and followed and served Him faithfully his many long years.
In the Bible, there’s a man called Paul who has sought to serve Jesus. As he reached the end of his own life he says these words which apply so deeply to George too:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4.6-8)
On the back of the order of service is a photograph of George handing out Bibles to children at a service last year. You can see the delight on his face to be doing it, symbolically handing the story of faith to a future generation.
That was George, though not one perhaps to shout it from the rooftops, he was never ashamed of the gospel nor to own Jesus as his Saviour and Lord.
Even in his last days, when in hospital, George was still asking the nurses to pass him the copy of the New Testament and Psalms from his table – and loved to hear you reading it to him as he lay there.
He had had a number of falls over the last eighteen months, and the last time he returned home from hospital his words to Jill were simply: “It obviously wasn’t my time to go.” George believed that his life was in God’s hands and that, as Gail (his daughter) read earlier for us, there is a time to live and a time to die.
That beautiful passage goes on to say:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3.11)
The Bible tells us that: That longing for eternity, that search for the presence of the divine, is actually a God-given home sickness.
When we are born we crave milk and food – it would be really odd if milk and food did not exist… but deeper than our daily bread is a hunger to be completely known and completely loved – to be held in the arms of the God who made us and knows us and love us. The God who loves us so much that He Himself paid for all our mistakes on the cross, so that we don’t have to taste death because Jesus has tasted it for us.
It was the writer C.S.Lewis who famously put it this way: “If I find within myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, isn’t the most likely reason that I was made for another world?” Eternity, hidden in the human heart. Hidden from view because of our wrong-doing but opened for us at the cross through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This was George’s faith. This is was his way of life.
And because of that trust in Jesus, Jesus has welcomed him into that place of eternal peace, eternal rest, eternal joy, eternal love – and has heard those words of Jesus:
“Well done, good and faithful servant, come and enter into your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25.21)
George ran his race, he fought the good fight – and he kept his faith.
Warmth, Strength and Faith right to the last. And now he stands in glory, welcomed in by the Righteousness Judge to receive his crown of righteousness and and full access to God’s presence, passion and peace!
Donations in George’s memory are being made to the British Heart Foundation.