At 11’clock on Friday morning, some 250 people gathered at St. James, Morrisburg, to give our friend Sid Irwin a good send off. The gathering included family, military personnel, clergy, friends and neighbours – and everything in between. At close to 97 years of age, Sid had made quite an impression on a great many people.
Some of you have met Sid here. He and Elizabeth have come to visit many times in the past 8 years. In fact, one of the bedrooms in the rectory is referred to as the Irwin room. Over the years we have travelled together from coast to coast. I usually drive, Elizabeth navigates and Sid sleeps in the back seat – until the car stops. That’s when Sid wakes up. Eyes twinkling, he would get out the car and engage with everyone we met, making connections, telling stories. Sid was the ultimate people person and a great story teller.
Now, I’ve known Sid for over 35 years, so one might think that I’d know just about everything there is to know about Sid. But as I gathered stories for his eulogy, I began to see Sid in a new light. I came to appreciate that he was a far bigger personality than most of us had realized.
And I’m not just talking about his accomplishments. Sid had been a star athlete in high school. He was a runner holding the Canadian record for the ¼ mile race and was training for Olympics – until WW ll got in the way. He was an officer and unofficial chaplain to his men in Italy and beyond. And he was an archdeacon of this diocese. And the list goes on and on.
But what inspired people to travel miles in order to gather on a cold winter’s day in Morrisburg, was the celebration of a man who lived out his unshakable faith everyday of his life. One grandson summed up Sid’s philosophy of life this way, You do what you feel is right – and you do it the best you can – always. One of Sid’s many pieces of advice to me as I entered ordained ministry went something like. You won’t always like some of the people along the way – some will be a right pain in the you know where – but you gotta love em – ‘cause God loves them – and that’s just the way it is.
Jesus goes up a mountain to pray – taking with him Peter, James and John. At this point, they’d known Jesus for some time. They’d partied with him, travelled with him , seen his work and listened to him preach and teach. Very few people knew him better.
But on that day on then mountain, Peter, James and John get to see Jesus in a whole new light. He’s a far bigger personality than they had ever realized. In fact, they could now see that he was in a league with two of the spiritual giants of our faith, Moses and Elijah. And it was in that moment that they saw something of the mystery of God shining through Jesus in a powerful way. And they didn’t quite know what to do with it. But they also never forgot it. And they allowed it to transform their lives, albeit stumbling a few times along the way.
We have now come to the end of Epiphany. On Wednesday we start our Lenten journey, a journey that will ultimately take us to the cross and resurrection. As we enter into this Lenten season together, I would strongly encourage you to take the time to re read the story of Jesus, from beginning to end. You may think you’ve heard it so many times, there’s nothing new to learn. But I can assure you there is much more for all of us to experience.
Like some of you, I am a cradle Anglican. I’ve spent most of my life in and around the church. But for all I may have learned about Jesus, there is always so much more to know and experience. And with every new piece, comes fresh insight and understanding. And that helps us to at least begin to understand what is happening in the world and how he would want his church to respond. By Wednesday, we will try and have some resources available to you. But the simplest thing is to reread one of the gospels, one chapter at a time.
Part of my friend Sid’s success in ministry and in life, was his ability to change and adapt and grow. He wasn’t perfect. Sometimes he was a wonderfully stubborn Irishman and sometimes he miss-stepped. But he never lost sight of who and whose he was. And he allowed God to transform him and use him for ministry wherever he found himself. And people recognized something profoundly spiritual in Sid: a man with a deep abiding faith.
God grant that people will be able to say the same about us as we pass the mantle on to the next generation. Amen.