• Dr. Hal Kitchings


Updated: Sep 3, 2020

Dr. Hal Kitchings | Sept. 3rd, 2020

I was asked to deliver the message for a buddy from high school. We played baseball together and had many meaningful and funny experiences along the way. His name was Jon Harper. The funeral was last week. I was honored to be asked by the family to preach. He died suddenly, of an apparent heart attack at the age of fifty-nine, leaving behind his sweet wife of many years and three wonderful young adult daughters. This was a first for me. Meaning, I have preached numerous funerals thorough the years, but never for a buddy. Oh, I’m not saying many of the funerals I’ve done weren’t friends. Many of them were church members and they can certainly be friends. And some were friends I’ve made since adulthood. But never a guy I went to school with and played ball with from way back. You know, the kind of buddy that you don’t have to see for decades, but you’re still buds. Yes, that kind. I wasn’t sure if I would make it through without “losing it.” I did, by God’s grace, due to the prayers of others—especially my church family. I’m thankful and I will never, ever, forget the experience. I want to share some of what I saw in hopes that it will be a source of encouragement for you today…

I saw a wife full of joy. I always knew Janie Goza Harper to be a very delightful person from school days. I was proud of big Jon when I heard they got married. He did good! And so did she. Can you imagine the wide range of emotions she was and continues to go through? Well, every time I glanced at her while preaching, she smiled at me. What does that say? Well, it may be that she’s thinking…“what a nut you are. Now I know why you and my husband were such good friends.” I actually think she was just being herself. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It comes from the inside, out. Janie wasn’t thinking about herself. She was thinking about her daughters. She was letting me know she was “with me” while sharing. She was rejoicing inside because she knew where her husband was now. And she knew God would see her through this part of her journey, just like He had other seasons in life. Joyful Janie! I think I’ll call her that the next time I see her.

I saw daughters full of love. I had never met Haley, Sarah Powell, or Lindsey. Wow, what a testimony! They were impressive. Each one is different in their own way. Each one cried, laughed, and worshipped the God they know and love. Each one loved their daddy—deeply! I’m telling you, there is something about the love between a daddy and a daughter that is some kind of special. They had that with my buddy and I’m so very grateful. Although it’s painful now, it will be a source of tremendous blessing in the days ahead. Love goes a long way. Janie and Jon are to be commended for showing them unconditional, authentic, love. They showed us they love God and love people.

I saw church members serving faithfully. First Baptist Starkville was Jon’s church home. During a pandemic, you really don’t know how the church family will respond. Well, I saw them serve, observe social distancing practices, and do much more than most churches would likely do with such short notice. A number of the members participated in the service and did a fabulous job. You’ve probably heard it said that a church should be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints. Well, they were a hospital for sinners all right, and demonstrated how to take care of patients. Patients from all walks of life. Well done, church family, well done! You “raised the bar” for all of us! We have much to take into account the next time we host a funeral for a church member under similar conditions.

I saw his mom cry and smile during the same hour. I love Mrs. Margaret McKenzie! We all did, growing up. She tolerated a lot. I’m not just talking about from Jon and Thad, his brother, I’m talking about from their friends.  Just ask her. Well, on second thought, don’t ask her. She has an incredible memory. She reminded me of a story I had forgotten about. (I think I intentionally let it slip away…) Needless to say, when I would glance at her, she’d smile. Is that not just amazing! I’m up there preaching her son’s funeral and she’s smiling at me. She was trying to encourage me and smiling at all the memories, I’m sure. I’m pretty sure Jon and Thad got much of their great sense of humor from their mom. I know they got their musical talent form her. She wept, too. Wouldn’t you? I can’t imagine the pain a parent goes through when a child dies before them. Hey, you folks in Clinton, please keep praying and don’t feel like you have to say a whole lot. Just smile at her and hug her when appropriate. And if you forget to wear a mask, she probably won’t care. If she does, just blame it on me. Her son Jon use to blame stuff on me all the time. She’s used to it. 

I saw his only sibling courageously step up to the podium to speak. When my dad died, I didn’t say a word. When my mom died, I didn’t say a word. It takes a ton of courage to speak during a loved one’s funeral. My man, Big T, Thad Harper, stepped up to the podium and delivered an insightful message. Only Thad could share what he shared, and it be so heartfelt. He shared childhood memories and scriptures of comfort. I know having his grace-filled wife and children down front provided an extra amount of assurance. Thad is a strong Christian and everyone in attendance could sense the depth of his personal relationship with Jesus. I could only hope I would have the courage and wherewithal to do so if I were asked to speak at my sibling’s funeral.

I saw many of his friends make sacrifices to attend the service. Mark Twain once said, “No man is a failure who has friends.” If that be true, Jon was a huge success in life! There were friends from Clinton, where he grew up. There were friends from his adult life, having spent years in the field of education. There were friends from Starkville, where he’d made his home in recent years. (Folks, there were friends that were not able to attend, that wanted to do so but just couldn’t get there for various reasons.) Then there was this one friend, Joel Waters, that spoke during the service. He represented so many of us. Joel could always hit the baseball growing up. Our man, Joel, hit it out of the park! God gave him the words to say that we all needed. Joel and his sweet wife, Susan, made sacrifices to be there on a Monday during a work week. So did many other friends. Why? Because Jon was so well loved, and we needed each other. Jon loved his friends and his friends demonstrated their love for him until the very end.

I saw the kind of funeral I hope to have. Jon’s funeral was a celebration of life and brought glory to God. That’s what all believers should desire their home going celebration to be. Don’t you think? Wow, what a worship service! There was uplifting music, powerful testimonies, and scriptures shared for comfort and inspiration. Folks, there was a video put together of Jon singing from various venues in the past. It was absolutely breathtaking! Yes, I want to be like Jon. I want to finish strong and have a celebratory type funeral service, without a video of me singing. 

THAT’S WHAT I SAW AND I’M PRETTY SURE THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY… Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. ~Psalm 116:15

Until Next Time...

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