Bruce Leslie Smith – a Funeral Sermon (2001)

 

Bruce Leslie Smith

To the one honoured to preach at his funeral Bruce said, ‘Point people to Christ, not me.’

‘Is there a scripture ?’  ‘Many.  Colossians 3 is special to me.’

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at  the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Yes:        Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, the King, the SoG.

Yes:        Christ died – not ‘died’ as we die and Bruce has died.
Christ died for us – ‘in our place’ and ‘for our sake.’

The preposition for has a double meaning.

Yes:       Christ was raised – by God.
He died for us but God raised him.

In vindication of his task completed.

Yes:       Christ is seated, at God’s right hand.
The risen and ascended man-king.
A man who is Lord of all
ruling for us men and women who belong to him.

But we who believe to him are with him.
We are attached to him by faith
as iron filings cluster to the magnet.
He has drawn us to himself.

When he died, we died – to sin’s penalty.
When he was raised, we were too – to a new life.
When he sat at God’s RH, we were seated with him.

Our lives are now hidden with Christ in God
We are there now.
Bruce is there now.
Hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ appears – reappears -
All believers, Bruce included, will appear with him in glory.

Bruce genuinely did set his heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the RH of God.

Bruce genuinely did set his mind on things above, not on earthly things.

His piety was utterly authentic and genuine and natural.

And humble.   Bruce was always humble before his God.

There are at least two parts to faith.
One part is believing the truth of the Gospel – like Col 3
• Christ died for us
• Christ has been raised
• Christ is seated as King at God’s RH
• Christ will return.

Part of this ‘faith’ is believing that Bruce is ‘with’ him now
- saved and secure.
‘Safe in the arms of Jesus in life and death.’

That is one part of faith.
Perhaps it is the easier part.

The harder part – dare I say – is trust in the Saviour
in the face of the pain and disappointments of life.
Often these come from fellow-Christians.
Which makes it that much harder.
Holding the faith in the face of unfolding providence.
Put another way: The life of perseverance, of pilgrimage.

Bunyan’s words were to be painfully true for Bruce.
None knew that more than he.
But he took comfort in them, including at the end.

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

 

 

So the believer’s life ‘is hid with Christ is God.’
Bruce’s life was hid with Christ in God from conversion.
But decades lay ahead.
Hard years many of them.

Few people face the heartbreak and the heartache
that Bruce faced during his life.
The challenges to his ‘pilgrim’s progress.’

But Bruce has made it home.
He would have me say
entirely by the faithfulness of Christin whose life Bruce’s life is hid.

He said, exalt the Saviour not Bruce.
But I see Bruce’s perseverance in his pilgrimage
as attributable only to Christ.

I am sure many of us face daunting problems.
Bruce’s Lord brought him through.

For he is faithful.
Let us look to him.

 

For twenty years Bruce served God in Sydney Diocese (apart from 1963-6 in the UK).
From 1956-75 he was teacher at MTC.
He was Sunday Curate at no less than 8 parishes.

I met him first in the second of these.
I was a raw convert.
He introduced me to the Bible and to theology.
And to lovely hymns like ‘My Song is Love Unknown’
and Bunyan’s ‘He who would valiant be.’

He was the star in a comedy The Monkey’s Paw.
The ABC came along and said he should become an actor.
That matchless voice.
The incomparable fluency of speech.

In the sixties he was my teacher at MTC.
Hebrew verbs.
Exegesis of the Psalms.
Early Genesis and God the Creator.
(He probably saved his generation from Creationism.)

Plato’s Republic for the London  BD.
He was at home in the Greek philosophers.

He was an accomplished scholar of 3000 years history of human thought.

At that time the University of Sydney was weighing up MTC academically.
A philosophy professor expressed astonishment at the breadth of Bruce’s scholarship.
He said he knew of no one who taught across such a vast historical span.

Broughton Knox once said that Bruce was the finest theological mind in Ausralia.

But Bruce didn’t publish.
He loved the spoken word.
He was constantly speaking on university campuses and church house parties and church pulpits.

During the 60’ a new spirit hit Australia.
The Christianity of the 50’s was over.
God was dead.  Unbelief was alive.
Existentialism.  Feminism.  The New Morality.
Hare Krishna in the streets in place of open air preacher.
O Calcutta. The Last Tango in Paris.  The Female Eunuch.

Suddenly Australia was post-Christian and hostile.

Who would rise to the challenge ?
Our Bishops ?                No.
Faculty at MTC ?         No.
Except one.                Bruce Smith.

Who appeared on TV arguing the case for Christ and Christianity ?                Bruce Smith.
Who debated the philosophers at the Great Hall of SU ?
Who did the media turn to for the ‘Christian’ PoV on anything from abortion to the resurrection ?
Just one person.         Bruce Smith.

That lightning fast mind.
Those brilliant words.

Many times I heard him debate and argue  and win.

The ABC televised a programme at St Barnabas called ‘Alternatives.’

The best voices for Marxism, Existentialism, Hare Krishna, Feminism – seven ‘alternatives,’ including Christianity.
Bruce was the voice of Christianity.
It finished up that the other six united against Bruce the Christian.
But he won that debate against them all
as he won every debate I ever heard.

In 1975 Bruce was overtaken by tragic circumstances.
He was sidelined and silenced in the public arena.
Our best advocate.  Our only advocate.
Who has never been replaced.

I can’t begin to imagine what 1975 and the next 18 years meant for Bruce.
We were in Adelaide for the first five of those years.

But a few phone conversations were enough.

Was he finished as a preacher and teacher ?

He wasn’t.        Far from it.

He continued during those years – but out of the public eye.

Few of us could imagine the pain and darkness of those years.

And yet it is here that the God-given calibre
of Bruce the pilgrim of Jesus is seen.

Perseverance through pain.

He came back.  Different.  But better than ever. No bitterness.

Graciousness and that wonderful sense of fun.
The mind now filled out with the classical world, but with no loss of the biblical.

An incredible breadth of reading and interest. Repeated visits to the lands of the Bible and of the Greeks and Romans.

Poetry written and music played.”
Private pastoral ministry in place of the public platform and the media.

A new generation of MTC and SMBC students blessed for nearly a decade.

Bruce used to say that often the devil appeared to win
but in fact overreached himself.

He was speaking about Jesus.

He was killed by man.  But God raised him up.
But the words were unknowingly prophetic about Bruce.

 

The devil appeared to win in silencing Bruce.
But the devil overreached himself.

If I may express an opinion the latter years were Bruce’s finest.

So dear Bruce. You gave yourself to God who blessed us through you
for half a century.

You were young when you died. But you were young when you started.
We were not the losers.
How kind of God to give him to us.

You served your generation and now you have fallen on sleep.

So many people inspired and built up. So many people helped.

Golden mouthed preacher of the Word.
Persuasive apologist.
Wise counselor.
Kind friend.
Unsung hero.

 

He had utter trust in his Saviour who died for him.
Jesus his friend who walked with him in the sunlight and the shade.

Jesus who led him in his pilgrim’s path.

 

Bruce loved life and he lived it to the full.
But he loved God more.

So he is gone and we feel the loss more than words can say.

 

To David + Angela, Robert + Claire, Andrew + Annette,
To Veronica. Imogen, Nathaniel, Christian and Marcus.
To his brother Stuart – we give you our heartfelt sympathies.

Bruce’s life is hidden with Christ in God.

Safe in the arms of Jesus.

Safe because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

 

To the end the mind had lost nothing
the sense of humour
the hearty laughter
undimmed
but the death sentence had been handed down
the time had come.

 

He stayed with us as long as possible for his boys and their loved ones
and for his friends.
But then he was ready to go.

 

A few days ago the pilgrim told me,
‘I am in the Jordan.  The water is cold.
But I feel the ground under my feet.  I am nearly there.’

On Friday night he said to a friend, ‘Tell Paul: “Smith is on his way.”’

The next morning he was gone.

In 1969 he was curate at St Barnabas, Broadway.
My curate.       That’s a laugh !

At Easter he preached on the Penitent Thief.
This is 32 years ago
I can still hear the voice of God in his voice
ringing down the years.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

‘Truly I say to you,

TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.’

He went to the same concert series as Anita and me.
He sat on the opposite side of the Opera House.
We saw him there concert by concert for 20 years.

When we go next we and look across he wont be there.
But I will say to Anita
‘I know where he is.’

The pilgrim has made it home.