The Revd Paul David Kett’s Funeral
October 14th, 2023
Lamentations 3:17-26, 31-33; Psalm 126; Revelation 21:1-7; John 10:11-16
I am the good shepherd
I wondered as I thought about this particular sermon, for this particular day, whether I could preach this sermon in Paul’s own style—I wondered if I could preach the Gospel according to Paul. I don’t think I could; I would only come up with a pale imitation. But I do want to speak at least a bit about Paul’s life as a Christian—especially the particular way in which Paul inhabited his own priesthood.
Paul was a teacher for a good number of years before training for ministry, and he brought that with him into his new vocation. “I like to think of the sermon as a time for teaching,” he said to me a number of times. This was something many of us appreciated here at St. John’s. You would always leave, after one of Paul’s sermons, having been given some little morsel, often historical, that helped many of us hear the gospel in a new way.
And while Paul lagged a bit in energy in the last years, when I arrived here, his Lenten Series were an institution of sorts. Paul loved to teach about the things he learned from reading historical Biblical criticism, members of the Jesus Seminar especially, a group of scholars who worked to try and retrieve the Jesus of history. I know that many of you found Paul’s teaching, especially in the Lenten Series, to be an experience of the renewal of your faith.
This was part and parcel with Paul’s approach to theology; he held the traditions of Christian doctrine quite lightly. When I asked him about this, he said it was because he was interested in human thriving. That human thriving is more important than getting the traditional teaching of the church just right.
Paul was trained at Wycliffe, an Anglican seminary that is evangelical in its orientation; but we can’t really think of him as an evangelical. He was certainly low church, though; when I was made a canon this year, I knew that Paul was going to ask whether I’d get fancier canon vestments, with red piping and such things on my cassock; when I said “yes, I think I will,” he was a bit crestfallen; but he just said “oh well,” with a sigh, and a smile, and we carried on.
But this too I think was part of Paul’s interest in the care of souls; Paul had seen enough of his colleagues get so caught up in the fripperies of church, that they lost sight of their people and their care. It certainly didn’t help to see some of his colleagues become more and more self-important as they added new vestments to their closets and ascended the ranks of church leadership; this sort of self-importance did not impress Paul at all. It’s really good advice for a young cleric; don’t get so caught up in yourself that you lose sight of your people and your care for them.
I was invited by the family to choose the Gospel reading for today, and I chose this one on the Good Shepherd. I chose it because there was something of a shepherd in Paul, a priest devoted to the care of souls.
After Covid, it was Paul and Kathleen who gathered the St. John’s Clericus in the common room of their apartment. Paul telling stories of driving around with Toronto bishops as a seminarian, stories of his curacy at St. Clement’s and All Stockbrokers, as he called it, some of his time at Renison, but above all stories about his beloved St. Paul’s, Uxbridge.
Paul took special interest in those of us coming up behind him in ministry; I know Paul felt a special connection to The Revd Matt Kieswetter, once of this parish; Paul gathered the discernment committee for Tianna Gocan—who after first being welcomed by Paul on her first Sunday here, has found a vocation to the priesthood here at St. John’s; and Paul was special to me in this way.
He was always ready to talk through any of the challenges I might be facing here at St. John’s. And I always felt better, and more capable, after talking with Paul; he would always open possibilities for me. He was an encourager, and a course-corrector, but always leaving the final decision in my hands, even in the times he might’ve done things differently. I myself will miss those conversations with him the most.
So maybe we are coming close to a Gospel according to Paul; or maybe just close to a Christian life, a priestly life, lived out in a particular way. Paul the teaching preacher, or maybe Paul the preaching teacher; Paul the lover of the Bible and historical Biblical criticism; the Paul who didn’t want his teaching to ever undermine human thriving; the Paul who took a low view of self-important members of the clergy, and a high view of those who loved their people; the Paul who cared for others, and who encouraged, and offered his wisdom to people like me.
Paul the unassuming shepherd.
There’s just one more thing to say. As much as Paul would have appreciated reading the gospel today in terms of our care for others—a gospel reading about how to be a good shepherd, and how not to be a bad one: offer yourself to those in your care, and don’t run away from them!—we do need to say that this reading is not about us, at least not in the first place. It is about Jesus the Good Shepherd.
And as much as Paul took interest in the historical Jesus, and as much as he had a low understanding of the place of Church doctrine in the life of the church, neither of these kept Paul from having an abiding faith in Jesus—in Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus, Paul’s own shepherd.
When I visited Paul the last time, a day and half before he died, he was ready to go. He talked about what music he wanted at his funeral. He didn’t say much about the readings, except to say: “Preston when you preach you must say this! And he quoted Psalm 90 verse 10: “The days of our age are threescore years and ten”; “a life of seventy years is enough,” he said, and “I’ve had eight years more than that. I consider them a bonus.”
Paul’s faith was not a faith that came strenuous effort, at least not at the end; Paul’s faith arose from a life of habit, a life of following Jesus, and as he approached the end, he was at peace. He was ready to die, he was ready to rest in Jesus if that time had come.
And so we end, for now, here; not with Paul on his own, but Paul following the voice of his Shepherd, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep: the Shepherd that lays down his life for you, for me, and above all today, the Shepherd who lays down his life for Paul.