Bishop David McCall
Born 29th February 1940, died 7th May 2021

Marion, Theo (& Alison) Miriam, Alasdair & William: Alex (& Cam) Spencer & Piper: John (& Rachel) Jackson, Scarlett & Harrison: Elizabeth (& Julian) Violet, Olive & Zoe: Rachel (& Mark) Evelyn, Lois & Xavier; we are here today out of the great love we have for you and we want that love to contribute to the eagle wings of faith that hopefully will carry you through these days of sadness.  We are here, especially to honour David and his journey of faith.

So, William David Hair McCall, I am going to talk about you, or more correctly talk about the conversations you and God have had over a considerable period of time. Speaking personally, I find it a little strange that you are up there in the choir, the celestial choir, and I am still down here struggling to give a plausible account of it all.

Before launching into your conversation with God however, I want to recognize two other significant people in your life.  First your father, between the two of you, you have kept not just the rumour of God, but the vitality of the Gospel of Jesus, alive across swathes of regional Australia for decades. But even more importantly Marion – now there is a love story. She has kept and piloted the wings of your ministry in a stable and horizontal position and accompanied you safely to your journey’s end.

You and the family have chosen two powerful readings for today’s celebration of your life, (Romans 8: 31-39 and John 6: 35–40). Neither leave much room for ambiguity. They both speak to the reality that God abandons nothing. God embraces all in Christ. Being embraced, the whole, and all constituent parts, develop capacity for the extraordinary; none more so than grains of wheat that become vehicles for communion, fellowship, oneness. As the Bengal Bard, Rahindranath Tagore has said: “everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it”.  We can indeed cry confidently with Paul: “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus”.

So, David McCall, what has all this meant in your life, or even more importantly what should it mean in the lives of those of us who remain? I want to answer this question through three of your heroes in the faith: Desmond Tutu, Michael Ramsay and Cosmo Gordon Lang.  The first, Desmond Tutu. 

Desmond is famous, even infamous, for all manner of sayings, but he has one overriding theme – Ubuntu.  This idea relates directly to the Gospel reading we have just heard. Namely, that every life is inextricably caught up in every other life.  John tells us that Jesus, having taken human flesh, links every human life not simply with the divine, but with one another. We become one.   We are, because he is. 

This has clearly been one of the dominant rhythms of your life. You have celebrated, sometimes daily, the sacramental sign of renewed unity of creation, inclusive of humanity, with the Divine. Today we again celebrate sacramentally what you now celebrate in reality. 

With Desmond, you have demonstrated that what begins at the altar must be demonstrated in the world. Desmond says “a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are. My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.”  David, it has been an inexpressible joy to have journeyed with you in this great bundle of life and to a greater or lesser degree to have become who I am because of who you are.

I can easily subscribe to the view that God simply has one item on the divine to do list.  – communion or oneness. This is of course the agenda of the Spirit.  This agenda is not possible without forgiveness, generosity, hospitality. David, I know this has been constantly your agenda, but in your kit bag you have sneakily kept a another effective and enticing tool – a wonderful sense of humour.  When you laugh the whole world laughs with you.

Let us now move for a moment to the second of your heroes, Michael Ramsay. He was Archbishop of Canterbury when we were but very humble theological students.  I remember his visit to Morpeth and Ian Shevill asking me to distract him with some small talk.  That was probably the most absurd request ever made of me, the Archbishop famously had no lexicon available to him which might enable small talk, such was the level at which his mind operated!

The most famous quote ascribed to him is: ‘the duty of the church is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable”.  David, I know you worked out a long time ago that being confident nothing can separate us from the love of God, is not a signal to smugly recline in one’s personal lounge of piety. Quite the reverse, it is to boldly and confidently step out in outrageous love, and risk all for God and his people.  It is outrageous to claim Jesus is Lord and remain silent in the face of injustice. It is outrageous to claim Jesus is the Way and not be a follower. Tutu puts it this way in his inimitable style: “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said: ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land”.

Richard Rohr: puts it another way: “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a religion instead of a journey towards God and one another. This shift made us into a religion of belonging and believing rather than a religion of transformation”.  Getting the Church on to the Jesus path, as you have sought to do through a long and faithful ministry, will bring comfort to millions who long for Christianity to wear the face of Jesus. Contemporary disenchantment with Christianity is almost palpable. In the process of taking this path less travelled, it will disturb some in the institution who believe they have custodial rights. The struggle with which you and I have had to contend throughout our episcopates has been avoiding any presumption we might have had that the wind of the Spirit blows only from our end of the paddock.

Finally let me come to Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang. Not all will remember that he was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the abdication and become a confident of George VI. I must confess, David, that my knowledge of this, perhaps your most influential hero, has been almost zero – much to my personal loss, as I now realise, thanks to the digital age. His insistence that the Gospel engage every aspect of contemporary life is quite inspirational.  But it is to his writings I want to turn. I was unaware of his considerable written legacy, particularly his writings on the miracles and parables of Jesus.  Clearly you, he, and God, have discussed these on many occasions.

Delving into one of his books on miracles I found the following from his reflection on the raising of Lazarus.  I find it most apposite because of where you are now and where we all seek to be:

“Easter Day. It is the springtide of the spirit of man. Christendom is thrilled by a great thankfulness for the hope that has transformed the world. On this day the shadow of death was banished by the rising of the Light of Eternal Life. The best and truest life of men has always risen above the limits of the world — refused to be bound by the ties of sense, gone forth in quest of the eternal. But it has ever been checked by the haunting fear that in escaping from the boundaries of the present world it was only entering the sphere of illusions, that sooner or later the hand of death would seize it and prove the vanity of its enterprise. Easter Day tells us that death is the great illusion, that the spirit-life which ever sought to escape it is the great reality. It proves that the true life is eternal. That life, manifested perfectly in Jesus, could not he holden by death, but snapped its chains and came forth triumphant. Easter Day saw the revelation in one final act of the truth which Jesus spoke at the grave of Lazarus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

And so dear David, we are here today because of you.  You are who you are because of love of family and Lord.  We are in your debt because of your sure-footed journey in faith, faith like the bird that feels the dawn while it is yet still dark.

We know that in the company of the saints you will continue to journey with us, death has not extinguished the light, it has put out the lamp because the dawn has come.