We come here today to mark the passing of my father, Olen Lovell Bryson, brother of CD Bryson, who are both sons of Ola Ragsdale Bryson and James Buford Bryson, who was the son of Beulah May Bryson and James Fidel Bryson, who was the son of Ruth Mathis Bryson and Lafayette Columbus Bryson, who was the son of Margaret Hyatt Bryson and James Holmes Bryson Jr., who was the son of Jane Posten Bryson and John W Bryson, who was the son of Sara Countryman Bryson and James Holmes Bryson Sr., who was the son of Isabella Holmes Bryson and William Bryson, who was an Ulsterman from County Antrim in Ireland. As their son and CD’s nephew, and on behalf of the entire family, I want to thank you from the bottom of our heart for taking the time to honor and reflect on my father’s life, to express your grief, and to offer your comfort. I realize everyone has busy schedules and I realize that funerals are never pleasant. Funerals are always uncomfortable to the friends of the family and downright painful to the family and friends of the deceased.
It’s a strange coincidence, but our two biggest earthly appointments, the day of our birth and the day of our death, range from uncomfortable to downright painful for everyone involved. We’ve forgotten the pain of own birth, but it was still there. Psychologists believe that we even remember the trauma of our birth for short while. But, the memory of that pain is only for short season. We’ve already forgotten the pain and struggle of fighting our way down the birth canal by the time we play in the grass on our first summer’s day. We may have forgotten the pain but I guarantee you our mother hasn’t. Every mother in this chapel knows that childbirth is painful. Most will tell you that it is the most painful thing they have ever experienced. And fathers don’t get off the hook either. We know the months of prenatal worry, the nervousness of the hospital drive, and the mass hysteria of the delivery room. In fact, I was run out of the delivery room with my first two kids. It took two kids before I toughened up enough to make it all the way to the actual birth. As hard is it is, though, mothers and fathers always talk about having babies with a gleam in their eye and joy in their heart. We forget the pain, or just decide it was worth it, once we see our baby’s smile behind that door of first breath. We see, with our natural eyes, what is beyond the delivery room.
When my father started down the birth canal on April 21 1931, after the pain, after the anxiety, after the cries of labor, my grandparents rejoiced at his birth. They could see, with their natural eyes, what lay beyond the door of the first breath. On July 24th 2004, with me by his bed and my wife petting on him, my father breathed his last breath. With my natural eyes, I can’t see beyond that door of the last breath.
The writer of Hebrews said, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I beg your indulgence to accept my faith as evidence this afternoon. I stand here before you, with a clear conscience before God, and I tell you that I believe every word, every jot, every tittle in this Book my great-grandmother Ragsdale gave my father over half a century ago in Dutton Alabama. So, listen to what I’m saying, if only as just a testimony of what my father told me he believed and as a testimony of what I believe, without expecting any other proof. On any other day, I’d be more than happy to fulfill my calling and my place in the kingdom of God and earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints, but today isn’t that day. Today is the day for me to lay down my logic, my science, my mathematics, and simply and honestly speak the word of God from my heart. Today is not the day for debate. Today is the day for me to bury my dead.
I’ve talked about the two doors we all must pass — the door of our birth and the door of death. But our existence never ends. Jesus told the story of Lazarus who was whisked by angels when he died. Paul said to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” He was talking about Christians in that verse. Which, just so I am very clear, my father confessed his sins, repented of his sins, claimed and accepted the blood of Jesus. I’m not God, I don’t know all, and I can’t see into the hearts of men. But, I heard his prayers, I heard him confess Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he is in heaven, right now, shouting glory to the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world.
But, as I was saying, Paul was talking about the Christians when he said, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” But, the Bible also makes a universal statement for all men about death, a statement that talks about a universal appointment that both the saved and the unsaved must have. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” All men, great and small, rich and poor, black and white, short and tall — all men will die and stand before the judgment seat of God.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” But, what is being judged? Before I answer that, let me try to plainly tell you what is NOT being judged on that day.
What is preached, prayed, or sung at our funeral is not on trial. I can share things this afternoon that might be of comfort, but I, nor anyone else, can preach my father into heaven. What I am saying here is for our benefit — and for our benefit alone. I can tell you how I went with my Bible in hand to my Father’s hospital room. I can tell you how my Father listened to Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I can tell you how he listened to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I can tell you how he listened to Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” I can tell you how he listened to I John 1:19, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I can tell you how the Holy Ghost bore witness in my heart when we prayed together — especially that last time we prayed just before he died. I can tell you how my father looked into Connie’s face and made a firm confession of faith and trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior just days before his death. That is huge comfort to me as I am sure it is to you. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And what is preached at our funeral isn’t being judged on that day.
Our hard work isn’t being judged. When I was younger, I worked at Yates Bleachery and Standard Coosa-Thatcher. My father had worked there before me. At both places, folks said he worked like fighting fire. Hard work is a good thing. The apostle Paul said, “whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” In other words, “whatsoever you do, do it like you were fighting fire because you’re doing it for God.” My father was a very hard worker and hard work is a righteous act. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And our toil and sweat isn’t being judged on that day.
Our aptitude isn’t being judged. Jim Helton told me that my father was one of the best electricians at Yates Bleachery. In fact, Jim kept telling me, over and over, how smart my father was. Jim wasn’t the only one — over the years many folks, including my momma and Shirley, told me the same thing. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And our intellect isn’t being judged on that day.
Our sacrifice and service isn’t being judged. I’ve known Koreans. Both my daughters worked for a Korean when they were in high school. My home church burnt to the ground, and the Korean church in East Ridge allowed us to meet in the sanctuary for over a year. My son and I practice a Korean sport. Every Korean I know deeply appreciates the difference men like my father made. Their home land was about to be destroyed, their women raped, their children slaughtered, their freedom squashed, but brave men like my father left home and family. That was a righteous act. That was a costly act. My father had to stop all his plans while he went to war. He had to say goodbye to his family and friends. Even if he had nothing better to do, which was not the case, it was a horrible experience. The anger, loneliness, anxiety, the heartbreak of dealing in the broken bodies of war made it that way. It was a payment that wasn’t made once, but over and over. Those scenes stay with a man for a lifetime. I am sure my father saw visions of Korea until the day he died. My father wasn’t the only one that suffered. Those long days dreading a telegram and prayerful nights were hard on the folks back home. My grandparents, along with my father, had to pay an emotional price for the peace and the freedom of strangers in a far away land. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And our service and sacrifice isn’t being judged that day.
Our charity isn’t being judged. When I started going down to my father’s trailer four or five years ago, I was amazed at times, with different little odd similarities between us. About my second or third visit, I saw his black and white cat. Honestly, it scared me. It looked just like my cat Percy. I actually thought Percy had climbed up in my car and I accidentally took my cat to his trailer. I was about ready to take my cat back to the house, but something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t my cat — it was his. We had a good laugh about how I nearly stole his cat thinking it was my stow-away. Time went on and about a year later Percy met with an unfortunate incident. We were all tore up about Percy around my house, especially my son Wesley. They had grown up together — he was a baby when Percy was a kitten. The next time I went down to the trailer, I told him about Percy and how upset Wes was about it. Without the slightest hesitation, he offered me his cat. Think about it — here he was, living alone, here was his own pet that he had for years, and he offered me that pet without hesitation. You might think he just did that because I was his son. No, he did that because he was Curley. Just like his friend, Jim Trailer, told me the other day, “Curley would give you the shirt off his back.” Being freehearted is good, godly, and righteous. My father was a generous man. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And our generosity isn’t being judged that day.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” So, what’s being judged? Let me plainly tell you what is being judged.
At that great judgment hall of God there is a courtroom drama. Almighty God, the Righteous Judge, is holding court. Satan, that accuser, that hater of our souls, that adversary, that roaring lion, mentions each and every one of our sins and reminds God that His servant, the prophet Isaiah, said “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” There are two, and only two, classes of men that pass through that courtroom — those that act as their own attorney and those with a lawyer.
Those that try to defend themselves have refused the services of the Advocate, the Defense Attorney, Jesus Christ. These folks have no defense on that day because they are depending on their own righteousness. Remember what Isaiah said” All our righteousness is as filthy rags ” each and everyone one of us and each and every deed we do — it’s as filthy rags. No one can go to heaven on their own works. No one deserves heaven on their own merit. Paul said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” Some still refuse the services of the Advocate and come up guilty. They are cast into outer darkness. But, “It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” Self-righteousness falls short on that day.
But, there is another class, men like me, men like my father, that saw our own sins, our own weaknesses, our own failings on this side of the grave. We cried out “son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” We cry out the line of that old hymn, “O blessed rock of ages, hide thou me.” Then, regardless what we have or have not done, we have an advocate with the Father, His Son Jesus Christ the Righteous.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” So, what’s being judged for those of us with a lawyer? That lawyer doesn’t use legal tricks, he doesn’t use deception, and he certainly doesn’t argue that we were good. He simply walks up to the balance, and places his own blood, the blood of son of God, on the scale.
Paul said, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
“It is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment.” And those of us that accept Jesus have his righteousness placed on that great scale instead of our own. That is the only way to enter heaven. Where is heaven? Exactly what is heaven? Even after studying theology for a lifetime, I can’t honestly tell you much about heaven, but there are a two things I know. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” My Lord and my God told me all I need to know — he is there and I am going.
Paul told the Romans, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
It is to that love I commend the soul of my father this day. The peace and grace of Jesus Christ be on you all. Thank you for coming. This service is concluded.