I find newspaper obituaries fascinating.
Last week I read one about the singer Sixto Rodriguez who had produced a solid body of songs in the 1970s but whose career stalled, leading him to return to construction work, studying philosophy and being involved in local politics.
20 years later a documentary called Searching for Sugarman was made about him. The film won an Oscar, Rodriguez’s profile was raised, and his music was selling like never before.
Yet 20 years in obscurity had grounded the singer. He didn’t feel the need to attend the ceremony to see the Oscar awarded. I love the way that he responded to the newfound fame:
“My story wasn’t rags to riches, it was more rags to rags, and I am glad about that. Where other people have lived in an artificial world, I feel I’ve lived in the real world. And nothing beats reality.”
I was reminded of that statement this week in watching the memorial service for Timothy Keller. Jonathan, one of Keller’s sons spoke about the reality of his father’s authentic life and testimony, “He lived out the good news that he liked to talk about.”
The service revealed so many key facets of the life of this man of God.
The service was held at the centre of Manhattan in the iconic St Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue and the service was preceded by a warm welcome by the Cardinal of New York, who obviously appreciated his friendship with Keller. During the service it was said that Keller was able to learn things even from those with whom he had very little in common.
Keller shaped his own memorial service, even including carefully thought out introductions to each of the songs. One of the things that I have always appreciated about Tim Keller is how never was one word wasted or any gesture empty. In life and ministry, he was well-thought through and intentional. These qualities were on display in this well-crafted service.
Keller possessed an intellect as towering as his stature yet what many appreciated about him was his ability to make complex things accessible to anybody. Any fool can make things complex, but it takes a genius to make complex things appear to be simple.
Tim Keller trusted in Jesus who came not to be served but to serve. That statement from Mark’s gospel was part of the main reading in Tim’s memorial service. Sam Allberry, the preacher at the service, said that when people shared their memories of Tim it was not mainly about his accomplishments and abilities, but his character. Tim Keller had a great influence in the Christian world and was one of those Christian leaders who had the ear of the secular world. Yet Tim never forgot who he was and whose he was.
I have many reasons to be grateful for the life and ministry of Tim Keller, but I have often heard Tim say that the only approval in life that matters his God’s approval. The one who speaks the words, “Well done you good and faithful servant.”
Every Keller sermon ended with Jesus. The life and ministry of Tim Keller was an arrow of hope that pointed to Jesus. This service was full of Jesus. As Sam Allberry put it, “The best way to think about Tim is to think about Christ.”