Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Sir David Charles Jones CBE – Thanksgiving Service – Sermon

16 January 2020

Revd Nicholas Mercer

It is a great honour and privilege to be asked to preach at this Service of Thanksgiving for Sir David today

I am conscious, not only of David’s very distinguished career as a Captain of Industry

But also the recognition of his achievements by the State

He leaves behind a distinguished business legacy

Despite these troubled times on the High Street, NEXT is still riding high

Whilst distinguished names are faltering, to name Mothercare, Debenhams and Beales from the last week alone

Where old business models are being radically re-fashioned

NEXT seems to have more than weathered the storm

I have no doubt that this is due, in whole or part, to the skill and wisdom of Sir David

But my remit is to speak, not of the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen

The day after I was asked to take the funeral, I had just attended Morning Prayer and the reading was from Matthew’s Gospel (6: 25-33)

It is the reading I chose for the Service of thanksgiving today

Because, as I listened to the reading, I was struck by the resonance with David’s life

In the reading, Jesus tells us not to worry about our life

“what we will eat, what we will drink” or, most strikingly, “what we will wear”

As Jesus says

“Is not life more than food and the body not more than clothing?”

He goes on

“Consider the lilies of the field…I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these”

 “Strive first for the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you”

What a radical approach Jesus took to the High Street

But, of course, the reading speaks of two worlds – the temporal and the eternal

And resonates with the life we remember today

David lived two lives

First as businessman

And then the life of someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease

As he said in the introduction to his biography, after his diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease was confirmed

“From that day on, I decided, there would be two David Joneses. One the chief executive of Grattan, the other the one with Parkinson’s disease. The two had to be kept strictly apart”

Put another way, David inhabited a life first where he did worry about what he and others might wear

And then a second life where he didn’t because he came face to face with the frailty of the human condition and his own mortality

In a sense, we all share the same condition

Because, whatever our material success in this world, we all travel onwards to God’s heavenly kingdom

The questions is how we hold the two together?

The answer in the case of David is that he tried to compartmentalise the two

As he said, “I lived two lives”

At first sight this seems to have been borne out by his life

First with Kays catalogues

Then General Universal Stores, Grattan and finally NEXT

Where he saw the stock market valuation increase from £25 million to £3.5 billion

A truly astonishing business achievement

From the perspective of the Church, he had been endowed by God with an amazing gift for business

He had been given his allotment of talents and used them to the full

As it says in the parable

“Well done thou good and faithful servant”

But David had another life as a Parkinson’s sufferer

Despite his business acumen, he lived each day in the light of his mortality

As he said, “The worst time is when I wake up in the morning…I dread this so much. I rarely have a good night’s sleep, mainly because I have great difficulty in moving or turning over on my side. I suffer severe cramp in my arms and legs”

Jesuit priests are renowned for the fact that they have a skull on their desks

They do this because it reminds them, daily, of their human frailty and mortality

The funeral service reminds us similarly that

“Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; when the wind goes over it, it is gone and its place will know it no more”

This might sound morbid, but it is not

Indeed, it a reason to rejoice

It reminds to make the most of this world,

To enjoy God’s creation and put all that we say and do into some perspective

How much better we might live our lives if we were daily reminded of our mortality?

If we suffer ourselves how much kinder might we be to others?

And David’s life bears witness to this

I think it is therefore over-simplistic to think of his life in two separate compartments because one informed the other

Those who knew him in business spoke of his modesty, compassion and decency

His family described him as caring, approachable, generous and with a low ego – from the shop floor to the Board room

Indeed, he gave thanks for his luck rather than accrediting his success to skill

As he said

“I always thought of myself as a lucky man, not in the sense that I had been born with any great material advantages or obvious natural gifts- I hadn’t-but in the sense that at crucial moments in my adult life the dice seemed to roll in my favour”

And his compassion for others is truly outstanding

Not only his contribution to the Cure Parkinson’s Trust

But so many more- Variety Club, Childline, Duke of Edinburgh, Healing Foundation to name but a few

He rewarded generously for his work but gave so much back

I was taken the other day by another industrial giant Theo Paphitis on Question Time

He was talking about making business decisions based on forecasts and rounded on a questioner who claimed there was no need to do so

But, as we all know, forecasts can be right but they can also be off the mark

Ultimately however, there is only one forecast for which there is absolute certainty and that is our own mortality

As I said before, we all inhabit two world

The temporal and the eternal

And we all have to work out for ourselves how we exist in both realms at the same time

In the light of this, we should all heed the advice of the our Lord in our reading

Not to worry about our life

“what we will eat, what we will drink or what we will wear”

But to strive first “for the Kingdom of God”

So when you are next in the High Street, think of Sir David and all his wonderful work

But, above all, remember, that like Sir David, we belong to both to this world and the NEXT

The NEXT world has a far greater footfall than all the High Street stores put together

We will all pass through its doors

And, if we can remember this, then perhaps we too can live our lives with similar success