A sermon preached by Ajith Fernando at the funeral of his friend and colleague Sebamalai Calistus Subendran on 9th October 2016 at the Youth for Christ Centre in Mannar.
Sebamalai Calistus Subendran was 17 years younger to me, but we were very close friends. He wasn’t at an age when people start preparing for their death. But I am at that age. So I have been thinking about my funeral. I had planned to have Subendran to speak at my funeral; and now I have the sad task of preaching at his!
When I think of Subedran, I think of Barnabas the encourager. He was a person who had a wonderful ministry of encouraging others. Our reading today (Acts 11:19-24) described how Barnabas encouraged the church in Antioch. Verse 24 of Acts 11 describes the qualifications he had for being an encourager: “…for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” I want to speak about how Sube exemplified the three features of an encourager described in this verse.
A GOOD MAN
When I gave people in the Youth for Christ family the news that Sube had died, the common response I got was one of weeping. One brother in the Philippines did not respond to my message for over an hour saying he was crying and could not reply. When our Youth for Christ National Director Leonard Fernando, who is abroad at present, called me on hearing the news, he could not speak because he was crying. Why such a reaction? Sube was a good man. Our former Youth for Christ colleague Richard Brohier wrote from Australia to say that Sube should have been named Nathaniel, who was described by Jesus as a person with no deceit (John 1:47). Good people are people of integrity who sincerely seek to follow the right principles and genuinely act for the welfare of others without personal agendas.
Often when we hear someone say something, we think, “What is he really trying to get at? What is the real motive behind his words?” Today we see so much lying, so much hurting people in order to get ones agenda fulfilled, so much politicking, and so much selfishness! We find it difficult to trust people and what they say and do. But we could trust Sube. This is such a rare quality today, and how urgently we need people like this in Sri Lanka!
This is why Sube was made Policy Director in Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka. He had a sharp mind, and an honest character, and he had a thorough grasp of our ethos. We felt he was the best person to set up the policies which are good for our organisation and its people. He was not a public figure; he was quiet and soft-spoken. Yet, he played a key role in YFC. Everybody trusted him, and because of that he became one of the most influential leaders in YFC. He helped bring stability to our movement, especially after I stepped down from the leadership over five years ago. I knew that Sube’s gracious and wise spirit will help the movement to go through uncertain and difficult times. I knew that our new leader Leonard had a person he could lean on for guidance and strength.
Yet today most people think that following principles fully is a task that is neither possible nor worthwhile. So we find people compromising for short term gain. Not Sube! How could he steadfastly stick to his principles? This brings us to another quality about Barnabas. He was “a good man” because he was “full of …faith.”
FULL OF FAITH
Subendran committed his life to Christ as a young man and he experienced the amazing change God made in his life. He entered into a relationship with God and followed him as the Lord of his life. He began to study the Word of God diligently. And he sought to practice what he learned. Everything he did came out of faith in God and his ways as given in the Word. In this way he was a true Methodist who had a sound mind and a warm heart.
- Sube knew that there is no use lying because he believed God will honour those who tell the truth.
- He was not afraid to tell the truth and fight for it because he believed truth was worth fighting for.
- He was always forthright in speaking against wrong.
- He did it because he believed in the truth; not because of a personal agenda he had. But he always did this with grace. He never resorted to insulting those who opposed him because he believed there was no need to do so. That was not God’s way of battling for the truth.
- He believed there was no need to cut others to push forward his agenda because we do not use Satan’s methods to fight God’s battles.
- Whatever the situation, he was always polite, and he always treated people with respect.
His conviction about the faith was so strong that he yearned to tell others about it. So he talked about Jesus with whoever would listen, so that they too could experience the salvation he knew. He often told me of conversations about Christ that he had in the bus while making his long Mannar-Colombo bus journeys.
So Sube believed God and his Word and realised that it was worth paying the price to follow it. That’s why he was a good man.
FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Our verse says one more thing about Barnabas: he was a man “full of the Holy Spirit.” When we believe in Jesus and entrust ourselves to him, he comes and lives in us as the Holy Spirit. As we give him room he fills us and we become more and more like him. Our life begins to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. This was another great Methodist emphasis. The fullness of the Holy Spirit was equated with holiness of life. We saw this in Sube. He was an encouragement to others in their walk with God because he was like Jesus in the way he behaved.
One of the best evidences of the fullness of the Spirit is when we respond to hurt the way Christ did. Jesus forgave those who killed him; and those who are filled with the Spirit of Christ also forgive those who hurt them. Let me give one example of this from Sube’s life.
Sube was probably the most theologically astute person on our staff. He was known for his deep, rich and innovative Bible teaching. Someone giving a tribute at the funeral said that Mannar was a district where the church generally received help from outside. But with Sube’s teaching ministry throughout the country, this was reversed, and Mannar began to contribute to the life of the wider church in Sri Lanka. He would like to keep up with theological trends and would sometimes ask me to get him some significant theological books.
But Sube did not have a theological degree. He went to India for theological studies, but because of a serious need in YFC Mannar, we asked him to come back a few months before he completed his studies. He came back and helped to bring the ministry into a healthy position which we see even today. With marriage and parenthood he was never able to go to and complete his degree.
I always felt that we had wronged Sube. But he never complained. He never seemed to blame us. He took this as something God allowed, and therefore he did not think there was a need to blame anyone. Yet we were keen to help him get his degree. About twenty years later we were able to find a way. The Association for Theological Education by Extension agreed to accept a lot of his credits. He would need to do seven more courses with a tutor using their curriculum and they said they would award him his degree, if he succeeded in those courses.
I tutored him over a period of two to three years and we completed six of the seven courses. What a rich experience this was. It was one of the happiest experiences I have had in my forty years of ministry with Youth for Christ. There are few joys on earth that can match that of studying the things of God with a saint. He had only one more course to complete. But he died before that. He missed the honour.
But what is that in comparison to the greatest honour that he has received? Listen to what Paul says at the end of his life:
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day,
and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
The greatest day in the life of those who know Jesus is the day they die! Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, they don’t need to die eternally. Their sins are all forgiven. They’re on their way to heaven. Then they will see how worthwhile it was to live in obedience to Christ. Subendran has received the greatest honour anyone could get: a crown of righteousness. His great services have received their real reward.
I know that Sube would want me to tell you this at his funeral….
- If you do not yet know Jesus, come to him.
- He is a wonderful Saviour.
- He will forgive you of all the sins that you have committed.
- He will come and live with you and give you a life of purpose.
- He can give you also a place in heaven.
But what about Merhala, and Ben and Jenisha? He was so proud of you. He often spoke about you will great joy. Merhala, he would have loved to grow old with you. Ben and Jenisha, he would have loved to have been with you in the crucial times in your lives in the future. That is not to be. But let me tell you this….
Your husband, your father was a great man.
And he followed a great God.
He earnestly prayed about you to this great God.
Those prayers will surely be answered.
God will look after you!
And we will do all we can to be agents of that care!
God bless you!