Judd Strunk funeral sermon
November 15, 2017
II Timothy 2:1-7
You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Judd Strunk knew well what all of us learn sooner or later – that life is a mixture of really good times, horrible times, and everything in between. It’s a pretty simple matter to make it through days of great joy and successes, it’s not at all a simple thing to endure days that are full of incredible sorrow and suffering. Two qualities Judd and Elaine possessed that helped them through days of trial. Two qualities that we do well to focus on this morning would be a sense of humor and strong Christian faith.
You knew Judd had a sense of humor just by walking into his gas station office. Dozens of quips and quotes there were – many that I could speak from the pulpit, and perhaps a few not so much. 1)Credit makes enemies, let’s be friends. 2) Everyone brings happiness here – some by coming and some by going! 3) It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys.
A good sense of humor seems to me to be a terrific companion to a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Spend time at any funeral lunch, and you’ll know what I mean. The tears at the gravesite give way to all kinds of stories, all kinds of fond memories, and all kinds of laughter. No disrespect is intended, it’s just our way of recognizing that you can only cry so many tears. It’s our way of declaring to anybody who is paying attention to Christians in days of death and burial that caskets and funeral homes and gravestones don’t get the final word around here. Jesus Christ gets the final word. Nursing homes and hospitals and parkinsons disease and heart failure don’t get to rule in our hearts and minds for any length of time. Jesus Christ who was crucified until he was dead and buried and then rose up again on the third day – He gets to rule in our hearts and minds as time goes on. Sadness and sinfulness and sickness don’t get the best of us, the grace, the mercy, and the peace of our God get the best of folks who have been baptized into the faith and have remained in that faith through thick and thin, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer.
Even more important than having a sense of humor as a way of coping with days of routine as well as days of tragedy is to be a recipient of God’s grace, It is for the Holy Spirit to work inside of us a confidence that God can be trusted, a confidence that our sins have been paid for, our debt has been cancelled, our destination has been made sure by Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming back again.
Strengthened by Grace is our theme for the day, as Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy and urges him to let the Lord fill him with power in all the chapters of life. It was by the grace of God that Paul had been saved, it was by the grace of God that Paul had planted all kinds of churches in that first century, it was by the grace of God that these churches would have pastors to watch over their souls, and it was the burning desire of Paul that Timothy be one of those pastors who carried on his legacy.
To help Timothy understand what he was up against and how crucial it was that he be receiving the grace of God and holding onto that grace, Paul uses three metaphors. He compares the Christian life to the life of a soldier, the life of an athlete, and the life of a farmer.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. In this metaphor, Jesus Christ is the general, and Timothy is to be one of the noble soldiers in the army of the Lord. Timothy would be a pastor in a time when the church would be persecuted and even martyred for what they believed. He was to get himself ready to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from his faith.
Paul pointed out the obvious – that the man who enlists steps out of the common civilian life and his one aim and object is to please and earn the commendation of the one who enlisted him.
As I prayed with Judd and his family the night before he breathed his last, he wore his cap indicating he had served in the Korean war. For whatever reason, the longer I prayed, the more he pulled that cap down on his forehead, as if to say, “I have fought a good fight. I am finishing the course. I continue to be strengthened by God’s grace.
Metaphor #2 is the athlete. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. As an athlete would compete according to the rules, as an athlete would compete with all of his strength, as an athlete would compete with the first place trophy in mind, so was Timothy to be strengthened by God’s grace, so was Timothy to run his race with the eternal prize before him, and so was Timothy to be careful never to deviate from preaching the pure Word of God.
The last time I visited Judd at Oak Lawn Terrace, he had his high school senior annual out on the table. He pointed with pride to his baseball team’s success, he pointed out fellow classmates and athletes with whom he played, and he reminded me not at all in a boastful manner that he had been an all conference kind of a baseball player. I know that for you kids and grandkids, many of your fondest memories are of you dad and grandpa sitting on those bleachers cheering you on and wanting you to succeed with all of his heart.
Metaphor #3 is the farmer. . 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Paul wanted Timothy to know that just as the farmer could not live unless he did not first take his share of his produce, so also would the Pastor Timothy need to take of their spiritual fruit for themselves, even as they toiled for spiritual fruit for others. They would toil by preaching and teaching the Gospel, and this toil would in fact produce faith, love, and godliness, precious fruits indeed.
As surely as there must be farmers to sustain the life of the world; there must be preachers to sustain the life of the church. In Romans 10, Paul makes it clear that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And how will people call on him if they have not believed? And how will they believe unless they hear God’s Word? And how will people hear God’s Word unless preachers preach it to them? Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Judd and Elaine and their children seemed to understand the importance of preachers more than the average family. I say that because Judd always referred to me as Reverend, Elaine always referred to me as Reverend, before she died, Sue would call me Reverend, to this day, Bruce and Sarah carry on this tradition of respecting the office of pastor by calling me Reverend. If I’m not mistaken dear Leona, Judd’s mom, did as well. (Story of our Mission Society and others re roofing Leona’s house / 85 year old Armin Tesch and me up on the roof, even though I have zero skills and desire to be up on a roof / Judd spending his morning pacing on the ground below, worrying and praying and crying out, Reverend, don’t you be falling off that roof now!”)
By God’s grace I didn’t fall off that roof, suggesting the prayers of a righteous man were heard. A righteous man he was, not because he lived such a perfect life, but because God has declared him to be not guilty by virtue of Jesus Christ living in perfect fashion, Jesus Christ suffering, dying, rising up again, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, Jesus Christ ruling all of heaven and earth with grace, with mercy, and with power.
Every time Judd listened to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, He was strengthened by the grace of God. Every time he ate and drank at His Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins was delivered right into his heart, his soul, and his mind. And that’s why we say a righteous man he was, by the grace of God. May God keep all of Judd and Elaine’s descendants, all of his military buddies, all of his fellow athletes, all of his farmer friends strong in faith unto life everlasting, may He help all of us to have a sense of humor in all the chapters of life, May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ comes back as conquering king and all the world’s armies lay down their arms. May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ crowns all who have run their races straight May Judd rest in peace until the day when briars and brambles will cease and the harvest comes by the grace of God alone.
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Pastor Paul Muther