Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Last Sunday I remarked that preaching Junior’s funeral would be one of the easiest sermons that I ever preached. It is not because I won’t miss him but because I have no doubt that he lived in the promises of the Lord and today his pain is gone. The Lord has wiped away his every tear.
Junior was a man who had a tough life growing up as a child—one that most of us today could not understand; but as a man he sought God first.
As a married man, God and prayer were a part of his life from the first day of marriage.
As a family man, nobody ate until the prayer had been said. And on Sunday morning, you went to worship. There was no discussion. There was no dissent. You went to Sunday worship.
The special mealtime continued even when his children became adults. The Friday evening gathering was a special time for this family, and it of course was prayer before dining.
Junior understood what it was to lay a foundation of godly wisdom. Bring up a child in the way he should go and later on he will not depart from it.
The proverb didn’t say, introduce your kids to a variety of religions and philosophies and let their young minds decide. It says bring them up in the way they should go. Junior knew that part.
On any given day, Junior might stop by the church. He would probably be wearing his cowboy hat and boots, but the hat would go straight to the hat rack when he came in the door. On occasion, he might ask a young man to remove his hat as well, at least while he was in the church building.
Junior served this church body for most of his life. He served over 4 decades as treasurer, was involved in building projects at the church on Webb Street, and served as an elder on the session multiple times. He was also Sunday School Superintendent for many, many years—that is to say, I don’t know exactly how long. He also sang in the choir and was on several occasions the choir director.
Junior had his own sign language.
In the old church it took me most of my first sermon that I preached from the pulpit to figure out what one sign meant. Junior, seated in the choir, kept wiping two fingers horizontally across his forehead.
What did it mean? Did he want me to throw a curve ball? Was it time for the pick and roll? Were these gang signs or what? I’m filling the pulpit for Jim Fisk long before I was ordained, doing my best to proclaim the word of God and this man sitting in the choir keeps giving me this signal.
I will tell you that over the years, I have learned to contend with a lot of distraction while preaching: 4 people headed to the bathroom, 3 babies crying (or nursing if I was in Africa), 2 elders talking, and a partridge in a pear tree without missing a beat in my message; but I could not for the life of me figure out what this man wanted.
And there I was trying to stay on message.
Finally, Junior wiped his forehead one last time and pointed to the wall behind me. There I noticed the thermostat and realized that whomever was in the pulpit was also guardian of the thermostat and Junior wanted some air conditioning.
Junior had other signs. On a couple of occasions years later, he would walk into my office and hold a blue Sunday school book in front of my face. Only after a few perplexed looks on my part did I realize that I needed to reorder the books.
Over the years, I have warned a few people that filled the pulpit for me not to look at Junior while preaching your sermon. Why would I say that?
Junior often had to invest a lot of effort to follow the sermon. His look was one of being very intense. Now, if you did not know that, you might wonder, “Is that man constipated or does he really hate my sermon?”
But it was just Junior trying to stay tuned in. if I ever caught myself staring right at Junior for a moment—and that look was the equivalent of 6 babies crying or nursing, I would immediately shift to May Faye who wore a constant smile throughout the message, though I know that half the time she probably couldn’t hear much of what I said. She just smiled knowing that the word of God was being preached.
Now in fairness to Junior, when I would get to the end of my message and start to bring it all together, which most generally involved how much God loves us and that we are to love one another, Junior would just work up this big, this gigantic smile.
It was the same smile that he had when the kids were up front singing or dancing or reciting a Bible verse.
Junior and Mary Faye adopted many of you. I know that Katy was their girl on Wednesday nights. Junior would have loved to come to your graduation but I know that he was so proud of you.
Amanda you were their girl for a season over these past few months. There are several more who over the years have been adopted into the family.
What many of you may not know is the love that Junior had for all of the children who would come on Wednesday nights. There was a time a few years ago when I was not sure how we—the leadership of the church—would react to the kids who came on Wednesday nights.
Many of these children had not been brought up in the way they should go. They were wild. Throwing hymnals and hurdling pews was not uncommon. I wasn’t sure how some of the oldtimers would take this. Some of my contemporaries in similar situations found their elders not disposed working with kids who showed up broken. I wasn’t sure how much time I had.
It would take time to replace some wildness with reverence. We needed to meet these kids where they were but we needed to make sure we didn’t leave them in the same condition; and I did not know how much time I would have before someone said—that’s enough! But Junior surprised me.
Junior became perhaps my best ally in continuing this special ministry to these kids. Most of the direct interaction with these children was done by a dozen other folks but for the last couple of years, these children were very much on Junior’s heart.
Junior knew that he couldn’t do much, but he could be there, talk to some, be gentle to all, and just do what he could in these final years.
These children, many are the ones that I label Throw Away Kids because there just wasn’t much love at home, were very much on Junior’s heart.
I hope that in the years to come, if some of you are struggling with a difficult child, you will consider the patience and gentleness of Junior Delp who would not give up on these little ones.
Make no mistake about it, Junior could bark every once in a while, and every once in a while he might have got under somebody’s skin; but if you knew him, you knew it was mostly bark and not much bite.
Junior had a heart of mercy. He had a heart of compassion and yes, sometimes he came off a little on the gruff side, that that was not his true nature.
His true nature was love. Much like his heavenly Father, when you got past a few rough edges every now and then, you found a heart for the Lord. You found a heart that had grown in grace.
Junior and I had a special relationship. He barked at me a couple times and I barked back. I don’t think he knew how to take me at first, but I will tell what few know. For the past several years, Junior would stop by on many a Wednesday evening just to talk.
Talk about what? Life, God, family, love, and those kids that didn’t seem to have a chance in the world but had a taste of God’s goodness whenever we had them.
It is good to have someone that you can talk with on just about anything. Sometimes it was pain or what he was going through, but mostly it was just life, the people who had crossed our paths, and the times when God’s Spirit spoke most clearly to us.
Junior and I shared one more thing in common—DISCONNECT NOTICES—these were the door hangers that I had made and we put up in Burns Flat and Dill City and even in Canute.
They were designed to get someone’s attention wondering what’s being disconnected, then they were to flip the door hanger over and it asked if you were disconnected from the body of Christ.
Junior loved to take these home and send them back with his bills. He didn’t like getting all of that extra paper—mostly ads—with his bills, so he sent back disconnect notices, hoping that someone might look at it and wonder, “What in the world is this?”
Perhaps they might ask themselves if they were connected to the body of Christ.
There are many more things that I could say about Junior, but this one I just cannot leave out. He loved his church family and they loved him.
But within that family was a special family that was his Sunday School class. The class is titled “Senior Adults” but I will tell you there aren’t any adults in there. Let me say this again--there are no adults in there. They are just a bunch of big kids who love each other very, very much.
Junior loved all of you like family and very much missed being with you over the last weeks. I won’t put words in his mouth, but I’m pretty sure he is saying, you keep that going.
I will miss Junior and especially our Wednesday talks but I won’t be sad for him.
I will pray for peace for the family, God’s peace that goes beyond understanding, but I won’t feel sad for you.
For Junior Delp had run the good race, he fought the good fight, and he kept the faith.
When I began, I said that this would be one of the easiest messages that I have ever preached. That is not always the case. I have done more than my share of funerals for people that when I asked the family, did he follow Jesus? Did he ever profess Jesus as Savior? Often the answer was, “Well, I think so. I am pretty sure he had a Bible somewhere.”
You would like a little evidence—some visible fruit—to talk about when you preach somebody’s funeral.
One of my favorite quips is: “If you were accused of following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Junior Delp today stands guilty as charged. He was a disciple of our Lord and Savior and there was plenty of evidence.
He has run the good race. He has fought the good fight. He has kept the faith.
Now there is for him a crown of righteousness which the Lord himself will award him.
If Junior were here today, he would remind us to finish the verse—go on and read the rest of that—for this crown of righteousness is not just for him but for all who seek and wait upon the Lord.
Junior’s race wasn’t over when he went in the nursing home. I brought 2 prayer blankets only to find out that they already had some. I left them anyway. I expected that he would find someone to give them to. He did. I also left a handful of blue wrist bands. Junior just smiled. I knew that they wouldn’t last very long.
If you came to see Junior, you would get to read his Jesus Calling devotion for that day, even if somebody had already read it to him. Junior wasn’t quite through running his race.
He still had good news to share and encouragement to receive.
If Junior could add anything to what I said this afternoon, I think he would remind you to run the good race, fight the good fight, and to keep the faith.
Junior, we will miss you, but today we are a little envious of you for you are in the presence of your Lord wearing a crown of righteousness.
Run the good race.
Fight the good fight.
Keep the faith.