R. Vernon James

Funeral for R. Vernon James 1/2/2014

We gather this morning to remember and honor the life of R. Vernon James. We also gather to comfort each other in this time of loss. Today we strive to look for something deeper and more wonderful than what this life can give us.

          In Psalm 23 we read,

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.  (KJV)

In 2 Corinthians 5 the Apostle Paul gives us this assurance,

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. (NLT)

Please pray with me.

Our Father, we come into this place struggling between feelings of devastation and hope. We feel acutely the sense of loss this day brings. At the same time, we know that this is a day that gives us the opportunity to believe more fervently than we have ever believed before. Help us in our struggle. Help us during this time to be reminded of your blessings and your promises, and may these memories bring us strength. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

R. Vernon James, was born on January 7, 1925 (which would have made him 89 years old next Tuesday). He was born in Sciota to Clive Emmanuel and Bessie Lenore Graves James. He met Donna Detrick in High School. Donna says it took him three years to work up the nerve to ask her out. He was so smitten that when Donna joined the band he joined the band too . . . as a cymbal player. He discovered after one session that he had no musical ability. But, the bridge had been built.

Vernon was called into the military and he and Donna were married on September 26, 1945 in Little Rock, Arkansas. From Arkansas Vernon went to Germany where he served for a year in the aftermath of World War II.  Vernon and Donna were partners in the truest and most beautiful sense of the word for 68 years. Donna never needed to worry about her husband being faithful. He was an attentive and honoring spouse throughout their married life. Even in little things he showed his love and respect to his wife: as they got older Vernon never wanted to walk ahead of Donna . . . he wanted to be at her side. The feeling was mutual.

The James family was blessed with three daughters, Ann, Sue and Kay. Vernon loved his daughters with every ounce of his being. As a dad he wanted them to know unconditional and unwavering love, yet he also wanted to teach them responsibility and instill within them a sense of honesty, character, integrity, and faithfulness. He was successful.

He was not the kind of dad who yelled. Yet he made his point. . . often by pinching the girls. (When you got pinched, especially in church, you knew you were in trouble). He told his girls that nothing good ever came out of a bowling alley or a pool hall so they didn’t need to go there. He also told them that nothing good ever happens after midnight so he expected them home before that time. The family always ate dinner together. As his girls got older he let them make their own decisions but was always ready to give his counsel when it was desired. Until then, he kept his thoughts to himself.

Vernon’s capacity to love continued to expand as his girls added mates to the family, and then as Grandchildren and then their mates, and then Great-Grandchildren were added to the family. He loved them all equally and fully. His family was his treasure.

Vernon was a farmer all his life. But he was not just a farmer by vocation, it was his passion and his joy. He derived great satisfaction from doing a job well done and worked hard to continue learning through the years. His machinery was always well cared for and ready to go. His lawn was immaculate, the trees were always trimmed and his road banks were always mowed. He kept careful records and could tell you what the weather was like on any date for the last ten years. He knew where he spent every penny and he paid cash for everything. He always had the latest Platt books and studied them carefully.

Vernon was a long time and active member of the Sciota Methodist Church and later of Wesley United Methodist Church in Macomb.  He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge.

Vernon died on Saturday December 28th at 11:20 p.m. at Wesley Health Care Center in Macomb.

He is survived by his three daughters, Ann (Robert) Rodeffer of LaHarpe, Sue James of Good Hope and Kay (Steve) Hilligoss of Good Hope

His grandchildren, Stephanie (Douglas) Reed of Bloomington, Katina (Noah) Livermore of Aledo, James (Kristen) Barclay of Macomb, Emily (Travis) Hohenbery of Macomb, Sarah Hilligoss of Good Hope and Gretchen (Jason) Rodeffer-Krumpelman of Gilbert, Arizona;

His great-grandchildren: Cody Higgins, Grace Boyles, Bryce Reed, Kylie Barclay, Brennon Reed, Addison Reed, Jaxon Barclay and Paxton Livermore.

And his sister, Donna (James) Reese of Plano, TX.

He was preceded in death by his parents.

I did not know Vernon James well. But I wish I had. It is a truly remarkable thing to sit with his family and listen as they talked about Vernon. Every single person spoke with love, respect, and a feeling that they had been so richly blessed to have known him. He was a man who blessed four generations.

I learned a lot about Vernon. I learned that he would do anything (almost) for Donna. He honored her, he defended her (you learned early on that you did not sass mom or grandma), and he sought to make her life as rich as possible. He took good care of the home. He managed the household finances with precision and care. He took her to California, he took her to the East Coast, he bought her and organ, and he even got a motor home in later years so they could go to Florida in the winter.  He even let her have horses . . . for awhile. He knew she loved the horses and he endured  . . . but when the opportunity presented itself, he got rid of them. It was perhaps the only time he said “No” to her. He just wasn’t a horse person. The only time he would raise his voice (and even then, not in anger) was when Donna forgot to record an amount or a check in the checkbook.

Vernon was a guy who loved to tinker. He loved to find ways to solve problems. He had a sharp and creative mind. He made a bean machine before there were bean machines. He made a device to dredge the creek. He made a picnic table out of pipe. He made everyone in the family a clock out of planter plates. When the Grandkids wanted to swim he got a tarp and made them a pool. When they wanted to play in the creek he got out inner tubes. When it snowed he would get out the tractor and make a big hill for them to sled down. He put a pink playhouse out in the yard.

Whenever someone would leave the house Vernon always said the same thing: “Don’t go fast”. Now it is true that Vernon didn’t believe in driving fast. A trip to Galesburg would be a “day trip” for him. But after thinking about everything the family told me, I have the sense that he didn’t just mean don’t drive fast . . . it was his philosophy of life: Don’t live so fast that you miss the real treasures of life. Don’t drive so fast that you miss the beauty around you. Vernon didn’t miss treasures.

He always knew what was going on in the lives of every member of the family because he took the time to listen. He and Donna went to every game possible his children or grandchildren were involved in. When the kids were home or the Grandkids were visiting, Vernon was working hard to make sure they had a good time. He knew how to be near without being suffocating. He successfully made his home into a place where his family loved to be and always felt they were safe. He did this by not going too fast in life.

Vernon was very organized. He had a place for every tool. When the harvest was finished all the vehicles were serviced, repaired and made ready for the spring. This wasn’t as much an obsession as it was wisdom. If he knew where everything was, he wouldn’t have to waste time looking for it. If everything was ready to go there would be no last minute scramble to get ready. He was disciplined so that he didn’t have to live fast and overlook what was important.

Vernon took pride in what he did. He pursued excellence in everything. Yet he was a humble man. He didn’t do these things to impress other people. He did it because he felt that doing your best was simply the way to live your life. He took good care of his material possessions yet he never saw them as an end in themselves. It didn’t bother him to have the kids or grandkids play on the some of the machinery or play in the shed. Stuff was just stuff.

Vernon was a great sport. When the kids or grandkids would make a “fancy casserole” he would eat it. He might have to cover it with crackers and brown sugar but he ate it. If they asked what he thought about their creation, he wasn’t going to lie but he was kind and said simply: “you probably don’t need to make that again.” His grandkids would tell you that Vernon was “cool”.

Vernon had a sweet tooth. He loved sugar, chocolate and anything made with those ingredients. Everyone knew that there was a shelf in the kitchen where cookies could always be found.  One of his favorite tricks was to put an M & M (or something chocolate) on the back of hand and then he would slap his arm to launch the item into the air and then he would catch it in his mouth.

Vernon was playful. Instead of yelling at kids for jumping around he would simply say, “You’re making me nervous”. He was always paying attention and if it didn’t seem like you were having a good time he would slide a quarter in your direction or fill a balloon with air and let it go so it hit you in the head. He was always rubbing a balloon on his hair so he could generate static electricity and stick the balloons all over. He might start tapping his fingers or endlessly click something until he got your attention (or drove you crazy). He loved to invent things to play with and his imagination seemed to know no limits.

Vernon was always giving you something to do. It might be walking beans (for 25 cents a row), washing windows, painting something, or helping Grandma in the kitchen. But whatever it was he had for you to do, he would make it fun and would be there doing it with you. He could turn even simple things into fun.

Vernon James was a man of highest character. He wasn’t one to talk a lot about his faith. He knew anyone could talk about faith. He lived his faith. He was a man of integrity. He made sure he paid every penny her owed. He always told the truth even if it was something hard. He did what he told you he would do and was where he said he would be. He was consistent in faith, in character, and in his dealings with others. He served the Lord every day of his life and sought to instill that faith in his family. As a result those who knew him, respected him and looked up to him.

Every member of his family said they would like to become like Vernon James. They would like to have the kind of marriage that Vernon and Donna had. And I have to tell you, even though I didn’t know him well . . . I find myself wanting to be like him too.

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When you read a great book there is a measure of sadness that comes as you reach the last page. The story is over. Companions you have enjoyed are left behind. However, if the book you are reading is a part of a series of books it is a different story. In that case when you finish one book you eagerly look forward to the next installment.

Today we finish a “book”. But it is just volume one of a story that goes on forever. I think Vernon understood this.

He endured while his body gave out on him. He lost his eyesight, his hearing, and then his mobility and health. And when Ann talked to him recently he said, “I am ready to go home.” He didn’t mean back to the farm . . .he meant he was ready to shed his earthly and broken down frame and enter the home that Christ has prepared for all who put their hope and trust in Him. He was ready to start the next book of life.

Our task today is to try to comprehend that death for the believer is not the end; it is the beginning. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; He who believes in me, will live . . . . even though He die.” (John 11).

This is not just pie in the sky sentimentality. What Jesus promised is underscored by His own resurrection. Jesus was dead for three days and then came back to vibrant life and said, “This is not the end”. This isn’t some philosophy or theory of what happens after we die . . . it is an eyewitness testimony!

It is important however to hear carefully what Jesus said. He does not say that everyone goes to Heaven (as is popularly believed). He said those who believe in (put their trust in) Him will live even though we die.

We are reminded that we can never earn Heaven. Even the finest of men cannot earn Heaven. Vernon knew that.           God’s standard is perfection and we missed that a long, long time ago. When we ignore God’s commands, when we honor people or things more than we do Him, when we strike out in selfishness . . . we sin. “ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory”. We need someone to rescue us. That someone is Jesus.

The Bible declares that those who give their lives to the Lord, those who put their confidence in what He has done rather than what we have done; those who surrender to His leadership in their lives; will be viewed as pure and holy. Their sin will be washed away and they will live even though they die. They will walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death.

Death for the believer is not the end of life . . . it is the end of the journey TO life. Think about it. Last Saturday Vernon stepped out of this world into Heaven. Try to imagine what it would be like to step out of a broken and decaying body and suddenly be greeted by the open arms of Jesus!

At that moment, all of life reached its climax. And though in light of God’s greatness we see our unworthiness with greater clarity than ever, we will also appreciate, love and melt under God’s incredible love and His grace. Life will be complete. The long journey is over and the destination has been reached. What a moment!

Could anything be better than hearing the Lord Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”? To be someone who has lived his whole life seeking to do what he believed God wanted him to do and then to hear these words . . . what incredible joy Vernon must know.

So please understand that we do not grieve FOR Vernon. There is nothing about his situation to feel sorry about. We grieve for OUR loss. It is more about us than about him. It is natural, it is appropriate, and you cannot truly love someone and not grieve when they are no longer with you . . . but remember the grief it is about OUR loss, not his. Vernon James has lost nothing and gained everything.

So grieve, shed your tears, acknowledge your loss, but do not be without hope. Dare to imagine the glory, the beauty, the blessing that Vernon James now knows and put him gratefully in God’s hands. It is a joy that we can know if we follow Vernon’s example and trust His Lord. And how much greater will be our joy to meet our Lord and to reunite with Vernon. His passing creates within us a new yearning (and hopefully a new motivation) for Heaven.

So, let’s give thanks for the blessing we have known and try to remember what Vernon has taught us.

  • Love is best expressed by being attentive and devoted.
  • People who brag are impressed with themselves. People of character are respected by others.
  • Discipline in your life sets you free to enjoy life more fully.
  • If you talked during Paul Harvey you never learned “the rest of the story”.
  • If you focus on making sure others are having a good time, joy will fill your own soul also.
  • Yellow should be in any flower bed, it brightens things up and draws attention to the other colors just like sunshine brightens up everything.
  • A necessary staple for a happy family is an ample supply of balloons.
  • You will never know what problems you can solve creatively until you try.
  • When you have a great mate, you need very little else.
  • Faith is communicated more effectively by demonstration than by words.
  • Things that are sweet make anything better.
  • Family is a blessing from God that should be cherished and celebrated any chance you get.
  • If you know the weather, you know how to best plan your day.
  • If you live in a small town, the idea that you “got away with” something is a delusion.
  • We would all enjoy life more fully if we remembered not to “go too fast”.
  • Finally, we are learning that if we put our trust in Christ and follow Him in our life, dying is not the end . . . it is simply the end of the beginning.

Vernon James may have gone on to his eternal home, but the lessons he taught and the love he shared will remain for a long long time. Thanks be to God!

Let’s pray together.

Father, how wonderfully you have blessed this family. Thank you for the life, example, and testimony of Vernon James. We ask that you welcome Him joyfully into your kingdom.

We also ask that you help us. Help us to see beyond the grave to the life that you have prepared for us. Grant us comfort in this time of loss. We especially ask that you provide for and wrap Your wonderful arms around Donna. Grant her joyful memories and a fervent hope. Help her to continue to find great joy in her family.

Grant us a measure of Vernon’s spirit so we might follow his example of faithfulness. Help us to care for what You have planted in us through him. Give us a hunger for You that impacts our living.

We ask all this in the strong, wonderful and life-filled name of Jesus. Amen.