We gather this afternoon to mourn the loss and to celebrate the life of Wendell E. Burg. We also gather to encourage each other by affirming the great hope of the Christian faith – life beyond the grave.
We turn to God’s Word to find comfort and hope.
At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul wrote these words which were also true for Jane and now for Wendell,
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing. [2 Timothy 4:7-8]
Before Jesus died he gave his disciples of all generations this promise,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God a; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. [John 14:1-3]
When David’s infant son was ill he fasted and he prayed fervently. When his son died, he got up and ate. His servants felt this was very inappropriate but David responded,
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” [2 Samuel 12:22-23]
In each of these passages, one thing is clear: Paul, Jesus and David believed and taught that there is life beyond the grave. Today we mourn Wendell Burg’s death . . . but we affirm that though he cannot return to us . . . we will someday go to him.
Let us pray,
Our Father, we seek your strength this day. We ask that you would help us to deal with our loss. Help us to see beyond the pain to the promise you have given.
Father, we thank you for Wendell’s resilient spirit, his tender heart, and his strong faithfulness. We are grateful that you took him quickly even though we certainly weren’t ready for him to go.
We ask now that you help us to remember and to give thanks. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Mr. Wendell E. Burg, was born near LaHarpe on September 5, 1918, the son of Chester and Mary A. Conkey Burg. On January 10, 1940 he married Jane Ailes in Burlington, Iowa. Jane died September 19, 2000.
Wendell farmed all of his life near Disco, Illinois and moved to LaHarpe in 1996. He was a member of the Farm Bureau and the LaHarpe Union Church.
He is survived by two sons, Byron Burg and his wife Catherine of rural Stronghurst, Illinois and Max Burg and his wife Jan of rural LaHarpe, 6 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren;
- Brent and his wife Jodi Burg and their children Nicholas and Ashli
- Diana Burg
- Valerie Burg
- Travis Burg and his wife Jana and their children; Mallory, Jacob and Lauren Burg
- Devin Burg and his wife Kara
- And Jordan Burg
He is also survived by one sister, Jean Byler of Wickenberg, Arizona.
He was preceded in death by his wife and parents.
Wendell Burg was a simple man. I don’t mean he was simple-minded . . . he wasn’t. He was simple in the fact that he was a man of character who worked hard and was grateful for what he had.
Wendell was a hard working man. He raised hogs, cows and fed calves. He was a diligent worker. No matter how he felt he headed out to do his chores. There is possibly one exception . . .the time he fractured his neck. A hay bail fell on his head and crushed some his vertebrae. He was in a cast from the top of his head to his waist for many weeks and then had to wear a leather collar for months after that. It should be noted that Wendell drove himself home that day.
Wendell was known as a fast runner. He was quick at chasing the pigs. He used to enjoy saying he was the fastest guy on his football team. He still had his old jersey.
As a dad and Grandfather Wendell was quiet. He loved his children and adored his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wasn’t the kind of guy to nag you about something. He didn’t complain. But when he said something you knew that he had no intention of saying it again.
Wendell enjoyed the 4th of July gatherings and always took the boys to get their fireworks. They tried to get away most years on family vacations. And whenever they went somewhere, dad drove.
He enjoyed animals. He especially enjoyed the various family dogs. He enjoyed taking the dogs for a ride with him. He even let Benji have his own chair.
As a Grandfather he enjoyed when the kids came over . . . at least until they started making too much noise. When you came to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Saturday you knew you were going to watch He Haw, Lawrence Welk and the Love Boat. Wendell didn’t care much for most of the contemporary programs. He felt they were vile and catered too much to lust. He would rather watch Vanna, the Beverly Hillibillies or some of the good programs of days past.
Wendell had a sense of humor. I enjoyed hearing him laugh. He and Marilyn Jackson used to exchange gag gifts. Wendell would give Marilyn a three-carrot ring (with three actual carrots) and she would give him Diet Soap (use it and you’ll get thinner). He enjoyed having the Grandchildren drink out of the “dribble glass” or seeing their reaction to the ice cube with the fly inside of it.
He also was willing to take a joke. One lunch time Byron put a cigarette load into Wendell’s cigarette. After lunch he started to have a smoke and on the second puff blew the end off his cigarette. Jane and Byron thought it was pretty funny. After Wendell got over the shock, he did too.
Wendell came to enjoy his grandchildren even more once he started to retire from farming. He was less distracted by all he had to do. He treasured the times when they would come to visit him these last years.
Wendell believed that you should live within your means and pay your bills on time. Consequently, he didn’t have to have the newest items and what he had he used and enjoyed until they didn’t work and couldn’t be fixed any more. He believed you should be prompt . . . in fact, he generally arrived early wherever he went. He was careful and deliberate about making decisions because he didn’t want to make the wrong decision. If you needed an answer immediately, the answer was “No”.
I find it impossible to think about Wendell without thinking about Jane, his bride of 60 years. They lived their life as a team. They enjoyed each other and were committed to each other. This was never more in evidence than when Jane got sick. When Jane was in the hospital for her heart, or her kidney problems, or anything else, Wendell stayed with her. If he couldn’t stay in her room he would stay in a nearby hotel and be there before anyone else in the morning. When it came to dialysis, they would get up and leave their home around 4:00 in the morning so they could be in Mt. Pleasant when the doors opened. When Wendell said, “in sickness and in health, till death do us part”, he meant it. He never grumbled, he never complained, he just did what was necessary.
When Jane died it left a tremendous hole in Wendell’s heart. In fact, many of us wondered how and if he would manage without Jane. But he did manage. In fact that Christmas, three months after Jane died, Wendell mailed out Christmas cards to carry on just like she would have done. He was lonely, but he carried on.
He was proud of his family and grateful for how well his family took care of him. His prize possession, I think, was the family portrait taken on their 60th anniversary. He would remind me, “It was the only think Jane wanted for our anniversary”.
Wendell loved his neighbors and looked forward to the times when he could sit in the garage and visit with the neighbors as they walked by. He told me that Stella made his day when she gave him a hug right in the middle of the street!
Wendell Burg had a faith that grew deeper in the hard times of life. He attended church regularly after he retired from farming. Even in these last months when he couldn’t sit through a service he listened to us on the radio. His last visit was to stop by the church and give me a check for the church. It bothered him that he hadn’t placed anything in the offering lately.
I really liked Wendell Burg. I appreciated his tender heart, his warm laugh and his gratefulness for any kindness shown. He always concluded our visit with “Come back any time.” I’ll remember with fondness the clock in the living room that ignored daylight savings time. Wendell said it was too difficult to change the time back and forth so they just left it the way it was and knew that six months of the year it was an hour off.
I cherish the memories of holding hands with him (and with Jane) to pray and seeing his tears.
Yes, Wendell Burg was a simple man. He believed that character was more important than possessions. He believed a commitment you made was a commitment you should keep (whether it was financial or the vows of a wedding ceremony). He believed that you work hard and be grateful for what God gives you (whether it is easy or hard). He was a many who liked people, and people liked him.
He was a teddy bear of a man and we will miss him greatly.
Funerals are not much fun. They are reminders of the transitory nature of life. Funerals focus on loss: the one we love will no longer be here; there are memories that will not be shared; and there are words that will be left unspoken. Funerals leave us sad. We are all going to miss Wendell Burg.
I believe this is not a sad day for everybody. For the person who has committed their life and given their heart to Jesus Christ, death is the day of graduation. It is the culmination of a lifetime of struggle and growth. It is the goal every believer has been reaching for.
The Bible tells us that a true believer is a person who has stopped relying on their own personal goodness and has instead received the goodness and life that comes from Jesus Christ. The true believer is the person who does more than talk about faith . . . they demonstrate it.
My favorite illustration of the difference between true belief and false belief is a riddle. Three frogs sit on a log. Two decide to jump in. How many are left on the log? Most would answer one. But the correct answer is three. Deciding to jump and actually jumping into the water are two different things. The true Christian is more than a person who feels good about Jesus. You can be a non-Christian and still confess that trusting Christ is the right way to go in life. The true believer actually “jumps in”. They trust Christ for Heaven as well as for strength and guidance in the present. A true believer follows Jesus. I believe Wendell Burg had such faith.
Wendell would not have told you that He was “born again” or that he had “made a decision” for Christ. He felt too unworthy to say that he was certain of Heaven. He didn’t know the lingo . . . but I am sure that Wendell Burg had jumped into faith. I think of the many times we talked after Jane’s death. Wendell knew that Jesus was the only way to Heaven. One night at our grief support group we were talking about surviving the lonely times after the loss of a mate. Wendell spoke up and in his tears said, “You just have to believe” . . . as he pointed to Heaven.”
I think every time Wendell came home from the hospital afraid of not being able to breathe or concerned that life was nearing it’s conclusion, his belief became a little more real. He took a tighter grip of the hand of the One who had saved him. Was he scared of dying? Sure he was. I think I will be too. But I don’t think Wendell was afraid of death –because he knew what . . . he knew WHO was on the other side.
In Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote,
Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil. 3:20,21)
Paul understood that for the believer this life is a time of living on foreign soil. It’s like being on vacation in a foreign country. It’s great to visit. It can be wonderfully enjoyable . . . .but it is not home. Wendell Burg enjoyed his journey on earth. He loved his family. He savored the joys and endured the trials. Last weekend, Wendell finally went home.
Paul tells us he looked forward to the transformation of his body. I bet, like Wendell, this was something that Paul thought a lot about. Like Wendell, Paul’s body had a lot of wear on it. Paul’s body had been beaten, imprisoned, stoned and left for dead. It is possible that Paul had some kind of chronic physical ailment. Paul was getting older and as Wendell could testify, with age comes new limits to your physical ability.
Joni Eareckson is a woman who spends her life in a wheelchair because of a diving accident when she was a teenager. Her legs are lifeless and her arms are limited in what they can do. A vibrant spirit is trapped in a dysfunctional body. Joni spends a lot of time thinking about the transformation of the body. She imagines what it will be like,
One day no more bulging middles or balding tops. No varicose veins or crow’s-feet. No more cellulite or support hose. Forget the thunder thighs and highway hips. Just a quick leapfrog over the tombstone and it’s the body you’ve always dreamed of. Fit and trim, smooth and sleek.[i]
The Bible likens our resurrected body to the transformation that takes place when a seed is planted in the ground, or when a caterpillar comes out of the cocoon as a butterfly. The metamorphisis that will take place is something that we can’t presently fathom. Eareckson writes,
Trying to understand what our bodies will be like in heaven is much like expecting an acorn to understand his destiny of roots, bark, branches, and leaves. Or asking a caterpillar to appreciate flying. Or a peach pit to fathom being fragrant. Or a coconut to grasp what it means to sway in the ocean breeze. Our eternal bodies will be so grand, so glorious, that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse of the splendor to come.
This is hard for us to understand on this side of the grave. But Wendell Burg understands today. He breathes freely, and he is filled with energy. He no longer has a pile of pills to take. No oxygen is needed. He no longer has to worry about the effects of his water pill. He has been freed from the limits of this body.
Wendell would have been reluctant to leave his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He would have had great difficulty saying good-bye to his friends and all his wonderful neighbors. But imagine the joy of seeing Jesus! Imagine the wonder of the splendor of Heaven. Imagine finally seeing your faith turn into sight. Imagine the joyful reunion with a healthy and vibrant Jane, with his parents, with all those believing friends who have gone before him. The sadness of parting has given way to the certainty of reunion.
So I encourage you to grieve. It is right and natural. Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus and he knew he was going to raise him from the dead. But in your grief I hope you will also do some reflecting.
I hope you will also reflect on Wendell’s life. Learn from Wendell what it means to work hard. Learn from Wendell and Jane what it means to really be committed to your marriage. Learn from Wendell’s example about how many good and decent people there are in the world if we would just take the time to notice them.
And reflect on your own faith. Are you still sitting on the log or have you jumped into the arms of Jesus? Are you fighting God for control of your life or are you trusting Him? Are you living only for the moment or have you set your sights for eternity. I know that I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Wendell would like to see you in Heaven. I believe he would want me to tell you to follow and trust the one who is trustworthy and true.
This is a sad time for us. We ought to grieve for our loss. A chapter of life has ended and a familiar face is gone. But we need not grieve or worry about Wendell Burg. Wendell is now where he always hoped to be. Today is a bad day for us . . . but it is a good day, a very good day for Wendell.
Father, we thank you for the life of Wendell Burg. We thank you for his tender heart, his resolute devotion to his wife, his family, his work, and to you. We ask that you keep our memories sharp and clear. Comfort us in our time of loss and give us the strength that can only come from you.
We ask now that you welcome Wendell into your presence and to the place that you have prepared for Him. Let him know that he is missed already.
We ask also that you help us to learn the lessons that Wendell had to teach us. Help us to carry on with the spirit and the faith that were a part of his life. We ask these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.