We gather this morning to celebrate the full life of Winston Thompson. We also to find comfort in our time of loss. The best place to find comfort is in the Bible. In Psalm 91 we read,
1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3 the Apostle Paul wrote,
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
It was Jesus who said,
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The point of all the Biblical teaching is this: comfort is given by the Lord. So, let’s turn to Him in prayer. Our Father, we know that long life is a gift from you. In fact, we know ALL life is a gift from you. This morning we remember that this gift is precious and that life on this earth does not go on forever. Father, help us to draw upon your comfort today. Help us as we think about deeper things than what we normally focus upon. Help us also to remember and to celebrate the blessing you have given us through Winston’s life. Help us to this end we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. — Winston Herschel Thompson, was born on October 26, 1923 near Industry, IL the son of Grover Cleveland and Elizabeth Pruitt Thompson. He had six brothers. The boys used to like to say they were seven brothers and they each had one sister. No, they didn’t have seven sisters. The seven of them all had the same one sister. Winston graduated from Blandinsville High School and served in the Army Infantry from 1943-1948. During World War II Winston and four of his brothers all served at the same time. Winston married Mary Jane Hood in 1950. They had two children, a son Wendell and a daughter, Linda. Mary Jane and Winston later divorced. He later married Betty Hainline. They also divorced. On October 28, 1978 he married Gloria Ann Brown in Abington, IL. They had a daughter Carrie. Winston worked as a truck driver and farmed. He worked 13 years for Pearl Grate, 8 years for Therma Gas and 8 years at Haeger lamp in Macomb. He also worked for the Journal-Pilot newspaper. He was a member of the 40 & 8 Club in Macomb and over 50 year member of the Blandinsville American Legion. He attended the LaHarpe Union Church. Winston died at 90 (and ½ he would say) years old on Monday, May 19 at the La Harpe Davier Care Center. Mr. Thompson is survived by his wife, Gloria, two daughters, Linda Sue (Jerry) Clark of Carthage, IL and Carrie (John) Cameron of LaHarpe, one son, Wendell (Kim) Thompson of Muscatine, IA, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by one sister, Freida Allen, six brothers, Kenneth, Bernard, Gerald, Richard, Lloyd and Leonard. —- I think I first met Winston at Carrie and John’s wedding. I liked him right from the start. There was a crustiness about him and a candor that I suspect put some people off but I found it endearing. I used to see Winston out delivering the Hancock Journal Pilot. He was a guy who tried to not just deliver the paper but provide a paper delivery service. One day I found a paper in the door of my house. I hadn’t ordered it. I found out later that Winston liked to take the extra papers and give them to people. He saw them as prospective subscribers. It worked, I subscribed. Winston and Gloria came to church with John and Carrie for a stretch of time. Winston was always attentive and it was always fun to chat with him before or after church. I also enjoyed my visits at hospitals and the Nursing home. To be honest, Winston Thompson is kind of a hard man to describe. If you were his friend, you found him to be cheerful and fun. If you were not a friend, but a foe, you would have a different picture of him. The Thompson boys (Winston and his brothers) had quite a reputation. They had a reputation first for playing baseball. The brothers formed their own team and took on all who would play them. They also had a reputation for being king of “tough”. They were known to settle things with their fists. That was true for conflicts between the brothers and with anyone who tried to come between the brothers. You may not know this but Winston was a highly decorated soldier. He has three purple hearts and a bronze star. He was supposed to have a medal of honor but the paperwork got messed up. Even though Winston was a war hero he didn’t talk much about the war. Like most who have seen horrible things they want to erase from their memories, he had no desire to relive those days. He did have one story he liked to tell. One day there was a yellow alert which meant everyone was supposed to jump into a foxhole and take cover. Winston followed orders and jumped in the nearest foxhole. Unfortunately the hole he went flying into already had an older woman in it. Apparently she felt the hole was at its foxhole capacity and started hitting Winston with a cane! Winston never had a lot. He worked hard but often barely made ends meet. In the early years he and his wife worked really hard to provide at least one special gift to the kids each Christmas. Those gifts are still among the most cherished because of the sacrifice involved to secure them. Winston always had a big garden. The kids were always enlisted (or maybe we should say drafted) into pulling weeds. Wendell and Linda have had no desire to have a garden of their own since those days. The family always looked forward to the Blandinsville Farmers Picnic. They also enjoyed Sunday picnics in Nauvoo along the river. The family may not have had a lot but what they had was precious. Winston at one time was a pretty heavy drinker and possessed a bad temper. When he would get mad it was easy for others to get hurt. There were a few times when discipline may have taken on an overly harsh manner. Winston wanted his children to be independent and capable. When Wendell was learning to play baseball, Winston threw the ball hard because he wanted his son to excel. And Wendell did excel. Winston enjoyed the outdoors. He loved to fish. It seems this was something he began doing with his dad. He also enjoyed deer hunting (even though it sounds like he wasn’t real good at it.) One year he was hunting with Piz. The deer were flushed out and five were right below Winston’s stand and they were parked there for quite a while. Piz worked his way over to the stand to find out why Winston wasn’t shooting. It was because he was fast asleep! The story goes that even when he was awake he couldn’t get any deer because the deer would always hear him opening his Wurthers Candy! Winston was quite the roller skater. He bowled. He went squirrel hunting. He did wood carving and made lots of lawn ornaments. He was good with his hands. Winston was proud of the fact that he helped with the building of Argyle Park and Argyle Lake. Winston loved his children. He liked combing the girls’ hair. He looked forward to the family get-togethers at Christmas, Father’s Day and his birthday. He appreciated all the help he received from Cindy and Mike. He appreciated most of the help he got at the hospitals and Nursing homes. I suspect those he didn’t appreciate knew about it! I believe Winston would tell you that all things considered, he had had a really good life. I think he’d be right. — No one likes to attend a funeral. It is sad. No one knows what to say. And there is just something about a funeral home that is a little unsettling. We may not like to attend a funeral but The Bible tells us that a gathering such as this is important. In the book of Ecclesiastes listen to Solomon’s words,
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
King Solomon who was known for his wisdom said if you had to choose between going to a funeral and a party, it would be better to go to a funeral. Parties are fun but funerals are important. Parties focus on the moment, funerals focus on the meaning and purpose of life. Think about it, at a funeral we are led to think about what is truly important in life. It is true that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. We don’t truly appreciate our home until it is destroyed or we have to move. We don’t appreciate our health until we are sick. We don’t appreciate our children until they move away. And we don’t appreciate many of the special people in our lives until they die. Movies such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and Charles Dickens “The Christmas Carol” drive home this theme. There is quote that is attributed to the Dali Lama (with whom I would disagree on many things). He was asked what surprised him most about humanity. He answered,
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
A funeral breaks us out of this cycle. It reminds us to see what is right before us. It causes us to cherish relationships and appreciate blessings that all too quickly can be taken from us. Second, a funeral reminds us that our life is temporary. I think one of the reasons we don’t like funerals, is because it reminds us that someday we too are going to die. The truth is that we are not guaranteed a single day. Realizing this fact helps us to live more fully. We are reminded that we must not delay in expressing love. We must not put off teaching values to our children. We should enjoy being with those whom we love. We are reminded that we need to forgive quickly and be reconciled fully. We shouldn’t put these things off to some future day because we may not have that future day. Third, a funeral is good for us because it forces us to consider eternity. It is easy to sidestep questions such as: “Is this all there is?” “What happens after we die?” “Is life really just a mad dash to nowhere?” We can’t sidestep these questions at a funeral because suddenly those questions matter greatly. At a funeral we are forced to deal with these questions. If life is merely a mad dash to nothingness, we are left with despair. If this is all there is, then what motivation do we have to sacrifice our lives for someone else? If there is no real destination to life, what real value is there in any virtue? Why not just get what you can, in whatever way you can, and just forget about the other guy? Why not just live for the moment because nothing else matters? Sadly, we know people who seem to do just that. There is another possibility. “What if there is a life beyond the grave?” If there is, that changes our entire perspective on living. Suddenly what we do now matters greatly. This changes how we view death and how we respond to today. The Bible has stood up under intense scrutiny for centuries. It proclaims a bold and wonderful message. It says we are living now to live again. It tells us that there is a God who created the world and everything in it with a purpose. It tells us that we are valuable and precious to God and He wants to have a relationship with us. It says that there is a right way and a wrong way to live and we will someday give an account for our choices. In the Bible we read about Jesus. He is not a work of fiction. Outside history books confirm what the Bible says. The Biblical record is one that is recognized as valid and true by anyone who honestly examines the historical record. In the Bible we learn that Jesus claimed (as did his friends and followers) that He was God in human form. Jesus taught brilliantly, lived like no one else, and was a victim of grave injustice. He was executed because he bucked the status quo. We are told that He died willingly and He Himself said that He did it for us. He paid the price for our rebellion. The Bible loudly proclaims that Jesus came back from the dead. History and science have never even come close to being able to prove otherwise. Hundreds saw Jesus alive after He had died. The evidence for His resurrection is compelling and people were radically and permanently changed (then and now) because they were convinced He had come back from the dead. It was this Jesus who told us,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)
The Bible tells us not only that there is life beyond the grave; but also that we can know life after death if we will truly acknowledge Christ as our true King and only Savior. It is a bold promise. It says we should live differently now because what we do here matters forever. Justice will be done. Sacrifices do have value. Death need not be feared. The message of Christianity is pretty straightforward:
- We are a mess. Every one of us is broken in some way. Not one of us can measure up to God’s standard. We cannot get right with God by trying to do good. That is like pay a dollar every week on a million dollar debt that keeps growing.
- Jesus is the only One who can help us. The gospel message is that Jesus lived the only perfect life. He traded His perfection for our sin. He died in our place so we could live as a child of God. He is the only One who can help us and He says he is glad to do so.
- If you want what Jesus is offering . . . run to Him. I like to say becoming a follower of Christ means being willing to bet your life on Him. It is more than saying a prayer, it is to enter into a relationship. This relationship (like any relationship, will change your life).
So, how does all this apply to Winston? To be honest, I don’t know where he was in terms of his relationship with the Lord. But whether I know or not is irrelevant. God knows. The message of God’s grace is that God’s mercy is not contingent on our actions. It is not about us pushing the right buttons. It is about putting our trust in Him. EVERYONE who does so is forgiven and made a child of God. If Winston put His hope in Christ (even if he did it in the moments before he died), then I have no doubt he is with the Lord. Sins of the past are forgiven. Insecurity is replaced with acceptance and love. A broken and weary body is cast aside for a life with no tears, filled with music, and perhaps even a little dancing. So you see, this may seem like a depressing place to be today. However, in this place we are reminded of hope, of blessing, and are challenged to savor life and the people who share that life with us. Today we are reminded that there is only One way to life beyond the grave – it is through Jesus. Being here today may just change our lives forever. So as we remember Winston let’s remember some of the things he taught us
- You don’t have to have a lot to enjoy what you have.
- The great thing about Grandkids and Great-Grandkids is you get a chance to fix all the things you mess up or do wrong as a parent.
- Serving your country is an honor as well as a responsibility. Sometimes the people who are heroes are actually people we know who simply don’t talk about their heroic acts . . .heroes aren’t heroes in order to get medals. Heroes are people who have hearts that care for others more than they fear for themselves.
- A person’s past doesn’t have to define their present
- When you get to be a certain age (like 90) every half year matters.
- You don’t necessarily have to shoot any deer to enjoy deer hunting.
Will you pray with me please? Our loving Lord, we bow before you and acknowledge that all life comes from you. You determine the day of our birth and the day of our death. We thank you also that you often use flawed people to help build your kingdom. Lord, I ask you to comfort this family. You know Winston’s heart. It’s my prayer that you would welcome him into your kingdom, the place that you have prepared for us before the foundation of the world. Help us Lord to wrestle with the important questions of life. I pray that you would draw people closer to You because of our time together. I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.