“To the Last Penny”: Funeral for a Friend

February 1, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

Congregational Hymn: It is Well With My Soul (Mike)

 Welcome, Opening Statement, and Scripture Reading (James)

 On behalf of Ed’s family, we welcome you to the celebration of the life of Ed Armstrong. As Mike and I  talked around the kitchen table with Jackie and Rick, Buddy, Sandy, and Andrea, we told them our goal with a funeral service is to honor the one who has gone home, comfort his family, and glorify Jesus. And because of how Ed lived his life, I can honestly say that these three things will come easy this afternoon.

 Today, we remember Ed, but we also want to take a moment to remember some of the others that have gone before Ed: the love of his life, Irene. Their beloved son, Andy. His mother, two brothers, and a sister. I believe that those who have gone before join with those of us who remain behind to be part of the “great cloud of witnesses” the writer of Hebrews talks about. Together, we are gathered to celebrate the well lived life, and the much-earned life of our dad, our brother, our friend, Ed.

 At these times, I know that our joy at someone’s passing looks weird to people without a relationship with Jesus. They can’t understand how we can rejoice at saying goodbye to someone. But friends, if you are watching this and scratching your head in bewilderment, I pray you will see that there is a difference between being glad someone’s gone, and being glad someone’s home.

 Beloved, we are glad that Ed is home!

 I’d like to read a Scripture that I myself really didn’t understand until Ed helped me understand it. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Growing up, I thought that was kind of mean of God, that he would consider anyone’s death precious. But the last time I saw Ed, last Wednesday, I asked him how he was doing. He looked at us with absolute clarity, and calm, and he said, “I want to go home. I have no regrets, nothing I’ve left undone. I am ready.” And he was.

 So I’d like to share that Scripture from a Bible Ed actually gave me. In our Wednesday night Bible study, we had done a lot of studies that looked at the Jewish roots of Christianity. We had just finished a video study that was filmed in Israel and featured a Messianic Jew giving his perspective on the events in the gospels. And Ed was fascinated. The next week, he showed me a Bible he had bought called the Tree of Life Version. The books are placed in the order they were in the Jewish Scriptures. Chronicles is at the end of the old testament. Isaiah comes after 2 Kings, and Psalms comes after Malachi. Many important Hebrew phrases are left untranslated. Lord God is Adonai Elohim. When it talks about Jesus, it says “Yeshua.”

 And if you’ve grown up reading and studying the Bible, it will kind of mess you up! I will be honest: I don’t know any other 84 year olds that would be excited if you put a Bible in their hands with all the books in the wrong order, filled with names you thought you knew but now couldn’t even pronounce. Many churches (not ours, or Kenny’s, or Glenn’s!) are known for resisting change of any kind. There are some folks who need to have a prayer meeting before they even change a light bulb. A Bible like Ed’s would send them over the edge.

But not Ed. Ed was endlessly curious, and perpetually interested. And when I saw how fascinated I was by his new Bible, he went out and bought me one just like it. So I’d like to share Psalm 116:15 from Ed’s Messianic Jewish Bible (if I can find it. Psalms ain’t where it’s supposed to be). Following the Scripture reading, brother Glenn Brock, who preached the sermon that caused Ed to give his life to Jesus, will lead us in an opening prayer.

 “Precious in the sight of ADONAI is the death of his kedoshim. O ADONAI! Surely I am Your servant.

I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have freed me from my bonds.”

Psalm 116:15-16, Tree of Life Version

 O Adonai, thank you for freeing our friend Ed from his bonds.

 Prayer: Glenn Brock.

 Solo: Because He Lives (Mike)

Eulogy: Rick Armstrong

Sermon: James

Many, if not most of us have a shoebox somewhere filled with family photos. We always meant to sort them out, put them in order, label them on the back, and place them neatly in a photo album.

 And we never got around to it. But even so, if you put the shoebox in the middle of your kitchen table, you and your brothers and sisters could pull out any snapshot at random, and someone would be able to tell you the story that went along with that picture.

 That was exactly how it was when we sat at Ed’s table the other day. The stories and the memories just tumbled out on top of each other.

 There was the time when Ed got accepted to flight school and moved the family—himself, Irene, three kids at the time—from Pennsylvania to Alabama in a station wagon; packed to overflowing with all their possessions. Ed was driving, the kids were cutting up in the back seat, Irene in the passenger seat with the map on her lap. I guess Ed was getting tired, because he turned to Irene and said “How many more miles till we get there?”

 “I can’t tell,” said Irene.

 “Well look at the map!” said Ed, getting aggravated. And Irene, aggravated right back, opened the map, measured the distance with her thumb and forefinger, looked at Ed and said, “THIS MUCH!”

I remember the time when I first came to our church. I had heard that there were a bunch of men that met at McDonald’s every morning to solve the world’s problems. It was Ed, and Tom Dirkse, and Dave Johnson, Roger, Ray, and a few others who had known each other for years. They were basically a bunch of old guys cutting up, giving each other (and me) a hard time.

So one morning, I asked them what they all did for a living before they retired from. And, you might have noticed that Ed had a little bit of a “twitch.” It was never actually been diagnosed as anything, but it got more pronounced over the years, so that by the time I met him, his involuntary twitches were nearly constant.

Ed looked at me and said, “I flew helicopters in the army. I was a flight instructor.” And I said… “Really?” Because I couldn’t tell if he was just messing with me or if he was serious. I think I might even had asked Dave later in the week, “Seriously, what did Ed do for a living?” And Dave confirmed that he did indeed fly helicopters. He was actually such a valuable instructor that the Army decided they needed him here, teaching the next generation of pilots, more than they needed him in Vietnam.

There were the family dinners out that usually rotated between Arby’s, Chappy’s, and Ding How. And everywhere they went, Ed would have how much the meal would cost for all of them, measured down to the penny. So it was no surprise to the family that in Ed’s final days he anticipated that his kids would be having a lot of meals together, and that after he died they found he had left money in his wallet for all of them. Down to the penny.

 There was the time Andrea went to Ding How to pick up carry out when Ed started taking a turn for the worst. The staff knew and loved Ed so much that when she tried to pay for the meal they wouldn’t let her. In fact, at one point they gave her a $30 gift card and said, “You tell Pop come back soon!”

 I remembered the week last summer, after Ed had decided to discontinue treatment for the cancer. We had told our church family of his decision that Sunday, and gathered around him and prayed for him during the worship service. A couple days later, our financial secretary, who had not been in worship that morning, came into the office and asked, “Is there something going on with Mr Ed?” I told her about his decision, and then asked her what made her ask the question. She said, “Well, he sent in his offering, and it was his tithe for the rest of the year.”

 Down to the penny.

 I went and visited Ed that week. He met me at the door, and was nearly bouncing up and down as we went back to the living room to visit. And before he even sat down, he said, “I want to show you something.” He opened up a closet door, and there was his military uniform, pressed and clean and still in the plastic bag from the dry cleaner.

 “I just got it back,” he said. And it still fits. It’s ready for the funeral, whenever God brings me home.

 These are all snapshots from a life well lived.  Taken together, they form a picture of a man who loved his family, loved his country, loved his church, loved everyone he met, and loved his Lord. In fact, when I asked the family how they would describe Ed if they had to do it in one word, two of them said simultaneously, “Love.” While at the exact same time, two more of them said, simultaneously, “Joy.”

 How interesting that when Paul described the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5, those were the first two items on the list, followed by peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

 Are there any of those that don’t describe Ed Armstrong? From the moment he nearly ran down the aisle at Camellia Baptist Church to grab Glenn Brock’s hand and tell him he wanted to give his heart to Jesus, he did. He gave his whole heart to Jesus.

 To the last penny.

 When Ed surrendered his life to Jesus, it changed everything. Sandy, I think you were the one who said, it wasn’t until that point that mom and dad really started living their marriage. There wasn’t anything in the church that he didn’t say yes to. He was a deacon, a Sunday school director, a drywall hanger, a tile layer, and a faithful, FAITHFUL student of God’s word.

 If there was any note of sadness or regret around the kitchen table the other day, it was when Buddy said, “You know, I was away serving in the army for so long that I only really got to experience the man you’re all talking about for maybe 12 years or so.”

 Friends, Ed Armstrong ran his race so well. He lived Philippians 4:13—that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength. Many of us know that verse, but hear the words that came before it:

 I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every situation, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13

There is no doubt that Ed had learned that secret also. And I wonder how many of us have. When our time comes, will we face death with the courage, dignity, peace, and hope that we all saw in Ed in the past few months?

 God, I hope so. And I hope that we are all challenged to serve the kingdom the way he did. Glynwood, we have lost a lot of saints in the past few years. Phones don’t get answered as quickly when we are in staff meeting because Ethel Bixler isn’t her to answer them. Hedges don’t get trimmed so precisely because Terry Bixler isn’t here to trim them. Sets for musicals don’t get built because Buddy Stone and Ray Smith and Tom Robinson aren’t here to build them. Problems don’t get solved as calmly because James Philips isn’t here to give his wisdom.

I wonder where the next Ed Armstrong is. Someone who will literally pour out his life in selfless service to others. Someone who teaches us to listen, even when someone might be hard to understand.Someone who has his uniform pressed and his bags packed so he will be ready whenever God takes him home.

 In some of the Apostle’s Paul’s final words, as he was waiting in a Roman prison for his execution at the hands of Nero, he wrote to young Timothy the words that I believe Ed would say to us:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6

 Friends, Ed has received the crown of righteousness that had been reserved for him from the foundation of the world. And he wouldn’t want me as a pastor to miss this opportunity to ask you: Do you have a crown of righteousness waiting for you? It’s a crown that doesn’t come because of any of your own righteousness. But if there was a time when you ran to Jesus, and trusted him for the forgiveness of your sin, and walked in the newness of life that he provides, then there is a crown waiting for you. And just like the uniform Ed was buried in, it fits you perfectly. 

 One last snapshot. On the last day I saw Ed (just a week ago), his son Rick followed Mike and me out the door. And Rick said, “You know, my favorite story about my dad is when I graduated basic training at Maclellan. I got a message from my CO to go to the end of the north airfield and wait. So I take a taxi and it drops me off at the end of the north airfield. I have no idea what’s going on. But soon I hear the thump-thump-thump of rotor blades, and I saw a helicopter coming over the treeline. And there was my dad at the controls. Smiling and waving. Pop found me, and flew me home.

 What a day of rejoicing was Friday, January 27. Because Ed, on that day, your heavenly father found you, and flew you home.

 As we bring this service to a close, we will sing Victory in Jesus. And while we are singing, the pallbearers will help bring Ed back up the aisle, followed by the honorary pallbearers, and then his family. And we’ll keep singing until they’ve had a chance to exit. Then all who are able can follow us to Brookside for the graveside service.

 Closing hymn: Victory in Jesus (Mike)






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