Friday, January 9, 2015
Christian Funeral for Russell P. Kullman
John 6:24-30; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Lamentations 3:22-33
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear Tracie, Jen, Ken, Chris, and Maria, brother Colby, beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren, dearly beloved family and friends of our departed brother in Christ Russ Kullman, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are gathered here today to remember and to celebrate the faith and life that our Lord God granted to His humble and faithful servant Russ. And, there is a great deal to celebrate! Russ was named and claimed and sealed in Jesus Christ when he was baptized as an infant over seventy-two years ago. Since then, Russ lived nearly his entire life in the service of His Lord and His Church. Russ served as parochial school principal at Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Bronx. After moving upstate to Dover Plains, he and Joyce, another faithful servant and child of our Lord and God, raised their family and began attending The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in 1979. Russ had been a member at Christ the King for over thirty-five years! Throughout those years he served as a Sunday School teacher, as an Elder, as a Communion Assistant, and as a Congregational President. In fact, Russ became the Congregational President, for the second or third time, I believe, just weeks before I arrived at Christ the King over twelve years ago. He served in that position for over a decade before retiring from church leadership as his health began to decline.
Now, many of you here today, who are not direct family members, have known both Russ and Joyce over those thirty-five years, and I know how Russ’ passing, just three years after Joyce’s, is a particularly hard loss to bear. It’s not just the loss of a brother in Christ, or even a friend, but it’s a loss of a significant part of your own lives. Many of you raised your children together with the Kullmans in this church. Many of you had either Russ or Joyce, or both, as a Sunday School or a Confirmation teacher. Many of you have served with them in groups, councils, and committees, and studied the Word of the Lord with them in Bible studies. And, many of you were friendly with them outside of church. Therefore, their passing is experienced and felt in many ways by many people.
Still, others of you may have known Russ from the Maplebrook School, where Russ taught Math, or even from Our Savior Lutheran School in the Bronx before that. One thing that struck me throughout Russ’ illness, and then in his passing, were the many posts from his former students on his Facebook wall wishing him well, giving thanks for his teaching and mentoring, and wishing his family well. There is no question that Russ touched many, many lives in a positive way, and he will continue to be remembered by loving and thankful hearts and minds.
But, then, there are you, his family, his children and grandchildren, his brother, and extended family. What did your father, grandfather, and brother mean to you? Russ was loving, caring, compassionate, and, perhaps most of all, supportive. You were his family, and he was fiercely loyal to you and supportive. Russ was not the kind of guy to be judgmental, but he sought to find the good in everyone. And, when he found it, he supported it and he encouraged it to help that good to grow and to increase. Family was everything to him, and he was so very proud of each of your accomplishments and successes, even if the success was sometimes only perseverance through the challenges. I think that Russ saw life like that, as a challenge. But, that was no cause for him to be gloomy or to despair. He was up to the challenge. Maybe he didn’t have unrealistically high expectations, but he expected to persevere, he expected to get through the challenge, and often, better off than he was before. For Russ, life was full of challenges even as it was full of blessings, but in God’s mercy and providence, even the challenges became blessings. That’s faith. That’s faith in God, and faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And, that’s what Russ, and Joyce, worked so very hard to instill in you, to pass on to you, and to have you embrace so that you would persevere and prosper through times of blessing and through times of challenge, and find that even the times of challenge become times of blessing through the Lord’s mercy and providence.
Russ was a great example of this kind of faith. When trial and tribulation came, he would never think to say that God had abandoned him. As a matter of fact, the response I typically heard from him was, “Ho-hum.” Now, I suppose some would interpret that as negativity, and maybe I did at one time, but it was not negativity, but it was an acceptance that, at times, the Lord permits trial and tribulation to come upon those He loves so that their trust in Him might increase. This is what the Prophet is saying in our reading from Lamentations this morning: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope.” That hope, says the Prophet, is in this: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men.” Likewise, we hear a similar exhortation to hope in the words of St. Peter from our second reading: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Because of his faith in Gospel promises like these, Russ was not negative, he was not a pessimist, but he held a realistic view on life and the challenges and the blessings we all face. He simply said, “Ho-hum.” And, in this simple sigh, Russ meant to say: “Why should this momentary trial distress me? I am a baptized child of God. Nothing can separate me from God’s love in Jesus Christ. They can take my life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, my victory has been won, and the kingdom mine remaineth.”
Of course, those last words are a paraphrase of Martin Luther’s words in his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” This is most appropriate as Russ was a lifelong Lutheran Christian. Moreover, Russ shared Luther’s hope in the face of trial and tribulation, even as he shared Luther’s joy and praise in the Lord’s ongoing grace, mercy, and blessing each and every day of his life. Russ believed in Jesus’ words: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” And, because of this, Russ was a humble, gentle, and kind man. He knew what truly mattered, and it wasn’t all the stuff in this world, or money, or fame, or anything else – all that stuff is the “food that perishes.” But, what truly mattered was the “food that endures to eternal life.” What is that food? Well, Jesus answered that question: “I AM the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus gives you this promise: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.” Russ believed and trusted in this promise, and now he is experiencing it in an even fuller sense in the presence of Jesus, with Joyce, with grandmas and grandpas, and with all the faithful who have died in the Lord: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on.” You can take comfort in this promise fulfilled for Russ – He is with the Lord, where there is no trial and tribulation, no hunger or thirst, no labored breathing, no heart failure, no suffering, no tears, and no death. And yet, still, he, and all the saints, and we along with them, await that “yet more glorious day [when] the saints, triumphant, rise in bright array.” Yes, we all await that “yet more glorious day” when Russ and Joyce, and all the saints who have died in the Lord, along with all the faithful, now and then, will be raised from death to new and eternal life, in resurrection bodies like unto Jesus’ own glorified body. This is His promise. This is our hope. And, with this faith and trust and eternal perspective on our lives, truly, even to death itself, we can say “Ho-hum.” For, death has become as sleep for the faithful – sleep, from which we can expect to awaken and live forever with the Lord in His kingdom without end. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.