We’ve gathered together today to remember and celebrate the life of Elwood Hughes, whom most of you knew simply as Woody, and whom I’ve only ever known as Grandpa Woody. My name is Ben Hughes, and I am the son of Woody’s son Bill, and I’m a pastor in Lexington, KY. I am one of grandpa Woody’s nine grandchildren, and I’m responsible for 5 of his 17 great grandchildren.
Semper fidelis. Always faithful. You would be hard pressed to come up with a better one-line description of Grandpa Woody.
He was a faithful soldier – as many listening can attest better than I can. He served his country as a member of the greatest generation and was witness to some of the most significant events the world has ever seen. And many years later, he would faithfully give his time to educate younger generations, providing us with a living portal into history.
He was a faithful gardener – award winning roses don’t grow themselves. In fact, they require quite a bit of time and devotion to get just right (roses love water but the hate wet feet, and Japanese beetles be darned), and grandpa lovingly tended to each of his hundreds of rose bushes, calling them by name as he gave them the diligent care they needed to become the best they could be.
He was a faithful homeowner and neighbor – the small split-level house on Marcy Lane, nestled between the equally longsuffering Bechtold’s and Flauchaus’s, was the one and only home of Woody and Susan many of us ever knew. Countless holidays, home cooked meals, cream soda from the garage, Christmas presents, basement workshop tinkering sessions, ping pong games (and I could go on and on) were enjoyed within those walls. It was a place of hospitality to the highest degree, and it was no small feat to finally convince grandpa to sell the house.
He was a faithful Cubs fan – it took nearly 90 years of life on God’s green earth for grandpa Woody to see the Cubs win the World Series. When they finally did win, he’s the only one I could think about (and whenever I did I couldn’t stop crying) because as happy as I was, to quote Emily Dickinson, “Success is counted sweetest, by those who ne’er succeed.”
He was a faithful father and grandfather and great-grandfather – he and grandma Susan were devoted to remaining a vital part of all of our lives, even across states and timezones. If there was one thing I knew about Grandma and Grandpa, it was that they were for me, and were rooting for me in whatever I did, and would either show up or send a thoughtful letter or phone call for every significant event not just in my life, but all of the extended Hughes clan.
And perhaps most significantly, he was a faithful husband – he loved Grandma Susan dearly, and 62 years of marriage proved it, as if it needed any proof. Though we will always be grateful for the sweet time we’ve shared with him since grandma’s passing, we all know that the signature gleam in Grandpa Woody’s eye was never quite as bright as it was before we laid Grandma to rest in Roanoke, right next to the very grave we will visit tomorrow, where Grandpa Woody’s devotion to her will be etched in stone forever.
But why is faithfulness held in such high esteem? Why is “always faithful” the motto of our nation’s greatest branch of the armed forces? Why do the lives of those men who, like grandpa Woody, simply persist in dutiful longevity – why do these lives become the stuff of legends?
I would suggest that these lives echo and point to a greater faithful one. The faithfulness of grandpa Woody’s life speaks loudly of what I consider to be an attribute of God unique to him, among all other gods or religions, and one of the things that makes him worthy of our devotion, worship, and obedience.
Scripture calls him the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, faithful to a thousand generations – more than that, it calls him the creator of heaven and Earth. It all started with him. And despite how many billions of times he has been ignored, denied, mocked, blasphemed, he has remained faithful to his creation. He has not abandoned his children. He has not walked out on his bride.
Ever since his first children Adam and Eve decided not to trust him and took matters into their own hands to live according to what was right in their own eyes rather than in the way God had instructed them, they separated themselves from God’s presence. He has been patiently and faithfully waiting for them to turn back towards him. After thousands of years proved that mankind was not going to be able to do it, he himself became like one of his creatures, to show us what it meant to be a faithful son.
Jesus told the story of a son who foolishly demanded his inheritance early from his still-living father, and who then went out and squandered it on reckless living. When the money ran out, he found himself fighting with pigs for a portion of their slop to eat. Jesus says it was at that point, when the man’s life had come to ruin of his own making, that he came to his senses. Finally the son decided it was time to go back to dad and offer himself as a hired hand. As the man approached his father’s house, it says his father saw him a long way off and ran to him and embraced him. This is a faithful father. This is the heart of God for us his children, despite the mess we make of life.
The death of Jesus, the son of God, is the ultimate expression of the extent of God’s faithfulness to us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
I pray that everyone listening would remember Grandpa Woody as always faithful, but even more than that, would remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, faithful to the point of death on a cross to prove to us that if we too will come to our senses, and approach him with humility knowing we’ve made a mess of things, he will see us from far off, run to us, and embrace us, perhaps with a chuckle, a smirk, a witty remark, or a gleam in his eye that we could have sworn we’d seen somewhere before.