Summary: A personal reflection on the life of a great man and the example he left us all to follow.
A man bought a parrot, but when he got him home, the parrot started cursing and biting people. They tried everything from soft music to talking nicely to it, but nothing worked. One day, after the bird let out a string of expletives, the man, in a fit of anger grabbed the bird and threw him into the freezer. At first, the parrot squawked, then it beat on the freezer door, then it begged to get out. The man opened the door and the parrot said, “I ‘m sorry and I promise to behave. But I gotta know one thing, what did this chicken do?”
Today I wonder what I did to deserve the responsibility to eulogize our dear friend, Brother John Norville. But it is a responsibility that I gladly accept and it is my hope that when we’re finished here today, you’ll know what a true Christian funeral ought to look like. You see, it’s not going to be like many funerals you’ve ever experienced before. But that’s alright, because John Norville was not like any person we’ve ever experienced before either, and it’s fitting that his funeral model his life.
So we’ll be reflective at times, and we’ll joke around a bit, and we’ll talk about God’s amazing grace, and we’ll laugh at a few stories, and we’ll remember our friend, and father, husband and brother. We’re going to do just what John would want us to do here today. We’re going to celebrate his life, applaud his victory, and share his love.
John’s mother said he would not amount to anything because he procrastinated so much. He told her, “you just wait.” Today the waiting ends. Today, we’re pulling out all the stops, and are leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that John Norville was a true man of God, a true friend of humanity, and one who truly deserves all the honor we can bestow today.
I started with a joke because for eighteen years, John would walk up to the pulpit at the Herrin church of Christ and begin his lessons from God’s word with a story that would bring a smile and a chuckle. He wrote them down and filed them away and I’ve gone through and pulled out some of the best of his jokes for today’s eulogy. So all the credit or blame belongs to him.
He was also careful to limit his remarks to 20 minutes. You’ll forgive me today if we don’t achieve that goal, but it seems like a crime to rush to summarize such a full and well lived life in a few minutes. I know that we could be here all day and never exhaust the memories and stories we all hold dear, but this man was so important to so many of us, that it demands that we take all the time we need to reflect on the impact he has made.
To be honest, I wasn’t really prepared for this day. Every time John got ill or went in the hospital, he would tell me, “You better start writing my funeral.”
Alright, are you ready for another joke? Here’s a list of true statements taken from medical charts of patients in the hospital: “The patient refused an autopsy.” “She has had no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states that she was very hot in bed last night.” “Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.” “Discharge status: Alive but without my permission.”
John was alive for many years without his doctors permission. After his heart attack, his doctors told him that he wouldn’t live to see his 50th wedding anniversary. But they didn’t know the power of the life within this man. That twinkle in his eyes and smirk on his face, as if he knew the punch line to a joke we hadn’t heard. That should have convinced those doctors that he wasn’t ready to go home just yet.
I always wondered if John knew how long he would live when his family hosted a 40th anniversary party for him and Betty. Like a kid opening presents before Christmas, I think John just might have known that he was getting away with something as he opened those golden anniversary gifts on his 40th anniversary. He did live to see his 50th anniversary, and even his 55th. But as he neared his 56th anniversary he heard the Lord calling him, and the invitation looked so attractive that he just couldn’t say no.
He once told me that he wanted his tombstone to read, “A Giant Has Fallen.” He was just 5’ 2". Hardly a giant in stature. But his size was not to be measured in feet and inches, pounds and ounces. 76 years of life, 55 years of marriage, an honorable military career, 46 years as a disciple of Christ, 36 years in preaching, five children, twelve grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, brothers, sisters–you don’t tally these kinds of stats without leaving a wake, and John’s wake was as big as an aircraft carrier. But the more you got to know John, the more you realized that his small frame housed a giant spirit.