Memorial Service – Sherman Lee McLellan
Crespo Jirrels Funeral Home,
1 August 2022
Good afternoon. For those of you with whom I have not had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, please allow me to introduce myself. I am the pastor of Alliance Bible Church, where “Poppy Sherm” attended for several years and, in 1992, was baptized with his grand-daughter Javonna. The family asked me to do the service today and I’m blessed to be here.
Let me explain the uniform for you. When I met with the family last week and they told me about “Poppy Sherm’s” background, I was struck by how much we had in common, despite our age difference and that we grew up in 2 very different places. I joke with people that I was a “pointy-eared Pentecostal” as a kid. There was a Pentecostal church across the street that my mom drug my sister and I to growing up (thus the pointy ears), and my dad would come to faith quietly and later in life. As I found out, “Poppy Sherm” also grew up a “pointy eared Pentecostal” kid, being drug to church by his religious parents. He also couldn’t wait to escape the small town he grew up in and moved to Texas, settling in the big city of Baytown. His ticket out of town was the military. In his case, the Air Force, where I was told he served as a chaplains assistant. Well, my ticket out of my town was through a military college where God called me to a route I didn’t expect: ministry and the military as a chaplain. Poppy Sherm was always proud of his service, as am I, and that would be a sufficient reason to wear the uniform as an honor and testament to him. But, you see, chaplains and chaplains assistants have a special and unique bond unlike any other in the military: they are a UMT (Unit Ministry Team). Wherever one is, you will almost always find the other. They develop a special bond unlike any other Officer & Enlisted personnel that often continues beyond their service together. So, I’m blessed to be able to honor a fellow Unit Ministry Team member not just by speaking at his funeral, but also by wearing my Army uniform as a fellow member of a small club of those who have served in Unit Ministry Teams.
More important, though, than what he and I have in common is what he and someone else have in common. As I talked with the family about what he was like, and what his life was like, I was reminded of someone else. Someone in Scripture. Someone much more important and significant than myself, and that’s what I want to share with you about today. Listen to the story of “Poppy Sherm’s” life reminded me of...THE APOSTLE PAUL. As his kids unfolded the events of his life, and helped me better understand him as a man, I couldn’t get away from the similarities between him and Paul. Let me give you a few examples.
They both had a sense of wonder and adventure. While Paul didn’t grow up in a small town in Illinois, he did set out on a path to leave his hometown of Tarsus. Poppy Sherm used the military as his ticket out into the world, while Paul used religious education. But, more importantly, neither ever lost their sense of wonder and awe at God’s creation. His kids told me many stories of road trips that they took with their dad as kids, and his sense of awe and wonder for the spectacular. Paul’s awe and wonder for God’s creation often came out spontaneously in his writings, too. He told Timothy, his young protégé, that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Poppy Sherm always seemed to grasp that concept, from his time in Air Force in Montana in the late 50’s to watching fireworks and going to circus in his 80’s.
They both exhibited patience and gentleness with others. One common thread that came from his kids was that he was patient with them, even when they did crazy things like...throw their little brother through a window or set the garage on fire. As a father of five, I know how easy it can be to lose your temper, and how often it can happen, so to hear them describe his gentleness and patience with his kids, even when they were quite ornery, was humbling, And, it reminded me again of Paul and his patience rooted in love. When God commissioned Paul in Acts 9, he told him that he would speak before kings. And yet, his journey to get there was long and painful. He preached often to folks who didn’t want to listen and who even reacted violently against him. And yet, time and time again through the book of Acts, Paul continued to lovingly, gently, and patiently preach and live out the Gospel before them. Paul was likely of the philosophy that some things are better “caught than taught”, and while he was obviously a great teacher, he patiently and gently lived out the principles that he was teaching to others. More than teaching about patience and gentleness, he modeled it. The same was beautifully said in describing Poppy Sherm.
They both exhibited a loving, committed, and admirable dedication to their family. His kids told me that, as a dad, he would call in and check on them just to make sure they were ok. “How are you doing? Do you need anything?” He would spend time with his grandkids and great-grandkids with no agenda other than to be with them. This same dedication was there throughout his life, from when his kids were young until they were...not so young. He sacrificed for them and was always there for anything they might have needed. Now, while Paul never had kids, he showed the same loving and committed dedication to his Gospel family. While God called him to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel, he never lost his love and commitment toward his people: the Israelites. He spent his entire life with the desire to serve them, sacrifice for them, and see them walk with Jesus. In fact, in Romans 9:3 he even says that he would go to hell in their place if it meant they would be with Jesus. Amazing, isn’t it? Here was a man so dedicated to his people, that he says with conviction and sincerity that he would exchange his own salvation for theirs if it meant they would know Jesus personally. If you were to survey Poppy Sherm’s family, I bet they would say the same of his dedication to them: he would do anything for them without hesitation and with sincerity and conviction. A man of such deep love and dedication is a blessing and a treasure.
Most importantly, and most poignantly, they both paint a beautiful picture of redemption, transformation, and hope in Jesus Christ. The thing that stuck out to me most, though, was the beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemption in their life. Paul’s story is well known: a persecutor, a blasphemer, and a violent man before Jesus (his own words). He was a central figure in the story of Stephen, the first martyr...and he was a bad guy, not a good guy, in that story. And yet, when Jesus knocked him off his high horse in Acts 9, he was forever changed. A different man. A redeemed man. A transformed man full of hope in Jesus Christ.
Even with all the great attributes Poppy Sherm lived out throughout his life, his kids were clear that he spent a good portion of his adult life away from the faith and religion of his youth. While he was dragged to church as a pointy-eared Pentecostal, it seems he left that faith in his hometown when he left. Until...he met Jesus again later in life, at which point he was completely transformed. He was baptized when he was almost 60 with his grand-daughter, and went on to serve as a member and deacon at Second Baptist Church in Houston. He and Paul both could agree with the great hymn writer, John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace: John Newton, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” It’s because of this transforming and redeeming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that this service, while still sad, is truly a hopeful celebration. For those who know and love Jesus, death is only the beginning. Poppy Sherm would agree today with Paul when he said, in I Thessalonians 4, that “we don’t grieve in the same way as others who have no hope.” No, we grieve full of hope and joy, knowing not only that Poppy Sherm is forever with Jesus, but that our lives can be just like his and Paul’s – transformed today and full of hope for tomorrow.
Paul said it beautifully in Romans 10: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In a world dying to find some hope, struggling with skepticism and cynicism, and believing that the sky is falling, let Poppy Sherm’s life remind us today of the powerful truth of the Gospel: Jesus Christ can change a life from darkness to light, from mourning to joy, and from death to life. All it requires is faith in Him and turning to Him.
C.S. Lewis called this “The Great Exchange”: my life for Jesus’ life. A true win-win! I give Jesus my life and He gives me His. I want to finish up today asking you to consider where your hope is, and what happens to you after you die. Have you encountered Jesus? If not, today is the day for salvation. We are not promised tomorrow, and the same hope and redemption Poppy Sherm experienced is available today. Right now. Jesus Himself speaks to you today, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
I’ll ask that we all take a few moments and meditate on our own lives. What kind of life are we leading? What significant purpose is our life serving? Based on today, what words would we expect uttered at our funeral? And, ultimately, what is our eternal destiny? I’m going to ask that we take thirty seconds of quiet meditation and go before the Lord and examine our own hearts and lives in light of this truth.
Let’s take 30 seconds. I’ll watch the time.
Our Father, we thank you for the hope we have in you. Thank you that you take us as we are, where we are, and however we are and transform our lives and our eternity in an instant. Thank you for this man, Poppy Sherm, and the beautiful living reminder he is to each of us of the hope of salvation and transformation. Thank you for the life he led, and thank you for the lives he leaves behind. May this service today be a fitting honor to Him and to you. And continue to draw each of us closer to you so that, like Him, we enjoy the fullness of your presence for eternity when our life ends and you call us home. Thank you for the gift of human life, and thank you for the gift of Your life to us. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN.
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence