A Personal Post: Remembering My Grandpa (a sermon)

This is a sermon I gave yesterday at my Grandpa’s funeral.  He was an amazing man of God and after reading this you will know why…

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Life is a Journey – The Legacy of Corny Penner

It was a day that would define the rest of my life.  From the broom-shop (our family trade) to the house, my grandma was nowhere to be found.   I was six…  I was curious… And therefore needed my grandma Margaret to answer a question, but she had disappeared.  Luckily I was able to find my grandpa and asked him:

“Grandpa, do you know where grandma is? I need to ask her a question.”

And out of my grandpa’s mouth came an answer that only he could give:

“Well Kurtis, I have some bad news.  Your grandma broke her leg, so we shot ‘er.”

It would take me the next ten years of hearing that response to the “where is ‘so and so’” question, to finally figure out that when a horse brakes its leg on the farm, that is how people used to deal with things out in the country.  My grandpa, Corny Penner, was known for many things, and his unique sense of humor was one area that could always put a smile on someone’s face.  Whether it was in the middle of Mexico in a cabin full of freshmen boys and telling them a borderline inappropriate joke OR simply causing a small bit of mischief, my grandpa was always a source of joy… the life of the party so to speak.  But it wasn’t as though he was a loud and boisterous extrovert, much of the time his humor was much more subtle.

For instance, we had a wonderful time at our annual Penner family reunion a couple years back.  Each of us walked away with a wonderful memento… an official Frank and Sarah Penner family t-shirt.  As you probably know, our family gatherings tend to be rather large, so on this particular day, we all wore nametags.  My cousin Zach and I randomly chose to pat grandpa on the back, and to leave a little surprise for him as a joke.  By the time we saw him again, his shirt looked like this (show image).

He was completely covered in nametags and acted like nothing had even happened.  I think he knew that he was loved by all of us in this moment.

Then, at the next family gathering a couple months later he came out dressed in the same Penner shirt, except instead of removing the stickers and washing it, he wore the shirt in the same condition it had been at the previous family event.  And this trend continued a couple of more times until I imagine that grandma made him wash his filthy t-shirt.  My grandpa, Corny Penner, was a man who knew how to have a good time.

He enjoyed life.  He enjoyed people.  He enjoyed his family.  He enjoyed his God.  His life was truly a journey.  And this journey has left us with a wonderful legacy to reflect upon this morning.

I want to turn our attention to Romans chapter 8 this morning (which was his favorite chapter in the Bible) and see if we can make some connections to grandpa’s journey.  It begins this way:

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”[1]

At the core of grandpa’s life was the reality that he had been set free by the transforming power of Jesus Christ.  There was no challenge that could ever come against him that would ever counteract this reality.  The power of Jesus that flowed through his life, gave him the confidence to face whatever his life-journey brought his way.  And life did bring many challenges.  He lived beyond two of his sons.  He saw other family members struggle with brokenness in various ways.  He saw good business years, and difficult ones.  But all of these challenges always served as an opportunity to point people to the beautiful love he had found in his Savior.  And this was certainly one of grandpa’s passions.  He loved any chance he had to share with others about the love of Jesus.

I think my grandpa had the heart of an evangelist.  I remember going to grocery stores with him for work as a kid, and hearing him talk with people in the back room about God.  And what was so awesome about my Grandpa Corny… is that people would actually listen to him!  He wasn’t written off as some pushy-overzealous-religious fanatic.  People were willing to give him a fair hearing because he lived in such a way that he had “earned the right to be heard.”  And I am sure that several of you in this room are here today because he had earned the right to be heard in your own life.  There was just something about my grandpa Corny, that drew you in.  I can tell you his answer in one word: Jesus.

My grandpa was amazing, but that had very little to do with him.  His part was choosing to take his belief about God and actually living as though he had a deep relationship with Jesus.  And it was this love relationship with God, guided by the Holy Spirit, that made him a person that we would all consider to be a “good man.”  My Grandpa Corny lived a radical life of love, because he embraced the reality of these next verses (which are all underlined in his personal Bible).  Romans 8, verse 9 and following:

9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. [2]

Grandpa knew what it was to live as one who had submitted the control of his life to the Spirit of Christ that lived within him.  This started with how he expressed the love of Jesus to my wonderful Grandma, Margaret; and extended that Spirit driven love to everyone else.  He was not perfect and he would be the first to admit that.  Each day he had to make a choice, to not allow his sinful nature to get in the way of his relationship with God.  One resource that served as a wonderful tool in his life of connecting with God’s Spirit was this little book, called the “Prayer of Jabez.”  This book invigorated his prayer life so much that he eventually started to purchase them by the caseload (30 copies I believe)!  He handed them out to everyone he could until he ran out!  He gave them to friends, family members, and anyone else that wanted to learn to connect with God through prayer at a deeper level.

Again, he had a faith that was contagious.  Just one conversation with my grandpa about his relationship with God could change a person’s whole outlook on life.  He was a man who chose to live, as best as he could, guided by the compassionate love of Jesus.  Weather this meant giving away furniture to poor and homeless families or taking in a grandchild that was dealt some difficult cards; my grandpa’s love for God, guided by the Spirit, empowered by prayer, led him to leave behind a legacy that will never be forgotten.  Even when times were difficult, he knew that his ultimate hope was found in God’s redemptive love.  Romans 8, starting in verse 18 puts it this way:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay…  We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved.[3]

My grandpa understood that in spite of all of the suffering and pain that our broken world could throw at him; that his ultimate hope was in the future resurrection of his body at the return of Jesus.  His old body will be restored into an eternally ‘new body.’  A day is coming when Christ will return to earth and will rid our world from all death and decay, and will flood it with everlasting justice and peace.  Our world is not always going to be like this.  Revelation 21 says it this way:

4‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [4]

God has a plan to rescue this world from the brokenness of sin and death… when heaven and earth will join together for eternity.  As we wait for that final day, we can have the confidence that Grandpa’s soul is with Christ in heaven.  As grandpa said during his final moments: “I get to go to heaven!”  His hope gave him the courage to face every single day.

I want to close our time by sharing with you one last story. Shortly after Christmas I went for a walk with Grandpa and asked him:

“Grandpa, how are you doing emotionally with all that is going on?”

He answered in a way that I will never forget:

“Well, Kurt.  I have a lot of goals and things that I would like to accomplish for the Lord.  But if he thinks that I have finished everything that He has for me to do, then I have perfect peace.”

All I could say to that was:

“Wow, grandpa…”

I wonder, when you come to the end of your life’s journey, how will you answer that question?  Will you be able to look back at your own legacy and have the perfect peace that God has used you for his purposes?  Grandpa’s final wish was that all of his grandkids and great-grandkids would choose to follow Jesus.  I am certain that this is the same wish that he would have for everyone else in this room as well.  And if you are struggling in this moment to understand why this world seems so hopeless, I know that my grandpa would assure you that God wants to invade your life and give you perfect peace that cannot even be expressed by mere words.

May we all look to the legacy of Corny Penner (my grandpa) and be inspired to build our own legacy centered on his love for his Savior.  May we come to understand that “life is a journey” and that there is no greater companion for such, than Jesus Christ.  Will you invite him to join you in your journey?

Lets pray…


[1]Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (2nd ed.) (Ro 8:1–2). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

 

[2]Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (2nd ed.) (Ro 8:9–11). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

[3]Tyndale House Publishers. (2004). Holy Bible : New Living Translation. (2nd ed.) (Ro 8:18–24). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible : Today’s New International Version. 2005 (Re 21:3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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  • MarinePatriot

    Sorry to hear of your loss, Kurt.

  • RT

    Your Grandfather was a great man. No matter what life gave him he kept his eyes firmly on the Lord. He never tried to hide his faults, and yet always found a way to over look mine.
    I still remember several years ago when Corny and I were in the Broom Shop and I thanked him for always treating me like a member of the family. He walked over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “That’s because you are family.”
    That was typical of Corny. I owe him (and Margaret) more than I can ever repay.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Dad… they both feel/felt the same way about you. Grandpa was very proud of the man you have become and often told me that he was pleased with how you raised me. Whenever you came up in conversation, my grandpa would always smile…

  • Juanita

    That was beautiful Kurt, it brought tears to my eyes. It made me think, “wow, I wish I could be like him!” Do you have Mom’s email address? I am sure she would love to read this.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      not sure that I still have her email. can you send it to me? kurt.t.willems@gmail.com

      And yes, he was a man to look up to, with out a doubt.

  • Jeff Zimm

    He will be greatly missed, especially by all the kids he poured into through he and your grandma’s years of doing youth ministry, me included. The fact that he’s gone brings tears to my eyes often, because in my selfish ways, I wish he was still here with us but it brings me great joy to know he has no more pain and no more sorrow!


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