Funeral for Gerald Starns | September 15, 2023
Gerald Starns was, simply put, my hero. In all my life, I’ve never seen someone with such resilience, determination, and fortitude as Gerald. No matter how badly he felt or how much easier it would have been to stay home on the Lord’s Day, Gerald was going to be in the assembly as long as he was able to be there. And Gerald’s attitude was like nothing I’ve ever seen—No matter how badly he felt or how much pain he was in, Gerald was going to be kind and gracious and loving. And I cannot tell you how much inspiration I drew from Gerald’s 36 years of sobriety.
In Hebrews 11, the Bible mentions several men and women who were heroes of the faith.
- “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb 11:7).
- “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Heb 11:17).
- “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned” (Heb 11:29).
Over the past several days, I’ve thought: “What would the author of Hebrews write about Gerald Starns?” There’s much he could have written:
- “By faith Gerald became sober and shared the gift of sobriety with others.”
- “By faith Gerald, even when confined to a wheelchair, worshiped the God who gave him life.”
- “By faith Gerald loved and served.”
- “By faith Gerald overcame cancer.”
Some might object to my saying that Gerald overcame cancer, for cancer took our beloved father, brother, and friend. Cancer only took his body; Gerald has overcome. “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Rev 14:13). Today Gerald has the victory. He is with our Lord, and he has no pain, no cancer, and no trouble.
At the end of Step Nine The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes several promises to those who are painstaking in their efforts to work the Twelve Steps. At the conclusion of most A.A. meetings, the promises are read. As I read the promises, I can’t help but think about Gerald.
The Big Book says, for example, “That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.” I’m sure he had his moments, but I never knew Gerald to have any self-pity whatsoever. One day when Gerald was bedfast, I went to see him. I knocked and walked in (I stopped waiting for him to come to the door some time ago). I looked at Gerald lying there in his bed and I asked, “How are you today, Gerald?” Gerald replied, “I’m doing fine.” I shook my head, looked at Gerald, and said, “Gerald, tell me how you’re really doing.” He said, “Justin, I’m doing just fine.” That was Gerald; self-pity had disappeared.
The Big Book further says, “We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.” Gerald was, like Jesus before him, a servant. Gerald was more than happy to serve in the Sunday morning assembly—he’d happily read Scripture and lead prayer. About a year ago, the ballast in the light above my desk went out; I can turn a light on and off—that’s my electrical expertise. Gerald swung by the office and changed it. When the church served lunch at the Wheelhouse, Gerald would tell his story publicly, and then he’d talk with the guys individually about how he became sober and how they, too, could become sober.
Someone asked Gerald why he continued to go to AA after years and years of sobriety, he said that he went for the new guy. He went to welcome that new guy, to hear his story, and to demonstrate that sobriety is possible. That was Gerald; he has lost interest in selfish things and had gained interest in his fellows.
The Big Book also says, “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” Shauna told me that Gerald would often say that God was doing for him what he could not do for himself. God did much for Gerald that he could not do for himself. With God’s help, Gerald celebrated 36 years of recovery; no human power could have relieved him from alcohol.
This afternoon, God is doing for Gerald what he could not do for himself. Gerald was powerless to save his soul from sin; “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-6). Gerald was powerless to be free of all pain and temptation and trial; God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). God is doing great things for Gerald today—no more cancer, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears, but God has given Gerald the victory!