Eulogy for Travis Dewey Irwin (March 9, 1950 - June 1, 2022)
Give honor to whom honor is due (Letter to the Romans 13:7).
My dad, Travis Irwin, died on June 1, 2022, after a hard, long slog with cancer. He was 72 years old and just 15 months into his retirement after 45 years ministering to Church of Christ congregations in Ohio and Tennessee. Dad loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. And he loved his neighbors as he loved himself. On Saturday, June 11, family and friends gathered in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to celebrate Dad’s life and give him honor for his lifetime of loving so many people that only God could keep count of them all. This is the eulogy I offered.
When Dad asked me to speak at his funeral, he said: “Son, make sure the people at my funeral hear good news–the Gospel.”
What else would you expect from a man who preached at least 3,500 sermons in his lifetime?
I promised Dad I would bring you good news today and I will keep that promise now.
And, since Dad loved a good three-point sermon, this one has three points–three proclamations–of good news. Each one comes from Dad himself.
We may call this the Gospel According to Travis Irwin.
So let’s start with the first proclamation: I have good news!
You can do it. Whatever it is, you can do it.
Most of us know Dad as an evangelist, pastor, or preacher. We know someone who stood up and spoke in front of hundreds of people at a time.
We also know him as someone who held the hands of people who were dying. Or showed up to calm a domestic dispute. Or sat next to someone in the emergency room in the middle of the night. Or talked someone out of taking their own life. Or visited someone in their jail cell.
We know him as someone who dared to try to answer life’s hardest, highest-stake questions from people who were hostile, hurting, or lost.
In other words, we know Dad dared to do things most of us would not dare to do.
And, to many of us, he made it look easy.
But what you need to know is that it wasn’t easy. Dad told me that pastoral and preaching work scared him. Sometimes even terrified him.
He grew up anxious, awkward, and shy. He felt safest when he was alone in his room with his guitar. He couldn’t imagine anything scarier than being a pastor or preacher.
God made him one anyway.
Even then, Dad told me that he felt panic. He said that, on some Sunday mornings when he got to the church building, he found a dark room where he could lay down on the floor and hide.
One time, I asked him: “Dad, how did you do your ministry work if you were so afraid?”
He answered by quoting his favorite Bible verse, the verse he memorized and said to himself almost every day for close to 50 years in ministry: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
That’s from the Letter to the Philippians 4:13.
Look around this room. We are the fruit of the work Dad did through the Christ who strengthened him. We know that that strength must have been powerful and real because here we are because of all the things Dad did.
So good news! If the Christ who strengthened an anxious, awkward, terrified man to boldly pastor and preach as we knew Dad pastored and preached, then imagine what that Christ can and will do through you when you trust his strength.
That brings me to the second proclamation.
I have good news! You are loved.
How do I know that? Because you know as well as I know that Dad loved you.
Dad loved you.
There is a Bible verse, it’s the Book of Isaiah 49:16, where God says that he cares for his people and loves them so much that he engraves their names on the palms of his hands.
Dad didn’t tattoo your names on his hands, but I can tell you that you were always on his mind.
Let me give you an example. There was not a street in all of Akron, Ohio, Cadiz, Ohio, Ashland, Ohio, Brushy, Tennessee, or Athens, Tennessee, where Dad did not know someone who lived on that street. Growing up, we could not take a five-minute drive to get a gallon of milk without Dad pointing out who lived in what seemed like half the houses along the way.
He’d say something like: “Eh, that’s where Gertie McGillicuddy lives.”
And we would say: “Dad, who is Gertie McGillicuddy?”
And he would tell us about how Gertie McGillicuddy was the great aunt of some back pew person from church and that he took her some groceries or visited her in the hospital once.
If Dad met you once, he never forgot you. He didn’t forget where you lived. Those of us who know him really well know that he didn’t forget what kind of car you drove. To meet you was to care for you…forever.
Because, as I said before, Dad loved you.
To everyone he met, Dad was patient. Dad was kind. Dad was not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Dad did not insist on his own way. Dad was not irritable. Dad kept no record of wrongs. Dad did not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoiced in the truth. Dad bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things.
Dad’s love never ended. Do you need proof? Again, just look around. Can you see the evidence of Dad’s love still at work in us right here and now? Love that outlived Dad’s own body?
If this is the love of a mere man, what must the love of God be?
Good news! You are loved. Loved by Dad. Loved even more by the God whose love Dad received and passed on to you.
That brings me to the third and final proclamation.
I have good news! You will live.
When Dad was dying, my mamaw asked him to send a message from heaven when he got there.
Dad died at 1 o’clock in the morning on June 1. I was there for his last breath. It took about three hours for the funeral home and hospice to do their work. When everyone was gone and I went to bed, it was 4 o’clock in the morning.
Somehow, I woke up less than three hours later. Each morning, one of the first things I do when I wake up is use a Bible app on my phone to do some daily Bible reading. The Bible app I use picks a random verse to show me first thing each morning.
When I woke up on the morning that Dad died–just five or six hours after he took his last breath–I opened my Bible app to do my daily Bible reading. I want you to know that this is the “random” Bible verse the app picked for me to read on the morning Dad died. It’s from the Book of Revelation 21:2-4:
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
Now you may choose to believe that was or was not a message from Dad on the other side, but you have to agree that it would be just like Dad to quote a Bible verse to us.
I have good news today! Dad’s body is in that box, but Dad is not in that box. The Christ who strengthened Travis Irwin is too strong for death. The God who loved Travis Irwin is not the God of the dead, but of the living. The Gospel that Dad lived and loved and practiced and preached cannot be dead, is not dead, will never be dead. The life and love of God that Dad believed and trusted cannot be put in a box and buried in the ground.
I have good news today! Look around. What do you see among these people? Do you see death because I sure don’t! I see life! I see love! I see that Dad is more alive and loving more than ever before–not in that old worn out body in the box, but in this body that is being raised anew right here and now.
I have good news today! The Gospel According to Travis Irwin. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; our mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Let us trust the Christ who strengthened Dad to do all things.
Let us love the way Dad loved us.
Let us live as Dad showed and taught us how to live.
This is not the end, it is merely the end of the beginning.
Praise be to the God of Travis Irwin and his Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Grace and peace to you all.