Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bob Burks--A Tribute

(Bob Burks' funeral was held in the First Baptist Church, Clemson, SC on June 10, 2017. This is what I said...)

Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher said, “That chief purpose of a temple is a place where people come to weep in common.” And we make use of this temple today because we have from far and near—to grieve   and to pay a tribute to Bob Burks a very great man.

Bob was a Christian all of his life. And somewhere he heard that wonderful story of the time on a hillside when the Lord fed a multitude with loaves and fishes. The disciples were amazed at the miracle but later when they stitched the stories together—they remembered what Jesus had told them “You give them something to eat.” It seemed utterly impossible at the time—a  sea of hungry people and their resources seemed so meagre. And yet—they went out two by two and they gave people all over something to eat. I think Bob remembered that story because his whole life he broke loaves and fishes and gave chunks of himself out wherever he went. He never made a splash. He was always quiet about it—and sometimes you had to strain to hear what he was saying—but he took the bread and broke it, as his Lord had commanded. And so many in this room today are recipients of what he gave us.

Oh, he gave those bits and pieces of himself with abandon. You know you know. Family…especially dear Betty. I don’t know a couple that have loved each other more. He gave of himself to his children; Jennifer, Kari Beth and Tucker and his step-children: Diane and Cindy and Dirk. And these grandchildren too. Great-grandchild.

Many people stop there. Not Bob.  He was generous wherever he was. And so here today there are former students and former colleagues he taught with and friends who sloshed with him through Seminary all the way to a doctorate. And Churches…Bethel Baptist Church in Indiana. And First Baptist in Anderson. Where among other things he began a deaf ministry. And that was followed by a rich 36 years years at Anderson University.  But back to the churches. When they married and he moved to Clemson he reached in yet again and gave out here—his church—loaves and fishes. He preached some. He taught some. He served as Chair of the Deacons—not once but twice. Twice? He was Chair of a Transition team during a cross-roads time in this church. And he met Betty here and they were married right here in this place it would have been 30 years this October.  And they gave themselves to this church. They sat right down here on the second row Sunday after Sunday. 

He giving did not stop there. He sat down one day in his home in Camelot and wrote out this service. Reading through his words I felt their power and I felt Bob’s spirit. And the people on this program are all beneficiaries of those loaves and fishes. 

Bob was in a Theological group that met for years and years in the Upstate. Charles Arrington, Pastor here started that group of Professors and Pastors. And Bob was a vital part of that group. Some of them are here today. But I asked Lawrence Webb if he could ask members of this group to write a sentence or two of how this good, good man had reached in to his own life and heart and gave them something.

And this is what some of them said…..

Jim Pitts wrote: “Bob Burks was a gentleman and a scholar, who loved God and liked people. His pleasant demeanor was warm and inviting.”

Marion Aldridge wrote: “When some of the grand ol’ Baptist saints… died, nobody in the new world of Baptists know them all—or cared. The Greatest Generation who helped us through difficult decades is given lip service, but there were depths in people like Bob Burks that had nothing to do with wearing a uniform, which is all too many people care about: “We thank you for your service….Bob was a class act, a gracious gentleman, a wonderful Christian. We’ll miss him, and I thank him for his many ways of serving God and humanity.”

Charles Kimball wrote: “Like everyone else I was saddened to receive words of Bob’s passing…From the first time we met (in 1990 when I joined the faculty at Furman) through Theologs and programs in Anderson and First Baptist in Clemson. His  friendship, encouragement, and personal support were always generously provided in uplifting and affirming ways..”

Tony McDade wrote: “I echo what so many others have written. Its was my good fortune to serve on the staff of First Baptist Clemson when Bob was a Deacon. His wise leadership has been a constant blessing in our lives….Thanks be to God for Bob Burks.”

David Rutledge wrote: “He was a wonderful person, sincerely interested in everyone. I remember him at our last Theolog meeting, which is where I always think of him. What a wonderful kind man he was! A man for whom the word ‘gentle’ was perfect. I will miss him.”

Stuart Sprague wrote: “I first met Bob in St. Louis in the fall of 1976. At a meeting of Baptist professors for breakfast he sat with Page Kelley and told him that Anderson College was looking for a new religion professor. Page told him that the young man at a nearby table…Stuart…was looking for a job teaching religion. We met, and a match was made. When I moved to Anderson in June 1977, one of the first things Bob did was to invite me to the fall Theolog meeting at Furman. Thus began a 40 year journey. It has been a wonderful ride. I just wish I could be there today but am in California for a Conference.”

Dan and Margaret Vincent wrote: “Dr. Burks, as I learned to know him, was my Old Testament professor at Anderson College in the fall of 1965. We, Margaret and I, grew to love and appreciate his sweet spirit and kindness as he also taught our daughter, Karon at Anderson College. We will  miss him greatly.”

Kelly Belcher wrote: “I am sorry to hear this news. Please give to all my sympathy, and love from the entire Belcher family. Bob and Posey were friends. Wonder who is at the head of the dinner table in heaven now?”

Furman Hewitt wrote; “Unlike some of us, Bob (a gentle, kind man who was also a careful thinker) will be missed and spoken  of with gratitude. not many like him!”

Randy Wright wrote: “So sorry to hear this. Bob was the interim pastor when I was called to Trinity in Seneca in 19097. We’ve been friends a long time, and I will miss him. He was always so supportive and kind.”

Jim Thomason wrote: “Sad to learn of Bob’s passing.”

Bert Strange wrote: “A great loss.”

Lawrence Webb wrote: “Bob and I came to Anderson close to the same time, both as associate ministers in churches: he at First Baptist and I at Pope Drive.  Then both of us were invited to what was then Anderson College near the same time.  He stayed on the faculty while I roamed and was there when I returned. And we retired about the same time. So our fellowship spans about fifty-five years.

I think of two vignettes that characterize Bob Burks for me:

(1) When President Ed Rouse invited Bob to the faculty in 1965, one of his conditions for accepting the position was that the trustees open the enrollment to black students.  I always thought one reason they accepted Bob’s ultimatum was their concern for accreditation.  They needed his doctorate.

(2) For a long time, with civil rights, Vietnam, and other crises around us, Bob had a poster in a conspicuous place in his office that said, in effect: “Let us as Christians agree first to stop killing each other.”

These are just some of the memories many have expressed.

 The Apostle Paul said;  “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And dear Bob, my, my you lived out so many of these virtues. We thank God for this special life and for all those loaves and fishes that are scattered here and so many places.

One further word. Because we make proper use of this temple today we grievers open the Book and remind ourselves of those shining  promises Jesus said he had come to do. As a young man Jesus stood in the Synagogue to speak fort the first time. He said, “I have come heal the broken-hearted.”  And when the church put together what they remembered their Lord had said, they left it for us in the Beatitudes:  “Blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted.” And then, friends there toward the end when Jesus was about to leave, in that Upper Room there must have been a catch in his voice. He looked out on his friends’ faces. And said: “Let not your hearts be troubled…neither let them be afraid…I will not be with you but I will send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit and he will be with you forever.” Last Sunday we celebrated the coming of that Spirit.

And  I hope we can all find what those disciples found. And even after Easter some trudged along finding their grief so hard—they missed him so. But they began to talk with one another and they remembered so much. And it was those words that he left them that warmed their hearts and helped them move on. And so I give you, Betty and sister and children—and this larger family the promises that those disciples remembered and dear Bob loved so much. “I have come to heal the brokenhearted…” “I will comfort those that mourn…” “Let not your hearts never be troubled…”

Years ago my wife and I visited the Heidelburg Castle in Heidelberg, Germany. And as we
The Twin Angels - Heidelburg Castle, Germany
moved through the Gates the Tour Guide said, “Do you see them. Look up.” And above the huge door a carving of twin angels. And as people walked through those doors through the years and decades above them always were the twin angels—goodness and mercy. 

Last year we went back again to that same castle high on a hill overlooking the city. And I remembered the twin angels and as we moved through the gates I looked up and there they were those two angels still there. It had been 30 years since we had first seen them. But overarching  all our lives, folks are the twin angels that the 23rd Psalm talked about. Goodness and mercy followed Bob Burks all his life of 86 years. And my wish for Betty and to all of us Is that same gift that Bob knew all too well.  That we will remember wherever we go and whatever we do—on good days and bad—there are those twin angels—goodness and mercy. They followed dear Bob all his day and they shall always follow us too. 

And today in so many different ways we have made proper use of this temple. We grieve…but not as those who have no hope. Thanks be to God!

--Roger Lovette /

1 comment:

  1. Years ago I had Dr. Burke (or Bob as he encouraged us to call him) for an Old Testament class. I was a lifelong Lutheran and a bit hesitant about whether my ideas would be accepted by this Baptist scholar. Of course I needn't have fretted. Bob was authoritative but kind, a wonderful teacher who allowed me to send him questions for several months after the class ended. Even with all of his other responsibilities, he found time to answer my emails promptly and generously. I feel fortunate to have been a student. Lovely man!