January 14, 1937-March 23, 2020
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
March 28, 2020
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
—John 14: 1-7, 15-18
John William Baird was born in Coshocton to Margaret and Maurice Baird on January 14, 1937. Imagine the world into which he arrived—a week before FDR is sworn in for his second presidential term and six days before Howard Hughes establishes a record by flying from L.A. to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. He was born the day after record-breaking rain begins to fall across Ohio for 12 days, triggering a natural disaster. The Ohio River floods and leaves millions without homes and many more without electricity or fresh water to drink for weeks.
John was just a little boy when he first started visiting The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton with his Grandma and Grandpa Page, his mother’s parents. Lester and Laura Page were longtime members here. John was baptized at Central Christian, where he attended regularly with his parents and would later worship with Margie, whom he married at Adams Mills Presbyterian Church in 1957. They would raise up their two children, Cyndi and Bobby, in the faith at Central Christian. Later, John and Margie would follow Cyndi and her husband, Tom, to join the Presbyterian Church of Coshocton in the early 1990s. They were welcomed as members in this chapel at the same worship service in which their granddaughters, Tiffany and Ashley, were baptized.
It is possible that JW, nicknamed by Ashley, caught the entrepreneurial bug from either or both sides of his family. It could have been in his DNA. Grandpa Page was a pharmacist who partnered with Clyde Lorenz in 1909 to open the Page & Lorenz Drug Store at 545 Main Street, Coshocton. John learned about customer service and supply and demand through hanging out at Grandpa’s store, doing his homework and sipping soda at the soda fountain. At the same time, he became intimately involved with his father’s feed and grain business, Baird Supply Company, formerly J.A. Baird and Son, founded by his grandfather in 1904.
JW never did anything half way and was a lifelong learner, a reader, a self-taught, self-made man. In his teens, when he wasn’t drinking soda at Grandpa’s store, he hung around car repair garages, developing his mechanical skills and knowledge. He worked hard, but also knew the importance of play and spending time with family and friends. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, boating, sports and dressing up as the school’s Indian mascot to lead the football team onto the field.
In spite of his lifelong passion for Ohio State and especially the Buckeyes, JW never attended college. He went right to work full time in the family business after graduating from high school. At 20, he expanded his family’s feed and grain company to include ready-mix concrete and the production of metallurgical briquettes. His continued innovation allowed the business to serve his hometown and partner with industrial foundries with a global impact.
But no other passion came close to his love and appreciation for his family.
The greatest sorrow of his life was the loss of their son, Bobby, killed in a car crash in 1990, coming home from a movie in Zanesville. He was only 23. The loss brought the close-knit family even closer. The community mourned with them. Expressions of love and sympathy poured out from all over, like a healing balm. Even the Amish community, served by John’s business, shared in their grief.
Jesus tells his disciples about His Spirit, the Advocate, Helper or Comforter, that he would ask the Father to send to them when he was no longer with them. The Spirit would help them in their time of grief—after Jesus had gone home to his Father’s house.
Hear the many promises of this passage—that Christ is going to Heaven, not for his sake, but for ours! To prepare a place for us, to make a way for us, so that we may live with him for all eternity.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,” he assures those who are already mourning his loss, and expressing their distress and doubts. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
They DID know, for Jesus had been telling them, if only they would listen and believe. But what Thomas was really saying was, “Lord, we don’t want you to go! This is not the way it is supposed to be! We love you and we don’t want to live and do your work without you!”
Jesus responds by promising that they will never be without him. He will give them—and us—all that we need to carry on. After the cross takes him from this world, his Spirit will return and help them continue to do all that Christ had showed them to do—calling the world to repentance, forgiving people their sins, healing the sick and brokenhearted, casting out demons, feeding and caring for the poor, setting the captives free, and leading us all to new life through faith in Him.
Don’t miss the hope of our resurrection in this passage that begins, “Do not let your hearts be troubled!” He is going to prepare a place in the Father’s House for us and come again and bring us to himself, so that where he is, we will also be. The grave is not the end. For on the third day, Mary sees the empty tomb, the angels, and then the risen Lord. Hear the promise in this scripture that we will see him, too.
And we who have died with him in our baptisms will be clothed in glory with him, in the everlasting. Our Savior says in verse 19, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
I met JW only about a year ago, after he had become seriously ill. He wasn’t walking 2 miles on the treadmill before work anymore or getting up at 4 a.m. as he used to do. He couldn’t attend church because of his fragile health and vulnerability to infection. Much of his life, in these last few years, was taken up by medical treatments and procedures, doctor visits, and too many hospital stays. But it was also spent with his family. He never gave up hope that he would get better and had made numerous comebacks after numerous health setbacks.
I saw the handsome, gentle man, with sparkling eyes and clean-shaven face, who was interested in meeting me and wanted to share his story, even though he wasn’t feeling well. I remember talking about his business and how the company had changed over the years, under his leadership. He was so proud of his family, still in love with Margie, and grateful to his daughter, Cyndi, his business partner, best friend, and tireless caregiver.
Ashley, his youngest granddaughter, says that everything she is—the choices she has made in life, what she has become, is because of his advice, teaching, encouragement, and example. He was the rock of the family. He was tough and stubborn, but also gentle and patient. He was the calming presence with her; the reassuring voice that is still in her head. He was he best friend, the one she called every day, just to talk. A compassionate listener, who understood and cared about the things that mattered to her and all the family.
In his last months, weeks, and days, he wanted just a few things out of life. He wanted to attend Ashley’s wedding, which was scheduled for June but is now delayed till next year. He wanted to take his great-grandson, Tanner, fishing. And he wanted to get better and repay Cyndi for her kindness, he said. Holding Tom and Cyndi’s hands in his last moments on Monday morning, passing from this world into the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father, those unfulfilled longings hung in the air.
When we lose someone we love, someone so close to us that it seemed like they were part of us, we can’t help but wonder how we can we carry on. Even Christ’s followers, who believe in the resurrection and eternal life with Him, struggle with grief and loneliness, just as Christ’s first disciples missed the one they called Rabbi, their teacher, their friend.
The answer is only with God’s help. We rely on the Advocate, the Helper or Comforter that Christ sent, as he promised, to His followers on Pentecost, when he was no longer with them in the flesh. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes in the community of believers, not just to make us feel better and cope with difficulties and loss, but helping us to do what Christ has commanded—and continue on, serving others with the gifts and talents God has given us, ministering in His name. This is how we show Christ our love.
Let the Spirit help you carry this burden. Let the community pour out God’s love onto you through words and acts of kindness and be a healing balm for you. And may the prayers of all the saints, the great cloud of witnesses in every time and place, lift you and strengthen you, day by day.
You do know the way, the truth, and the life. You know Him—Jesus Christ.
You can trust in the One who will abide in and with you, forever.