Long-time Trinity faculty member Merlin Hoops died on December 20, 2017. His funeral was held at Trinity on December 28. This week’s column is written by Professor Emeritus of New Testament Wally Taylor, based on his spoken remarks at Dr. Hoops’ funeral. Dr. Hoops’ obituary is available online at http://www.schoedinger.com/obituaries/Merlin-Hoops/#!/Obituary
Given the way Merlin Hoops liked to start a lecture or sermon, there is only one way to introduce my comments—with a question. The question: “What is a Hoops?”
A Hoops was an impeccable scholar and pastor devoted to and excited about the Word of God. The amount of study to which he continually committed himself was legendary. Recently someone who had visited Betty and Merlin was surprised to see him reading the Greek New Testament. “Why don’t you just give it up?” she recalled thinking. No, he didn’t give it up. That was what God had called him to do. The extreme sacrifices Betty and Merlin endured during his doctoral studies in Hamburg were just the beginning of his dedication to study for the sake of the church.
What is a Hoops? A Hoops was a husband, father, and grandfather. My very first memory of Merlin is when he walked out of my interview before I was called to Trinity--actually, he quietly excused himself to attend a meeting regarding daughter Amy’s special schooling. He didn’t make a big deal out of it. He simply left to fulfill his loving responsibility to his family. He was a person more than acquainted with suffering. Perhaps that is why 1 Peter was a favorite of his. A former student wrote: “Without saying a self-pitying word, Dr. Hoops' own experience of suffering gave the class [on 1 Peter] and his words about it particular power. I realized then that he wasn't just a scholar, he was also a humble disciple of Jesus, a pastor in the best sense of that word.” Or as another graduate said, “Professor Hoops was a walking cross.”
What is a Hoops? A Hoops was respected. One reason for that respect is the way he quietly served others. And so, while I was recovering from bypass surgery and needed to walk as part of my rehab, he accompanied me day after day in the muggy July and August of an Ohio summer. Always, by the way, wearing his dress shoes!
The Friday before he died, I visited Merlin in the hospital, where I experienced more typical insights into “What is a Hoops?” Repeatedly he said somewhat unclearly to his daughter Pam, “I’m sorry.” Sorry for causing inconvenience, sorry he was at the center of attention. Insight #1: Merlin, ever humble, always put others first.
As I was preparing to leave, Merlin’s son-in-law Doug asked if I would lead in prayer. As soon as I finished, Merlin was visibly calmer and looked at me. In the clearest and strongest voice he spoke to me the final words I heard him say, “Thank you very much.” Is that not a fitting final word from and about Merlin Hoops? Insight #2: he lived a thankful, gratitude-filled life. In the darkest of times he could find reason to thank God.
As I posted on Facebook the day he died:
“The world became a less grace-filled place this afternoon at 2:48 p.m. when Professor Merlin Hoops took his last breath. …The man embodied grace, dedication, and service. In one of the most profound gifts of my life I was privileged to be with him when he died. Nurses brought his wife Elizabeth (Betty) a half-hour later. ...Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes around Betty and Merlin has experienced what greatness in Christ is. … Hundreds of people have lost a friend; thousands more have lost a pastor and professor. Thanks be to God for the gift of Merlin Hoops.”
Rev. Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of New Testament