Jay J. Sulzmann, Sr., known to members of the Puritan Board as "jaybird0827" (nickname "jaybird," combined with his birth date, August 27, 1946), has gone home to be with the Lord. He died on December 20, 2009, the Lord's Day, being translated on a weekly Sabbath day to his eternal Sabbath rest. Brother Jay lived well -- as any who knew him will testify, he was always a Christian gentleman -- and he died well too, in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. After two and a half years of battling cancer, borne with much grace, he was ready "to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1.23). His life, love, and death are a testimony to all of us left behind, most especially his beloved wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Sulzmann ("Homemaker" on the PB), and son, Jay Sulzmann, Jr., whose faith has shined amidst the grief.
My dear friend was born in Bayonne, NJ, and soon baptized in the First Reformed Church (Dutch Reformed) -- its building is now a national historic landmark -- which soon became federated with Christ Presbyterian Church of the UPCUSA. When his family moved, he joined a nearby Methodist Church, but returned to the Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) 6 years later. His journey continued through the PCUS, the PC(USA), the PCA, the OPC and, finally, the Presbyterian Reformed Church. This is when I met him, around 2002. At the time, he was living in Pennsylvania and made the long trip for worship services in northern Virginia twice a month. He served as the precentor of our congregation, as he had done on the West Coast, and later in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had lived in New Jersey for 28 years, and later in Vancouver, WA for another 14 years -- altogether he lived in 6 states and 2 foreign countries, and had occasion in his life to travel to all 6 inhabited continents.
A math major, he taught high school math at several locations, including Norfolk, Virginia, where he met and married his wife of 27 years. He later became a computer programmer and software developer, working at several companies in Virginia, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, but in his heart his passion for teaching remained, and he became a substitute teacher once again in 2008. Some may recall his delight in word problems that he posed and solved on the PB. He was very precise, organized and disciplined in his life, and mathematics was a natural source of delight for him -- though math is not my cup of tea, there was something contagious about the pleasure he took in working through problems.
As a precentor, he invested much time and energy in creating spreadsheets and tables with psalms and their corresponding tunes for the edification of the saints. His precentor blog remains behind as an indicator of his love of the psalms and his desire to help God's people in their singing of his praises, and the Daily Devotional Forum on the PB is filled with his psalm selections. I often spoke with him about the work involved in precentoring, his favorite psalter (The Scottish Psalmody), and other aspects of psalmody (his favorite psalm was 121 to the tune French) -- love of math is not something we shared, although I took joy in his delight at working through problems. His love of God's people, God's Word and, especially, the psalms, permeated his life. He believed that the regulative principle of worship requires the singing of psalms only in public worship without instrumental accompaniment. It was a conviction he held passionately, advocated graciously, and practiced faithfully.
He was not one to fall into the trap of heated debate over that or any other subject. He would offer an opinion when asked, and he loved to speak about the Lord's dealings in his life and what he gleaned from God's Word, but if he was ever over-zealous, he left the "cage stage" behind long ago. He exemplified, for me, what it means to be a mature, humble, gracious servant of the Lord, who "must not strive" (2 Tim. 2.24). He always thought of himself as a "thread-killer," but his short and sweet remarks always gave me much food for thought.
Though he opposed musical instruments in church, it was he who introduced me to the music of Telemann. I always think of Jay when I listen to his Trio Sonata in D Minor. He loved classical music, classic rock, classic movies (his favorite was North by Northwest and he never tired of quoting Bogie and Claude Rains in Casablanca). In photographs, he was always with his beloved bride, and they always looked like newlyweds to me, though he always took care to refer in public to his wife as "Mrs. Sulzmann." He beamed when he spoke of his son. Like me, he loved to look up at the night sky, and, unlike me, took stunningly beautiful photographs of the moon. He had a passion for gardening, and had a dislike of unnecessary verbosity as when someone might say, “I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but …” instead of "Have you heard...?" He liked to deflect serious moments with the odd expression, "Hey look! Monkeys!"
There is a side of him, I am sure, that must have struggled with affliction in his final years, but the comfort he found in Bible verses that he and Beth shared was not artificial, forced or contrived, but genuine, sincere and uplifting. No one can walk down another's path, and I can't say what sort of valleys he went through in his last days, but I know that as much as he loved his family and friends, he longed to be with Jesus, and he was ready when the time came. When other loved ones around him passed on, he would sometimes remark, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). It is true, the Lord's ways are just and perfect. Jay lived well and died well, and I still ache for missing him. He was in my thoughts and prayers often this year, and I let him know that, but there was so much more I wanted to say and, for whatever reason, didn't. A lesson I thought I had learned before, I am learning again, tell your loved ones how much they are loved. There is pain and grief here, but no tears, no sadness for Jay now, only everlasting joy. I can't help thinking of him as I sing this last stanza from Psalm 121 from the Scottish Metrical Psalter:
7 The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall
preserve thee from all ill.
8 Henceforth thy going out and in
God keep for ever will.
I miss Jay, and I can't wait to sing the Lord's song with him again one day.