Matthew 18:1-5, 10-14 June 19, 2017
“I have to say…” Those were the words Tommy used to begin every phone call. The first couple of times, I thought I was in trouble…like he was going to say something he was disappointed about. Sometimes that was true. But even if he was just calling to ask when the service started, that was how he would start the phone call. Whatever it was that Tommy was calling about, it was always important. It was always something that he just had to say. Now that he is gone….there a few things that I just have to say.
It is hard to describe Tommy. When people try to explain him, they will inevitably say, “Well, that’s just Tommy.” If you don’t know what they mean by that, well there is really no point in trying to explain because Tommy, is just Tommy. This Gospel reading that we heard is a famous one. We take it for granted that Jesus loved the little children. There are so many cards, posters, paintings of Jesus with children gathered around him. While that is a lovely picture, this reading is about more than just Jesus loving children. One of his disciples had just asked him “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus answered that question by calling a child to him. Most people today would agree that children are pretty important. In Jesus’ time, children were of little consequence, except to possibly their parents. The only value children had were what they would one day be. So when Jesus held a child and used that child as an example of the greatest in the Kingdom, that was quite extraordinary.
We hear that term “childlike faith” bandied about a lot. Usually when we think of a childlike faith, we consider qualities of children like innocence and wonder. Those are certainly important qualities. But there are also other qualities that we often overlook. Children are dependent on others for their needs. Children trust that others will take care of them. This does not mean that children do not have an independent or stubborn streak. They do. But at their core, they believe in the good of people and that people will care for them.
When I saw the outpouring of love for Tommy after his death, I thought, if only Tommy could have known how many people loved him (how many people would show up for this funeral), he would have been so touched. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is exactly what Tommy would have expected. He expected to be loved and to be cared for. Here in our church community, Tommy was completely secure in the love people had for him. Whereas others might think: Oh I can’t call that person again. I can’t ask for another favor. That never occurred to Tommy. While he was not always able to help others in the tangible ways that we helped him, there was no doubt that he would have if he could have. We were always trying to find things in the office for him to do because he really wanted to help. He did, in so many ways that I have only been able to see in retrospect.
While Tommy was by no means perfect, the way he lived his life was a wonderful example of how Jesus asks people to live. Jesus wants Christians to be dependent on one another and to be dependent on God. We should trust that we are loved by God and by one another. Can you imagine living like that…believing people love you and want the best for you? That is how Tommy lived.
After he died, I felt this profound sense of loss. I could not understand it. I knew Tommy, but not as long as most of you did. I felt the loss, not just personally, but for this church. When he died, it was almost like someone came in and stole a part of the church. I have heard people described as fixtures. I never truly understood that description until Tommy died. He brought something to this place….something that cannot be replaced. He embodied childlike joy and faith.
I was talking to someone about Tommy yesterday and she said, “Well he was just Tommy.” Then she added, “But he was our Tommy.” He was our Tommy, but he never really was. As much as he loved St. John’s, his family and friends, and the town of Hampton, he loved God more. I know that God is in this place. I rarely say that I know what God would say in any given moment, but I think I can venture a guess right now. God is saying, “He’s my Tommy. He always was and he always will be.” I hope that Tommy’s life can be a reminder that while we all belong to one another, there is one that claims us as his own, and that is God. We are God’s. I am so grateful to Tommy for helping me understand what it means to belong so completely to God.