Philippians 4:1-9 Jim Tormey January 4, 2019
The reading from Philippians isn’t one we often have at funerals. It’s not one of the recommended ones. But it is the one of the two texts that Jim requested. I wondered why he included the beginning part with all the tricky names. Most people would have skipped that part and started with the more familiar, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” But then I was reminded of the two voicemails saved on my office phone. Both are from Jim in the last year. He called me to tell me that he was sorry he had not been to church. Then he explained why. I already knew why because I knew that only dire warnings from a doctor would keep him and Ann away from church. But what touched me about the messages was that he went on to explain that he wanted to make sure I knew how much he and Ann supported me and what I was doing at St. John’s. It was such a sensitive and caring thing to do.
Since I have arrived, I have received periodic notes from both of them, providing encouraging words. And I am sure I am not the only minister or church member they have encouraged and supported in their long tenure here. That is why it seems right and good that Jim would include these words from Paul, these words of encouragement to those who have “struggled beside him in the work of the Gospel.” In some ways, I think this is one of his last acts of encouragement for all of us here. He wanted to remind his family and friends to stand firm in the Lord.
I am not here to list his many accomplishments. Most of us know that he accomplished a great deal in his life. Yet like his beloved wife, he was always humble. He was a renaissance man. He was a professional engineer, but also a writer, a singer, and an artist. And he shared many of those gifts with St. John’s and the greater community. He loved St. John’s. On one of my visits with him this summer he said, “It’s interesting that such a small structure (the church) can be such a center of love and support.” In that simple statement, he reminded me of what the church can and should be. Not a center of power or prestige, but of love and support. And we don’t need a lofty cathedral, we just need this church, these people.
He also shared something that surprised me. Jim and I have had many talks over the last few years– most were about the life of the church, the community of Hampton, and history. On one of our last visits he said, “I’m praying for freedom from fear. It’s an important prayer, but not as important as freedom to love. I’m still trying to figure that out.” I was so moved by this, that I wrote it down, right there as I sat with him. I think I even told him, “Hope you don’t mind, but I want to make sure I remember this.”
Even with all of his accomplishments in his career, his books, the Hampton History museum…he was able to admit to me that he was still trying to figure it out. And I think that is a prayer that we could all use, praying for the freedom to love. Not the power, the wisdom, or the right people, but the freedom. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “Do not worry about anything, but it everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Even at the end of his life, when he could barely leave his house, he was doing much more than so many of us do. He was praying for freedom to love. He was praying for that pure love of God that we all yearn for, but so rarely name. And he was still encouraging people, supporting them in their life in Christ.
I can’t imagine this place without Jim and Ann. I really can’t. It seems like they are part of this foundation. Yet I find comfort in the example that he left for all of us, in his prayer for freedom from fear and freedom to love as well as his faith not just in Jesus Christ, but in the church of Jesus Christ—which is not merely this beautiful building, but the people gathered here.