Tom Walker gave the sermon Sunday. Fifteen years retired, he hit another home run in a farewell discourse.
Gospel lesson: John 14:1-7 Jesus goes to prepare a place for us. He says to follow him. Thomas (the doubter) is confused. Jesus explains that he is the way, the truth and the life.
Tom—first, what is the Reverend Tom Walker like—
He is like Moses. The most humble man. Approachable. (I will use superlatives– because he is that to me.) He is the smartest pastor of pastors. He knows how to be a “minister.” I respect him. He is married to the loveliest of women, Ellyn. When he speaks, people listen. He is not perfect, by his own description, but able to define his weakness, which draws you into relationship with him, and enables you to closely examine your own faults.
Tom begins with a prayer. He tells the congregation that he and his wife Ellyn will be moving, by choice, not by event, to an extraordinary senior living village, Wesley Willows. The duplex will be larger than their current home. It is an hour away.
Adios, my friends. Au Revoir. Sayonara. Arrivederci. Goodbye—is hard in any language. My throat tightens and spasms—the acid runs down from my mouth. I don’t want to be emotional. It is just west on the interstate. Tears start to form as he speaks about the fifteen years of retirement and the challenges. How this church has been a blessing and a home to him. A new home is an exciting adventure, but leaving is a bittersweet experience.
What is this? Why is this so retching?
Tom has been a mentor to me. He is 30 years my senior. His influence has poured over me like a waterfall. Always there to give advice, a guest speaker to Bible Study that packed the house, a pastor’s pastor.
How does someone not in my peer group, not in my family, not my personal minister, not in my “friend” group, not my neighbor, punctuate my life with an exclamation point? You can’t just leave me sitting in this pew!
Tom takes a swing at the ball in my head now, “The text really asks two questions: 1) Where is home? 2) To whom do I belong?”
Wait a minute, Tom, you are taking up serious questions here, especially since I am an empty nester, and contemplating this BIG empty house, and you just announced you are leaving me.
Then he boldly states, “We are homeless.” My mind is reeling. The ball is sailing out of the park.
Tom tells about his childhood home in Park Ridge. He has specific memories of talking to God. Nighttime talks in his room. No responses, but confident that God listens.
Back to me. I go back to my childhood home.
Did I talk to God in my room? At night? If I did, it is getting mixed up in my emotion on screaming at God in my head right here in my pew, “Who will lead me now to YOU if Tom leaves!?”
My throat is pulsing and I wonder if I can hold all this in.
The sermon goes on to tell me about safe places. Jesus goes to prepare this for us. As this oration ball is careening over the infield, the outfielders in my mind are scrambling to the warning track. I can’t get this hurling ball—too fast, too much!!
Tom explains about longing for home. Not a physical place, but a spiritual place. He gives a marvelous example. Prime Time Tom. Everything is fleeting…a sacred thirst…quiet sorrow…it happens to happy people. Am I happy? Or is there a quiet sorrow lurking in the shadows? Outfielders are tripping….
He confesses after all the years in ministry, he does not have the answers. But he comes to Jesus in the morning and asks, “Show me the way.”
Jesus does not give us an answer book. What Tom does know: Easter Message: Jesus has been on both sides—promise of life after this earthly life. Message of Pentecost: The Spirit Lives in us. OK, Tom this is good, really good. But I really want you to stay. I am ready to catch the ball on the warning track at the top of wall and call you out…you must stay and keep doing what you are doing.
He ends this lesson with how a friend met him (days before GPS) and showed him the way to his home from the interstate through winding country roads at night. Tom followed.
A simple “Follow Me.” That is what Jesus asks us to do. That is what Tom asks Jesus each morning—to walk through the day with HIM. This is what he knows after 40 years of ministry.
The ball sails over the fence. My throat gives out. My eyes are wet. Rockford is just an hour down the road.