Pastoral Ponderings . . .
Norm Thompson, a long time member of Mount Tabor, passed away the early morning hours of July 4. He was 87. He is survived by his six children: Norman Dean, Shelly, Kent, Sheila, Sherlene and Craig. Norm was baptized in the Lutheran Church at Kintyre, North Dakota. His ashes will be laid to rest by his family during the Thompson family reunion in Kintyre in early August. Norm’s memorial service was held at Mount Tabor on July 12th.
When Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion, he was showing us what love looks like. When Christ Jesus asks us to “love as he has loved us” and, in that way, live by our trust in God’s goodness, that’s what Norm did. When their mom was no longer able to be there, their dad simply went on loving their children in the thousand simple ways he lived his daily life; the ways that trusted the Way of our Lord who knelt and washed his disciples’ feet; the ways that create goodness and kindness, gentleness and humility; the simple ways that Norm lived the love of God in his daily life.
Love is profoundly simple and simply profound. It’s a verb. It’s a way of doing life. It isn’t so much a state of constant emotion as it is the way of being a blessing. And in that way bringing peace to ourselves and hope to our world.
“Faith, hope, and love” St.Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians.“And the greatest of these is love.” He’s talking about the love that kneels to wash, and scrub clean, tie shoes, and change tires; pick up the dirty clothes and do the laundry; wash and put away the dishes; mow the lawn and change the oil; take kids to practice, and to the doctor when they’re sick; make sure the insurance is paid up; the utility bill and the mortgage is on time. There are a thousand simple ways every day that we say “I love you”, for the ones who rely on us the most; the ones who shouldn’t have to worry about the details, so they can grow and become, and explore this world God made.
Norm was one of 9 children growing up on the farm south of Bismarck, ND. They suffered the worst that could happen to them. Their mother died when Norman was 13. The youngest was just an infant. What Norm and his sisters and brothers witnessed next I think, was the power of God’s presence with them in the valley of the shadow of death. They witnessed how their father continued to love them in a thousand simple daily acts of humble serving: seeing to all their daily needs. Making a home for them. Giving them hope. Teaching them that when everything seems to go wrong, God is still good. And love is the greatest and most powerful of all. “Faith. Hope. Love. These three.” St.Paul says. “And the greatest of these is love.”
Like his dad before him, Norm showed his children that “weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Like his father before him Norm showed them how Good Friday doesn’t have to be the last word. That in faith, God’s will is that Easter is the last word. Love wins. Not suffering, not brokenness, not death. Love makes new life possible. It did for Norm. And he made it happen for them too.
And what did living God’s love do for him? It seems to me it brought him peace. And happiness. It made him compassionate, not bitter. It gave him an understanding heart. It made him a kind and gentle man. Isn’t that what our world needs more of today?
I think that’s the legacy Norm Thompson left his family. Not an empire of financial wealth. Not a wall of trophies (ok, maybe a few bowling trophies!). I think he left them with a recipe for how to change the world, one person at a time, one foot in front of the other. A recipe that includes picking up after each other. Providing for each other’s needs. Working each day at brightening the corner where you are. Lightening another’s burden. Taking care of each other.
That’s how the love that kneels and washes feet changes the world from hatred, fear, prejudice and violence to the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.
All of Norm Thompson’s family have learned well how to practice their own faith; their trust that “the greatest of all things is love.” That’s the legacy of their ancestors who left one of the most beautiful places on earth, a place of waterfalls, fjords, and majestic mountains, for one of the most challenging: a place of drought, isolation, and wind that cuts like a knife.
But with their trust in God’s renewing love, they were able to make a life there. A life of joy, celebration, and traditions for their family. A life that celebrated the faith that Easter does follow the Good Fridays of this world. The faith that, in the end, love wins.
Towards the end of his life, the staff at the care center where Norm was living said, “He was the only resident ever to have family every single day. He was never alone.”
Norm learned from his father before him what love looks like. And his family learned from his example, and the children of their families are learning from them what God’s love, the love that is the greatest and most powerful of all, looks like in a thousand simple acts of kindness, hospitality, generosity, and humility.
Thanks be to God for the gift of Norm and all the saints, who showed us what God’s love for us looks like in our time. Whose faith, hope, and love helped them endure and prosper. And who now rest from their labor in the pastures of our Good Shepherd.
May we use our days to honor their life with us, and bring God’s kingdom of love closer every day.