Extravagant Giving, Part II

Warren Thompson was one of those rare people God gives us in life. People with a quiet, Jesus-like authority, with no hypocrisy showing up anywhere, no interest in recognition, or ostentation of any kind, absolutely no desire for prominence in any up-front sort of way. People who truly see Jesus as their only authority,who model their lives after Jesus’ self-giving love, after Jesus’ powerful truth-telling, after Jesus’ back-of-the-line, servant’s heart, servant’s attitude, servant’s behavior kind of living.

Thomps was that kind of person, and his absence from this planet impoverishes me and everyone who ever knew him. And while my heart weeps for his loss, I also celebrate his life and the life of Jesus that I and so many others saw in him.

Warren Thompson came to faith later in life than many. He had survived World War II and come home to meet and marry his sweetheart, Nancy. He was in his mid-to late 20’s when he encountered Jesus for the 1st time and that encounter changed his life forever.

He and Nancy raised two kids, one of whom is a pastor on the east coast and the other of whom has magnificently raised her two daughters as a single mom the last few years. Thomps and Nancy joined Pasadena Covenant church in the 1950’s, and both became diligent students of the Bible, and active members of small groups and prayer circles. In their quiet, humble way, both of them became the kind of bedrock lay leaders that pastors dream of having in their congregations.

When my family and I came to PCC in 1975, our kids were 3, 5 and 7 and we watched as this tall, skinny guy in his mid 50’s hung out with the high school students week after week. We later learned that he had been hanging out with high school students for years, going to midweek activities, attending winter and summer camps as a counselor, traveling to Mexico on mission trips, coming to high school Sunday school each and every week.

And doing a whole lot more than that. Thomps worked for the 3M Corporation there in Pasadena and every day, when he left work, he would ask God to show him whom he should contact on his way home. And then he’d drop by a student’s home, or call and meet someone for coffee or a Coke. Sometimes, he’d take them to breakfast, before work. Thomps literally gave himself away to those students – almost 30 years of those students. He was never shy about praying for kids, either, wherever they were. He wanted to know what they were learning from the word, what they were learning from their prayer times. He wanted to know how they were living like Jesus – and he did all of this with a spirit of gentle humility that was wondrous to behold. And if they weren’t living like Jesus, he loved them extravagantly anyway.

He was willing to be made fun of for being an old guy, he was willing to not be hip or hep or cool or ‘hot.’ He was willing to give himself away lavishly so that others might see Jesus. He gave extravagantly, he gave exuberantly, he gave joyfully, he gave gladly and even gleefully at times. He loved Jesus and he loved students. During his years of mentorship with the students coming through the youth ministry at Pasadena, at least a dozen and maybe closer to 20 individuals – mostly young men, because that’s who Thomps invested in – went into full time Christian service of one kind or another. Some are pastoring, some are missionaries, some are psychologists, some are youth workers themselves. That list includes several who are or were part of the community of faith at Montecito Covenant, including our former pastor.

Many others of those students answered God’s call to lay ministry, like their friend Thomps had, and they are serving God in churches, hospitals, homes, and schools all over the place. In his later years – I think when he turned 70 he decided he was really too old to work with students! – he became a lay pastor of visitation and began a ministry of powerful and loving care for seniors and others in the larger community, participating in weekly church staff meetings and praying regularly for each person on that staff. It was my privilege to serve beside Thomps for 5 years, 2 as a student intern and 3 as a member of the staff there, and I will be forever grateful that he is a part of my story.

When our son was about to go into high school, Thomps began to talk about ‘retiring’ from student ministries. We literally begged him to reconsider, to hang in there for 4 more years while Eric and his cohort of friends came of age, which he graciously agreed to do. And Warren Thompson became one of the most important figures in our son’s life, providing loving and faithful encouragement through high school and beyond. We will be at his memorial service on the 17th of this month, giving thanks to God for a remarkable life. Thomps was probably the closest I will ever come to seeing Jesus this side of heaven. He was that extravagant in his love, that generous in his attention, that alive in his love for God and for others.

So, as I invite our congregation to gather around the table on Sunday, I want to give thanks for his life. And I want to give thanks for his Savior, who is also my Savior, and their Savior.

That same Jesus who rejected an authority dependent upon ostentation, or privilege, or exploitation, or entitlement. That same Jesus who lived and ministered from a center of true authority – the authority of truth, humility, compassion and mercy. That same Jesus who noticed the widow in the temple courts, who lamented the abuses of authority which contributed to her poverty, and who drew attention to the way her extravagant giving mirrored his own coming sacrifice.

And I will offer this prayer, on behalf of us all:

Holy Friend, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father,

We have to admit, Lord, that this teaching is sometimes really hard for us. We like the trappings. We prefer the peacock feathers to the tiny birds’ nest [a reference to our spectacular altar piece which is a lovely study in contrasts.] We like to be shown respect, we like to enjoy a perk here and there, we like to feel important, to feel needed and necessary.

Where that can really get us into trouble, though, is when we begin to lie to ourselves and to you, when we begin to believe that we really are entitled to those perks because…we’ve done so much good, or we’ve worked so hard to attain a certain status, or educational degree, or years of service at our place of employment – or whatever. We’ve begun to think that somehow we deserve all those points of privilege that we enjoy so much.

Forgive us, Lord, for the ways we abuse whatever form of authority we may have gained in this life. Forgive us for wanting desperately to impress other people more than we want to live for you. Forgive us for wanting to live the good life more than we want to be good people. Forgive us for consciously or unconsciously stepping on somebody else to get to the rewards we think we deserve. And, by the power of your Spirit at work within us, enable us more and more, day by day, little by little, to look like your son Jesus, to whose table we come, and in whose name we pray, Amen.

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