Many years ago, there was a terrible fire in a small town I served as pastor. Two young children were killed. Survivors included a young boy and his mother. My church hosted the efforts of the community to help the young family. They collected furniture, clothes, toys and some money to help the family in the midst of their grief. One Sunday the mother and her son came to church to pick up what was collected and to say “Thank you.” She came into the service a little late and came and took a seat on the front row.
What happened next was a little embarrassing. The young mother had obviously not been to church much and had trouble following the bulletin and figuring out where to look in the hymnal. She soon became confused as we would sit, then stand, then sit again. At the same time, the young boy was squirming and wiggling like many little boys will do. The poor mother looked so helpless. I wanted to come down but I was leading worship. I remember praying that someone would come and help her.
A sweet older lady got up out of her seat and started walking towards the young mother and her child. She quietly took a seat beside the mother and began whispering to her and the child. She helped her find the right place in the hymnal while giving an encouraging gesture and a smile to the little boy. You could see the relief in the mothers eyes as the little boy began to calm down. Together they continued the worship service as the sweet older lady continued offering help.
I was so thankful both for the visit of the mother and her child and for the lady who rescued them and all of us from a potentially embarrassing moment.
That sweet older lady was Ida (Totsy) Johnson at that time one of the faithful members of my very first church as pastor but several years later she would become my mother in law.
That story for me says a lot about what it means to be a Christian witness. To people who do not attend church some of our practices can seem a bit strange at times. It’s helpful when someone can come along side and offer encouragement and an explanation. As the spiritual says so well: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
This story also says a lot about what made Totsy Johnson, Mell’s mom special. As I’m preparing to speak at her funeral, this is the story that reminds me of her.
Totsy was a lady that every pastor loved to have as a member of their church.
She was the one who mailed bulletin inserts to the homebound.
She was the one who sent cards to anyone who was sick or needed prayer.
She even taught Sunday school to the middle school and junior high age group.
So, Totsy will be missed by me by her family and friends and by her church.
Death has a way of forcing you to put life into perspective.
Strange maybe but true. When someone close to you dies, you are forced to stop what you are doing and everything that seemed so important is put on hold.
We take time to appreciate someone who was special to us. Hopefully, we also take time to appreciate and reflect on our relationship with God.
Interestingly enough, in my devotions today, one of the Scripture readings was Psalm 8. I’ve always loved this Psalm but as I think about Totsy, I think she would love it too. Because this Psalm is written by David as he sits back and simply reflects on God and God’s creation.
1 O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
2 You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you should care for them?
5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them£ with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—
7 the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents.
9 O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
I’ve never thought of using Psalm 8 at a funeral before but maybe I should. What a wonderful way to think about our life in relationship with God.
God’s glory is higher than the heavens yet God taught children to tell of God’s strength.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers – what are people, mere mortals.
Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
For me, Psalm 8 is a reminder that God created this earth and then took the time to create us and give us a special place.
Totsy Johnson was one of those people given a special place on this earth and given a task to carry out.
I will miss her. I’m honored to have known her and I loved her both as pastor and as son-in-law.
She knew that she was part of God’s creation and had a place within that creation.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth.
As I said, death has a way of forcing you to put life into perspective. For me this is an opportunity to say thank you to Totsy and her family but also it gives me an opportunity to say thanks to the hundreds and thousands of others just like Totsy who serve God every day in big and small ways.
This gives me an opportunity to also realize how important it is to be a part of God’s family.
Sometimes we need to hear that.
As you prepare for worship, I know there are Totsy Johnson’s within your congregation.
This is my way of saying, “Thank you for all that you do.”
For the times that someone offers a gesture of kindness for another in Christ’s name.
For the times that someone faithfully carries out a task at church for the love of God.
For the times that someone led by the Holy Spirit witnesses their faith for someone.
O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth.