Wednesday, 9 August 2017


The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. Proverbs 10:7

I shared this week in the funeral celebrations of a person who has been one of the most influential in my life.

I first met Tessa nearly fifty years ago. I was a very young and very immature single minister in my first church, and the relationship never faded, even though in recent years we saw one another only occasionally. Judging by what other people at the funeral said I was one among many.

What made her so extraordinary? Answer: her sheer ordinariness. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. She was just… Tessa: kind, loving, humble, generous, hospitable, full of fun. No pretensions, no affectations; what you saw with Tessa really was what you got.

She was no hide-bound traditionalist, but she saw her role in life largely as wife and mother; she was the heart-beat of a truly happy home.

Most of my memories are of little, ordinary things – the mugs of coffee I have drunk there, the meals I have eaten, the games of Scrabble I have played, the laughter I have enjoyed. Tessa, her husband Maurice, and their three sons, are the kind of people you only have to think of to feel better.

One memory sticks with me in a particularly vivid way.

Tessa felt that I was acting badly towards somebody; and a time came when she decided I needed to be told. So one memorable day she invited me to sit, coffee in hand, on a stool in the kitchen; and very quietly but very firmly she told me what she thought.

I didn’t like it – who would? But it didn’t take me long to realise that what she said was true. I hope I mended my ways accordingly, though at this distance in time I’m really not sure.

(That little episode illustrates a vital lesson, by the way: if truth is spoken – especially spoken in love – it has a way of taking root, of biting, even if at first it is rejected. In every area of life our business as Christians is to speak the truth and believe that, however long it might take, it will bear fruit.)

But the point is this. Doing for me what she did that day can’t have been easy for Tessa – taking somebody else to task is something we all shrink from. It was an act not only of love and friendship, but also of courage, taking seriously Paul’s words in Colossians 3:16, that we should “teach and admonish one another”. (That rather old-fashioned word has a range of meanings, from “instruct”, to “advise”, even to “scold”.) I have never forgotten – and never regretted – being “admonished” that day.

I find it hard to think of Tessa without thinking: how this world needs people like her!

So much anger and aggression, hatred and violence, greed and selfishness! All of us probably have imagined how wonderful it would be if we could change things single-handed – “If I ruled the world…” as the song went.

Well, we can’t, and that’s something we have to accept. But Tessa was a perfect example of a vital fact: that while we individually can’t change the world, we can change our little bit of the world.

And if all of us who call ourselves Christians were to do that, the difference would be massive: what starts in the individual heart, and then saturates home and family, can spread further than we will ever know.

I’m not suggesting that only Christians are the kind of people who can change the world; we don’t have a monopoly on love and kindness. But there is that extra ingredient, that special something, which only God’s people possess: the gift of the Holy Spirit, through whom the love of Jesus is made real in our world.

Tessa was a Spirit-filled person. Her whole life was shaped by her love of Christ. That, ultimately, is what made her so special.

George Eliot (real name, Mary Ann Evans) wrote a novel, Middlemarch, about an unassuming woman called Dorothea. The closing words of the novel, summing up the impact of Dorothea’s life, apply perfectly to Tessa: “…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts: and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

All right, Tessa’s life, though certainly “lived faithfully”, may have been “hidden” in the sense of not making headlines. Her “acts” may have been “unhistoric”. But what a difference that life made! More than we will ever know.

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Yes, indeed!

Thank you, O God, for all your saints who have gone before us. Help us to learn from them and to be inspired and challenged by them. And, by your grace, may we too leave the same legacy behind us. Amen.

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