Here’s a sermon I preached a few years ago on this Sunday’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Just as the people of Israel’s images of God changed over time, my own images of the Divine have changed since I preached this sermon. However, I still resonate with ways in which the Book of Hosea seeks to broaden the reader’s understanding of God away from traditional notions of anger and wrath toward images of steadfast love, for I too have had to broaden my own understanding of the Divine many times over the years. I suspect that I am only just beginning to imagine the contours of the steadfast Love that God Is.
Tommy was one of those kids that, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. I was never quite sure whether or not Tommy was rotten or whether trouble just followed him wherever he went. Whatever the reason, Tommy managed to live up to the reputation of the typical middle child. His older brother seemed to be perfect in every way, the model child and his younger sister was the cute and adorable baby of the family, leaving the field wide open for Tommy to become the black sheep of the family. And as black sheep go, Tommy was a doosey. Tommy was also the son of my friends and so even though, I would have rather not have been part of this kid’s life, the fact that he was the Karen’s beloved son, meant that I had to learn to deal with him.
I can still remember an afternoon, long ago, when Tommy was barely three years old. A bunch of us had gathered to celebrate Karen’s birthday. Tommy was in a foul mood. I decided that he just didn’t like the fact that on this particular day he wasn’t the center of attention. He seemed to do whatever he could to upset his mother.
Her patience with him was beginning to get on my nerves and I was relieved when Karen announced that it was time for Tommy to take his nap. After a very long and loud temper tantrum, Tommy was eventually quiet in his room; a little too quiet, it seems. It wasn’t until I got into my car to leave and happened to glance up toward Tommy’s bedroom window that I realized just why he had been so quiet. Hanging outside of Tommy’s bedroom window was the evidence of this little boy’s stubborn streak. Somehow, to this day I still don’t know how he managed to do it, but somehow little Tommy had managed to stuff the mattress from his bed out the window.
On the lawn below the window were Tommy’s pillows, sheets, stuffed animals and quilt. Three quarters of the mattress hung below the window and I am sure that given enough time Tommy would have managed to push the remainder of his bed out onto the front lawn. I dashed back into the house, grabbed Karen and headed up to his room. When we got there we discovered dear sweet little Tommy, shaking the contents of a big container of baby powder all over his room. Tommy’s himself was covered in talcum and when he caught sight of his mother and I he gave us a wicked little grin and said, “I don’t need to take any more naps!”
Driving home that day, I gave Tommy a nickname. It’s a name that I have never uttered in his mother’s presence, but a name that has stuck with me. On that day, the dear sweet little son of one of my dearest friends was forever labeled, Tommy the Terrible; TT for short.
Now the exploits of a cute three-year-old are one thing, and we can all laugh at the site of a mischievous little boy, who manages to out fox his mother. But TT’s activities went far beyond the laughable exploits of a mischievous little boy. It didn’t take Tommy very long to become skilled in the art of tormenting adults. His mischievous behavior gave way to rudeness, disobedience, cheating, and more often than not down right meanness. Of all the adults who were subjected to the torments that Tommy dished out, none suffered more than his mother did. No matter how hard she tried, Karen could never get Tommy to behave himself. Nor was Karen ever able to understand why Tommy did the things he did. Tommy had everything a boy could ever want or need. He had two parents who loved him dearly. He had a wonderful older brother and a delightful little sister. He lived in a beautiful house by the ocean. He attended the best school in the area. He had more toys than he could ever find the time to play with. There were lots of great kids living in the neighborhood to play with and all sorts of interesting and interested adults in his life. Tommy was a bright and intelligent kid who had everything going for him. There was no earthly reason that this child should behave so badly. Karen has never been able to explain why she has two perfectly wonderful children and one child who has been breaking her heart since he was old enough to speak. Continue reading