Jesse Thyne was a weird, joyful, generous, just and peacemaking sunbeam from God. His family told me that Jesse was a weird, joyful, generous, just and peacemaking doofus from God. He never walked in a straight line. He always marched to the beat of another drummer, or in Jess' case, the tune of another harmonica. A person who spoke out of a grammar that was uniquely his. Can you believe it? Somebody's own family calling him a doofus? Socially strange?
I love that story about how at Polytechnic School he
somehow had a profound and mysterious self-confidence that never sought to use euphemisms about the fact that he was adopted by the Thynes when he was 2 1/2 years old. I love the fact that he would say that he was not just adopted, but he was from another planet.
The story of this man taken from us too soon is that he found a wonderfully
awesome way to move from having four different families by the time he was 2 1/2 to being an interesting, beautiful and successful man. And now to the great grief of God and the great grief of all of us, the horrible vehicular accident has taken Jesse's hyperactive, rapid moving, turbo-brained,
talkative, 24-year-old body from us.
But you will remember that that happened to another young sunbeam from God 2,000 years ago. He too, was a weird, joyful, generous, just and peacemaking sunbeam of a doofus from God. His name was Jesus, and the community who loved him and gained inspiration, and by that I mean breath for living inspiration. The community
who gained inspiration from him decided that one of the most healing and empowering things they could do after his body was taken was to tell stories about him. Something we do 2,000 years later.
Jess was a star acolyte here, he was central to the youth ministry, and he went through our pre-confirmation class here, and after the pre-confirmation classes were over and it was time for teenagers to make a decision about whether or not they would be confirmed, Jess said, "I'm not
going to be confirmed; I don't believe all that stuff."
And then for the rest of his life Jess took all that stuff about God and Jesus that "All Saints" tries to teach and live out, the things we know about God's love for every person, no matter what they have done in the past, and Jess lived it. You see, that's the best belief--living it.
Becky has said over and over since last Friday the world now has diminished. That is true. But Jess' death can also result in the world being enriched if you and I will tell the stories of Jess and let them inspire us to move out of our depths, so that the world can be a different place. Thank you God for Jesse. Thank you for his life amongst us. Thank you for leading him to lead us to see that the journey of service is the journey of real life.
There is something about storytelling that keeps us moving forward when grief has stricken us down. It paints a new and brighter horizon when the clouds of grief keep us from
looking only as far as our feelings. I want to tell three quick stories.
The first is the coupon story. When Jesse was a young boy and Becky, who was working outside the home, was looking for a way she and her youngest child could have some dependable time to be together, she happened upon the idea that she would take Jess with her to the market each week. But, of course, she needed some enticement to keep his interest up in going to the grocery store with her. So she told Jess that he could clip coupons and keep the money that was saved in the process. Jess went at that project with entrepreneurial passion. He became so successful at clipping coupons and persuading his mother to buy several weird items they otherwise wouldn't have purchased that Jess was able to garner about $35 a week.
Another part of the deal that Becky made with Jess was that Jess would have to give one tenth of his earnings away. So Jess chose to give his $3.50 each week to Union Station. Jess and Becky would go to Union Station each week to prepare and serve meals to those who were homeless. And Jess gave
one-tenth of his coupon clippings proceeds to that great and fruitful agency.
The second story I want to tell took place in Africa. When the Peace Corps sent Jess to West Africa, upon his arrival he wanted to take on an African name. And so Jess took on the name Obduli. Then Jess learned something very important about West Africa. He learned that national identity is not nearly as significant as their tribal identity. It is very important to understand that people have as their primary form of identity their tribe and their tribal name. So Jess, working primarily with two tribes in his assigned location, found out that one tribe's name was "Jallow," and the other was "Ba." And the people said to him, "You must choose either to be a Jallow or a Ba. Which will it be?" Jess' response was, "I will not choose one over the other. I will be both. My name will be JallowBa. Obduli JallowBa."
And up until the point of his untimely death, whenever Jess would walk the roads of those who knew him in Guinea, they would yell out a greeting "JallowBa, JallowBa, JallowBa." Jess, the one who never walked in a straight line, who always marched to the tune of another harmonica, who spoke out of a grammar that was uniquely his, had created a new tribe. And that new tribe of radically inclusive love, if people choose to do so, in that tribe, anyone could find a friend of great affection and warmth and energy and joy and justice and generosity.
This week, I asked Michelle, the woman he loved and
planned to be with come this June. "Michelle, why Africa? Why the Peace Corps?" Michelle told me that like the chosen professions of his parents and his brother and sister, he wanted his life to be about giving. And he wanted to be in a completely removed and unfamiliar setting so that he could come to terms with himself.
This leads to my last story. Last year when Michelle and Jess' family went to visit him in Guinea, they themselves, in fact, took that treacherous nine-hour taxi ride Jess was on when he was killed. They
stayed with Jess in his village where there is no running water and no electricity. They endured those long 12 hours of nighttime each 24 hour period, when the only light available is candle light, and the candles are expensive, and you run out of things to read, and many hours you lie in the
dark with nothing to deal with and encounter but yourself--your thoughts and fears, your insecurities and self doubts. Your loneliness.
But it is the time that you also can come to terms with your dreams, your visions, your motives, and the thrilling discovery that each human being, including
yourself, is most wonderfully and marvelously made. It is the time when you can also come to terms with the fact that each human being, including yourself, is made by God in love. And because of God's abiding and constant grace-filled love. And because of the fact that God has a dream for every
person, including yourself, only you can do the job that God needs for you to do in the world. Rick said that during their conversations with Jess on that African visit, they noticed that Jess was now living, and working, and conversing out of a deeper place than they had ever seen. He had taken all
his joy and generosity and justice and love and found that deep spring from which it flows inside each of us if only we will go deep enough within ourselves to tap it. And now joy and justice and generosity and love were flowing out of deep wellsprings within Jess.
My friends, the beautiful life, the fully human life for all of us, comes from the deepest truths and love within each one of us. Each of us can choose to live out of a petty surface level, or we can let the ordeals of life take us ever deeper to live out of the profoundest depths.
In fact, like Jesse, there are times when we can choose the difficult and ordeal-filled fork in the road to take us to our center. Our true self. That is not an easy life. It is not the
unexamined life. It is not the selfish life. But it is the beautiful, fully human life. It involves, to use the words of one of Rick Thyne's sermons, what you do with what you have. A choice to take whatever blessings there are in your life and choose to use them in the difficult, risk filled, animating challenges of the world's deep need for justice and peace and inclusion.
Food for the hungry. Clothing for the naked. Companionship for the sick and imprisoned. A cup of cold water for those who thirst. Then,
from the interior depths, the profoundest internal depths to which that kind of life takes us, you and I can do those things in the world that God dreamed of our doing when we were first created that no one else can do quite like
us. Those things where the world's deep needs and our deep joys meet.