|Little Big Man
Memorial Service for Rusty Hohman
March 23, 2014 Luke 19: 1-10 John 6: 37-40 1 Corinthians 15: 50-57
Rev. Catherine Purves
Do any of you remember the 1970 movie, Little Big Man, that starred Dustin Hoffman? It begins as Hoffman’s character, Jack Crabb, is sitting in a nursing home, aged 121. He is being interviewed by a historian who invites him to tell the amazing story of his surprisingly long life. Jack Crabb proceeds to retell the history of the Wild West, largely from the perspective of the Indians. He had been raised by the Cheyenne Indians after the Pawnees massacred his pioneer parents. It was the Cheyenne who gave him the descriptive name of Little Big Man.
Jack was a little man, but he certainly had big adventures. The way he tells the story, he had an impact on several key events in the history of this country. His perspective on things was unique, and he told his story with humor and wisdom. The Little Big Man saw things others did not see, and he had an impact on people and events that others were not aware of. Even so, it was easy for them to overlook the Little Big Man who was in their midst.
Rusty Hohman was a Little Big Man in our midst. He was a small man with big dreams. He desperately wanted to be a minister, and he didn’t let his lack of a seminary education, ordination, or the absence of a specific call stand in his way. Rusty’s body was small, but his spirit was big. Like Dustin Hoffman’s character, Jack Crabb, Rusty lived a lot longer than anyone expected he could, and he had many adventures. Wherever he ended up, he made the best of it and set out to share the Gospel with anyone who would listen and with some who didn’t. Rusty is an amazing example of how God can use whatever gifts he has given to us to do God’s work. When we start to complain about our limits and about the gifts and graces we don’t have, we should remember Rusty and how much that Little Big Man did with his faith.
I couldn’t resist reading the Gospel story of Zacchaeus as a memorial to Rusty. Here was another Little Big Man who was desperate to know Jesus. Climbing a tree was not the sort of thing that people would have expected a chief tax collector to do. Already Zacchaeus would have been resented and hated because he was a tax collector, now he would also be a laughing stock. He didn’t care. He just wanted to see Jesus. This kind of determination and singular drive to see and know Jesus was also what set Rusty apart. Sadly, Rusty was not universally loved or respected either. He didn’t care. He just wanted to see Jesus.
And the thing that surprised everyone about that day when Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus was the fact that Jesus wanted to see him too. “Zacchaeus,” Jesus called up to the Little Big Man in the tree, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” We all know that Rusty loved Jesus. What’s important for us to realize is that Jesus loved Rusty and delighted in that Little Big Man. Jesus would have said to Rusty just what he said to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”
I don’t know why Christians, of all people, get it into their heads that God plays favorites, that God prefers Presbyterians to Baptists, or Americans to Bulgarians, or that God favors one race or one language, or that God likes bright, attractive, tall people more than small people or people with a lot of problems or challenges in life. We need to remember the words of Jesus himself, recorded in the 6th chapter of John: “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” Anyone! Jesus doesn’t play favorites. He reaches out to all of the Rustys and the Zachaeuses, the Little Big Men, and he makes them this promise: “This is indeed the will of my Father,” Jesus says, “that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
This reminds us that life is about more than our physical stature. It is about more than what we can attain or accomplish in this life alone. It is when we are confronted by the reality of death and the transitory nature of this life that we recognize the difference between that which is perishable and that which is imperishable, that which is mortal and that which is immortal.
I suppose that we all sometimes feel that we are trapped in a body or in a life or in circumstances that are holding us back and keeping us from being all that we could be. We lament these restrictions and we may even think of them as exerting some kind of ultimate, final limits on what we can do or be. If only I wasn’t so short, or unattractive, or poor, or badly educated, or stuck in a dead end job, or a less than perfect marriage. If only I didn’t have these health concerns. If only I hadn’t wasted all of those years? We all must learn to live with limits. We all have to discover how to live faithfully in our particular circumstances. None of us has an ideal life. What we have is the life God has given us, complete with gifts and limitations. Now, we just need to get on with it and live as disciples who love Jesus and as people whom Jesus loves. But God also gives us a promise: this life isn’t all that we have.
The salvation that we are promised in Christ has a way of infusing our little lives and making them big, when we embrace that promise in faith. Perhaps we Christians are all meant to be Little Big Men (and Women). When we receive and celebrate that promise, that the perishable will inherit imperishability and that this mortal body will put on immortality, then we will see that, while we may be limited and little now, in Christ, we are and will be big. I do think that Rusty knew that, and that was what made him who he was, a Little Big Man. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”