Summary: Funeral for Robert Hamilton, Jr., a Georgia farmer and retired cook/chef for National Naval Medical Center, who left four accomplished sons and whose spiritual legacy focused on each one’s unique needs.
A man reaches maturity when he recognizes that he is not the center of the universe. In our younger years, we tend to think that it’s all about what we want, all about our wishes and our whims. But you are growing up when you recognize that the world is a great deal larger than what you want; it’s a great deal more than what makes you feel good.
For many of us, that moment comes when our first child is born. It comes home to us that we can no longer do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it, because there are now others who depend on us, others whose care we are responsible for. Many of us reach maturity when our children arrive and we discover what it will take to give them what they need.
My daughter and her husband are expecting their first child any day now; last night she said she had gone shopping, despite doctor’s orders to stay in bed. Why would she do such a thing? “We got bored”, she said. Well, I take comfort in the fact that in a few days boredom will be a thing of the past. For the next twenty or so years, no more boredom! She will no longer be able to do what she wants when she wants it.
We reach maturity when we recognize that we are not at the center of the universe, it’s not all about what we want, it’s not about our own wishes and whims. It’s about caring for those who depend on us.
It would be difficult to find a more colorful character than the Biblical patriarch Jacob. Jacob struggled with his brother Esau even while they were in the womb. As a young man he pulled a variety of tricks on his brother and his father. He had to leave home at one point, things got so tense; they sent him out to a relative to work out his aggression – I guess that’s how we would say it today – and even there he got into a complicated situation. He had to work for fourteen years until he could qualify for the bride he wanted. Jacob was many things: Jacob was a mischievous spirit, Jacob was a man hard pressed by injustice, but Jacob was also a man who encountered, face-to-face, the living God, and was forever changed by that encounter. Most of all, Jacob was a man whose maturity was measured by his devotion to his sons.
Robert Hamilton too had a mischievous spirit. He too had an energy that welled up from within and led him to find something fun to do. I heard the story about how he and one of his brothers, as boys, tied a corn cob to the tail of the old farm cat, set that corn cob on fire to see how the cat would respond, but then had to deal with a burning barn! That mischievous spirit! That fun-loving energy! Those unintended consequences! That’s Jacob! That was Robert!
Robert was also a man hard pressed by injustice. He grew up in the Georgia of Jim Crow, the south of segregation. Racism was overt and real in Woodbine in those years. Who could blame anyone for bitterness and hard feelings stemming from those days and those experiences? Who could criticize anyone who would have experienced poverty and discrimination, putdowns and problems, because of America’s longstanding issue? But Robert lived through those years, making friends of men who could have become his oppressors. With no bitterness, with no energy spent on useless recriminations, like Jacob who just worked and worked and kept on working until he got his bride, Robert just worked and worked and kept on working to support his bride and build his home. That’s Jacob! That was Robert!
But Robert, like Jacob, reached his real maturity and his full powers in his relationship with his sons. Robert Hamilton’s five sons, four of whom survived, became his true joy. And like Jacob and Jacob’s twelve sons, Robert and Robert’s four sons became a drama of exceptional proportions. What Robert did was so simple and yet so profound that it must be highlighted, it must be lifted up today. What Robert did for his sons was to understand each one individually, to work with each one on his own terms, and to give to each one the guidance and the counsel each one needed. The results speak for themselves in these men.
And so it should come as no surprise to us that when Robert neared the end of his life, he took each son aside, personally and separately, and shared with each one what was in his heart for that son. Just as the Scripture tells us of Jacob, “and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing”, Robert blessed each of his sons with a suitable blessing. Of course those were private moments, at which I was not present, but can I imagine with you what those special blessings might have been? And can I affirm with you that in each instance: