In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we lived in Richmond a decade ago, one of the things Randy and I enjoyed most was spending time with his paternal grandmother, Elisabeth Hollerith, who lived at Westminster- Canterbury. She was known as “Gran” to all of us. Although she passed away this fall at the age of 92, I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She was very statuesque and quite bright, and above all she was always gracious–quite a lady. She was from Richmond, a Collegiate and Wellesley graduate and she knew nearly everyone–or at least it seemed that way to me when I would visit her at Westminster -Canterbury.
Well, one night I went to have dinner with her by myself and after supper we decided to rock a while on the veranda. As we were walking to the rockers a lovely woman passed us in the corridor and said, “hello, Elisabeth”. To which Gran responded nicely with another hello and a “have you met Randy’s wife Melissa?” I think the conversation lasted only a few minutes and then we were on our way. Once the woman was out of ear shot, Gran leaned over and whispered to me: “She goes to St. James’s”. “Oh,” I said. “Yes, and that is all she ever talks about!” “St. James’s this and St. James’s that, and she is not the only one. There are a “bunch of them” out here and all they ever talk about is their church!”
Several things come to mind when I think about that night. First, is how uncharacteristic it was of Gran who was always so gracious to make such a comment–although the older she got the more apt was she to speak her mind! And second, and most important is what I should of said in response to Gran’s remarks and that is–“Hallelujah and praise God that people talk about their church and how much it means in their life!” (I know she is finding all of this quite humorous as I stand in the pulpit at St. James’s and tell this story on her!)
What if everybody talked about how much they loved their church? Or, how much God means in their life? Sadly though, that is not usually the case, is it? Here we are in the third week of the Easter season, and the high of that first Sunday has already begun to wear off. The Resurrection glow has begun to pale; the Easter lilies have faded, church attendance has decreased. And yet, we proclaim that because of that event, because of Easter, our lives have been altered forever. Or have they?
In our lessons for this morning we see that Paul and the disciples’ lives were altered forever because of Easter, because of their encounter with the risen Lord. The story from Acts is one of the great stories of the New Testament. It tells of the conversion of Saul, the great enemy and persecutor of the church, to Paul, the great missionary to all the world. Paul did a 180 degree turnaround on the road to Damascus, he made a radical change in his life because of his experience with the risen Lord. And we see from the gospels that the disciples encountered the risen Lord in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus and on their fishing trip. Because of these encounters their lives will never be the same. Their lives were changed forever. They were transformed into Easter people and the wonder of this event, Easter, motivated and energized them to go and spread the Good News.
Are you at all like Paul and the disciples? Has your life been changed forever because of Easter? Do you live each day any differently because the tomb was empty? For me, the change in my life wasn’t as dramatic as Paul’s. I was born into an active church family, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Christian or involved in my church, and that is a far cry from Paul on the Damascus road. For me, my faith journey to the risen Lord was not a blinding light like Paul, but rather a gradual awareness that the gift of Easter was God’s way of showing me He loved me very much.
However, learning to embrace that love, to depend on that love, is what altered my life forever. “How” you say? Well, as I said a just a minute ago, it has been gradual. First, I guess, was the realization that I was not in control. Someone else was and that someone loved me dearly. Giving up control is hard for someone like me. I am a control freak. I love order. I love lists. And what I love even more than lists is crossing things off my list. I even love cleaning out closets. Randy used to tell my parents when we were first married that he was afraid to get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water for fear I would make the bed up before he came back! In fact, when the Search Committee came to visit us in Savannah, Mike DeCamps asked to see my children’s rooms a second time because he couldn’t believe that children actually lived in them!! But I digress. My need for tidiness and order gives me the illusion of somehow being in control. And yet, I am not in control.
God was saying: ” Free yourself forever, embrace me, be dependent on me alone, with me you are loved and have life eternal.”
As we prepare to baptize these children this morning, what would we want them to know as Christians? What is our responsibility to them as people who believe the story of Easter? If our lives have been truly changed by the event of Easter, do we live them as if they have been changed forever?
As many of you already know from hearing my faith journey, shortly after Eliza was born I had a very serious illness. I must say that during this experience I felt a great sense of irony. On the one hand, God had given us this beautiful, brand new baby to care for and yet on the other hand, I was unable to care for her. I kept wondering where was God in the midst of this difficult time? And I kept wondering what good could possibly come from this experience? And yet, as is always the case with God, some good came out of my suffering. I learned a great deal about myself.
The experience served to remind me yet again of my total dependence on God for everything. With God I have everything I need and without Him, on my own, I have nothing. And believe me, I needed the reminder. I needed the reminder that He is to be the center of my life–that nothing else should ever cloud or overshadow His presence. I also learned that I needed to pray more and do less. “Doing” for me is so much easier. But lying in that bed was a very humbling experience. I was forced to let others care for me and mine–and it was not easy to let someone else take care of my responsibilities. Lying in that bed day after day I wasn’t allowed to do much of anything except–pray. And one day it was as if a light went on and I realized what a joy it was to have the time to pray instead of worrying about what needed to be tended to next and checked off my list. But most importantly and what I want you to hear this morning if you hear nothing else is this. I came to realize that if the Easter event altered my life forever, then my life better reflect that change. It made me think. How was I showing others the gift of Easter that Jesus offers all of us? So often I forget that I should talk about God with others, sometimes it is just easier to talk about the weather or children or the latest fashion trend, anything but God–but what’s more important? If I am an Easter person, am I telling anyone the story?
As a priest, it is easy for me to stand and speak about God and what He means in my life. You expect that from me and I feel called to exercise my ministry in this way. But what about every day? What am I doing in my daily walk? Am I sharing the joy that I know because of Easter when I am on the phone with a friend, or at a dinner party, or with my children or getting my hair cut? Not always–but I am getting a whole lot better at it. I admit it is hard sometimes, and we don’t always have the energy and enthusiasm of a Paul or the disciples. But frankly my friends, that is what we are all called to do. The only plan Jesus had for getting his message out was you and me. We are to be His hands and feet in the world.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people were whispering all over town about us that “all we ever talk about is our faith and our church” ? AMEN.