2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
I grew up going to church. My mom dragged us 4 kids and eventually 6 to church. Sometimes with my dad home on the weekend. Sometimes with him gone on the road working.
My pastor was my first mentor. His name was Morgan Jones. Morgan was an interesting man. He was not your stereotypical pastor. He wasn't especially warm or sentimental. Friendly in his own way, with emphasis on “his own way.” He grew up in the Bronx In New York city. He saw a lot as a veteran of World War 2, storming the beaches of Normandy. He had an edge to him even in his 60s. His Toyota Tercel actually had a matchbox or maybe a Hot Wheels sized toy motorcycle glued on the dashboard. I asked him about it. He answered that his ideal vacation, which he never took, was to drive a motorcycle across the country all by himself. A true introvert.
Morgan was more a teacher than a pastor, I'd say. I never experienced a pastoral visit from him per se. But I can't imagine his bedside manner being Mister Roger-ish. But I could be wrong. He could have surprised me. On Sunday mornings, like in his many Bible studies throughout the week, Morgan would open his orange hard-covered Bible and teach from it. The only difference was that he was standing off now that he did offer app an application piece. That orange hardcovers Bible always intrigued me. I once asked him about it. He said, I never understood why bibles were black. The Bible points to the light of Christ it is a light provider. Why is it dark and black. So he had his Bible rebound a couple times, always orange.
Morgan was the greatest teacher/preacher I've ever heard. I wanted to be like him. From an early age this was true. I'd practice to be like him. I put one of those flat tape recorders in front of me, hit record, and practice preaching with my cat Tigger and my dog Cinderella staring at me blankly. This practice beginning at a young age still never got me anywhere close to Morgan’s level. I'll never be the preacher he was.
When it comes to pastoral care, Morgan was not my primary model. My models for pastoral care came a little closer to home and not from a pastor at all. And these influences did not even register in my mind and heart until many years later when I was a pastor serving as a chaplain.
My grandmother's name was Mary. Her husband was named Joseph. She was my mom's mom. And she was the epitome of a true Christian for me. She was humble, compassionate, and simple in the best sense of that word. Not simplistic. Not simple as in not intelligent. But simple as in all about living life in a pure and straightforward way. No frills. No fakeness. Just solid, honest, kind living.
My grandmother was introverted like me. She never advertised what she did or the difference she made in people's lives. It was something I did not find out about until much, much later.
After graduating seminary in 2004, I was a bit lost. I was in the proverbial wilderness. I was 33 and still deciding what I wanted to do with my life. I contemplated life in the academic world, aiming to become a professor of religion, which would require a PhD, as in more schooling. I also pondered becoming a pastor. To be honest, becoming a pastor was Plan B. But I was not settled one way or the other. And my faith was in the weeds. Questions about God, Christ, the church pervaded that face. Doubts about who I was, where I was going, and what it all meant seemed the only things I was sure of.
Then my grandmother died. At her memorial, I experienced profound grief and at the same time comfort only my Christian faith provided. I experienced a balm and solace in the songs we sang, the prayers we prayed, and the words we heard recited. Then I listened as people shared their stories of my grandma. How she weekly visited strangers in the hospital and nursing home and did so until the last couple weeks of her life, how she late in her life befriended an ill black woman who became a dear friend, how she actively saw and lifted up the best in people and in the process touched their lives, how her quiet presence and deep friendship comforted people. She was for me the model of pastoral care.
And then there is my mom. Her recent bout of serious illness and surgeries has made my mom's gifts and the gift of my mom abundantly clear and true. Thank God she is in recovery, at home and doing well. In my visits home when she was sick, I was able to see something powerful in my mom. You learn a great deal about a person when they endure serious illness. I watched her face surgery, rehab and profound weakness and grave setbacks. I watched her interact with health care givers. As I observed, I saw my mom's heart. She exhibited such deep kindness and grace through it all. And accompanying this Christian kindness and grace was a tenacious spirit set on getting better and avoid becoming bitter.
My mother models for me grace and strength, under-girded bye humility. Her years of being a wonderful caregiver both as a CNA is the mother was moved by that grace and strength.
Each of her 3 boys are pastors. It wasn't in the water we drank there in upstate New York. It wasn't the angelic childhood we have, or should I say didn't have. It wasn't the faithfulness of Christ alone. It was the model of shepherding grace, a mothering strength, and Christian humility we saw embodied in our mom.
Now, she’d tell you herself that she is far from perfect. She's made her mistakes like we all have. But she always turned setbacks into steps forward and seeing God and God's love. Through it all, she taught us how to turn failings into vulnerability, compassion, and perseverance. She taught us that faith is all about getting better instead of bitter, and turning to help others.
For certain, there is so much in this life that lends itself toward becoming bitter, isn't there? Watch the news, read the paper, look around, and bitterness and callousness is all around and waiting to happen. That is why we need faith. That is why we need God's love, God's faithfulness and forgiveness. That is why we need to see God's redeeming compassion and take into our heart and into the world. It is a real faith that combats the world's bitterness. It does so with Christ's betterment. As my mom says, it is God who makes it all better. Not just better, but beautiful.
So, I end this sermon by playing a recording of a song that my mom loves and used to sing to us as kids a lot. “In God's time, God makes all things beautiful in God's time.” So here is the group Common Destiny singing their rendition of “In His Time.”