Baptismal Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens, Senior Minister, at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, October 20, 2002, Pentecost 22, dedicated to Elysia Claire Paullo on her baptismal day and to the memory of Mary Kallmerton and Henrietta Henderson as they have taken leave of earth and taken hold of heaven and always to the glory of God!
Psalm 24:1-10; Ephesians 3:1-12
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
On Tuesday, October 15th, sometime after midnight, Mary Ellen Kallmerton died in her sleep, only an hour or two after Robert, her husband of 61 years, kissed her goodnight. Mary was 85 years old and had battled Alzheimer's Disease these past seven years. Then, shortly after 2:30pm on Friday, October 18th, Henrietta Henderson entered eternal life. Henrietta was 87 and had battled liver and pancreatic cancer these past few months. She died at home with family gathered `round.
Each woman lived her life as a servant of Christ. Each woman lived forward and looked forward with her servant spirit. Since Mary struggled so with a disease that took away her mind and spirit, I knew only a shadow of the woman who had been. But, others told me how she served as a lay visitor and enjoyed helping people her whole life long. I wish I had known her before her mind and spirit were taken in by a web that has no weaver.
Henrietta, I knew. I was present, along with Rick, the day the surgeon gently and tenderly laid out her options for radical surgery or medicine that would comfort her unto the end. Graciously, she told him, "You are so nice . . . But, I have lived well. I have lived long. I just want to be able to paint a little more." And so, with the loving care of Hospice of Riverside, alongside Rick and Lourdes, and Bob and Pam and her grandsons, she came home to paint and to die. When I saw her less than a month ago, she said, "Tim, I have never had much money to share with the church. I am sorry for that. But, I do have my painting. I would like to do one more painting for you." I smiled and thanked her. "How about the rose window?" I responded. "O that would be lovely!" she answered, "I have always wanted to paint the rose window."
Within a day, Rick Sayre had taken one of his beautiful photos of the window to her. Battling time and waning energy, Henrietta started to paint her last work. She told me that the colors would be somewhat different. She wanted to bring "a little more light to the blues." "After all," she reminded me with her trademark smile, "it is a painting, not a photograph." She had penciled the outline of the window when time and energy and death itself gripped her hands, her eyes, her whole being. Less than two days before her death, I took our 150th Anniversary book to her and she awakened for the first time in a while to look upon it. She said, "It is so beautiful. The colors. They are perfect." When son Bob, tried to move the book from her side so she could rest, she held it and said, "leave it here. I will want to see it when I wake."
As I left, I prayed that the light of God would come to her, like the colors of the spectrum of life itself, and carry her to a place where all is embraced by the light. I kissed her goodbye and told her that, in the words of Jesus, I would see her again and our hearts would rejoice and that no one would take our joy from us. With that, I said my goodbyes.
Today, as I held Elysia in my hands and felt the power of life, light, and love pulsating in this beautiful and grace-filled baby girl - whose name means "sweetly blissful . . . clear, and bright" - I could not help but drift in my mind's eye to Mary and Henrietta, who in another time, in another place, were held in hands of hope, washed in waters of baptism, carried with faith, embraced by love!
We all wonder what goodness we will leave behind. It is true that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Throughout our lives we are called upon to be givers. We are invited by civic organizations, friends, family, schools and colleges, by our children and grandchildren, and of course by our church to give. I have heard this saying attributed to Woody Hayes, "Don't pay back, pay forward." We are called, as disciples of Christ, to pay forward. Some of us live our lives with that principle emblazoned on our hearts and minds, others of us learn it from the example of our parents and our role models. I was taught to pay forward as a child growing up in my parents home and as a steward growing up in my home church. But, I learn it all over again, when I worship and witness the beauty and grace of giving people like Mary and Henrietta and like so many of you. You are now my teachers. You are now my model of stewardship. You are now the measure of faithful witness for my life and the life of my children.
This morning my heart is grieving the loss of Mary and Henrietta. And, this is the same morning that I have been singing "Happy Birthday" to Betty Mykrantz, who is 98 years young. It is the same morning I have been humbled by the baptism of Elysia, whose mother I have known since she was a young teenager.
You see, the true beauty of our faith is wrapped in the quilt of God's all embracing love - from cradle to grave. Our beautiful faith is one blessed by giving. It is nurtured by a community of people who teach how to pay forward and who show us that a life is lived by how and what we give. So often we seek and we search in distant places, in foreign languages and in other people's ancient sacred texts to find the answers to our questions. I contend the answers are right in front of us. They surround us in this community of faith. They greet us on Sunday morning. They teach our children and they pray for us. Open your eyes and behold the beautiful color of God's light. Yes, it is blasting through the heights of our stained-glass windows, but God's light is lasting in the eyes of our sisters and brothers in faith.
Emily Dickinson once wrote words to live by as we discern and discover new ways to pay forward:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life from aching,
or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
The apostle Paul put it this way, "Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles, the news of the boundless riches of Christ."
Thanks be to God for peace from suffering for Mary and Henrietta. Thanks be to God for life unfolding for Elysia and her parents, Grant and Michelle. Thanks be to God for each of you, through whom the light of God shines to all of us! Amen.
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