What’s your Story?

Introduction…Central, a little bit about me, gratitude for urban ministry in the PCUSA.

And while I’m not here to talk about money per say…I do want to talk to you about legacy…About who you are…and what stories you tell one another.

I think legacy matters because it’s how we pass along and pass down the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So as I’ve been thinking about you and your church…I’ve been wondering how do you, how do we, build a legacy?  This isn’t at all just about leaving a financial legacy.  It’s about recognizing how each of us have been impacted by those who came before us…and how we might impact others.

The bible is full of examples of people who have left an impact.  It’s easy to look at Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Jesus, Peter …But there are problems with lists like those.  If the only way one can leave a legacy is to part the Red Sea, be swept away to heaven via a flaming chariot, or to die and rise again…then…even as extraordinary as this congregation is…few of us will measure up.  (And…far too often these high bar setting lists are also almost exclusively male.  And I think we can and should do better.)

So as I’ve thought about what it might look like to build a legacy…I’m reminded of my grandmother who for 70 plus years read a chapter of the Bible every morning…and when she got to the end of Revelation she started over again…and again…and again…I’m reminded of my own mother who as a single mom made sure that we had a stable place in our lives…and that place was church.

And today…I’m reminded of the letter Paul wrote at the end of his life.  He might have written it from prison, he definitely wrote it having been abandoned by almost everyone.  It’s a letter he wrote to his young friend Timothy.  I want to suggest…It’s a letter about legacy.

In 2 Timothy 1:3-5, Paul writes to his friend:

I am grateful to God-whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did-when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  

Here at the end of his life…wondering what legacy he might leave…Paul remembers.  He recalls.  He is reminded of a faith that is alive…a faith that does something.

In remembering, recalling, and in reminding one another of a faith that lives…we might just have a recipe for building a Christian Legacy.

I’ll call her Sally.  Several years ago she decided to join a trip her church was taking to Zambia.  She had never been to Africa, had no connection to the place, but felt a nudge by the Spirit to sign up and see what the Presbyterian church in Zambia was up to.  So she went.  While in the country, Sally got to know a female pastor, we’ll call her Beth.

Beth was a rarity in Zambia.  There aren’t yet a lot of female pastors there.  But Beth had gone to seminary and had faithfully served the Church for years, often times going months without pay.  Sally, this American woman who had no prior connection to Zambia, was moved in the most unexpected ways as she learned about the trials and blessings Beth had endured as a pastor in Zambia.

At one point during the trip Sally asked Beth about when she planned to retire…Beth gave her a confused look and told this well-meaning but naive American visitor that she had no way to retire.  The Presbyterian Church in Zamiba did not have a pension system.  Remember…Beth would often times go several months without being paid even while she was working.

Sally came home from Zambia, troubled at the thought that her new friend, her new sister in the faith Beth, who had so faithfully served the Church for years, would never be able to retire.  Sally talked with her family and decided she was going to set up a retirement fund for Beth.  It wouldn’t change the system for all the other pastors who had no pension, but it would change Beth’s life.

A faith sincerely lived is a faith that ‘does something’.

You see…Legacy is always about relationship.  Sally didn’t know what she didn’t know, until she got to know Beth.  Beth, this Zambian Pastor, who lived her faith in remarkable ways.

It would be a great story if that was it.  But that isn’t the end of the story.

As Sally was setting up Beth’s ‘pension’ Beth died.  And…that could be the end of the story.  But…it is not.  Because a Legacy built on a faith that lives…well…it carries on…even in the midst of death.

Sally called me last year to tell me about Beth and her life and death.  And then…Sally decided that she would take the funds that were going to cover Beth’s pension and instead she would set up a scholarship fund to help pay for Zambian women to go to seminary to become pastors.

Because of Beth’s sincere faith…a faith that was exemplified in her life, Sally’s faith was nurtured, emboldened, and expanded.  And now women in Zambia will have one less hurdle to attend seminary and follow God’s call on their lives.

One day…female pastors in West Africa, and the churches they serve might say, “I am reminded of the faith that lived in Sally…and before her in Beth.”  That’s how a legacy of faith is built.

We remember and recall, and we remind one another of a faith that lives.  A faith that does something…

I was a fairly new pastor.  Jean was a 98 year-old long time member of the church.  At this point she lived in an assisted living facility, but only because she couldn’t drive…her hands were shaky…but her mind was as steady as could be.  A dear friend, 20 years her junior, drove her to church each Sunday and about once a quarter I would visit her at her apartment.

Jean made a habit of reminding just about everyone that she and her late husband had decided to leave 90% of their sizeable estate to the Presbyterian Children’s Home, with the remaining 10% to go to the church.  Jean never had children and the Children’s Home had a special place in her heart.  She reminded just about everyone that these sorts of plans mattered, and in her opinion, her very strong opinion…she was shy about very little…she wanted people to know that the church had a place in her will.

On this particular visit Jean was resting on her bed.  She was dressed to the nines…she was always put together.  Her collection of fancy glasses was remarkable.  Toward the end of our visit she asked me to reach into the desk next to her bed and grab her check book.

She said she needed to write a check to the church.  I reached in and grabbed a check book that was more like a check binder…the sort of thing my children will never see.  I laid it across her lap, gave her a pen, and then sat back down.

Jean held the pen with her shaky hands and proceeded to sign the check. She then set the pen down and pushed the check binder toward me and said, “Joseph, I want you to write the check.”

Now…they did not teach us in seminary what to do when a member of the church gives you a signed blank check and asks you to fill in the rest (which…in this case would be the largest check I had ever written).  But I knew enough, even as an inexperienced pastor that this had the potential to look really bad.

Jean, who must have noticed the horrified and confused look on my face pushed the check binder toward me again and said, “well…come on now.”

I looked at her and said, “Ms. Kindle, I cannot write a check for you.  How do you think that would look?”

She peered at me over her fancy glasses and without missing a beat said, “well…you’re here…you might as well make yourself useful.”

Stunned…I wanted to say, “well…has the last 30 minutes not been useful?”

Instead…I wrote the check.

(Now…as soon as I left her apartment I immediately called the elder that brought her to church every Sunday as well as the Church Treasurer.  They appreciated the call…and then laughed at me as if they were in on some joke with Jean…)

But Jean’s admonition has stuck with me.  Jean, the woman who knew we needed to be reminded so that we too might be inspired to leave a Legacy…she summed up her life in that admonition…”You’re here…you might as well make yourself useful.”

Paul spoke of Lois and Eunice, I’ve mentioned Beth and Sally, Jean, my grandmommy Sara Babb…those are people in whom I have seen a sincere faith lived out.

But you have your own list.  A list of people that you remember.  A collection of stories of faith and generosity at Central Presbyterian Church that you recall.

It’s how you build a Christian Legacy.

You build on a Christian legacy when you tell those stories, the big ones and small ones.  You remind yourselves and one another that going all the way back to Lois and Eunice, our faith is lived out in tangible ways.  It’s one of the things we get to do each and every Sunday.

My friend Jean was right.  A faith sincerely lived is a faith that ‘does something’.  For the ways in which each of you participate in that faith her in your neighborhood and beyond…for your commitment to this place…thank you.

Thank you for being here…and for doing something.