Archive for Resurrection

“Jury Duty”–An Easter Message

Posted in Articles & Essays with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following letter was sent to the students, faculty, staff, and administration of Ascension Episcopal School in Lafayette, Louisiana on Friday, May 5, 2017 in my capacity as school chaplain. It focuses on my recent service as a juror for the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana and how my civic obligation reminded me of the message of the cross and significance of Christ’s resurrection for all of humanity. 

Dear Ascension Family,

Some of you may have noticed that I was absent from the school throughout much of the last two weeks. As our students and my faculty and administrative colleagues were returning to school from the Easter Break on April 24, I, on the other hand, was at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse reporting for jury duty. For eight days, I was one of 12 jurors for a civil case in the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana. Not only was I selected for the jury, but was selected by my fellow jurors to serve as the foreman.

The experience of jury duty was both good and frustrating. Good in that it gave me a renewed appreciation for the law as the system by which justice should be impartial and objective, regardless of any form of human differentiation. When exercised rightly, both law and authority reflect freedom and the fact that all of us are created equal one with another. To have been able to perform my civic duty in the American legal process was, in many ways, an honor to do.

Yet, the inconvenience this obligation caused, particularly in my ministry to you all, was the source of much frustration. Because of jury duty, I missed several important events—the first school Eucharist after Easter, as well as the Senior chapel service, both at the Downtown Campus; the River Ranch Campus’s last Wednesday morning chapel for this academic year; and the Junior Ring Ceremony out at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus yesterday morning. Having had to miss these events not only was frustrating, but also made me feel sad and, at times, angry.

All of these feelings, in some way, brought me back to Jesus and the purpose of the cross. It is said that “freedom is not free.” The author of Hebrews proclaims that Jesus took on our humanity so that by His death He could destroy death, whereby we have been freed from the bondage of sin and death (Hebrews 2.14-15). Jesus’ death on the cross was for all of us, done so that we who now live through Him would no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5.15). The freedom we now have in Christ was not free; it came at a cost that we could not afford. From Christ’s death on the cross have we been declared ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, and free. And from Christ’s resurrection have we been given a new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1.3-4).

My jury duty service helped remind me that Christ’s death on the cross showed just how unconditional God’s love is for all of us and how we are all now called to use our freedom to love and serve others in Christ’s Name. It has made the significance of Christ’s resurrection become meaningful to me in a whole new light. And now that I am back at my office, all of you, the Ascension family, have become even more special to me than you already were.

May Almighty God, who has redeemed us and made us His children through the resurrection of His Son our Lord, bestow upon you the riches of His blessing. Amen. Happy Easter!

Peace,

Father Montgomery+

“The Communion of Saints” (November 1, 2015: The Solemnity of All Saints–The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on November 2, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”—John 11.40[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It was my mother’s mother—my Granny—who first taught me how to pray. Years ago, as far back as I can remember, every Saturday morning, Granny prepared a full breakfast—bacon, eggs, sausage, waffles, poached eggs, and apple sauce—of which she insisted that she, myself, and my mother all sit down and eat together as a family. After breakfast was prepared and the table set, we all took our seats at the dining room table, held hands, and Granny would make me lead the family in prayer:

“God is great. God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

By His Hands, we are fed.

Thank you Lord for our daily bread. Amen.

When I was really young, I hated that Granny made me do this, because 1) I was not, in the least bit, remotely interested in religious matters and 2) I just wanted to eat the food. But as I got older and began living my life for Christ, I began to see that there was a method to Granny’s madness. Her making me pray was instilling in me the importance of what Saint Paul once said: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[2] Many of the Christian values I today espouse are because of Granny, seeing them in the same way by which Saint Paul encouraged Saint Timothy: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”[3]

Several more years passed and with them came Granny’s inability to fix those Saturday morning breakfasts that I loved eating. She had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, was suffering from dementia, and became bedridden. Granny had become a completely different person during her declining years. Then, on October 14, 2013, I received a phone call from my mother: “Brandt…I’m calling to let you know that your grandmother has passed.”  At 81 years old, my Granny peacefully passed away in her sleep and entered into her final rest in the living Christ.

On February 11, 2014—the day that would have been Granny’s 82nd birthday—grief came full throttle. On that day and during the two days following, I was not in a good place. It was the rawest I had felt in quite a long time and the farthest away I felt that God was from me. While sleeping during the early evening of February 13, 2014, I dreamt that I was sitting in the downstairs living room of my Tuscaloosa townhouse reading, when, all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs leading down into the living room, appeared Granny! I could not believe my eyes. She looked the way I remembered from the time of my first conscious memory of her face. She was wearing one of her trademark pantsuits that I oftentimes saw her wear when I was growing up. She walked down the stairs, her limbs moving with fullness of vigor, having a spring-like quality. She walked right up to me and said, in a pristine and clear tone, “How are you, baby?” The dementia was gone! She knew exactly who I was. For the first time in a long time, I did not have to reintroduce myself to her. Amazed and filled with joy, I replied, “I am OK, Granny. How are you?” “I’m doing just fine,” she said, saying it with the biggest smile that I ever saw her have. After she smiled at me, the dream ended and I woke up. I kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” No longer was I feeling raw. No longer did I feel God far away from me. From just one short dream, all was made well.

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints, the annual Christian liturgical feast that celebrates all the saints of God, known and unknown. In today’s Gospel—a truncation of the larger story of the bringing back to life of Lazarus of Bethany—Jesus asks this question, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” It is a question that gets to the root of what it is that we today celebrate— those who, by the grace of God, have been led by the Spirit to seek after God and follow Jesus, His only begotten Son. It is these saints—holy ones of God—that have been made “very members incorporate in the mystical body of [God’s] Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of [God’s] everlasting kingdom.”[4] Through the dead then resuscitated Lazarus, we see the answer to Jesus’ question made applicable to all of God’s saints, not just those deceased, but also those living.

In the portion of John 11 that precedes today’s Gospel, Jesus, having heard of His friend’s illness, intentionally waited two days before departing for Bethany, knowing that Lazarus would die. “This illness is not unto death,” Jesus says. “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”[5] Jesus was going to use His friend’s death to intentionally bring him back to life so that all who saw would see the glory of God manifested. In His consolation of Martha, Jesus speaks one of the great pearls of faith: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” “Do you believe this?” Jesus asks. “Yes, Lord, I believe,” says Martha.

In the portion of John 11 that we heard today, after consoling Mary, the second grieving sister, Jesus asks of the whereabouts of Lazarus’s grave. Jesus is brought to it, the stone being rolled away. With the stench of death bursting from the grave, Jesus prays to the Father, thanking Him for those who will come to believe. “Lazarus, come out,” Jesus shouts. And with that that was once dead now again alive, appearing in clear sight to all around, Jesus illustrated His power over man’s most irresistible enemy—death. By bringing Lazarus back to life, Jesus foreshadowed His own death and Resurrection: “By His death He has destroyed death, and by His rising to life again He has won for us everlasting life.”[6] It is through Christ’s Resurrection in which all those who have lived and died and who do live and will die in faith have been and will be raised in glory, to the joy of everlasting life.

So what, or who, exactly is it that we celebrate on this solemn feast? Who are the saints of God? When one thinks about All Saints’ Day, they typically think of Christianity’s great heroes and heroines, those most known, but no longer living. Such heroes and heroines of faith include Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul the Apostle, Patrick of Ireland, Augustine of Hippo, John Henry Newman, and many others. In these holy women and men the Christian faithful more visibly see the precepts of faith made manifest through a love for Jesus Christ lived out through a life of service. For their faithfulness to the living Christ here on Earth, in death, they have been raised to eternal life with Him in Heaven, attaining the Beatific Vision of God Almighty—the final destiny of God’s redeemed:

“For all the saints, who from their labors rest,

Who thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.

Alleluia, alleluia!”[7]

Yet Christian sainthood is not solely limited to those that are better known. We know this to be true, for Saint Paul, throughout his epistles, makes clear that all people who abide in Christ Jesus are God’s saints. That includes those in ages past who lived faithful lives, but are not well known. That includes my Granny, your mother, your father, your grandparents, and all of our friends who we love, but see no longer. As Lazarus’s raising foretold, for God’s saints who are now at rest, they have been raised up with Christ and now sit with Him in the heavenly places.[8] “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, they have won the victory![9]

Yet Christian sainthood, as well, is not solely limited to those known and unknown no longer living. Again, Saint Paul declares that all people who abide in Christ Jesus are God’s saints. If “all” truly means all, that must mean that God’s saints not only are those known and unknown no longer living, but also those known and unknown currently living. Within our own time and throughout our own local context walk living heroes and heroines of faith: doctors, lawyers, bankers, educators, oil and gas workers, public service employees, even clergy, whose light for Christ shines bright and burns strong.

“They lived not only in ages past,

There are hundreds and thousands still.

The world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

For the saints of God are just folk like me,

And I mean to be one too.”[10]

What a minute? Me? Brandt, are you actually telling me that I am a saint? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. You are a saint, as well as I. How are we saints? When we were baptized, God adopted us as His children and made us members of His Son’s body—the Church—and inheritors of His kingdom.[11] In other words, when we were baptized, we became saints of God, members of His holy community, consecrated unto Him. Like Lazarus, by our baptism, we were raised from spiritual death to everlasting life. “Do you not know,” Saint Paul asks, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[12] And it is into this sacred body of God’s faithful people that Horatio Mather Johnston and Amelia Marie Adams will, from this day and forever, be incorporated, themselves becoming, like us and all others before them, saints of God. With us, they will grow stronger in the riches of Christ’s grace. We pray that they, as we do for ourselves, will “strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”[13] As we seek to do, may they live their sainthood in Christ with boldness. We pray that they will, with us, “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim His Resurrection, and share with us in His eternal priesthood.”[14]

So on this day, the Solemnity of All Saints, we give thanks for those who have heeded the call to holiness, given in to the Lord’s will, and lived their lives for Christ. That includes the great heroes and heroines of faith, known and unknown, no longer visible to us; our family members and friends who we love and who love us, but no longer see; and us, who still live, seeking to do the Lord’s will in all we do. This is the day we celebrate the Church as Christ’s ransomed, healed, restored, and resurrected Body—inclusive of all those baptized into His death and Resurrection throughout all ages—marked as His own forever. For me, I look forward to reunions—with my Granny and all others who, throughout my journey of faith, guided me in my life for Christ. But I also look forward to introductions—to my Christian heroes, such as Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, John Henry Newman, Charles Chapman Grafton, Michael Ramsey, and several others. Although these reunions and introductions will be events filled with blessed joy, they also intimidate me because of my sin. “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man,”[15] says my soul. But the grace of God eases my intimidation, soothes my sorrow, and drives away my fear. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you…you will find rest for your souls.”[16] The example of the heavenly company encourages me to strive for holiness, to live the way of Christ. “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” our Lord asks. I hear Christ’s call from deep within and feel the saints of God in Heaven cheering me on.

The Lord is glorious in His saints: O come, let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, copyright © 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] I Thessalonians 5.16-18

[3] II Timothy 1.13-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

[4] From the Post-Communion Prayer of “The Holy Eucharist: Rite I,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 339.

[5] John 11.4

[6] From the Proper Preface for Easter in “The Holy Eucharist: Rite II,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 379.

[7] “For All the Saints,” words by William Walsham How (1823-1897), music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

[8] Ephesians 2.6

[9] I Corinthians 15.55, 57

[10] “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” words by Lesbia Scott (1898-1986), music by John Henry Hopkins (1861-1945).

[11] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 858.

[12] Romans 6.3-4

[13] Hebrews 12.14

[14] “Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 308.

[15] Luke 5.8

[16] Matthew 11.28-29

“Firmly I Believe and Truly” (April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter–Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; April 20, 2014: The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day–Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tuskegee, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on April 19, 2014 by montgomerybrandt

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said….”—Matthew 28.6[1] (The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter)

“…I have seen the Lord….”—John 20.18 (The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

When I woke up on October 14, 2013, I did so expecting it to be just a regular kind of day. Being that it was a Monday, I was on Sabbath, which usually entailed such activities like watching a black-and-white movie on Netflix or Turner Classic Movies, reading a biography, busting out the old trumpet to practice some favorite jazz standards, or just getting out and about in the town. But my expectation was radically removed when, shortly before 8:30am, I received a phone call from my mother. “Brandt…Brandt, I’m calling to let you know that your grandmother has passed.” After taking a little bit of time to soak in the news that I had just heard, I packed a suitcase, got in my car, and made the 109-mile trip back home to Talladega, Alabama, where the duty fell upon me to arrange, officiate, and preach at my grandmother’s funeral and bury her. “This is what your grandmother would have wanted,” my Uncle Darryl said in asking me to be my grandmother’s funeral officiant and preacher.

February 11, 2014 would have been my grandmother’s 82nd birthday. Emotionally, on that day and the two days following, I was not in a good place. It was the most raw that I had felt in quite a long time and the farthest away that I felt God was from me. While sleeping during the early evening of February 13, I had a dream that I was sitting in the downstairs living room of my townhouse reading, when, all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs leading down into the living room, appeared my grandmother! I couldn’t believe my eyes. She looked the way I remembered from the time of my first conscious memory of her face. She was wearing one of her trademark pantsuits that I oftentimes saw her wear when I was growing up. She walked down the stairs, her limbs moving with fullness of vigor, her movement having a spring-like quality. She walked right up to me and said, in a pristine and clear tone, “How are you, baby?” The dementia was gone! She cognitively knew exactly who I was. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to reintroduce myself to her. Amazed and filled with joy, I replied, “I’m OK, Granny. How are you?” “I’m doing just fine,” she said, saying it with the biggest smile that I ever saw her have. Of all the things that occurred in this dream, it was her smiling that communicated the most powerful message, for from her smile, I could visibly see the truth of our Lord’s words to His friend, Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[2] From my grandmother’s smile, I received a renewed assurance that everything that our Lord said is true and that she was, indeed, living, raised to new life by the glory of Jesus Christ. After she smiled at me, the dream ended and I woke up. I kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” No longer was I feeling raw; no longer did I feel God far away from me. From just one short dream, all was made well.

Usually, I find it hard to recount details of the dreams I have, but not this one. It was so vivid, so clear, so striking that it seemed to be more than just a dream, but a glimpse into that of which was part of a greater truth. What I felt my grandmother doing was showing me a form of visible proof that the claim that Jesus having risen from the grave on the third day was absolutely true and that she, who possessed a great love for Him while alive on Earth, was now, in the words of Saint Paul, “raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”[3]Because of my grandmother’s witness to me in a dream, I stand before you, with a conviction stronger than it has ever been, proclaiming my belief that the news we have just been given—that Jesus Christ has risen—is true! The message of the angel: “He is not here; for he has been raised…”; Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples: “…I have seen the Lord…”; our creedal profession: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”[4]—I believe it! I believe all of it! Jesus Christ has risen and we, who have died with Christ in His death, now live with Him in the power of His resurrection![5] Thanks be to God: alleluia, alleluia! 

Several months ago, I was talking with one of my younger fraternity brothers, a firmly committed atheist, about Christianity’s claims about Jesus, during which he said: “I remember sitting in Sunday school as a kid, hearing all of these stories about Jesus walking on water, healing people, being raised from the dead and stuff and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t believe any of this. It’s just not natural.’” The prophet Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”[6]For me, knowing that I am imperfect and prone to the proclivities of sin, the Person of Jesus gives me the ability to trust Him as Someone that is perfect and able to save me from that which seeks to do me harm. His “unnaturalness” gives me the ability to trust that in the midst of all my brokenness, Jesus is the only perfect Source that can bring healing to that which is broken within me; who is able to be my Refuge in the midst of trouble. Because I believe in Jesus, I believe in His resurrection. I believe that all of us have been saved from the sting of death, that Christ protects us from sin’s quest for dominion over us, and, because of what Jesus has done, that we are truly free.

I know that most of what I have said has come from my own personal experience, but let me assure you that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just for me, but is for all of us. Saint Paul states: “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[7]The message of the angel—“He is not here; for he has been raised…”—is for all of us! Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples—“…I have seen the Lord…”—is for all of us! Jesus was crucified, dead, buried, and rose for all of us! We have all been changed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[8]  

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia! 

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] John 11.25-26

[3] Colossians 2.12

[4] From the text of the Nicene Creed as approved by the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

[5] Romans 6.8

[6] Isaiah 55.8

[7] I Timothy 1.15 (Translation found in the Holy Eucharist—Rite I of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church)

[8] I Corinthians 15.54b-55, 57

“Tales of My Granny” (October 19, 2013: Celebration of the Life of Anne Marie Riley Montgomery–DeForest Chapel, Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on October 19, 2013 by montgomerybrandt

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

II Timothy 1.13-14[1]

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

All of you who know my family well will know my Uncle Darryl to be the family comedian and master storyteller.  This week, as my family has grieved the loss of our mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Anne, my uncle’s particular gifts for laughter and historical recollection have been a welcomed comfort and a reminder of how joy can be had, even in the midst of grief.  One of my uncle’s particular stories took place years ago when he, Momma, and Aunt Debra were young kids, with the three main characters being Granny, Aunt Debra, and a man known as “Governor.”  In this particular story, Granny, Momma, Aunt Debra, and Uncle Darryl were all together, walking home from an event at the Spring Street Recreation Center.  Nearby was Governor, described as an especially odd person who, at the time, was (probably) in his 40s.  Seeing Governor nearby, Aunt Debra told Granny that she was nervous about walking past him.  Granny, wearing a nice dress, long coat, high-hill shoes and carrying a big black purse, told Aunt Debra, “Go on.  You’re going to be alright.  Go on over there,” then, with a stern look, warned Governor, saying, “Governor, don’t you touch my daughter.”  As Aunt Debra was nervously walking forward, Governor unwisely ignored Granny’s warning and got up close to my aunt, making weird motions at her.  At an instant, Granny took Aunt Debra’s majorette baton from her hand and started hitting Governor, yelling, in synch with it swing, “I…TOLD…YOU…NOT…TO…MESS…WITH…MY…DAUGHTER!!!”  The scene was so exciting that it caused several Talladega College students who saw it to go to my grandfather’s Sumner Hall office, reporting to him, “Mr. Montgomery, have you heard?  Your wife beat up Governor!”

A particular story I remember from my own childhood involved me asking Granny a question regarding her hair.  Back then, she had a full head of hair, but it was all gray.  I can’t remember exactly why I became concerned about Granny’s hair color, but just remember thinking that maybe she could fix it up a little bit, perhaps make it brighter, more colorful.  From that thought, I went to Granny, sitting in the den of our house, and asked her, “Granny, have you ever thought about getting your hair dyed?”  Granny’s response effectively ended the conversation: “I don’t need to dye my hair.  I’ve earned every gray hair I got.”

These and the many other stories in which my family and I have been recounting amongst each other during these last few days paint a profile of one who was very dear to us and, for a long time, was the link that held us all together.  They paint a profile of a lady who had an equal balance of graceful poise with a strong-willed determination.  Back in the day, her graceful poise made her one of Talladega College’s leading administrative spouses, having a gift for elegant social hosting and the ability to “cut a rug” on the dance floor (supposedly, while my grandfather was just content watching off to the side).  Her strong will gave her the ability of not being ashamed of keeping the record straight and/or you in check, all coming from a place of wanting to protect those whom she loved and to instill a necessary lifelong lesson to her children.

For me, personally, these stories make me think of Granny as a woman who lived a long, storied life.  Having been raised by her, seeing that gray hair, day in and day out, always made me wonder about my Granny’s journey—the good times, the bad times, what all she had seen, what all she had experienced, where all she had been.  There were only snippets of her journey pre-1985 that I knew: 1) she was born on February 11, 1932 in Nashville, Tennessee to James Riley and Lizzie Riley Dickerson; 2) she married my grandfather, Fred Douglas Montgomery, on July 1, 1951 in Nashville; 3) she had four children, Fred Douglas, Jr. (who, unfortunately died at the age of 2 from an irreparable heart condition), Dudley Gail, Debra Anne, and Darryl Travis; and 4) her husband, my grandfather, died in June 1980, after which she began working at Talladega College in a career that spanned 21 years.  Other than that, Granny never spoke about her past journey with me and I, for some reason, never thought of a reason to ask.  Somehow, though, that gray hair became an adequate enough testament of my Granny’s long journey and the wisdom I felt instilled in me by her from it.  Remembering Granny’s gray hair makes me think of these words written by Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”[2]

When Uncle Darryl asked me to preach Granny’s funeral sermon, I instantly felt the Holy Spirit draw me to II Timothy 1.1-14.  At the time that Paul wrote these words, he was sitting in a jail cell in Rome with his execution drawing near.  Many of the people that once supported Paul in the spread of the Gospel message have deserted him, due to the increasing persecution of Christians in the mid-first century Roman Empire.  The end is near for Paul and he knows it.  Timothy was a young man who traveled with Paul for many years, being mentored by the older apostle and spreading the Gospel message with him in places such as Phrygia, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Macedonia.  Timothy’s main focus centered upon Ephesus, with tradition stating that Paul consecrated him as its first Christian bishop in AD 65.  Paul and Timothy’s relationship was a close one, with Paul saying of Timothy, “…I have no one like him…As a son with a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”[3]

Seeing his end soon approaching, Paul writes Timothy to encourage him to endure for the sake of the Gospel.  He reminds Timothy of Lois and Eunice, his grandmother and mother, from whom the foundation for his faith in Christ was laid and in which Paul is assured continues on in him.  Paul exhorts Timothy to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…but share in the suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling.…”  The mentor is encouraging the mentee to hold firm to the truth of the Gospel—that it is by the grace of Jesus Christ in which, through faith, we have been saved, that Christ’s Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,”[4] and that by having faith in Christ’s Gospel, centering one’s life within the splendor of its truth, all of life’s rigors can not, do not, and shall not defeat us, for the Gospel will give the ability to fight the battles and press on to victory.  It is this Gospel message—“the good deposit entrusted to you”—that the older Paul rallies the younger Timothy to keep, preach, and spread after he is gone.

As I was listening to the Spirit in my writing of this sermon, I came to see the similar characteristics of Granny and I’s relationship with that of Paul and Timothy’s, which made me have an even greater appreciation for her than I already had.  Realizing this made me see how living with Granny really impacted me and contributed to the person that I feel God molded me to be.  Many of the things I hold dear, activities I like to do, and values I espouse came as a result of Granny and now that she’s gone, many of those things that she helped instill in me during my early life I now see as a “good deposit” to which I should hold fast and continue with.  One of those many things was my love for public television.  Every Saturday night, Granny and I sat in the downstairs den and watched reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show and classic British comedies, with our favorite being Are You Being Served?  I enjoyed these Saturday evenings with Granny, listening to great “champagne” music and laughing hysterically at certain innuendos, which, at the time, I had no clue about.  But from these Saturday evenings arose me seeing the greater picture of the role of public television.  It was from viewing public television documentaries and children’s educational programming that I developed my love for learning and seeing the value of acquiring a great education.  It was from watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which the seed of the “Golden Rule” was planted in my head and heart and I began to have my lifelong fascination with jazz music.  Until now, I never realized how Granny’s sharing with me of her Saturday evening television time grew to play such a prominent role in me becoming the person I am today.  I am who I am largely because of it.

But the most important lesson, I feel, I learned from Granny had to do with the nature of the Church.  She was never officially a member of any particular church in Talladega and there are only a handful of times in which I can remember her ever being in church.  One particular Sunday, as Momma and I were getting ready to go to church, I asked Granny why she wasn’t going with us.  She said, “ I believe in God and feel that He and I have a great relationship.  I don’t have to go to church in order to feel that God loves me.”  Despite in my young age disagreeing with the notion that I had to go to church and she didn’t and in my older age respectfully disagreeing with the non-necessity of joining up in fellowship with other Christians, her comment that morning emphasized the truth that the Church isn’t a building, but “the Body of which Jesus Christ is the head…The People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.”[5]  As one who has been called forth by that Body to perform the functions of the ordained vocation within it, only recently have I learned the full extent of Granny’s answer, having myself promised “to make Christ and His redemptive love known” and “to love and serve the people among whom [I] work, carling alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor”[6]—in other words, all people!  Even though, in my lifetime, Granny wasn’t officially affiliated with a particular group of Christians, she was still very much a part of the Church—the entire Christian family—and I thank her for helping me begin to see the real meaning of what it means to be the Church in my early age.

But now, my Granny is gone.  She has fought the good fight; she has finished the race; she kept the Faith.  In his exhortation to Timothy, Paul gives a glimpse into the glory of the Resurrection, proclaiming the Gospel as having “been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.”  In I Corinthians, Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”[7]  Even though I grieve the loss of my Granny and miss her very much, what is helping me through the grief is my deep faith and trust in Jesus, believing that Granny now fully lives into the glory of Christ’s Resurrection.  Deep in my heart, I truly do believe that Jesus, Himself, is alive and that Granny, who believed and trusted in Him, has been raised with Him and now lives in the glory that is Heaven.  Just like Paul, I believe “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[8]  From that, I stand before you, with full conviction and trust in the living God, to proclaim that Granny is not here, but she has risen!  She no longer lives on Earth, but now lives in Heaven!  My Granny is not dead, but is alive and lives in the glory of Christ Jesus!

But the Resurrection doesn’t confine itself to those who are no longer here with us.  We who still live our lives on Earth are also called to live into the Resurrection, living our lives as God’s loved, ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[9]  That, my friends, is a powerful testament to the Resurrection, an attestation of the indissoluble connection between you and God, both in the here-and-now and in the time to come.  For my family, I believe that this is what Granny would want us to believe and live into.  She would want us to remember the good times, hold fast to the lessons and values she strove to instill in us, and to hold each other up as a family.  She would also want us to continue to live—to live our own lives; to not focus to much on the past, but to be focused on the present and look forward to our future; to remember the lessons she taught and apply them in our efforts to do good towards others; to remember that even though she is no longer here, we are and that we should live our lives to the fullest, enjoying the time that God has blessed us to have.  May we, together, as a family, honor Granny by continuing to live, being faithful stewards of the time we have been given.

Granny, as you prepare to go down to the dust, in my heart, I feel that you are singing “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”  Therefore, with a grateful heart, I sing “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” with you, for in Christ you have found your rest; suffering and pain are your affliction no more.  May God’s perpetual light forever shine upon you and your soul, through God’s loving mercy, rest in peace.

Thanks be to God: Amen, alleluia!!!


[1] Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] II Timothy 4.7

[3] Philippians 2.20, 22

[4] Romans 1.16

[5] “The Church,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 854

[6] “Ordination of a Deacon” and “Ordination of a Priest,” Book of Common Prayer (1979), 531, 543

[7] I Corinthians 15.26

[8] Romans 8.38-39

[9] II Corinthians 5.17

“Jesus and the Resurrection: Too Marvelous for Words” (Saturday, March 30, 2013: The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter–Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL; Sunday, March 31, 2013: Easter Sunday–The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Tallassee, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by montgomerybrandt

“…Why do you seek the living among the dead…”—Luke 24.5b[i] (Great Vigil of Easter)

“…I have seen the Lord…”—John 20.18a (Easter Sunday)

ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!

I once heard a story that on one particular Easter Sunday, a Sunday school teacher asked her young students, “What did Jesus first say after rising from the grave?”  An enthusiastic student raised her hand, shouting at the top of her lungs, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, I know, I know!”  Being recognized, she jumped up out of her chair, flung her hands way up in the air, and said, “TA-DA!”  (A highly appropriate story to help begin the Easter season, I think.)

For the 1937 musical film Ready, Willing and Able, famed lyricist Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for what would become the movie’s most popular song and a standard piece of the Great American Songbook.  He wrote:

You’re just too marvelous

Too marvelous for words

Like glorious, glamorous

And that old standby amorous 

It’s all too wonderful

I’ll never find the words

That say enough, tell enough

I mean they just aren’t swell enough 

You’re much too much, and just too very, very

To ever be in Webster’s Dictionary

And so I’m borrowing a love song from the birds

To tell you that you’re marvelous, too marvelous for words[ii]

            Mercer’s lyrics highlight the singer’s inability to adequately describe the affections that he/she has for an admired individual.  The person in question has caused the singer to become so overcome with positive emotion that no word is good enough to convey his/her feelings.  To put it more bluntly, the singer is simply unable to express his/her feelings with any particular word.  Through Mercer’s pen, we are presented with the idea of a kind of love that is so overwhelming, so beyond our imaginations that no word within any language can amount to the highest of praise.  What Mercer gives us is a paradox—one that shows language’s rare inability to give expression about someone that has made a deep impression on us, yet endeavoring to find someway, somehow to tell him/her about it.

For us, the Resurrection of our Lord brings up a similar paradox.  It’s an event that makes Jesus have an even deeper impression on us, causing us to love Him more than we already do.  Yet our love makes us so overcome with deep appreciation and emotion that it renders us unable to fully “find the words that say enough, tell enough” of the thanks we have for what Jesus has done.  Just like the singer of Mercer’s lyrics, there simply aren’t enough words around that can help us express our love, thanks, and praise for Jesus.  It’s because of the exorbitantly high price He had to pay for the Resurrection to even be possible.  As one of my friends recently said in a Facebook status update on Good Friday, it is “something about the deepest sorrow, hearing the Passion read [that] always breaks me down, humbles me…”  The disciples’ betrayal, the scourging, the people’s mockery, the intense pain of the nails being hammered into Jesus’ hands and feet, Him being laid in the tomb, and now having triumphantly risen from the grave are events that have all humbled us.  That is why we are unable to fully “find the words that say enough, tell enough” of how thankful we are to Jesus.  Because Jesus’ Good Friday death was done for us, serving as our reconciliation with God the Father in Heaven, we, therefore, have now been raised with Christ in His Resurrection, sin and death having forever been swallowed up in victory.[iii]  We have been given this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ![iv]  Is it possible for us to ever say “thank you” enough to Jesus?  Will we ever find the words that convey our highest praise for the victory He has won for us?  I just don’t think that it’s possible.

But, yet, we strive in finding someway to tell Jesus just how thankful we are and how enormous our love for Him is for what He has done.  Although they may not be perfect, words help us convey our deepest feelings and affections for the Lord.  But in addition to words, we tell of our love and thanks by living out Jesus’ command to “…love one another: just as I have loved you…”[v]  The Resurrection was done out of the love that Jesus has for us.  For our friends who know that we are Christians, it is through our sincere love of and for them, as well as ours of and for others beyond them, that lets them know that we are really Christians, with our love pointing them to the truth of Christ’s Gospel.  Jesus said that “as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.”[vi]  By “talking the talk and walking the walk” of love, Jesus doesn’t hold our paradox of expression against us.  This makes our words of praise, whatever they may be, good enough for Him.  In the spirit of Julian of Norwich, all has been made well, all is well, and all manner of things shall be well.  God hears our praise; He hears our “alleluias!”  Because of the Resurrection, whatever we say in thanks and praise to God is good enough.

For Jesus, Mercer’s lyrics have the opposite effect, for they are absolutely perfect in explaining the fundamental reasons for the Resurrection.  Listen to them again; only this time, picture Jesus saying them to you directly:

You’re just too marvelous

Too marvelous for words

Like glorious, glamorous

And that old standby amorous 

It’s all too wonderful

I’ll never find the words

That say enough, tell enough

I mean they just aren’t swell enough

You’re much too much, and just too very, very

To ever be in Webster’s Dictionary

And so I’m borrowing a love song from the birds

To tell you that you’re marvelous, too marvelous for words 

            Friends, the Resurrection happened because Jesus thinks we are “just too marvelous.”  We are all that wonderful to Him that He was willing to go through the uttermost darkness of despair to cease our strife and forever win for us the battle for eternal life.  How better can it be said?  Jesus loves us.  Jesus died for us.  Jesus has risen from the grave for us.  The debt for our sin has been paid.  We have been freed from the shackles of sin and death.  The strife is over and the battle is done.  We now live because Christ lives.  That, my friends, is THE Good News.  Thanks be to God!

ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  ALLELUIA!


[i] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[ii] “Too Marvelous for Words,” lyrics written by Johnny Mercer and music composed by Richard Whiting for the 1937 musical film Ready, Willing, and Able, starring Ross Alexander and Ruby Keeler and distributed by Warner Bros.

[iii] I Corinthians 15.54b

[iv] I Corinthians 15.57

[v] John 13.34 (ESV)

[vi] Matthew 25.40