I have been thinking about my grandmother—we called her Memie—who lived to be 104. And one week longer.
There are lots of things I remember about her, about the days we shared, just the two of us. She raised me, more or less: my mother was one of the first working mothers in our neighborhood, and my sister had long-since started school. Dad was almost never home, and so there were many days when it was just we two.
Here is something I remember: when I did start to school, Mom and Dad saved my report cards, but Memie saved the pictures I drew—kept them in a drawer in her dresser.
But it is those days before I went to school that I have been remembering of late. Almost every mornings Memie would make me my favorite breakfast—“puppy food” (boiled eggs, bacon, buttered toast, crumbled)—and almost every day, I would write her love letters.
Our house had a den, and in the den was the TV, Dad’s recliner, Mom’s chair, and Memie’s chair and ottoman, on which she rested her legs. There was a fireplace, too, and in front of the fireplace there was a raised hearth. Daddy had this old, black, heavy manual typewriter, with round keys—I think it was a Royal or an Olivetti. Almost every day, after she had cleaned-up the breakfast dishes, Memie would park her crooked frame in her chair to do her needle work, to watch the game shows and soap operas. I would drag the typewriter out of Dad’s study, put it up on the the hearth, sit cross-legged in front of it, roll piece of paper into the thing—and that was no easy task for preschool fingers, getting the paper straight, if I ever did—and then I would clack-clack-clack until I had poured out my heart to her.
Every day that I wrote to her, I wrote her the very same message:
“Dear Memie. I love you. Do you love me?” And then I added this: “ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP…” All the letters of the alphabet, all of them in caps, first, then again in lower case… and my numbers, too, 1,2,3 all the way to zero..
Then, scrch, scrch, scrch, as I ratcheted the paper a few lines, then clack. clack. clack: “Love, Tommy”
How long it took me to hunt-and-peck that daily missive, I have no idea. I feel sure it took a while. But when I was done I would pull it out of the typewriter, sshhrrrp!, and take it to her. I would stand at her shoulder as she read, and she always read it out loud. Then she would hug me around the shoulder and say, “This is why I love you so, because you are so sweet to me.” And I would say, “I love YOU because you are sweet to ME.”
And so it went, day after day: Memie cooking for Tommy; Tommy writing for Memie.
And whether it would occur to you or not, to wonder, it has occurred to me to wonder if my love of writing, whether e-pistles, letters to you, articles, commentary and books, isn’t somehow anchored just there in those days, there at the hearth and Memie’s chair… if all these years later, all I am doing, really, is clack-clack-clacking-out my love for you, my love for God, in hopes that you, or God, or both, will read what I write, hug me around the shoulder, tell me I am loved…
I remember another day with Memie. Just we two.
It was cold and rainy. And dark. There was no fire in the fireplace, of course, just ashes from the night before and wind whistling down the flue. There was no light on in the den at all, except for a small bulb just above Memie’s right shoulder, by which she could see to do her needlework. She had bad arthritis, and when the weather was cold and wet she suffered. Really suffered.
This one day, I remember Memie asked me to get her an extra blanket and put it on her, which I did, wrapped it up and down around her legs, tucked it in on both sides between the ottoman and chair. And then I tucked myself in next to her as close as I could get.
I don’t know whether I wrote her a letter that day or not… but there we were, and there we stayed, two of the weak ones, two of the little ones, one way or the other, held together by love and sweetness and a small cone of light from a 40-watt bulb, just enough light and warmth to keep the cold and dark and rain at bay.
Just a couple of little snapshots, little pictures of days long, long ago—and I had almost forgotten they were there, stuffed down in a drawer of my brain somewhere. But I am so glad I found them: they are so sweet to my memory, and poignant.
I served her in the ways I could, and she served me… we were sweet to one another, and in that sweet service we showed our love for one another.
That is what service, is, I think. A way of showing love.
And not only a way of showing love, but a way of growing in love, of doing love. Do you remember how the book of James says, “Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.” Surely that is true of love, as well as faith; that love without works is dead; that love, real and lasting love, is shown and grown and deepened by works, by service.
For the last couple of weeks I have been preaching on Intentional Discipleship… I started with Connect—connecting with God, connecting with each other, and how we cannot be the kind of disciples Jesus called us to be or wants us, for our sakes, to be, apart from each other. Independent is not a Christian adjective.
And then Grow: growth through Study and the Means of Grace. Putting ourselves into position through worship, reading the scriptures, prayer and communion, to receive the spiritual food, the Miracle Gro, we need to become lush and fruitful disciples.
And today: Serve. Serve.
Perhaps it is appropriate that tomorrow, according to the secular calendar, is Labor Day… a day set aside by Grover Alexander and the US Congress in 1894, begun to appease, really, all the angry labor unions whose members had suffered so much during the Economic Panic of 1893, when unemployment was over 18%.
Be any or all that as it may… I have been wondering when work, or labor, becomes service. I suspect it has something to do with the question of why we do it, and for whom. It our labor is done only for ourselves, then it remains labor. But when it is offered more widely, it is service. When indeed it is offered as a sign of love… not just a means of survival, or of growing wealth, but of growing
Intentional Discipleship: Connect, Grow, Serving those whom Christ loves.
Let me tell you one more Memie story. She lived to be 104, but long before that she wanted to die. Prayed to die. She suffered so much… and she asked me, “Why won’t God take me home? I am doing nobody any good; I am just a burden. Why am I still here?”
“You’re here for us,” I said. “Jesus told us to take care of the weak ones, the little ones, the ones who cannot take care of themselves. You are letting us do what Jesus told us—teaching us to serve, and serve others, like you have always done.
Sometimes when I am frustrated at the church, what it is and what it isn’t, I remember that Jesus loves the church: established it, keeps making and remaking it, and that the best gift I can give him, is to love it too, because he does. Looks upon us in mercy, all of us held together by love and sweetness and a little cone of light, as if from a window in heaven, just enough to protect us from the dark and the cold and the rain.
Connecting. Growing. Serving. Those are the ways we are clack-clack-clacking our love for him, and for each other: loving those he loves.
Meanwhile, this morning, as he does so many mornings, Jesus has once again made for us our favorite meal. And that is why we love him so, say our prayers and sing our songs, clack, clack, clack, because he is so sweet to us.
And that is why he loves us so...
Christ our Lord invites to his Table all who love him…