Sunday, March 10, 2013

A sermon for the Memorial Eucharist and Burial of the Rev. Priscilla R. Allen

A sermon preached by the the Rev. Jason W. Samuel at Christ Church Cathedral  for the Memorial Eucharist for the Rev. Priscilla Allen on Saturday, March 9, 2013

I am sure many of you have heard many times, the reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Today especially, I hope you did more than hear it, I hope you let it sink deep into your hearts and minds. I have had the pure joy of knowing Priscilla for sixteen years. Many of you have known her much longer and are filled with stories of how your lives were touched by knowing and being in relationship with her. I hope you all will continue to share those life changing stories with each other as we journey through our grief, knowing God’s promise of love and life even while we hurt, and celebrating life - as Priscilla so well knew – that nothing could ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.

This passage from Romans is one of the few passages of scripture where I had a lengthy discussion with Priscilla. In 1999, we were just beginning our second year at Church of the Transfiguration in Lake St. Louis. Honestly, I was overwhelmed and fearful of my abilities to be the priest this congregation needed. Michael and Priscilla perceived the need for us to get away, so they invited us to come and share time with them on Martha’s Vineyard. At some point, Joe was off smoking a cigarette and Michael was off on one of his walks. Priscilla and I sat on the patio in quiet until I could resist the urge no longer to run off at the mouth. Somehow I could not resist telling her all the burdens of my heart.

Of course, she listened and listened. I finally stopped with all my anxious talk and she asked, “Are you done”, I said yes – she said, “good”.

She then proceeded to love, nurture and care for me in a way that I had not experienced, especially since I began my ministry as a priest. I know this does not surprise you. Priscilla was always the natural pastor and care-giver, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. I moaned on about that I may not be a good enough priest for this congregation and I was not sure if we could make it. She said, you’re right, you will never be good enough, and you just don’t have that much power. In all that you have learned Jason, I hope you have found that it is not being a priest, but it is Christ who dwells in you and that you allow yourself to be a messenger of justice and love. She then said what I will never forget, “Jason, just remember this – love them as you are, not as the one they want you to be. Be Jesus to them, with all your brokenness and all your joy and never forget – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.”

That day, Priscilla help set me free from all the false expectations which the church and I had on myself and to the ministry for which we are all called.

Priscilla knew of which she spoke. Life at times had been harsh or difficult for her. I know in the many years of marriage, Michael and Priscilla had to face great challenges from both the church and world. The gospel of Jesus Christ was not something for her just to ponder; the gospel was a reality in how she chose to live her life.

Many of you know the many little sayings that people mean well when the say them, but that can become trite, like “what would Jesus do”. But there is one saying which has never lost its meaning for me, attributed to St. Francis, which says, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.” In many ways, Priscilla was an embodiment of this saying. If fact, just the other day, someone told me how they wished Priscilla would have preached more. At first I agreed, and then I said, well, you know Priscilla really did preach a lot, just not always in the pulpit. She proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ every time she listened and loved someone who felt rejected and shamed by the world or the church. She preached the gospel every time she made a witness for the justice found in the kingdom of God, but that the church had not yet embraced. She preached the gospel of Jesus Christ every time she showed us exactly who she was, another broken human being, continuing to grow and be healed by the love, mercy and grace of God. I believe we need more preachers for Christ like her than some of the fluff we hear too often in our churches.

As we grieve today, I hope you also rejoice. Rejoice that a life so full of the love of God touched and helped changed our lives. I used to joke that, I think Michael would go where even angels fear to tread and scare a few of them in the in the process; then it would be Priscilla who would go and be the one to say, “Do not be afraid, peace be with you.” We all have different ministries in this church made up of many peculiar people.

I am grateful that in these last sixteen years I have become more keenly aware that in the end, all I have to truly do is love others, exactly as I am. We give thanks today for this woman, this priest, mother, wife and friend to so many, who helped us understand Jesus’ words in the gospel today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Thanks be to God that the gospel can be preached in so many ways and that we can take our next step in this journey knowing that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Jason. Much love surrounds Priscilla.

    Linda Belford
    Member of CCC in the 1990s