The following is a recreation of the sermon one of our Vestry members, Annette Zemek, gave to the congregation over the weekend. While she was cajoled into the task by Jane's remembrance of chocolate, we were all blessed by her story, and so I choose to share it below.
You know, I laugh sometimes at the way the Vestry does Stewardship. We began this conversation in October. “Who’s gonna give the talk” “Not me” “How about you” goes on for a while. Finally, Jane chimes in “I don’t know what she said, but when Annette did this a couple years ago, she brought chocolate. and chocolate is always good.” At that point, everyone offers their support. “Yeah, Annette can do.” “Annette can bring chocolate.” But then begins the real discussion. Everyone who avoiding speaking about stewardship for two months now decides to tell me what to say. I was polite. I listened to everyone. But I kept my own counsel. And, as you can see, I brought chocolate. Maybe what i say today won’t stand out, but maybe you will at least remember the chocolate.
Church is the place where the tangible meets the intangible. You and I are called to to give of our talents, our time, and our resources to make it possible for all of this to exist. Our time, our talents, our money goes to the existence of the building, to its heat, to this altar, to this priest so that we can share the love, the mercy, the intangibles of God with people who may not even know they need those things. Our stewardship of these tangible things makes it possible for them to experience, to encounter those ineffable qualities of God. Here, in this particular place, because of our faithful stewardship, the tangible meets the intangible.
Truthfully, that is all I had for this speech. But I knew I could not end it there. But there is no more to what I need to stay. We provide a place for the intangible to be experienced. So, I thought of a story. We’ll see if I can tie them together. As many of you know, I was the fourth child of six born to a Presbyterian minister. I was marked and sealed as one of Christ’s own forever very early in life. My mom would tell you that I was the quietest of the six. But I was also the plotter. I began taking classes in French. By the time I graduated high school, I had passed college French proficiency tests. I took a job as a sixteen-year-old and began the biggest plot in my life to that point. I worked hard (good Presbyterian girl, after all), and I saved my money. I worked for two years. And then, I bought a plane ticket to France. I bought a railpass. I got a passport. I even got a ride to the airport. I was going to France for a month! Then, I told my parents. On the way to the airport, mom fussed at me. I hope God will take care of you because I sure cannot. It was at best a backhanded prayer. But I am sure when she got home, she prayed like crazy.
So, Carla and I were off for a month in France. We each had our tickets, our backpacks, and $500. if you are doing the math, that works out to about $16 each day. We had to eat, sleep, and shop on $16 each day. What a time we had! We were high school seniors. We were in France. I was translating for Carla. We were on top of the world!
Naturally, we saved Paris, the City of Lights, for last. Paris was to be the grand finale of a wonderful trip. Of course, we did not budget quite the way we needed to. By the time we got to Paris, we were low on funds. So, when our train arrived, we began looking for a cheap hotel. We searched the local papers and found the Victor Hugo hotel in the Pigalle dristrict. Hey, it sounded great. He was famous. So we headed out, flagged a cab, and we told the driver our destination. The driver suggested that we should take the metro. It should have given us a hint that this was not the best hotel in Paris when the cabdriver suggested that we should take the metro rather than ask him to drive us. But we were high school seniors. We had been on the trip of a lifetime. We knew what we wanted and were not about to let anyone stand in the way! “Take us to the hotel,” we imperiously demanded.
Well, this hotel was in a filthy part of Paris. There were no lights, no glitz, no cafes. Just lots of scantily-clad girls who were waiting for the buses on the streetcorners. The driver dropped us off at the Victor Hugo hotel, and in we went. We walked into the hotel to meet the man whom I am sure was the basis for Yoda. He was a wrinkled, sour-faced Vietnamese man. I told him we needed a room. He furiously ordered us to leave. I told him we needed the room as we had spent all of our money. We needed a room to be able to see Paris before our plane left in two days. Keep in mind I am having to translate all this as the man was fursiously objecting. Well, he finally relented. He told us our room number and instructed me that breakfast was at 9:00am sharp. Carla and I thanked him and went up to a room that was below standard, but was nevertheless a room.
The next morning, at 9:00am sharp, we made it downstairs as instructed. The man who reminds me of Yoda was there. I swear, I wondered if he ever slept. Anyway, he asked us what we were going to do. I told him we were in Paris. We were going to see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, all the major sites. The man snapped his fingers, and two gorgeous men stood up. I should say, two gorgeous, Italian men stood up in answer to his summons. Our little teenage hearts went pitter patter. The man said, “These are Rocko and Marco -- they will be your guides.” “Ok.” We gushed. Remember, these Italian men were hunks, and we were teenage girls. “You listen to them.” We nodded. “You have any problems, you call the hotel and ask for grandfather.” And out the door we went.
We went to the Louvre, ad Rocko and Marco sat out in the park for three hours. We went to the top of the Eiffel tower, and returned to find these beautiful Italians smoking a cigarette. Everywhere we went, they watched over us. Before long, it was after midnight. We found ourselves on the arms of these wonderful men on the Champs-Elysees. The lights were lit. It was a fairytale. And into this fairytale came the sounds of breaking glass. A barfight was spilling out into the street. And nearly 100 individuals swept us up into their fracas. And people were striking each other, people were cutting each other with broken glass. Fists were flying, legs were kicking. And I noticed a man at my feet. His head was bashed open, and his brains were falling out into the street. I had blood on my skirt! And into this chaos strode our chaperones. I have no idea where they got the brass knuckles. But they were laying about themselves wading towards us. Wham! Boom! Fists flying. And they get to us, and they say we have to flee. But I hear sirens. These are not nice guys coming, these are riot police. They have shields, and tear gas, and clubs. Run! And so we ran.
Rocko and Marco guided us through alleys and through back streets. We passed places in a blur. But we got back to the Victor Hugo . . . to see another body. There in the front of the hotel was another body. It was too much! As I started to scream, a hand clamped over my mouth. Get into the hotel. But there is a body. Get into the hotel! So we go in. And there is the Yoda who calls himself Grandfather--the man who never slept. What did you see? There’s a body out front of the hotel, and it is only my second body this evening! Well, this is Paris and a man should not sleep with another man’s wife. Get upstairs to bed. Breakfast at 9am sharp.
The next morning, our last morning in France, we woke up. I threw my skirt away because it was splattered with blood. We went downstairs. We ate breakfast. Grandfather told us there was a car out front to take us to Calais. We told him it was our last day in Paris. Girls, you have seen enough of Paris. You are going to Calais. But our plane does not leave for 11 hours. You foolish girls. Do you not know where you are. This place is a brothel. Marco and Rocko are professional car thieves. I run the largest stolen car ring in all Paris. I have been offered 50,000 Francs for you, and for some reason I do not understand, I feel compelled to help you. You are going to Calais and then home to your parents!
How do they tie in, my story and my message? I am sure that when mom prayed for my protection on the trip, she hoped an army of nuns would watch over me or I would find my way to a church. I doubt, when she prayed to God to watch over me, she had in mind Marco and Rocko and Grandfather who disguised his car-thieving enterprise by running a brothel. Yet, what causes a crime boss to turn down 50,000 Francs, two professional car thieves to watch over two teenage American girls, and the residents of a brothel to accept two girls like that into their midst? The tangible things are needed so that the intangibles of God may be seen easier by people who do not know He exists let alone loves them. My mom prayed hard, and who better could God have sent than the very characters who made the streets of Paris dangerous to begin with! The tangible meets the intangible many times a day. It is our job to make it possible that the rest of the world can see the intangible, feel the intangible, and hear the intangible Word and love of God.
I am going to sit down and Kaily is going to play. I want you to think and pray about those tangible things that you can offer to make it possible for the intangible love of God to be seen right here. And, after you have filled out your pledge card, I want you to come place it on the altar in the offering plate. And, as you place the card in the plate, I want you to grab a piece of chocolate out of those baskets on the rails. But do not eat it right now. Save it. Take it with you to work tomorrow. Take it to a Super Bowl party this afternoon. Take it to school with you. Take it anywhere. But notice that all of these are in pieces. I want you to share the sweet chocolates contained in those packages. I want you to share with someone in your life the sweet flavor and the comfort that comes from chocolate. And when they ask why you are sharing. Tell them of that sweet offer of God’s grace in which you and I are priviledged to share. Tell them of how God has become tangible in your life. That’s our job. That’s what all of this is for.