The Gray Robe
There is only one window in my office. I find myself looking toward that window often from the padded chair that sits behind my corner desk, probably because it is nice to see the sunlight streak through the slits between the blinds from time-to-time. The sunlight has always reminded me of the ever-present warmth of God’s love, pervasive no matter the circumstance in which I find myself.
The rays of light that sneak through my window each day are partially obscured by a hanging bar that supports the many robes that I have collected throughout my time in ministry. I wear them, or one of them, every Sunday morning as I step into the pulpit in a role that has been fulfilled by many before me throughout the Methodist connexion. I reflect on those who have gone before me often, conscious of the simple truth that each of us who are ordained represent nothing more than one link in a chain that was forged long before any of us arrived and will continue to be forged long after we are gone. Today, as I reflect upon a life well lived, I am immediately conscious of one robe that was worn Sunday after Sunday; of one link in that chain that has forever influenced the man that I have become.
I loved the sanctuary windows at Leawood United Methodist Church. They were clear glass, which is unusual for sanctuary windows, and they were placed just under the ceiling. Because of that, when I looked out those windows on any given Sunday morning, all that I could see was the sky. Not the cars, not the houses, not the hustle and bustle of the Greater Kansas City urban sprawl; just the sky. Maybe it was in that place, feeling the warmth of those rays week after week as I listed to the myriad of ways in which God’s love was at work drawing me into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him that I began to associate those rays of light with the love of God. Or, maybe it was the way that the sunlight graced the folds of the gray robe worn by the minister every week for quite literally as long as I could remember.
My father had this gray robe with black velvet doctoral panels and bars that I remember him wearing on Sunday morning for nearly as long as I can remember anything. So often did my father wear this robe, that I remember being surprised the first time that I saw a minister wearing a robe of any other color. Up to that point in my life, I thought that all ministers wore gray robes.
Week after week my father preached, and taught, and laughed, and made us cry as he told stories that connected my head to my heart and my heart to my spirit; stories that spoke of the great love of a God who would never abandon nor forsake me. Week after week, I listened to my father, in his gray robe, teaching about the freedom that we have in Christ to accept that love, be transformed and renewed by it, and then step into the abundance that comes from participating in what God is doing to redeem brokenness in the world. Week after week, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade I have watched and listened to my father, sunlight gracing the folds of that gray robe, as he cared enough to teach the world what it means to know God.
Today, as the sunlight slips through the breaks in the blinds in the corner of my office, it graces the folds of that gray robe yet again. I cannot look at that robe without tears forming around the edges of my eyes as I wonder just how many sermons that gray robe has heard; how many lives have been changed, re-forged, and redeemed while listening to the man who wore it.
You are but one link in a chain that was forged long before you arrived and will continue long after you’re gone. That chain represents the legacy that has been passed on to you, the sacred trust communicating the wisdom of the ages from generation to generation. What you choose to do with that legacy matters. How you choose to use the foundation that has been laid for you will determine what kind of foundation is laid for those who come after you.
Choose to live a life that is worthy of your calling. In so doing, you will lay a foundation of faithfulness that will continue to transform the world long after you’re gone.
My father once told me that people will never remember what you said when you preach a sermon, but they will remember how hearing God in that moment made them feel. While I cannot say that I remember every point from any one sermon, I can affirm with all my heart that feeling the love of God, week after week, year after year, and decade after decade from the man in the gray robe has changed my life forever because the man in the gray robe cared enough about me to introduce me to the God of heaven and earth. No greater gift could a man ever give his son.