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Thine Outgrown Shell

I was looking for something in my sermon files yesterday as I tried to get ready for the worship. Actually, I was thinking about next Sunday’s sermon, and I wanted to be sure I hadn’t already used the material at Virginia-Highland Church. I’m not sure if it is a sign that I’m getting old or that I’ve just been preaching for a long time, but, when I started out, I thought it would be easy to remember what I preached about where. Perhaps I never expected to be doing this four decades later, or maybe the memory in my computer simply has gotten full.

In my rummaging yesterday, I came across an odd bulletin from March 1992. The paper is nearly a quarter-of-a-century old, but I have bulletins in my files that are almost 20 years older than that. What stopped me in my tracks was that it was a funeral bulletin, and, though the name at the top of the page was familiar, for a moment I couldn’t recall the face to save my life. One look at the bulletin told me this was someone I should remember. The entire choir sang, and all three of the clergy on staff participated. That level of engagement was rare in those days because, frankly, we had too many funerals for us all to take part in every one of them.

Then I remembered. Of course I remembered. Ron Greinke sang in the choir and, for a short while, served on the church board. I met him in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport where he stood holding a sign with my name on it. He had been sent to pick me up on a hot August day in 1987 and take me to meet with the pulpit search committee who was interviewing potential pastors. I didn’t think much would come of it, but Ron immediately began to sell me, enthusiastically, on his church and tried to convince me, passionately, that Dallas was where I belonged. I’m not sure if he knew something I did not, or if he just loved his church and couldn’t help himself. I can’t believe it took me a minute to remember Ron who, I believe, was a school teacher. He died far too early of HIV/AIDS.

At the bottom of the bulletin were printed lines from the poem “The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Build thee more stately mansions, oh my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell
By life’s unresting sea!

Ron left his outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea, and, even though it took me a second or two, I still remember him and how his enthusiastic witness helped shape what became one of the largest decisions of my life. Remembered or not, we never know what impact we might have if we live with enthusiasm and passion.

Blessings,

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Rev. Michael Piazza

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