The Messenger of God's Love:
The Blessing of God, and My Kindergarten Teacher
This represents a combination of the sermons preached on
December 26, 2010 and January 2, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
We talked on Christmas Eve, about presents, gifts, and how the greatest present of all is your presence. What a blessing you are. There is no one in the world like you. You hear this phrase bandied about: no one is irreplaceable, but I don’t believe it. I say that everyone is irreplaceable. There has never been a creation like you, ever before. You are unique, you are the expression of God’s hand. When you go and visit with someone, when you share words of caring and love, you are bringing God’s unique gift to that person. Your presence is the greatest gift of all.
Here is the great news of Christmas. When God said my heart is so full of love for these people, He sent His best gift, his Son Jesus. All of Himself that He could possibly put into human form was in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Concerning presence, I am reminded of a story. There was a little boy who had to pass a certain house on his way home from school each day. The house scared him and he trembled when he had to go past it. He told some neighbors about his fears and they responded by giving him some gifts. One gave him flashlight so that he could look around. Another neighbor gave him a big stick so he would feel safer, in case he was attacked. The third neighbor said, “Knock on my door when you go past my house and I will walk with you when you go past the house that scares you.” I wonder which gift gave the boy the most peace of mind? I think we know. Presence is the most precious gift of all.
Today let us talk about the miracle of this baby Jesus. In the bible, there are two Gospels which talk about the birth of Jesus. One is by Luke, and one is by Matthew. Luke is the only place we read about the angels and the shepherds gathering around the baby. Luke was a physician and had a very special warmth about him. I believe that Luke had a special connection with Mary who told him what happened when Jesus was born.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"
Matthew was very interested in getting the Jews interested in Jesus and in telling the Jews that the birth was not just for them but for everyone, all the Gentiles. So we read the story of the Magi, the three kings and we also learn the story of Joseph and the Angel.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;
and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;
she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel"
(which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife,
but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
In those days there were three stages to a Hebrew marriage. There was the engagement, the betrothal and the wedding. The engagement was often set when the children were very young and it was an arrangement made between parents of the boy and girl or with a matchmaker. The betrothal was when the woman agreed to the marriage. This took place one year before the wedding. That was the stage that Mary and Joseph were at. The betrothal could only be dissolved by divorce, it was as binding as the marriage itself.
and his name shall be called Emmanuel
A person’s name was a key to who they were, it was a key to their personality. If you knew a person’s name, you knew something important about them. In the encounter between Jesus and Peter, Jesus asked Simon (as Peter was known then), “Who do men say that I am? Simon replied, “You are the son of God.” Jesus replied, “You are right and from now on you will be called Peter.” Simon means “gravelly” but Peter means “the rock’. So names were key to who a person was.
The angels said, “You shall call this baby, Jesus.” Jesus means “God is my savior”. Whenever you invoke the name Jesus, you are remembering that God is your savior. It doesn’t mean God is my king. God saves me when I give up on myself. God saves me when I feel like a failure. God saves me when I feel hopeless. Jesus means, “God saves me.”
Jesus was the messenger of the Love of God. Speaking of being a messenger of God's love, let me tell you of a great gift I was given this year, a great gift of the spirit.
I was having tea after dinner one evening, and was looking at the beautiful things in my china closet. Among them was a very precious gift - a gift I had been given at Christmas time in the year 1956 - 54 years ago. It was a little statue of the boy Jesus, holding a lamb. It's rather like a Hummel figurine.
It had been given to me by my kindergarten teacher. She gave it to me in class one snowy December day, along with some very beautiful words of blessing. I thought of how wonderful it was that, all these years later, I still cherished that memory, and felt gratitude to that teacher.
Then I had an idea. Wouldn't it be great to try to find her, and tell her of how her kindness lasted over these many years?
Now friend, I have tried to contact and thank other teachers before. Alas, most of them had passed away. The minister that was so wonderful to me through my childhood and teen years - I had tried to contact Fr. Miller on several occasions without success, only to find on the last try that he had died two weeks before.
I wondered should I even try? I decided that it was worth a try. I sent an email to the headquarters of the religious order to which my kindergarten teacher belonged. The letter read like this:
Many years ago, I was a grade-school student of the good sisters of the Felician order at St. Theresa's School, Linden, NJ, from 1956-1965, Kindergarten to eighth grade. I express deep gratitude for every one. Today, I would like to express thanks to one sister in particular.
In December of the year 1956 I was in kindergarten. It was traumatic time for me; but Sister was always cheerful and comforting. Christmas was drawing near. I remember the silver tinsel and the pictures of the nativity and the snowflake decorations around the room.
One snowy, dreary December afternoon, Sister called me over to her desk.
"Anthony, I have something for you," She spoke beautiful words of blessing to me, and from her gentle, snowy white hands, she placed a statue into my little hands. It was a statue of the boy Jesus.
I cherished that gift.
I cherish it still.
It resides in an honored place in my home.
So. That was... 54 years ago.
More than half a century.
Isn't it amazing that a gift to a child still communicates the power of love.
If it is at all possible, if she is still with us on this earth, I would like to be able to communicate my gratitude to Sister Mary Anastasia. If she is still with us, would you let her know of my heartfelt gratitude?
If she is still with us on this earth, I would love to hear from her. I am sending my phone number and email address.
I have since joined the United Methodist Church and become a Pastor in this Church.
I have served as such for the past 32 years, and continue to serve the Lord Jesus with great joy.
If you are there, I thank you, and bless you, Sister Anastasia.
Your gift of love and blessing has been with me all these years.
God bless you.
Your grateful Kindergarten student,
So, I sent the email. Several days passed. I heard nothing from anyone. Then, one day, as I was driving my car, my cell phone rang. I did not recognize the number. I answered it. The woman's voice on the other end of the line said, "Anthony?" I said, "Yes." She said, "This is Sr. Anastasia." "Sister Anastasia!" I said, “How wonderful to hear from you!"
"Thank you for your note, Anthony. I remember you. Weren't you in the same class with Kevin Wrigley, Michael Fazekas, and Annie Rizman?" "Yes, Sister, I was." "I remember you, and I remember giving you that statue."
"Sister, thank you. It was so wonderful to hear from you!"
"Thank you, Anthony. And it is great to hear from you, too. How have you been?"
Well, we talked for a while. I could hardly believe my ears. Here was someone I hadn't heard from for 54 years.
“So. When can we get together?” She asked.
We made arrangements to have lunch.
When we did, I was amazed at how young she seemed.
I guess when you're five, everybody over 20 seems really old.
“So, Anthony, you have a choice. We can either eat here in the cafeteria,
or we can go to a Polish restaurant, and have some really good food."
"Your choice, Sister."
"Let's go to the Polish restaurant. I'm paying," she said.
"Oh no, Sister, I could not let you do that..."
"Anthony!" she said,
I snapped to attention.
"Yes, Sister!' was the only possible response.
"But we're taking your car."
I thought about how I'd have to do my ultra-fast cleanout system.
We had a wonderful lunch.
Strange - even though I had not seen her since I was a very little child,
it was like getting together with a long-lost relative.
"Anthony, I have one question," she said.
"What did you mean in the email about, if she is still with us on this earth? What did you think? That I might not be here? What, did you think I had one foot in the grave? I'm going strong, Anthony."
Well, we had a good laugh over that, and she's not going to let me live that one down.
She calls me now every couple of weeks, and I call her too. She was visiting here in Flemington with her best friend, Sister David, and I took them to lunch. I brought them here to see the church. They loved it. You'll be happy to know they said special prayers of blessing over the church, and urged me to keep winning souls for Christ. As we rode back to Flemington, they sang Polish Christmas songs all the way home.
A reunion after 54 years. Proof positive that faith endures, and that love and positive blessings have no clock or calendar.
Friend, you never know how someone may cherish the blessings and positive words and deeds you do.
May you always be remembered for the beautiful things you say, and the lovely things you do.
God loves you. I do too. Have a wonderful week, and a Happy, Healthy, Bright New Year. Amen.
© 2010 Anthony J. Godlefski