“Tales of My Granny” (October 19, 2013: Celebration of the Life of Anne Marie Riley Montgomery–DeForest Chapel, Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama)

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

II Timothy 1.13-14[1]

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

All of you who know my family well will know my Uncle Darryl to be the family comedian and master storyteller.  This week, as my family has grieved the loss of our mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Anne, my uncle’s particular gifts for laughter and historical recollection have been a welcomed comfort and a reminder of how joy can be had, even in the midst of grief.  One of my uncle’s particular stories took place years ago when he, Momma, and Aunt Debra were young kids, with the three main characters being Granny, Aunt Debra, and a man known as “Governor.”  In this particular story, Granny, Momma, Aunt Debra, and Uncle Darryl were all together, walking home from an event at the Spring Street Recreation Center.  Nearby was Governor, described as an especially odd person who, at the time, was (probably) in his 40s.  Seeing Governor nearby, Aunt Debra told Granny that she was nervous about walking past him.  Granny, wearing a nice dress, long coat, high-hill shoes and carrying a big black purse, told Aunt Debra, “Go on.  You’re going to be alright.  Go on over there,” then, with a stern look, warned Governor, saying, “Governor, don’t you touch my daughter.”  As Aunt Debra was nervously walking forward, Governor unwisely ignored Granny’s warning and got up close to my aunt, making weird motions at her.  At an instant, Granny took Aunt Debra’s majorette baton from her hand and started hitting Governor, yelling, in synch with it swing, “I…TOLD…YOU…NOT…TO…MESS…WITH…MY…DAUGHTER!!!”  The scene was so exciting that it caused several Talladega College students who saw it to go to my grandfather’s Sumner Hall office, reporting to him, “Mr. Montgomery, have you heard?  Your wife beat up Governor!”

A particular story I remember from my own childhood involved me asking Granny a question regarding her hair.  Back then, she had a full head of hair, but it was all gray.  I can’t remember exactly why I became concerned about Granny’s hair color, but just remember thinking that maybe she could fix it up a little bit, perhaps make it brighter, more colorful.  From that thought, I went to Granny, sitting in the den of our house, and asked her, “Granny, have you ever thought about getting your hair dyed?”  Granny’s response effectively ended the conversation: “I don’t need to dye my hair.  I’ve earned every gray hair I got.”

These and the many other stories in which my family and I have been recounting amongst each other during these last few days paint a profile of one who was very dear to us and, for a long time, was the link that held us all together.  They paint a profile of a lady who had an equal balance of graceful poise with a strong-willed determination.  Back in the day, her graceful poise made her one of Talladega College’s leading administrative spouses, having a gift for elegant social hosting and the ability to “cut a rug” on the dance floor (supposedly, while my grandfather was just content watching off to the side).  Her strong will gave her the ability of not being ashamed of keeping the record straight and/or you in check, all coming from a place of wanting to protect those whom she loved and to instill a necessary lifelong lesson to her children.

For me, personally, these stories make me think of Granny as a woman who lived a long, storied life.  Having been raised by her, seeing that gray hair, day in and day out, always made me wonder about my Granny’s journey—the good times, the bad times, what all she had seen, what all she had experienced, where all she had been.  There were only snippets of her journey pre-1985 that I knew: 1) she was born on February 11, 1932 in Nashville, Tennessee to James Riley and Lizzie Riley Dickerson; 2) she married my grandfather, Fred Douglas Montgomery, on July 1, 1951 in Nashville; 3) she had four children, Fred Douglas, Jr. (who, unfortunately died at the age of 2 from an irreparable heart condition), Dudley Gail, Debra Anne, and Darryl Travis; and 4) her husband, my grandfather, died in June 1980, after which she began working at Talladega College in a career that spanned 21 years.  Other than that, Granny never spoke about her past journey with me and I, for some reason, never thought of a reason to ask.  Somehow, though, that gray hair became an adequate enough testament of my Granny’s long journey and the wisdom I felt instilled in me by her from it.  Remembering Granny’s gray hair makes me think of these words written by Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”[2]

When Uncle Darryl asked me to preach Granny’s funeral sermon, I instantly felt the Holy Spirit draw me to II Timothy 1.1-14.  At the time that Paul wrote these words, he was sitting in a jail cell in Rome with his execution drawing near.  Many of the people that once supported Paul in the spread of the Gospel message have deserted him, due to the increasing persecution of Christians in the mid-first century Roman Empire.  The end is near for Paul and he knows it.  Timothy was a young man who traveled with Paul for many years, being mentored by the older apostle and spreading the Gospel message with him in places such as Phrygia, Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Macedonia.  Timothy’s main focus centered upon Ephesus, with tradition stating that Paul consecrated him as its first Christian bishop in AD 65.  Paul and Timothy’s relationship was a close one, with Paul saying of Timothy, “…I have no one like him…As a son with a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”[3]

Seeing his end soon approaching, Paul writes Timothy to encourage him to endure for the sake of the Gospel.  He reminds Timothy of Lois and Eunice, his grandmother and mother, from whom the foundation for his faith in Christ was laid and in which Paul is assured continues on in him.  Paul exhorts Timothy to “not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…but share in the suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling.…”  The mentor is encouraging the mentee to hold firm to the truth of the Gospel—that it is by the grace of Jesus Christ in which, through faith, we have been saved, that Christ’s Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,”[4] and that by having faith in Christ’s Gospel, centering one’s life within the splendor of its truth, all of life’s rigors can not, do not, and shall not defeat us, for the Gospel will give the ability to fight the battles and press on to victory.  It is this Gospel message—“the good deposit entrusted to you”—that the older Paul rallies the younger Timothy to keep, preach, and spread after he is gone.

As I was listening to the Spirit in my writing of this sermon, I came to see the similar characteristics of Granny and I’s relationship with that of Paul and Timothy’s, which made me have an even greater appreciation for her than I already had.  Realizing this made me see how living with Granny really impacted me and contributed to the person that I feel God molded me to be.  Many of the things I hold dear, activities I like to do, and values I espouse came as a result of Granny and now that she’s gone, many of those things that she helped instill in me during my early life I now see as a “good deposit” to which I should hold fast and continue with.  One of those many things was my love for public television.  Every Saturday night, Granny and I sat in the downstairs den and watched reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show and classic British comedies, with our favorite being Are You Being Served?  I enjoyed these Saturday evenings with Granny, listening to great “champagne” music and laughing hysterically at certain innuendos, which, at the time, I had no clue about.  But from these Saturday evenings arose me seeing the greater picture of the role of public television.  It was from viewing public television documentaries and children’s educational programming that I developed my love for learning and seeing the value of acquiring a great education.  It was from watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which the seed of the “Golden Rule” was planted in my head and heart and I began to have my lifelong fascination with jazz music.  Until now, I never realized how Granny’s sharing with me of her Saturday evening television time grew to play such a prominent role in me becoming the person I am today.  I am who I am largely because of it.

But the most important lesson, I feel, I learned from Granny had to do with the nature of the Church.  She was never officially a member of any particular church in Talladega and there are only a handful of times in which I can remember her ever being in church.  One particular Sunday, as Momma and I were getting ready to go to church, I asked Granny why she wasn’t going with us.  She said, “ I believe in God and feel that He and I have a great relationship.  I don’t have to go to church in order to feel that God loves me.”  Despite in my young age disagreeing with the notion that I had to go to church and she didn’t and in my older age respectfully disagreeing with the non-necessity of joining up in fellowship with other Christians, her comment that morning emphasized the truth that the Church isn’t a building, but “the Body of which Jesus Christ is the head…The People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.”[5]  As one who has been called forth by that Body to perform the functions of the ordained vocation within it, only recently have I learned the full extent of Granny’s answer, having myself promised “to make Christ and His redemptive love known” and “to love and serve the people among whom [I] work, carling alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor”[6]—in other words, all people!  Even though, in my lifetime, Granny wasn’t officially affiliated with a particular group of Christians, she was still very much a part of the Church—the entire Christian family—and I thank her for helping me begin to see the real meaning of what it means to be the Church in my early age.

But now, my Granny is gone.  She has fought the good fight; she has finished the race; she kept the Faith.  In his exhortation to Timothy, Paul gives a glimpse into the glory of the Resurrection, proclaiming the Gospel as having “been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.”  In I Corinthians, Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”[7]  Even though I grieve the loss of my Granny and miss her very much, what is helping me through the grief is my deep faith and trust in Jesus, believing that Granny now fully lives into the glory of Christ’s Resurrection.  Deep in my heart, I truly do believe that Jesus, Himself, is alive and that Granny, who believed and trusted in Him, has been raised with Him and now lives in the glory that is Heaven.  Just like Paul, I believe “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[8]  From that, I stand before you, with full conviction and trust in the living God, to proclaim that Granny is not here, but she has risen!  She no longer lives on Earth, but now lives in Heaven!  My Granny is not dead, but is alive and lives in the glory of Christ Jesus!

But the Resurrection doesn’t confine itself to those who are no longer here with us.  We who still live our lives on Earth are also called to live into the Resurrection, living our lives as God’s loved, ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[9]  That, my friends, is a powerful testament to the Resurrection, an attestation of the indissoluble connection between you and God, both in the here-and-now and in the time to come.  For my family, I believe that this is what Granny would want us to believe and live into.  She would want us to remember the good times, hold fast to the lessons and values she strove to instill in us, and to hold each other up as a family.  She would also want us to continue to live—to live our own lives; to not focus to much on the past, but to be focused on the present and look forward to our future; to remember the lessons she taught and apply them in our efforts to do good towards others; to remember that even though she is no longer here, we are and that we should live our lives to the fullest, enjoying the time that God has blessed us to have.  May we, together, as a family, honor Granny by continuing to live, being faithful stewards of the time we have been given.

Granny, as you prepare to go down to the dust, in my heart, I feel that you are singing “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”  Therefore, with a grateful heart, I sing “alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” with you, for in Christ you have found your rest; suffering and pain are your affliction no more.  May God’s perpetual light forever shine upon you and your soul, through God’s loving mercy, rest in peace.

Thanks be to God: Amen, alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] II Timothy 4.7

[3] Philippians 2.20, 22

[4] Romans 1.16

[5] “The Church,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 854

[6] “Ordination of a Deacon” and “Ordination of a Priest,” Book of Common Prayer (1979), 531, 543

[7] I Corinthians 15.26

[8] Romans 8.38-39

[9] II Corinthians 5.17

Published by Brandt Montgomery

I am a Priest and boarding school chaplain in the Episcopal Church (USA).

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