The following sermon was preached on May 3, 2020, being the Fourth Sunday of Easter, at the 11:00am Rite II Private Eucharist at Saint James Chapel at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Readings: Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; John 10.1-10
Collect of the Day: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear His voice we may know Him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“They held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”—Acts 2.42
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We heard this morning from the Book of Acts Saint Luke recount how Jesus’ early followers
“Held steadfastly to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers…And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2.42, 46-47)
When I first read this in preparation for this sermon, my mind was immediately drawn to Melinda Waller Mangham, one of my former parishioners and the all-school academic dean of my previous school in Lafayette, Louisiana. You have actually heard about her. She was the lady Father Dunnan recalled during a daily chapel sermon in February who herself recalled in a phone call with him when I was applying to be Chaplain an unfortunate racial event targeted toward me during my first year at my previous school. It was apparently Melinda’s words about how I “just loved them through it,” despite the hurt this event caused me, that settled Father Dunnan’s mind to call me to Saint James. She had hoped to visit us this December to see the School in action and attend our annual Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols. I say “hoped” because she died on Thursday and with her death came the end to an illustrious 58-year vocation as an educator. Melinda now goes from strength to strength under God’s most gracious mercy and protection.
I use the word “vocation” to describe Melinda as an educator because that is what teaching was for her. It wasn’t a job; it wasn’t a career; it was her vocation. Vocation is a strong feeling, a unique suitability for a particular role in this world. As one of her many former colleagues aptly described Melinda
She was never out for self-advancement or recognition. She was never in anything for herself…It was always about others. There was no arrogance…she was so humble. She used her connections and her experience to further the cause of students and teachers and the profession, but never in a selfish or personal way. She was extraordinary in that way.
As Christians, realizing our vocation—that role to which God call us—comes from devotion to Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son of God and Incarnate Word. Not only does Christianity explain life, it is a rule for life. One cannot experience the joy of Jesus without completely surrendering to the God who first loved all of us.
Melinda was, both in word and deed, a Jesus follower. She was clear in her belief in Jesus crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended. She knew she wasn’t perfect and didn’t have all the right answers. She was humble in victory and gracious in defeat. “I don’t know how such steel and softness coexisted in the same person,” says one of Melinda’s former students, “but it’s part of what made her such a unique figure who affected so many.” Melinda’s life and vocation testified to Jesus’ words
“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4.14)
The mission of Saint James “to prepare young men and women…to be leaders for good in the world” is rooted in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. From these things come lessons that run deep throughout any academic subject. No intellectual snobbery, no social superiority, no racial intolerance, no oppressive privilege—this is what Christian schools should reinforce about who we are in God’s eyes and should be amongst ourselves. Because the aim to which we should strive is beloved community. Saint Paul says
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him…May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 15.2, 5)
And as the Psalmist says
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133.1)
Melinda realized that, which made her such the influential teacher she was in Louisiana’s Acadiana region for almost six full decades. Yet, there were some who at times felt her to be a bit too “old school.” She often would ask me, “Am I crazy or something?” We heard today Saint Peter say,
“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly…If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1 Pet. 2:19-20)
My response to Melinda was always one of support: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” All that Melinda did was done to encourage her students to be the absolute best she knew they could be. She loved God with her whole heart and out of that love sought to make her community a much better place by instilling time-proven values within every student she served.
Like Jesus’ early followers in Acts, we should devote ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and saying our prayers because we find in them the truest love made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is Jesus who is beneath, above, besides, behind and within us and makes life truly worth living.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23.1, 3, 6)
As one of my former Bishops once said, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who “loves you more than your momma.” He is the visible face of Almighty God whose Holy Spirit always makes Him present with us.
The more we try to love like Jesus, the greater our joy becomes no matter what anybody else says. Christian love is oftentimes the hardest thing to show towards others, yet it’s the love that always works. It always works because Jesus lives. Christ’s cross and Resurrection prove this. Though it is hard to live out, we should never give up trying. True Godly love, from God Himself, from us back to Him and towards others, knows no bounds.
I recently wrote for The Living Church magazine about how Saint James is a school that flourishes on relationships; the strong brotherly love noticed by visitors being a hallmark of who we are as a community. That is because we are a Christian school that is “not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith.” (Rom. 1.16) We embrace it, full steam ahead. That is why, through the grace of God, we have kept on for as long as we have. We have remained true to our mission centered on the resurrected Christ; if we keep true to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and to saying our prayers then we will keep going from strength to strength as a community.
I wish Melinda could have seen us here at Saint James. She would have loved you all. But now she goes down into the grave, into the eternal rest of the God that gave her such joy and gladness. Melinda would never say goodbye; she would say, “God love you. I know I do.” Let that, too, be for us. God love you, dear friends. I know I do.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Ascension Episcopal School, Lafayette, Louisiana.
 Katie Gagliano. “Melinda Mangham, Longtime Lafayette Educator, Remembered for Her ‘Steel and Softness,’” The Acadiana Advocate (May 1, 2020).
 Brandt Montgomery. “Let Brotherly Love Continue,” The Living Church (May 3, 2020), p. 17.