I was 17 and Megan was 15 when we started going out at Music Camp in September of 1994. A week into our relationship Megan rang me to say she was going shopping for her Year 10 formal dress with her mother, Pam and Nana; would I like to come? Being young and in love I immediately said yes. Now, there are some here today who knew me at the time and you may recall that these were the days, being 17, when I had long hair, was tough and knew everything. Oh, the things that time robs us of.
So, off we went to what is now Westfield, just up the road here at Hurstville. I recall vividly a moment when Megan was trying on a dress, Pam was helping her in the shop, and Nana and I were waiting just outside the entrance. Nana, standing at least a foot shorter that me, grabbed my arm gently, looked me in the eye, and said to me “Now, you take care of my granddaughter.”
Now, I already knew Harold and Joyce Smyth because we worshiped at the same Corps. They were the people who sat together just over there on Sunday mornings. They were the grandparents of friends of mine; Brett, Belinda, Michelle and Lauren. I knew Joyce but this was when I met ‘Nana.’
Over the last week this encounter has been replaying over and over in my mind. Indeed, over the last 23 years it’s shaped the kind of husband and father I have tried to be and indeed hope to become. This week, though, I’ve come to realise that it wasn’t so much the words that were spoken that have impacted me but the ones that weren’t. You see, many people would assume that the unspoken words that follow on from “you take care of my granddaughter” would be “or else.” A kind of “Welcome to the family” threat. No, the words unspoken, lived out over the course of a lifetime, and demonstrated through visible acts of love and kindness were these; “you take care of my granddaughter… here’s how.” Whilst this was a kind of “Welcome to the family” moment it was far from a thinly vailed threat. Rather, this was an open-ended invitation; and invitation to love.
“Take care of my granddaughter” has revealed three things that I think Nana’s life exemplified more than anyone else I know.
Firstly, the importance of relationships with people. Nana loved her family and she made sure they knew that she loved them. At family gatherings, whenever it came time to say goodbye, inevitably Nana would call me to one side, tell me that she loved me and that she prayed for me every day. There was never any doubt in my mind of her love for me, for my wife, for my children and for everyone. Her love wasn’t just reserved for the family, though. I recall many stories of her going to the supermarket and ending up sharing the gospel with the shop assistant, or caring for some random stranger in one of the aisles. Her generous and loving heart opened her eyes to the needs of those around her and she openly shared the reason for that with anyone, without fear.
She loved extravagantly. She loved beautifully and she loved unceasingly.
Secondly, the importance of her relationship with Jesus. Whether it was through the moments she took her great-grandchildren on her lap and sang “Jesus Loves Me,” her persistence in daily, unceasing prayer, her faithful service as a Soldier in The Salvation Army, her generosity not just with finances, but with her time as well, Joyce showed, throughout her 95 years, Jesus to the world.
Belinda read earlier from Romans 8 some verses which come at the conclusion of a long section in that book that starts from chapter 5. In that long section Paul, through an argument that builds and swirls and ultimately culminates with him crying out in exasperation like the Israelite slaves in Egypt – “Who will rescue me?” (Romans 7:24)
The answer? “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
Jesus Christ has, by his life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father freed us from Sin, Death and the Devil and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That was true for Joyce, it is true for me, it can be true for you too.
For the rescued Israelites, though, freedom from slavery in Egypt was not the end of the story. For us freedom from Sin is not the end of ours. We are on a journey from slavery, through the wilderness, and towards the promised land; the new heavens and the new earth. But whereas the Israelites followed the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night, in our wilderness journey we follow the Spirit.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:14-15)
“So, what shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
As I think about Nana’s life I see her lived testimony in these verses.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For Joyce, Jesus had freed her from Sin and she lived daily relying on the Spirit. Throughout her 95 years and now beyond into eternity, there is nothing that will separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus her Lord.
Finally, through the importance of relationships with people and the importance of her relationship with Jesus, I see what Paul meant when he said “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1).
The gospel is much more than just getting saved and sitting around in God’s waiting room, reading an old magazine, until we get called into heaven. No, it’s much bigger than that. Not only are we saved from Sin, we’re saved to become the children of God. We are saved to go on being saved and to get others saved, and to keep getting saved ourselves more and more, until heaven on earth is our lived reality here and now today.
This week I realised that Nana’s invitation to “take care of my granddaughter” was an invitation to love and I’ve seen in her example what it means to do that. I hope to live up to that standard. More importantly though, I see in Nana, more than anyone else I’ve ever known, someone who lived out this verse in front of the world. I doubt she ever said it, let alone wrote it down like Paul did (twice!). Rather, her life was an example of Christlike living.
Loving God. Loving others. Praying without ceasing. Not thinking of herself above others. Caring for the poor. Loving the sick. Praising God continually and living a generous life that poured out the love of God wherever she went.
I don’t know about you but I want to honour her legacy today and always so here is the “invitation” I want to give to you. It’s not “take care of my granddaughter” but rather this;
“Follow Joyce’s example as she followed the example of Christ.”
Love God. Love others. Pray without ceasing. Think of others above yourself. Care for the poor. Love the sick. Praise God continually and live a generous life that pours out the love of God wherever you may God. As you do, may creation be transformed in you and around you until heaven and earth are one and Christ is all and in all.