Column by Mary Lee Talbot.
“ ‘Because I live, you shall live also.’ That scripture haunts me every time I contemplate it. What kind of life did Jesus have in mind?” asked the Rev. Marvin McMickle, the Mr. and Mrs. William U. Follansbee chaplain this week. He was speaking at the 9:15 a.m. Devotional Hour Tuesday morning. His text was John 14:15-19, and his title was “Because He Lives.”
“When we say ‘I am really living’ we are talking about cars, houses, clothing, Chautauqua. When Jesus says ‘you shall live also,’ I don’t think he had those things in mind. We can make a mess of life on our own,” McMickle said.
He described a student in a preaching class he was teaching in Detroit. The student had been addicted to heroin for 20 years.
“He had so bad a run that he was out of veins to inject. All his veins had collapsed except a large vein in his forehead. ‘I watch myself kill myself,’ the student said. The class asked him, Why did it get that bad? He said he wanted ‘to find a little bit of peace for a short period of time.’ ”
McMickle continued, “One more drink for a little bit of peace; one more meaningless sexual encounter for a little bit of peace. That peace is always elusive outside God and Christ.”
Life with Christ begins with a redeemed life, a new beginning for sinners saved by grace.
“I was not always the way you see me now. There was a time when my acquaintance with ‘J’ names included Jack — Daniels; Jim — Beam; and Johnny — Walker, red and black. But not Jesus,” McMickle said.
At 16, he found his life unraveling. His father had left when he was 10, leaving a note saying that he could not stay and could not cope. His brother coped by spending 13 months in Vietnam. His mother worked two and a half jobs to pay off their debt. Two gangs — the Blackstone Rangers on one side and the Gangster Disciple Nation on the other — circumscribed his world.
One night, Harvey Thomas Sr. came over to his house and asked to take Marvin for a ride to talk to him.
“My mother said, ‘Take him for a ride! If you want to help me, take Marvin and don’t bring him back.’ He took me for a ride, and we wound our way downtown to the Cook County Jail. We got out and leaned against the wall of the jail, and Thomas said, ‘If you don’t change your life, this is where you will live until you go to Joliet Prison.’ ”
McMickle did not convert that night, but, he said, God began to work in his life. He got a job as an assistant chaplain in the same reform school where he was heading as an inmate. The chaplain, Wayne Barton, shared a story one day that stuck with McMickle.
A boy was carving a piece of wood, and carved it into a sailboat. He made the mast and sail, and he painted it and took it to the lake. He wanted to see if it would sail, and soon it bobbed along on the water. The wind caught the sail and pushed the boat out of reach and then out of sight. The boy thought it was lost.
A few days later, he was walking with his family on the other side of the lake, and he saw his boat in a toy store. He went in and asked the owner how he got the boat.
“I was walking along the shore and saw the boat, and I brought it back and cleaned it up and put a price on it and put it in my window,” the toy store owner said.
The boy said, “That’s my boat. I carved it, painted it, sailed it, but I lost it, and now I have found it again, and I would like to have it.”
“I believe your story, but you can’t just have it. It is mine now, and if you want it you have to pay my price,” the man replied.
So the boy went home and emptied out his piggy bank and came back with the money to meet the owner’s price. Outside the shop, the boy had a conversation with the boat.
“You are mine twice. I made you, shaped you, and you sailed away. I redeemed you with my own resources. You are mine twice,” the boy said.
McMickle said, “Every redeemed soul says ‘We are God’s twice.’ When we strayed, God came looking for us and redeemed us, bought us back. But too many Christians just get saved. They don’t live abundant lives.”
He noted that Jesus was not talking about Bentley automobiles, but about a life full of the fruit of the spirit, a life full of joy because of whose we are. He referred to the story of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16. Lazarus was a poor man who would have eaten the crumbs from Dives’ table, if Dives ever shared them.
“Dives woke up in hell, because he failed the test of paying attention to the people and problems just outside his door. He and they could have had a better life,” McMickle said. “Many Christians will wake up in hell, because they are not sensitized to Lazarus just outside their gate. When you put out the hand of care, you live an abundant life.”
Heaven in African-American theology, he said, was not an idealized future, but an alternative to an unbearable reality.
“About 30 years ago, I attended a watch night service, a New Year’s Eve service, where we pray out the old year and pray in the new. At 11:55 p.m., the pastor dimmed the lights, and as we stood in a circle around the church, he called out the names of the people who had died that year. After each name, someone would call out ‘Hallelujah.’ It was usually the wife (who called out), and I began to think that there were a lot of bad marriages in this church.
“I came back 10 years later and realized I had missed something. After they called the names, they would sing. ‘I looked over Jordan and what did I see … a band of angels coming after me … all God’s children got shoes … I put on mine and walked all over heaven … it looked so fine, I asked was all this mine … tell all my friends that I’m coming too. By Christ’s love we will live redeemed, abundant, by God’s grace, eternal lives.”
The Rev. J. Paul Womack presided. Paul Burkhart read the scripture. Burkhart is from Carlisle, Pa., and a professor emeritus of speech at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. He has been coming to Chautauqua since 1970 and has been a member of the Motet and Chautauqua choirs for more than 40 years. He is a former commodore of the Chautauqua Yacht Club, a member of the Board of Presbyterian Association of Chautauqua and three of his four children met and married their spouses at Chautauqua.
Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the Motet Choir in “This Still Room,” text by John Greenleaf Whittier and music by Jonathan Adamo.