Rising to the Occasion
Rising to the Occasion
We have come today assembled by a great tragedy, yet in the midst of life's most difficult moments the gracious and merciful hand of God is still operative.
We begin today to formally struggle with the sudden and swift departure of our beloved sister Laura Scott Taylor. We're assembled here today because in the course of our short sojourn in this life we have discovered an answer to the ancient writer's inquiry, for we have found a woman virtuous with the added gravitas of noble bearing. We concur with the writer of Proverbs that to us she is more precious than the most priceless of gems. We gather also because that writer could not have known when he penned these words, nor could he have ever estimated, the devastation and despondency that we now feel after having found her, to lose her to the clutches of death.
Through this tragedy, God has caught our attention if but for a little while to focus us on the things that really matter in life. We realize at this hour how fragile our lives are and how precious are the moments we have if in this life we can find but a few that we call "beloved" and "friend."
We are again shown through this tragedy, how significant it is to express love to those with whom we have had contact. Martha has commented even this week that in the midst of all of this suffering and turmoil, there exists a stilling peace that Laura Taylor knew she was loved by family, and her family knew that she was loving toward them.
We are challenged also in this day to see the simple daily challenge that God gives us to be diligent and faithful onto death. We are in this life again magnified how we are to be gracious and caring in all things. At this dimly lit hour, we long for the radiance of her love, her face, the beauty of her voice and the strength of her gentleness.
As we mourn, we yearn amidst the sorrow of this hour to thank our God. For we know that in the sharing of the life of Laura Scott Taylor with each of us, we have had God do great things for us whereof we are glad.
An example of a wife and friend
Let us first consider what our friend, our senior pastor emeritus, has lost. I've heard him say that "if a man marries a good woman he is more blessed than he is smart." I hear in his voice and in his sorrow the haunting words of the psalmist who said in the 88th Psalm around the 18th verse, "... lover and friend thou has put far from me."
You do not have to go long into the pages of Dr. Taylor's written work to find the evidence of love and appreciation for Laura Scott Taylor. The dedication page of How Shall They Preach? says, "To Laura, wife and friend."
The forward to The Scarlet Thread says, "Laura Scott Taylor, my landlady for 40 years, who has been warmest friend and severest critic of these sermons and to me something infinitely more which defies description."
In his last book, Chariots of Flame, Dr. Taylor pens words about the woman whom he wooed and won at Oberlin, who was as always, loyally and lovingly critical of the preacher and the preaching.
Dr. Taylor has lost this day not only a wife but a friend. Laura Scott Taylor, then, serves as a model for all spouses of clergy, both men and women. In her graciousness and her love and generosity, she exemplified what the French have called the noblesse oblige or the gravitas, the charismatic bearing of those who are the aristocrats among us, to be gracious and kind to everyone with whom they have contact.
She gave to Gardner Taylor what he did not have. Because she came from a large family, she showed an only child how to make do in those early years of balance. Even in death, she leaves to Gardner Taylor a large and loving clan that he, without her, would not have, and for that he is grateful.
An example of a giver of closeness and distance
Their daughter Martha, who is the centerpiece of their parental affection, sits sorrowfully today in that peace, knowing that no finer mother could have ever been provided. As lover, in the words of the psalmist, Laura Scott Taylor provided for Gardner Taylor the intimacy he needed to persevere through the rough times, and there have been some.
Through the fire in this church in 1952, the disappointment of political work in the life of our Baptist witness, and through the many nights as Pastor Taylor labored, Laura Scott Taylor provided for him the love and friendship that he needed to pull through those nights.
As friend he is blessed. For not only did she provide the closeness but knowing full well the artist with whom she was connected, she gave him the distance he needed to produce and to create and to soar and to paint and to empower others with his words.
I do not know but of one soul who has already gone from labor to reward who can handle what I'm about to say, but the truth be told, Laura Scott Taylor handled Gardner Taylor. She was his balance in the moments where, by his own confession, he was prone more to temper and tantrum. She had been for him the quiet peace, the friend when others had turned their backs, the hope and trust, the creator and critic of those things that sharpened him as the preacher par excellence. And for that, the whole Christian world owes a great debt to her, for she made him ready in order that he might make us ready to labor in the vineyards of God and to work until our own changes come.
Since their retirement from this ministry togetherhe from the church and she from the school they began to worry increasingly one about the other. She even began to travel with him more regularly, knowing that each of them was loathe to leave the other. Such is the depth of friendship and loving that we witness between Gardner and Laura Taylor, and death cannot rob us of that.
A corrective example for the faithful
We are also here to begin the correction of a long history for the faithful. A careful examination of the biblical text will reveal all the biblical leaders who we know were married or believe were married. The sacred text skimpily reports these women's lives' work and remains resoundingly silent in their deaths.
Noah's wife and her who kept the family rituals alive even during the 40 days of the flood and helped in the replenishing of this worldsilent. Abraham's Sarah with whom he became progenitor of many nationssilent.
Only in the words of Jacob, at the end of the book of Genesis, do we find three generations of wives and mothers, Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, mentioned at death and only to note their burial space.
Moses's Zipporah, from whose father he received much of his organizational skillssilent. Peter, whom we know to be married because the Savior was in the house of his when she was found to be sick, and who history declares as the first leader of the churchon his spouse, the Word is silent.
The list goes on and on, and only in the most bizarre cases do we ever hear the words and the names of women, usually as a symbol of disobedience. The women of substance and leadership throughout the entire canon are women who made their most significant accomplishments before or without marriage. Esther, Deborah, Ruth, Lydia made single by death. Ruth, herself.
Are we left to deduce that the only women who can accomplish great things for God must do so alone? Even the Scripture with a few words shouts to us today, and our sister cries to us today, "Nay, verily nay."
Lest we are left here today only to languish in our pain. God compels us again to hear the story that only Luke records of a woman in the beginning of the narrative of his eighth chapter. The first three verses read, "And it came to pass that he," meaning Jesus, "went throughout every city and village preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him and certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmitiesMary, called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna, the wife of Cuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others which ministered onto him out of their substance."
Luke takes time to tell us about Joanna, the wife of a man of prominence in Herod's court, the steward, the manager of all of his affairs. Herod was not being favorable toward this man about whom we speak. Yet the wife of his servant, Cuza, had heard of a man who was doing great things. She went with other women, Mary Magdalene, whom the world considered crazy, and with others to follow him and to minister unto him out of their substance.
An example of servanthood
Laura Taylor gave to us out of her substance, tirelessly gracious, always engaging, always giving. She gave to us out of her substance. And we owe a great debt to her. When the old Concord building was destroyed by fire, Mrs. Taylor rallied the troops of women in this church to raise the necessary capital to construct a new edifice. Largely due to her rallying efforts, the people of 1952 raised over one million dollars, not a small figure for the time, that you and I might come here and assemble in this place to pay tribute to her.
Laura Taylor gave of her substance. Not only was she skilled at the raising of funds, but she also raised leaders. At the reading of the test scores of children in this neighborhood published in one of the New York dailies late in the 50s or early in 1960, Mrs. Taylor said to her husband, "If you want to do this (start a school), now is the time."
I've heard Dr. Fred Steen, the pastor of her home church in Oberlin, Ohio, the Mount Zion Church, use the phrase "sanctified intelligence." There are no more fitting words than these to describe the essence of Laura Taylor. A Phi Beta Cappa graduate of Oberlin College, she was dedicated to the teaching and preparing of young minds for great things.
Even after her retirement, she sneaked into the side door to slip down on the balcony of Memorial Hall to tutor young students. She tutored those she left here who she felt were lagging behind. She never made any noise coming in, but her car every afternoon was parked out in front of our church.
As she was buzzed into the Memorial Hall door, she sat in a nearly empty room with those students. She didn't have to, but she did.
At first glance, it might appear that the names in this text are written only for passing record. We hear nothing of them again. For sixteen biblical chapters, we read of the commissioning of the twelve, but no calling of Mary Magdalene, no mention of Joanna, no word of Susanna. After the confession of Peter, there is no talk about them. On the Mount of Transfiguration, no word was spoken. Through parables which serve as everlasting illustrations for us till this day of the kingdom, there is no word about them. Through the healing of the sick, the blind and the lame, there is no mention about them. Nothing is said about Mary Magdalene or Joanna, wife of Chuza, or Susanna.
An example of courage
Through the loneliness of Christ's betrayal, through his trial and conviction, through the careful and painful walk up Golgotha's hill, through the ringing of the hammer into his wrists and the nails into his feet, there is no mention of Mary Magdalene and the wife of Chuza and Susanna. Nothing said as they laid his body in a borrowed tomb. No words said about Mary Magdalene or the wife of Chuza, Joanna.
But we read of her 16 biblical chapters later in the 24th chapter and the 10th verse. We find these words: "And it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, and Mary the mother of James and the other women that were them, which told the apostles these things."
If it were not for the wife of Chuza, we would have never heard of a redeeming Savior who has given us the power to stand even beyond death. Had it not been for the wife of Chuza, we would have never heard the beautiful words about angels that had rolled the stone away and the tomb that was now empty. Had it not been for the wife of Chuza, the apostleswho were now sequestered in their own cowardicewe would have never been able to begin the gospel activity. Had it not been for the wife of Chuza, we never would have seen the glory of a resurrected Lord.
We owe a great debt to these women who made the gospel possible. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Laura Scott Taylor is legacy to that great sorority, a wife of someone of great influence and responsibility who in the course of giving of her substance and laboring for Christ, has been our first signal of the resurrection.
Laura Taylor made us live in expectation. When she was called on to take this microphone, every time she came forward, as we watched her gracefully walk forward, we stood in expectation. Her words were always fitting, appropriate and engaging. And when we called on her, there was an excitement in the air. For those of us who knew her well knew fully well that she would rise to the occasion.
And so as we bid farewell to our queen, our mother, our friend, our role model, our mentor, our inspiration, she compels us by her life to change our position today from the slumping posture of mourning to sitting again on the edge of our seats. For we know that, as she always did in life, Laura Scott Taylor will yet again rise to the occasion. Her name was called, and she rose to the occasion. Gracious and noble, diligent and quite, she rose to the occasion.
We who mourn here today must make ready and listen for the sound of our called names. May our God find us in our time as gracious and noble and giving as Laura Taylor, that we too may rise to the occasion.
Let us pray: Eternal God, we owe a great debt to you; and we recognize, 0 God, that we were blessed to have her these years. We pray now that Thou would bless ushusband, daughter, siblings, nieces, nephews, church, friends, familystrengthen us in this hour. For we recognize that she, as Joanna the wife of Chuza, did minister unto you of her substance;
and she too trumpets for us that there is a resurrection coming for those of us who hope and live in you. We pray that Thy strength shall be added to ours both now and the days to come. This we ask in the blessed name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I have a letter here, a handwritten note from Dr. Taylor who asked me to read it to you at this moment. After reading these words, we will hear the senior choir sing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. It will be appropriate as we do even in the midst of this ceremony that we stand together as Laura Scott Taylor stands to hear the great words that he is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Thursday, February 9. Pastor Simpson, Reverend, ministers, brothers and sisters, I would to God that I could express to each of you for our family our deep gratitude for your presence and what so many of you have done to ease the pain and burden of this time, most particularly Pastor Simpson and the Concord family, dearest people.
For those of you who must one day face this solemn appointment in some form, which is ours today, I have only this word. I have been given little inkling of a why, but day by day the how is supplied. If how to get through this dark night of the soul continues to come, as I prayerfully and hopefully believe it will, then let the why happen when it will, surely when the morning comes.
Martha, our daughter, and the family and I surely believe that she enjoys now the promises of God for those who believe, and she did believe so deeply. Having tasted now what the Lord has in store for those who love him, even her love for us who are left would be hard put to entice her back from that green and pleasant land only to have to part again. She cannot and perhaps would not come back here, but I can go there where she is. This greatly sustains me.
My only word to those who do not have this hope is that you need it. God bless you all.
For the family, Gardner Taylor.
Gary V. Simpson is senior pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York. He's a graduate of Union Theological Seminary.
Gary V. Simpson
Preaching Today Tape # 158
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