My first calling was to a congregation who were very strong in their faith — and in their opinions. One such parishioner was a retired surgeon, of great personal wealth, who had been extremely well respected, and feared, in the health care community.
Dr. Chadwick owned three antebellum family homes in an old, historic, Mississippi town, but lived in a one-story, very large, beautifully appointed, modern house, which he designed and built. Our church had grown enough to buy land and plan on a building and I was called to make a personal appearance at his home, after dark. I guessed he wanted to talk with me about a gift for the church building project.
As we sat and visited for a time he came to the point of his invitation. “Van, years ago there was a famous hotel here, it closed when the most recent owners took bankruptcy.” He owned a large stake in the local bank and had been involved in the loan that had been foreclosed. “Eventually, the property fell into serious disrepair, and when it was torn down I acquired all the bricks.”
“They are the most beautiful bricks you have ever seen, and I want to donate them to the church for our building.”
I was stunned. And he took me to the back of his house. The first thing I noticed was a gigantic wall that was very close to his house, and much taller. The wall was in fact stacked bricks, thousands I assumed, in a serpentine shape. It was longer than the house, and several bricks wide. The bricks were not joined together by anything I could see, like mortar, but had been painstakingly placed there, and held by sheer weight.
The church accepted the gift. Contractors and the like were contacted. Our architect, a member of the parish, drew up plans. Out of the blue, I received a call from Dr. Chadwick’s attorney that he would not be donating the bricks.
I called Dr. Chadwick, whose wife answered, and she said the doctor was not in…I explained the reason for my call, and she understood my confusion at his change of heart. She explained that the doctor made a show of offering the bricks to worthy organizations undergoing building projects, but could not bear to let them go. He just loved his bricks.
Years later, when he died, I learned that Dr. Chadwick had torn down his house, and moved into one of his family homes. The bricks remained, and nearly 30 years after I saw them, are still there.
Those bricks have come to represent sin for me. We chase after our sin, and it seems to come to us as a gift. We love it, maintain it, attempt to camouflage it as something else, ascribe to it value and worth. It out-grows other aspects of our lives, until we see little else. We ask for it to be taken, but we struggle to truly offer it up. Yet God wants for our lives to be transformed — to create health and well-being where once our sin was maintained. The burden and weight, the seemingly overwhelming size, at least to us, of our sin is nothing compared with the love and mercy of God, who will free us from it. Giving purpose and meaning, value, to what was before decaying and moldering.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6: 21)
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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