Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life:
Gateway 4: Leaving a Legacy
2 Timothy 4:6-7
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 1, 2016
“In 1926, a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Millar died, leaving behind him a will that amused and electrified the citizens of his Canadian province. Millar, a bachelor with a wicked sense of humor, stated clearly that he intended his last will and testament to be an “uncommon and capricious” document. Because he had no close heirs to inherit his fortune, he divided his money and properties in a way that amused him and aggravated his newly chosen heirs. Here are just a few examples of his strange bequests:
He left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two prominent men who were well known for their opposition to racetrack betting. He bequeathed shares in the O’Keefe Brewery Company (a Catholic beer manufacturer) to every Protestant minister in Toronto. But his most famous bequest was that he would leave the bulk of his fortune to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in the ten years after his death.
This clause in his will caught the public imagination. The country was just entering the Great Depression. As people struggled to meet even their most basic economic responsibilities, the prospect of an enormous windfall was naturally quite alluring. Newspaper reporters scoured the public records to find likely contenders for what became known as The Great Stork Derby. Nationwide excitement over the Stork Derby built quickly. In 1936, four mothers, proud producers of nine children apiece in a ten year time span, divided up Charles Millar’s bequest, each receiving what was a staggering sum in those days -$125,000. Charles Millar caused much mischief with his will. This was his final legacy to humanity.”
When we think of legacy we probably don’t think of something as mischievous as Mr. Millar’s bequests. When I think of legacy I think first of the impact my life will have on my children and future grandchildren; and those I have served with in ministry. I am not a wealthy person and don’t anticipate having the ability to make a large bequest from my estate, so my mind is drawn first to the legacy of people and influence.
What does it means to leave a personal legacy? How do you want to be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family and friends when you die? Answering this question requires us to take stock in the legacy we have already laid and imagine what we might do in our remaining years to finalize that impact. Consider those who have children, the work you have done through their lives to teach, train and inspire them to be the very best people that they can be.
Some may feel they nailed that, looking at their children with pride in the knowledge that their children exhibit all of the tenants of “success:” happily married, sufficiently educated for their chosen career, self-sufficient and living well. But not all children respond to the training we provide however and some find themselves stuck in the mire of mental illness, addiction and a faltering self-image. We must avoid comparing our offspring legacies with our neighbor’s imagined “perfect” children. I know that all of the parents in this room were blessed with children that tried our every last nerve, and who also made choices about how they would receive the lessons we worked so hard to teach.
Leaving a legacy with our children is not the only personal legacy we leave. Some have worked in jobs that would leave lasting legacies. Teachers, physicians, attorney’s, ministers, grocery clerks, carpenters – all have the opportunity to leave their world a better place. Each day we come in contact with others and we are called to be Christ for them and to share God’s love. When we do so, when we accept the role as a disciple of Christ, we daily have the opportunity to improve the legacy we leave behind.
Some of us in the last third of our lives, will spend time taking account, revisiting the impact we had on our children and then begin to consider how we can continue that influence on our grandchildren. Not all of us have grandchildren and rather than throwing in the towel on this idea of legacy, consider whose lives you have touched by sharing the love of Christ? Who is different because of their relationship with you?
“There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie.
Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath.
And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers. At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.”
His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.” His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.” By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag.
Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume. She stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to and her bracelet looked pretty on you too.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, and writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.” A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, second in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had in his whole life. Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stollard, M.D.
The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson, did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Teddy whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”
The ripples that we create when we are bold in our call to be Christ-like, are far reaching. Most of our influence we will never know about, but that does not mitigate our call or our responsibility. Jesus teaches us how we are to respond to our gifts, to our treasures. In Matthew 6:19-21 he shares, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus challenges us to check ourselves, to evaluate our priorities and encourages us to leave a legacy of impact upon others; a treasure in heaven.
Sisters and brothers, I leave you with this. What treasures are you storing up? Where is your heart? Where are you making a lasting legacy that will continue long after you are gone? “When Jesus of Nazareth left this earth, he bequeathed a different kind of legacy to his followers. He left his Holy Spirit – to comfort, to guide, and to empower his believers to be all that God had called them to be.” And with the help of the Holy Spirit we will be ambassadors for Christ through the legacies we leave.
Let us pray: Gracious God, thank you for the ability to leave a legacy that will endure long after we are gone. Give us the courage to do the work to make that so. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and guide our steps as we come ever closer to imitating you. Amen.