Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s Portland – Albert Melton’s retirement
The word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” I imagine this passage was in Albert Melton’s head when he had his first job playing church music at 11 years old. Like Albert, I started singing and in choirs at a very young age. I remember a sign on the wall of the choir room which said “He who sings prays twice.” This is something to which I am sure Albert and all our choir members will agree. I know it’s true for me. The other day Albert shared how he discovered the Episcopal Church. It was when he was in college, went to a service Episcopal Church and amazed that the hymns and the anthem and sermon were all tied to the scripture of the day. This experience not only brought him to the Episcopal Church but has been a hallmark of his ministry ever since.
In my ministry, I have had the great privilege of serving in several congregations and cathedrals with world class musicians and music programs. (Shari and I were so close to the organist at the American Cathedral in Paris, that we made him the godfather of our son.) I have known people who are truly gifted musicians and I have known musicians who are truly gifted in working with people. Albert is one of those rare individuals who is gifted in both, who sees his work as a ministry – not just to God or to the congregation, but to the choir as well. Albert is one of those rare musicians who understand that the role of a choir and an organist is not to do a performance, but to lead the congregation in worship, in singing, in praising God and in helping people experience the presence of God in the church.
Consistent with his desire to focus on the lectionary, Albert declined an offer to use his favorite texts this morning and asked that we use the scriptures assigned to today. How fitting it is, that these scriptures include First Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” of the Bible. More than anything else, love has been the hallmark of Albert’s ministry here and in the other places he has served in his long and illustrious career. I think of the thousands of sermons, weddings, and funerals that Albert has sat through on a wood bench without a cushion or back rest. Imagine the amount of love – of God, of God’s people, and of God’s church – that he needed to do that! Speaking of love, I also want to honor and thank Cynthia, whose support and love been just as strong and has been a ministry in and of itself. Thank you, Cynthia.
Today’s gospel passage is a little bit of a harder fit. This is the aftermath of Jesus’ first sermon at the synagogue where he grew up in Nazareth. He said that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in the presence of that congregation… and then he explained that it would be fulfilled through foreigners and not through them! The townspeople didn’t know how to handle this kid who came home from college filled with radical ideas. They wanted the Jesus they knew when he was little… and wanted to throw this new Jesus off the cliff. The Good News is that Jesus slipped through the crowds and escaped. The even better new is that eventually, with a little time and patience, what Jesus said and who Jesus started to sink in and the people started to understand. Today, the Nazareth that once rejected Jesus has more Christians than any other town in Israel except Bethlehem. The change of heart in the people from Nazareth is a story of perseverance. It is an encouragement to all of us to keep going and not let anyone (even ourselves) tell us we are too young or too old or too sick or too anything else to do what we are called to do. The evolution of the people from Nazareth is a reminder that if we are faithful to our callings and share our gifts, others will experience the presence of God through them. Albert has had a career, a lifetime, of doing just that.
This brings me back to First Corinthians 13. First Corinthians 13 comes directly after and is the completion of First Corinthians 12, a chapter devoted to Spiritual Gifts. The point raised is that there are a variety of gifts but the same spirit, all given to each of us for the common good. If we are to truly honor and thank Albert Melton today, the best thing we can do is to follow his example and use our gifts, not to give attention to ourselves, but instead to serve others and to give glory to God. Corinthians 13 ends with those famous words: Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. Thank you Albert for showing us what this greatest of gifts looks like. He who sings prays twice. He who plays the organ and directs the choir does this many times over again. It has been a joy and privilege to serve together. Thank you, Albert, for many wonderful years together, for being a colleague, a partner in ministry, a valued member of our staff and cathedral families, and a friend. May God bless for years yet to come.