Sunday, October 12, 2014

“A Lady—Thinking Backward and Living Forward”

Introduction to Sermon c1926

Delivered in Avondale Presbyterian Church by Jesse Herrmann
[Pastor | 1916-1928]

Matthew 5:17—“I came not to destroy but to fulfill.”

One of my most vivid vacation memories clusters around a weekend spent in Southampton, Long Island. Southampton, as you may know, is a so-called fashionable summer resort. It is a popular rendezvous for men with millions. But in the midst of these ultra-modern externals you distinctly sense an invigorating atmosphere reminiscent of other days. I know of no community of its size in America that has more direct human and material contacts with the Colonial period than Southampton. On Sunday, I preached in the oldest Presbyterian church in America, founded in 1640—twenty years after the landing of the Pilgrims. Many of the permanent families in Southampton today are the direct descendents of these founding fathers. Hard by this town is the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course, where an Indian caddie carries your clubs, for close by is a government reservation for the ancient Shinnecock tribe.

A man must be exceptionally dull if his memory and emotions are not stirred in a place where the Indian hut, the colonial house, and the Millionaire’s mansion stand within a stone’s throw of one another.

But the experience that I treasure most, after a brief visit to Southampton, centers in a home whose presiding genius is a gracious lady who has rounded out more than eight decades of life. For over fifty years she had been the uncrowned queen and the unmetered priestess of that whole community—mother to the orphan, friend to the wayward, and delightful companion for the young and old. In a remarkable way she gathers up in her character the fruitage of the past, the opportunity of the present, and the promise of the future. In perfect blend the three tenses mingle in her person.

Her home clearly belongs to the Colonial vintage. Much of its furniture was built and carved by skilled ancestors. During her youth, in the open fireplace, now an interesting museum, all the meals were prepared. But these antiques stand in marked contrast with the furnishings of her mind. On the table the latest books are  found. Unless compelled otherwise by the visitor her conversation is geared exclusively to the present and the future. The windows of her soul are ever open to the winds of God as they blow from the four corners of the modern world. The roots of life are deeply embedded in the congenial soil of the past, but every branch is n intimate contact with the fresh breeze of a new born day.

In the person of this delightful character I find a living commentary on my theme: “Thinking backward and living forward.” Her life illustrates what Jesus meant when he said: “I came not to destroy, but to fulfill.” He came to reveal the beauty and to unfold the value of the old and to build them anew into the living tissues of today and tomorrow. There is supreme need in our day for skilled hands and broad-gaged souls who can sense the permanent values in the past and weave them effectively and artistically into a new garment fit for modern wear. Men and women who can think backward and live forward.

The Jesse Halsey Manuscript Collection. Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

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