25 October 2018
I tied the necktie of a stranger this morning, while waiting in the nearby LabCorp for a PSA draw. A well-dressed man, perhaps in his late 30’s, got out of his Mercedes, came into the lobby, approached me, said he was on his way to a funeral, and asked if I could work the magic associated with a very nice tie lying limp around his neck and collar. Since I was wearing one covered in sailboats – not my typical Thursday morning attire – he assumed that I knew what to do! It took only a minute or so, and voila!, his wardrobe was complete! He was a handsome fellow, dark navy pinstriped suit, shiny shoes, blazing white shirt, and now a neatly formed double cravat. Complete. He buttoned the top button, adjusted the tie’s position, thanked me, and was out of the door quickly and into his car. Gone.
It made me think of teaching my son, who was married this past Saturday to his long-time sweetie, Jen, to tie his own bit of colorful neckwear. The lessons went on for several weeks, with him wanting to be shown how to do it “just one more time.” Then he found an instructional video on the internet, and in short order became a master of all the techniques, plus learning several different kinds of knots. I remember my own dad’s patient instruction (well before the days of YouTube videos), when men’s neckties were “skinny,” meaning that they were very narrow bits of fabric, an inch or so wide…. and in our household, they were usually black or navy blue and plain. I was in high school when my dad discovered paisley and patterns and funny pictures, and his ties became as broad as the width of his palm! (He had one with pleats that when stretched out, was nearly twice its original size! Gracious!) I helped my Papa (maternal grandfather) tie his neckwear a time or two, not long before his passing, and when “that day” came, I put one of my own bits of “quiet” necktie on him, rather than letting him go into Glory wearing a clip-on – which was his preference!
Did you ever take up some tiny, insignificant-in-the-moment act of grace, like tying someone else’s shoes, straightening their collar, or brushing a bit of line from their shoulders? Perhaps, instead, I should have asked “When was the last time you did that kind of humble, personal touch of grace for another who was in need?” Oh, it may not have had to do with a necktie, at all. Maybe it was holding the door open for someone at the store, allowing them to have the first passage through the entry/exit. Perhaps you carried the plate of someone on Wednesday night, as they were making their way from the Fellowship Hall’s kitchen window to their place at a table. Maybe you winked or played “Peek-a-boo” with a child across the aisle or down the pew in worship, partly because you loved to make them smile, and partly to distract them for the moment. I know folks in our congregation who do that sort of “unbidden grace” all the time! They call or send greeting cards to our shut-ins and others in medical care; they take Meals on Wheels (both apart from the organization of that name, and as delivery/servers for it) to some with limited mobility. I know some who teach children in Sunday School, or who lead the Children’s Worship Time…. partly to give their families a moment’s break, and partly to help in their Christian formation. It’s “unbidden grace” for a great many!
The Bible (perhaps it’s Jesus) talks about “not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing” in this sort of way, too. It’s about allowing God’s grace – of which Michael Burnett spoke in the Traditional Service last Sunday at 11:00 AM – to flow through you, while you act as its vessel, its conduit, to others. Maybe it’s self-consciously done, or maybe it happens without any great theological or spiritual gravitas…. you just did it.
Think about that with me for a moment. I have a framed photo on the table that’s just across from the desk in my Church Study; it was a gift from a friend. He took a color picture, changed it to black-and-white, matted and framed it, and gave it to me one morning, lifting it out of the trunk of his car. It’s a downward looking shot of me gazing at our new grandson, Xavier, snugly wrapped, sleeping in his cradle, at only a few days after his birth. The picture, taken by my wife, is very good in its composition; but it’s the gift of its framing and presentation that makes it especially valuable to me. I expect it will hold a prominent place in my collection of “touchstones of memory” for quite a while. I really don’t expect the gift giver to have imagined that I would be including his act of grace in this day’s reflection. I don’t know that I envision the man whose necktie with whose I helped to remember it very long. Or the dozens of babies with whom I’ve played “Peek-a-boo” to recall the curious fellow with a shock of grey/white hair who made them smile. Or the person for whom I held the door open yesterday…. Or…. Or…. Or….
I suspect you may know about it, too. But this morning, there were these two people, one behind the desk at which I was standing, and another across the room, and before I left, both made comment on my action. One said aloud – ostensibly to no one in particular, “You’d think that a man who drives a Mercedes could have learned to tie his own necktie for himself!” I made no response to that invitational provocative. The other, however, said directly to me, “That was a very nice thing you did, helping that man. Thank you!” I think I muttered something along the line of “It was my honor to be of service to someone in need! Helped me revisit teaching my son….” Although it sounds like words from a song by “the Police” and Sting a couple of decades ago, it’s still true: Every step, every action, every word – someone will take notice. Let me encourage you to weigh your speech – both its content and its tenor. Be deliberate in your actions – both those in public and those when you think “no one’s looking.” Be gracious in your service, imitating the One who knelt and washed the grimy, road-weary feet of the 12, in preparation for a holy meal together. Take great care in your life’s “work” as an agent of God’s grace. As Jesus said, “Your Father, who sees in secret, takes notice of it all.”