Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Adele Huebner's Testimony

Today we had the Burial Office for Adele Louise Huebner. Adele came to St. John's in 2002 from a neighboring, formerly Episcopal, parish. I am grateful for having her among us the past 3 years.

At the service today her nephew, Peter Huebner, read the following Testimony, written by Adele in May of 1976. With Peter's permission, I publish it here as a testament to a life of faith.

May she rest in peace.
My Testimony
Adele L. Huebner

One word changed my life - the Greek word "Tetelastai". It means "It is finished" and is the last word uttered by Jesus Christ on the cross before giving up His life.

Now, I was raised a Christian: baptized, taught moral values by loving Christian parents, attended Sunday School as a youngster, and confirmed in one of the main denominations.

But it was when I was in confirmation class that I really started thinking about being a Christian.
After confirmation class one afternoon, I approached the assistant minister who was teaching us and asked, "What does it mean to be a Christian?" I'll never forget his startled look and then his reply, "Well...It means to lead a good life and be kind to others."

I didn't argue, but it seemed to me that his definition could apply equally well to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and others who certainly would never claim to be Christians. It also seemed to me that "Christian" should have something to do with Christ - but I didn't know what, much less how it related to me personally.

Not wanting to embarrass anybody (myself least of all), I went through confirmation, dissipating my unease that I was doing something not quite honest by telling myself that confirmation was just a ritual that all my family and friends had gone through.

In the years that followed, I thoroughly enjoyed discussing religion with friends and dates, but found church services boring. As I concentrated on what the prayers and creeds said, I finally had to admit to myself that I could not accept them and, and therefore, could not say them.

I decided I was an atheist and might as well admit it. In discussing religion as an atheist, I found most people agreed with me - certainly, I met no one who pointed out another view convincingly.

The beautiful ritual and family companionship drew me to church on Christmas Eve and Easter. That was it, and as far as I could tell that was good enough for a lot of people.

My life was great: busy, intellectually stimulating, and rewarding in knowing a wide circle of people around the metropolitan Detroit area. I was perfectly happy. I was standing on my own two feet and rather proud of it. I was making a conscious effort to keep my priorities in order and trying to be fair and honest and loving.

My father had died when I was 16, and mother and brother and I drew especially close. Over the years my mother became my best friend and confidant. When she became sick with cancer, every moment with her became precious. The doctor allowed me to stay with her in the hospital and the night before died, in the small hours of the morning I prayed to God and knew in my heart for the first time in my life that, though I was an atheist, my Creator heard me.

At that time, I had committed myself to law school, so I was quick to admit that having to hit the books was my salvation when my mother died. I could not allow myself the luxury of grief. I forced myself to get on with life, get that law degree.

I had dropped my social life during law school, so when I started practicing law, I spent my spare time reading. I had been reading a The Bermuda Triangle when I came across a book at Hudson's Eastland entitled The Late Great Planet Earth. The blurb seemed to indicate a Christian context, but I bought it anyway. I was fascinated. I ran out to buy other books by Hal Lindsay and immediately dove into The Liberation of Planet Earth.

For the first time I learned that sin is not doing this or that, but is being separated from God, being disobedient to God's will for our lives. And God, being righteous, must punish sin. But God is merciful and so loves us that He doesn't want to punish us. So He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die for our sin.

Then I came to that word. TETELASTAI! In the Roman World at the time of Jesus, when a man had committed a crime and been sentenced by the Judge, his offense and the punishment imposed was written on a piece of paper. The paper was nailed to the door of his cell. When he had completed his sentence, the jailer would unlock the door of his cell to set him free. Taking down the paper from the cell door, he would write the word "tetelastai" on it - the debt is paid; it is finished - and give it to the free man to show the world that his sentence was paid. Greek, the common language of commerce among the peoples of the time, has tenses we don't have in English. "Tetelastai" is a tense that really means "the debt is paid and the benefits for the debt, having been paid, continue into the future indefinitely."

When Jesus had completed the agony of His suffering on the cross and was ready to commend His spirit to His Father in Heaven, His last word was a cry of victory: TETELASTAI! It is finished. The debt is paid.

When I read that, a shiver went through me. It was as if my ears were unstopped and I heard for the first time. I knew Jesus had paid my debt. I understood that God was offering me His mercy, His forgiveness, His Love - to me personally.

What a gift! I accept Your gift. Your Son who died for my sin of not knowing You, of wanting to do my own thing.

My life hasn't changed drastically on the exterior, but my attitudes sure have. Miraculously, the Bible has become intelligible and meaningful, both to my own growth as a Christian and to my understanding the world about me. The beautiful ritual of the Church, now that I hear God speaking to me through the Bible passages which form the service, has become an opportunity for fellowship in Christ's brotherhood. I've met so many beautiful Christian sisters and brothers in Bible Study groups where we can learn and grow together. Now I know that I wasn't lucky or fortunate all my life, but I thank God for watching over and protecting me all those years when I wouldn't even acknowledge Him.

Most importantly, a sense of peace and contentment fills me. When situations irritate me - and they still do - I can ask my Lord and Saviour to calm me and drive out my resentment with His Love.

I always knew I didn't have a goal for my life; I was just drifting when others seemed to be working toward family, fame, fortune, whatever. But now I do have a goal, a reason for living - to let my Lord Jesus Christ work through me more and more every day. And I have a divine appointment with Him today, tomorrow, and forever, thanking Him and praising Him for paying my debt.

May 1976