Celebrating Saints

November 6, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
All Saints’ Day (transferred) – Year C
Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

(Gospel Text provided below)

I was lucky to get to know both of my Grandmothers as I was growing up. Both lived in Houston, both had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and both were named Mary. That may be where their similarities end.

My Grandmother Greenwood was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She moved to Houston after marrying my grandfather, who became a prominent neurosurgeon. The entry room of their grand two-story house was adorned with framed cross-stitch samplers made by the very daughters of those early colonial soldiers. She also had a Union Army uniform worn by her grandfather in the Civil War, along with three sabers and musket from that era. She was a collector of history and family heirlooms. She was an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she always had a “Go Navy” bumper sticker on her car, and in addition to raising six children, she was active in the Episcopal church and volunteered for the Red Cross, among other things.

1963-christmas-group2Each Sunday after church we’d go to Grandma Greenwood’s house in our Sunday finest. We’d scamper upstairs to play games with our many cousins and if we were lucky, we’d be picked to help Grandpa wind the grandfather clock in the living room. When the food was ready, Grandma would call us to dinner, and we’d flock to the kitchen and take our places at the kid’s table. All my aunts and uncles gathered ‘round the large dining room table for a proper Sunday dinner, where white rice and sweet corn accompanied every meal, and Blue Bell ice cream brought it to an oh-so-sweet close.

By contrast, my Grandma Caldwell lived in a modest, cozy one-story house with drying-clothes-lines in the backyard under a large pecan tree. She married my grand-father in 1929. He was a traveling salesman, so was on the road a lot, leaving her to raise three daughters. I never knew my mom’s dad. He died shortly after my parents were married, leaving my grandmother widowed when she was only about fifty years old.

1961-nov-mom-w-sibs-and-grandma-kidsBy the time us grandkids came along, Grandma Caldwell didn’t drive anymore, so whenever any of us would spend the night with her, which I did a lot, we’d walk to the nearby Woolco or JMH Market to get whatever we needed. Grandma grew up in the Baptist Church, and man, did she know her Bible verses, and she’d prove it when we listened to Bible quiz shows on the radio. And she loved cooking. She made chocolate, butterscotch, and lemon meringue pies for special occasions, and with the humidity in Houston, that’s quite a feat. And when it came to meals, things were a bit more relaxed at Grandma Caldwell’s. Her rule of thumb was “if it has a bone in it, you can pick it up and eat with your hands.” To that, I say, bring on the pork chops!

I grew up with these contrasting Grandmothers and it was normal to me. I don’t remember every wondering or asking why their lives were different from each other. They just were. The differences didn’t make me love one of them more or less than the other. I loved them each in their own way. I’m thankful for the time I had with them and what each shared with me as I was growing up.

1964-easter-kidsToday we celebrate All Saints’ Day. It’s a time we set aside to intentionally remember those who have been part of our lives and have died. And although we can’t see them face-t0-face, or walk with them to the store, or hear their voice calling us to Sunday dinner, they are still with us in our lives. This is a gift that God gives us as human beings. The ability to remember and hold onto those memories even when those we love have departed this earthly life. We have an on-going connection to those who touched us and guided us on our way. These are the saints in our lives and today we celebrate them.

Now, being a saint isn’t about being perfect. No saint is perfect – not Mother Teresa, not Moses, not Paul. And at the risk of being tossed out on my ear, I venture to say that not even Jesus was perfect, though some theologians would argue otherwise. To be human is to miss the mark. If Jesus was indeed both fully human and fully divine, then the fully human part infers moments of missing the mark. It happens. Where Jesus’ divinity comes in, was in his ability to see it, repent it, and get on with it. He didn’t allow these moments of missing the mark to get in the way of his larger purpose.

We see a message of hope and endurance in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be okay with the state of life they are in…

tumblr_niqrv4hvfi1s32vjxo1_1280Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who are hungry now… Blessed are you who weep now… Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…  

And Luke’s gospel, the one that lifts-up the lowly and brings down the powerful, goes on to give the less pleasant side of the equation:

Woe to you who are rich… Woe to you who are full now… Woe to you who are laughing now… Woe to you when all speak well of you…

As I reflected on these two sides I remembered a trip to the Al-Farooq Mosque in Atlanta a few years ago. The lay leader who was talking with our class said something that has stayed with me. He said that in whatever socio-economic condition you find yourself – one of wealth or one of poverty – there is a faith-challenge that comes with that. One must ask, “How do I live faithfully as a God-centered person – living in the way God would have me be in the world – in light of my circumstance.”

aviso-1Jesus is saying to those who are poor, or hungry, or weeping, or excluded, that we are still God’s and God’s generous love is with us. And when Jesus says, woe to those who are rich, his words hold the challenge of living a Godly life in the midst of that wealth. Not lauding it over those who are poor, but instead, acknowledging our responsibility and obligation toward them.

So, when we find that we are in a position of “having enough” – that is, I have enough for a comfortable life, we must ask “How is it to be used to help those who are not? How might I be able to make things better for all people, not just people like me?”

kaq1-2The passage ends with the familiar Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” I heard the author and theologian, Karen Armstrong speak at the National Cathedral several years ago and she worded it a little differently. She said “Look at what causes you pain, and commit not to do that to others.” She went on to distinguish between pity and compassion. We are to be compassionate, which is to act from a place of love that looks-out for each other’s interests, not simply our own. Jesus practiced this kind of compassion for all people, including – and I would venture to say, especially, those who are outsiders.

Finally, I think this gospel lesson also imparts a promise that these states of being will not last forever. Speaking from personal experience, those who mourn will not weep forever – they will have joy again. 6845bb0d15c2494aaef49830ba84fd55-6845bb0d15c2494aaef49830ba84fd55-0Those who seem cursed, can overcome that burden if they persevere. You may have to wait 108 years, but just ask a Cubs fan if it was worth the wait! And I’m hopeful that precisely because of the long drought, the Chicago fans aren’t gloating over Cleveland’s loss, but simply celebrating their own reversal of fortune. And hopefully Cleveland won’t have to wait that long for their next World Series victory, though in my heart, I’m an Astros fan!

So as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, let us remember those who have touched our lives, sharing with them the blessing of fellowship around this Holy table. Let us also think of those who need our care, and bring forth our generous gifts as an act of compassion for others.

chicago-cubs-celebrate-after-game-7-of-the-major-league-base

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One Response to “Celebrating Saints”

  1. James Greenwood said

    I must have overlooked this in November but just found it. What a wonderful memory you have and how beautifully you weave your recollections into your present preaching. This was perfect for All Saints Day.

    You are truly a blessing.

    Love,

    Dad James “Jim” Greenwood III 1306 B Potomac Houston, TX 77057-2063 (713) 468-8102 (primary) (713) 898-2293 (mobile) jmgrnwd@aol.com

    >

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