Sermon by The Rev. Sara-Scott Wingo
Sunday, October 21, 2018
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The Gospel: John 11:32-44
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
All Saints’ 2018
The Rev. Sara-Scott Wingo
Today we are surrounded by the saints, and we are surrounded by their stories. Their photographs are in the window sills. Their images shine in the stained glass windows. As a collect from the burial office so eloquently states, saints are people who “have been the choice vessels of God’s grace, and the lights of the world in their … generation” (BCP p.847). And also as our hymn today proclaims, “They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with… joyous saints” (Hymn 293, Hymnal 1982). Everyone of these saints has a story, and we have stories to tell of them; so today I will be telling you some of my stories with the hope that they help you touch into yours.
You might think this first story begins a little strangely, for it begins a few days ago with me ironing sheets. Now the funny thing is that I don’t iron sheets. I don’t believe in it. I mean who is looking at how wrinkled a sheet is? But for reasons that are not very interesting I found myself doing this household chore that goes against my belief system All of the sudden, wonderful memories of my Aunt Grayson came to mind. This because, she did believe in ironing sheets, and she loved it! She had sheets of the softest cotton, made even more sumptuous by years of use and by years of ironing. Whenever I spent the night at her house, the bed was always luxurious, and in the exquisite delight of falling asleep in one of those beds, I just couldn’t help but feel encased by love, by the love that went into making those sheets just right for me, the night guest. Have you ever felt surrounded by love like that? Then you have met a saint.
As I was ironically ironing those sheets the other day, my thoughts eventually went back to another time, a time when my aunt was young, and I even younger. She was my mother’s junior by a half generation which made her the most amusing adult I knew at that time. I was only a preschooler when she gave me a simple Christmas gift. It was a small cardboard box decorated with silver paint. It was the fanciest box I had ever seen, and in this box posed a little stuffed animal mouse. It was white and cute, and I found it utterly captivating. But this mouse didn’t just sit there. Attached to it’s underneath side was a stick which I could surreptitiously manipulate whenever I convinced someone to pet the mouse. The person would then jump away in fright as the mouse wriggled at their touch, and I fell into hysterics: all because my aunt inspired great fun. Have you ever known someone whose love life made them infectiously fun loving? Then you have met a saint.
This story only goes on only a little longer. Around that same time, a girl my age lived next door, and we played together all the time. I haven’t seen her since we were five years old and my family moved away, but my mother ran into her at the grocery store years later. It turns out that by this time, my friend was married with children, one of whom she named after my aunt. I didn’t even remember that the two had ever met. Have you ever known someone who lived so authentically into who they are that you will never be able to forget them even if you were only briefly acquainted? If so, then you have met a saint.
Now an entirely different story about Mr. Douglas who we lost only a few weeks ago at the age of 92. A lot of young people called him Poppy because that is what the younger generation of his family called him, and he was just the sort of person who you could call by his grandfather name, even when he wasn’t your grandfather. He and I were not close, but I was quite familiar with the twinkle in his eye whenever he greeted me and the warmth of every welcome. He frequently sat on his porch where he waved to passing neighbors and where he had placed what could be called a miniature roller coaster. The toy was big enough for a very young child to ride. It was a track made of tough plastic and had a downward slope with a few bumps along the way and a little car to ride. Young children with their parents flocked to Poppy’s porch and had great fun, but not nearly as much fun as Mr. Douglas. Have you ever known someone whose welcome was expansive and never failing. If so, then you have met a saint.
This past summer while I was walking my dogs, I saw Mr. Douglas’ porch light on. So I stopped just to say, “hello”; but as I approached I could see he was inside and his attendants were busy trying to get him settled in a chair. Clearly, it wasn’t a good time, but it was too late, Mr. Douglas had already spotted me. He smiled. He waved vigorously. He called me into the house. Nevertheless, I stuck to my conclusion that this was really not a good time, but I couldn’t figure out how to exit gracefully, so I just stuck my head in the door, to identify myself and say let’s visit soon. Just then my puppy broke loose, she crashed through the small opening I had made in the door, she charged, she pounced. ON MR DOUGLAS sitting in his chair with oxygen tubes going everywhere. I was horrified. Really, really horrified. It was like slow motion. I saw it happening, knew exactly what was going to come, and I couldn’t move fast enough. And do you know what Mr. Douglas did? He took his strong arms that I had no idea were so strong and just pushed my puppy down to the floor at which point she just bounced and I was able to catch her. While all this was going on Mr. Douglas smiled. When I got home I called his daughter to profusely apologize and to offer to pay any medical bills or transport him to medical care or whatever they needed. She said everything was fine except for the fact that her father worried that he might have hurt a puppy and expressed remorse. Mr. Douglas had such a unique graciousness about him and he inspired us to emulate him. Do you know someone like this? Then you have met a saint.
One more story. As a child, I loved Mr. Rogers. He was gentle and kind. At the end of his show, he would look directly into your eyes (of course he was only looking through a camera) and he would say, “I like you just the way you are.” Those words just penetrated me. I received them. I took them in. I carried them with me. I believed that he liked me, my own unique self who as a child did not feel very likable at times. He made a difference. Do you know anyone who has given you a gift like that? Then you have met a saint.
The saints are all around us. Their pictures are in these windows, their stories in our memories, their impact imprinted in our hearts and souls. Time collapses when we remember them, for remembering seems to make them present. Today we are called to do more than to remember saints of ages past. Today we are also called to recognize God’s grace moving in our companions of faith now, even in little William Alexander Turner who we are about to baptize. We are called too to remember our place in the great throng who praise God both night and day. For we are all saints. It matters not if we consider our life stories to be ordinary or extraordinary because all of our stories are astonishing when viewed through the lens of faith. This was made abundantly clear to me a few Wednesday nights ago when some parishioners gave their testimonies. They told difficult and yet glorious stories.
When we profess these stories of faith, the stories of ages past, of present time, of our own lives, we breathe the same breath; we find that we are one with the likes of Julien of Norwich and St. Francis; Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King; Mr. Douglas and Mr Rogers; a loved one who has gone before and the person in the grocery or at work or at the fish food pantry or at home. When we tell our varied stories, we find we have only one story to tell, the story of God’s grace made manifest in human beings. We
find that God is indeed the knitter our collect for today proclaims God to be. Yes, think of hands, even women’s hands, working the needles, clicking and clacking and creating one magnificent cloth from many yarns. Today we pray, “Almighty God, you have knit [us] together…in one communion and fellowship. [You have knit us together] in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” Likewise, another hymn proclaims: “For all are one in the for all are thine, Alleluia, alleluia!” This kinship we have with each other and with all who have gone before is a truth greater than our knowing and yet it is right within our reach especially when we tell our stories. So tell your story. The world will be brighter with the Saint’s of God if you do. Tell your story. Tell your story.