I did a dangerous thing this weekend during the sermon: I praised my parishioners. I say it is dangerous because, inevitably, someone usually feels wrongly ignored and sometimes people begin to relaxing thinking they have “done it.” But, I also think it needed to be done. Given the resulting pindrop silence and tears and discussion, I know it was a sermon that came from God. Part of my decision to preach about the saints at St. Alban’s Davenport revolved around their care of me and my family the past couple months. Some have allowed me to vent and worry over my son who broke his jaw and knocked out his teeth; all have tried hard to minister to my wife and the kids during this event. Add to that the recent celebration of new ministry and the outpouring of love and sarcasm which so defines these Godly people. Then, there was clergy appreciation month, and the last Sunday of October. I received a couple cards every week during the month, and they gave us a cake which even my horde could not consume in a couple of days. Thank you’s seemed too shallow and too personal. Of course, like any parish anywhere in the United States, we are dealing with the uncertainties of the current economic malaise. John Deere, Sears Manufactring, Hahn Industries and Alcoa may well be forced to cut back. Some are dealing with diseases. Many have relationship issues. Not a few think they are unloveable. And our reading this week was Matthew 5 in honor of All Saints’ Day.
So I told stories. I had a number of them from which to choose in only the last couple weeks. St. Vern had entertained anonymous young girl who had been sent home for school for dressing too “devilishly,” whatever that means. It certainly was not bad enough no to invite her into the church. As God would have it, the young girl was the daughter of one of St. Vern’s former students. More than two decades ago, St. Vern had planted a seed that God would only now let him see flourish a bit. The former student called. She knew that the “Mean old Mr. M” to whom the priest had referred was her former English teacher. She called, thanked him for his work with her, and shared her story. She is dying of a bad heart. In fact, she should have died last month. But she wants to see the daughter graduate in the spring. And she worries about her daughter. As it turns out, the daughter will likely lose a mother to a bad heart and an aunt to cancer all before she ever graduates high school. But, the mother rejoiced that she could regale the daughter with stories from school. Better still, the daughter knows there is someplace she can go when she wants to rail at God in her eventual frustration and anger.
I could have talkd of St. Sue. She asked a boy in World of Warcraft if she could add his father to our prayers. The son agreed thinking there is no way in the world she would do it, let alone make sure her priest knew what was happening. After some recent events, there was some worry about the safety of the father. As God would have it, I was online when the events surfaced. I knew his frustration and that of his family. And still, a few days later, all he can say is “I can’t believe she really did it and you guys paid attention.” He even thanked me for helping him understand what his family members were experiencing. For a few moments, he was able to act like an adult in the face of some horrible emotions, and it was noticed by those whom he loves most. And, as he said this weekend, it turns out his dad is just fine.
I could have talked of St. George. St. George is a retired military officer employed at the Arsenal. A couple of times over the past year, he has shared with me some of the psychological challenges facing our veterans. One change in the way we conduct warfare is that we no longer ship them overseas via long boatrides. Soldiers have literally been in Davenport and Baghdad within 72 hours of each other. The problem with the quick transportation is that our soldiers get no time to debrief and de-stress. In prior wars, the men could share with each other what they saw. Now, they are thrown back into society without so much as a “by your leave.” To be sure, the military doctors do the best that they can, but we are left to help families pick up their lives. Had it not been for St. George and his passion, I would have never been able to help another WOW friend. You see, his wife had recently returned from service to her country. And they were experiencing the normal problems of readjustment. Dad and the kids had gone on with life while she fought. Dad and the kids made do without her. She returned to find that they all had changed and that she had as well. Part of their problem was that she needed to talk. Men might be reticent to talk, but women sometimes need to express everything they are feeling. Were it not for St. George, that family might have been split up. At least, thanks to his insights and a nosy priest, they are getting some help. And everyone knows why they are acting the way that they do.
I could have spoken of St. Larry. St. Larry has struggled mightily in some aspects of his life. His workers have not behaved well. Alleged drunk drivers have acted in a way to endanger his livelihood. Yet, through it all, St. Larry has sought Jesus. How would Jesus handle _______? And when he cannot think of an answwer, he calls his priest. You might think it gets old, and 5:30am phone calls are not my favorite things, but it is amazing to see somebody trying to live his life displaying the mercy he knows he has been shown by God.
I could have spoken of St. Charlie, again. Together with his wife, St. Sherry, and his mother, St. Mary, the three of them are making a tremendous impact in the life of a neighbor. She lacks the resources to feed her family, so they use their resources to feed them. All three of them get to experience the thankfulness which comes from serving someone who desperately needs it.
I could have spoken of St. Mac and St. Maxine (her Christian name is Jackie, but Maxine seems to suit her more). The two of them have enabled us to teach a number of people in our midst to fish.
I could have talked about St. Bev and St. Linda, who show up to weed the prayer garden.
I could have spoken of St. Ron or St. Jeff, who selflessly volunteer their time (in the case of St. Ron it was more than 2 decades of time) mowing the yard.
I could have spoken of St. Wanda or St. Linda, who seemingly never tire of cleaning up the messes of others.
I could have spoken about St. Robin or St. Julie, whose senses of humor and sarcastic wit sometimes leave a pastor nearly breathless from bellylaughs.
I could have talked about St. Jane, who sees God most often in the sacraments of this low church setting.
I could have talked of St. Jack, who, as any long-suffering Cubs fan here in the Midwest, embodies the patience of Job and lost causes of Jude.
I could have spoken how St. Jan, St. Robin, St. Polly, St. Marylea, St. Ellamae and the rest of the Intercessors have taught me much about prayer and patience before His throne. Like me, they chafe from time to time, but they recognize the importance of bringing everything to God in prayer.
I could have talked at length about St, Nicole who, in one day, was forced to deal with some Christians who doubted her salvation, a child who thought she celebrated the “Devil’s birthday” with a bit too much verve, and herded those real devils in her choir all in one day! And still, she prayerfully selects the music each week and sets the tone for our worship.
I could have spoken of St. Jennifer, St, Judy, or St. Julie who faithfully serve the hungry in our midst and in our community at the end of our line each month for AFM.
I could have spoken of St. Thelma, who, in many ways, set the spiritual tone for this parish and for St. Gay, who nobly took Thelma’s torch and started the next leg of the relay.
I could have spoken of St. Michelle, who labored faithfully on behalf of our ECW and our youth these past few months.
I could have talked of St. Connie who dutifully humors her husband in the wilds of WI and returns to fill in wherever needed in what ever ministry upon her return.
I could have spoken of St. Michelle, together with St. Mitchel and St. Melanie, who taught us all a bit about unjust suffering this past year.
I could have spoken of St. Barb, who simply goes where God calls her, no matter how stupid it might seem to her when she stops to consider it.
I could have spoken of St. Karen, who tolerates, sometimes amusingly and sometimes agonizingly, the rantings and musings of her husband.
I could have talked of St. Fred, who tries to meet any need of which he is made aware.
I could have gone on and on. The saints in my church try hard to do as their Lord commanded loving Him with everything and loving their neighbor as themselves. A full three dozen have jumped at the opportunity to feed the hungry through AFM. Through their generosity, a number of them have enabled us to help those on food stamps in our area strethch their budgets and learn “to fish.” And their smiles and faithfulness have not gone unnoticed by those being served!
A number of the saints at St. Alban’s contribute their change to help buy bus passes for the women at Winnie’s Place. Though they will likely never meet any of these battered women, the continue to pray and support them as they have ability. It may be coats, toys, books, food, soap, or any other item we take for granted (like loose change) that someone always thinks of for the ladies and children at Winnie’s.
The saints at St. Alban’s also know how to put on a feast and remind the forgotten of society that we are all invited to a party the likes of which this world will never see! Those in charge of the Community Meal do their best to plan a menu. The cooks step up to make the meal each month. And the servers show up with smiles to remind the homeless that they, too, have been formed in the image of God. And all labor so that the priest can simply mingle and chat with whoever wants to talk. You and I might take fried chicken, or meatloaf, or fluff, or any number of everyday ordinary meals for granted, but those whom these saints serve are reminded by these feasts of loving mothers or grandmothers and are, for just a few minutes a month, comforted in their distress and hunger.
Best of all, these saints mentioned and others who are not, live in the world. We deal with broken relationships, with addictions, with worries, with cares, with hurts, with angers, and with all of life’s vicissitudes. In the midst of the lives of these servants are some agonizing pains. But, better still, there are amazing evidences of God’s grace. Sure, we have our fights. Sure, we don’t always get along as well as we would like. What family does not? But all of the saints here realize that they serve a Lord who first served them, and all the saints here recognize that it is only a redeeming God, who has called them into an eternal relationship, who can enable them in their ordinariness and daily lives to become a saint in His name.
And best of all, I am called to serve among them. As the priest, I often get to see the fruits which they never see, to see the hurts which they never see, to see the hope that they never see, to see the hopelessness that they never see, to see those things that people would keep hidden if they had a choice or others would not notice if they could help it. This week, our diocese will gather together under the them of “A Dedicated Life.” I can think of no other body that is so committed to living out its calling. Some may equal, but it would be difficult to find one that exceeds the saints gathered at St. Alban’s. And to think -- this is the merest shadow of the life to which He calls us in the world to come. In some ways, I cannot wait to see what His kingdom looks like, but I will settle for now with ministering with His saints here at St. Alban’s.