It was All Saints Sunday. Shannon and I worshipped at Trussville FUMC. A young associate pastor named Mike Holly, who would go on to become my boss at Bluff Park UMC, shared a great message.
He read out the names of those Trussville FUMC members who died in the last year and folks from the congregation came up and lit a candle for those saints who had made a difference in their lives. My thoughts were on my uncle Mit who passed away in that spring. I still miss him so much. I have never been so assured of a life lived in total commitment to God’s work as with my uncle Mit’s life. I’ve also never be so sure of a follower’s place in heaven as I’ve been of my uncle Mit’s entrance into the kingdom. But still, it is so hard to accept that he won’t be there with his wife, children and grandchildren eachThanksgiving. I think about my aunt Linda and my cousins and their families and my heart breaks all over again. I will always carry with me his humble, gentle spirit along with the example of his tireless work to serve God’s people one house or garden at a time. He was a saint in the best sense of the word and I know that God was most pleased with his life on this earth when it ended. Even so, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him.
For those of us who grieve for those saints who we loved and who have gone before us, where do we go from here? My uncle could build a house to completion. He could plant a community garden. I needed two friends to help me put up a new mailbox and the only thing I can grow successfully is probably mold. My uncle Mit was about as soft spoken as one could be. He rarely raised his voice and, though he would share his political and theological views with me, he best preached the Gospel when he wasn’t using words. Me…are you kidding? I can be as stubborn as a mule and have a lot more in common with James Carville and Harry S Truman than with the meek of the Beatitudes.
Years pass since that All Saints Sunday that stirs up memories of my uncle. I am serving as the Director of Student Ministries at Bluff Park UMC in Hoover and at this point, I have been for almost a year. I’m about to go down to the youth wing to give a talk on living out our faith in every day situations when I pass by a plaque in the first floor hallway by the gym. I’ve passed by in countless times since I started working there. But today I see it for the first time. On this plaque, on the wall outside the gym where I work, is a photograph of my uncle Mit. He’s standing in front of a home that volunteers from our church built after a nearby tornado. My uncle had been tasked with coordinating local church efforts in the aftermath. I’m stopped in my tracks and I feel God’s presence. That plaque has been there for years, long before my uncle died. Long before I started working there. And long before I needed to see it on what would could have been any ordinary day.
Whoa. When God shows off, he really does it right, huh?
So what do we do? We have these lives of sainthood that show us that, yes, we can live close to that perfection that John Wesley espoused. We don’t even have to read about them in a book. We can see them, we can hear them, we can touch them. They are that close to us, all around us in our families, our churches, and communities. What do we do?
This is it: as Mike put it in that All Saints sermon, we have to live from the center – the center of our faith. I want to love Jesus. I want to be like my uncle Mit. I want to serve God. I am stubborn. I am proud. I don’t like to let a slight pass without a comeback. I think Phil Fulmer still hasn’t got what’s coming to him and I think The Sopranos is one of the greatest shows in the history of television. I’ve got a long way to go. But get this: I’m already a saint! Yeah, look in the letters that Paul wrote to the early churches. The were constantly screwing up. He was constantly getting all over them. But yet, he’d still refer to them as the saints. Friends, we’re it. We’re the church. We’re the saints. OK, first say “Oh crap, not me!” That’s how I felt at first too. Now let it sink in…
All things are possible through Christ.