This is my sermon for last week. I really wanted to demonstrate the motions that go with the Father Abraham song, but couldn't figure out how to make it work. Click here to see a video if you missed this song growing up.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Twenty-nine years ago, give or take a few days, I was baptized at Druid Hills Methodist Church in Meridian. I was a baby, about the same age as several of our baptismal candidates this morning. The baptism stuck, but the Methodist part didn’t. By the time I was old enough to remember Sunday school, we had moved to the Episcopal church. Every week the Sunday School teachers at my church gathered all the children to sing before we went to our own classes. Now, some of the songs didn’t require any outside knowledge to get the point of the song – Jesus Loves me, for example. Others, however, you had to know something to understand why we were singing them. When I was not given the information I needed, I supplied it for myself, as many children do.
That’s why, whenever we sang, “Father Abraham had many sons,” I pictured Abraham Lincoln. He was, after all, not only the most famous Abraham I knew, he was the only Abraham I had ever heard of. So it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine that Lincoln was one of the fathers of our country, and therefore, “Father Abraham.” (ETA: now imagine top hats on everyone singing the song and doing the motions. hilarious)
It’s also why, when we sang When the Saints go Marching In, I pictured the football stadium at Meridian High School, with me sitting in the bleachers with all of my friends waiting for the New Orleans Saints to run onto the field.
It would be years before I found out that my interpretation of the Saints was, shall we say, non-traditional. As I was introduced to Saints George and Jerome and Clare and all the other Saints that you study in history class, I began to see the concept of being a saint in a new light. Clearly, being a saint meant traveling a road that no one had ever traveled before, accomplishing tasks that no one had ever accomplished before, performing miracles that no one else could even dream of performing. Being a saint became akin to being a hero, someone who could save a child from a burning building, or cure a fatal disease, or maybe even run faster than a speeding bullet.
But unfortunately, that notion of sainthood was not so much better than my original assumptions about those football players from Louisiana. For as it turns out we in this church believe that everyone who takes their faith in Jesus and figures out some way to live in this world as a believer is a saint. Sainthood is not tied to deeds or heritage or abilities. Sainthood is rather based on living one’s life in intentional and meaningful ways – choosing to do the things that will be evidence of God’s love and grace in this broken world.
That news should be a relief. It should be exciting to learn that we are all eligible to be saints of God. And yet, it seems to me that it is more intimidating than exciting. After all, it’s far easier to for me to look at a list of saints and their accomplishments, realize that I can’t perform miracles, and accept defeat. It’s always easier to let ourselves off the hook, to imagine that being a saint of God is never going to work out for us, than it is to begin the process of living into the inheritance we have obtained in Christ.
But Ephesians is here to give us some good news. Ephesians tells us that when we hear the word of truth and believe, then we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will come to know the things that God is calling us to do in our lives. We will come to know what our part in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth will be.
Last December, I was privileged to meet someone that knew exactly what her calling was. I would not have met her had my husband Gates not needed surgery to repair a hernia. The surgery was not particularly dangerous, but it was nonetheless a bit overwhelming for us. He had avoided having the surgery for some time, and did not have a support system in his native Texas, so he traveled here to Jackson to have the surgery and recover. This was the first time that I was to be his official caregiver – his family would be calling me, I was in charge of making sure that he was well-taken care of – it was all very new and very different, but it needed to be done and this was the best way to do it. So on one very cold morning we got up early and went to Saint Dominic’s. We went through all the pre-surgery forms and routines, and then Gates was wheeled away. I reported, as all family members do, to the surgery waiting room.
Now, though this was the first time I had walked this path with Gates, it was not the first time I had been in a surgery waiting room. I felt like I knew what to expect – like I knew the drill. Everyone whose loved ones were having surgery would be sitting in a room together, waiting on phone calls from the operating rooms. Occasionally a very loud phone would ring, and the nearest family member would answer, shouting out the name of whoever should come to the phone for a report.
Imagine my surprise when I was greeted in that waiting room by a friendly older woman wearing maroon. She explained to me that she would be answering the phone, that she would let me know when Gates’s doctors or nurses had a message for me. She told me that I could go to get breakfast or go to the restroom and she would be happy to take a message for me if I missed a call. And over the next few hours, through the surgery and the time in recovery, she lived up to those promises. Though I was by myself for most of the morning, I knew that I was not alone as I waited for news. There would always be a kind smile there as I took the phone calls from the operating room. I can’t tell you how much that smile improved my stressful morning.
Before I left to meet Gates in the room, we chatted for a few minutes. I learned that she was retired, but that she volunteered at St. Dominic’s several days a week. When I expressed surprise that she would be willing to spend so much time at the hospital, she explained that she credited her church with teaching her the importance of doing what she could for other people, of taking what time she had and putting some of it aside to serve others. She was not an Episcopalian; in fact she was from a church that, as far as I know, never talks about the communion of saints. But she was nevertheless able to relate her work at St. Dominic’s to God’s hopes for the world. In a few sentences, she was able to tell me how she was, in fact, a saint.
It was a rare and holy moment for me. I have met many, many people that I considered saints, but until that point I had never met someone who, within a few minutes of conversation, could describe what she believed that God wished for her to do and how she was trying to live into that call.
We need more of those moments – more time spent talking about our lives as Christians. For there are people hungry to hear that God is working in this world. There are people thirsty for news of how the kingdom of God is present in this city right now. And we know, that like children trying to decipher the meaning of song lyrics, when people supply information for themselves, all too often they come up with the wrong conclusions. Without our stories of how we are part of the communion of saints, it might seem that God has no part in our lives.
And so I hope that we will each have some time to consider our own lives today, a day that we remember all the saints that have gone before us, all of the prophets and teachers and volunteers and countless others that have been examples of God’s grace and love. I hope that we will have time today to let the Holy Spirit guide us to those special things to which God is calling us. And, I hope that once we have realized how our lives can be part of God’s will, that we will find the words to express that calling to other people.
For I believe that more than the stories of the early martyrs of the church, more than the stories of the great theologians that influence church doctrine and policy today, more than any story of saints gone by, it is our stories that will make the Christian faith come alive not just for the people we baptize today but for all others who are seeking God. Amen.