Giving Thanks

Due to the nature of parish ministry and the hamster wheel of Sunday services, the sermon prep for Thanksgiving Day, a Major Feast that is supposed to be “regularly observed” in the Episcopal Church, but for which I will not get fussy because I know we don’t “regularly observe” all the Major Feasts here, often gets short shrift.  So, here I am, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, sitting my study in a closed Parish Office, giving on the first real thought to what I might say tomorrow at 10 am.  As I read through the lessons appointed for Thanksgiving, a theme comes quickly to the fore.  It seems that the lectionary folk would have us notice that there is a dichotomy between worry and thankfulness.

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The prophet Joel writes to the people of Israel after an invasion of locusts.  Now, whether this book is really about bugs or about a nation invading their Palestinian homeland, I’ll let the reader decide, but either way, what comes in the wake of either invasion is, most commonly, fear.  The destruction of crops or buildings and the real threat to livelihood and life lead the people of Israel to the point of anxiety and worry.  And what does the prophet Joel say to them?  Well, he says what every person who speaks on behalf of God says to an anxious people, “Do not fear.”

The same holds true of Jesus.  As he looks out upon a crowd of people who are victims of the rat race, he sees the worry in their faces.  First century Jews, most of whom were from families relying on subsistence tradesmen for survival, were always on the verge of economic disaster.  There was a real and present fear of hunger around every corner.  But Jesus, somehow without platitude, but rather real conviction, can look out on faces wrinkled with distress and say, “Don’t worry, God’s got this.”

For 21st century American Christians, living in a Pinterest world, on the day we turn our focus to the perfect Instagram worthy Thanksgiving table, it would behoove us to listen to Joel and to Jesus.  Worry is the antithesis of thanksgiving.  If our lives our lived only wondering where the next things is going to come from, we are never able to live with a spirit of thanksgiving in the moment.  So, I urge you, dear reader, to not worry.  Don’t fret about the right homily, the perfect centerpiece, or the ideal moisture content in your turducken.  Instead, be grateful for the moment, for the relationships, for the food, and for our God who is ever present and the giver of every good gift.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Why We Pause to Give Thanks

My Thanksgiving Sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read right here.


I am very much a creature of habit, which makes services like this one hard on me.  Christmas Eve is by far the hardest.  It is the church’s equivalent of a Super Bowl, but it can fall on any day of the week, and instead of services at 8 and 10am, they come at 5 and 11pm.  It’s hard on a Type-A personality, but I digress.  I’m very much used to having a week to prepare a sermon.  I have a routine that works for me, and I don’t do well with change, even when it is my own doing.  There were a few moments this week when I asked myself, “Self, why are you doing this? What’s the point of putting all the effort into a Thanksgiving Day service when it isn’t a part of the collective history of Christ Church?”  Maybe you ask yourself similar questions this morning.  “Do I really have time, with everything that I need to cook today to go to church?  Why didn’t Steve schedule this for last night?  Why are we here?”

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Why are we here?  It is a valid question.  It is a question that we should probably ask ourselves every time we come to church.  Are we here to get our ticket punched?  Are we here to feel better about ourselves?  Are we here to see and be seen?  Are we here to hear great music? A good sermon? To be nourished by the body and blood of Jesus?  Why are we here?  Our Gospel lesson this morning asks this question in reverse.  Why didn’t the other nine lepers return to give thanks?  What caused the single leper to return?  Why was he there?  Why did he turn back?

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m particularly drawn to two reasons we might show up to give thanks; two reasons that the tenth leper turned back and gave thanks.  The first is precisely because it is inconvenient.  Today is one of the busiest days of the year.  Turkeys take a long time to cook.  Oven space is maxed out with stuffing, dressing, or filling (depending on what part of the country you are from), green bean casseroles, baked yams, and pies of all varieties.  Family and friends are traveling from parts unknown, and the lucky among us have scheduled two or three dinners today.  The Macy’s Parade is going on as we speak, and children everywhere are eagerly awaiting Santa’s arrival on 34th Street.  Why, in the midst of all of that would we come to church?  Because it is in the midst of life, no matter how hectic it may be, that we are invited to stop and give thanks.  If we didn’t pause for a few moments to give thanks to God, what would be the point of having a day called Thanksgiving?  It is because of the busyness of today that we are intentional about slowing down and giving thanks.

The hecticness of life isn’t the story of the tenth leper, however.  The other nine were following Jesus’ directions.  He had told them to go and show themselves to the priests in order to be declared clean.  The context tells us that must have been Jews.  They knew that with clean skin and the right sacrifice, they could rejoin the community, and so they took off running in order to be restored to right relationship as quickly as possible.  But this tenth leper, he wasn’t Jewish.  No matter how many times he showed himself to the priests and no matter how many sparrows were offered as a sacrifice, this man would never be allowed into the community.  He was an outsider as a leper, and he would remain an outsider even after he was healed.  This man returned to give thanks to Jesus because he had nowhere else to go.

This morning, as we gather to make Eucharist, the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” we are here for many different reasons.  Some of you are here because it is important for you to take time in the midst of the details to pause and give thanks.  Some of you are here because you are here every time the doors are open.  Some of you might be here because you have nowhere else to turn.  No matter what the reason is for being here, it is good that we are here to spend a few moments giving thanks to God for the many gifts God has entrusted to our care.  I give thanks to God for your presence here this morning, even if you’ve been asking yourself, “why are we here?”  Amen.

Good Stewards – a homily

Stewardship gets a bad rap these days.  So often, when we talk of stewardship in the church we mean it only as “the way we spend our money.”  More specifically, we mean that stewardship is “giving money to the church,” and while the gifting of the first fruits of our labors to God is important for the church and for our own spiritual wellness, the reality is that we are called to be stewards not only of our money, but of all the gifts that God has given us: the gift of speech, the gift of compassion, the gift of intellect, the gift of prayer, even the very gift of life – the list goes on and on.  This call to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care is made abundantly clear in the first letter of Peter; a letter written to encourage the fledgling church in Asia Minor in the face of persecution.  For a church that was still very much without a structure, this letter would serve as an important reminder to hold fast to the faith.  In the short passage we heard read this afternoon, the letter was also intended to encourage the followers of Jesus to be good stewards of their gifts for the up-building of the kingdom.

“Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies…”  Throughout generations, these words have encouraged disciples of Jesus to be steadfast in their ministry despite ongoing hardship, which is why they were selected as the New Testament lesson on this day that the Episcopal Church sets aside to remember four strong women who were unafraid to use the gifts that God had given them despite societal pressure and persecution.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Jenks Bloomer, both members of Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, New York dedicated their lives to the rights of women in the late 19th century.

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Amelia Bloomer

Stanton used her gift of language to write a commentary on the Greek New Testament, focusing on the way in which certain passages of Paul were used to keep women from ordained ministry.  Bloomer used her ability to write to engage in newspaper and pamphlet debates with members of the clergy over dress codes which kept women subordinate and put them in real physical danger.  She argued that “The same Power that brought the slave out of bondage will, in his own good time and way, bring about the emancipation of women, and make her equal in power and dominion that she was in the beginning.”  Stanton and Bloomer, both white women, used their gifts to bring about social change for women, which ultimately led in 1920 to 19th Amendment and the right to vote.  Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman, both black women, born into slavery, used their gifts to bring about freedom for African Americans.

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Sojourner Truth

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Harriett Ross Tubman

Sojourner Truth was given the name Isabella at birth, and spent the first 28 years of her life as a slave, sold from household to household and given a new last name each time she was purchased by a new master.  She escaped from slavery, and began serving homeless women in New York City.  At age 46, she heard God call her to the life of a travelling preacher.  Despite the fact that Sojourner Truth had never learned to read or write, she used her gifts of charismatic presence, wit, and wisdom to share her message of God’s freedom for slaves and women throughout the country.

After two decades of severe treatment and beatings, Harriet Ross Tubman escaped slavery at the age of 24.  She returned to Maryland at least 19 times between 1851 and 1861, freeing more than 300 slaves and leading them to safety in Canada.  When the Civil War began, Tubman joined the Union Army as a cook and a nurse.  The gifts she honed leading slaves to freedom were put to use as a spy and a scout, and because of her ability to lead, she became the first woman to lead troops into military action when 300 black troops joined her on an expedition to free over 750 slaves.

Stanton, Bloomer, Truth, and Tubman each had gifts from God, and each were willing to use them to bring about God’s dream of freedom and dignity for every human being.  May God grant us the wisdom to discern our gifts and the courage to use them to bring about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Happy Thanksgetting!?!

You can listen to my Thanksgiving Day sermon on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it below.


Happy Thanksgetting everyone! No, not Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting.  Haven’t you heard, the good people at Verizon have decided that giving thanks is way too antiquated an idea, so this year, they’re calling it Thanksgetting, as in, let’s all be thankful for the stuff we can get now that Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving Thursday.  Now, I’m not one who usually gets my feathers ruffled by what the great minds at high power ad agencies come up with in order to get me to buy things. I don’t get bothered by people lining up for a great deal… I think they’re weird,  but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t even get angry that the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade is nothing but a three-hour advertisement for Macy’s and NBC, but for some reason, this Thanksgetting ad campaign really got stuck in my craw, so I googled it to see what others were saying about it, and found that this actually wasn’t the first instance of the word Thanksgetting.

As far as I can tell, the first time Thanksgetting was used in the media was November 13, 2010 on a children’s show called Planet Sheen.[1]  Planet Sheen was a spin-off of the popular animated movie Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, that you’ve probably never heard of. It centered around Jimmy’s less-than-genius friend, Sheen Estevez, who snuck aboard Jimmy’s rocket ship and ignoring the “Sheen, do not press this button” note, found himself four million and one light years away on the planet Zeenu.[2]  While working to get the rocket ship repaired, Sheen begins to teach the Zeenunians about what life is like on Earth.

In the 7th episode, entitled “Thanksgetting,”[3] the Zeenunians celebrate their annual holiday, Zakmanus, which lasts for an entire minute.  Sheen is less than impressed with the puny holiday, and teaches them about the three month long holiday season back on earth.  The Zeenunians decide to try it out, and Sheen takes advantage, calling the season Thanksgetting and making it all about them giving him presents, presents, and more presents.  Sheen gets everything he could ever want and more, but as you might guess, there is no real joy in Thanksgetting.  Sheen learns that joy comes in giving.  Of course, we all know this already, which is why we are here taking the opportunity to pause and be reminded that true joy can be found not in getting, but in giving, especially in giving thanks.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the side of a mountain, but he could just as easily be talking to the millions of people who are making plans to hit all the great sales that start as early as 6pm this evening.  “Do not worry…”  Don’t worry about that 55 inch Ultra HD TV.  Don’t worry about the interactive R2-D2 robot.  Don’t worry about that ugly Christmas sweater.  Strive instead for the Kingdom of God.  I honestly believe that the starting place in striving for the Kingdom of God is in the action of giving thanks.  That’s why the Church continues to call the weekly celebration of Jesus’ last supper by an ancient Greek word, the Eucharist; which literally means, thanksgiving.  Our central act of worship, the thing that Christians have been doing since the very beginning, isn’t about  getting bread and wine but giving thanks to God for all the gifts that he has given us: bread, wine, community, and above all, his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so today, we pause.  As Santa is preparing for his annual ride down New York’s famed Fifth Avenue, as turkeys are roasting in the oven, as family and friends begin to gather, as football games get ready to start, and as the stores make their final preparations for an onslaught of shoppers, we stop, if only for a few moments, to strive for the Kingdom, to do the right, and good and joyful thing, to give God thanks for everything he has done for us.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Planet_Sheen_episodes

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Sheen

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-zUxNvjC3I

 

An Aiden of Lindesfarne Moment

Since my sabbatical came to an end yesterday (I promise I’ll stop talking about it soon), and with one last evening in the sports doldrums upon us (The US Open begins today), I decided to do some reading for work and cracked open my new copy of Susan Brown Snook’s God Gave the Growth, a guide to church planting in The Episcopal Church.  I’m only a few chapters in, but, as expected, I’m finding Susan’s book to be insightful and well worth a read.  Of particular note is her willingness to strike a balance between the call to social justice and evangelism, “The church must make new disciples if we plan to do social justice work, help the poor, or transform unjust structures of society.  This is long-term work, and it will requite generations of disciples to do it” (13).

With that still rattling around in my mind, I opened up Morning Prayer on the Forward Movement website and read with great joy the collect for the feast of Aiden of Lindesfarne.

O Loving God, you called your servant Aidan from the peace of a cloister to reestablish the Christian mission in northern England, and endowed him with gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

I like my saints ruggedly handsome, thank you very much.

As a monastic, a missionary, and an evangelist, Aiden spent his life rebuilding the church in Northumbria through a combination of preaching the Good News and showing what it meant by feeding the hungry, caring for the widows, and loving his neighbor.  In so doing, Aiden lived a life worthy of the Epistle of James, from which we hear these words this week, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

Faith without works is dead, James tells us.  In the same way, social justice without the Gospel is hollow and the Gospel without love is false.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow all of his teachings: caring for the least and seeking out the lost, but in the hyper-political world in which we live, many have forgotten to live in this tension.  Perhaps we need an Aiden of Lindesfarne Moment; a reminder of the fullness of God’s call to Go!  Go, and make disciples.  Go, and feed the hungry.  Go, and share the Good News in word and deed.

A Sermon for Albert Kennington’s 40th Priesthood Ordination Anniversary 

You might not know it, but Saint Matthias and Father Albert Kennington have something in common, and it isn’t that they graduated from high school together.  Albert was actually two years ahead of Matthias.  No, what Albert and Matthias have in common is that they went through the discernment process during times of great transition.  Father Kennington was the first person to be ordained a priest in the newly formed Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.  Saint Matthias was the first person to be ordained… Ever.

It had been a whirlwind of a week for the disciples.  On Thursday afternoon they were with their resurrected Rabbi on the Mount of Olives when Jesus was lifted up to heaven in a cloud.  As they stood there, slack-jawed, staring up to the heavens, two men appeared before them and asked, “Why are you staring into the sky?”  Luke doesn’t say if they answered the question, but I think we all know what their response was, “We’re standing here staring into the sky because we don’t know what else to do.”  The world had been forever changed and now Jesus was gone again, and they were totally confused.

Eventually, they stopped staring upward and they made their way back to that same upper room where they’d been staying for more than a month.  There the eleven remaining disciples gathered with the Mary the Mother of our Lord, and a smattering of other men and women and they did the only thing they could think of doing, they prayed and they prayed and they prayed.  The first great Act of the Apostles wasn’t preaching a sermon, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or baptizing new members.  Before all of that, the Apostles prayed.  Here again, Luke doesn’t tell us what they prayed for or about, but we can pretty much guess what they were asking for, the same thing everyone asks for in times of transition and transformation: wisdom, discernment, and above all else, peace.

It was during those days of prayer, sometime between the Ascension and Pentecost ten days later, that Peter got a word that eleven Apostles simply would not do.  Twelve was the number Jesus had chosen.  Twelve was the number of the tribes of Israel.  Twelve was, at least in Peter’s mind, the right number, and so it was that the first discernment process began.  In his first ever resolution to convention, Peter sets forth a single criteria for ordination, “one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  The disciples prayed some more, they cast lots, and eventually Matthias answered the call to serve God as a witness to the resurrection.

This morning we gather to give thanks to God that men and women, and especially Albert Kennington have continued to answer that call. For more than two-thousand years Christians have benefited from leaders who can speak from their own experience as witnesses of the resurrection life in the Kingdom of God.  Of course this calling is not just the purview of the ordained.  You need not have a penchant for black shirts or wearing a funny collar around your neck to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, one of the lasting gifts of the Great Reformation was the rediscovery of the priesthood of all believers.  Each of us is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit in baptism for the building up of the Kingdom.  Not all of us are called to be priests or evangelists, but every follower of Jesus is called to share the Good News of God’s saving love that had its fullest expression in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of  Jesus Christ.

This would be a good place to transition into a sermon for the service of Celebration of New Ministry, but today isn’t that service.  I’m not sure if part-time Vicars or Priests-in-Charge, or old fogeys get to have those sorts of services.  Today we gather to celebrate 40 years of priestly ministry by Father Kennington. There is something fitting about celebrating a milestone like this in the place where a priest continues to minister to and with a body of faithful disciples. Having retired from Trinity Church Mobile several years ago now, this day could have passed by nearly unnoticed except for a few friends, his family, and Albert himself, but anyone who knows Albert knew that retirement was not going to be the end of his time witnessing to the resurrection; it was merely a moment of transition.   There is still much for Father Albert to do, and still much for us to learn from him as a pastor, priest, and teacher, but there is a natural tendency on milestone days to look back on the days that have passed.

Truth be told, I’ve not known Albert for very long.  He and I have only gotten to know each other well over the past eight months or so as I’ve served as his Assistant Diocesan Secretary, and so my retrospective on 40 years of ministry would be sorely lacking.  Instead of boring you with the stories of our car trips from Robertsdale to Pensacola, or that lunch we had at Ed’s in the Causeway, I decided to ask three people, who know Albert a whole lot better than I do, to share what they think has defined their father’s ministry over the last forty years.  Elizabeth, Curtis, and Jessica were unable to be here today, but they were happy to share their thoughts on how their dad has faithfully followed in the footsteps of Saint Matthias as a witness to the resurrection.

Elizabeth was the first to respond, and she shared about her dad’s ecumenical and interfaith work saying that one “hallmark of his ministry” is the way he has built bridges “between people of different faiths while upholding our traditions as Christians and Episcopalians.”  Through his interfaith and ecumenical work, Albert has shown us what it looks like to be a witness to the resurrection by “proclaiming by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Albert’s son, Curtis, is just finishing up his first year at the General Theological Seminary and is staring down the barrel of Clinical Pastoral Education.  He’ll spend the summer serving as a chaplain at a New York hospital and fittingly, he was drawn to his father’s skills as a pastor.  “He walks into a hospital room or bedroom and is able to connect, be present, love and serve… He knows when to speak, when to cry, when to pray, when to bless. He knows, most importantly … when to exit.”  In his pastoral work, Albert has shown us what it looks like to be a witness to the resurrection by “loving and serving the people among whom he works.”

The last response came from Jessica, which makes sense, she’s recently given birth to Albert and Nancy’s third grandchild and spare time is a rare commodity these days.  Jessica noted what was echoed by all three children, that despite the long hours and decades of hard work, Albert takes the vows he made to his wife and family very seriously.  She wrote, “I think something that speaks to his integrity as a priest… is that all three of his children remain faithful Episcopalians who care deeply for their church.”  As a man who continues to navigate the difficult balance between Father and dad, Albert has shown us what it looks like to be a witness to the resurrection by “patterning his life in accordance with the teachings of Christ.”

As Albert begins his fifth decade of priestly ministry, we give thanks that he answered the call to become a witness to the resurrection, using his skills as an ecumenist, pastor, father, preacher, parliamentarian, liturgist, historian, and above all, his modeling for us what it means to follow Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for forty years of grace and power poured out upon Albert.  And Father Kennington, may God bless you with many more years of faithful ministry as a witness to the resurrection.  Amen.

 

Our Sainthood Problem – a sermon

Yesterday’s sermon for All Saints’ Sunday is now available on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.

The Episcopal Church has a sainthood problem.  The problem started somewhere in the late 1970s, when for the first time since 1549 and Thomas Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer, the Church decided to add names to its calendar.  With the exception of a few years during the reigns of Edward and Mary, for the better part of 430 years, the calendar of the Church included only a handful of Saints, each of whom, at the very least, were mentioned in the New Testament.  Because of the overall lack of saints in Anglicanism, the void was filled by the overwhelming number of Saints in the Roman Catholic Church.  Most us, whether we were ever Roman Catholic or not, default to the sainthood model that requires two verifiable miracles that occur after the person’s death.  Many of us are also familiar with the patronage of saints, like Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes; Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers; and Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things.  What is often overlooked is the fact that of the three, only Saint Jude actually appears on The Episcopal Church’s calendar.  We talk with affection about Saint Francis and Saint Patrick, but neither is actually titled a saint in The Episcopal Church.  If you read the most recent stuff coming out of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, it is clear that our problem with sainthood is that we are still struggling to figure out what sainthood means.

With that in mind, and in preparation for today’s All Saints’ celebration, I’ve spent a lot of time this week trying to answer the question, “What makes a saint?”  I’ve come up with this definition, “A saint is a disciple of Jesus who strives to live into the Kingdom of God.”  The first thing you’ll notice is that this definition is in the present tense.  You don’t have to be dead to be a saint.  In fact, if you are waiting until you die to become a saint, you’re doing it wrong and you’ll probably never get there.  The Apostle Paul uses the word saint forty-one times in his letters.  Every single time, it is used to refer to the living, not the dead.  In fact, he uses it not in reference to special people doing extraordinary things for the Gospel, but as a way of describing everyone who follows Jesus as Lord and Savior.

So, what does it mean to follow Jesus?  We could look to last week’s gospel lesson and say quite simply that following Jesus means loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself, but as comforting as those words are, I feel like we need to hear more about what that look likes in real life.  Certainly we could point to the Baptismal Covenant and say that following Jesus means believing in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; being a member of a worshipping, praying, and learning community; striving to resist evil, but falling back on the grace of God when we fall short; sharing the Good News of the Kingdom; serving our neighbors; and striving for justice, peace, and dignity for all of Creation.  But if we wanted even more, there is no better place to turn than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

This morning’s Gospel lesson comes from the very beginning of that most famous sermon.  As news of Jesus spread far and wide, the crowds that followed grew larger and larger, until one day, Jesus climbed up a mountainside, sat down, and began to teach the saints what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.  From Matthew 5:1 through to chapter 7, verse 29, Jesus teaches his followers about being salt and light, about judging others and loving our enemies, about prayer, fasting, and stewardship, and he sums up his teaching with the Golden Rule saying, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”[1]  His teaching begins, not like Moses’ mountainside sermon with a list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots, but with a description of what Kingdom people look like, and it is a very surprising and rag-tag bunch indeed: the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who seek after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted and reviled for following Jesus.  Being a saint means following Jesus into all sorts of unexpected situations in thanksgiving for the love of God showered upon us.

During his sermon on Wednesday, Keith shared a short poem by Nobel Prize winning author and poet, Rabi[ndranath] Tagore that in three short lines sums up sainthood for me:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I awoke and saw that life was service

I acted, and behold, service was joy

Sainthood is a life lived in the joy of service.  It doesn’t mean we’re perfect.  It doesn’t mean we have it all together. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel burnt out or tired or frustrated from time to time. It means, as I said before, that saints find joy in striving for the kingdom.  Saints do their best and let God do the rest.  The history of Christianity is full of saints who weren’t perfect but found joy in serving a God who is.

Take the much beloved Francis for example. He was the son of a rich and powerful family who had rich and powerful friends and, for a while at least, lived a rich and powerful lifestyle. As his spiritual devotion grew, so did his discomfort with his worldly lifestyle until his own Father took him to court to try to force him to remain in the family business. It was only then that Francis finally threw off all the trappings of his old life, literally stripping naked in front of the court proceedings, and vowed a life of poverty. The sainthood of Francis came in fits and starts, but it was his faithfulness and joy in service that eventually led him into ever deeper commitment to the kingdom.

The same can be said for all of us, I think. Our slow progress toward sainthood has its ups and downs, two steps forward and three back sometimes, but in the end it is in the striving that we become blessed, that we become holy, that we become saints.  As I thought about our sainthood problem, the names of saints who continue to strive after the kingdom came flooding into my mind.  There’s Bernice and Esther, who give up their Sunday mornings to make sure our youngest members know that God loves them; Franklin who, among other things, ensures that our fellowship is joyful with plenty of donuts; and Carol who was here at the crack of dawn this morning to make sure the altar was properly set for the Feast of All Saints’. There’s Lyle’ who in between teaching her young sons to read, write, and ‘rithamtic, shares the never ending stream of activities going on here through the E-Pistle; Stan who drives all over God’s creation picking up day old bread to feed the hungry; and Cassie who not only coordinates Follow the Word but puts up with me as well.  There’s Doris and Pem who drive 30 miles each way to come worship with their church family no matter how ugly the weather might be; John and Ruth who redefine what it means to find joy in the service if others; and Jim who with the faithfulness of a grandfather clock shows up at Foley Elementary to help children learn their abc’s. The list could go on and on, and it includes each one of you who gives of your time, your talent, and your treasure to build the Kingdom of God right here, right now.

The Episcopal Church has a sainthood problem, but it most certainly doesn’t lack for saints, I can guarantee that. “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”[2]  Amen.

[1] Mt 7.12

[2] Lesbia Scott, I Sing a Song of the Saints of God