At some point over the past year my favorite All Saints’ Day hymn changed. I’m not when or how it happened, but this week, when I found myself humming a hymn to myself it wasn’t “I sing a song of the saints of God” as it has been for many years now. Instead, I’ve fallen in love with our opening hymn [at 10 o’clock this morning], “For all the saints.” I am particularly drawn to the opening line: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed…” Especially this week, as I’ve been coming to grips with the massive amount of change that will happen in my life, and your lives, and our collective life, I’ve found myself giving thanks for the saints who have gone to rest, but I’m also finding renewed motivation to get up and go. I’m feeling like now is not the time to rest, but to go forth and make a difference in the world for the sake of Jesus, which is my word for all of us this morning. We are not called to be saints who from their labors rest, but saints on the march, moving ever forward to confess the name of Jesus Christ to a world full of people who desperately need to hear that God loves them more than they can even begin to imagine.
As many of you have read or heard by now, this week I accepted a call to serve as the next Rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. You will be stuck with me for another couple of months, but I can’t help but already be thinking about what sort of imprint I hope my ministry will leave on Saint Paul’s in Foley, and I think it is summed up well in the lessons for All Saints’ Day, especially the lesson from the Book of Ecclesiasticus. Not that I hope to be counted among the “famous men,” if my picture never goes up in that hall of horrors it’ll be all right with me, but because I hope that our common life together will be recalled not by the names of who did this or that, but based on the work that we have accomplished together for the sake of the Gospel. Someday, there may be no memory of any of us; we may perish as though we never existed, but the impact that Saint Paul’s in Foley has had on the world around us will never be forgotten.
I have caught myself this week giving thanks for the saints who have adopted the students of Foley Elementary School as their own. Whether it was teaching kindergartners their ABC, entering hundreds of students’ immunization records into the nurse’s computer, riding the Zamboni-like floor cleaning machine, making copies, escorting kids here there and everywhere, or simply providing clean socks, underwear, pencils, and paper, there are thousands of children who have had the chance at a quality education because of Saint Paul’s in Foley.
The saints who have volunteered with Family Promise also came to mind. Whether you donated money to buy lunch meat, cooked spaghetti, ordered pizza, or spent a sleepless night on a less than comfortable cot in the Mission House, dozens of families: mommies, daddies, and especially their precious little ones, have been able to get back on their feet and find the dignity and strength that comes from having stable living conditions because Saint Paul’s in Foley was willing to take a risk.
Then there are the saints who spend their Thanksgiving eve and day volunteering with Turkey Take-Out. Those who are up before the sun to prep birds, cook them, carve them, scoop potatoes and pack meals; Those who donated thousands of pounds of canned goods, and did the hard work of sorting them and packing them for delivery; Those who got up early on Thanksgiving morning to deliver meals, hopefully not getting lost along the way, in neighborhoods that appeared too nice to have hungry families and those that looked too scary for children to live there; and then gathered here at 10am to give thanks to God for his many blessings. Thousands of hungry families have been able to enjoy a proper Thanksgiving Dinner because Saint Paul’s in Foley was willing to say “yes” when Dr. Lawrence called.
And how could I fail to give thanks for all the saints who give of their time, talent, and treasure to make sure that the members of this parish are able to pray, worship, serve, and share the love of God together? The office volunteers who covered for Karla and Penny, the Sunday School and Follow the Word Teachers, the readers, prayers, chalice bearers, choir members, kneeler vacuumers, altar guild members, torch bearers, cleaning teams, weed pullers, EYC leaders, swing set builders, ditch maintainers, check writers, and more cooks than you can begin to imagine. Each week, we are able to gather in praise and worship to deepen our relationship with God here at Saint Paul’s because of saints who are willing to do the work of the gospel inside and outside these walls.
It is right and honorable to spend time on All Saints’ Day remembering those saints who now rest from their labors, but I am of the firm belief that it is just as right and honorable to spend some time giving thanks for those saints who are still hard at work spreading the love of God in a world that desperately needs it. Today I give thanks for the almost 10 years we have, as the collect for today says, been knit together in fellowship, and the ineffable joys that have come along with it. Now is not the time to be saints at rest, but rather today begins a new task: the work of saying goodbye, of planning for the future, and of offering to Almighty God thanks and praise for the saints at work and the saints at rest who confess the name and love of Jesus here in Foley, Alabama. May God bless our work: past, present, and future; to his honor and glory. Amen.