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Here And There
All Saints Day, November 1, 1998

LUKE 6:20-31

It is now in a museum, but the sculpture originally hung over a doorway into an ancient French church. The sculpture of the Palm Sunday processional of Jesus into Jerusalem, welcomed people into the church. At the head of the procession is, of course, Jesus, riding a donkey. Behind and around him are little children waving their palm branches, followed by a few adults. All of them are dressed in garments from Jesus' day. Then, as you look closer, you can see another group blending in with the procession. However, they are dressed in 12th century European clothing. There is someone who looks like a shopkeeper, also a butcher, a priest, and a number of women.

The sculpture is a picture of what it is like to enter the church. To come into church is to take your place in a centuries-long procession. First comes Jesus with the disciples, the women who followed him, those he healed and taught. Then there are the saints of the ages: Augustine, Francis, Joan of Arc, Thomas Aquinas, Mother Teresa. There are the protesters who founded Protestant denominations: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley. There are the prophets: Amos, Isaiah, Martin Luther King, Jr. Look closer, there are your great grandparents, your grandparents, your parents. Look closer, there you are!

The gap between that time and our time is narrowed. We have our little lives and projects caught up in a four-thousand-year procession. None of us has arrived here first. God has been dealing with us, speaking to us, intruding among us, leading us for centuries. We are neither first nor are we alone.

The procession continues. Some of you may know John and Mary Lynne Franzia. They were part of our Manteca congregation, and have remained good friends since. Periodically they journey to Merced and join us for worship. On Wednesday, their daughter-in-law Michelle, gave birth to a son. Less than 17 hours later, their daughter, Carol, gave birth to triplets! All girls, two with red hair, all are breathing by themselves. Their names are rich in tradition: Sarah Jeanne, Elizabeth Bell, Mary Lynne. The procession continues.

We are part of the procession, and we are surrounded by saints. A week ago Saturday, our son Craig and Laura were married. None of Craig's grandparents are alive, and one of Laura's grandfathers has also died. At the rehearsal dinner, Ellie displayed a collage of photos of the deceased grandparents; and at the wedding, candles were lit for each of them. Truly, the bride and groom were surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses who were present not in body, but in spirit.

A woman, grieving over the death of her father, said, "Well, the way I look at it, from now on, I've got somebody up there cheering me on!" Can you visualize the people in your life cheering you on? Yes, there is Grandma, there is Uncle John, there is Aunt Suzy, but there is also John Wesley, Charles Wesley. There are also the saints of this congregation-- Vernon Fike, Isavelle Church, Bill Norman, Dorothy Smith, Bernice Braucht, Jerry Clark, Grace Garrett, Grace Van Someren-- cheering us on.

Today is All Saints Sunday. Last night was the Hallowed Eve. Somewhere along the line, ghosts became confused with saints, and Halloween became a holiday (notice holiday is a derivation of holy day) to scare one another. But, saints are not just dead people, saints are here as well as there. What is a saint? A bishop of Sweden once defined saints as "those who make it easier for us to believe in God." Those who make it easier for us to believe in God are those who illustrate the teachings of Jesus, some of which were read in the Scripture lesson this morning. Such people are here and there.

We remember the saints who have gone on before us, and who now surround us like a great cloud of witnesses; but saints are also sitting here this morning. Saints include you, for you are part of the great procession. Last week, Jody's excellent sermon made the point that Noah, one who walked with God and changed the world, was just an ordinary person, nothing spectacular about him except he knew how to build a boat, and he had enough faith to get in the boat! God uses ordinary people, people like you and I, such as we are, and such people are called saints.

A seminary professor who had made major contributions to scholarly and ecclesiastical life was asked what factors had influenced him to a life of service in the church. "Miss Willa Brown," he said. Who was Miss Willa Brown? A wise teacher? A distinguished preacher? An author? A poet? "No," he explained. "She was the little old lady who always sat alone, near us on the pew on Sunday morning. During the service, when I had settled in with my parents for that long, boring sermon, Miss Brown would secretly smile at me, quietly reach into her purse, and pull out a piece of the best tasting chocolate in the world. She always had it there, just for me. Each Sunday, that was the most tangible, visible--sacramental--expression of unreturnable love I have ever experienced. I'm here today, in the church, because of Miss Willa Brown."

The company of saints who influenced me include the little old ladies who sat in the back pews on the piano side of the church for their Sunday School class. I didn't start going to Sunday School and church until I was in the sixth grade, and I discovered immediately it was where I belonged. Their class was in the back, and their influence embraced all the children and youth. Those women showered me with accepting, generous love. I could do no wrong in their eyes. How proud they were. They would not have called themselves saints but they cheered me on and made it easier for me to believe in God.

We are all part of a long procession, 4,000 years old. Rejoice in the saints who surround you and cheer you on. Give thanks for the saints of this congregation who through 125 years have brought us to where we are today. And, look at your own life. How are you a saint, making it easier for the rest of us, especially the children, to believe in God?

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris