A reflection on All Saints' Day, John 11:32-44, and our Stewardship In-gathering
I belong to an online network of clergy women. We share stories and offer each other support and pray for one another. Most of us first met through a blog ring – an internet group of women who share stories about our lives, sermons, and prayer concerns on a blog, a personal website. For most of us Facebook and twitter have become our primary way of communicating. Over the years I have made a whole group of friends, many of whom I have never met in real life, but who I know quite well through our on-line community.
This week I’ve noticed on Facebook that a number of my friends are making comments about being thankful. It seems that each day in the month of November people will post something they are thankful for – something funny, or simple, or occasionally profound.
It reminds me of a game we played years ago on our blogs – following the letters of the alphabet from A to Z, each day, we would post words of gratitude that began the letter for that day. So on the first day I posted things I was grateful for that began with the letter A. Eventually as the month wore on I found myself thinking about gratitude all the time. I would begin my list for the next day as soon as I had posted my list for the current day. And I began to take notice of the many things I truly was grateful for.
“Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” So says an old proverb.
Macrina Wiederkehr, a monastic in the order of St. Benedict, and author of many books on the spiritual life, wrote this in A Tree Full of Angels: “It is possible to take our closest relationship and our best friends for granted. The heart cannot live without intimacy. We all need special people in our lives to whom we can show our souls. But relationship need to be nurture, nourished, and celebrated. Friendships won’t last without food. How do you feed your friendships?”
Finding gratitude in our lives, being thankful for friends and family, for work or retirement, for community, for this parish community, and for all the gifts we have been blessed with is crucial to our overall wellbeing. Taking the time to acknowledge that for which we are grateful is important.
Elton Trueblood, a Quaker who served as a Chaplain at both Harvard and Stanford Universities once said, “I find that the one thing which I want to put into practice in my own life is the conscious and deliberate habit of finding somebody to thank.”
On Friday a group of us from Christ Church attended the Mariner’s Inn gala. Mariner’s Inn was founded in 1925 by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan to provide 24 hour residential substance abuse treatment for adult homeless men in SE Michigan. Over the years Christ Church has assisted Mariner’s Inn in its ministry through clothing, financial assistance, personal items like toothpaste, and handmade knitted hats and gloves, among other things. David Sampson, the CEO of Mariner’s Inn said that when they talked about honoring a local church community, Christ Church was the first church that came to his mind. The evening event included dinner, a silent and live auction, gaming for charity, and the award ceremony. We were given this beautiful glass sculpture and graciously thanked for our help over the years.
Were any of you aware that the support we have offered Mariner’s Inn over the years had this kind of an impact on them?
Those of us who attended the event were humbled by the experience and honored to be recognized by this very grateful ministry.
Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century mystic once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘Thank-you,’ it will be enough.”
In my acceptance speech for this award I said that it is really the work of all of you that is reflected in this award. And so, thank you, each and every one of you. Over the years we have made a difference for the men at Mariner’s Inn. I believe we make a difference in the lives of the many people, known and unknown, who find meaning in life in and through the ministries of Christ Church.
Someone once said, “A friend can be someone you have known all your life or someone you met a week ago – or someone you never met except through a book or a beautiful move or a play or piece of music or a painting. Or someone who has served as a role model and made you proud to be a fellow human being…. friendship is the source of love and growth, whatever form it may take.”[i]
Today we gather to celebrate the many blessings in our lives. We lift up grateful hearts to God and give thanks for the long history of Saints who have made Christ Church what it is today, a community of people, of friends known and unknown, who have made and are making a difference in the world. We give thanks for our young people, the children who spent weeks learning about Holy Communion – about sharing stories - especially our faith story, about sacred meals and forming of friendships over those meals, about sacred space and what it means to be in a holy place. As part of our last class the kids made the communion bread we will share in a few minutes. We give thanks for all of our children. We give thanks for our community garden and soup kitchen, the memorial garden where many of our beloved members have found their final resting place. We give thanks for the leadership of this parish, for our various Commissions and the Vestry, for Chapel Day preschool, the martial arts classes for adults and children, our stretching class and dance classes, and for all the civic groups that use our space and call Christ Church home.
In the Gospel of John, God is known as the source of all life, the Creator. God is in relationship with Jesus whose life and actions point back to God. Jesus manifests God’s life-giving presence through human encounters that bring forth a deeper sense of faith. As Christians, Jesus reminds us that we come to know God most fully in our relationships with other people.[ii]
We hear two primary things in our Gospel this morning: First, Jesus commands Lazarus to come out. In other words, our faith requires us to take action –sometimes against all odds! Second, he also commands the community to unbind Lazarus.[iii] For our faith to be fully alive we need to be in relationship with others, we need a faith community to support us.
Which reminds me of a story:
“A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone. The boy said to his father, “Do you think if I use all my strength, I can move this rock?” His father answered, “If you use all your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.” His father placed his arm around the boys shoulder and said, “No son. You didn’t use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.” [iv]
We gather today to celebrate our life together as the people of Christ Church and give thanks for the many blessings of our lives. Gratitude is the hearts memory and today we give thanks for all the saints who have gone before us, those still with us, and those yet to come. All together, this is our day to deliberately and consciously say thank you.
[i] Eda LeShan in her book, “It’s Better to Be Over the Hill Than Under It.”
[ii] Thompson, Marianne Meye: The God of the Gospel of John; 2001: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI
[iii] Lose, David: Workingpreacher.org “All Saints’ Day” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=636
[iv] David J. Wolpe “Teaching Your Children About God”