All Saints Sunday Text: Luke 13: 10-17
You can see it, can’t you … the scene that day in the synagogue.
And this scene too, this one in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus is sitting among the congregation, teaching, when he notices a woman … her body so bent. So often it’s his way to notice and to stop whatever he’s doing, to attend. He heals this woman such that the next we know she’s letting loose with praise … her whole upright being spilling over with gratitude. Well now the leader of the synagogue, the presider, is on his feet … things have drifted a bit from the order of service! … what’s next if he doesn’t get a handle on things? So he gives it to the congregation: “don’t be coming here looking for healing on the Sabbath!” as though this had even occurred to that woman newly set free. With that Jesus speaks up … and lands this zinger -- “Is there a single one of you who does not loose his ox or donkey from its stall and take it out to water on the Sabbath? And here is this woman, a daughter of Abraham (your own kin), who has been bound by Satan 18 long years. Was it not right for her to be loosed on the Sabbath?”
Was it not right?
It happens … that we can be so absorbed in a particular practice or world view or lifestyle that the sacredness of life eludes us. How many species of animals have become extinct in the last 50 years? What about our resistance to heeding the facts about climate change? What about the caravan that’s on it’s way?
It happens … that we can be so absorbed in a particular practice or world view or lifestyle that the sacredness of life eludes us.
We can even lose track of right from wrong.
Back in June, there was a piece in the Huffington Post by Kayla Chadwick. The headline reads: "I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People." It wasn’t just a statement about her experience of the deep political divide in the US. It’s a commentary really on the human condition laid bare … where those habits of the heart --such as compassion, understanding, empathy, mercy-- have somehow become optional, even forgotten, lost, and callousness, neglect, cruelty is normalized.
"I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people" … it’s an expression of the world we are in where what is good and right and true have become relativised -- you have your opinion and I have mine -- such that what is good and right and true is up for grabs, and there are millions of people who are not caught in the embrace of the habits of the heart.
"I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people" … it’s an expression of how possible it is for humanity to lose our way.
A few weeks ago I was in Osooyos for a week of study leave with 35 other ministers from across the province. We were together with Peter Short, a former Moderator of the United Church, a man of such deep spirit who has made it his business to care about the well-being of ministers -- for our own sakes and for the sake of what we bring to the lives of others through our work, our being. 8 years ago I had the opportunity for such a week with him so I had some notion of what to expect in terms of the quality of our time together. And I was not disappointed!
Before arriving we each received a schedule for the week.
The theme title of our first evening together was “A Cup of Tea.”
I remembered from the last time, it’s a signature move of Peter’s to land these titles that intrigue without really giving anything away! That evening he began by imagining with us that if we were asked to put our finger on the centre of Canada, we’d likely zero in somewhere around Winnipeg. And that would be a start, except that we’d need to then go 500 miles north of that, and then a further 500 miles north again of there … and now we’d be getting close. He named that place, which I don’t recall. And then he went on to tell us about this man, again whose name I’m sorry I don’t remember … a bush pilot in the 1930’s whose work was up in this region, this vast expanse of wilderness. And how every now and again he would need to land his plane, light a fire, boil a pot of water and make a cup of tea, and take the time to get his bearings before setting off again, flying into the scale of things. “That’s what this week is about.” Peter told us.
Each of us, in some way, we find ourselves flying into the scale of things … walking into daunting situations, facing circumstances out of our control, making decisions, moving forward from a place of unknowing … flying into the scale of things. Sometimes we need to land the plane, light a fire, boil some water, make a cup of tea, and get our bearings.
It occurs to me, that’s in part, at least, what our All Saints celebration is about … gathering around the fire of this Christ light, in the company of the saints --- those who, in the words of that great hymn, “made their life a light caught from the Christ-flame bursting through the night, who touched the truth, who burned for what is right.”
In this world, swirling with relativism, ("how can I explain to you that you should care about other people", the earth herself) -- in this world swirling with relativism, this day we are reminded the saints are there --the saints are here!-- to help us find our bearings as we make our way in the scale of things.
I wonder if you know of William Barber? He ministers with a small congregation in Goldsboro, N Carolina, is an anti poverty activist, civil rights leader, recently awarded the MacArthur “genius” Grant. He’s a person in whom Jesus’ zinger is it not right? resounds in his being. He didn’t just get that way out of the blue. There’s a story he tells  about his grandmother who I’m guessing has a lot to do with who and how William Barber is today.
He recalls how every Saturday morning she’d tie on this apron that had three pockets. Into one of the pockets she would put dust rags, into another, anointing oil, and into the other, some pieces of money that she’d clip to her apron. One day when he was in grade 7 or 8 he asked her, “Grandmama, where are going?” She said “I’m going to hope somebody.”
“Where I come from,” he says, you don’t talk back to old people, but inside I thought ‘Grandmama didn’t mean hope; she meant help, but she’s not that educated and so that’s why she said ‘I’m going to hope somebody.’
He later learned that what she was doing was going to people’s houses. And if someone needed their house cleaned, she’d take out her rags and she’d clean cause she believed you ought to help your neighbour when they fall on hard times. And if they were sick she’d go and put that anointing oil on and pray for them. And if they didn’t have any money because they were unemployed, she’d put a piece of money in their hand.
Some years after that William was a student in seminary.
It was in a class on systematic theology that he first heard this statement by Jurgen Moltmann: Hope is produced when people engage in acts of liberation and justice that remind people that they are still human. “Grandmama was right!” he says. “Grammatically she might have been wrong but theologically she was right! When she put money into a person’s hand she was hoping them. When she anointed that person who was sick and couldn’t get out to church, she was reminding them they still mattered. When she cleaned that house and got her hands dirty with their dirt and soil so they could lay in a clean bed, she was hoping them. She was giving them hope.”
This is a day for calling to mind those people who help us find our bearings in a world swirling in relativism …who through their words and actions hold dear and stay clear about the sacredness of life.
I wonder who even one of those people is for you?
It maybe someone who is so glad to be alive they have turned you on to the gift of life.
It maybe someone who through a question or a greeting, a poem or a novel lit a fire in your soul.
It maybe someone whose boldness has lent you courage … or whose courageous silence helped you hear the Spirit’s voice within you.
Who can you name for yourself who helps you get your bearings so that you can take your God-gifted place in the world?
Let’s give ourselves a little bit of time to think about that … and then I’m suggesting we write the name or names of those people on the yellow sheet which we’ll hang up a little later.
I wonder if we could hear -- just briefly -- about a couple of those people … as a way of bringing into view more of those people who are gathered around the fire with us.