Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A All Saints Day

For all the saints….

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.
It is a time to remember our connectedness
to God’s people throughout the ages,
from generation to generation.
We remember with great thanksgiving
those who have gone before us
as witnesses to God’s blessing.
It is not just remembering;
It is understanding that we are bound together
As God’s children—past, present and future.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu sums it up nicely when he says,
“My humanity is bound up in yours,
for we can only be human together.”

We can only be human together.

Today, listening to the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel,
we are promised blessings.
What can the poor in spirit hope for?
What do the meek receive?
What happens to the pure in heart?

The answers are super-sized promises.
There is a thread that runs through all these promises:
God has not forgotten us.
God will not forget a single one of us.
God will bless us and comfort us.

I read a wonderful story this week
that was shared with the Canadian House of Bishops recently.

It is the story of a woman named Annie Kashamura-Zawadi.
She arrived in Toronto with her five children,
aged between 9 and 19, on October 6, 1999.

She had $ 20 in her pocket when she stepped off the plane
from the Belgian Congo into Toronto.

Twenty dollars and five children.
Yet she was filled with hope and possibilities.

Before coming to Canada, Annie recalled
that the ONLY thing she had
was her faith.
As it turns out,
her faith was not just enough,
it was more than enough.

She had fled an abusive relationship
and in response her husband had taken their children away from her.
She had been left homeless and jobless.

This all happened while a war was raging where she lived—
then known as the Belgian Congo
(today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Annie went to the office
of the Canadian High Commissioner for Refugees in the Congo
and was told that she and her children
did NOT qualify as refugees.

But she refused to be discouraged.
She refused to give up.
Her persistence finally paid off
and she was told she WOULD be allowed to emigrate
to Canada
If---and only IF—someone would sponsor them.
She did not know anyone in Canada.

Annie says, “I knew I needed a miracle.”
Her prayers were answered.
Because the Anglican Church of Canada—
the Canadian equivalent of our Episcopal Church—
was part of a ministerial refugee sponsorship committee.
It was through one church—a team of 7 members from one church—
that papers were signed,
and Annie Zawadi and her children had a sponsor.
They left for Canada that same week.

Upon arrival in Toronto,
they were met at the airport by the group who had sponsored them.
Among the team of seven that were at the airport that day
was Linda Nicholls, now suffragen bishop of Toronto,
then Rector of Holy Trinity parish.

“Linda and her team have never left me, “ says Annie.
“They are my family.”

Today, 11 years later, Annie Zawadi has earned a master’s degree
from the University of Toronto.
She is the executive director of a non-profit organization.
Her children are all in university except for one.

“I am your success story,” says Annie.
“ I stand before you today so proud and yet so humble.
You have no idea how meaningful your support is…
You were the light at the end of my tunnel.”

The Anglican Church of Canada developed a program
to reach out to refugees.
One church put together a team of 7 people to reach out to one family.
The saints are simply faithful followers of Jesus.

There is a multitude of famous saints that we know by name--
saints from early Christian history—
St. John, St. Patrick, St. Mary, St. Luke., St. Theresa—
and on and on.
There are those who have become our modern day saints—
Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu, Dorothy Day,
And on and on and on.

There are our personal saints as well—
those people who may not be famous
but who are known to and forever remembered by us
because they showed up in our lives just in time,
because they opened the door
that let in and focused the light of Christ,
the love and grace of God right into our hearts.
These saints of God walked the walk and talked the talk
and we noticed
and we changed
and we have not forgotten.

Our stories may not be as dramatic as Annie Zawadi’s
but I imagine that each of us can name at least a few people
who have been for us
our light at the end of a tunnel of darkness.

I keep a little notebook
of people to remember in my prayers.
I don’t want to forget anyone
so I write their names in this little notebook
and use it when I say my daily prayers.

As I began thinking about the Feast of All Saints
I decided to start another list.
A list of the names of the people
who are my saints.
Those who bless me.
And when I say my prayers,
I give thanks for each one of those saints.

Who are the saints of God?
They are those who have made God’s love real in the world.

Saints come in all shapes, ages, colors and theological persuasions.
They show up in every country throughout the world,
They usually appear when we least expect them,
often when we are close to giving up all hope.

All Saints Day celebrates those people who have touched our lives
whose good examples remind us
of whom we can be at our best.

Those seven people who stood in the Toronto airport that day
to welcome a family of strangers
did not set out that morning to be saints
Anymore than you set out to be a saint
when you build a Habitat house
or bring in gifts for the Church of the Advocate
or provide food for the hungry
or spend a night at Room in the Inn.

Those seven people at the airport
are just ordinary people like you and me—
who have decided to follow Jesus.

Jesus calls us to care for the least and the forgotten among us—
and sometimes we actually do that.
Sometimes we actually do just that.

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