Following The Great Saints In Our Lives
Good Morning Saints. Feliz Día De Los Muertos! Alright, so I am a few days early, as El Día De Los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, not coincidentally in conjunction with the celebrations of All Saint’s and All Souls day. El Día De Los Muertos is a day when people celebrate the lives of their departed loved and literally invite or encourage their visit by putting out their favorite foods, drinks and other things. We celebrate that today gathered around Hebrew Bible and Gospel Scriptures that each talk about what it means to take on the important work of one that has gone before you. I preach to you this morning with a heavy, and enlivened heart as Sr. Mary Hart, a nun, sister of the Good Shepherd and one of the most influential people of my life passed away just a week ago. So this morning I come before you in the process of thinking and praying about how I can possibly carry on the work of such an incredible woman. With that and our scriptures my question to you is this, how do we follow the amazing Saint’s in our lives?
Now before I talk about Sister Mary I must first mention our Scriptures, if I don’t she might find a way to send lighting down on this spot. Both our Hebrew Bible and our New Testament Scriptures talk about what it means for us to follow in the enormous footsteps of Moses. Jesus begins our Gospel by talking about how the Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. As leaders in the community they bear the authority and position of the most important, revered and respected “Saint” in their history. Yet Jesus chastises the Pharisees and Scribes for not getting it, he chastises them for focusing on the little details, missing the big issues and values, and being unwilling to do the hard, unclean work that Moses did. As Jesus put it: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” You see their laziness and ego gets in the way of them truly following the example of Moses. In contrast, our Hebrew Bible lesson features Joshua stepping into the role of leader after Moses’ death. In Joshua’s case, he has taken this on successfully, the Jordan River is parted, much like the Red Sea was parted under Moses’ leadership and we learn from the rest of the book Joshua that he did a good job. How can we be more Joshua than the Scribes and Pharisees? How can we properly follow the Sr. Mary’s in our lives?
Allow me to tell you a little about Sr. Mary. Sr. Mary Hart was born in 1930 to a strong Irish Catholic family and she entered the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1953. She spent her entire ministry caring for, supporting, teaching and building up young people. She had a particularly potent effect on young men, especially tough young men of color from the inner city. In a society where young men of color were expected to be criminals, were expected to underachieve, where they were not expected to communicate well or father their children, Sr. Mary looked us each in the eye, scared the heck out of us, and told us how we better succeed. Shortly after I first met her as a five year old, she looked me in the eye and told me that one day I would be an Episcopal Bishop. And just so you get a sense of what this was like she said “Edwin one day you will be an Episcopal Bishop” with a look and a tone that made it seem more like a command than a recommendation.
Sr. Mary was the driving force behind St. Francis De Sales, the School which became an After School program and Summer Day Camp that served young people in Roxbury and the surrounding neighborhoods. We sang religious songs in the morning and did activities during the day which ranged from sports to reading. When you began to distinguish yourself through behavior and leadership she placed you in leadership training. Now this didn’t mean that you got to be a cool CIT and hang out, it meant that you had no more authority but had the priviledge to clean, rake, sweep and otherwise beautify the premises. “I want this place to be spotless” she would say. Over the years, we all did it, we all disliked the work at some point or another and we all believed that Sr. Mary was right that this was the kind of thing we had to do in order to become the people we wanted to be. Sr. Mary taught us that to lead we must serve. She helped us realize what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “That the greatest among you will be your servant.” She also helped us see how beautiful our roots are, how God is manifest in our dark skin, in our songs, in the struggles of our ancestors, in our drums, lifting up traditions many of us, under the pressure of society had wanted to set aside. At her wake and funeral early this past week, generations gathered in knowing and celebration of the fact that we are because she was and is. Her Earthly journey has ended, and I, like so many, am left to wonder, how can I follow that?
It is here that we can look to Joshua. You see Joshua did not perform the amazing signs of Moses. Joshua did not stand face to face with God as Moses did. Joshua lacked the skills and the pedigree to fill the multitude of roles that Moses did. Looking at our Exodus narrative, we realize that that did not matter to Moses, or to Joshua, or to God. Joshua lead the people into the Promised Land by being steadfast, courageous, faithful, and prayerful. Joshua took every step forward knowing that it was God’s power, not his own, that would make his mission and journey successful. Joshua took Moses’ seat and honored his memory and ministry by doing the best that he could, by being the best that he could be, by working for the reality, the future of promise that Moses worked for throughout his life.
People of God, my guess is that you each have at least one person in your life, dead or alive, whose ministry and life’s work inspires you. My guess is that we all have some one or some ones in our lives whose incarnation of Christ’s saving work is so incredibly big that it casts a daunting shadow for all who wish to follow. Let us all, like Joshua, work to be steadfast, courageous, faithful and prayerful in our ministries. Let us have faith that it is God who makes all work possible. Let us be the best we can be. You know, if there had been a seat of Moses’ to be found somewhere, Sr. Mary would have had every right to sit on it. That, is the truth. The greater truth is that she never would have sat on Moses’ seat, for she was always to busy placing all of us on the seat of Moses. She was too busy lifting us up so that we could be the leaders that she and God saw that we could be. Sr. Mary demanded our respect and was also clear that we have no Teacher but our teacher in Heaven, no master but our Master in Heaven, no mother but our Mother in Heaven. Following that example, let us, in our efforts to follow amazing Saints, remember that they were great because of how they lifted up others. Let us remember that at the end of the day our lives, our work, comes from God and is for the glory of God and health of all Creation.
Now I’m going to place Sr. Mary’s photo and a Coca Cola on our Día De Los Muertos table. You know El Día De Los Muertos, All Saints, All Souls, this season celebrates not just the past, but the present. Sr. Mary and the many Saints we have on our minds and in our hearts are in this room right now. Praying with us, dancing with us, singing with us, and dining with us. Let us all, strengthened by their presence, continue the work they have begun. Amen.