"The Way of Commitment" Sermon from Sunday, November 1, 2020
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Message: "The Way of Commitment"
Converging Paths (Stewardship) Series
Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9
Remember when we used to be able to go to museums? We’re lucky in the Bay Area to have so many world class museums to enjoy. These hallowed halls gather us to witness and experience the vision of creators of all eras and geographies. I’ve always thought of museums as holy spaces; these places that contain the quiet of transcendent expression. Our sanctuaries have this quiet too--it’s a quiet with an energy containing the prayers, the hopes and griefs, tears and joy, of generations, and now in this time when we can’t be in our sanctuaries, we’re called to fill new spaces and new places with the energy of our creativity, faith and prayers.
The college I went to was just a short distance away from the Rothko Chapel, maybe you have heard of or visited this wonderful place. It’s an amalgam of these two forces, the sanctuary and the museum. Inside the simple monolithic structure were the bottomless yet soaring paintings of Mark Rothko. I remember stumbling upon the Rothko Chapel one day, a 19 year old young adult away from the trappings of my very denominational faith. Its nonchalant coolness just sitting in the midst of a residential neighborhood in Houston moved me deeply.
This was the late 80s and AIDS was ravaging the gay community of Houston. Often rejected from their own families of faith, gay men sought out the peace and presence of the Rothko Chapel. There are no religious symbols there but it’s no less a place of spirit. The huge canvases with muted tones beckon into a transformed eternity.
These were men like Epworth’s own Jeb Porter for whom the eternal flame in Epworth’s sanctuary burns. It burns for him and all who we’ve lost from AIDS. Today is All Saints Day. It’s especially fitting to remember Jeb on this day because on this day we also remember the Epworth saints we’ve lost in the last year. One of these persons was Bill Porter, Jeb’s kin, who we memorialized in the sanctuary just a few weeks before everything got shut down.
Bill was a campus minister at the Wesley Foundation related to Cal, welcoming each year a new group of diverse students, looking for a faith that was big enough and courageous enough to hold all they were beginning to understand about the world. Epworth former pastor Ron Parker said of Bill, “Bill created a safe haven out of which to step into the scary realities of the world—all this grounded in a faith that offered both comfort and a challenge to be engaged in a changing world. Bill was just what we needed in Berkeley in the sixties.”
This year we also said goodbye to longtime member Joyce Kumao, and longtime Epworth friend Mary Lee Trampleasure. Joyce was funny, feisty and a woman of prayer. She loved Almond Rocca. And Mary Lee Trampleasure delighted us with her expansive faith, energy and love of life.
This last week a group of us were able to stand at graveside and celebrate the life of Charley Lerrigo. The limits placed on us by COVID didn’t allow a full gathering in the sanctuary, but the service on a hillside overlooking the bay with views of both bridges was very sweet and full of presence. Charley’s spirit of fun and creativity was most certainly with us, as well as his deep faith and broad circles of friends. His service was officiated by both myself and the rabbi from the Jewish congregation he was a part of in Berkeley. What a blessing to have travelled the way with these saints in life and now as we remember them as part of the saints of heaven.
Today concludes our series on the way of the saints, and how fitting that we end this series where we’ve lifted up heroes of faith like St. Francis and Mary Mcleod Bethune, courageous and trailblazing figures like Rigobertha Menchu and Sarah Crosby, to now conclude with our own saints, Bill Porter, Joyce Kumao, Mary Lee Trampleasure and Charley Lerrigo. Saints of old and saints of today are all human beings, made of dust and blessed alive by the breath of God, like us all.
Theologian Frederick Beuchner said, “In God’s holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.
Many people think of saints as plaster saints, men and women of such paralyzing virtue that they never thought a nasty thought or did an evil deed their whole lives long. As far as I know,” Beuchner says, “real saints never even come close to characterizing themselves that way. On the contrary, no less a saint than Saint Paul wrote to Timothy, "I am foremost among sinners" ( l Timothy 1:15), and Jesus himself prayed God to forgive him his trespasses, and when the rich young man addressed Jesus as "good Teacher," Jesus answered, "No one is good but God alone" (Mark 10:18).
In other words, the feet of saints are as much of clay as everybody else's, and their sainthood consists less of what they have done than of what God has for some reason chosen to do through them. When you consider that Saint Mary Magdalene was possessed by seven devils, that Saint Augustine prayed, "Give me chastity and continence, but not now," that Saint Francis started out as a high-living young dude in downtown Assisi… you figure that maybe there's nobody God can't use as a means of grace, including even ourselves.
The Holy Spirit has been called "the Lord, the giver of life" and, drawing their power from that source, saints are essentially life-givers. To be with them is to become more alive.”
Friends, as we head into the ninth month of dealing with this pandemic and face a deeply fractured world, it is high time to sink deep into our faith. Our faith was made for times like these. Our ancestors in faith have been here before. Here these words again from Isaiah, through the translation of The Message,
And here on this mountain, God will banish
the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,
The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
Yes, God will banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
God will remove every sign of disgrace From God’s people, wherever they are.
Yes! God says so!
Also at that time, people will say,
“Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
We waited for God and God showed up and saved us!
This God, the one we waited for!
Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of this salvation.
God’s hand rests on this mountain!”
Faith is a muscle, my friends and we are in a marathon. The more we exercise it the more it grows. And not just in us, but in everyone who sees us striving, praying, showing up. We aren’t perfect, but neither were the saints who now rest from their labors. Those who have gone before us have finished the race and now cheer us from that great cloud of witnesses. Can you feel them? Can you see them? Everyone who has shown us how to love more deeply, to risk for what is right more courageously, who has helped us understand the healing balm of compassion, they live in us, they are with us. We tell their stories and they become, maybe, even larger in death than they were in life because of us, the body of Christ. This is the meaning of resurrection.
I’m reminded of another time at a museum, this time with my family at the de Young exhibit of Tutunkhaman, King Tut, several years ago. Perhaps some of you saw it. We were there along with thousands of others. The Pharaohs believed in an afterlife even more amazing than their lives on earth wherein they essentially became gods. Their elaborate mummification rituals, burial chambers and included riches would be necessary in the next life. And while we may consider this belief merely interesting and historical, it seems to me that the Pharaohs were right: their faces were seen and their stories read by hundreds of thousands as these exhibits traveled the world and people lined up around the museum to get in. When we carry the story of a person, when we remember, we impart eternal life.
The beauty of the life of a Christian is that we don’t need to be a pharaoh, a king, or receive canonization by the Catholic church as a saint to be remembered by our community of faith. We just need to be active, to show up, to know others, and let ourselves be known, in all of our complexity, all of our brilliance, all of our frailty, all of our belovedness. This is the way of commitment. This is the way of the saints.
Our communities hold who we are, in life and in death, by knowing us well enough to know our stories, to hear our stories, and sometimes even to add their own mythologies to what we have done and been. We live on because we have been known. With our fellow travelers, sinners and saints, all, we walk the way of poverty like Francis, the way of authority like Mary McLeod Bethune, the way of courage like Rigobertha Menchu and the way of necessity like Sarah Crosby. This way of the saints. This is OUR way. What a blessing. Amen.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - November 1, 2020
The Community Gathers
Prelude: Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome & Announcements - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Stewardship Moment - Randall Miller
Opening Hymn: "For All the Saints" UM Hymnal #711 - Recorded in worship 11/3/2019
Invocation - Alina & Zach McVey
To Hear the Word
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 - Zach McVey
Children’s Time - Susan Jardin
Anthem: "Don’t Be Weary Traveler" - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Albert Sammons, Jr.
Message: “The Way of Commitment: All the Saints” - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment
Hymn of Response: "Take My Life and Let it Be" UM Hymnal #711 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold
Prayers of the People - Alina McVey
Special Video: "For All the Saints" - Images compiled by Sally Nasman; Music by Rev. Jerry Asheim
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer)
Offering Our Tithes and Gifts - Ramona Coates
Stewardship Message - Kim Hraca & Andy Schoenwetter
Offertory Music: “He Will See You Through” - Judy Kriege
To Disperse in Love and Compassion
Prayer of Dedication - Ramona Coates
Closing Hymn: "Cry of My Heart" The Faith We Sing #2165 - Rev. Jerry Asheim & Carole Klokkevold
Benediction - Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Postlude: "Toccata from Symphony in F" Charles-Marie Widor - Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special thanks to:
Preacher: Kristin Stoneking Contributors: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Ramona Coates, Kim Hraca and Andy Schoenwetter, Susan Jardin, Carole Klokkevold, Judy Kriege, Alina & Zach McVey, Randall Miller, Sally Nasman, Albert Sammons, Jr.
Video producer: Tai Jokela
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt