HOPE for the HAPLESS

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


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Standing on Guard

Canadian Soldiers“which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”  [2 Timothy 1:12-14]

This month brings with it the annual day of remembrance. Poppies and solemn services, Reverie and Last Post. These will all be a little more poignant this year for us Canadians. In the past couple of weeks we have been shocked and saddened by the death of not one but two members of our armed forces, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, right here on our own Canadian soil. Murdered simply because of their uniform. One can’t help but also think of the three  fallen RCMP officers from Moncton in this regard either.

Without making light of the pain their families and communities now bear, it is a powerful reminder that freedom always comes at a cost. A cost every soldier proudly says they are willing to pay when they take up the uniform. Make no mistake, this is not just about conflicting ideologies. At least, not because of any nationalistic or social/political/religious identity. (Although it is very obvious that  NOT all such identities are morally equivalent or “good” by any stretch of any definition!) It is a question of Good and Evil. The sanctity of life and the disregard for life. Evil is real, and evil never rests. It will not stop until all is enslaved once again. Eternal vigilance is not just the stuff of rhetoric and political speeches. It is the price that must sometimes be paid in blood. Thank God we have those brave souls who are willing to pay it!

But before our country remembers it’s fallen soldiers, the church has already done the same. All Saints day (November 1)  is our reminder (in part) of the lives lived and died under Christ as the price of that eternal freedom of God’s Kingdom.

Many of these soldiers of the cross never once picked up a gun, or marched off into battle (though many did), but all sacrificed, in their own way, for the sake of country, neighbour, family, and God. When they took up the uniform of the faith, Christ’s robes of righteousness, each confessed their willingness to pay the cost. All were willing to meet evil head on, in their communities, their homes, the lives of their friends and neighbours. Many fought for those they had never met, and likely never would this side of eternity – sending money and missionaries, providing aid and prayers for any and all affected by the high cost of evil in this world.

And facing that evil, they paid for it. They paid from their own comfort, their livelihoods, their reputations, the support of their friends and family. Some even paid with their lives. And more and more pay every year. It is open season on Christians in vast parts of our world … but just you watch … that won’t stop them from standing up and paying the price to love their friends and family, communities and countries, strangers and enemies. They know it is the cost of freedom.

Canadians have been entrusted with a freedom and openness that makes life for her citizens the envy of much of the world. It is the good deposit we are called to defend. Christians have an even greater deposit entrusted to them … the very Gospel of God … the Good News of free salvation in Christ for anyone and everyone regardless of nationality. So remember the sacrifices that allow you to be here today. Remember and stand guard for those who will come tomorrow. To live in service to freedom and to die in service to that freedom are always worthwhile. Just ask the families of our faithful men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP, and all first responders (Firefighters, Police, and EMT’s) who gladly do the same for us everyday. Just ask your Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

saints

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Hagiographies of the Hapless

all saintsNovember 1st marked the festival of All Saints. It is the time of year when Christian thought wanders to the saints of Christ, and all that God did for His kingdom through their lives in the world. It is a good time of year for hagiographies.

Hagiographies are the biographies of the saints. Some of them are doozies! Women using crosses to carve their way out of the belly of a dragon. Men carrying their decapititated head for several miles, preaching all the way. Men and women in picture after picture holding various body parts sacrificed to their persecutors, and/or the instruments of their torture and death … all for being faithful to Christ.  I suppose these saintly stories are supposed to be uplifting … pointing to the greatness of faith, and what it is willing to suffer for Christ.

But when I think of hagiographies, I am led to remember the lives of saints who are far less astonishing (in the gruesome sense of so many of these ancient stories), and far more astounding given ordinary nature of the men and women involved.

Consider, for example, the dear saint who struggles to raise her three rambunctious daughters. For weeks at a time her husband is overseas working to support the family, and she becomes the sole caregiver. Yet through her exhaustion and frustrations she never fails to bring those girls to Sunday School and church. You can see the concern etched into her features. You can feel her tiredness and ache. You could not count the number of times she has been at her breaking point, ready to give up, roll over and go back to sleep, give in and take the easy road. But she doesn’t. She struggles on, she finds the resolve, and the time, for her daughters … the precious gifts God has entrusted to her. She cannot give them everything she would like (including her patience) but she can give them Jesus.

Or take for example the elderly saint who after a lifetime of living successfully as the world has told him he should, one day finds himself broken and defeated at the funeral of his beloved wife. And there he hears the Good News of forgiveness, salvation, and the promise of something better to come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the first time he has really heard it … and he wants to hear more. After several conversations with the pastor he finds himself one Sunday morning not so very long afterward being Baptized at the tender age of 78 years. See him only few weeks later as he is given the news from his doctor that he has terminal cancer. Yet, he is no longer the man he once was only months before. He takes the news in stride, and spends the next few months … the first few months of his life in Christ … planning his funeral. Choosing the hymns and the readings with his pastor. Writing letters for his children to send to family in Holland who don’t speak english. Using the little time he has to share his precious faith with his devasted children. Telling them He is not only fine (he is better than fine) and looking forward to seeing their mother again.

Or consider the dear saint  who lives alone in her little basement apartment. Unnoticed for the most part by the world around her. A quiet little lady, full of grace and quiet conviction. A talented seamstress, she has spent her life mending and hemming, and altering other’s clothes. She has designed more than a few in her time too. These days she mostly works for family, grandchildren in particular. Her hands are showing their age and she can’t work the cloth like she used to. So the gifts are fewer and farther between. But she prays. Sitting there at her dining room table is her Bible, her prayer book, and her notebook FULL of names and prayers. Page upon page of handwritten notes. Notes for everyone and everything … It all goes in there.  And she prays it every single day. While the world goes by her, completely unaware of the treasure in their midst she quietly and happily prays for them all. Earnestly, continually, joyfully … never for her own satisfaction, but always for others’ needs.

These are the hagiagraphies we should tell. The stories of the saints we should remember. People like you and me. Ordinary, average, fallible people who are loved and saved by God. People called by the Holy Spirit. People gifted with the Gospel of Jesus. People who taught … and still teach … this pastor what it means to be a saint. People with their struggles. People with their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their sins and failings. But despite it all, people who God has claimed as His own. People He has set apart. People He has used to bring Christ to those around them and change this world for the better. Patience, long-suffering, and prayer may never make for a spectacular story, but they make for astounding lives of faith!


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For All the Unsung Saints

November 1st has long been a day for the Christian Church to remember (and give thanks for) the saints of God. But when I remember the saints it is not the usual cast of characters that most often comes to mind.  David and Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah, the Apostles and Evangelists each have their own days – and rightfully so.  We would each do well to take the time to know and give thanks for their stories as each of their festival days come up.

But when All Saints Day rolls around each year it is not these great saints of the faith that I remember and thank God for.  For, in my mind, this day has always been one for the unsung saints. The sainted woman who though she had no children of her own was like a mother and grandmother to everyone in her congregation. The sainted man who loved and supported his son throughout his entire life … even when that son made bad decisions that caused a lot of grief and pain for his parents. The sainted wife and mother who raised her family in the faith, brooking no nonsense, but also holding back no part of herself and her love.  The boy who loves his sisters, even though his friends think that’s stupid. The girl who wants to help her mother just because it is the right thing to do. The man who is willing to step up and help out where and when needed. The woman who has only encouraging and uplifting words for everyone she meets …

These are the saints of God, unsung by the world but appreciated by me and everyone who knows them.  These are the people called by God and moved by faith in Christ to be who they are and to do what they do.  They are each one of them special in the way that Christ gives them to be. And through those seemingly minor gifts of ordinary people, the work of the Church goes on, and faith is delivered to new generations. The Gospel is mightily proclaimed. And so on this day, I am happy to sing of all that they have done for me … and their Lord, by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

678  We Sing for All the Unsung Saints

 We sing for all the unsung saints, That countless, nameless throng,
Who kept the faith and passed it on  With hope steadfast and strong
Through all the daily griefs and joys  No chronicles record,
Forgetful of their lack of fame,  But mindful of their Lord.

Though uninscribed with date or place,  With title, rank, or name,
As living stones their stories join  To form a hallowed frame
Around the myst’ry in their midst:  The Lamb once sacrificed,
The Love that wrested life from death,  The wounded, risen Christ.

So we take heart from unknown saints  Bereft of earthly fame,
Those faithful ones who have received  A more enduring name:
For they reveal true blessing comes  When we our pride efface
And offer back our lives to be  The vessels of God’s grace.

Text (sts. 1–3): © 1996 Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, number 100010248. Created by Lutheran Service Builder © 2006 Concordia Publishing House.