This past December, my family buried my grandmother. She had lived a long life. She was 93 when she died, and she did not die unexpectedly. She had numerous health issues and complications which led to her death. It was how things were supposed to happen as far as death is concerned.
I know this might seem a little morbid with me starting this sermon talking about death, but just wait. I’ll get to the point a little later, and I hope you will not be disappointed.
I have been keeping a family blog for several years, and since I have been keeping it, I have started a tradition of writing an extended piece about any of my or my wife’s close family who die. I did it for Dawna’s Nanaw, her Granny, but when my grandmother died, for the first time, I wrote about one of my own kinfolks. It was rather difficult trying to condense almost 36 years of memories into several paragraphs, but I did. And as I wrote, something popped into mind from the days I was in junior high and high school.
Most of us grandkids were thrilled with growing taller. Grandma and Grandpa lived first in North Dakota and then in Arkansas. We got to see them perhaps once a year, and I remember every year I would go up to grandma to see how tall I had gotten since the last time I had seen her. My excitement grew as each year I was closer and closer to being taller than she was. It’s not like it was that great of an accomplishment because grandma wasn’t that tall, but we thought we were hot stuff the closer and closer we came to reaching that magical goal of being taller than grandma.
As I thought of this, I reflected on how grandma was a measuring stick for me at that time. I was measuring myself in relationship to her–in height. But as I continued to think about my grandmother and her life, I found myself measuring in a different manner–in a manner not governed by height, but in faith.
You see, my grandmother was a clergy spouse. Grandma faithfully stood by my grandfather’s side as he moved from town to town across the country to preach God’s Word to people. He preached here in Texas just up the road in Greenvine. He moved to Arizona and New Mexico. He finished up his ministry in North Dakota, and grandma stood by him and raised four children to boot. She worked diligently to instill faith in those children: to help them learn to love God and others just like she did. And not only did she teach her children the importance of faith, her faith led her in life.
Grandma was extremely conservative when it came to morals. She never allowed any of her children to cuss or even come close to it. In fact, my mom told me over and over again that she wasn’t even allowed to say the word "Gosh" as she was growing up. Grandma believed that was just a little too close to taking the Lord’s name in vain. Grandma wasn’t too fond of what happened in the 1960's either. She’d rail against the loose living that she saw then and continued to see as she aged. She wasn’t too fond of many of the changes she saw happening in the ELCA, and eventually she and my grandfather joined the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Her morals were that important to her.
But Grandma’s faith led her to be much more than a moral person. Grandma had copious amounts of compassion. When living in North Dakota, she was trained and then volunteered for the local EMS service. She’d don a very ugly orange hoodie, jump on her bike, and speed down to the station to help folks out. She very much enjoyed doing it. She was generous to a fault at times. My grandparents helped out numerous charities and organizations, and they were particularly fond of an Indian reservation just an hour and a half drive from their home. They spent many volunteer hours there as well as many dollars. They never bragged about what they were doing, but they were proud of the mission work done at that reservation and proud to be a part of it. Grandma also helped out at a local thrift store ministry called "Helping Hands." She donated a lot of stuff there, and she bought most of her clothing there as well. She didn’t need new stuff, and she knew what the store was trying to accomplish with not only providing low cost stuff for the area poor, but because that thrift shop also gave money to help folks make ends meet.
Thinking about all this stuff and much more really got me thinking about my grandmother as a different kind of measuring stick–a measuring stick of how I am living my life. For even though she wasn’t directly teaching me and telling me what it meant to be a Christian, she was showing it through and through in her actions. And I confess that I learned an awful lot from my grandmother.
Why am I sharing so much about my grandmother this morning? Why am I talking about how much she taught me in my life? Well, today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. It’s the day of the church year when we remember those who have lived and died in the faith who set us an example of what it means to live and to die in service to Jesus Christ. These saints are very important in our lives for I would argue that not a single one of us who is here this morning has learned about what it means to follow Christ on our own. I would argue that each and every one of us here this morning has had at least one family member or friend teach us invaluable lessons about what it means to live a life of faith. Most of us have had more than one such person in our lives and today is the day in the church year set aside to remember what they have taught us. For the lessons they teach are invaluable.
St. Paul indicates this in our second lesson this morning from the 2nd Chapter of 2nd Thessalonians when he writes, "13But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter."
Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught. Now, some of you might say, "But pastor, aren’t we always learning new things about our faith? I mean, I’ve heard you say a few things that were different from what I was taught growing up. Which one is right? Should I hold fast to what I was taught then or should I hold fast to what you are teaching now?"
To this I would say: I believe there are essential things that we must hold onto, and there are other things that we can debate and disagree on. We are learning all the time and sometimes the things we learn do change. For instance, I am sure that some of your grandparents and maybe some of your parents here cultivated their land with a plow drug by a mule. Some of you may have even been taught how it was done. And how many of you want to give up your tractors to go back to plowing with a mule? Didn’t think so. There are traditions and things that we have learned that become outdated; however there are other, core things that we should hold as fast and as tightly as we possibly can.
For instance, when it comes to belief in Jesus Christ, can anyone dispute that we shouldn’t hold onto that as tightly as we possibly can? When it comes to understanding that Jesus loves us and died for us, shouldn’t we hold onto that too? These are essential parts of our faith, after all. And shouldn’t we hold onto what we have been taught about having compassion to others? Shouldn’t we hold onto the teachings we have been taught that all are children of God and we should treat each other as we would like to be treated? Of course. There is no dispute about such things, and from the saints, both living and dead, we see examples of how these things are done. We learn how we can also do such things in our lives, and finally, we teach others to do them as well.
Perhaps each of you here this morning has your own measuring stick–a person who has shown you what it is to live a life of faith. Hold onto what you have been taught, and let us thank God this morning for sending such people into our lives. Amen.