I picked up one of my favorite books again: Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs: Saints and Their Stories by James C. Howell. Today was the beginning of a new sermon series on the sacrament of Communion. We're tracing it through its names: Holy Communion, Eucharist, Mass, Lord's Supper. Today we focused on Holy Communion, which seemed appropriate for All Saints Sunday.
I really appreciate stories about saints because I find them inspiring and challenging...Ordinary human beings who God uses in extraordinary ways.
Some of my favorite saints:
Oscar Romero In 1977, he was chosen as "safe" for Bishop in El Salvador. El Salvador had a brutally repressive government that used death squads to "disappear" and murder its own citizens. Romero was described as timid, cowardly... and he became a prophet. Romero began his episcopacy feeling that he must preserve the institution of the church at all costs.
But the brutal murder of his friend 3 weeks after being installed changed him. He became an outspoken voice for the people. Romero was awarded Nobel peace prize; he signed over the money to a hospital for indigent cancer patients.
He knew his assassination was imminent. He said he did not believe in death without resurrection and that if he died, he would rise again among the Salvadorian people. He was assassinated as he celebrated the Eucharist- shot in the chest holding high the elements. The Scripture of the day was John 12:24: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Howell makes the point that we remember the names of some martyrs, but many more go without name in history. In El Salvador we remember Romero, but the names of hundreds or perhaps thousands others are lost to history. In South Africa, Stephen Biko is remembered, yet thousands more were martyred. So it goes around the world.
Clarence Jordan was born 1912, and had a natural sensitivity to hypocrisy. He was raised in the Baptist church in the south. He sang "red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight" and wondered why black children had such shabby clothing. He saw deacons sing of their love for Jesus and then harass or even torture blacks.
He originally studied agriclulture to be able help poor farmers. While on ROTC scholarship, he struggled with how to be a soldier and to follow Jesus' teaching to love our enemies. This led him to southern Baptist seminary for degree in Greek New Testament. He became famous for a translation "the Cotton Patch" Bible.
In 1942, he established Koninia farm, a communal multi-racial farm. The KKK repeatedly bombed and terrorized the farm. Members of the community took turns standing watch every night. He said it was not a question of whether they would be afraid, but if they would be obedient. He also had a good sense of humor. When a member of the KKK said they would not let the sun set on any white man who eats with a nigger, he replied "I am a Baptist preacher, and I have heard of men with power over the sun. But until today, I never hoped to meet one!"
In 1948, Jordan brought a Native American man with him to worship in a Baptist church. The deacons demanded Jordan meet with them. They wanted him to stop making trouble. He handed them a Bible and asked them to show him in Scripture where it says a dark skinned man should not enter the house of the Lord. He said "If I have failed to live up to any teaching in this book, I will quietly withdraw from your fellowship." The Bible was passed around the room until the last one slammed it down and said don't give me that scripture stuff! That day he says he became and ex-baptist.
On the night St. Francis died he said "I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do." Wise words for all us saints.