Trusting Tomorrow, Giving Thanks for the Past: The Family Photo Album
All Saints Day, November 1, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
Before our daughter Dominique was married a little over a month ago, I was given the task to find wedding pictures of Scott and I, and of each of our parents. I thought finding our pictures would be the easy assignment, but it took awhile to find them, too, I discovered. We have a closet in the basement filled with boxes of pictures: some are in albums, some are well organized in other ways, and some, not so much. The search took a lot longer than I expected, not just because I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but because of the time I spent remembering…
I found the picture of Scott and I at his senior prom. I was standing there on our steps in my pink dress with my hair all poofed up on the top of my head, with Scott standing there next to me, looking really young in his white tux.
I found a picture of my grandma and grandpa Barney taken about a year before my Grandpa died. I calculated that they were younger than what Scott and I are now, but gosh, they looked really old.
I found another picture of my other set of grandparents, which turned out to be their last picture, too. I began thinking of the conversations my grandma and I used to have, and the last letters she wrote to us. Her handwriting had become hard to read, and yet she wrote. I was thinking about how wrapped up I was in raising my 3 little ones at the time, and going to school, and how much I wish I could spend time talking to her today.
There were snapshots of my brother and sister, who looked so much alike when they were younger. I remembered how they’d tell each other how ugly the other was. I always laughed as I thought—you two—you could be twins!
There were pictures of our young and carefree years in Colorado, while Scott was in seminary. Pictures of him in his Jeep CJ-7 that we had to trade in for a station wagon when we returned to Indiana—not because we were done exploring, but because—try though he might—he couldn’t figure out how to secure 3 car seats in it for our growing family.
And then all those photos of our children. Lots and lots of Matt since he was the oldest, and fewer of Chris and Dominique, but just as precious. At that time you didn’t take pictures with a phone you always carried with you. Who had time to run get the camera, even if it did have film in it?!
Birthday parties, baptisms, holidays…so many good memories with people who have shaped my life.
Today is All Saints Day, and along with lighting the candles in memory and honor of our saints, I want to look at pictures from our family album, remembering all those who have gone before us, giving us a legacy of faith and Christian discipleship. Some of what we remember in looking through that album are triumphant and glorious times. Others remind us of some pretty tough struggles. The people and stories all come together in an over-sized album that illustrates who we are as a Christian community today.
I want us to consider a couple of texts this morning, the first from the Gospel of Matthew that Tom read for us this morning, that we call the beatitudes. Some translations read “happy are…” (instead of the more traditional “blessed are”) which leads me at least, to think of the be-happy-attitudes. I have nothing at all against the power of positive thinking and actually highly recommend it, but somehow “happy” just doesn’t always feel like the right word, particularly when we’re talking about experiences like mourning or persecution. “Happy” kind of feels like I need to have a smile on my face, even when a smile doesn’t work. “Blessing” just seems to work better, because even during difficult times, when I’m weary and worn to a nub, my faith assures me that blessings can still be present, even when I can’t feel them or see them. I trust and believe that that time will come.
The picture in our album has Jesus preaching this message while sitting on a mountain, which might bring to mind Moses receiving the law from God on Mount Sinai, then giving it to the people. As Jesus speaks, he offers simple facts, challenging the listener to consider and trust God’s ways that are in contrast to the ways of the world reflected all around them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As we read the beatitudes, they address both a present reality and a future assurance.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
There is this “already happening” but “not yet done” quality that gives us something to hold onto, that gives us hope—even though the troubles of our world here and now are far from being resolved.
What we’re asked to consider is this: are we willing to trust God’s ways that speak to us today, but will only be fully revealed in a time that is yet to come?
This “already” and “not yet” character of the kingdom of God is an appropriate message for us on this All Saints Sunday. We know what the church has accomplished in ages past, and we can see that it has so much more to do. We recognize that we have communion, not only with those in this age as we struggle with the brokenness in our world today, but we commune as well, with the saints who have gone before us, struggled, too, and have now received their eternal rest.
Let’s consider first, the saints of our tradition who have fought the good fight and who “by faith” ran the race and finished. I encourage you take a few minutes this afternoon to read through Hebrews 11 looking at those pictures in our family album, where the writer relates that “by faith,” Abel and Noah, Abraham and Moses, and others who came later—persevered, witnessing to the glory of God with undying devotion. It’s inspiring to read! The writer continues in chapter 12, that since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us learn from them and run with perseverance the race set before us
When we think of saints, we think of these men and women of the faith. We think of Saint Thomas, Saint Peter, Saint Paul….
But in our family album, we have pictures of modern-day saints, as well. You’ll see Saint Theresa, who we knew during her lifetime as Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who founded the Missionaries of Charity and was canonized in 2016. Don’t you see her full-length white robe trimmed in blue, covering her hair, as she walked from place to place, blessing everyone?
In this area, we find a picture of Maria Katherina Kasper, who founded the Poor Handmaids of Christ, the order that today sponsors Ancilla College. I remember when she was canonized in 2018.
But we’ve been reminded today, in the lighting of the candles and the naming of names, that in the protestant church, we identify saints as well. They are forgiven sinners. They are persons who live and die in faith. They’re ordinary people who loved God, who loved us, and who ran with perseverance the race that was set before them.
I want you to spend some time this afternoon, thinking about your saints. I want you to remember the ones who have made a difference in your life. The ones who fill the photo albums of your heart and mind…
Maybe you’ll see a picture of your father, who taught you about grace. He didn’t say a lot, but you knew how important God was to him, how important it was to him to come to church, to give of himself. He provided for you and your family in the best way he knew how, and though he’s gone now, you still hear his voice. You still remember what he taught you.
Maybe you’ll see a picture of your grandmother who made it her habit to come pick you up every Sunday morning to bring you to church, who told you Bible stories, and whose voice you can still hear as she proudly and loudly sang the songs of the faith, with a little bit of wobble in her voice, and just a little off key.
Maybe the photo that will come to mind is one of the teacher who stepped out to defend your classmate from being bullied because of her skin condition. The other kids said she had cooties, and that teacher, with compassion and care said, enough. Maybe the picture of that teacher comes to mind when you think it’s time to speak up for the downcast.
Maybe you’ll see the picture of the poet whose work inspired you, who helped you to “feel” the character of God in a way that you had only perceived intellectually before. Your faith now has meaning in a way that it never had before.
Who is in your photo album?
How do your saints continue to bless your life today?
How might you pass those blessings on to the next generation?