Saturday, November 03, 2012

Saint Mom

How does one write a sermon for All Saints Day on while one's grandmother is teetering on the brink of eternity in the hospital? [This is not an actual sermon. I just had to express some thoughts before they consumed me. Many of them will probably make it into the sermon, but not all.]  Last minute sermon writing aside (get over it, 90% of us do it about 95% of the time), this is definitely one of those times that is difficult to separate personal feelings from proclamation. Margaret Johnson Sasser – a.k.a. Mom – is 92 and lives with relative independence. She has an attendant, whom she regularly kicks out. Last Thursday night she fell and broke her hip as a result of her independence. I do not fault her for this. I admire her for it.

Last night she had hip surgery, which was also risky because she has a faulty heart valve. It seems reasonable to say that she has a weak heart – unless you know her. She was given 6 months to live about 2.5 years ago. She was a pioneer among women in her day, serving the Baptist Home Mission Board and raising her children to admire heroes like Lottie Moon.

She was the first person to teach my daughter the story of Jesus, given that my newly reformed seminary brain could not figure out how to translate it to a less than 2 year old and my wife was taking a more developmentally appropriate environmental approach. It had really not occurred to me to tell her the story of Jesus, since she was still working out a basic vocabulary at the time. But Mom told her the story, using handmade ornaments brought back from a mission trip to China by my Aunt Clair.

Mom is a special lady like that – she loves Jesus. I remember with fondness one of our conversations where I had been sarcastic to her. It was about the only time I can recall her cooking breakfast for me as an adult. I was on my way home on a break from seminary. She asked me how I liked my coffee. I said with a smirk, "Like I like my women." [Dear God, what possessed me?!] She said with shock but not with derision, "You mean black?!" I replied, "No, just bitter. I don't really care what color they are." [Again, who did I think I was to speak to her this way!] She dismissed it with a chuckle, a shake of the head, and a disgusted, "Ugh...Zachary! Fix it yourself."

This was also, mind you, not too long after my divorce. Somehow she knew that was the place I was coming from. Somewhere later in that conversation she wanted to let me know that she approved of the direction of my life. She is not of a generation that uses phrases like, "I am proud of you." She is of a generation that perceives struggle and honors tenacity. What she did say I will never forget. She looked me in the eyes with a soul piercing clarity that never lasts long when it happens but is more effective than any lie detector known to humanity. She looked me in the eyes and said, "Zachary, I know you love the Lord, and I'm real happy about that." She smiled, crystal clear, then asked if I wanted some ice water. And that was that.

So, tonight she struggles as tenaciously as ever. Tonight she clings to life even as life eternal clings to her. Tonight we set the clocks back and we gain an hour and I am reminded of Jesus because that's what Mom has always done. She reminds me of Jesus.
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

And just like the widow who spent all she had to honor God, Mom is spending what might be her last. She has spent it telling people about Jesus. I will admit that she is not perfect. She would be the first to admit that! I was going to say that she is no saint, but the thing is – she is to me. 

I will proclaim the gospel tomorrow because she is one of the great and powerful voices that proclaimed it to me. She never told me I needed Jesus. She never made me feel anything less than valuable. She has always remained true to herself, and she has always loved me. And even though she
has, at times, expressed the cultural biases of her day, age, and location, she has also demonstrated a desire to love and accept even those most others would rather not.

Tomorrow I will Sing a Song of the Saints of God, and I will be singing about Mom, because, "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:7-9)."

Rest assured, I do not mean these thoughts to be eulogistic. I have been carefull to refer to her in the present tense. I mean these thoughts to be Eucharistic! I mean them to be a means of thanksgiving for the present moment and all the past moments that have allowed this one to be as it is right now. That's why I stopped writing a few minutes ago to go tuck my daughter in. You'd never know such a sweet embrace interrupted these wandering thoughts.

We talked a little about Mom. My daughter said she wanted the surgeon's name to send him a thank you letter – a discipline and courtesy which I am terrible at doing. She said, "You know what I think prayer is? I think it is sending warmth from inside of you that goes and surrounds a person. That's what love is – warmth." I agreed and assured her that even if the person never knows it or feels it, that warmth is there, and it is real. We snuggled a bit, and I left her to read, dream, and be held in the sweet embrace of God.

Now I return to you – or maybe just to me, or perhaps to God. I do not know if God reads my blog. Hopefully God inspires it. Google tells me that it has at least been viewed by people all over the world, at one point or another. Really these thoughts are just flung to the wind as seeds scattered over rocky, weed choked, and fertile soil alike. Truth will take root where and when it will.

Last story – some time after seminary Mom gave me my Great-great Grandfather's Bible. I am his namesake, as he was Zachary Lumpkin Scott. The Bible has passages underlined, dated, and checked off as memorized by my Great Grandmother. At the time, Mom had noticed my need for a watch and slipped a $10 in the front for a cheap-o from that place I don't like to shop. It was just enough. Amazingly, she did not know about the quote that was just behind the money in my Mamma Sasser's handwriting.

"The Christian should be like a good watch: open-faced, hands busy, well regulated, and full of good works."

Thanks be to God for strong women of faith. Thanks be to God for a legacy rooted in the love of God. Thanks be to God for ongoing struggles and the promise of sweet release from everything except for the sweet embrace of God – in which we are all held both now and always. Amen.
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