November 11, 2015
+ This evening we are doing something that is not unusual for us to do here at St. Stephen’s. We are welcoming someone into our midst that we did not previously know and will probably never know, at least on this side of the veil, so to speak.
Tonight, we are praying for and commending to God this person, Adolf Scott. And after we are done here at this altar, after we have commended him to a God of love and mercy, we will process out and we will bury his ashes in our midst.
We know nothing about Adolf. We don’t know when we he was born, when he died, what kind of life he lived. We do not know he if he was a good person, or a terrible person.
Ultimately, none of that matters. What matters tonight is that we are welcoming him here in our midst and we are providing him with some dignity in his death.
One would think that is not such a hard thing to do. But, surprisingly, simple acts of kindness and mercy are sometimes so few and so far between in this world, for the dead and for the living.
In the Church, we have a long tradition of actually doing something regarding mercy. Anyone of us raised in the Roman Catholic tradition will remember something traditionally called the corporal acts of mercy. They are...
+ To feed the hungry;
+ To give drink to the thirsty;
+ To clothe the naked;
+ To harbor the harborless;
+ To visit the sick;
+ To ransom the captive;
+ To bury the dead.
We, as a congregation of St. Stephen’s, as followers of Jesus, have tried to do every single one of these corporate acts of mercy in our collective ministry here. Throughout our almost 60 years, we have worked hard to do these seemingly basic acts.
And when we first envisioned our new memorial garden a few years ago, we made clear then that the memorial garden would be a place not only for the burial of only St. Stephen’s members. We also saw it as a place for the interment of for all those who needed a respectful and dignified burial. Because, like visiting the sick, and giving drink to the thirsty, and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, burying the dead is a very basic act. It is something that is needed. Every person deserves a proper burial.
We do these acts not because we want or need a pat on the back. We do them not because we think they’ll get us in the good graces of God, or provide us with an easy ticket to heaven. We do them, because doing them brings about good in this world. And when good comes into this world, we believe God is present.
God is present with us this evening. We are seeing God present in this act of mercy, and even in this person of Adolf Scott.
Earlier this month we celebrated the feast of All Saints. On that feast, and as we do often on Wednesday nights here at St. Stephen’s, we talked about the saints being “witnesses” to the Gospel of Jesus. There is a long tradition, going all the way back the beginning of the church, of naming those people who were witnesses of perseverance in God’s ways. We look to them as examples of how to live our lives as Christians.
Sometimes, however, when the bones of these early saints were found in the catacombs, there was no way to identify them. In those cases, a saint’s bones were often label “incognito.”
Now, some people cringe at such things. How, they wonder, can someone “witness” to us incognito? However, if we look back honestly over the history of the church, it is filled with these incognito saints, people who have come and gone almost unnoticed among us, and they yet by their quiet presence have embodied faith in a real and profound way.
Well, Adolf Scott is sort of our own saint incognito. We don’t know if he believe in God, or was a Christian, or anything. To be honest, none of that matters right now. What matters is that God is, even now, able to work in this situation.
God is here, in the act of mercy we are doing, in the fact that Adolf’s ashes came to us, in the witness of his presence with us this evening and in the years to come. Some of the greatest and loudest statements of God’s mercy come not in sermons or evangelizing on the streets. Sometimes the loudest statements of God’s mercy and our own mercy to others comes in the starkness and quietness of an abandoned urn of ashes.
In the face of that witness, there is not much more I can say.
Sometimes, the only response is with poetry. I very rarely inflict poems on you. But I think, tonight, it’s about all we can do.
This is entitled
these bones knew?
to this ignoble end?
what longed-for glory
in the end
this long-gone flesh
as it flared
before us now
reduced to the
can produce. They say,
let these bones
you have crushed
revive. Let them
as they rise up
they were laid.
And on that day--
and wonderful day--
and wonderful day--
with a joy
in any way--
in any way--