Summary: A sermon for All Saints' Sunday
I know many of us are sitting here this morning thinking of people we love who aren’t with us today. Maybe our parents, or a sibling, or our spouse, or even a child, died a long time ago, or maybe it was just a few days ago. But however or whenever we experienced that loss, there is still at least on occasion a sense of sadness. There are still so many memories; for every person there is a treasure trove of stories we could tell.
On this day, in particular, we remember people who have died since our last All Saints’ Day observance. Indeed, we are thankful that these people now rejoice with the great heavenly throng. But for us, this is also a solemn time. Here is an observation of this day from a book in my office:
“Life is full of sorrow as well as joy, of tribulation as surely as triumph. If all sorrows can indeed be borne by means of stories, how much more true this must be for Christians if the stories are drawn from the pilgrimages of those who have gone before us in faith and finished the course. For these persons bear testimony to us concerning the One of whom it is written, ‘Surely he has borne our griefs / and carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53: 4). Their stories point us to his story. And it is his story that enables us to bear all our sorrow, for the joy that is set before us through him. His story is the sole source and focus of” everything we do as a church.
I want to tell you a story. That book in my office that holds that quote, it’s called Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, and it was written by my professor for Preaching and Worship in seminary, Reverend Doctor Laurence Stookey. He died on September 16. So, so much of how things happen in our worship together on Sunday mornings is because of what I learned from Dr. Stookey. He’s the reason I know the difference between the pronunciation “prophecy” and “prophesy.” He taught me how to administer communion: he’s the reason the table got moved forward soon after I got here—because Dr. Stookey taught me that communion is central to everything else we do as Christians. He’s the reason I break the bread after the Great Thanksgiving instead of during, he’s the reason I always give a pretty generous helping of bread when you come forward to receive the elements (because God is generous), he’s the reason I always receive communion last (because a host serves everyone else first). He listened to some of my earliest sermons and with firm compassion critiqued my work to help me grow as a preacher. I had him for a grand total of two classes, but his teaching dramatically shaped the work I do.
And you may or may not realize it, but his work has touched you as well. You will find his name on page vi of the Preface to our United Methodist Hymnal, and on several pages following. He was on the Hymnal Revision Committee and chaired the Worship Resources sub-committee for this hymnal that we use each week. The liturgy we use for baptism—he was heavily involved in shaping those words. The Great Thanksgiving that will guide our communion later, as it does every time we join in communion, was greatly influenced by his work. Prayers that we pray, the words of some of our songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” they were written and adapted by Larry Stookey. He was integral in shaping the liturgy of the United Methodist Church, the words that we use corporately to praise God. It would be easy to name Laurence Stookey among the saints of God.
Let me tell you another story. When I made the Junior High basketball team at my school in seventh grade, I had only been playing basketball for one season. I was so far behind. My teammates had been playing team ball for years, and in some pretty competitive leagues, too. I did the best I could that season, and over the summer, my parents signed me up for two basketball camps, one at the high school in our town, and one at UT; the Pat Head Summit Basketball Camp. That was 1992, the year after the Lady Vols basketball team won their third NCAA Championship. I was already a huge Lady Vols fan, and two summers at the Pat Head Summit Basketball Camp sealed the deal. I faithfully followed the Lady Vols through the 90s and watched as they won five more National Championships. I was there in Thompson-Boling Arena when Pat achieved her 1,000th win and the court was named “The Summit.” And what I came to realize as I followed the Lady Vols through the years was just how instrumental Pat Summit was to their success, and how little of it was really about basketball. She accomplished so much for women in the field of sports. She always put academics first. Pat Summit coached the Lady Vols for 38 years and maintained a 100% graduation rate of her players. That’s a stat to lift up! But even more importantly, she cared about her players for the people they were. Many of them thought of her as their mother. And through it all, she maintained a strong and active faith and was a longtime member of Seymour United Methodist Church up near Knoxville. Pat Summit died on June 28. Many would name her among the saints of God.