Sermon from August 18, 2019
St. Paul’s, Woodville, Texas
As a young boy, I was fortunate to grow up in a family – where going to church was the norm.
And not only did I go to church for worship, I also went to children’s Sunday School.
For the most part, I liked children’s Sunday School.
Yet when it came time for arts and crafts, I usually had a moment of anxiety.
My anxiety surfaced – when all the scissors in the classroom were right-handed scissors, yet I am left-handed.
At any rate, most of my Sunday School teachers were women, faithful women.
Yet when I entered the third grade, I was surprised to walk into my classroom, and to discover that my Sunday School teacher – was a man.
Mr. Sauter taught third grade Sunday School.
Mr. Sauter was probably in his 60s at the time.
He was gruff and rough around the edges.
Mr. Sauter was a war veteran, a veteran who told graphic stories about sacrifice and service and duty to others.
Occasionally, when telling his colorful stories, he would use a mild cuss word.
Yet what I remember the most of Mr. Sauter’s physical appearance was this:
He only had a part of his index finger still intact.
The tip of his index finger had been blown off in a battle injury in World War II.
For a third-grade boy, Mr. Sauter’s half blown off finger – was super cool.
Mr. Sauter must have made an unusual decision for those times, a decision to teach children’s Sunday School, as a man.
Mr. Sauter made a decision and a commitment to serve.
His stories of his rough and tumble Christian faith were not told through rose-colored glasses.
Mr. Sauter was a man of faith.
From Mr. Sauter, I learned that Christianity is not safe.
From him, I learned that the Christian faith is not comfortable, but it involves suffering, and even death.
From Mr. Sauter and from his colorful stories and from his index finger,
I learned that a life of faith and sacrifice –
Can get your finger blown off.
In the Bible, in the Book of Hebrews, people of faith are described in detail.
In the Book of Hebrews, we hear this about women and men of faith:
“They were stoned to death,
They were sawn in two,
They were killed by the sword;
They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented…
They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all [of] these…were commended for their faith.”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear this list of the faithful people, I am struck by what I don’t hear.
In this list of faithful people, I don’t hear anything about prosperity or happiness.
In this list of faithful people, I don’t hear anything about greatness or winning or living your best life.
Rather in the Book of Hebrews, I hear that a life in the faith of Jesus, involves getting sawn in two, stoned to death, wandering in the desert.
A life in the faith of Jesus involves showing third graders your blown off index finger.
And all of these people are commended for their faith.
The Book of Hebrews calls these faithful women and men:
A great cloud of witnesses.
For faithful people do not seek happiness and prosperity and greatness.
Faithful people are commended for their commitment and sacrifice and suffering.
Faithful people point the way to self-less love.
Faithful people point the way to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
In this month of August, as a new school year begins, I am reminded that schoolteachers sacrifice much.
Schoolteachers lead a life of sacrifice and service, including purchasing their own classroom supplies, in order to point a way forward for their students.
I can still remember many of the names of my former teachers.
My guess is that you can still remember some of the names of your teachers as well.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher was named Miss Martin.
When I was a teenager, I was active in our Episcopal parish.
Somehow, Miss Martin had let me know that she was also an Episcopalian, yet she went to a different parish in town.
Since my sophomore English class was the first period of the day, I would sometimes get to class about 15 or 20 minutes early, in order to talk with Miss Martin.
Before class, I would talk with her, while she was getting the classroom ready for the day.
I would talk to Miss Martin about the books we were reading in our English class.
I would talk with her about some of the themes of Christian faith that I saw in the literature.
Because I went to a public high school, Miss Martin could not elaborate much in class about the Christian subtexts of a lot of literature.
Yet while I sat at my school desk, before the first bell rang, Miss Martin recommended other books for me to read, books which would interest my exploration of Christian faith, especially in the Episcopal tradition.
Looking back, it is no wonder that the Holy Spirit would eventually lead me to ordination in the Church.
Yet also looking back, I took up Miss Martin’s valuable time in the early morning, time when she could have been getting her lesson plans together for the day.
Miss Martin sacrificed her time – for me.
Sure, Miss Martin was not sawn in two or stoned to death.
Miss Martin did not have a blown off index finger.
Yet, as a schoolteacher, with proper boundaries from discussing her faith overtly, she led me on an exploration of Christian faith through books and literature.
Miss Martin is in my great cloud of witnesses.
I am sure that you could name, right now, the women and men in your great cloud of witnesses:
Maybe a teacher, a coach, a grandparent, a co-worker, a trusted friend.
And my guess is that the people in your great cloud of witnesses – sacrificed of themselves – for you.
In the Episcopal Church, there is a wonderful little song that we usually only sing on All Saints’ Day in November.
The song is called:
“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”
In that simple little hymn, we sing that we can meet the faithful people, the saints, anywhere and everywhere.
And then we sing this about the faithful people:
“For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.”
Mr. Sauter is in the great cloud of witnesses, telling stories with a blown off index finger.
Miss Martin is in the great cloud of witnesses, talking with me while writing her lessons on the chalkboard.
For women and men of faith commit their time and their lives to other people.
Women and men of faith suffer and sacrifice and die.
Women and men of faith point us to the love of Jesus.
And I mean to be one too.