“Who Is My Neighbor? Ancestors as Neighbors”

2 Timothy 1:5 – Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

In your bulletin, you will find a blank piece of paper. It’s time for a quiz. The first quiz is 5 questions long.

  1. Name the MVPS of the last World Series, Super Bowl and NBA Finals.
  2. Name the winner of the last Heisman Trophy.
  3. Name the winner of the last Miss America contest.
  4. Name the winner of the largest state lottery in history.
  5. Name the winner of the last Kentucky Derby.

How did you do? A+? No? O.K. let’s try a second quiz.

  1. Name someone who has loved you and encouraged you. (This person may or may not still be living on this earth.)
  2. Name someone who has inspired you.
  3. Name someone who helped you through a difficult time.
  4. Name someone who passed on the gift of faith to you.
  5. Name someone whom you trust or have trusted.

If you are like most people, you probably did not pass the first quiz. Few of us remember the big names and headline grabbers of yesterday. Yet, these people are not second rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. You’d think they’d be easy to remember.  How did you do on the second quiz? It was probably much easier, wasn’t it? That’s because the people we remember most in our lives are not necessarily those who have the most money or the most awards or the most fame; the ones we remember the most are the ones who cared for us, loved us, encouraged us, believed in us. They are the true saints in our lives. I recently heard a story about Phyllis Trible. Phyllis Trible is a leading scholar in feminist theology. She tutors kids in the inner city. The kids have no clue how famous she is; they just simply know that Phyllis cares for them and is kind to them. We remember how people make us feel.

On this All Saints Day, we give thanks for those saints who have passed from life to Life. I remember with deep gratitude and fondness my own mother – who loved me and encouraged me, who inspired me, who helped me through may difficult times, who passed on the gift of faith, and is someone I deeply trusted. She was my greatest comfort, my wisest teacher and my most enthusiastic cheerleader. I was 26 years old when she died. In the final weeks of her earthly life, I said, “Mom, how am I suppose to survive in this world without you? Who will love me, guide me, teach me, support me?” I could not possibly imagine my life without my mom. I have come to discover that she is still with me – and in fact is guiding me and helping me in ways that she may not have been able to in her earthly form. While death may end an earthly life, it does not end a relationship.

Over the past month, we have asked the question, “Who is my Neighbor?” After all, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, who qualifies as our neighbors? Today, I would like to suggest that our ancestors are our neighbors. Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk walks, “I first began to understand how different monasteries were from any other places I’d known when a monk said to me one day, ‘It’s time for you to meet the rest of the community.’ We walked to the cemetery and through it and as we passed each grave, he told me stories about the deceased.” The rest of the community turns out to be very large indeed. In the Celtic Tradition, there is a great sense that the dead do not live far away. They may be our closest neighbors. When we open our hearts and minds to the presence of our loves who have died, we find them everywhere, not only in the cemetery, but in the sunset, in the sound of a grandchild’s laughter, in the hummingbird or an eagle or a butterfly. We widen the margins and dimensions of life.  

In Latin America, there is a celebration called Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Traditional festivities veer away from the grim and into the playful. Children decorate sugar skulls. Families set up altars with photos, quirky things that the deceased enjoy in this life – a lucky baseball card, chocolate, beer. They ring bells and gongs and leave trails of marigolds so that the dead can find their way from the other world to this one. It is a day of honoring and celebrating our loved ones. In a very real sense, Dia de los Muertos is a family reunion day for the church.

In our scripture passage, Paul gives thanks for the saints in Timothy’s life who passed on the faith to Timothy, his mother Eunice and grandmother, Lois. In sharing the faith, these women shared Divine love and immense care. Who are the saints in your life who have nourished you by their faith with love and care?

One hundred years from now, God willing, someone will remember us for handing on what was handed on to us. The surest way to leave a legacy is to be a person who cares about others. As we experienced in our two quizzes this morning, people really don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

According to Brenee Brown, it is those small acts of care that build trust. Remember one of the questions in the quiz was name someone you trust. Trust is built by small acts of caring; it is not necessarily built by grand gestures. In studies on trust, people said things like, “I really trust my boss. She even asked me how my mom’s chemotherapy is going.” “I trust my neighbor because if something is going on with my kid, it doesn’t matter she will come over and help me figure it out.” The #1 thing that emerged about trust in small things: people who attend funerals.  This is someone who showed up for my brother’s funeral. We build trust by caring for another.

As we celebrate the saints in our lives, may we, too become saints on this earth. We don’t have to be famous or perfect or rich or the best in our fields, we simply need to be the one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated human being whom God created us to be – to love as we are loved, to throw our arms around the world, and practice what Gandhi calls the “evangelism of the rose.” Be so beautifully who God created you to be that your fragrance of care and compassion leads others to want to be in your midst. In joining our sainthood to their sainthood (pictures on the altar), we become together the “communion of saints.” Amen.