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A Future with Hope:  “The Remembering”                                             Matthew 5: 1-12

November 1, 2020     

Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church

American author Natalie Goldberg says that whether we know it or not, we all transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other’s presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then go on carrying that other person in our body, not unlike springtime when certain plants in the fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants and our caps, as if to say “Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place.”*

On this all souls or all saints day as it is known in the church, we pause to intentionally consider those people who are no longer living but who have seeded the kind of hope in us that spurs us on to become who we are meant to be.  We remember, particularly, those people who have reflected to us the qualities Jesus describes in the passage we just heard commonly known as the beatitudes.  Today is a day for honouring those who have seeded in us a hunger and a thirst for what is right; the promise of peace that comes through action, the qualities of mercy and patience and the promise that those who mourn will find comfort, renewal and a place in the heavenly realm.

As I have been thinking about the members of our family tree here at Mount Seymour United, the blessed ones who have seeded in me and others all what Jesus talked about in the beatitudes and more, making their mark on our communal lives, many, many have people come to mind.  I have chosen three of them to reflect on with you today.

The first is Dorothy Redlinger.  Dorothy died on August 7th this year.  This coming December she would have celebrated her 93rd birthday.  Dorothy was an incredibly active person who loved golf, walking, yoga, gardening and classical music.  But it is her role as a peacemaker that I want to draw our attention to today.

Dorothy loved to tell the story of how she came to her commitment to the work of peacemaking in the world.  It happened back in the late 50’s when after a long time of wanting to have children, in her desperation she did what many of us have done when things are out of our control, she made a bargain with God.  She told God that if God would give her a baby, she would pray for peace every day for the rest of her life.  Eventually, she did give birth to not one but two children and she made good on her promise. 

Dorothy’s passion for peace, seems to have been born from two places in her life, her own experience of living through World War II as a young teen in Japan and the teachings of a spiritual leader who founded the World Peace Prayer Society.  Under the guidance of this leader, Dorothy came to firmly believe that personal transformation leads to societal transformation. 

She could have stopped at her own transformation through praying for peace, but when the opportunity arose for her to become involved in an international project to symbolize the hopes and dreams of humanity for peace to prevail on earth, Dorothy became actively involved. Over a number of years, Dorothy served as the Western Canadian representative for the International Peace Pole project.  Peace poles with the words “May peace prevail on earth” written in various languages on each of their four sides have now been planted all over western Canada inviting people to take time to pray and awaken their consciousness to world peace.  There are an estimated 250,000 peace poles that have been planted around the world, one of which, Dorothy planted in a peace garden that sits on the front of the church property.  Seeds of hope pointing us towards a future with world peace once planted in Dorothy’s heart will now continue to bear fruit in years to come because of her active witness.

 Dermott McInnes is another person who impacted the lives of many who knew him. Dermott was a retired United Church minister and hospital chaplain when he and his wife Mae made Mount Seymour United their home.  If you had the privilege of knowing Dermott like I did, you may still marvel at the way Dermott paid attention to the details of people’s lives.  Individuals for whom Dermott had a moment to share, experienced the way he listened intently to what you had to say to him and perhaps more importantly how he valued who you were.  For Dermott, everyone was of value, the nurse who cared for him in the hospital, his name was David, the new baby born into his family, a great grandchild, he and may drove all the way home from Point Roberts to North Vancouver to welcome; the newcomer at church who others had overlooked, the stranger walking on the beach he took the time to greet, the new Canadian at the corner store he befriended, the streetworker in the downtown eastside he noticed and engaged.  Dermott paid attention to others, especially those the world too often pays little notice.  And then, when he learned someone’s story of marginalization, he worked to support the people and places who were striving to make structural changes in our society to welcome and acknowledge those people, places like First United Church in the Downtown Eastside.

When Dermott died more than eight years ago now. I remember saying that his life was a parable of the kingdom of God, a reflection of the Good news.  Born to a father whose financial privileges were ruined, raised by a mother widowed at a young age who lost the family farm, being widowed himself at a young age, Dermott rose up out of the ashes of his life more than once, recognizing in others their inherent value in the same way he experienced God valuing his life, planting seeds for a world where one day, he believed with all his heart, we would come to know the value of each and every one.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about Carolyn Porter.  Carolyn, a woman my age, arrived at Mount Seymour back in 2007.  Confined to a wheelchair due to an early diagnosis of MS, Carolyn soon made her presence known to us as a feisty yet very compassionate soul.  Her feistiness came from her passion and firm believe that no one should ever be left outside the boundaries of God’s grace.  Her compassion came from her own suffering and loss, her experience of having no other alternative than to let go of her career, some of her friends and much of her independence, her own experience of being left behind.

Carolyn used to get irate with biblical stories that portray physical healing in a way that suggests if we just pray hard enough we will be healed.  That’s because she knew that no matter how hard she prayed or we prayed for her she was never going to get out of her chair and walk again, her former life was never going to return to her. Carolyn knew what it was like to pray hard, to knock and knock and knock on God’s door and to hear in response a deafening silence.   She knew what it was like not to be healed in the way she wanted to be healed and yet she also knew the bounty of God’s love and grace.

I think of Carolyn, her courage and her persistence in knocking on heaven’s door for healing, for justice, for grace, whenever I am faced with situations in life that seem insurmountable.  Carolyn had a lot to teach us about trusting in sacred mystery, in the goodness of life, even when we don’t receive what we are asking for.  She had an incredible capacity to gather up the “crumbs of her life” what clearly was not enough and to give thanks and say I will find satisfaction even in the crumbs.

I think that for Carolyn, hope was born over and over again, out of her deep desire to have faith even when she lost it and to trust in the goodness of life even when so much of what surrounded her did not seem so good.  Carolyn died in February 2011 but the hope in the goodness of life she planted in those who knew and loved her, continues to blossom and grow.

Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith”** chronicles the lives of two men of faith, Rabbi Albert Lewis and Pastor Henry Covington, both of whom are close to the end of their life.

One of the conversations Albom has with Rabbi Lewis has to do with what people fear most about dying.  What they fear most says the Rabbi, is being forgotten.  They fear what he calls “the second death” the way that the unvisited in nursing homes and the homeless found frozen in alleys leave this world with no one to mark their time on earth. He says that for the most part, even those remembered by their families get forgotten a generation or two down the road.  That is why, he says, faith is so important.  “I may not be remembered in so many years” he says “but what I believe and have taught – about God, about our tradition – that can go on.

Today we gather around those who have faithfully witnessed to peace, inclusion, the goodness of life and so much more, people who, in their own way, have pointed us towards something larger than us and older than us and because of that they have pointed us towards a future with hope and become for us saints that are forever rooted in our hearts.  May their example, spur us on, to become who we were created to be and to plant a future with hope for those who follow in the footsteps we make.