Parades are a part of the American holiday tradition. You might even catch the adults in the house watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The person in the recliner may have a Ph. D. in Semitic Languages and they'll be fascinated with that 7-story tall balloon of Snoopy. The football bowl season rolls around and people are glued to their tv watching things like the Rose Bowl Parade.
Churches have their own kinds of parades, but they usually don't include a 7-story tall Snoopy Balloon. Our parades involve people.
It's been thirty years since I first arrived at Trinity as an associate pastor fresh out of seminary. Oh, I slipped away -with the help of the Bishop- and served other churches in other areas for fourteen years- so we haven't been here non-stop for three decades.
But we've been with these folks, off and on, for thirty years. People who were in their late 40's are now in their late 70's.
What I've been privileged to witness is a parade of saints. Oh, I don't mean perfect people. Most folks get confused and think saints are perfect people. They're not. Saints are people who have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, and who have been set apart by God for a mission...a cause... a holy purpose.
There has been this parade of saints. People like Ross Richey and Helen DeWeese and Hewitt Grove and Virginia Manley and Jeff Holdread and Alexis Bujtas and Randy Robertson.
Ross was a retired Methodist pastor who went blind shortly after retiring, and then kept loving...serving...figured out how to help other blind people. He's gone. Ross is gone. Helen was a parish visitor. She loved encouraging and visiting people who couldn't really get out any more. Helen is gone. Hewitt is 92 years old and he has suffered more losses than a soul should experience in this life. He walks with a cane, has a smile that lights up the room, and comes at the world with a handshake that can turn coal into diamonds. Jeff is a business executive who shares my love of IU basketball. He has this twinkle in his eye...loves God...and has a heart that beats with compassion for all sorts of folks. Alexis is in elementary school and had one of the leads in our Christmas pageant last weekend. She has a deep soul, I think...is well connected to God...and has this thing about telling people she is thankful for them. Randy is an insurance agent who visits the hospitals every week...handing out magazines for people to read. He is just an amazing man... And there is Virginia.
Virginia's body gave out yesterday. She'd been ill for a long time. Virginia was something! She was an educator. She loved children. She had a razor sharp mind, was a clear thinker, and demanded clear thinking from others. Virginia, after retiring, helped our community start a volunteer tutoring outreach in our elementary schools. When new lay leaders or church staff would take their place at Trinity, I would say something like this: "There are people who, when they speak, you need to listen to what they say. They won't be right all the time but they'll be on the money about 80-90% of the time." Virginia was one of those people. She touched more lives than I can imagine.
We'll have her "Service of Death and Resurrection" in the sanctuary on Wednesday morning of this week.
There is this parade of saints. They're not perfect. Each one has had their share of struggles. Made their share of mistakes. But God's light has this way of shining through each one of them...in a unique way.
Their example, their prayers, their faith and grace, have this way of nudging the rest of us along. Hebrews 12:1-2 says: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."
There is this parade. Sometimes you watch it. And sometimes you can't resist the impulse to step in, join the others, and start walking towards Jerusalem.