Sing with All the Saints in Glory (Hymn ELW #426)
Sing with all the saints in glory, sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking, soon the storms of time shall cease,
in God’s likeness we awaken, knowing everlasting peace.
In a few minutes we will stand and confess our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Through words that resemble poetry more than prose we attempt to describe the fullness of God knowing that we always fall short. On this All Saints’ Sunday there is one phrase that stands out: the communion of saints. It’s found in the third article, the which Martin Luther entitled, “Being Made Holy.” He preferred the words “the community of saints” and wrote, “the Holy Spirit makes us holy by leading us into his holy community, placing us in the church’s lap, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.” Today, on All Saints’ Sunday, we rejoice with the saints of every time and place – which includes you and made, those who have gone before us and specifically the six saints are part of this holy community and died in the past year.
First, Dorothy Griffith who was the quietist and most gentle person I’ve ever meet. She and her sisters Frances and Louise always sat in the third pew from the back. When they died, she sat by herself. I saw her as one of the meek ones that Jesus blessed in today’s Gospel. It wasn’t until after she died that I learned Dorothy had inherited the earth – not in some promise heavenly future, but in this life. In a tribute left on the funeral home web-site, Dorothy and her sisters were called “firebrands” with “fierce determination” who tirelessly fought to preserve a neglected Quaker cemetery in Kimberton which held the remains of their ancestors. She was Reference Librarian who sought answers to esoteric questions by pouring through books and documents in her search for the truth. She lived her life with integrity. Let us thank God for Dorothy, a quiet, determined fire-brand, who inherited the earth.
Next, Gerald “Pete” Henzie, beloved husband of June for 62 years, father of Sandy and Lori, grandfather of Lindsey and Braden. Pete sat in the sixth or seventh pew from the back on the left-hand side, right next to June. He lived his whole life within 10 miles of this place except for a stint in the Army when he found himself in Korea on the front lines looking across at the North Koreans. He was a member of the engineer battalion and volunteered to drive a huge earth moving machine. When he came home he worked as a heavy equipment operator for Devault Contracting. There he met June who worked in the office. One of his jobs was to do the excavation of the land beneath us when our church was built – turning the Kley Farm into St. John’s Lutheran Church. Every Sunday morning, Pete literally worshipped on his work. Let us give thanks to God for Pete, who trusted God was his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble every day of his life.
Robert Donohue – Bob once told me that he felt called to be a pastor, but that there was no money for college so he went to work at the Iron Company and decided to do everything he could in the Church to serve God and that he had, except for playing the organ and preaching a sermon. And he did – serving on Council, the Property and Social Ministry Committees, as a Sunday School teacher, usher, communion assistant, lector, member of the hand bell choir and custodian. In actions and words with humor and patience Bob shared God’s love! When his beloved wife Loretta died of breast cancer he grieved deeply, but carried on caring for their daughter Sherry. Then he noticed Jean, whose husband had died in a tragic accident. First they flirted on the Church Bus, then they courted and once their daughters – Sherry, Beth, Lyn and Ruth approved, got married and were blessed with 33 years together. Facing physical limitation, Bob and Jean moved to Manatawny Manor where he served was “our missionary” always sharing God’s love with other residents and staff, helping with chapel and serving as the president of the residence council. Let us give thanks to God for Bob whose whole life was a splendid sermon of God love though he never did play the organ.
Now, the next verse of ELW 426, Sing with All the Saints in Glory
Oh, what glory, far exceeding all that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts for ages pleading never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it, there on high our welcome waits.
Ev’ry humble spirit share it, Christ has passed the eternal gates.
Kenneth Wickstrom was a steward of faith. Growing up on an isolated farm in Bradford, Minnesota, walking to a one room school house with his brother, going to Church with his family every Sunday, leaving Bradford to attend college, serving in Army in Korea, marrying Lil, raising a family Karen, Keith and Susan, working in New York City, moving to Phoenixville, he always sought to make our community, stronger, better, more just and this congregation more loving and joyful. Ken was my oldest son, Jonathan’s, prayer partner – a role he took very seriously. I remember just after the second war in Iraq began on a Saturday night, Jon and his friends decided to give him a mohawk. It was the only time I’ve ever saw my husband completely lose his patience. The mohawk was turned into a buzz cut. The next day when Ken saw Jon at church he said, “Jonathan, you shaved your head to be in solidarity with the troops.” Ken passed on faith – not faith in himself, he knew his faults and failings way to well to do that – but faith in God who gave him family, church, community, country, you and me. Let us give thanks to God for Ken who shared faith with such confidence and joy that you simply had to believe it was true.
Phyllis Fleck loved with every ounce of her being. She suffered from cerebral palsy which in later years confined her to a wheel chair. Not long after I arrived in Phoenixville I was visiting one of our members at Phoenixville Manor Nursing Home and there was Phyllis in the community room. She told me, “They have a hard time getting people to help here, so I volunteer a couple of days a week.” At St. John’s she participated in WELCA and Young at Heart. During her funeral I learned that Phyllis would load up her car on a Saturday night with neighborhood teenagers and then drive to Reading or Philly to go to the Roller Derby. She loved the derby. In later years when physical limitations hindered her she kept up friendships with cards and prayers. She and Ken and Sally Pierson formed a family that provided mutual support through good times and bad. When Pastor Kochenderfer and I visited she always wanted to know what was happening at her church, this community of saints that she loved. Let us give thanks to God for Phyllis, who loved as she was loved by God.
And last, but not least, Thusnelda “Teddy” Herzfeld who at 98 was the oldest member of St. John’s when she died on August 6th. The daughter of a Lutheran Pastor she grew up during the depression when being a clergyman in the small towns of the Midwest was challenging. Sometimes his salary was paid in chickens. A brilliant woman, she became a teacher and at college met her husband Val who was at the forefront of the development of computers. Together raised two daughters, Marnie and Noreen. Teddy knew worship is the center of faith and for years served on our Worship and Music Committee and as the head of the Altar Guild. She brought beauty into our sanctuary so we would experience the glory of God. When Val was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, she worked with Phoenixville Hospital to set up a support group at St. John’s that helped many families. Let us give thanks to God for Teddy, for her faithfulness, love of worship and visions of glory!
Finally, let us thank God that by the Holy Spirit we have been led into his holy community, placed in the church’s lap, and surrounded with all the saints, especially Frances, Bob, Pete, Ken, Phyllis and Teddy. In this way the Holy Spirits preaches to us and brings us to Christ.
Life eternal! Heav’n rejoices: Jesus lies who once was dead.
Shout with joy, O deathless voices! Child of God, lift up your head!
Life eternal! Oh, what wonders crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
when, amid death’s closing thunders, saints shall stand before the throne!
Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: The Creed, The Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, 435-436.