The manager of the 1984 Tigers was Sparky Anderson, he managed the Cincinnati Reds to two world series championships in the 1970s before coming to the Tigers. As one sports writer put it, “he was among the brightest, most well-liked and decent people ever to fill out a lineup card.” (Tim Kurkjian) He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, giving all the credit to his players.
Sparky died on November 4 at the age of 76 from complications from dementia. At his request, there would be no funeral nor memorial service. Which is too bad, I understand that he was a humble guy, but a funeral isn’t for the dead, its for the living. Its for us to remember and celebrate life and say our good-byes. And so many of his former players, staff and others want to celebrate his life and will in their own way.
The Christian faith is all about remembering. We read the stories from the Bible to remember, we celebrate the sacraments to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says. It is a faith that is being passed on to us, to remember and live. That’s why at the end of our Baptismal rite, we are called to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood.”
Our faith is connected to the past, in what happened to Jesus in his life through the crucifixion and resurrection, and by how we today through confession and proclamation speak of our faith and remind ourselves that we share in that priesthood of all believers. And there is no better way to think about how we live out our faith than by thinking about our connection to the saints.
Today is All Saints Sunday, a day when we remember the saints, not for their sake, but for ours. So that by God’s grace we may follow the saints in all “virtuous and godly living.” When we think of saints, too often we think of saints as sinless, perfectly pious and moral, who got everything right.
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints,” wrote CS Lewis.The self-absorbed tyrants and proud conquerors are nothing compared to the saints, for they are gloriously different because they hear the voice of God in their lives and it changed them. Life was no longer just about them, Francis gave up the family wealth, the readymade job, glory in war & life of the upper class, and chose instead to heed the voice of God and rebuild God’s church. It lead Dietrich Bonhoeffer to abandon the safety of the US to actively work against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Regime. Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, gave away her great wealth to the poor of her land, setting up hospitals and caring for those in need, even as the elite in the court did not like her extravagant almsgiving.
What’s true of the saints, is they found joy by doing what God called them to do. To use the words of the late William Stringfellow,
“In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”Life is a gift and the saints found by listening to God, they would find fulfillment and happiness in what they did. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus said.
For Sparky Anderson, his life besides his family, was baseball, the players and the team. He loved the game and it showed, and his players loved him for it. Life as gift and joy begins ritually in our rite of baptism, remembering the past, connecting with our life now and hoping for the future. As Verna Dozier put it,
“to be called to be saints means we are called to be members of the household of God. That's what a saint is.”Today, David Daniel Stinson joins the household of God. And through the witness of parents, Godparents, family and friends, he will be baptized and will grow up and learn about the gift of life, a gift to be lived and enjoyed and given away.
Our challenge on this All Saints Day and always, is to remember the saints and listen to God like they did, for calls each one of us, to do unto others, by giving of ourselves (time, talent & treasure) and find that indeed life is a gift, it is joy, and it is meant to be given away. Amen.