A lot of people at  Crown and Cactus will be remembering Myrtle Briar this All Saint’s Sunday. She’s been gone almost two years now but her influence lingers on. Mel Falstaff credits her with being a channel for Jesus….and he loves to talk about her gentleness.

Based on Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It’s been a quiet week at Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, that little congregation over between Mesa and Gilbert and Chandler. The services last weekend were well attended and the Saturday event was particularly successful. The church council had given permission for beer to be served with the brats for the evening meal and most people really enjoyed themselves. After hearing Father Frank talk about Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and explain current Roman Catholic teachings on things like purgatory and indulgences most agreed that if Martin Luther were alive today he’d be perfectly content in the Roman Catholic church. Some did disagree…they thought his experience with married life would have made him very reluctant to go back to being single. Sunday morning worship had been colorful and inspiring…at least the music part was…Father Frank turned out to be kind of a boring preacher. Even Pastor Baldridge looked good when compared to him.

During these weeks the altar guild, under the skillful direction of Jennie Craster, has managed to pull off the transitions needed to move from green to red to white on succeeding weekends. Fortunately they have plenty of banners from prior years…though Jennie did add a bunch of extras for Reformation Sunday. There were all kinds of smaller banners and posters acknowledging that this 500th anniversary celebration was special. Oh, and for some reason this year people really got into the wearing red thing…when Father Frank got up to preach he commented about looking out over the red sea…it was the closest he came to a joke in his whole presentation. Anyhow by Tuesday all the white was hung for All Saint’s Sunday.

Pastor Baldridge likes All Saint’s and has taken time to put together some thoughts on remembering out mentors. He believes that the way to fruitful living is to find people to model our lives after. Those living examples of faith and works somehow make it easier to make decisions when tough times come. He’ll be mentioning a couple of his mentors in the sermon on Sunday…in fact on Tuesday he even called one of them, an older pastor from Washington, just to say thanks. They talked for a long time…his old friend is in a retirement home near Seattle…and Pastor Baldridge even mentioned some of the turmoil he’s going through. It was a helpful conversation.

Mel Falstaff had lunch on Wednesday with his lawyer friend, Ed Montenegro. Ed still hasn’t come back to worship after his one visit but he has been doing a lot of thinking about faith matters…he even reads the passages designated for each Sunday in the lectionary. He’s intrigued by the notion that most Lutheran pastors work out their sermons from the same texts each week. He was a little confused this week though. Mel had to explain that Crown and Cactus didn’t use the text for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, that instead they used the one assigned for All Saint’s Day. Ed was sharp enough to realize then that on the first Sunday in November the text is always the Beatitudes. “Wow,” he said to Mel, “you folks hear that text a lot. How can your pastor think up anything to say about it that you haven’t already heard?”

They talked a bit about the beatitudes….Ed was familiar with them…and he said something that Mel found intriguing. “I don’t pretend to be a Christian…I do believe in God…but there’s one thing that I don’t get. Why does Jesus say that the meek will inherit the earth? That just seems bizarre. Was he joking? Or being ironic? Why would I even want to be a Christian if it meant letting people walk all over me…’cause that’s what happens to the meek. They don’t inherit anything. They just have things taken away. Do Christians even believe that? The ones I read about in the newspaper don’t…they’re as bold and belligerent as they can be…some are almost arrogant…they’re the opposite of being meek.”

Mel said, “I’ve thought about that too…so I did a little research. It’s true that one of the meanings of meekness is to be submissive…but it’s not the only one. In fact a better translation might be gentle…followers of Jesus are called to be gentle with one another.”

Ed shrugged, “Seems the same to me: meek, gentle…it’s just an invitation to be pushed around.”

Mel said, “You may think so…but that’s not been my experience. Let me tell you about a person I’ll be thinking about this All Saint’s Sunday. Her name was Myrtle Briar and she was a member of Crown and Cactus…I’ve never met a more powerful woman…and she personified gentleness. She died almost two years ago and I still miss her influence…all of us do.”

Ed listened. He could tell by the tone of Mel’s voice that this woman was special and he waited to hear what Mel would say.

Mel continued, “She was older than a lot of us in the congregation…quite a bit older…and she had moved down here from North Dakota in the ’90’s. Her husband had died and she wanted to live near her son, who happened to be going through some tough times. She was already a member of the congregation when Lil and I showed up…in fact she was one of the reasons we joined. On our very first Sunday she greeted us with an amazing smile…her whole face lit up…and, I’m not kidding, I could actually feel the warmth. She insisted that we take home some of her chocolate chip cookies…she did that with all the new folks, and they were to die for.”

“That was our introduction and we saw her regularly as we got involved in the congregation. Her influence was amazing. She wasn’t on the council and she didn’t make speeches but nothing happened here that wasn’t colored by her particular view of grace and inclusivity. Jesus wasn’t a doctrine for her…he was like a personal friend…and I swear she channeled him wherever she went.”

Ed said, “And you say she was gentle…how could she be powerful and gentle at the same time?”

“I’m getting to that,” Mel said. “She didn’t argue or debate with anyone about anything. Mostly she just listened. And when you were finished talking to her she would smile and offer affirmation…she had an amazing way of making me feel she understood what I was saying. The gentleness was obvious. But then she would look me in the eye and say with incredible conviction what she believed to be true. Her strength was palpable. Always she would say things that simplified complicated issues. It was plain, honest speech…and it always made me think. I always came away from our conversations with a sense that I had heard a word directly from the mouth of God. I guess I’m saying the word “always” pretty often here…but that’s what it felt like.”

Ed smiled, “I see why you’ll be thinking of her this Sunday. She must have been a saint.”

“No doubt,” Mel replied, “but she never wanted anyone to think she was any different than they were. ‘Oh, we’re all saints,’ is what she’d say when people spoke highly of her. ‘We’re all saints because we’re all sinners and Christ makes us all righteous.’ I wish you could have met her.”

Ed smiled again, “I think I am meeting her, Mel. From what you’ve said I think a lot of your friend, Myrtle, has leaked into you…even the gentleness is there. If you are what Jesus meant by ‘meek,’ then I would agree that the meek are not pushovers. You’re a good person, Mel, and I love our conversations.”

Mel was pleased to hear Ed’s words. For him being compared to Myrtle Briar was about the nicest thing anyone could say to him.

That’s the word from Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, where all the men are faithful, the women are committed, and the children are all growing in grace.

 

 

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