Acts 9:36-42

The Small, the Local, the Particular

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Acts 9:36-42

The Small, the Local, the Particular

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The New Testament includes a brief reference to a disciple named Tabitha.  She is described as “devoted to good works and charity.”  Tabitha becomes ill and dies, and the apostle Peter is summoned.  He is taken to where her body is laid out.  The place is full of weeping widows, who insist on showing Peter articles of clothing that Tabitha made during her lifetime.

This New Testament scene reminds me of what we face today.  No weeping widows perhaps, yet we are gathered here to mourn the loss of a disciple, and many of us could bring out from among our possessions items that are the handiwork of Phyllis Hayner.  And many of us can recall good works she performed, whether to benefit us or other people.

You have your memories in this regard, I am sure.  I have mine.

I recall the birthday card Phyllis sent me last month, the most recent in a series of such birthday cards that stretches back over a decade.

I remember how it was impossible for me to pass through her kitchen without being offered something to eat or drink, or something delicious to take home with me.

I recall as well that at the St. Anne’s Guild holiday luncheon each December Phyllis made arrangements so that everyone there went home with a gift, a remembrance of the occasion.

Phyllis did many good deeds of the sort the world counts as small.  Yet through her quiet, unassuming manner, she made a difference in the life of every person here and many others.  In this way, she was on target.  For, after all, our lives are made up mostly of things the world counts small, but which nonetheless can be significant.

Like Tabitha in the New Testament, Phyllis was adept at making beautiful things with needle and thread, through countless tiny stitches.  Impressed on my memory is a picture of her laboring with expert care on one quilt after another in a room just down the hall here at St. Paul’s.

But Phyllis did not labor simply with thread or yarn; she also brought beauty into this world through the tiny stitches that were events in her daily life.  She toiled on with persistence and patience, and what resulted were works worthy of admiration.

Indeed, as I look at Phyllis’ life, I see a woman who specialized in the small, the local, the particular.  She went to live in Monroe in 2003, but for almost all of her long life, she dwelt here in Port Huron, and not just in this city, but in one small part of it, a couple blocks that once were crowded with her relatives.

She married Glenn when she was nineteen, and through more than six decades together, they remained sweethearts.  Together they offered all of us an outstanding example of marital devotion.

Phyllis the baby was baptized at St. Paul’s.  Phyllis the young woman was married at St. Paul’s.  Phyllis, now full of years, is today buried from St. Paul’s.  She was a very active member of this parish.  She demonstrated a wonderful fidelity to her Lord and the universal church, and did so through a particular congregation which remembers her with affection and respect.

The Christian monastic tradition honors something it refers to as stability.  The monk or nun is to remain in the same community and find salvation there, rather than wander around, assuming that the grass must be greener on the other side.  While she was not a monastic, but a wife and mother, Phyllis demonstrated her own stability, remaining faithful to the place, the people, and the circumstances where God had been pleased to situate her.

This accent on deeds of kindness, the small, the local, the particular: what we have here is something close to the heart of the Gospel.  For Christianity announces that out of compassion, God becomes, in Christ, local just like us: a child born in a barn in a place known as Bethlehem, a man nailed to a cross of shame just outside the Jerusalem city wall, who then leaves forever empty a particular garden tomb.

This God was at work when Phyllis was baptized as a baby more than eighty years ago.  This God is at work as we share the Holy Communion today.

God works, and always has, through the small, the local, the particular.  Nothing is too big for God to handle, that is true, but also nothing is too small for God to handle.  Nothing is too small, too local, too particular for God to care about and consecrate to his glory.

Phyllis knew this.  She knew it in her bones.  Now she knows it even more completely.

The New Testament story of Tabitha has a remarkable conclusion.  Peter prays before her dead body and then calls her back to life.  He takes her by the hand and helps her up.

The story of Phyllis Hayner will have a conclusion even more remarkable.  No apostle will call her back to earthly life, but the Lord Christ himself welcomes her, and, we believe, she will have her place when the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Phyllis, my sister, may you rest in peace, and may you rise in glory!

Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.