A Gallery of Saints
By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
As most of you are aware, the day after Halloween – a.k.a., “All Hallowed Eve,” is All Saints’ Day, a day in which we pay tribute to those who’ve lived and died in the faith. Being good Presbyterians, we celebrate All Saints’ Day on the Sunday following All Hallowed Eve, because we know we’d never get you to come to church on Wednesday or Thursday.
You might be interested to know, All Saints Day dates back to the 8th Century. It was introduced as a way to counter the dark influence of the Celtic priests. The Druids, as they were known, stirred up all sorts of superstitions about the migration of the dead into the world of the living. This is where we get the practice of Atrick or treating.@ The idea was that you could appease the evil spirits by offering them gifts of food and drink.
So, we came up with All Saints Day, and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s become of the holiest days of the year. It’s the church’s Memorial Day, but with one significance difference: Whereas Memorial Day honors the dead and their service to country, All Saints= Day honors the dead and their service to God, plus it celebrates the sure and certain hope of the resurrection for all those who embody faith in Jesus Christ.
To be fair, All Saints Day fell out of favor with the Protestants in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The early reformers took exception to the Roman Catholic practice of canonizing saints and setting them above the average Christian. Calvin accused the Catholics of putting saints on par with God, and pointed out how their cathedrals were filled with statues of the saints which, of course, smacked of idolatry.
Today we know better. Saints are all those who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul makes this clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He says,
“To the assembly of God which is at Corinth;
those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,
with all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2).
And so, we celebrate All Saints Day and, in so doing, we honor the memory of those who’ve gone before us. It’s a way of affirming the Communion of Saints we talk about in the Apostles’ Creed – that spiritual bond that unites the living and the dead with all the faithful of every time and place.
This morning, I’d like to share with you a few pictures from the gallery of saints I’ve collected over the years. Rest assured, none of them would’ve thought of him/herself as a saint, and would be quick to tell you that this morning. Because I’ve lived in a number of places, I’ve known saints, far and wide. But for the purposes of the sermon today, I chose just a few who lived here in Hope. You probably knew them, as well.
My purpose in doing this is not to give them wings or cast them in marble, but to give you an example or two of what a saint is like, so that you can recognize other saints around you and, perhaps, be inspired to become a little more saint-like yourself!
The first picture I’d like to pull down from the wall of my gallery is that of Frances Reynerson. I mentioned her and her husband, Charles, in my sermon last week. They were our next-door neighbors as I was growing up. Our houses were identical and shared a common driveway. As such, we lived in a kind of imposed intimacy. It was hard not to know what was going on next door.
Charles Reynerson was City Secretary in those years, and what stands out most in my memory is the fact that he was paraplegic. He’d had polio as a child and was paralyzed from the waist down. In spite of this handicapping condition, he carried himself with all the pride and dignity of the professional public servant that he was. He always wore a starched white shirt and a tie, even around the house.
Most notably, he drove the car back and forth to work. I remember, in particular, a 1953 Ford he’d gotten someone to rig up with a hand throttle and a hand brake. The Reynersons had a landing out by the back door, and he’d wheel himself out on the landing, then use his upper body strength to swing himself down into the driver’s seat. It was quite a feat. Frances assisted from the wings. She’d open the door for him, then load his wheelchair in the trunk and take her place on the passenger’s side.
It was obvious to me, even as a child, that it would’ve been a lot simpler if she’d done the driving. But that would’ve robbed him of an important piece of his manhood. When they got to work, I suspect that she took care of most of the City Secretary business – after all, she was his secretary – but I suspect she did it in such a way that never, ever competed with his authority.
One of the most vivid memories I have of Frances – other than her handing back the baseball when one of us hit a long fly ball and knocked out her back window – was the day I nearly chopped my index finger in two. I was on the front porch splitting matches with a Boy Scout hatchet – I don’t have the foggiest notion why – when I slipped and whacked my finger instead. The blade cut all the way through to the bone. I staunched the bleeding with my thumb and cried for my mother for help. As it turns out, she’d walked down to Eula’s Market to get some groceries. I was on my own.
I screamed bloody murder. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I looked up and there was Frances kneeling beside me. I tell you, she was an angel sent by God. By the time Mom got back, she’d washed and bandaged my finger and assured me I wasn’t going to die.
Frances was a godly woman, a longtime pillar of First Baptist Church, but what I most remember about her was her quiet, gentle manner and her unspoken strength and self- confidence that allowed her to make the most of every situation and bring out the best in others. As a little boy growing up in a small town, I couldn’t have wished for a better neighbor or a better example of what it means to be a saint.
Then there’s Luther Muldrow, who was, for years, the custodian of First Methodist Church, down on Second and Pine Streets. Among other things, Luther manned the bottle opener in the kitchen down in the basement on Sunday mornings and gave out free donuts and Coca-Colas between Sunday School and church.
But he also worked around the church during the week, when my mother would drop by to practice music or work on a Sunday School lesson and leave me to wander around the church on my own. I’d usually head for the kitchen first to see if there were any Cokes left over from Sunday – there usually were.
As often as not, ole Luther would be there sitting on his stool. I guess I figured that was part of is janitorial duties. He’d ask me how my day was going, and I’d tell him my whole life story, pausing only for a sip of Coke, every once in a while. He’d smile and listen and say things like, “Uh-huh,” “Is that right?” “You don’t say!” while I’d blabber on and on about whatever was on my mind.
Looking back, if he’d had a Ph.D. in psychology he couldn’t have been a more effective counselor.
Two things I remember most about Luther Muldrow – his rapt attention, as if what I had to say was the most important thing in the world at that moment; and the fact that, not once, was he ever critical or judgmental.
In his own kind and gentle way, he affirmed me and reassured me and made me feel important. And it’s ironic – of all the sermons I heard upstairs on Sunday mornings, none stands out in my memory as much as these conversations I had with Luther Muldrow midweek down in the basement.
I don’t know if Luther had a church home of his own. I know he spent a lot of time at the Methodist Church. I don’t know anything about his family, whether he had a wife and children. He treated all of us kids as his own. Only this I know: He was a saint. He had the grace to listen to a child and give his nod of approval.
And then there was Charlie Golf. He was Parks and Recreation Director back in those days. In addition, he coached the boys’ rifle club, which he organized and met with down at the old National Guard Armory. That’s where I got to know him.
We’d meet once a week in the evenings to shoot 22-caliber rifles on a 50-foot indoor range, which I’m sure he designed and built himself. Of course, he first taught us gun safety, and then he stepped back and encouraged us to hit the bull’s eye, which we did, every once in a while.
With Charlie, it didn’t matter how bad a shot you were, you could always improve, which he tried to motivate us to do. And it didn’t matter how good you were, no one’s perfect.
Once a year, he’d take the rifle club down to Henderson, Texas for a match. We all had dreams of taking back trophies to show how good we were. To this day, I still have a half-dozen stored in a box, where I took first or second place in my age group.
But what I remember most about Charlie Golf is not the competition or who got the trophy that year, but the way in which he tried to instill in us a spirit of teamwork and character and pride in being from Hope and doing our best. For Charlie, marksmanship was always secondary to shooting straight, if you know what I mean.
Like with Luther Muldrow, I’m sorry to say I don’t anything about Charlie’s church affiliation, or whether he went to church at all. But I know the impression he left on me, and how, in the years he was here, he improved the city parks and green areas around town and left this community a better place in which to live.
And so, I have a place for him in my gallery of saints, for in his own quiet way, he pointed me toward the kingdom of God.
I could go on and name others. I could tell you about Charlie Edwards, a handyman by trade, who made countless trips with me to Texarkana to get parts for my dad before I got my license to drive by myself, and who once tried to teach me how to finish concrete. He was a saint, if ever there was one.
I fondly remember Robert O’Neal, whom I caddied for on the golf course almost every weekend, who not only taught me the proper etiquette of the game, but talked to me about architecture and design and building things worthwhile. I’ll never forget the personal tour he gave me of what was the former First National Bank building, now torn down. He was the contractor, and he was justly proud of every brick that went into it.
I could name teachers like Helen Hatch and Tiny Davis and Helen Hays and Mrs. Copeland, whose first name I never knew. Or pastors like the Reverend Virgil Keeley and Dr. L. T. Lawrence, whose strength of faith was, at times, sufficient for the whole community.
But let me simply stop here and say these are just a few of the pictures hanging in my gallery of saints. I’m sure you have your own to dust off and admire. I invite you to do just that – take a moment to remember those individuals who’ve graced your life and be thankful. And, as you do, remember that they, like you, were only human; yet, in their own simple ways, God used them to touch you with the warmth of his grace and love.
And that’s what I’d like to leave you with this morning: Just as God used others to be saints in your life, God can use you, if you’re willing, to lead others a little closer to his kingdom, a little closer to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let the memory of the saints inspire you to be a little more saint-like yourself, not that you’ll ever sprout wings and take to the sky – heaven forbid – but that, by God’s grace, you’ll touch the life of another person in just the same unforgettable way.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2006 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.