Unsung Saints Advent 2020

2nd Sunday after Christmass, January 3

Hebrews 11:13-22

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.


Arlene, Gracious Lady

There are extroverts and introverts in every congregation and usually in every marriage. The extroverts are working a crowd, because they draw energy from being with people. The introverts are observing the crowd and often catch what the extroverts miss. The extroverts are asking the five Ws and one H of journalism (who, what, where, when, why, and how) from everyone they meet. The introverts are listening and really hearing what is going on in people’s lives. The extroverts will run for every office. The introverts will serve faithfully in one or two places. Extroverts loves big crowds. Introverts do fine in a crowd, but they are worn out afterwards while the extroverts are still bouncing off the walls,

Arlene was an introvert at church. She was always gracious and smiled easily. She never missed worship unless she was traveling or sick. You could count on her to be in the same pew at the 11 a.m. Eucharist and sitting with friends who also came to worship by themselves. Friends might go out for lunch together, but Arlene was not working the crowd as the extroverts do. Arlene did have a wide circle of friends. She played cards and had been active in a newcomers’ group for several years. But Arlene was a Swedish Lutheran, and, at church, she was very low key.

When we came to St. Matthew’s in July 2004, we met Arlene and John. They were well dressed for worship and obviously adored each other. They were friendly and welcoming to the new pastor and wife. They had vacationed in the area for many years before moving here from Connecticut in retirement. John loved to golf, and so they had a lovely home on a golf course. John, a World War II vet, spent hours on the landscaping maintenance, which made it very difficult for Arlene when John died in June 2005 from lung cancer. It was as if we had only just met when John was diagnosed with the disease that took my father and my wife’s mother. In our household, we consider cancer to be the face of evil. It was very difficult to watch John go so quickly.

John and Arlene had already been married fifty-one years when he died. Their three daughters and their families were all back home, Arlene would go to visit at holidays, but she had had enough of winter weather. Although she slowly eliminated some of the elaborate landscaping, she kept her home as long as she could and had only moved to an apartment recently. As with many seniors during this Covid-19 year, Arlene was isolated. She became ill and spent time in the hospital. When she went to a highly-touted nursing home for rehab, the staff were not attentive in the night, and she had a bad fall. Then, it was back to the hospital and even more isolation. She had just been allowed to come home to her apartment with her daughters close at hand when she began to fail rapidly. I brought Holy Communion to Arlene and had prayers with her. She smiled beautifully as we talked about her relocating back to be closer to her daughters. The Lord had other and better plans for Arlene. She was reunited with her John.

The daughters indicated they were taking back home those most personal, memory-laden items from their parents’ home. They asked if we might find a home for some of their furniture and a washer/dryer. One of the friends of our parish was glad to have the washer/dryer. Clare got a new bedroom suite from Arlene and John’s guest room, and we were thrilled to have their buffet, a curio cabinet, and a desk. It was not just that the gift included an upgrade from a little girl’s furniture and welcome additions to our home. We were moved that Arlene and John’s daughters were willing to let us have some furnishings that Arlene and John had chosen with care for their beloved retirement home. We have daily reminders of dear Christian friends and faithful parishioners.

After about seven years of renting at the beach and in town, we purchased a home ten years ago that had been well-loved by a couple for forty-seven years. Each season we delight to see some plants or flowers blooming and give thanks for Myrtle and Roy, who were stewards of our home before us. Now gifts of cherished furniture from Arlene and John remind us that we have no continuing city here. Before we know it, our daughter will be grown. Someday, she will decide what of ours to keep and what to share.

Father, thank you for Arlene and John, faithful servants of Christ’s Church. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

Place thirty-six pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box as a sign of love for neighbors in need.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.