Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Tenth Day of Christmass

John 6:15-27

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Vernice, Sister and Clown

In downtown San Antonio on the grounds of the old Hemisfair from 1968, tourists won’t want to miss the Institute of Texan Cultures. Younger people that have been more indoctrinated than educated might learn that what today is called multiculturalism has been around for centuries. Six Flags is not just a Texas amusement park. There actually have been six flags that have flown over Texas and, before that, many Indian tribes (who today are called Native Americans here and First Nations in Canada) roamed the land as the first colonists in the so-called new world. They were the earliest Asian immigrants.

Central Texas is dotted with towns and communities with lovely “painted churches” that were largely founded or populated in the 1800s by European immigrants: Germans, Danes, Swedes, Poles, Czechs, Alsatians, and Norwegians. Vernice and her sister Hilma (about whom I wrote earlier) and their siblings grew up in Norse, a farming hamlet outside Clifton, where low stone walls that marked boundaries can still be seen, and the beautiful old Our Savior Lutheran Church dominates the landscape.

Vernice served in the Coast Guard during World War II, almost finished college, and, then, went to work in the Corning glass plant in Waco. She had two children and buried two husbands; both men died tragically. Illnesses and accidents in the family weighed on her much of the time. Yet, she rarely showed any expression other than a smile, and her goal was to put as many smiles as she could on other faces.

While her sister Hilma was the quiet servant, Vernice made a splash when she entered a room, especially when she was in clown make up. Of course, Vernice was her own person, and she didn’t subscribe to the normal protocol for clowns, which is not to talk. I suspect she took her inspiration from Bozo, the TV clown famous in early children’s television. When she gave a children’s sermon, she would walk down the center aisle at St. Matthew, calling the children to herself, taking their hands and walking them to the gate of the chancel. A strong central Texas accent, clown make up, and costume made a definite impression.

Vernice loved Jesus, and she loved people. Because she knew a lot about loss, about tears, and about loneliness, she put on her clown face and outfit and went to those most likely to be forgotten in nursing homes and hospitals. I can’t help but hear in my head Linda Ronstadt’s version of the old Smokey Robinson song, “Tears of a Clown.” Vernice never wore a frown in public. She reveled in being silly, because an older woman in clown make up and outfit can break down walls and melt frozen hearts.

Our day is one long celebration of narcissism. Congregations, and even denominations, build their life together and their programs around giving people what they want or affirming every behavior possible. Sometimes, one hears: “Well, at least they’re in some kind of church.” The problem of heresy is not one choice among several or one story among many. The Christian faith is built on the foundation of the apostles with Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone. Cross-bearing is about forgetting yourself to follow Jesus. Worship and the Christian life are marked by the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The Christian identity is located in Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

Vernice loved being a fool for Christ, and she brought more of His love and joy in her own way to those who wondered if the Lord of the Church and everyone else had forgotten them. She was a treasure.

Dear Father, thank you for Vernice and all the intentional fools for Christ, who bring the Light of the World into some of the darkest corners of this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.