Unsung Saints Advent Devotions 2019

Wednesday after Epiphany

John 7:37-52

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Mabel, Joyous Prayer Warrior

We met Mabel and Jim our first Saturday night at St. Matthew’s. They were stalwarts of a large group of mostly retirees from the north who worshiped together every Saturday and, then, went to Crazy’s Pizza for supper. Only a very small group of survivors carries on that tradition today.

I remember Mabel’s beautiful silver hair and her big smile. She reminded me of my mother’s sister Car, my Philadelphia godmother, who loved the Lord and loved to laugh. I learned that Mabel was one of our parish’s prayer warriors, a group builder and organizer of activities that welcomed in newcomers. An old song says: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Mabel exemplified that.

Our first year in Wilmington, we were renting a three-level house at Kure Beach across the main road from the ocean. We were adjusting to having one car, and my wife to living for the first time outside Texas far from family and not practicing law or working outside the home. We had agreed that she would stay home in the hope that we would have a child. To our surprise, it took three years for our daughter to get here. By that time, we had been married five years, and the new Dad was 53. We moved to town just before the birth of our daughter. Saturday night was often the easiest time for the new Mom and daughter to worship. Mabel and all the Saturday night folks “ohhed-and-ahhed” over the baby and told us not to worry about her crying in church. They said that kids grow out of that, and she did.

Mabel and Jim loved to talk about their grandkids, a girl and a boy from their only son and his wife. They loved to have them over after school. Mabel would bake special treats. This was the reason they had left behind their home in one of the valleys of central Pennsylvania. Of course, they were very proud of their son, a local doctor, and adored his wife. In a perfect world, she said, their son and his family would be at St. Matthew’s, but his wife was a devout Methodist, and that was OK, too.

When Mabel was diagnosed with cancer, I made a home visit. She told me stories about her past and of how she had grown through pain. One female friend in particular had been there at the right time to midwife Mabel’s growth in the Christian faith. She had one of those transitional moments in which the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in Word and Sacrament was particularly powerful. God’s grace in Jesus Christ can so overwhelm us when we are at our lowest points that we repent of our unbelief and rise to a new joy as children of God. Mabel talked about one such watershed moment, a profound renewal of her Baptism.

Mabel’s abdominal radiation treatments did not go well. She went quickly after that, and her death was a great loss to our parish and to her closest friends. On the day of her burial, her son took me aside at Oleander Gardens. He said: “Mom is laughing with delight today. Dad, she, and friends at church bought lots here back in the 1970s. I asked what they are going for today, and the saleswoman told me $8000 apiece. Mom loved it when she got a bargain deal.”

On colder winter nights, Mabel wore a beautiful long red coat that looked so nice with her silver hair. After she died, Jim told my wife that Mabel would want her to have that coat, because she is as tall as Mabel. When my darling wears that coat on a winter night, I think of Mabel and smile at the memory of her faith.

Dear Father, thank you for Mabel and all the faithful prayer warriors, who live joyfully because they know how costly Your grace is in Jesus Christ. In His 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.