Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

Wednesday Healing Service
2 Corinthians 4:11-18; Luke 24:44-48

"Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky....that's my name, too. Whenever we go out, the people always shout, there goes Samuel...."

Little Charlie can sing this song (well, John Jacob's version) at least 15 times in a row without ceasing to find it hilarious. I could read Samuel Isaac's story at least 15 times in a row without ceasing to find it inspirational.

I'm preaching on him tomorrow at the healing service. It's just a short homily, and I really am not supposed to use any notes, but there's so much I'd like to share about this incredible man. Perhaps I will just read from Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Born in 1831 to Jewish parents in Lithuania, Samuel Isaac was studying for the rabbinate in Germany when a group of missionaries and his own study of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament introduced him to Christianity. He moved to America to train for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but switched teams midway through and finished his training as an Episcopalian at General.

After his ordination, Samuel Isaac accepted his bishop's call to serve in China. On the way there he learned to read and write Chinese. Good grief. Samuel Isaac would eventually become Bishop of Shanghai, found St. John's University in Shanghai, and make literally an entire life's work out of translating the Bible and other documents into various Chinese languages. Paralysis forced him to resign his cure in 1883, but he continued his work of translation until his death, typing more than 2,000 pages with only the middle finger of one partially paralyzed hand.

Late in his life, Samuel Isaac said, "I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted." This faith, this perseverance (the most raw display of faith we can make) - not what he accomplished with it - is, I think, what makes him a saint.

So do not lose heart, we will read in 2 Corinthians. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Do not lose heart. We may have more wrinkles - laugh lines, right? - around our eyes and mouths, we may have more gray hairs on our heads, we may lose the ability to use our bodies in the ways we were accustomed, but we do not lose the ability to serve as witnesses to God's work in the world.

The collect we will read says, "Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it." We do have permission, if our gift is not learning new alphabets and new languages in the length of time it takes us to travel to a new land, to do a smaller thing. The work we are given to do, whatever its size, is a piece of the coming of the kingdom of God, and so it is significant.

May we learn from Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky that perseverance - from taking the time to answer the call to taking time to finish a task - is a sure act of faith. May we learn from him that God does indeed provide us with the strength to do the things God calls us to. God wouldn't call us to do them otherwise. May we learn from Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky something of what it means to be a Christian, for that is our name, too.

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