Sugar

When she came down the aisle, she was a moveable feast. Her wide brim hat was loaded with artificial fruit. There was a fruit bracelet, pin and matching earrings. She was big. Probably 5′ll” and weighed in at 200 lbs. In the pre-spandex era, she packed all she had into the outer limits of rayon’s elasticity. When she flashed her pearly whites, the whole universe lit up. She introduced herself with, “Honey, I’m Sugarplum, but you can call me Sugar!”

Thirty five years ago I served in an innercity church. The parish had a solid core of dedicated parishioners. Most of their families came up from the South in the l930s and ’40s. Many were what we would now call “the working poor.”

All parishes have their idiosyncrasies. At this church the service on Sunday morning really didn’t start until Sugar made her grand entrance. She was the successor to Nefertiti and the Queen of Sheba. She made Gladys Knight look like a pip and Dianah Ross a teenager. Sugar had an incredible sense of presence.

The children loved her. The men were fascinated. But the women were somewhat cool. They would clutch their purses, snug up against each other and share “important” conversations.

Occasionally they would snap at their men folk, pulling them away from exchanging civil pleasantries with Sugar.

She was divorced, on welfare, social security disability, and aid to dependent children.

Because of a serious lung condition, she could not hold a permanent job. Her only child had a bone disease, had had several operations, and needed more operations. To make ends meet, she ran errands for the local “speculating” industry. Occasionally gentlemen callers would escort her to various clubs, where they would chat, and she would sip iced tea. The frequency of her dates often coincided with the end of the month when the rent was due.

Sugar was a marginalized individual within a marginalized part of society. And yet she had an indomitable faith and was incredibly generous. Sugar was the one who took in the stray child, visited the sick, and remembered birthdays. She cried at the wakes, comforted at the funerals, encouraged the unemployed, and loved the unlovable. Always at a pot luck, wake, or wedding, there was her trademark dish - fried chicken glazed with sugar.

To me Sugar was a woman of true faith and piety. She knew she was a sinner. Jesus was her salvation and her Lord. She loved Jesus, and she dearly loved her child. Who would want to cast the first stone? No one in the congregation, and certainly not I.

St. Matthew tells the story of a Canaanite woman who begged for mercy for herself and for her daughter. The disciples rebuffed her, and Jesus told her that He could not dissipate His work by throwing food to the dogs. She replied that even the dogs eat the scraps which fall from the table. Moved by her seriousness and commitment, Jesus said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The daughter was healed. (Matt. 15:21-28, RSV)

Two women, Sugar and the Canaanite. For them, for you, for me, Jesus embodies God’s acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion which bring healing to the spirit. Amen.