Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity (All Saints’ Sunday)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 7, 2010
There are a limited number of times when we would anticipate the celebration of a Feast Day of the church on the Sunday following its actual occurrence on the Kalendar. We usually commemorate or at least acknowledge the Feast of the Epiphany on the first or second Sunday in January even when its actual date on the calendar is January 6. We celebrate the Sunday following Ascension Day since its Feast Day always falls on a Thursday, and unless your church name is the Church of the Ascension, most don’t commemorate the Feast on its actual date. However, we at St. John’s do celebrate and properly recognize Ascension Day as the fortieth day following Easter. Finally, we come to this morning, the other Major Feast in which many churches fully celebrate what we did on Monday night – we come to the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.
We will sing again the great hymn For All the Saints as our recessional hymn this morning, and there are two other peculiarities about privileged feasts such as this one – one that has already happened, and one yet to come. The first came at the beginning of the service when we repeated the Collect for All Saints’ Day before praying the Collect of the Day. The second will come during the Communion service when we will hear again the words from St. Paul as they have been incorporated into the Proper Preface for All Saints’ Day and the seven days following. If you turn in your Prayer Books to page 79 you will see what I am talking about. All of the Proper Prefaces for the seasons as proscribed in the Prayer Book carry with them instructions as to when they are to be read. There are six that are to be read throughout the Octave – Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Whitsuntide, and All Saints’. If you look at the first five, they all pertain to Jesus or Holy Spirit personally – Jesus’ Nativity, His manifestation to the Gentiles, His Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension to the Father, the coming of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles. The final Feast celebrates those who loved, and served the Lord Jesus.
Of course our primary focus has to lie in the following of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the study of His holy Word, in the keeping of His law and commandments, in the taking of His message to the entire world. However, we do ourselves a huge mistake if we do not study the lives of His Saints, how they lived their lives, what they wrote and taught about the church and Holy Scripture. Why does the Prayer Book and Church Kalendar spend so much time writing collects and ascribing additional portions of Scripture to be read when we commemorate Saints’ Days if we weren’t supposed to learn something from them, live with the same fervor and passion for our Lord as they did, and bid them to pray for us? We should! It is meet and right for us to do this!
One of the great saints of the church was John Chrysostom. His name literally means “golden tongued” or “golden mouthed” and his voluminous writings are studied for their profundity and depth, his engagement of Holy Scripture, and the sermons that he left us. In addition to his writings on various topics of engagement and discussion, and a service of the Divine Liturgy attributed to him, Chrysostom has left some sixty-seven sermons on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles. That’s 359 sermons on just five books of the Bible if anyone was counting. It’s certainly plausible that there hundreds more that did not survive since he was writing in the fourth century AD.
I wish to read an excerpt from one of his writings that is part of the lessons appointed for today in the Anglican Breviary. I believe he speaks so well as to why we are called upon to study the lives of the Saints so that we might walk the same path as they did in order to reach the same destination where they have now arrived.
“He that wondereth with reverential love at the mighty deeds of the holy, he that hath oftentimes on his tongue praises for the glory of the righteous, let such an one copy their holy lives and their righteousness; for if any take pleasure in the work of a Saint, he ought to take pleasure in serving God as that Saint served him. If he praiseth the Saint, he ought to imitate him, and if he is not ready to imitate him, he ought not to praise him. Let him that praiseth another make himself worthy of a like praise, and if he be in admiration of the Saints, let his own admirable life reflect the holiness of theirs. If we love the good and loyal because they are good and loyal, let us not forget that we can be what they are, by doing as they did.
“It ought not to be hard for us to copy others, when we see what they of old time did without any ensamples before them, so that in them who copied not others, but set ensample for others to copy, and in us who copy them, and in them which take ensample by us, Christ may be glorified in his holy Church. Thus from the very beginning of the world there have been the harmless Abel who was slain, Enoch who walked with God, and was seen no more, for God took him, Noah who was found righteous, Abraham who was tried and found faithful, Moses who was the meekest of men, Joshua who was chaste, David who was gentle, Elijah who was accepted, Daniel who was holy, and the three Children who were victorious.
The Apostles, the disciples of Christ, are held to be the teachers of believers. Confessors taught of them fight right manfully, the noble martyrs triumph, and the Christian army armed with the armour of God, ever prevaileth in warfare against the devil. All these have been men of like loyalty, divers warfarings, and glorious victories. And thou, O Christian, art but a carpet-knight, if thou thinkest to conquer without a fight, to triumph without a struggle. Nerve thyself, strive manfully, hit hard in the press. Consider thine engagement, look to thy state, know thine arm, even the engagement which thou hast taken, the state wherein thou art come, and the arm wherewith thou hast enrolled thyself a soldier.”
Each All Saints’ Day we hear again Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. On page 257 of the Prayer Book you can find the passage from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew where it says that Jesus opened his mouth and taught at a minimum the apostles, but quite likely the multitude that had followed him and began with those familiar words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” He continues with the other seven “Blessed are” statements, but I only wish to touch on this first one because of its blessing and its reward.
The poor in spirit is not talking about the destitute, or the financially poor, but rather those who consider poverty of spirit to be something to be sought after and not shunned. Poverty of spirit is that emptying of self and total realization that we do not possess what it takes to be the person our Lord calls us to be. We do not have on our own what is required to live the way God wants us to live. We are incapable of loving our Heavenly Father, our neighbors, or ourselves the way we ought without the influence of something outside of ourselves. We need help and that help comes from the Spirit of the God. The Holy Ghost dwelling within us is what is required and the great saints of the church recognized that a posture of poverty of spirit was absolutely necessary in order for the Spirit to come into our hearts and lives and begin to do His work. Only through poverty of spirit can we clean our spiritual house so to speak.
Those who embrace a poverty of spirit are promised the kingdom of heaven. It’s important to note here that the verb is in the present tense. Theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. It’s not just something we have to await, but it’s something to embrace. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in Heaven for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom is to be experienced in the here and now even as we will enjoy those incredible joys in the life to come.
We are called to be those poor in spirit folk who embrace this particular form of poverty in order to be the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. The reason this is so critical is because we are called to share that kingdom with others. The only way we can share it is if we experience it, live in it, and know it intimately. If we are indeed ready to embrace a life of poverty, a poverty of spirit, ours is our Father’s kingdom to enjoy and then share with a world that desperately needs to embrace it as well.