A sermon for the Feast of St. Alban (transferred)
June 26, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
This Sunday, we are celebrating our respective patron saints at both St. Peter’s and St. Alban’s. The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is June 29, and the Feast of St. Alban is June 22. We’re transferring both of them to this Sunday, the fourth Sunday in June. The purpose of celebrating our patron saints’ days is to give thanks for the life and witness of our patron saint, and to thank God for our community of faith here. We pray that God would empower us to follow the example of our patron, living more fully into Christ day by day as we are sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit. And today is a good opportunity to be reminded of our saint’s story.
St. Alban was a Roman soldier in present-day England. It wasn’t known as England back then. Scholars now put his in the year 209, during the persecutions of Emperor Septimus Severus. During those persecutions, a priest on the run came knocking on his door, seeking shelter. Alban let him in. And something happened. In talking with the priest, in seeing this humble priest’s life and witness, Alban was converted to Christianity. When the soldiers came to take the priest away, Alban put on the priest’s clothes and took his place. He went to the executioner and confessed, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” And he was killed with the sword, the first martyr of the British Isles.
He is a saint, a holy one, someone whose life and witness show us clearly what it means to follow Jesus and lead a life of faith, hope, and love. One who has been caught up into heaven and brought into the nearer presence of Christ to pray for us.
Not all saints are martyrs, like Alban. There are all kinds of saints. In addition to the martyrs, there are faithful prayer warriors; there are theologians and thinkers; there are deacons, priests, bishops, and a whole lot of lay folks; there are monks and nuns and ordinary people living in the world; there are young saints and old saints, rich saints and poor saints, pretty saints and ugly saints. Saints from every race and people and nation. Saints we know, and perhaps many more saints that are known only to God.
Regardless of differences in life and death, to be a saint boils down to one simple thing. A saint is someone who has given in completely to the grace of God, has completely surrendered to the will of God for them in life and in death. One Persian poet, Hafez, described sainthood in this poem:
What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
“You still think you have a thousand serious moves.” Yes, that describes me. I’m not good at that surrendering thing. Sainthood is still far off. But the honest truth is, I want to be a saint. And I hope you do, too. I want my life to point fully to Christ, to confess fully in life and in death, whenever and however death comes, that Jesus is Lord–and nothing else, not even me, can compete with his lordship. I want my life and my death to show that I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things. And I believe that the Holy Spirit is still working on me, pushing me to greater sanctification, pushing me to be a saint. But becoming a saint isn’t easy stuff. It means surrendering, giving in to God’s grace and God’s will completely. It is joyously crying “I surrender,” “not my will but thy will be done.”
We sing that little song about saints. We say, “And I want to be one, too.” I certainly hope we want to be a saint. But be careful what you pray! At the beginning, we should just know: If we’re serious about becoming a saint, the Spirit will get to work, purging away those things that stand in the way of our complete surrender to God. It might be painful. But the joys of heaven will be worth it all. Following Jesus will be worth it all. Knowing the love of God, deeply and fully and completely, will be worth it all.
I know a living saint. Or I think she’s a living saint. Her name is Julia. She would probably be embarrassed, maybe indignant, if she knew I was saying this. But I think it’s true. It’s the fruit I can see in her life. And when I see her life, my spirit immediately knows that’s where I want to be, no matter the cost. But it comes at a cost.
Julia is a learned woman, an important scholar, a faithful priest in this Church. She’s a loving mother and grandmother. She’s a dear professor. But none of that makes her a saint. Those things don’t hurt–but those things alone do not a saint make. No, what makes her a saint is that she has given in, as far as I can see, to the will and grace of God, completely surrendered. I heard a conversation about her once. Folks were talking about her and her influence on them. They talked about her scholarly work, her priest work, her work as a professor, her friendship and personality. But the true mark of sainthood was revealed after that. A man, a fellow professor and scholar of hers, said this: Mother Julia really knows Jesus. That’s a saint.
“They were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one, too.” Be careful what you pray. If you really want to be a saint, the Holy Spirit will make you one. And once you have surrendered completely to God’s grace and will, you’ll never look back, and you’ll never regret the cost. Bursting out in laughter and tripping over joy, you’ll give up on those thousand serious moves you once thought you had in this chess game with God. You will gladly cry, “I surrender! Checkmate!” And then you will really know Jesus.
A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7
June 19, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
There’s some part of us that likes to be scared. I’m not talking about the innocent Halloween type of scared. I’m talking about something darker, something buried deep down in secret places. The type of darkness that would drive people to flock to roadside shows to see people trapped in cages, dressed in tatters--the outcasts of society, the sick, the scary ones. Deep down, in some dark place, we like to be scared.
There’s something reminiscent of that in the man from the gospel today. Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee into Gentile country. Once there, he meets a man. Possessed by demons, this man would run naked through the city streets and lived in a graveyard. It’s not a stretch to imagine the social ridicule he would have faced. Kids daring one another, betting how close they could get to the man. “I dare you to go inside the graveyard where that man lives. I double dog dare you to go touch the fence of the graveyard. I’ll give you five dollars if you poke that man with this stick.” Perhaps parents would warn their children using this man as a sort of boogeyman. “You’d better eat your green beans or the graveyard man will eat you. Don’t run off or you might be taken by the graveyard man. You’d better be good or you’ll end up like him.”
I can’t help but wonder how long it had been since anyone actually talked to him before Jesus today. How long since someone had looked him in the eye?
You know the story. Jesus shows up and sees this graveyard man, running naked among the tombs. Jesus asks the demons their name. “Legion,” they answer. The name is no accident. A legion was a unit of about 5,000 Roman soldiers, and that the demons answer to that name is suggestive of the Empire’s demonic sway, of the evil powers and principalities of this world that rebel against God even now. Jesus casts Legion out into a herd of pigs and they drown themselves in the sea.
The man is dressed, restored, renewed, and healed. The people of the town see him healed, dressed, talking with Jesus. They see a man liberated from the power of hell and sin. And they rejoice! Right? They celebrate and throw a party! Right? No. The gospel tells us, “And they were afraid.” And they ask Jesus to leave.
And they were afraid. Not like before, when they would point at the man, ridicule him, ignore his suffering for a good laugh or just blame it all on his own choices. No, this is a different kind of fear. The fear of being found out.
Now they see this man healed. Their scapegoat is gone. Their boogeyman is history. And maybe they were confronted with that dark place in themselves that had so often turned a blind eye, or worse, added to his suffering. Maybe they were confronted with their own need for healing. Maybe they were afraid that just as Jesus saw through the demoniac, he could see through them, too. They may not be running through the city naked and living in a graveyard, but they needed healing, too. They needed a messiah, too. Faced with the power of God to heal and save, they turn away, afraid. Go away, Jesus.
There’s an old story about St. Augustine of Hippo. He prayed that God would reach down and pull him out of his sin and misery. He would pray earnestly, “Please, God, make me good, but not just yet.” Go away, Jesus. I can see that I need healing, just like this man. But not just yet.
We live in a world that is not so different from the one in today’s gospel. The world needs the healing power of Jesus to lift us out of sin and death and into the life of God. But like today’s gospel reading, our world is one in which people shrink from the saving help of God. Too often, we ask Jesus to leave town, to circle back at a later time, to make us good--but not just yet.
Our job as the Church in such a world is to keep bringing Jesus–to keep showing up with his promise of love, healing, redemption, and grace. And when Jesus and his way of radical and accepting love for all are pushed to the side and ignored, we keep bringing Jesus anyway. Because that is what our world needs more than ever before: a loving Savior who can heal us all and bring us all into the light.
As for you and me, may we never ask Jesus to go away. For when Jesus shows up in our lives with his love and mercy and grace, we may be like those townspeople in today’s gospel, afraid of being found out. My message today is this: Let Jesus find us out. He already knows anyway. And what he wants more than anything else is for us to be transformed, changed to be more like him–day by day, to embody and show what it means to follow him and walk his way of love. May our prayer, today and everyday, be this: God, make me good. Change me to be more like you. And do it right now.
A sermon for Trinity Sunday
June 12, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Today is Trinity Sunday, a feast in the Church when we celebrate that we serve a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons but one being, one God. This is who God has told us he is. The Trinity is God’s self-revelation. We did not puzzle this out on our own; God revealed it. This is not our best guess at who God is; God revealed it. God has been revealed as Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God. That’s just who God is.
Did you notice how each person of the Trinity is mentioned in our gospel lesson? Jesus, the Son, is speaking to his disciples. He says the Spirit will come to teach them all things. Jesus says that the Father has given everything into the Son’s hands. The Spirit will, in turn, give all of those things to the people of God. To us.
So what, exactly, is Jesus promising that the Spirit will give to us? The Spirit gives us good things–the things that Jesus himself brought in his earthly ministry. The Spirit bestows grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, hope, truth, peace, goodness, wisdom, blessing, beauty, power, courage, love, intimacy with God. Those are the good things we are promised–and the list doesn’t stop there!
We need all of these good things now, don’t we? We need them, and our world needs them. There is a lot of pain around us and in our own lives. There is pain in our world. To face all of that alone is a fool’s errand. We just can’t do it by ourselves. We need help and power. We need grace and strength. We need faith and hope. We need the love of God. And all of that has been promised to us. Jesus tells us today that the Holy Spirit is pouring out those very things, even now, as gifts of God to the people of God.
St. Paul knew something about pain and struggles in this life. He writes from personal experience today in our reading from Romans. He says, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” St. Paul is reminding us that we suffer in this world–as if we needed any reminder. We know pain and grief and sorrow. There’s no need to hide our eyes from it or try to ignore it. It’s there. But, St. Paul says, we are not left comfortless. God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Spirit, just as Jesus said, because we have been reconciled, reconnected to God through faith in Christ. Because God’s love, God’s very Spirit, has been poured out into our hearts, we can endure, holding fast to our hope.
We hold fast to our hope. St. Paul says our hope does not disappoint us. One translator puts it this way: “Hope does not prove an embarrassment.” Hope in what? Hope in God. Hope in those good and needed things the Spirit is giving to us. Hope in God’s presence in our lives, even in the middle of our suffering. Hope that our suffering, our pain, the bad things in this world, do not win in the end. For we have been claimed by God. God’s love, God’s Spirit has been poured out into us. And because of that, we will be with God forever. And nothing can separate us from God’s love. That hope will not disappoint; you can count on it.
The Trinity has a reputation for being difficult to understand, and sermons on Trinity Sunday are known for being difficult and heavy and intense. But here’s the long and short of the Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. Three persons but one Being. And that God is with us. That God invites us into friendship, into relationship, into intimacy. That God fills our hearts and gives us strength to face whatever this world throws our way. That God will not abandon us. And we can put our hope, our ultimate hope, in that God. For that God is faithful. That God loves us, now and forever.
A sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
June 5, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. We call it our birthday because it is on this day that the Spirit of God, poured out, creates the Church, the Body of Christ. We are only the Church, the Body of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not our good works that make us the Church; it is not who we are that makes us the Church; it is, rather, the Spirit and the grace of God poured out into us that makes us the Church, uniting us to one another, and to the Body of Christ throughout the world and throughout time.
Today we read about how that Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. The disciples have gathered in Jerusalem in obedience to Christ. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Spirit, and wait they did. For ten days. Praying. Fasting. Wondering. And then it happened. Acts tells us that the Spirit of God descends on them like fire, like a violent wind. It is the same violent wind that brooded upon the waters at the beginning of creation. And like then, the Spirit is making something new on this day: a new Body, infused with the Holy Spirit, empowered to bear witness to Christ and to tell of how he has saved us. The disciples begin to speak in other languages–the languages of those around them–so that they may share the Good News, the Gospel of Christ. Barriers that divide are broken down. Differences in language, nation, culture, class, race, gender–they cannot stop the liberating power of the Spirit.
You and I, heirs of those first Christians, have the same promised Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives within us, empowering us to share the Good News, leading us to follow Christ in this world that needs to see him now more than ever. The Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being, makes us children of God, makes our hearts the throne of God, makes our bodies the Temple of God.
In Romans today, St. Paul says we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. We did not receive a spirit that keeps us bound to sin and death. We did not receive a spirit that cannot liberate us from the evil around us. And take a look, there is evil around us. The false gods of this world seek to impose their will. We see the will of the false gods of this world when we see bombed out buildings and rows of headstones with the names of the fallen. We see the will of the false gods of this world when we see children hungry, seniors unable to afford food or medication. We see the will of the false gods of this world when we see people divided by race, by class, by gender, by who God made them to be. We see the will of the false gods of this world when we see hatred infesting hearts, innocents slaughtered in grocery stores, doctors’ offices, and schools. And we may be tempted to shrink back in fear–because what can we do? We may be tempted to shrink back in fear–because how can we escape, how can we not be bound to this cycle of abuse and violence? We may be tempted to shrink back in fear–because who are we against such terror?
You and I? Who are we? We’re children of the Most High God. “We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” St. Paul says. No, “we have received a spirit of adoption.” We have been made children of God Almighty, the Lord of Life and Love. So we can stand up, come what may. We do not need to be afraid, come what may. We can have courage, come what may. Because we know God hears us when we cry out to him: Abba! Father!
We are not insulated from the bad things that happen in this world. In fact, St. Paul says we will suffer in this world, just as our Lord suffered in this world. Our world is fallen, and you and I are impacted by evil. But we are not enslaved to it. We are free–free from its power–because we know that evil does not get the last word. Sin does not get the last word. Satan himself does not get the last word.
No, God gets the last word. God gets the victory. Glory awaits. And at the end we will see Christ standing victorious over all the violence, all the hatred, all the bigotry, all the pain, all the tears, all the hardship, all the evil, all the despair. We will see Christ wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will see Christ make a new heaven and a new earth, where there is neither pain nor grief, but life eternal. We will see Christ banish fear, and violence, and hatred, along with that old Serpent, forever.
But for now, as we live in this world, we take heart. We have courage. We believe in the promises and power of God. Because the Spirit of God lives within us. The Spirit of God empowers us, and strengthens us, and gives us the boldness to face down evil when it comes our way. We are children of God. We are joint heirs with Christ. And God is on our side.
So happy birthday, Church. All of that is certainly worth celebrating.
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