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.
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