Today’s saints are both identified by their relationship to another person. Silas, fellow worker of Paul and Peter. Scholastica, twin sister of Benedict of Nursia. Silas worked with the heavy hitters, the authors of the New Testament, who formed our faith with the words of Christ. Scholastica’s brother Benedict shaped the whole of western spirituality, and is essentially the reason why you say prayers before you eat. Whether you know it or not, Benedict is also the reason you think you should read your Bible and do your devotions on a daily basis. Peter and Paul write most of the letters of the New Testament, and follow the spreading Gospel during their lives, heroically dying as martyrs in Rome. Silas and Scholastica? Well, Silas is a minor figure in the Book of Acts who sort of disappears. Scholastica, we know next to nothing about her, and maybe she didn’t even really exist. She gets a paragraph in Gregory the Great’s biography of Benedict.
This all goes to say that the church celebrates people who aren’t necessarily important. The church needs people that don’t seem important. The church appoints people who will be forgotten. Christ calls you, who the world will forget. My hunch is that no one here tonight is all that important. We might get big heads from time to time, but at the end of the year, the historians probably won’t be writing your biographies. One of the shocking things about growing up is finding out that you really aren’t all that special. School trains us to work for rewards. Grades. Degrees. Achievements. Points. And then, once you’re out, you really just kind of live, and do something relatively similar from day to day. The outliers are outliers for a reason… there aren’t many of them. You may be the next Benedict or Paul, but the odds are that you are more like Silas or Scholastica.
It’s my guess that you might even know this already. You’ve taken the hint. You’ve been stepped on. You’ve been cast out. You’ve been forgotten already. You’ve been embarrassed. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been not cared about. You think that no one will even notice.
Very early in the history of the church, shortly after Christ ascended into heaven, we thought it would be good to remember people that the world forgets. Christ Himself was left in a tomb, meant to be forgotten. The idea was that you would simply crucify this man, and He and His followers would just sort of go away. Ah, but this is not right! And it is not right for us to forget the forgotten. We remember. In addition to the preaching ministry, the church also established the offices for service of deacon and deaconess. They are not the same, and never really have been, but they helped the early pastors care for the least of these, those who mourn, those who are poor, and poor in spirit.
The church started selecting women to serve other women. A beautiful calling. Phoebe, the first called “deaconess” of course, is mentioned by St. Paul in Romans. We know little about her, other than that she is simply called a deaconess. And then we find them mentioned in the Fathers; Clement and Origen. The Roman investigator of Christianity, Pliny, reports that he tortured two deaconesses to find out information about the Faith.
Right off the bat, we find that the church is so much more than just a collection of passive laypeople who give money to the lazy priests on Sunday mornings. The deaconesses have no liturgical roles, but are given, consecrated to the work of serving the wellbeing of those who are often forgotten by the world, and even by the church! All of the sudden, the unnoticed ones are the ones whom the church exists for. The sick ones. The poor ones. The orphans and widows. You, who are lowly, who are heavy burdened, who are mourning, who are poor in spirit, who find little comfort in the world, yes, you are the ones to whom Christ has sent His word. Scholasticas and Silases. This is for you. Phoebes, once mentioned characters in the Scriptures, and all the rest who have been left out of the spotlight.
They thought they could get rid of us by getting rid of our Leader. Bury Him and they’ll go away. We’ll forget. And we might have, if it weren’t for the fact that Christ rose from the dead. That certainly isn’t something that’s going to be forgotten any time soon, and hasn’t been for a while, thanks to Phoebe, Silas, Scholastica and millions of other forgotten saints who have risen before us. Pastors who have preached. Teachers who have taught. Deaconesses who have served. Churches who have remembered together. We stand at the end of a long line of forgotten people who have remembered. We’re not done yet. We wait for the day that is surely coming, when the forgotten dead will be called to life, by their names, names with which they were baptized into the Great Name. You were baptized, and the Lord remembers your name. Silas! Scholastica! And then, you will hear. Your tears will be gone. Your feet will jump for joy. Lonely never again. Everything fulfilled. To God be the glory. Amen.
Sermon from Zion Lutheran Church in Anchorage AK for Gaudete Sunday, based on Matthew 11.
This is the first of a three part series on the antiphon to Psalm 141, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
This parable today was one of the more prominent designs in medieval sculpture. Go to France and you’ll see the doors of the great cathedrals with this story. Ten virgins. Five wise. Five foolish. Standing outside the door of the church, waiting. I think there is a reason why this was so widespread in church architecture and art. Everyone knows, everyone is wired to know, that there is something more than this, something that is coming. That these things in our world cannot really go on as they are for all that much longer. That there is something after death. And it is imminent, just around the corner.
This is why everyone everywhere is angry and frustrated about everything today. We all know something has to be done before its too late, but no one knows what it is we have to do or what it is that is going to happen. This last election was the most important of our lifetimes, so we were told, the one we really had to get right… or else. There really is a sense that we are standing at the eleventh hour today, and we have been for a while now. Something big is going to happen, and it may happen at any time now.
And so we fret and worry about this or that thing. We run around and try to make sure things are ready. We find that the harder we try though, the worse things get. This might sound crazy, but try, just for a second, to stop that. Relax. Take it easy. Everything is going to be alright. In fact, everything is going to be… good.
The ancient fathers of the church preach that the oil stands for faith, and the funny thing about faith, is that it doesn’t look to itself, or speak of itself… it looks to something else… to Jesus. We don’t talk about faith much, because that sort of talk loses sight of what faith is seeing. Speaking of faith is like talking about the telescope more than the stars it is seeing… having a really nice scope, but never looking through it. If you’re worried about what you’re holding and whether it is enough or the right kind of lamp or oil, you’re not going to get it right. If you run off and try to make sure you’re all ready for the return of the Bridegroom, you’re not going to be ready for the return of the Bridegroom. If you think that your perfection and holiness depends upon your own preparations and whether you’ve got everything in order… then you are not prepared and are, in fact, out of order.
So yes, Christ is surely coming. And this, everyone knows, to some extent. There’s a reason why every religion has some sort of apocalypse at the end… because it is real. The question is what you need to do to be ready for it. Take a nap. Hold your lamp close, and sleep for a bit. Everything is ready. The food is here. The tables are set. The music is about ready to start. Yes, everything is ready, all you need is to sleep, wait, and wake up when He calls. And no, I’m not suggesting you be lazy. I’m saying that you can rest well knowing that all has been accomplished, and everything is ready, for Christ the great Bridegroom of the beautiful bride, the Holy Church has set everything in order.
If you worry about the lamp or the oil, you’ll miss the party. If you worry about others’ lamps, you’ll forget that the Lord is good. If you think that the coming of Christ, and the judgment of the living and the dead is threatening, then you miss the great merciful invitation! It is rather worrying that our world has decided to go with the worrying route though. They’ll spin their wheels and accomplish nothing. That’s okay. When they find out that they weren’t able to change anything, we’ll be right here, rejoicing. Celebrating the forgiveness of all sins in Christ Jesus’ and His Blood. The sad truth is that so many turn out to be foolish, for they do not know their Lord, and have not listened to His beautiful promises. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! He is coming! Everything is ready! We hold forth the bright flame, Christ, the Light of the World that no darkness will overcome, the Spirit, sent burning upon you in Holy Baptism. Really, you have nothing to fear at all. He repeats this time after time… have no fear! He means what He says, and He is risen from the grave to tell you exactly this.
For those who are worried about whether or not Christ will accept them, we point only to His death and resurrection. Murdered by the people He came to save, yet, He still rose from the dead, not to threaten or shame them, but to love them in the new day of the Resurrection, which is now your resurrection. Whatever comes our way, and whatever has already come your way… we rest in these gifts of Christ, knowing full well that whatever is around the corner is always and only for our good in the end, because in the end, everything will be good as Christ has made it so.
This sermon was preached at Zion Lutheran Church, Anchorage, AK on November 11, 2018 for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, which coincided with Armistice Day. This is a significant anniversary of the ending of the War that significantly changed how the world thinks, feels, and looks. The sermon text is taken from Matthew 9:18-26.
Sermon based upon Genesis 2:10.