Thursday, June 23, 2011

A sermon by the Rt. Rev. James B. Magness, D.Min.

June 22, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.
Pentagon Chapel – Episcopal Community

The Commemoration of St. Alban
First Martyr of Britain

1 John 3:13-16
Psalm 34:1-8
Matthew 10:34-42

Psalm 34.8
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!”

As a boy growing up in Western North Carolina I would occasionally hear my elders talk about a person or persons who perhaps consumed a bit too much alcohol. About those persons it would be said: “For some people, once they get a taste of it, that’s all it takes. It’ll never let you go, and you’ll never let it go.”

Apparently, when it came to Jesus, that is all it took for Alban, thought to be the first recorded martyr of Britain. Alban lived in Britain during the 2nd and 3rd century Roman persecution in that land. He first appears in the annals of history as a soldier, something Alban has in common with many of you. It is written that Alban the soldier befriended a fleeing Christian priest in his home. After a time of conversation with this priest, we don’t know how long, Alban decided to take the Christian faith as his own and be a follower of Jesus. But alas, Alban was only able to live out his newfound Christian vocation for a short time because before long Roman authorities came knocking at his door in search of the priest. As a way of protecting the priest, Alban dressed himself in the garments of the priest. It is not too difficult to imagine the rest of the story. However, there was a memorable twist to this story. According to the Venerable Bede, ecclesiastical historian, at the trial there was quite a conversation between the judge and Alban:
Judge: “What is your family and your race?”
Alban: “How does my family concern you? If you wish to know the truth about my religion, know that I am a Christian and am ready to do a Christian’s duty. I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.”

The end of the story is predictable. Alban was tortured and executed in place of priest.

The story of Alban is a story about cost-counting: what does it cost you today to be a Christ-follower?

In the book of I John, from which we have a reading today, there is found a pointed directive, if you will, a commandment to us: “Believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another (3.23).” In that same book and chapter we also read about what pleases God: “(that we will engage in)… laying down our lives for one another (3.16).”

That’s what it means to be Christian. No more, no less.

Our world is in desperate need of Christians who put love into action and make it real. Like customers looking for a good slice of apple pie or a simple, solid, small car, there are people all around us who are searching desperately for a community of people who actually practice what they preach.

Over 100 years ago, the Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard made the point that Jesus was looking for followers, not admirers — he wanted people who would walk with him, do his work, and serve in his name – even to the point of personal sacrifice!

One of Kierkegaard’s own parables told of a man who was walking down a city street when he saw a big sign in a window that said, “Pants pressed here.” Delighted to see the sign, he went home and gathered up all of his wrinkled laundry. He carried it into the shop and put it on the counter.

“What are you doing?” the shopkeeper demanded.

“I brought my clothes here to be pressed,” said the man, “just like your sign said.”
“Oh, you’ve got it all wrong,” the owner said. “We’re in the business of making signs, and that is a sample of our work. We don’t actually do that here.” We don’t do these things, he was saying. We just talk about them.

And that, said Søren Kierkegaard, is often the problem with people of faith. We affirm to others that we want to show Christ’s love and do Christ’s work. But often when people come to us looking for real love and real Christian action, they don’t see it. “Oh, no, we don’t love people... We just talk about loving people here.”

Being Christian, taking that name upon ourselves and living out our baptismal vows, is to do what Jesus wants us to do and to do it incredibly well. This means helping a sister or brother in need, and loving one another in truth and in action. Being Christian is to be focused upon actions that really show the love of God to people who might be feeling quite unloved and unlovable. Just as business leaders today need to get back in touch with the true value that they offer their customers, Christ-followers need to reconnect with the valuable gifts that we can offer the world around us.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!” (Psalm 34.8)

For some people, once they get a taste of it, that’s all it takes. It’ll never let you go, and you’ll never let it go. AMEN.

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