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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

All Saint’s Sunday – Year A

Did you know that the first rector of St. James’s, Dr. Adam Empie, who preached his first sermon in Richmond in 1837, was the first chaplain of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the rector of Bruton Parish and president of the College of William and Mary? Did you know that the women of St. James’s first started holding their bazaar in 1839 when the Ladies Sewing Circle held a three day fair selling, “useful” and “fancy articles . . . calculated to please the palate as well as to gratify the taste.” Those faithful women raised $800.00 to benefit the purchase of our church’s first organ. Did you know that fire not only broke out in St. James’s in July of 1994 but also in November of 1853? Did you know that General J. E. B Stuart was buried from St. James’s in 1864 and that St. James’s rector for 37 years Dr. Joshua Peterkin sang “Rock of Ages” with him as the general lay dying? Did you know that a member of St. James’s, Sally Louisa Tompkins was the only woman officer in the Confederate Army, so honored because of her skills as a nurse and a healer? Captain Sally, as she was known, opened her first hospital in Richmond in 1861 and by 1865 she had lost only 73 of the 1,333 soldiers she treated. She has her own stained glass window within our church. Did you know that because of the good work of Miss Eta Ambler, the Secretary for Religious Education at St. James’s for eighteen years, in 1937 the Sunday School had an average Sunday class attendance of 390 children? Did you know that I am not superstitious even though I am the 13th rector of St. James’s and that over 50 members of the clergy have served this church since 1835?
“Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” wrote St. John in the book of Revelation. “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The saints, they are all around us. The history of this church, the history of Christianity is one long string of saints who have lived and loved, sinned and served God. We stand upon their shoulders and we honor them this morning – all the saints both living and dead. Today we celebrate the lives of the new saints by parading their baptismal banners around the church. Those beautiful babies washed in the waters of baptism today this year represent the newest strands, freshly woven into that long string of Christians who have struggled to serve Jesus Christ for the past two thousand years. They are the leading edge of a long procession of which we are all apart. Today, we also honor the saints who have died in the past year, all those men and women who have come through the great ordeal of this life and we lift up their names to God in thanksgiving for their lives.
Whenever we recite the Baptismal Covenant, as we will this morning, we proclaim that we believe in: “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” What does that mean – “the communion of saints?” Simply put, the communion of saints “is the fellowship of forgiven sinners who are continually receiving the grace of God in Word and sacrament.” In short, we are the communion of saints. All those good people who struggled and sacrificed to build St. James’s in 1838 are the communion of saints. All those men and women who have followed Christ for the past two millennia are the communion of saints. And to believe in the communion of saints is to believe that all of us who call ourselves Christians are connected to one another by virtue of being connected to the sacred mystery that lies at the heart of the world.
Saints are usually ordinary folk. While there are extraordinary saints – James and John, Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene and Mother Teresa – most of the saints are the rank and file. They are the unexceptional and undecorated. As that great little hymn says, saints are people you can meet, “in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea.” They are folks, “just like me.” Their distinctiveness lies in the fact they have placed themselves in the hands of an extraordinary God.
Who are your saints? Who are the people whose faith and integrity enriched your life and helped to form you as a better person? Remember them. Give thanks for them. They are priceless. I have many saints – teachers, coaches, camp counselors, scout leaders, professors, priests and relatives – people who have taught me something about what it means to be a man of honor, what it means to be a man of courage and faith. None of them were perfect. All of them were sinners, but each of them added something crucial to the story of my life. I am who I am because of the gifts they were willing to give me.
The truth of the matter is, you and I are the saints who are wedged in between the newly baptized and the faithful departed. And the good news for all of us is that through our worship and our prayers we have been made, are being made, and shall be made holy by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Like all the saints who have gone before, we too are sinful and in need of God’s love and forgiveness. And like all the saints who have gone before we have our jobs to do. Someone once said it is not what we do for God that counts, but what God does through us. As the living saints of the current generation it is our job is to let God work through our lives. It is our job to be saints for others in such a way that we can share the gifts given to us by the saints who have gone before.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The people and history of this church for the past 180 years are but a very small part of the larger Christian story. But that story is our story. It represents our past, it impinges upon our present and it guides us into the future. This is our time, our opportunity to add our small contributions to that larger epic. May God give us the grace and the courage to live up to those who have gone before while we leave a lasting legacy for those who will follow. Amen.
Let us pray. Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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