Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sermon: Feast of St. John Chrysostom

27 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 21:12-15 (Jer 1:4-10, 2 Tim 4:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

A thousand years before Dr. Luther, there was another reformer in the church, a courageous preacher, insightful theologian, a doctor of the church, and a man who, like Luther a thousand years hence, would suffer for the sake of his confession, having to preach unpopular sermons against the powerful and mighty, calling those with the power to destroy him to repentance, and trusting in Jesus to save him.

St. John Chrysostom, whose name means “Golden Mouth,” is so beloved by Lutheran Christians that he is mentioned eleven times in the Book of Concord. He is venerated as a saint not only among Lutherans, but also by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

St. John was a preacher of the Gospel, a defender of the faith, a theologian of the cross, and a proclaimer of Jesus Christ. Though he was content to be a parish priest, and later a bishop, in his hometown of Antioch (a place where the church was founded by St. Paul and where followers of Jesus were first called “Christians”), he was later called, against his will, to serve as Archbishop of Constantinople. In that capacity, he was forced into moving among the rich and powerful, and yet, he remained first and foremost a preacher of the Lord Jesus Christ.

St. John Chrysostom embodied the ongoing promise of the Lord that those who “preach the word… in season and out of season” can expect this: “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.”

How different this theology of the cross sounds from the kind of name-it-and-claim-it Christianity that has become popular on billboards around our city and in bestselling books lining the aisles of WalMart – a heavily marketed religion that promises you wealth and prosperity. While false preachers make promises they can’t keep, Jesus promises faithful preachers that they will be persecuted. And Jesus always keeps his promises. St. John Chrysostom knew what it was like to “preach the word” – whether in season or out. And he was out more than he was in.

John, like Jeremiah, was called to be a preacher. It was not his choice. John’s life might have been easier had he chosen another line of work – but he did not choose his ministry any more than he chose his Christianity. The Lord puts us where he wants us to be for the sake of the kingdom.

And, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not only we preachers who are promised suffering for the sake of the kingdom. If you are a person whose “itching ears” causes you to “accumulate… teachers to suit [your] own passions,” then the authentic Christian faith is not for you. Jesus promises you neither a rose garden nor a Rolex. Jesus does not tell you that you will never get cancer. Jesus does not offer you a life of ease free from conflict on this side of the grave. No indeed. The more you cling to Christ, the more you will bear your own cross. But this, dear friends, is not a weakness of the faith, but a strength!

For our strength is made perfect in weakness, and it is in the cross that we find victory. For our Lord Jesus Christ has defeated death by tasting it, swallowing it, and spewing it out of His own mouth as a vanquished foe. And the victorious mouth of Jesus proclaims the Gospel anew to us through the golden mouth of St. John Chrysostom, and by the orations of preachers of every time and place who “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

How many times must St. John Chrysostom reflected on the words of St. Paul as he suffered exile and threats from the ruling classes of the city of Constantinople who (like Herod did with John the Baptist) sought ways to silence the golden mouth of the preacher of the Word of God? What comfort and courage Bishop John must have taken to hear these words and preach on them: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

And what could be a higher calling for any Christian – layman or preacher, exalted archbishop or humble parish pastor, than to fulfill the calling the Lord has for us, and to do so seeking sober determination, even to the point of not flinching at suffering.

For indeed, dear brothers and sisters, we know how the story ends. We know who is right. We know who has won the victory.

We can suffer for the sake of the kingdom, dear friends, because the kingdom has been won for us. We have been made citizens of heaven by pure unmerited grace. And the Lord has called some men, like John the Baptist, like John Chrysostom, like Martin Luther – to speak the truth of God’s law to power, and speak the truth of God’s Gospel to those who indeed suffer for righteousness’s sake.

As the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant,” so too does He speak to all those called to bear witness to the good news of salvation and the proclamation of God’s Word in Jesus Christ!

All Christians, whether preachers or hearers, are called to a priesthood in which we offer ourselves as living sacrifices – each according to his own calling and measure of faith. All Christians, whether preachers or hearers, can listen to the Word of God as proclaimed by faithful preachers of every age and hear the resounding Gospel of Jesus Christ. All Christians, whether preachers or hearers, are called to suffer for the sake of the kingdom and to see, hidden away beneath the veil, the very face of Jesus.

And even in his death in 407 AD, St. John Chrysostom pointed us to God’s glory and set an example for all Christians to cast their eyes heavenward, as he reportedly said with his dying breath: “Glory be to God for all things!” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

It is good that you celebrate special days and many of the church's saints.

I have attended Eastern Orthodox churches on a number of occasions.
Is not the Orthodox liturgy that of John Chrysostom?

The music of the Russian Orthodox Church, which I attended several years ago in Anchorage, Alaska, is truly heavely, especially in the churches highly decorated with icons.