Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sermon: St. Cyril of Alexandria

27 June 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 12:8-12 (2 Sam 7:17-29, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century archbishop and theologian. You might be thinking: “What does this have to do with me, with our congregation, and with the Gospel – especially in the year 2010?”


We all need heroes and role models. In our society, we tend to point children to sports figures, actors, and musicians to emulate. In some cases, these are truly praiseworthy people whose God-given gifts awe us, and the way those gifts are used inspire us – such as the tenacity and dignity of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who battled for eleven hours in history’s longest tennis match this past week. A son of our own congregation, the sainted Mel Ott, was not only a hero because of his home runs, but also because of his humility and confession of Christ.

But more often than not, sports figures, actors, and musicians are less than helpful role models.

Soldiers, sailors, and marines are often presented with great military figures of the past – not only to study their tactics and strategy, but also to emulate their valor, honor, courage, and virtue. That is why the Church, ever at war against the forces of darkness – against sin, death, and the devil, against the fallen world and our own sinful flesh – honors the saints and presents them as role models, whose “history” is “set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works” for Christians of all ages “according to our calling.”

St. Luke tells us that being a Christian is a dangerous and perhaps even violent business: “When” he says, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious.” Satan wants to destroy the Church, and that means, dear brethren, he wants to destroy you. There are times in which we will become POWs under interrogation, and yet, we are not to fear: “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

In each of our three main hymns today: “Fight the Good Fight,” “A Mighty Fortress,” and “By All Your Saints in Warfare” – there is military, martial, language. The Church is at war. We are at war. You, dear Christian, are at war.

Another hymn, “Lead On O King Eternal,” includes this stanza:

Lead on, O King eternal,
Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper
The sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing,
Nor roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly kingdom comes.

As stated, we fight not with literal swords and drums, but with the very love and mercy of God expressed through our own words and deeds, our own proclamation and action.

St. Paul picks up this military theme when he exhorts us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not,” proclaims the apostle, “wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” St. Paul bids us to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

An immaculate and unbloody sword in a display case that may only see service to cut cakes is of no use in battle. It must be at the ready and wielded at the enemy. Similarly, a pristine Bible with a spotless cover sitting unused on the bookshelf is nothing more than a decoration. It will not defeat the devil. Dear Christians, the Lord has given us His Word. Let us use it! Unsheath it! Wield it! God has promised you the Holy Spirit to give you courage and divine protection. Get your swords bloody! And take comfort that we don’t fight alone, but with an army, with a “great cloud of witnesses,” led on by our King eternal.

St. Cyril served as a general in this divine army. He was an archbishop who ministered in a day and age when the divinity of our Lord was under attack. And the cowardly devil was not beneath ravaging women and children. Satan declared war against the Lord’s mother in an attempt to harm the Lord Himself. The Church’s confession of Blessed Mary as the “mother of God” was under attack. Archbishop Cyril, as a field general, knew what was at stake. The real thrust of Satan was aimed at Jesus and His incarnation. For without a divine Jesus, the Church is a farce, and we Christians have no hope of eternal life. And so Cyril defended Mary as the mother of God, and did so before rulers and authorities. His defense of Mary (which was really a defense of her Holy Son) is part of our Lutheran confessions. St. Cyril of Alexandria’s writings are a primary source of the Book of Concord, the very definition of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. While others may shy from confessing St. Mary to be God’s mother, we do not. That Satanic attack upon our Lord and His body the church was a “flaming dart of the evil one” that the faith confessed and defended by St. Cyril served to extinguish.

And like any army, not all are called to be five-star generals. In fact, all soldiers regardless of rank are subservient to the government – in this case, to our King. Everyone, whether a general or private soldier, serves the King and plays a valuable role in the war. You, brother, and you, sister, are a warrior. And the Lord has armed you and equipped you. He has given you life, forgiven your sins, procured salvation for you, defeated the devil on your behalf, outfitted you with faith, equipped you with the sword of His Word, fortified you by His miraculous sacraments, and still fights “by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.”

This congregation is a unit, a corps, a legion of soldiers united in the cause, under the cross, in the battle, committed to the victory already won for us by our King, who is also our Savior. We too have officers and men and women with a diversity of skills and talents, of differing vocations and gifts to offer as service to our Kingdom. It is fitting that we should both install new officers into our congregation, as well as honor a veteran warrior of the Church, on this day set apart to honor St. Cyril of Alexandria, bishop and confessor of the faith.

For as the Lord whom Cyril and we confess testified to us in Holy Scripture: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”

Our first mission as a church, as a congregation, is to confess. Dear friends, we confess this one true faith and this one true Lord with the one true church of every time and place: in the creeds we confess, in the sins we confess, and in the forgiveness we boldly confess and joyfully proclaim. We join Cyril and all the saints “who wear the spotless raiment and raise the ceaseless song” purely by God’s mercy, through the gracious gift of the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, precious blood shed on the cross as a perfect and pure oblation and atoning sacrifice. And in response to this gift, we indeed offer “praises due” to St. Cyril and all the “apostles, prophets, [and] martyrs,” and walk “in their footsteps,” knowing that like them, we are called to “live our lives for” the One who died and lives eternally for us.

By God’s grace, day by day we “fight the good fight with all [our] might,” because we depend wholly on our Champion and General, our King and Savior. For indeed “Christ is your strength and Christ [is] your right. Lay hold on life, and it shall be your joy and crown eternally.” Amen.

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

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