Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sermon: St. Cyril of Alexandria - 2018

27 June 2018

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today, the Church remembers St. Cyril, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt during the years 412-444.  His time, like our own, was a turbulent age, with a lot of fighting over the crucial question: “Who is Jesus?”

For no matter what era we live in, that is always the most important question: “Who is Jesus?”  Our response to this question is not to be taken lightly.  Nor was it in the fifth century.  

While others were watering down Christ and thus watering down the Gospel, Bishop Cyril stood firm.  He knew very well our Lord’s warning that we heard anew in today’s Gospel: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

This is where we are today, dear friends.  It is more difficult to confess Christ today in our country than it ever has been since its founding.  For the first time in American history, Christians are subjected to a soft persecution: being pressured to renounce Jesus by our hostile culture, being bullied to act outside of the Christian faith by our increasingly tyrannical courts, and being marginalized and impressed into silence by our politically-correct governments.  

The easy thing is to remain silent, or to outright deny one’s Christianity.  The hard thing is to confess Christ and let the chips fall.  Canada has begun to revoke the accreditations of law schools run by Christian institutions that uphold the traditional, common law, natural, and biblical definition of marriage.  In our own country, respectable Christian ministries are being shunned by banks and other businesses because Christians are today accused of “hate speech” by very powerful people simply for confessing the Word of God, just as we were already doing for four centuries before Cyril’s time.

So will we continue to confess Christ before men in these last days?  Or will we blaspheme the Holy Spirit?  St. Cyril surely knew the Lord’s admonition: “When they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

St. Cyril had much to say about his Lord Jesus Christ, and never pulled punches, never held back, never counted the political cost of his confession.  He made more than a few enemies in both church and state.  Some heretical bishops declared him a heretic and referred to him as a “monster, born and educated for the destruction of the church.”  It’s no wonder that our Lutheran confessions quote St. Cyril twice.  For being called a heretic by heretics, and being called a monster by monsters is just something faithful Christians of every age and tradition can expect.  

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cyril’s biggest fight involved whether or not the blessed virgin Mary is “the mother of God.”  The heretic Nestorius condemned such language.  But Cyril pointed out that if Jesus is God, we have no choice but to call Mary the “mother of God”, saying:

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills me with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers.”

And this is the same thing that the Book of Concord says, and that Lutheran churches are all committed to preaching and teaching – including Salem Lutheran Church.  In that sense, we are not only Lutherans but also Cyrillians.

Like many of the faithful church fathers of old, St. Cyril was removed from his service as bishop and sent into exile by the heretics who seized the reins of the church’s bureaucracy.  But Cyril stood firm, wearing the “whole armor of God” and wielding the “sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God”, confessing the faith once delivered to the saints.  He chose to be driven out rather than compromise with false doctrine, rather than to confess a false Christ.

In due time, Bishop Cyril was recognized as St. Cyril, as well as being named a doctor of the church.  He is lovingly called Pope Cyril by the Coptic Christians, a few of whom still bravely confess Christ in Egypt today.  Cyril’s theological writings are also still studied to this very day in Christian seminaries and other schools. 

And while St. Cyril wore many hats, so to speak: that of a patriarch, the bishop of one of the most important cities in the Empire, that of a theologian: a writer and doctor of the church, that of the confessor of the faith, suffering for the sake of Christ, let us not forget that Cyril was first and foremost a pastor, a preacher, a giver of soul-care to the members of his congregation.  St. Cyril proclaimed the law to those who needed to repent, and he proclaimed the Gospel to the contrite.  St. Cyril administered the sacraments to his parishioners great and small, young and old, those who could read and those who could not, those who understood the theological controversies of his day, and those who could not.  He taught the faithful to love the Lord and to be blessed by His gifts.  And that is what every pastor, bishop, and theologian is called to do.  

St. Cyril has advice for us who also live in perilous times, in a culture hostile to the truth of Jesus Christ, of Him who is both God and man, who was crucified for us, whose blood was shed for our atonement, whose body rose from death and walked out of the very tomb that was impotent to contain Him.  As every true preacher of the true faith, St. Cyril points us to Christ, and He shares Christ where He Himself promises to be found: in preaching and in sacraments.

On this day in which we remember our dear brother, let us allow him to preach to us from this pulpit, and let us rejoice to allow his proclamation to ring in our ears yet again.  Listen to the pastoral wisdom of St. Cyril, whose life and ministry were a testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ:

“If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.”  Amen.

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

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