Building on the Foundation Laid by the Saints of God
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. James R. Wheeler
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
There are many saints pictured in our stained glass windows and statues, from Biblical saints to modern ones like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Florence Nightingale and even Sigmund Freud, along with important figures such as St. Francis, Joan of Arc, St. Augustine missionary to England, and many, many others. This Saints Day I’d like to point you to the Pentecost Window in the north crossing as another image of sainthood. The Pentecost window pictures Christians of all ethnicities and languages and races, of all times, past, present and future – a line of them, united in praise to God and the power of the Holy Spirit – stretching out to the horizon both to the east and to the west. These are not named saints, but saints nonetheless, because these are the “holy ones of God,” which is the Biblical meaning of the word “saint.” They are holy because God has made them his own holy people by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The window was given in 1989 to honor of the women and men of St. John’s Church, in thanksgiving for the ministry of then rector, the Rev. Dr. Leander Harding and in memory of Dr. Charles and Mrs. Ada Pichamathu by Dr. Lulitha Manohoran. It is the newest visible memorial adorning this beautiful sanctuary.
But in a way this entire edifice, with all its beautiful windows and carvings and altars and mosaics, not to mention the soaring splendor of its neo-gothic arches and the deep, rich tones of our organ, represents the saints of God. The sanctuary, which was rebuilt nearby the previous sanctuary burned down in 1890, was dedicated on All Saints, 1891 and is re-dedicated each All Saints Sunday. The church building represents the saints, who like Dr. Lulitha Manohoran gave significant financial gifts to build this magnificent sanctuary and fill it with beautiful symbols telling God’s story and the story of God’s holy people.
But we did more than re-dedicate a building; we rededicated ourselves as God’s holy people in this sacred space. This Church, we as a Christian community, the living Body of the living Christ are no less than this beautiful building, built on the foundation of the saints of God. We are built on the foundation of 2,000 years of Christian believers, whose stories go back to Peter and Paul and Barnabas and to the ancient Church fathers and mothers, to theologians and teachers and missionaries and martyrs and all the Holy men and women of God.
We as a Christian community are no less built on the foundation of 276 years of faithful saints who have lived and struggled and prayed and worshipped and given of their time, talent and treasure to support the work of God’s love that goes on in this place and in and through this holy fellowship. Have you ever thought about that? How many hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians gave generously of themselves and their resources in order to build, to nurture and sustain St. John’s Church? We wouldn’t be here without them. Not only this building, but we as a living community, are built on the foundation of their generosity.
This is the third, as Fr. Sandy likes to call it, “sermon on the amount,” a sermon to help us think about our financial pledge for the coming year. Two weeks from today will be “Consecration Sunday” when each of us will be asked to make our financial pledge for the coming year to support the work and ministry of St. John’s Episcopal Church and the wider Episcopal Church, of which we are a part. We are asked to give not a specific dollar amount. Some who have more will be able to give more, and should. But each of us, if we give a significant portion of our income – whether that be the traditional tithe of 10% or 7 or 5 or 2 or whatever percentage God has put on your heart to give – will be giving what we should. We are asked to give our pledge to God’s glory. We give our pledge to sustain and nurture the ongoing work of God in this sacred place where we live the love of God with hearts open to all. I hope that we will give our financial pledge not only to support that ongoing work of the Church of Christ, but also to sustain that ongoing work of St. John’s Church into the future. As we are built on the foundation of those unnamed but holy saints who have gone before us, so I pray a future generation will be built on the holy foundation that you and I help to build.
Today we will welcome into Christ’s one, holy and apostolic Church and into St. John’s, three new saints by virtue of their baptisms: Aiden Austin Edouard, Kendrick Jamal Noel and Marcia Hopesaskia Marshall. They join that great throng of the holy people of God pictured in that Pentecost window united in God’s love and sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the holy people, the saints of God. Aiden, Kendrick and Marcia will take their place among us. This Church is built upon the foundation of the saints, the holy ones of God. Give us grace, we pray, so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may take our place among them sustaining the work of your blessed Church in the present and laying the foundation for your ongoing Church in the years to come. Amen.