Summary: We follow in a great line of saints whose fire of faith fueled their life. Paul wants the Ephesians to have their faith grow from a spark to a roaring flame.
All Saints Sunday, 2001
Primary Text: Ephesians 1:15-23
OPENING PRAYER: Almighty and Everlasting God, who dost kindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of the saints, grant to us the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may profit by their examples, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen+. –From, Feast of Anglican Spirituality, Backhouse
As a boy I can remember having a sense of the importance of history. I think being raised in the Episcopal Church had a lot to do with it. My boyhood parish was a Cathedral, and I remember walking around the Church and seeing all the names on the various plaques and stained glass windows. Even then I could sense a connection with history. I would stare at the pictures of the people and the clergy as they worshipped the Lord in the same pews, with the same altar, and sometimes I would see that they were drinking from the same chalice! They left a legacy, just like our predecessors here at this cathedral. Glance around. Like my boyhood parish, the walls almost seem to speak. There are stories that go with each plaque, window, dedication and gift. And today we honor those saints, those faithful in Christ who have gone before us. But the saints we see represented around us are only part of a long list of people who, even now, cheer us on.
I want to tell you about one in particular. His name was Bishop Hugh Latimer.
Latimer lived in a turbulent time in England’s history, when the break with Rome was still an open wound, tender to the touch. There was a great struggle as to what form this Church in England would take. Would it follow the path of the Reformation? Would it return to Roman Church? The tension was great and the stakes were high. When “Bloody” Mary assumed the throne, she wasted no time in earning her name. In her attempt to purge England of the reformers, many Anglicans were martyred for their faith. In a brief 4 year period, over 280 people were burned to death at the stake, including 1 Archbishop, 4 Bishops, 21 clergymen, 55 women, and 4 children. 1 of those Bishops was Latimer, who was burned to death on October 16, 1555 along with another clergyman Nicholas Riddley. They were taken to the north side of Oxford and chained back to back on a stake. The wood was piled up around them. Then, as the fire was started at the feet of the men, Latimer said in a loud voice to Riddley, “Be of good cheer Master Riddley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England that I trust never shall be put out.” (Ryle, 36, 158)
And you know what? He was right. This is our heritage.
As we celebrate All Saints, we should not dwell on the fire that burned Latimer’s body, as awful as it was. Instead, we should ask “What was the fire that burned in his soul?” There was a fire of faith in him that was blazing long before that October day. That fire, friends, is common to all the saints that we celebrate today. It is the fire that has been present in our forerunners from Augustine to Aidan, from Clare to Cranmer, from Wesley to Wilberforce and conceivably to us. So as we consider the saints we are compelled to ask, “Do we have the fire inside us?” “Is our faith an active flame?”
This morning’s reading from Ephesians will help us examine this question. Please follow along in your bulletin insert as we look at this passage.
In verses 15-16, Paul is thankful for the spark. The Ephesians have heard the Gospel and responded to it. He says READ VS 15-16. From this basic spark, Paul knows that a flame can develop. They are displaying their faith in Christ, and they are displaying love for one another, “all the saints”. Paul is thankful because they have not made these two ideas mutually exclusive. Love for neighbor without an active faith in Jesus, is not necessarily Christian. Anyone can do that. Faith in Christ without love for neighbor is simply disobedience. It is a half-hearted attitude which Jesus addresses in Luke when he says, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) But Paul is thankful that the Ephesians are living their faith. Although he is thankful for their initial response –their first steps –he prods them forward in their faith. His prayer from this morning’s reading centers on three things…
1.) He prays that they may knowledge of God may increase. READ VS 17 This is a prayer for growth. There is an important lesson in this verse. Where is the source of the knowledge of God coming from? It is coming from God. Read the verse again. Who is Paul asking to bestow the wisdom and revelation? God. Christianity is a revealed religion. It is unashamedly based on the conviction that God has spoken and continues to speak to His people. Paul wants them to have more than simply factual knowledge.