The Great Race

June 9, 2018 Length: 11:00

Today we celebrate all the saints, both those who have been declared saints by the Church and those whose holy lives are known to God alone. Fr. Emmanuel Kahn gives the sermon.


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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.
Today we celebrate all the saints, both those who have been declared saints by the Church and those whose holy lives are known to God alone. Many of these saints seem so magnificent, so holy, that their lives appear to be far superior to our own. As St John Chrysostom preached, “At all times, indeed, but especially when I reflect upon the achievements of the saints, it comes over me to feel despondency [that is, depression], because we have not even in [our] dreams experienced the things among which these men [and women] spent their whole lives.” We can share today with St John that awareness that our lives are not at this time those of saints.

St John was preaching about the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapters 11 and 12, where “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” of many saints who are models for own lives. We are urged, and I quote “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” In other words, we are NOT asked to behave like the fourth-century men and women who lived in the desert, ate very little indeed and spent much of their lives praying to the Lord. We are asked, however young or old we are, “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Now this race is a very different race for each of us. We’re not racing against each other to see who can pray the longest or achieve the most in the Church or in the family or in a job. We are simply seeking to listen to the Lord and to the people in our lives who can guide us to draw closer to the Lord. St John advised clearly that it is important to bring the model of the saints into our lives. He preached: “As in all arts and games, we impress … upon our mind [how to move ahead in our lives] by looking to our masters [that is, those who know best how to play the particular art or game], receiving certain rules through our sight, so here also, if we wish to run and to learn to run well [in the race to know the Lord], let us look to Christ…. He has put the faith within us. For He said to His disciples, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’… He put the beginning into us,” preached St John; “he will also put on the end.”

St John Chrysostom was reminding us of the words of Jesus Christ to His disciples in the Gospel of St John, chapter 15, verse 16: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you,” said Christ, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit will last…  This I command you,” said Christ, “to love one another.” Reading these words from the Gospel of St John, I asked myself, “What is this fruit that is to last, to grow stronger and stronger throughout our lives?” Well, just as we run different races, so we grow different fruits at different times in our lives. Early in our lives, and hopefully later, too, we grow the fruit of education—of learning about the Lord and about how to live our lives. We experience the fruit of motivation—of deciding to focus on some especially important goal. Always, whatever our age, we need the fruit of prayer—of simply being silent before the Lord and spending time with Him and trying to sense how He wishes each of us to live. I like that prayer, for young children, and for us adults, too: “Lord, I give to you today all I think and do and say.”

The best description I have read of this “fruit that endures” is from St Gregory the Great in the sixth century. He preached: “I [that is, Christ] have appointed you for grace [that is, to receive God’s love and to love others]. I have planted you to go willingly and bring forth fruit by your works. I have said that you should go willingly, since [for each of you] to will to do something is already to go [there] in your heart. Then [Christ] adds the quality their fruit is to have: ‘And your fruit is to endure.’ Everything we labour for in this present world,” continues St Gregory, “scarcely lasts until death. Death intervenes [for all of us] and cuts off the fruit of our labour. But what we do [to gain] eternal life remains even after death. [This fruit that endures] begins to appear only when the fruits of our physical labours cease to be visible. The reward of [eternal life] begins when [earthly life] is ended. Let [those] who recognise that [they] now bear eternal fruit within [their] souls think little of the temporal fruits of [their] labours [in earthly life]. “St Gregory concludes, “Let us work for the fruit that endures….”

Through our faith in Christ, God plants His life within each of us. He guides us first to the initial fruit—to the work, to the love of Him and of all people—that He wishes each of us to grow on earth as unique persons. Then the Lord guides us to “the fruit that lasts”—the eternal life He gives to each of us. Let us rejoice today with all the saints and search to know well those saints that inspire us as to draw closer to the Lord.

So be it, as we ascribe as is justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.