Wednesday, September 24, 2008


In Middle School chapel today we celebrated Saint Sergius...

Ecclesiasticus 39:1-9; Psalm 145:1-8; Matthew 13:47-52

At the Lower School this year, in our chapel classes, we are studying all about the saints of God. You know, Andrew, Mary, Paul, Francis, Nicholas… There are far more stories to tell, of course, than there will be chapel classes to tell them in – far more saints than there will be time to study. The Episcopal Church recognizes hundreds of women and men whose extraordinary faith has earned them the title of saint – not just folks who lived when Jesus did, like Andrew and Mary and Paul, but also folks who lived much later, like Francis and Nicholas, and even folks who lived not so long ago, like Martin Luther King, C.S. Lewis, and Florence Nightingale.

It seemed like the best way to talk about saints with our littlest students was to compare them to superheroes. They don’t know much yet about the story of Saint Peter, but they know a lot about the story of Peter Parker! So yesterday, we asked the kindergartners to tell us what their favorite superhero powers were, and then we were going to talk about how saints have a special power, too – the power of faith in God. They listed all your basic amazing superhero powers, like super strength and super speed and flying. Turning invisible, lightening power, ice power, and shooting lasers out of your eyes were also popular. One kindergartner said his favorite superhero power was blue. We never figured that one out.

Tomorrow is the feast day of Saint Sergius, who lived way back in the 14th century in Russia. In fact, he’s considered not only a saint but a national hero in Russia, although the nearest thing to a superhero power he had was, in the words of someone who knew him, the ability to smell like pine trees.

Actually, when Sergius was much younger, he had seemed like the least likely person to ever be a saint or a hero. His brothers were excellent students, but Sergius really struggled with reading and writing. One day, his father sent him on an errand. Along the way, Sergius came across a monk by the side of the road. The monk was deep in prayer. When the monk finished praying, he looked up at Sergius and said, “What is it that you are seeking?” “I want to be better at reading,” Sergius told him, “So that I can read the bible.”

The monk bowed his head in prayer again. This time, when he finished, he pulled a small piece of bread out of his pocket and offered it to Sergius. “This piece of bread is small, but it is very sweet. It represents the grace of God that is already working in you to give you what you seek.” Sergius ate the bread, which tasted like honey.

The monk walked young Sergius back home, where he asked Sergius to read from the book of psalms. “I can’t,” Sergius said, “remember? I don’t know how to read.” But the monk insisted, and when Sergius looked at the words, he realized that he could in fact read them, and from that moment on and for the rest of his life, Sergius loved reading and studying God’s holy word. When the monk stood up to leave, he got no further than the door before he disappeared, and Sergius realized that the monk had been an angel.

I suspect Sergius never forgot that day… Years later, when it came time for him to decide what to do with his life, Sergius chose to retreat deep into the Russian woods to build his own monastery there. He and his monks served the people who lived in nearby communities, especially reaching out to the poor and sick and lonely and sad. Sergius loved his work so much that when they tried to make him a bishop, he turned the job down, saying he’d much rather stay among the pine trees and the people.

Sergius, of course, had more than just his pine tree power. He had the power of God working in him to do extraordinary things his whole life. He is still remembered as a saint and a hero even though he never did become a bishop. He was like the person talked about in our reading from Ecclesiasticus this morning. The one who wants to know more about God seeks out wisdom and studies prophecies. He tries to understand the meaning of parables, and is comfortable with mystery. God will fill him with the spirit of understanding, and he will give thanks to God. Many will praise his understanding and his memory will not disappear. His name will live through all generations.

Everyone in this room is a far better student than Sergius ever was, and you will all do extraordinary things in the world. God’s power is working in and through you, and just like our favorite school song says, we are all of us saints of God, and I mean, God helping to be one, too. Sergius reminds us to pay attention to the work that all people do, to celebrate and remember and honor people and jobs that don’t seem as powerful as others. In fact, he reminds us that no matter how powerful we are, God still calls us to serve those who are poor or sick or lonely or sad.

Today, our Upper School students will have the opportunity to choose between different opportunities for service, and we will bless their work as servants. We call it “service learning”, because we recognize that when we serve others, we are filled with a spirit of understanding about how all people are connected. In the Middle School, you also do a tremendous amount of service work, and perhaps from your experience of helping others you can understand why Sergius wanted to stick with that kind of work even when he was given the choice of something that seemed more powerful.

We may not be superheroes, but we sure are saints. We may not smell like pine trees, but we do have the power of God working through us, giving us special gifts and abilities for learning and for helping others. If our names are going to live on through the generations, may it be because we, like Sergius, seek to know what God wants us to do, and then find the courage to go and do it. Amen.

Artwork: "In the Pine Forest", by Tibor Boromisza; Icon of Saint Sergius, by Robert Brewster

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