A sermon preached at a joint service of St. George’s Anglican Church and Prince of Faith Lutheran Church, Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, April 29, 2018.
The Feast of St. George
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. George, the patron saint of our Anglican congregation. Most of us will know the legend in which George slew the dragon, but history gives us no such concrete details.
Instead of a wandering adventurer, a sort of Knight of the Round Table, traipsing around the countryside in search of great deeds of heroism, George was an altogether more ordinary person in real life.
Here’s what we know. We know that George lived in the 4th century – in the early 300s, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. It was a time when Christians were viciously persecuted. They were tortured, crucified, burned at the stake, sent into the arena to fight bare-handed with wild animals, and burned like torches at fancy parties.
The passion of the Romans for killing Christians was so intense that the Christian community itself was divided about how they were called to respond. Many Christians went willingly, even eagerly, to die as martyrs, while others hid their faith from their neighbours, and hid their bibles and religious symbols when the soldiers came knocking.
It is in this tense atmosphere that we meet George. George was a Christian, but he was a secret Christian – and more than that, George was a soldier in the Roman army.
George lived an every day existence largely identical to all the other Roman soldiers around him. He would have participated in pagan religious rituals, and followed the same customs and superstitions of the soldiers all around him. But meanwhile, George was a follower of Jesus Christ, who was waiting until a day close to his death to receive, at last, the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
That sacrament was one the early Church took extremely seriously. Baptism was a life-changing event. It changed your family structure, it permanently altered your social security network, and it changed what jobs you could or couldn’t hold.
Being a Roman soldier was one of those jobs on the “no” list, and so many soldiers, converted to the cause of Christ and believing in their hearts that Jesus is the Messiah who was raised from the dead, waited until the end of their lives to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism and take Communion for the first time.
And so George was really pretty unremarkable. He lived a life very similar to many others at that time. He was an unremarkable Roman soldier, and he was an unremarkable Christian solder – until one day when everything changed.
Now I’m going to just pause us here for a moment, because this right here is the crux of the story. That George was a pretty ordinary guy, living an ordinary life, in the midst of a complex world.
There is a reason why Christians have always told the stories of saints. And the reason is this: we tell these stories to encourage each one of us to believe that we could become a saint, too.
Nowdays, we think that only special people can become saints – and its true; it takes something special to get there. But that something special isn’t a special kind of life, or a special education, or a special job or a special kind of religious observance. Down through Christian history, it’s ordinary people who have become saints – ordinary people like you and me.
And we tell their stories to remind ourselves that that path they walked that led them all the way to sainthood – that’s the same path that our feet are on even now; that same path that God is calling us and coaxing us and challenging us along, step by step.
Out of the hundreds of Roman soldiers who were secret Christians just like George, whose feet were on the same path that his feet were on, George showed them how to walk that path to the glory of Christ.
It was an otherwise ordinary day in George’s life when everything changed. An ordinary day of work. The Romans had worked out that there were way too many secret Christians among the ranks of their soldiers, and so they set out to expose them.
I imagine they did what they did with Christians in the wider community: asked them to deny Christ and worship the Emperor. It’s possibly something George had done in the past – but this time something was different. This time, something rose up inside him and he chose differently than he used to choose before. He was finished denying Christ. He was finished denying who he was, and whose he was. Finally, at last, George claimed in public, in his workplace, his identity as a disciple of Christ.
Today, we commemorate George as a saint because he died a martyr soon after. But we could commemorate him as a saint because he chose differently on that day: he chose to do what he knew to be right, despite the fear of what the consequences would be; because his code of honour could no longer tolerate lying about the deep truth of his life, the deep truth of the world.
Now, every one of us has the chance to make the same choice as George. Every one of us, in our otherwise ordinary lives, face opportunities to make a different choice than we’re used to and to take a step in faith like George did.
When a colleague is making catty remarks about someone else, you could choose to act differently this time and say, “I’m just not comfortable when you talk that way.” When someone asks you what you did this weekend, you could choose to take a risk and answer differently and say, “I went to church.” When a friend complains to you for the 300th time about their spouse, you could take a deep breath and open your mouth and say something different than you have before: “you say that kind of thing a lot, and so can I ask: how is your marriage going, actually?”
Today we celebrate St. George, who had an ordinary, unremarkable life, just like most of us – and who, at a key moment, made a new choice: he chose to do what was right and to glorify Christ, despite the fact that it was hard, and scary, and there were real consequences to be afraid of. But he did it. And because he did it, he has showed us the way – and we can do it too.
We can look for those moments in our lives, and make a new choice. And meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is whispering encouragement in our ears, and God is looking ahead seeing possibilities and calling us on, and beside us walks Jesus Christ, our Lord, who looks us in the eyes and says, “I believe in you. Now make me proud.”