Here is my sermon from today, All Saints’ Day:
When through fiery trials…”
Two weeks ago, the chapel at the Virginia Seminary was caught up in flames and destroyed by a fire. As my friends began to call and we shared our collective memories of that place, I found myself singing an old Baptist hymn:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie. What had stood as the place of prayer and refuge for 129 years of seminarians was consumed with flame. The remains now stand as an empty shell, a burned out hulk, a reminder that all around is us ever on the verge of destruction.
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply. Just because the chapel is now unsuitable does not mean that the Virginia Seminary has stopped praying. In fact, in the hours and days immediately after the blaze, the seminary community recommitted itself to God’s grace. True, the chapel is gone, but the prayers of Christians go on and on and on.
The flame shall not hurt thee. No one was harmed in the fire. A few hearts were broken, some tears were shed, some embraces were shared. But even the heat of that old brick and mortar going up in smoke could not melt the faithfulness and resolve of the seminary community.
I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine. You know what, maybe we didn’t need that chapel after all. Maybe what had been ignited and consumed was our unnatural attachment to an old building. Maybe what had been refined was our understanding that the church is not a building. The body of Christ is not made of brick and mortar, bolts and nails.
What I saw in the fire was this: as the smoke was rising, I saw the prayers of all the saints who had ever stepped foot in that chapel, ascending to heaven. The pop and crackle as the stained glass windows were melting were the songs of the saints making known their love for God. The sirens of the fire trucks were the reminders that yes indeed, it is dangerous to be a saint, because sometimes we have to learn these hard lessons.
But the saints of God already know this. Look around you, all those who have come before know this. And those who come after us will learn this. That even if all the chapels, all the churches, all the cathedrals in the world were to be consumed in a catastrophic fire, the saints of God would remain. They would continue praying, continue worshipping, continue loving one another as Christ has loved us.
This is what it means to be a saint. That our faith in God is sounder than brick and mortar. That our love for one another is stronger than steel. And that the real fire is started by the Holy Spirit, and resides in our hearts and in all the Body of Christ.