Tonight we celebrate the Feast of All Saints’, and the new ministry of Chad McCabe, as Rector at Trinity Church, Clarksville. Let’s get one thing straight right at the beginning: ministry has been going on at Trinity Church for almost two hundred years. There’s nothing new about the ministry of this congregation. Something new is happening at Trinity Church with the arrival of the McCabe family and the beginning of Fr. Chad’s ministry here, because the Gospel is always fresh, but the new ministry that is taking shape in these last few months is a shared ministry between priest and congregation.
We gather tonight as the Church of God, assembled here in the Diocese of Tennessee. There are many reasons for celebration this evening: the foresight of this congregation in making this call, and the faithfulness of this priest and his family in responding, but the hearts that have discerned the will of God together belong not to an individual or even a single congregation but to all of us. We share this ministry.
The coincidence of All Saints’ Day and this Celebration tonight suggests a further dimension to this ministry. We are all called to be saints, according to the Apostle Paul. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” St. Paul writes, “to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ep. 1:1). “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), he writes again in another letter. We could multiply examples, but perhaps the clearest expression comes from Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7).
In other words, in the eyes of St. Paul, the call to be a saint is not addressed to a special class of people, a subset of uber-Christians, but to all of us. When Paul writes to these churches, gathered in Rome and elsewhere, he is addressing folk who have a holy calling. This calling begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the great Fact that leads to the explosion of faith in him.
Jesus’ death and resurrection leads to the establishment of churches, in Jerusalem and Antioch and other places, that carry forward the proclamation of the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. When Paul gets down to writing the new communities in Ephesus and Philippi and Rome, the call has already spread exponentially: a call to holiness of life, a calling to be saints.
Our second reading, from the First Letter of John, adds its own perspective to the understanding of our call. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 Jo. 3:3). The hope that St. John refers to is our hope in Jesus Christ: of being like him, of seeing him as he is, as the Apostle says. This is a big and ambitious project that God has in store for us; one in keeping with the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead! It requires nothing less than our transformation, the purification of our hearts and minds. Nothing less than this will do.
The ministry that we celebrate tonight, the shared ministry between priest and people, is one that is meant to fit us for heaven. The celebration of the Sacraments, and the preaching of the Gospel, are the ascetical program, the pastoral training plan, that will transform not only the members of the Church but the world around us. The works of mercy and sacrifice that Christ calls us to are the practical working out of the forgiveness of sins and the new life that are at the heart of the Gospel. We purify ourselves as he is pure, as St. John says, because of the hope that is in us.
Over the years to come at Trinity Church, Clarksville, the shared ministry that we celebrate tonight will continue to expand and grow. God has given you a faithful priest and pastor, and called all of us together to be more faithful members of the Church. That’s the program; that’s the call. Those called to be saints here will continue to be transformed by the grace of God. Through God’s mercy. our calling will itself transform the world. The proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, first heard centuries ago, has continued to echo in hearts and minds, and now tonight we hear it once more. May God give us faithful saints, here at Trinity, Clarksville, and in our diocese, who will hear the call and respond.