Today in the church calendar we celebrate a giant of homiletics. He is a man with a simple first name and, to be honest, a “challenging” last name: John Chrysostom. He was the Patriarch of Constantinople and was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. In fact, his last name–that mouthful, “Chrysostom”–means, “the golden-mouthed.”
His legendary preaching drew people in from hundreds of miles away. He had the ability to connect with those in need and viewed his preaching as part of his ministry of pastoral care and teaching. For those priests of the Church who were not adept at preaching the Good News Chrysostom felt that the souls of those who listened to their faulty words, “will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm” (LFF, 150). His sermons give us valuable insight into the liturgy of the Church at that time, especially the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. In many he emphasized the importance of the participation of the laity as being a vital part of the whole creation that rejoices in the glorious nature of the liturgy.
The gospel passage chosen for the commemoration of John Chrysostom is Luke 21:12-15:
“‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Chrysostom was exiled twice during his short, yet rocky episcopate. In fact he died while enduring the second exile in 407. So it is particularly fitting that this pericope in Luke is tied to Chrysostom’s feast day. It speaks of the comfort that we who believe should take when we too are given an opportunity to testify about the power, majesty, and saving love of God in Christ to those with whom we come in contact.
The words of Christ are startling: decide to have nothing prepared in advance, wing it, I will be with you and your words will be flawless (my paraphrase). Some how I do not see many of the politicians–and certainly not any of the professional speech writers–heeding this advice. But that is not to whom Jesus is directing this message. He was talking to his disciples, that common, ordinary, not-especially-gifted bunch of ragtags whom he sent out into the world to change the world by preaching the Good News of God in Christ.
And THAT should be good news to us indeed. When we talk about our faith we are better off speaking from our hearts, no matter the situation or the audience. Planning and word-smithing and making sure we use all of the buzz words when we profess our faith is not necessary. What is required from us is that we are genuinely who we are knowing that when we speak words in love and proclaim our faith with joy that God will supply the power and presence we need in that moment.
Yours in Christ,
Thank you for keeping St Chrysostom in our thoughts and prayers. I like the St Chrysostom prayer in the Morning prayer liturgy (BCP 79, 59, 102). The prayer has a strong phrase, “with one accord.” I would’ve hypertexted the word “pericope” as well as “homiletics.” Reminds me of my Catholic high school years and having to know what pericope means to pass my Religion class exams.