Fifth Sunday after
The Feast of St. Alban the Martyr
D. G. Phillips
Riviere and LaHave – June 22 AD 2008
3:8-15 St. Luke 5:1-11
am called Alban by my parents, and I worship and adore
the true and living God who created all things."
Today is the feast of St. Alban the Martyr – and these words which
I’ve spoken are attributed to St. Alban when he was questioned by a
Roman judge about his identity.
St. Alban is the earliest known Christian martyr in Britain. In the
early 4th or the early 3rd century AD – he was
put to death during one of the Roman persecutions of Christians.
Alban was a roman soldier. And the story is that while he was still
a pagan, he gave hospitality – he hid – a Christian priest who was
fleeing from the persecution. He watched this priest praying night
and day and began to have conversations with him about Jesus. And
moved by the example of his deep piety and holiness and by his
instruction in the faith – he had a conversion of heart. When Roman
soldiers came seeking him out, Alban helped the priest flee, and
then answered the door dressed in the priest’s cloak. They arrested
him – he faced the Roman judge, before whom he could not deny
Jesus. He refused to offer sacrifice to Roman deities – so he was
scourged and then, still refusing to deny Jesus, was beheaded.
what does his story have to do with what Jesus would teach us in our
our Epistle and Gospel this morning, we have put before our minds
three ways in which we might find ourselves shrinking back from
engaging in life and being powerful witnesses to others of our love
for the one true God.
the Gospel, Peter and James and John have been fishing all night and
have caught nothing –all their activity has not brought them any joy
or sense of peace – they are discouraged and dejected.
all know this experience of our work not bearing the fruit we’d
hoped – whether in some vocation inside or outside of the home or in
the church. Even with a kind of worldly success we will, without
doubt, if we are not doing that work in the light of Christ, find
ourselves asking at some point – is that all there is to life?
discouraged, depressed, because it is not the sort of adventure we
were told to dream of when we were children. Master, we have
toiled all night, and have taken nothing.
When Peter sees the great miracle that Jesus does in his midst –
easily filling his nets with fish – he is both in awe and in fear.
He says to Jesus, Depart from me for I am a sinful man. Though
Peter wants more than the daily grind, when he’s shown it, he’s
tempted to despair – how can he be a servant of the most high God
with all of his imperfections?
surely we know this too – what, me Lord? – you want me to be
involved in this whole hearted journey to heaven. The saints’ have
done great things, but, not me. I am unworthy. Jesus’ reply is
Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And in this brief reply, Peter and James and John, are given such
great encouragement by Jesus that when they brought their ships
to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
What goes through our minds when we hear this? “Yeah, sure, but they
just saw a miracle, and they had Jesus in the flesh.” But aren’t
these the very words of dejection and discouragement coming into our
minds, that are holding us back from giving our all to Jesus? Yes,
they had Jesus in the flesh, but we have Him in our very hearts! We
have an intimacy with our Saviour that the disciples only knew after
the pouring out of His Spirit.
St. Peter, in the Epistle, identifies a third source of
discouragement in our lives. It is the kind of dejection we
experience when others make us afraid to do the right thing or to
love. We try to do the right thing and someone says a nasty word,
or we are afraid of physical harm from others and we shrink back.
The Christian path is dangerous. But St. Peter, who knew the
violence of others and himself was later martyred, says,
is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is
good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are
ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but
sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.
Each of us know discouragement when we try to be witnesses to our
families or friends or to strangers we meet. Maybe we have
mentioned to them – the Church or our faith or Jesus – and we get a
kind of blank stare, or are mocked and we are discouraged by it. Or
maybe we are afraid we will push them away if we persist, and that
is a right concern, but not one to stop us thinking of some other
way we might witness to them – become, ourselves, more deeply
engaged in the life of prayer and others will see us and be moved by
our witness – and such resistance should never stop us worshipping
and adoring the one true God.
Our lives are not worth living, if we are not being brought out of
our worldliness and into the heavenly life. Our lives are not
worth living, if we are not engaged in some way in gathering into
nets other souls to know something of the joy we know with our Lord.
When I was in England on holiday this Spring, I took a day trip up
to Hadrian’s wall – it is a fortified wall built by the Romans in
the second century across the north of England from sea to sea.
Very impressive. There was a museum there with artifacts found
among the ruins of the wall and its various forts – including some
of the altars found there to various Roman gods. And you can read
their prayers to various deities. It is a strange thing to see –
these people longing for the highest things – the divine life,
prayers that they might be virtuous like the deity to which they
believed embodied that virtue. A holy impulse in their souls
reaching out. That environment is not unlike the marketplace of
ideas people follow today outside of the Church. Whether
explicitly or implicitly, we are being bombarded daily with paths
other than Christianity that claim to be the way to follow.
is into this environment that Alban was born. He was trained as a
Roman soldier. We can imagine him having a holy longing and yet
wondering which deity? Does it matter which one? Is it really
true? And he was confronted by a man who despite the threat of
death was sure and certain about Jesus, who probably while afraid,
had a peace about him, while he prayed day and night. Alban learned
from this priest about the man, Jesus, who walked the earth and
claimed He was the Son of God, leading us to the Father, who died
and rose again for all people, to bring us to eternal life.
Alban was given great courage inwardly by God, and knew in his
heart, that finally he could place all his longing here. And this
is what has been revealed to each of us too – that in the midst of
the world’s fickle dreams, in its wandering about in search of
outward satisfactions, there is only discouragement and dejection.
is only when we return inwardly to discover the Lord’s presence in
our hearts, that we find the true peace and the joy that makes life
worth living. It is only in the engagement in that spiritual
harvest of souls that Christ calls us to be engaged in, in blatant
or in the most subtle ways, that we find true satisfaction.
is a stepping back and viewing the world from the point of view of
Truth – and there is no terror when enemies – our own temptations,
or the railings of others against us, or when our health is
threatened (and it will be), or when our families face crises, when
we experience betrayal, and even when we face our own death (and we
certainly will) – we return inwardly and sanctify the Lord God in
our hearts, to know peace and joy.
When Alban was brought before the Roman judge and remained steady
even when threatened with death, the judge became angry. The
account in Bede is as follows:
family or race are you?", demanded the judge. "What does it concern
you," answered Alban, "of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the
truth of my religion be it known to you, that I am now a Christian,
and bound by Christian duties." [he would not sacrifice to false
gods] "I ask your name," said the judge; "tell me it
immediately." "I am called Alban by my parents," replied he; "and
I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all
And because he refused to offer sacrifice to idols he was scourged
and beheaded. And his faithfulness in the face of death is a
witness to us even to this day.
Alban’s martyrdom is the type of every Christian life. We have each
come to that place, by grace, where we confess the true God, and
worship and adore him. We are strengthened and encouraged inwardly
– there is a place of peace and of joy that has opened up in us
inwardly – we have brought our ships to land on that Rock, who is
Christ. The rest of our lives are a kind of scourging by the world,
but we are prepared even for death. Inwardly, we rest in a place of
peace and joy, knowing that our Redeemer lives, that our lives are
not senseless but a part of the great ingathering of souls,
beginning with our own.
afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the
Lord God in your hearts.
Fear not, from henceforth though shalt catch men.
Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so
peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church
what our circumstances] may joyfully serve thee in all godly
quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity]