“Saints Galore!”

New York State Association of Fire Chief’s Memorial Sermon

June 16, 2016

Rev. Canon Samuel P. Lundy

Throughout the C.E. (common era), there have been men and women who have been called by power of the Holy Spirit to a very special relationship with God. A relationship perhaps intensified from that which we mortals have. In the liturgical churches we refer to these very special people as “saints”. Saints with their own day of celebration, and remembrance on our calendar.

Since there are some very large protestant chaplains lurking immediately behind me, and I have no desire to wind up down in the orchestra pit, perhaps I should expand upon that rather limited interpretation, or definition of saints, and I will do so shortly.

In a crowd of this size, I would guess that more than several of you are probably wearing a little religious medal honoring God’s good servant St. Florian. That very special relationship with the person who gave it to us, may have as much significance as the medal itself. We tend to love those who love us, and that is good.

St. Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, and I might add the patron of barrel makers and brewers of beer. What an interesting combination; firefighters and barrels of beer. Who would have guessed!

In the display area outside, there are some beautiful new pieces of fire apparatus, many of them you will find many bearing a rather distinct cross design as part of their ornamentation, in fact, I suspect that if you take a quick look at the badge you may be wearing, many are the same “humped” cross design. The cross of St. Florian, not to be confused with the Maltese cross which is very similar in design, and has its own unique story in firefighting, often the two are mis-identified, which harms absolutely no one.

Well who is this man, Florian, that we almost universally celebrate in the fire service perhaps even more so in Europe than here? In some parts of Germany, instead of saying “Call the firemen”, they say, “Call the Florians” and many European firehouses have his statue outside. What a considerable impact his short life made on our world.

Florian was born around 250 C.E. in Austria and he became an officer in the Roman Army. A special skill of his was organizing Roman soldiers into groups, the sole duty of which was to fight fires. Yes, he directed the first fire brigades 1500 years before Benjamin Franklins’ noble efforts in Philadelphia.

Legends about Florian’s abilities as a firefighter abound. He supposedly put out a fire consuming a whole community with one bucket of water. My department has several young men, who think they have that they have very similar levels of ability, and I’m sure your department does too! God bless the young and the eager!

If you see a picture of St. Florian, he is usually depicted wearing a rather large brass helmet holding a pitcher. I guess we could say he was the originally brass hat! A legend about the pitcher is that it contained not water, you guessed it, beer. No wonder he got elected chief.

However proficient he was in the fire service, St. Florian failed in carrying out other duties required of a Roman Officer in that period. He refused to kill Christians. He was admonished by his superiors, and he still refused. He was ordered burned to death at the stake, for non-compliance, (is that like PESH?). His reply was “If you burn me on the pile, I will walk the flames to heaven.” The officials relented, tied a millstone to his neck and drowned him. Seven years later in 311, the official Roman persecution of Christians ended, too late for our hero St. Florian, but not too late for him to ride always with you, in the officer’s seat. May he be your guide, your guard and your protector!

In the Christian apostle Paul’s letters to the fledging missionary churches, he often asked to be remembered to “all the saints” of a particular community. This gives us good authority to expand the terms “saints” to include those who are still with us, the living.

At a benefit up in St. Lawrence County a few weeks ago, I think I commented to Brian McQueen, that I see far more saints wearing “Redwings” (the work shoes) and driving Ford F150s, than I ever see floating through the air with white wings aflutter and strumming harps. I believe that.

I also believe that today, I am standing in the presence of God’s saints, God’s saints with us, saints gathered here together in this place, to honor the memory of another generation of saints, saints that have gone home to glory. We pause, we remember and we honor these saints of blessed memory.

As a priest in God’s Holy Church, I have the very distinct honor to raise my hand and pronounce His blessing. At 2:30 in the morning as you respond to an MVA with entrapment, you take that gesture and make it real, you make it incarnate; alive in the world, when you reassure a new mother that her baby’s highly elevated temperature of 99.2 can be treated, you, again are that blessing; when you assist a family who have lost their dwelling, their everything, in a mobile home park fire, to begin life anew, you are that blessing. You, by your life and actions, you have become one of God’s saints. I would like to close with a quote that I nearly attributed to President John F. Kennedy, then I discovered that apparently he borrowed it too, from St. Teresa of Avila…

“Christ has no body now, on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion

is to view the earth.

Yours are the feet, by which he goes about doing good,

and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us.”

All of the chaplains on the platform today have little packets of laminated cards with a new firefighter’s prayer on them, and a depiction of what someone thought St. Florian might have looked like, brass hat and all!

Now, if you’re Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Episcopalian they are prayer cards, if you’re a Baptist, a Methodist or a Lutheran, they are Bible book markers!

Please stop us where ever you see us today, if you would like a card, but, more importantly, introduce yourself, let us know where you are from, tell us about your department; for today, it is our distinct honor, to mingle with all of you, God’s saints here on earth.

Saints be praised, you saints be praised. Amen.

About the author - Rev’d. Canon Samuel P. Lundy is the assisting priest at the Anglican Church of Christ the King in Watertown. Chaplain Lundy lives in Copenhagen, where he serves as the Chaplain and Assistant Chief/3 of the fire department. He is a Deputy Fire Coordinator for Chaplain Services in Jefferson County, and a member of several local and state fire service organizations. Canon Lundy is the Regional Director of the Northern Region: which includes Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Essex Counties of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc..