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Posts Tagged ‘St. Augustine’

 From a Sermon by St. Augustine;  Text:  St. John 2: 13-25, The Cleansing of the Temple.  Note that the word “trade” in Greek is emporia as our word “emporium”.  As you read this quote from St. Augustine, can you think of any current equivalents of selling 

in the Church, as an emporium?

“…who are they who sell the oxen? Who are they who sell the sheep and doves? They are those who seek their own interests in the church rather than those of Jesus Christ.` Those who have no desire for redemption have everything for sale. They do not want to be bought; they want to sell. Yet surely it is for their good that they be redeemed by the blood of Christ so that they may attain the peace of Christ. For what profit is there in acquiring anything temporal or transitory in this world—whether it be money, or gorging oneself on food or achieving high honors from your fellow human beings? Are not all things smoke and wind? Do not all things pass on in a moment? And woe to those who want to hang on to passing things, for they pass with them! . . . My brothers, those who seek such things sell them. For Simon [Magus] too wanted to buy the Holy Spirit for that very reason—because he wanted to sell the Holy Spirit”(see Acts 8) —and he thought that the apostles were the kind of merchants that the Lord drove out of the temple with a scourge. But he was the one who was actually such a merchant, wanting to buy what he might sell. He was of those who sell doves. For the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.” Therefore, brothers, who are those who sell doves—who are they except those who say, “We give the Holy Spirit”? Why do they say this and at what price do they sell? At the price of their own honor. They receive for a time bishops’ seats as their price, that they may seem to sell doves. Let them beware of the scourge of ropes. The dove is not for sale; it is given gratis, for it is called grace.

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On Good Shepherd Sunday, I ask one of the philosophical questions of the ages that have stumped many:  Do sheep have free will?  We usually understand “free” as in “free will” meaning free to do anything one wants.  Then yes, sheep seem to have free will:  on their own, they will do whatever they want and so they easily get lost, upset, terrified, wanting luscious green grass until overgrazing and the like kills them, prone to the thief and the robber. Yes, sheep, if not guided, led, called, cared for, do whatever they want and that means injury and death.  That definition of “free will”, doing whatever one wants, does not seem so free, does it?  There seems to be a willful stubbornness on the sheep’s part to do it my way and that is not free, but bondage, bondage of the will.  Do sheep have free will?  Answer:  No.  The sheep will go off on their own.  We all like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way, the inspired prophet Isaiah preached centuries before Christ. They knew sheep. Do we?    Yet, the will, the heart can be set free in the sight and care of the shepherd, trusting in Him alone:  to feed, to give drink, to be cared for, to be protected from enemies, from wolves to the weather. 

 Augustine: What is the voice of the shepherd? “And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name throughout all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24: 47) There is the voice of the shepherd. Recognize it and follow if you are a sheep.

 There is only way to enter the sheepfold, that is the Church:  going through the Good Shepherd.  He invites, guides and lets us in, night after night, day after day.  Sheepfolds were low stonewall enclosures which did not have wooden gates, they would probably rot too quickly exposed to the elements, but the shepherd himself was the gate, the door, as you can see an illustration of the same in the bulletin (see above). The shepherd night after night, laid his body on the line for his charge.  He would not flee the sheep when they were attacked.  A shepherd’s voice would reassure them in the storm raging in the night.  The Good Shepherd does not flee the sheep, nor fleece them, like the hawkers of false doctrines who smile pretty and talk about your best life now, that is your own life, not the Lord’s indestructible life He gives freely to His sheep. Jesus promises the abundant life, His life, His flesh and His blood, not our flesh getting everything I ever wanted. The Good Shepherd’s hand is imprinted with the mark of the nails.  This shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, for you. King David was first a shepherd as a lad. I do not think even King David would not have laid down his life by being crucified for his bleating, needy sheep.  The Good Shepherd has.  Like a sheep on a shepherd’s shoulder, you do not have to lug your sins around or pretend they do not exist or minimize their infection.  They are on the Good shepherd’s shoulders as He was nailed to the Cross. Jesus is quite clear, He is not any shepherd.  He and His Father are one, one God. He alone has carried the full brunt of the just Law of God and it’s punishment for our sake.

Jesus is saying this is what His Church is like:  a sheepfold.  Not grand and glorious is it?  People may think the magnificent church buildings of  Europe  and our nation are great to sight see, but will complain about the people who actual worship there are not a sight to see, “a bunch of hypocrites”.  Yes, that’s right, sinners, sheep. Kind of like a cop at a crime, nothing much to see here, move on…but don’t move on, taste and see the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever..   Isaiah and Jesus knew a lot about sheep, do we?  Sheep today think they smell pretty good, look good and think, yeah, I’m pretty good with this or that peccadillo to fix up. As Jesus said, there are wolves in sheeps clothing…but I think sheep in 3 piece business suits.   The Lord does not only forgives and bore our sins, but forgives sinners.  I like the icon on the front cover of the bulletin (see header above). He has bourne you into His sheepfold, the sin of the world is the weight of one man, Adam, a sinner

In the parable of today’s Gospel, the Lord Christ compares it [the Christian Church] to a sheep-fold. He compares the Holy Spirit to the Gate-guard, and Himself to the Door into this sheep pen, [as well as] to the Shepherd of the sheep. It is precisely for these reasons that these two items are placed side by side in the Third Article of our Christian faith, where we say: I believe in the Holy Spirit, one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

 The first Christians on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit gathered them together, baptized into Christ Jesus, the Lord  showed them where to feed and be fed:  they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Anything else is junk food, a cheat.  Luke tells us they  were joyful. Today is called both Good Shepherd and Jubilate Sunday, Jubilate as in jubilation, joy, the joy of being found, as they had been found out by Lord in His Law, He found them by dying and rising for them and us.  Jubilation and Good Shepherd do go together as when Jesus concludes the parable of the lost sheep, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Mothers and fathers give oversight to their children but they can not over look them and their actions.  The price of parenting is eternal vigilance.  Getting children from point A to  point B day after day safely, with much prayer so they won’t be lost is so akin to shepherding.  Keeping them away from the enemy, Satan, who has done quite a number on a culture astray.  Sheep going astray is not some prosaic, pastoral scene, sheep going astray means only thing:  death.  Parents bringing children to the Lord’s House, His sheepfold, not keeping them away from Jesus, their Good Shepherd, as parents were likewise brought to the Lord.  In my cynical moments, it seems that these days it is not 1 sheep who is lost, but 99, yet I do not know the ways the Lord is working, and He is working still.  With the Good Shepherd we need to rejoice in Him over one sinner who repents. There are parents in households and parents in the Church, pastors.

 …the Chief Shepherd. He, in turn, has under-shepherds, which consist of all faithful teachers and preachers. In keeping with Christ’s example, they are to faithfully graze the flock, direct them to the right Door, and guide the little lambs to Christ. Those who do otherwise, says Christ, are thieves and murderers, for they take away Christ’s glory; and they kill the souls of men through false doctrine, just as death devours little lambs in a poisoned pasture. (Pr. Johann Gerhard)

 When I was pastor in Union City, NJ (second exit outside the Lincoln Tunnel), a congregation of Guatemalan Pentecostalists worshiped in the church’s basement.  The parsonage was next door, nevertheless, through thick masonry walls (ca.’30s), we could hear them singing but especially the preacher in our kitchen.  I became friends with Victor from his congregation.  One day I showed him the Sanctuary.  Victor asked, “Where’s the microphone?  The PA system?”  “We don’t have one.”  He was in incredulous.  We don’t have to yell at the flock,  except when there is danger. The voice of the Shepherd is peace for it is the Word of our forgiveness and peace. 

 My sheep here My voice He says, and I know them and they follow Me, and I give them eternal Life. Just as Christ  teachings are a complete rule of faith, so also is His life a clear, complete mirror for every good work. Learn from Me, He says in Matt, 11-29, as if to say: You have enough to learn about My love, about My patience, My humility, meekness, friendliness to do you for the rest of your lives. As a result, you will well forget about the commandments of men with which you serve God fruitlessly and in vain, Matt. 15:9. 0 God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, highly praised in all eternity: Give us all such an obedient, willing heart for following the voice of Christ in doctrine and life. (Pr. Johann Gerhard)

 The Good Shepherd has the wounds of the Cross and His sheep have wounds, but He has branded His sheep with His Cross, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

St. John 4: 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Intro:  The appointed Gospel lesson for 11 February is St. John 4: 7-21, a selection of the meeting between the Lord and the Samaritan Woman at the well.  Pr. Scott Murray, in his book of daily meditations, A Year with the Church Fathers, cites the quote below from The Confessions of St. Augustine.  St. Augustine’s Confessions is a first in literature, an autobiography, but an autobiography set as a prayer to the Lord.  It is very much akin to St. Paul’s several accounts of his conversion (see Acts 22: 1-21) .  Christian autobiography is not to set the record straight, or to boast in the self, but to show in writing the way the Lord came to a man and saved him:  to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).   The Confessions  is not about religious enthusiasm but the actuality of His mercy in our misery and sinfulness. St. Augustine’s Confession is eminently quotable, such as, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee”.  In the quote below, I have italicized another great quote for memory.

“When I shall cleave to You with all my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labor, and my life shall be a real life, being completely full of You. But now, since he whom You fill is the one You lift up, I am a burden to myself, as not being full of You. Joys of sorrow contend with sorrows of joy, and on which side the victory may be I do not know. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows contend with my good joys, and on which side the victory may be I do not know. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! See, I do not hide my wounds. You are the Physician; I am the sick. You are merciful; I am miserable. Is not the life of man upon earth a trial (Job 7:1)? Who is he that wishes for troubles and difficulties? You command them to be endured, not to be loved. No man loves what he endures, though he may love to endure. Although he rejoices to endure, he would rather there was nothing for him to endure. In adversity, I desire prosperity; in prosperity, I fear adversity. What middle place, then, is there between these, where human life is not a trial? Woe to the prosperity of this world, once and again, from fear of misfortune and a corruption of joy! Woe to the adversities of this world, once and again, and for the third time, from the desire of prosperity; and because adversity itself is a hard thing and makes shipwreck of endurance! Is not the life of man upon earth a trial, and that without pause?

“My whole hope is only in Your exceedingly great mercy. Give what You command, and command what You will. You impose self-control on us; ‘I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, unless God gave it. This was also a matter of wisdom, to know whose gift it was.’ (Wisdom8:21, author). By self-control are we bound up and brought into one, from which we were scattered abroad into many. For he loves You too little who loves anything with You, and which he loves not for Your own sake, 0 Love, who burns forever and is never quenched! 0 Love, my God, kindle me. You command self-control; give what You command, and command what You will” (Augustine, Confessions, 10.28-29).

Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.

While the hope of endless glory

Fills my heart with joy and love,

Teach me ever to adore Thee;

May I still Thy goodness prove.

—Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (LSB 686:1)

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, heavenly Father, You have called Your Church to worship Your Son in Spirit and truth. Through the Spirit of Jesus, keep us faithful to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life, so that we may be partakers of His divine life and inherit the kingdom promised for those who drink from the water of life; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

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Prayer of the Day

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

Intro:  The following meditation is for this day, 22 January and is cited from the excellent A Year with the Church Fathers:  Meditation for Each Day of the Church Year (Pastor Scott Murray).  The lessons for this day are:  Psalmody: Psalm 69:19-23,32-33;  Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-17 New Testament Reading: Romans 11:1-24.  For those unfamiliar, there is a daily lectionary of readings with the Lutheran Service Book.  I do not think it necessary to go farther afield than these resources for daily devotions and prayer by going hither and yon looking for such.  The Treasury of Daily Prayer is another  closely related resource.  We need this because the Lord is explicit in His Word that, “…we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26) but the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness even in our sighs with God’s Word.  The disciples were constrained to ask Jesus to teach them to pray,see Luke 11:1.  The Lord has so taught us to pray and prayer in His Word:  see the Psalms!  If you sense that you do not pray as you ought, then you are in agreement with Scripture and seek out the mentioned sources in order to help your  praying.  If you think you do pray well and that  you are spiritually rich, then thank the Lord and this meditation below by Pr. Murray, who then cites St. Augustine, is for you, as it is for us all!

Meditation

Sometimes we suffer from a spiritually swollen head. If that happens, the crown of righteousness will no longer fit. If we get spiritually puffed up or proud, then we defeat the very gift of grace that comes to those who are in need of it. If our heads swell on account of the crown of righteousness, the crown will slip off our pates and be lost. The nature of the Christian faith is counterintuitive in that just when we think we can reach out and grasp it, that is exactly when we can be sure the faith has slipped from our grasp. When we are feeling most unworthy of the divine gift of forgiveness in Christ, that is when are most likely to have it.

What we think of as our own merits are really Christ’s gifts. Who shows pride of accomplishment in a gift? Only the deluded. Watch out for your head size.

“After redemption from all corruption, what remains but the crown of righteousness? This at least remains, but even in it or under it, do not let your head be swollen, so that it may receive the crown. Hear and mark well the psalm: that crown will not fit a swollen head. After he says, `Who redeems your life from the pit,’ he says, `who crowns you’ (Psalm 103:4). Here you were ready at once to say, -‘Crowns you” is an acknowledgment of my merits. My own excellence has done it. It is the payment of a debt, not a gift.’ Give ear rather to the psalm. It is to you again that it says, ‘All mankind are liars’ (Psalm 116:11). Hear what God says: `Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.’ Out of His steadfast love He crowns you. Out of His mercy He crowns you. You had no worthiness that He should call you; being called, that He should justify you; being justified, that He should glorify you. `There is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace’ (Romans 11:5-6). `Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due’ (Romans 4:4). The apostle says, ‘Not counted as a gift but as his due.’ But you He crowns with steadfast love and mercy. And if you think your own merits have preceded this, God says to you, `Examine well your merits, and you will see that they are My gifts”‘ (Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons, 81.8).

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I have read that this mosaic of Ambrose might actually be a rendering of his likeness.

The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: the word of the Lord came unto John, etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word. (Ambrose on Matthew 3: 1-11, the Season of Advent)

Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan from today’s date, December 7, beginning in 374 till his death in 397.  He was the first of great Church fathers to be born, raised and educated as a Christian (the others were pagans who converted) and in the western part of the Roman Empire in what is now Trier, France.   He studied the classics and the law at Rome and before he was thirty-three was named governor of Ligoria and Aemilia, with headquarters at Milan.  Milan at the time was the seat of the imperial court.  The bishop was an Arian.  Arianism is a Christian heresy.  Bishop Arius taught, “There was a time when Christ was not”, thus denying the plain teaching of Scripture, for instance, see John 1:1-3, and thus denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, His equality in the Godhead  and salvation in Him. (This is not far to the doctrine  that Jesus was a good teacher, for instance, see the book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth“, by Thomas Jefferson who took the Gospels and cut out all the miracles and the resurrection and left only His sayings).  This resulted in violent clashes between the Arians and the Catholics in Milan.  Ambrose, as Governor, settled the conflict.  Both sides unanimously insisted that Ambrose become their Bishop, or pastor.  At this time, though a believer, Ambrose had not been baptized.  The human tradition  at the time  was to delay baptism till the time of death, so as not to sin after baptism.  Ambrose finally bowed to pressure from church and state, and on this date, December 7th, he was baptized, ordained a priest and consecrated Bishop: all in one day!  Usually, a known saint’s day is the day the saint died, thus in Christ awaiting the resurrection unto eternal life. Today we remember Ambrose’s re-birth into the Kingdom, see John 3:5.

  Ambrose is noted for the following:

  1. a powerful preacher of the Gospel
  2. a hymn writer
  3. a peacemaker
  4. and through it all, defender of the true Faith:  when Arians were sentenced to death, Ambrose saved their lives and yet  he did not compromise the  saving and sound doctrine of the Scriptures with their heresy.

One of the many people who ‘attended church’ and the Liturgy in Milan was a young Manichean philospher,  who had had  a child out of wedlock and who was searching:  Augustine.  Augustine became one of the great teachers and preachers of Jesus Christ. 

“In Milan I found Your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there was few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of Your corn, the joy of Your oil, and the sober intoxication of Your wine.  Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him,so that I might knowingly be led by him to You.”  ( From the Confessions of St. Augustine)

On Easter, 387, Ambrose administered the Sacrament of  Holy Baptism for Augustine.

His most reknowned hymn is the Advent hymn we sung for the 1st Sunday of Advent:  ‘Savior of the Nations, Come’:

1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh–
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

4. From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell–
High the song of triumph swell!

5. Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast o’er sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

7. Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

(The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn # 95  Text: John 1: 14 Author: St. Ambrose, +397 German version translated by Martin Luther, 1524)

Let us pray…O God, You gave Your servant Ambrose grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As bishop of the great congregation of Milan, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

(Source for this piece from Festivals and Commemorations by Philip H. Pfatteicher;  to read more about Ambrose:  Cyberbrethren: Ambrose)

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About Monica, Mother of Augustine: A  native of North Africa, Monica (AD 333-387) was the devoted mother of St. Augustine. Throughout her life, she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy, on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa. On some Church Year calendars, Monica is remembered on May 4. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

From The Confessions of Augustine of Hippo,Pastor and Hippo, feast day, August 28th:

(Monica) was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by You obedient to her parents rather than by them to You. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as lord. She tried to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her virtues through which You made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had a quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to Your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in You, he might become chaste….

Another gift with which You endowed at good servant of Yours, in whose womb ou created me, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58:18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she heard from both sides many bitter things, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them….

At the end, when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for You. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause

to complain of his behavior, which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of Your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honor, and loved her, for they felt Your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had “testimony to her good works” (1 Timothy 5:10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from You. Lastly, Lord—by Your gift You allow me to speak for Your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in You after receiving the grace of Baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served all as if she was a daughter to all of us. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing  House)

Scripture:

Proverbs 31: 10 An excellent wife who can find?
   She is far more precious than jewels.
11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
   and he will have no lack of gain.
12She does him good, and not harm,
   all the days of her life.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1: 5

 

Reflection:  Monica’s husband was an adulterer.   She stayed with him.  She was faithful. She probably took literally the Epistle reading:   Ephesians 5:21-23.   She wanted her husband to be her head…but in Christ Jesus.  She is not the model in our day of the liberated woman!  Thank, God.  Her strength was her Lord and she prayed for the conversion of both her husband and their son.  I am not saying that a wife in an abusive marriage should stay.  Monica was not physically abused.  She was, though, spiritually and emotionally hurt by her feckless husband and faithless son.  She persisted in prayer for them.  Both were baptized.  Her son became one of the most important theologians and pastors whose writings influenced one young monk in the Order of St. Augustine:  Martin Luther.   Augustine’s feast day is tomorrow. Freedom in Christ is praying for someone who may not even want your prayers.  

P.S. Sometimes I think a day like this one should be for the Church, Mother’s Day.

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son. Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

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On this blog I cite many times St. Augustine.  (For instance, cf. The Commemoration of St. Augustine) The order of monks named after him, the Augustinians, was the order in which Martin Luther became a monk.  Of the Church Fathers, Augustine is the father probably most influential in The Book of Concord:  The Confessions of the Lutheran Church because he taught and preached the Biblical doctrine entitled monergism, literally, “one work”, the Lord’s one work of grace  in His Jesus Christ for us sinners, not synergism, “working together”, which is perennial heresy of Pelagius.  After all as we are dead in our sin, the dead can not raise themselves but the Lord did rise and can raise us up both spiritually and physically.  

Pr. Paul McCain on his blog Cyberbrethren posted this trailer of the upcoming movie on the Saint.  It is produced by Ignatius Press, a conservative/traditional Roman Catholic publishing house.   Here is the website.  The movie looks interesting:

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About Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian: Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and aprolific writer. In addition to Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Today is also the  second anniversary of  Concordia Lutheran Mission here in Lexington, VA.  On the Page on the top, you can read the history. The first Divine Service was at Grace Presbyterian Church and August 28th two years ago was a Saturday.  We had left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, of which I had been pastor.  Two years ago I had not yet been accepted as a pastor in The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.   Our sponsoring congregation’s pastor and vicar presided and preached at that first service and did so until I was recognized as a pastor in the Synod.

Below is the sermon I preached last year on August 28th which was a Sunday.  FYI:  one couple in attendance decided not to return, one reason being the sermon below.  The wife deemed  it “too negative”. The italicized portions are related directly to the mission’s history.

Pentecost 11, 2011,  1st Year Concordia Lutheran Mission Anniversary: 

Text:  St. Matthew 16: 21—28 

But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.

The things of God can be rough stuff on the things of man:  crucifixion.  Who wants crucifixion?  Jesus did not.  He was being tempted by Peter right then and there and it wasn’t Peter alone, but the Adversary, the Accuser:  Satan.  Just before this, remember, Peter had confessed Jesus:  You the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus pronounced the very blessing of heaven upon Peter for the Father had given him the answer: You are Peter and upon this your confession you and the apostles, the Church, are given the Keys of the Kingdom.  Peter had seen Jesus walk upon the sea.  The Apostles witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 and 7,000 men, not including women and children.  They had seen Him do great deeds of healing.  They saw the multitudes hanging on to Jesus’ every Word. And now with the identity of Jesus as not just ‘a christ’, but THE Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One this meant only one thing:  GLORY, ABSOLUTE GLORY.  Israel rules! Jesus and the 12 Apostles will be ensconced forever in Jerusalem, the Holy City.  Peter was sitting on top of the world. Now that would be the sign of the Lord, no there is only one sign this side of the new heavens and the new earth: the sign of the Cross.

When Jesus tells the apostles He goes to Jerusalem to be murdered, the disciples were thunderstruck by the news.  And Jesus tells them He will be murdered in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was not the land of Mordor with the dark lord. Jerusalem did not even have mean city streets like in many of our metropolises where murder is a threat. Jerusalem’s center was the Temple, the House of the Lord, with the Lord of Light. He said He would be murdered there?!   And this would be done by the religious leadership, if you will, by the church authorities.  The Church authorities thought they ran God’s Word and His Church, not the Lord ruling them. Could the church itself war against God’s Word?   We know the answer:  yes.  Over a year ago many of us so left a denomination purporting to be church.  We left because of it’s war against the Word of God.  Oh it looks nice on the outside but as the Lord said about the religious leadership of His time, they are whitened sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones full of decay and rot.  It is profoundly sad.  Am I overstating the case?  I do not think so. The gates of hell are doing their best, but they have not prevailed.  Many, including myself,have chronicled the central collapse of the authority of the Scriptures in so many areas of the Church. Now, one should not lightly and unadvisedly leave a church body.  By God’s grace alone,  I do not think we did. 

So!  Are we in the promised land?  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  When I had my last interview for acceptance as a pastor into The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at the Synod’s InternationalCenter outside of St. Louis, Missouri, one of my three interviewers was a district president who warned me, “You know the Missouri Synod has problems and it’s not perfect.” I smiled and said, “If it were perfect, that would mean the Lord has come with His kingdom and I don’t think He has and there would be no interview”  They all smiled or chuckled.  The district president’s caution was a good one.  In Christ, he could admit sin because of our Savior. He knows our church body is not perfect.  but I do not think I could ever hear that from some other liberal protestant church bodies and their ecclesiacrats.  I can  not imagine the Pharisees saying that but just the opposite, God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  The district president, this pastor,  is obviously no Pharisee. Thank our Lord for His grace for us all!

Paul wrote to Timothy that Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the foremost. Paul also wrote, we preach Christ and Him crucified.  None of those verses are in past tense, I was a sinner or we preached Christ and him crucified.  It is all about present-tense Savior for present tense sinners.  No one wants to bear a cross.  No one wants to be crucified.  The cross stands for one thing:  costly grace, His blood for your sin.  When the Lord says bear the cross if you would come after Him, means to take hold of your forgiveness that He freely gives like water to the thirsty, like bread to the hungry, like sight to the blind, like legs to those can not walk.  We want to be simply translated into glory here and now, no.  By His life alone we cannot translated into glory yet because we are not ready but we are transformed by the mercies of God.

The things of God are His grace, mercy and peace.  The things of man are me, myself and I.  The Lord’s grace, mercy and peace come at a price, the price of His own beloved Son. But the things of man–me, myself and I– comes too with a price:  temporal and eternal punishment, sorrow in this world and the next. After all even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.  The Lord does not want that for you, for Peter, for me.  When Peter rebuked him, tried to deter Him from the only Way for us and for our salvation, Peter was Satan, tempting Him.  It was a sharp temptation. It was a sharp temptation to use the best of His own creation for Himself alone.  All temptation is not to use evil things primarily, but good things, the good creation, for evil purposes.  Love, money, house, home etc. all for me.  I’ll save my life. But fool!  says the Lord, your soul is required of you this night.  The Kingdom, the power and the glory are used as MINE. then even Jersualem becomes the city of darkness and Mordor. But the THINE is the kingdom, the power and the glory and with Lord it is heaven even now on earth, coming into the world through the death, resurrection and life of Jesus the Christ. 

But at the time temptations look good, we may say:  Oh what the hell?  Indeed,  what the hell.  Here was the Man who knew the sharpest temptation imaginable:  not to justly die for people who lord it over others, want many rings of power and build their towers into the skies.  He was tempted in every way we are, yet was without sin.  Temptation is not sin, the succumbing to it is.  So He taught us, Lead us not into temptation.  Stop me from going there.  So Jesus’ rebuke of Peter.  So when He was tempted thrice by Satan in the wilderness, thrice did He say, It is written.  Only the God’s Word of grace, mercy and peace can fell the tempter’s power. Because Jesus was tempted, He can help those are who are tempted.  If we try to do it on our own, then we are looking the wrong way.  “There is no help or comfort except to run here and to take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and thus speak to God from the heart: Dear Father, Thou hast bidden me pray; let me not relapse because of temptations. Then you will see that they must desist, and finally acknowledge themselves conquered.  Else if you venture to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head, which if it gain an opening into which he can slip, the whole body will follow without check. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back. (Luther:  The Large Catechism)

 It is as if in today’s Gospel, there are two columns entitled:

Things of Man: 

having it all                            

eternal death

glory                                                   

my way

hell to pay

self-love

self-fulfillment

Things of God:

having the Lord

eternal life

suffering

His way

heaven given

love which serves

cross-bearing

love of the other

self-denial

But to get from column A to column B can not be traversed by us or any good decision, will or merit. Truly, we can not do that on our own steam.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, but only to Thy Cross I cling” It has been done so by He who went to Jerusalem to be murdered by our murders of soul and body.  And the cross-like life in the Lord is described well by St. Paul in the lesson from Romans 12: 9-21.  Here we see the fruit of love in the root of faith in the Lord in taking hold of our forgiveness.  “Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”(St. Augustine) He forms us into His life. And a Christian congregation will look like today’s second lesson. And truly, but by the grace of God go I.

 IN the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy  Spirit. Amen.

For further prayer and reflection:

The following quotes are Augustine’s sermons, from the four volume series, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers:  A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation, translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D., 1996, Preservation Press:

Christmas Day:  Third Mass, John 1:   1—14, also addressed to the newly Baptized:

“For from the Gentiles we have come, and in our forefathers we worshiped idols of stone.  So we also have been called dogs (Mt. 25: 26)…But to you grace, has come.  As many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God.  See!  You have come here newly-born (by baptism):  he gave them power to be made the sons of God.  To whom did he give it? To them that believe in His Name.  And how do they become the children of God?  Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, now of the will of man, but of God. They are born of God, when they have received the power to become sons of God…The first birth is from a male and a female;  the second from God and from the Church.  Behold they are born of God…How has this come to be?  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.  Wondrous exchange!…Lift up your heart to the possession and enjoyment of higher things.  Do not stick fast in earthly cravings. You have been purchased at a price:  for your sake the Word was made flesh.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, on John 6:  1—15:

“For the daily ordering of this whole world is a greater miracle than the feeding of five thousand men from five loaves.”

“We must also ask the miracles what is it they tell us of Christ:  for they have, if we understand it, their own manner of speech.  For as Christ is the Word of God, any deed of the Word is a sermon to us.”

Easter Sunday, on Mark 16: 1—8, addressed also to the newly Baptized:

“For this divine condescension cannot be truly understood, and human thought and language fails us, that without previous merit on your part this free gift has come to you.  And for this do we call it a grace:  because it is given gratis.  And what grace is this? That you are now members of Christ, Children of God; that you are brothers of the Only-Begotten!”

Second Sunday after Easter, on John 10:   11—16

“To you it is not said:  be something less than you are;  but rather, learn what you are. Know that you are weak, know that you a man, know that you are a sinner; know that it is He Who sanctifies you;  know that you are stained by sin.  Let the blemish in your soul be made manifest in your confession, and you shall belong to the flock of Christ.  For the confession of your sins invites the Physician to heal  you; just as when he who is sick say, ‘a am well’, he desires no help from the physician.  Did not the Pharisee and the Publican go up into the Temple?  The one boasted of how strong his soul was; the other shown his wounds to the Physician.”

Pentecost, on John 14:  23—31

But whom do you say that I am? And Peter as the leader of the others, one speaking for all of them, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt. xvi).

This he said perfectly; most truly. Rightly did such an answer deserve to hear: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is inheaven. And I say to thee, because thou hast said this to me; thou hast spoken: now listen; thou hast confessed: receive in turn a blessing. Therefore: And I say to thee: Thou art Peter: because I am the Rock, thou art Peter; for the Rock is not from Peter, but Peter is from the Rock; because Christ is not from Christian, but Christian is from Christ. Arid upon this rock I will build My Church: not upon Peter (non supra Petruin) who thou art, but upon the Rock (sed supra petrain) Whom thou hast confessed. I will build My church: I will build thee, who in this answer are in your­self the figure of the Church.

16th Sunday after Pentecost, on Luke 14:  1—11

“Do you desire to escape from an angry God?  Then fly to an appeased One:  fly nowhere from Him, only to Him.”

The Feast of All Saints, on Matthew 5: 1—12

 “Riches can indeed perish; and would that they perished before they caused you to perish.”

 A Prayer Adapted from a Benediction by which St. Augustine ended at least two of his sermons:

 We turn to You, the Lord our God and as best as we can give we give You thanks.  We beseech You that in Your goodness You will hear our prayers and by Your power:  drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us Your holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end through Your Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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