+ In Nomine Jesu +
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
From the day he was born his parents began to pray for him. I suppose, in that sense, things were pretty typical in the household in which he was raised. Christian parents do pray for their children, for their safety, their faith, their vocations. In fact, the list of petitions we offer up to God for our children is nearly limitless. Job, we are told, even interceded before God on behalf of his children with daily burnt offerings. He said, "It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Fathers, you are honored today by your children, at least in part, because you loved them enough to pray for them.
In many ways he was a rebellious child. He was never interested much in church. In fact, he never really went to church. Oh, sure, he went when he was young because his parents took him, but, as he grew older he strayed away from the church. He was too preoccupied with other things, or, just not interested in church.
He did enjoy certain subjects in school, like literature, especially the classics, not Shakespeare and the like, but the older classics like Virgil and his Aeneid. He was enamored by the story of the Trojan horse and the Greeks victory over the army of Troy.
Other subjects in school though, namely mathematics, were difficult for him, consequently, he didn't apply himself much in that area. To his dismay, he lived at a time when the teacher was still allowed to swat a child when they weren't putting in enough effort in their studies. Needless to say, he was swatted quite often in math class.
As he grew older he began to run around with a rowdy group of boys. They were trouble makers is what they were. Peer pressure was his greatest nemesis. Even if he didn't do things that were as bad as those done by his friends, he pretended that he did because he didn't want to appear purer, or, more holy than them. Still, by all standards, he was a promiscuous young man. As he said of himself, "I lived for pleasure and I couldn't discern the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness."
His rebellion wasn't expressed only in promiscuity. He stole too, not because he needed the things that he stole, but, simply for the thrill of stealing. As he said, "we stole for the sport." "My pleasure wasn't in the thing I stole, but, in the offense itself." By all accounts he was the kind of young man most of us love to hate because he preyed on innocent people, thinking of no one but himself.
All the while his parents and particularly his mother continued to pray for him. She prayed that her son would come to his senses and that he would turn from the error of his ways.
When his conscience began to bother him he finally turned to religion. Unfortunately his religion was humanly crafted. In other words, he turned, not to Christ, but to a god, or, should I say, to gods, of his own making. For him the gods of good and evil influenced the world and those who inhabit it. His task was to appeal to the god of good so that he himself could be good and do good things. His newfound faith, however, would only take him so far. Inevitably he would succumb to evil again and thus despise the good that his god was trying to work in him.
His mother prayed for him continually. She also directed him to God's Word. In his studies he was exposed to ancient texts, including the Bible. Mom looked on as God's Word seemed to have little effect on her son. She likely wondered what else needed to be done to turn her son around.
It wasn't until he was a much older man that he finally came to the fount of God's grace, to the pool of baptism and to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Soon he would be known as the Bishop of Hippo, a city in what is now called Algeria. Most of us though know him simply as St. Augustine.
All those years of frustration, of prayers offered with seemingly no reply, were soothed; they were washed away in a baptismal pool and in the crimson flow of Jesus' blood washing away the sins of a rebellious man. In many ways, Augustine's story bears witness to the mysterious way in which God's Word works. "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
From the frustrations of a 4th century family, we could jump forward some 1,600 years or so, and find ourselves also wondering about the power of God's Word. Is it capable of doing what it promises, or, is it too archaic, too bound to an ancient culture to have any effect on the modern mind and heart? I can't help but think that a great deal of the silliness that goes on in some worship settings today, from Rapp liturgies to Country and Western Liturgies, is but an unspoken admission that the Church, in many ways, doesn't really trust God's Word to create faith and to transform lives. We live at a time in which our enlightened minds have robbed God's Word, at least from our perspective, of its grandeur and of its awesome power, and perhaps then of it being left alone to do what it promises to do, whether in our children, in others that we love, or, in complete strangers, for that matter.
The farmer plants seed in the ground. He sows it, as it were. He doesn't know necessarily how it grows, but, he trusts that, in time, it's going to produce a crop. His whole livelihood depends on that kind of simple trust. He goes to sleep at night and with a last look at the field he sees nothing but dirt, not even a crack in the ground. In time he awakens and finds that the seed has begun to sprout and to grow. Soon the harvest will come! It's what he counts on! It's what he believes will happen!
You and I are privileged to handle God's Word and to apply it to life's joys and sorrows. In doing so we are called to a simple, child-like trust. The seed is sown, whether in us, or, in someone else and it brings forth fruit, the fruit of faith and the fruit of a life transformed by God.
Augustine, we are told, shortly after he was converted to the Christian faith, was confronted on the street one day by a former mistress. He saw her coming toward him and he turned to walk in the opposite direction. Surprised, the woman cried out, "Augustine, it is I!" But continuing on his way, Augustine said, "Yes, but it is not I."
How thrilled his mother, Monica, must have been to hear her son say such a thing! God's Word creates life! God said, "let there be light and there was light." He said, "let the waters swarm with living creatures" and it was so. He said, "let us make man in our image" and it was so. In other words, God speaks things into existence. And that is true of faith too. He speaks faith into existence. By the power of His Word, our old nature is put to death, we are called to repentance, and we are created anew in Christ Jesus.
Those of us, like Augustine, who struggle to discern "the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness," are drawn into the brightness of God's love in the death and resurrection of His Son. We are drawn there by the power of God's Word, through body and blood of Jesus poured out for us, and through the water of our baptisms that washed us in Jesus' crimson blood.
How does God's Word do what it does? Like the farmer, we'll sow the seed and lay our heads down at night expecting that seed to produce a crop. Frankly, we don't know how, but, we know it will, for it is, as the Apostle writes, "the power of God unto salvation." In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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