Holy Lives: St. Augustine of Hippo Regius

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 25 August 2019
A Sermon on Luke 13:22-30 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

Luke 13:22-30 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

HOLY LIVES: ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO REGIUS

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” It sounds rather innocuous in the asking. Sometimes we worry about that uncle who is killing himself slowly with alcohol. Or, we think about that friend who has never been baptized and who only seems to think hormonally. Or there’s that wonderful teacher or great neighbor who is so dear, but she or he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus or His Church. A man once said: “I have given up pew-sitting.”

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Haven’t you wondered about the soul and body of someone you love or like? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do as Christians? But, please, notice how the Lord Jesus handles the question: ““Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (13:24). In essence, the Lord Jesus puts it back on the questioner: “Will you be saved?”

The Dad Who Was A Problem

If you had wonderful parents, or even good parents, you may not be aware of what things are like behind the smiles and behind closed doors of even a good acquaintance’s home. Outward niceness is no proof of anything other than that the person wants to make a good impression. When you see someone, who is sad most of the time, it may well be that their home life is toxic.

But there are people who are wonderful parents, who are actually as they seem to be, and yet they want nothing to do with Jesus or His Church, and their children are raised with no faith and no knowledge of God’s Son and His saving death for sinners. That’s how it was with Patricius.

St. Augustine’s father, Patricius, was an important Roman citizen in his community. He was neither wealthy nor a Christian, but Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout prayer warrior, whose care and concern for the lives of both her husband and her son led ultimately to their Baptism and their conversion to the Christian faith.

Like many fathers, Patricius was not a good example in matters of faith. As a citizen, yes. As a responsible man, yes. But as one equally yoked to his Christian wife, no. As a good role model of the Christian faith and life for his son, no. Patricius was a pagan. Augustine took after his Dad.

There have always been many faithful women in Christ’s Church and a few men. There have also always been women whose wagging tongues and constant complaints have actually pushed their children and grandchildren away from the faith. There have always been some men who personally are involved, but whose example has not taken root in their wife or children’s lives, because he was never equally yoked with a Christian wife. It really does matter who Christians marry. It really does matter whether men practice the Christian faith for their children to see.

Don’t give up on them. Monica’s devout prayers, decades of prayers, a lifetime of prayers, were heard. Because she never gave up on Patricius or on Augustine, Monica lived to see them both baptized and her son to become one of the greatest bishops of the early Church. Sadly, the Muslim conquest of Saharan Africa all but destroyed the Church in what is now Algeria, where Augustine was the bishop. But the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail over Christ’s Church. St. Augustine is still teaching us today through his insistence upon grace reflected in our liturgy and, particularly, in the clarity about the Holy Trinity’s life as reflected in the Athanasian Creed.

St. Augustine’s emphasis on God’s grace rather than human effort or merit moved a young Bible student named Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, to proclaim Christ crucified for sinners. Luther’s persistent urging that the death of Jesus for sinners not be wasted shapes our parish life.

The Narrow Door

God’s beloved Son Jesus, truly God and truly human, is the narrow door. There is no salvation apart from Jesus. There is no salvation outside the Church. That is the Christian faith. It is the scandal of particularity that grates on the ears of 21st century people who think differently.

Someone asked Jesus if few would be saved. Jesus essentially asked: “Will you?”

We often see Jesus repeating the same teaching in different ways. A master teacher once told me that teachers need to repeat something 23 times before it ever takes hold. Early in Matthew’s gospel in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus warns against paying only lip service to Him. Late in Matthew’s gospel, the Lord Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Again and again, Jesus warns against complacency, wishy-washiness, and going through the motions.

Today, Jesus speaks, even to His Church today, even to you and me, that merely eating and drinking in His presence without welcoming Him into every area of our lives – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially, ethically, and so forth – may result in our only knowing the name of Jesus, perhaps admiring Jesus, and even perhaps being fond of Jesus, without calling upon Him to save and redeem us from sin, death, and the old evil foe.

Jesus did not come to give us a new outlook on life, to send us home brimming with new enthusiasm for being a better spouse or parent, or to teach us a new philosophy of social justice. God’s beloved Son Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in order to take our sins and our death to His lonely cross and to give us His eternal life and righteousness as a free gift. If you have never been baptized with water in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then please ask. Jesus is the narrow door. He is the only Way to the Father.

Now, what does that mean? It means everyone needs Jesus. He is the only One who saves.

So…What Does This Mean?

All of us have only so much time left in this world. We never know how much time that is. I have buried infants, teenagers, twenty-somethings, middle-aged, and people as old as 103. If you think you can put Jesus on the backburner on low, you may not have that luxury. Only because of his mother’s prayers did God spare Augustine from destruction. God knows Augustine was on the road to perdition and so was Augustine’s father. Thank God for prayer warriors like Monica!

Someone asked Jesus: “Will only a few be saved?” Too many Christians confuse being loosey-goosey with grace. Other Christians spend hours worrying about dead loved ones. Still others act as if they know who is in and who is out. That’s why Jesus asks: “Will you be saved?”

Holy Baptism is not like a fire insurance policy we store away with our important papers. Praying the so-called sinner’s prayer is not a get-out-of-hell-free card either. People can eat and drink with Jesus and say they are saved, but we remain in bodies of death in a world of easy words and dangerous, soul-killing temptations. We pray: “Deliver us from evil,” because we need to be delivered from evil daily and at the hour of our death. We need Jesus to save us.

Parents make promises at their children’s Baptism to raise them in the Christian faith, and then some raise their children without ever bringing them to the services of God’s house, without bringing them to Sunday School, without ever providing for their instruction in the Christian faith, and without ever showing their children that they love Jesus so much that receiving His true Body and most precious Blood and learning from His Word are a matter of death and life.

St. Augustine was among the greatest teachers and bishops of the early Church, because his mother never stopped praying for him and never stopped showing Augustine and her husband Patricius how you practice the Christian faith. In short, she showed them what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thank God for Monica. She never gave up.

Parents, please don’t confuse being permissive with love. You take your children to the doctor. You make sure they are fed. You protect them from strangers. You see that they learn and do their homework. Don’t you think that what becomes of them eternally matters most?

St. Augustine taught us there is grace and mercy for every sinner. Jesus is the narrow door.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Holy Lives: St. Augustine of Hippo Regius

 

Praying

“O God, you make the minds of the faithful to be of one will: Grant that your people may love what you command and desire what your promise: that, among the manifold changes of this world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 619).

Listening

Luke 13:23 “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

St. Cyril [early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt] “The man wanted to learn whether there would be few who are saved, but he explained to him the way whereby he might be saved himself… It was a necessary and valuable thing to know how a man may obtain salvation. He is purposed silent to the useless question. He proceeds to speak of what was essential, namely, of the knowledge necessary for the performance of those duties by which people can enter the narrow door” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 229).

Luke 13:24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many… will seek to enter and will not be able.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “I now consider it my duty to mention why the door to life is narrow. Whoever, would enter must first before everything else possess an upright and uncorrupted faith and then a spotless morality, in which there is no possibility of blame, according to the measure of human righteousness…One who has attained to this in mind and spiritual strength will enter easily by the narrow door and run along the narrow way” (229-230).

Luke 13:27 “‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”

St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “Christ has hidden enemies. All those who live unjust and irreligious lives are Christ’s enemies, even if they are signed with his name and are called Christians … You see that they did not value their food very highly, and yet it was with reference to it that they said they belonged to Christ. Christ is the food that is eaten and drunk. Even Christ’s enemies eat and drink him. The faithful know the Lamb without spot on which they feed, if only they fed on it in such a way that they are not liable to punishment!” (230).

Luke 13:30 “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

St. Augustine of Hippo Regius: “The shepherds came from nearby to see, and the magi came from far away to worship. This is the humility for which the wild olive deserved to be grafted into the olive tree and against nature to produce olives” (230).

Luke 13:30 “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “He showed that the Jews were about to fall from their rank of being in a spiritual sense his household and that the multitude of the Gentiles should enter in their place. He said that many who received the call would come from the east, west, north, and south. They will rest with the saints.” (230-231).

Reflecting

1. Do I cling to Christ alone with claiming any merit of my own? Do I hunger for His grace?

Learning

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

Christian Questions with Their Answers

Prepared by Dr. Martin Luther for those who intend to go to the Sacrament.

After confession and instruction in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, the pastor may ask, or Christians may ask themselves these questions.

19. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?

First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2 (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. As summer comes to an end, and Sunday School, Bible study, and Confirmation instruction begin again, recognize your need to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in order to continue in the Way of eternal life and to withstand sin, death, and devil.

4. When you find yourself complaining about the time spent with the Lord in worship and study and in fellowship with His Church, consider how you gladly will spend twice as much time in those activities that entertain, distract, and amuse you while your life in this world is wasting away.

5. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”