SERMON IN CR CHAPEL        4 SEPTEMBER 2011        TRINITY 11

This morning’s reading from Romans Chapter 13 reminds me of St Augustine. I especially like the Authorised version of the passage:  

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

In his Confessions, Augustine describes his journey to full Catholic faith.  A high point in this journey is the experience when he was in his garden and was desperately trying to decide whether to accept baptism. He was held back by his reluctance to give up his mistress. In his mental agitation he heard what seemed like a child playing next door saying over and over the words ’Take it. Read it. Take it. Read it.’  He went over to his chair and took up the copy of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans which was lying there. It fell open at today’s NT Reading. He read the words as a direct message from God.

Augustine says in his Confessions, ‘No further did I desire to read, nor was there need. Indeed, immediately with the termination of this sentence, all the darknesses of doubt were dispersed, as if by a light of peace flooding into my heart.’

Many other factors influenced Augustine’s journey to faith. His mother, Monica’s, prayers, Ambrose’s sermons and explanations of the meaning of scripture, interpreting difficult Old Testament passages spiritually and the support and influence of friends. The word of God in the Bible was very significant in his journey to faith once he learnt how to understand it.

He was teetering on the edge of accepting the Catholic faith as taught by Ambrose and had giving up his earlier belief in Manichaean heresy but he was held back by his enjoyment of his concubine or, as we might say, mistress. Monica had been urging him to give her up and get properly married to someone of his own class. The word of God through St Paul seemed to be telling him to obey his mother’s wishes, though eventually it became clear to him that he must accept the celibate life of a monk/bishop.

So his hesitations were finally overcome and he accepted baptism at the hands of Ambrose, the saintly bishop of Milan.

Friends were very important for Augustine. It is interesting that when he had his experience in the garden he wasn’t alone. His great friend Alypius was with him. When Augustine told him what had happened Alypius picked up the codex of the Letter to the Romans and read the next words following those which Augustine had read. They were, ‘But him who is weak in faith, receive.’ Alypius applied these words to himself and took it as a sign that he should join Augustine in seeking baptism. He would go on to share with Augustine the life of a monk. 

I expect most of us can recognise that, among the influences which led us to faith, we can list vivid important passages of the Bible.

Another influence on us must also have been the  prayers of those who, perhaps we never knew, were praying for us. We can also list the wise teaching which cleared up our doubts and showed us the wonderful truths of our faith. I would add that friendship undoubtedly was a powerful influence on me, including members of our Community, to persevere in living out the Christian faith.

In our country there is a great drift away from Christian believing. How are we to bring people to faith? I suggest we can learn from St Augustine. The most vital requirement is teaching, putting the Word of God in people’s hands and interpreting it, that God may speak to them through it. Then, too, prayer for specific people is essential. Also, we can’t underestimate the importance of friendship.  Andrew went and brought his brother Peter to Jesus.  It’s an example every Christian should follow.

Crispin Harrison CR