Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
So to know God that we may truly love … so to love God that we may fully serve.
At St. Thomas, the parish I serve as deacon, the rector gives a children’s sermon at the 10 am Eucharist before he preaches to the congregation. Because Fr. Ralph was out of town last Sunday, I took a turn.
The children come up to the altar and we all sit on the steps together. They bring up a hatbox with a surprise in it, usually some kind of toy, and the game is that the preacher has to improvise a sermon on the spot.
This week the toy surprise was a dollar coin with Lady Liberty on the front, so we spoke for a minute or two about liberty and freedom and the symbols of our country that remind us of that truth. We also spoke about Jesus, who shows us an example of perfect freedom and loving service.
Augustine represents for the church the too-often competing strains of devotion and intellectual pursuit. He yearned both to know (that is, to intellectually comprehend) God and to serve the Lord Jesus. He also served the church in Hippo in northern Africa during a particularly difficult time in its early history when it was undergoing persecution and dealing with the problem of believers, particularly bishops and priests, who had turned away from the faith under duress and were seeking to return.
The love of God, Augustine understood, could not be diminished by the failings of people. The quaint language of our Thirty-Nine Articles reminds us “Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments” (BCP 873).
“Faith seeking understanding” is a motto often attributed to Augustine, and our prayer today reminds us that using our minds to study both the Scriptures and the world around us can deepen our love for God, that learning to love God and to understand the world will lead us to serve others more than to judge them, and that in loving service we will find our freedom.