Sermon for the Commemoration of St. Augustine of Canterbury, AD 2021

1 Thessalonians 2:2-8

While Augustine of Canterbury is not on our LCMS list of commemorations, the LCMS remembered Bede yesterday, who thought very highly of him, and anyway Augsburg XXI does not give us a canonical list. Being the octave of Pentecost, it is also appropriate to think on the spread of the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth by God’s preachers, demonstrated both by Augustine and St. Paul, as we read in the first letter to the Thessalonians.
           
Augustine was truly sent to the ends of the earth, to Kent in southern England, almost the extent of Rome’s geographic knowledge. This was not the Rome of the Caesars and Hadrian’s wall. Hundreds of years before, much of Britain had been converted by the Christian Romans who came there.  With social collapse and population change, the religious climate changed quickly. With the invasion of Anglo-Saxons, the Roman types declined and Britain largely became pagan again. It was not until the king of Kent married a Christian princess of Gaul that Gregory the Great, the last good bishop of Rome, thought it would be useful to send Augustine and his monks there to re-convert the island.
           
You see how quickly Christian faith can be lost in a place in only a generation or two. Man in his sin has no interest in Christ, which is why the laborers in the harvest are so important. Certainly laborers will be rejected, but a lack of preachers in a place will cause a spiritual loss. It is no wonder that Paul would write in concern for the new congregation in Thessalonica. They had little chance for teaching from Paul and Silas and were surrounded by paganism and conflict. Enemies had come in and called these apostles religious quacks like the others. Yet Paul had confidence that the work in Thessalonica was not in vain.
           
For Paul and Silas had boldness in our God to declare the gospel to you in the midst of much conflict. The solution to the spiritual doldrums, to the natural man sliding back into his preferred paganism, is bold preaching. As Paul and Silas demonstrate, bold preaching is preaching in the midst of suffering, with an openness in motive, and directly confronting the error in front of them. This for the preacher is always a boldness “in God.” It is founded on the confidence that the Father has called you to declare the gospel, will provide even in suffering, and will cause such work to produce much fruit by the Holy Spirit. These are promises that preachers must cling to for their dear lives if they wish to preach boldly.
           
Trusting in God, Paul is able to demonstrate with a clear conscience that his appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive. Objectively, his preaching is not in error, or sourced in error, but comes from the pure words of Christ and his Gospel. Paul is able to demonstrate that what he preaches is the pure Word of God. Subjectively, his preaching does not come from impurity, he is open about his motives and has nothing hidden. In method, Paul makes to attempt to deceive. There is no trick in his preaching, no catch, no bait and switch. Everything needed is presented openly.
           
God is witness to the heart, but Paul can confidently attest to the fruit of his faith, that he did not flatter or seek wealth for himself, or glory from others, but suffered and gently cared for the Thessalonians, desiring nothing more than to share the gospel. For not just the message of the gospel, but the man sent to preach it gives assurance through the fruit of faith that the preacher is not a quack or charlatan, but preaches something true and important. May our preachers keep this in mind and never fall into pointless frivolity or bait-and-switch tactics to please men.
           
Even Augustine had to prove his ministry in this way. Arriving at Kent, Augustine was allowed to preach to the king, but king suspected he was a trickster like the magicians with whom he was familiar. Augustine offered no tricks, but presented the Holy Cross and an image of Our Lord, and preached the gospel. And the king refused. He preferred the old gods. Yet Augustine was allowed to stay and preach, and he and the other monks lived in the way of the church of Acts. They held things in common, were continually in prayer and fasting for the city, and only accepted enough to provide for their necessities. Their prayers and preaching bore fruit, and people began to believe and be baptized, even the king.
           
Augustine, like Paul, was a preacher whom God proved to be entrusted with the gospel, the most precious thing which God gives to His preachers. By the Holy Spirit it overcomes the natural man’s fall to paganism. God’s preachers are tested like a fine coin or metal, and the proof is that the pure gospel is preached to the glory of God and not to the pleasing of man. Spiritual charlatans preach to please man. They wish for easy life will sacrifice anything for peace. The true preacher of the gospel works to please God alone in His ministry, for He follows the Son.
           
All preachers would be useless if not for the work of Christ, not only that he is the content of our gospel, but the content of our life. As he was tested and proven and found worthy to sacrifice to save man, as lived to tenderly care for his people, as he only worked to please His Father, we follow as unworthy servants. We are unworthy to suffer and serve for Christ’s sake, to be called into His life and the work of His kingdom. Yet we are called and ordained and we know the gospel will bear fruit.
           
Wherever our calling, we look to Christ as source of power and comfort. That comes through the Word, especially the Word preached, and especially from brothers in the ministry. Even Augustine feared going to the Anglo-Saxons, and at first his group was convinced not to go at all. Yet Gregory the Great, his bishop and master of pastoral care, offered these words, which Bede tells us:

My very dear sons, it is better never to undertake any high enterprise than to abandon it once begun. So with the help of God you must carry out this holy task which you have begun. Do not be deterred by troubles of the journey or what men say. Be constant and zealous in carrying out this enterprise which, under God’s guidance, you have undertaken: and be sure that the great the labor, the greater will be your eternal reward…May almighty God protect you with his grace, and grant me to see the result of your labors in our heavenly home. And although my office prevents me from working at your side, yet because I long to do so, I hope to share in your joyful reward. God keep you safe, my dearest sons.[1]

   [1] Bede, A History of the English Church and People, trans. Leo Shirley-Price (Harmondsworth, England: Dorset Press, 1985), 24.

This sermon was preached for the matins service of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans meeting on May 26, 2021. 

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