Sermon: St. Augustine

In the garden of Eden, the piece of fruit that Adam and Eve took that infamous bite from is never identified as an apple.  Although never named, that apple has perhaps become the most famous piece of fruit known to humankind.  Today, I would suggest to you that the second most famous piece of fruit is a pear, because it was a pear that St. Augustine stole when he was sixteen years old.  Why did he steal a pear and what is his significance?

He wrote in his work Confessions, “Yet I was willing to steal, and steal I did [… the pear …] although I was not compelled by any lack, unless it were the lack of a sense of justice or a distaste for what was right and a greedy love of doing wrong. For of what I stole I already had plenty, and much better at that, and I had no wish to enjoy the things I coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and the sin.”

We may ask, “What’s the big deal?  It was only a pear!”  However, from this incident – as simple as it may sound – Augustine was able to provide the foundation for describing the nature of sin that is within us all.  Further, it was from his own self understanding and his staggering intellect that has raised Augustine to perhaps the most influential theologian of Western Christianity and philosophy.  His writings influenced individuals such as Nietzsche, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, not to mention being behind the thoughts of the Reformation – although he would never have sided with it.

Yet, when you get behind all the writings and the brilliance, you find a man who is desperately seeking God and one who is trying to align his life along the path of righteousness.  In one of his more cited quotes, he writes, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”  It does not mean that we are saved by our works, but it does mean that we should act as though we are.  That we should work so that our every action is in alignment with the will of God.

These actions – choices – for Augustine, began with the theft of a pear, but can end for us all with the very Kingdom of God.  In what some describe as his greatest work, The City of God, Augustine differentiates our spiritual habitation based on the actions we take.  The choices we make.  He writes, “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord…. In the one, the princes, and the nations it subdues, are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love.”

Our reliance on this world or on God, our thoughts and our actions, our sins and our holiness, and ultimately the object of our love – this world or God – are the determining factors in deciding which of these cities we reside.  

Jesus said in our Gospel reading today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  St. Augustine stole his pear, but he strove to keep the commandments of God and in doing so, demonstrated his great love for God.   The God he has helped make known to us through his teachings and writings.  I don’t know of any that have the intellect of St. Augustine, but we all have the choice to love God as he did.   

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