Thursday, September 26, 2019

Preaching the Creed. . .

I was reading a sermon of St. Augustine, preached to catechumens preparing for baptism.  The sermon went through the creed phrase by phrase.  This section was preached on the forgiveness of sins:
 “The forgiveness of sins.” If this did not exist in the Church, there would be no hope. If there were no forgiveness of sins in the Church, there would be no hope of a future life and an eternal liberation. Thanks be to God who gave his Church this gift. You are about to come to the holy fountain; you will be washed by baptism; you will be renewed by the bath of regeneration; and you will be without sin when you come up out of that bath. All those past things that were pursuing you will be destroyed there. Your sins were like the Egyptians following, pursuing, the Israelites, but only up to the Red Sea. What does that mean: up to the Red Sea? Up to the fountain of Christ consecrated by the cross and blood of Christ. What is red makes red…. If you see the cross, notice the blood, too. If you see what is hanging there, notice what is flowing. The side of Christ was pierced by a lance and our price flowed out. Baptism is marked with the mark of Christ, that is, the water by which you were dyed and as it were passed through the Red Sea. Your sins are your enemies. They follow you, but only up to the sea. When you will enter that sea, you will escape and those sins will be destroyed, just as while the Israelites were escaping on to dry land, water covered the Egyptians. And what does Scripture say? “Not one of them remained” (Ps 105[106]: 11).  (Augustine, Sermon 215, 8, PL 38, 1065)
The reason why this section is so memorable is that I had just presided at a couple of baptisms and so I had just prayed twice on one Sunday Luther's memorable Flood Prayer.  The similarities between this sermon of Augustine and that Flood Prayer are unmistakable.  It reminds me that few things are really new.  I wonder sometimes if any part of my sermons are really original at all -- listening to so many sermons and reading them leaves little room for originality but more borrowed creativity.  What is certainly true of my sermons must also be true of Luther whose borrowed phraseology remains a powerful prayer within his reformed baptismal rite.  Who knows who Augustine borrowed it from?  In any case it does not diminish from the edification that flows from those words.

I wish that more of our baptismal instruction and new member classes were of the caliber of this preaching from Augustine.  Sadly, I fear it is not.  Preaching the creed should not be the odd occasional sermon but part of our regular catechetical work on behalf of those preparing for baptism, adult confirmation, church membership, AND the ongoing renewal of the faith among those long ago baptized and confirmed.

That is about all I have for today. . . 

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