Psalms 46:2-8 … God is our refuge, our strength, help in trouble always very proven. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth is overturned and the foundations of the mountains moved in the heart of the seas. Let their waters roar, let them foam, let the mountains tremble at their fury! The river surrounds the city of God, the sanctuary of the abode of the Most High. He will not move, God is in his midst, God helps him at the dawn of the morning. Pronations make noise, kingdoms crumble, he only utters a voice and the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob, our fortress impregnable.
Dear friends and blessed inhabitants of God’s city!
I would like to start today with a brief look at history. The concept of migration of peoples certainly tells you something. It was a migration of the population, especially Germanic tribes, in the area of the whole of Europe and North Africa. In the second half of the 4th century, the Huns from Asia began to penetrate into the eastern part of Europe (today Ukraine and Romania). From there they expelled the Visigoths, who therefore moved to Europe, to the Roman Empire. Although they were also Christians (Arians, i.e. something like Jehovah’s Witnesses), they experienced injustice and oppression in the empire, which led to their rebellion under the leadership of King Alaric… and finally to the fact that these Visigoths in 410 AD. they conquered and sacked Rome itself. At that time, although Rome was no longer the capital of the empire, it still remained an important historical center, the seat of the Senate, and was called the Eternal City.
But lo and behold, the certainty of the people of Rome was taken for their own in a short time. People lost their property and real estate, and only those who fled and hid in churches were spared. The surviving inhabitants of Rome finally began to think about the causes of the destruction of their city, which had not seen anything like this for almost 800 years. Many of the pagans among them came to the conclusion that behind all this was the fact that the inhabitants of the empire for the most part renounced the rites and homage of the Roman deities to the detriment of the worship of the Christian God. He apparently didn’t save them from the destruction of their city, while the Roman deities… well, who knows!
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Perhaps you can find some parallels – or at least similarities – with the situation in Europe today. Here, too, there are movements of large masses of people, the “occupation” of large cities, the loss of perceived security, the feeling of comfort and safety among the original population. E.g. a few days ago, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that the period of prosperity and carelessness is over, that the world is experiencing fundamental upheavals such as the war in Ukraine or a wave of heat and fires.
Yes, similar to the wave of barbarians 16 hundred years ago, other waves are coming at us now: a wave of heat, drought and fires, a wave of refugees, a wave of lack of gas and other raw materials, a wave of inflation and price increases, a wave of misinformation. And none of this, it seems, can be avoided even by us Christians! We are affected just like everyone else. Someone might wonder if we, Christians, God’s beloved children, should be better off than the rest of the world… Or we can ask whether we can figuratively speaking “hide in the churches” from the effects of these waves? How do we respond to these waves as followers of Jesus Christ?
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The one who today has a holiday after all bearers of the same name will tell us a little about this today: Augustin (Augustín). Augustine Aurelius lived at the turn of the 4th and 5th centuries – he was baptized in 387 AD, when he was less than 33 years old. He later served as bishop in the city of Hippo in today’s Algeria. Soon after the destruction of Rome by the Visigoths in 410, he began his work “On the City of God” – in it he wanted to clarify many questions about the true understanding of Christian hope and what this hope clings to, what it looks forward to, and what on the contrary, it resists and overcomes.
So let’s open this work of Augustine today to see what observations this important theologian has left us. As we shall see, they come directly from the words of Scripture, Jesus Himself, and His apostles.
SAME SUFFERING, OTHER SUFFERERS
On the question of why calamities and earthly disturbances befall Christians as much as heathens or infidels, Augustine wrote this: “Although godly and godless men suffer alike, we must not on this account suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, when there is no difference in , what he suffers from. For despite the similarity of the suffering, there remains a dissimilarity between the sufferers. As the same fire makes the gold shine brightly, while the chaff smokes; and under the same flail the straw is threshed, while the grain is cleaned; and as the sludge does not mix with the oil, although it is forced out of the vat with the same pressure; so the same affliction proves, purifies, enlightens the good and pious, but damns, destroys, annihilates the wicked. And so it happens that in the same tribulation the wicked hate God and blaspheme, while the good (godly) pray and praise. That is the fundamental difference, not what ailments a person suffers from, but what kind of person suffers from them. For the mud, stirred up by the same pressure, emits a horrible odor, but the ointment emits a pleasant aroma.’
As we can see, Augustine does not see the difference between us humans in the external, in what presses upon us behind the “waves of events”. In the same way, the writer of Psalm 46 describes these external threats, which we cannot avoid, with the words “though the earth is overturned and the foundations of the mountains are moved in the heart of the seas” (i.e. natural disasters), and further “nations make noise, kingdoms collapse” (i.e. human-social upheavals). But the reactions of people who trust God – the Creator of the world and the Victor over the grave are different from the reactions of people who do not know this God and do not run to Him. Some pray and praise God who is with them even in times of trouble and will not forsake them; others blaspheme God and hate even the idea of a God who allows disasters and upheavals. May we be among those who, in the face of the world’s threats, declare with the psalmist: “God is our refuge, our strength, a help in trouble always very proven.” That’s why we won’t be afraid.”
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Yes, earthly calamities reveal what our heart has been turning towards all this time, to whom or what it has clung to and what it has been based on. Augustine wrote about this: “There is another reason why the pious are afflicted by temporal calamities – a reason exemplified by the case of Job: the human spirit may be strained to show with what force of pious trust and selfless love it clings to God.”
WHAT WE CAN AND CANNOT LOSE
In Augustine’s time the Christians of Rome suddenly and unexpectedly lost their possessions. Similarly, in a turbulent time of great changes, we will probably lose a greater or lesser part of our possessions, savings and financial security. What did Augustine write about it? What did he remind Christians then? He asks rhetorically, “Have they lost everything they had? Your faith? Your piety? The property of the hidden (inner) person in the heart, which is of great value in the eyes of God? Have they lost all this? For this is the true riches of Christians, to whom the rich apostle said, ‘Godliness with contentment is itself great gain.'”
Augustine spoke in the same way that Jesus himself spoke to his followers before him. He repeatedly urged them: “Do not lay up your treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy them and where thieves dig up and steal them. Lay up your treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys them, and where thieves do not dig them up and steal them. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Our treasures are hidden – not in the banks or in the luxurious lifestyle we have been able to afford until now. The real indestructible treasures are hidden in heaven with Jesus, where we fix our hearts. That’s why our heart, our inner man, doesn’t have to worry about what will happen, how we will manage it and where we will take it. Our God is not dead, not powerless, not indifferent and not far away – so let’s not act like he is.
DESIRE THAT CAUSES PAIN
Perhaps these “current waves”, waves of natural and social storms, are meant to pull us Christians out of a kind of material satisfaction and spiritual lethargy. Augustine also comments on this topic and writes: “But as for those who are spiritually weaker, who – although it cannot be said that they prefer earthly possessions to Christ, nevertheless cling to possessions with a rather intemperate bond – have found through the pain of the loss of these things, how much they sinned when they loved them. For their grief is of their own cause; in the words of the apostle, ‘they caused themselves many afflictions (lit. pierced themselves with many pains).’ For it was well that those who had so long despised these verbal admonitions should now be taught by experience.’
The Apostle Paul, whose words Augustine quoted, wrote in several letters about the danger of fixing the heart on the riches of this world and about the pain and torment that a person then prepares for himself – for the moment when he will be shown in full nakedness how uncertain and deceptive these values are . He wrote this warning to his coworker Timothy: “Whoever wants to be rich falls into snares of temptation and into many unreasonable and harmful desires, which draw people down to ruin and destruction; the root of all this evil is the love of money. Because of the desire for them, some people have strayed from the path of faith and caused themselves much trouble. But you, as a man of God, avoid it! Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:9-11) These are the heavenly treasures that the current waves will not destroy.
Similarly, Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth that they may have bonds and bonds in this world – whether to things or to people – but not to cling to these bonds convulsively and with all their hearts, but freely, reconciled and ready to lose them at any time. Paul writes words that may sound harsh to us, but they reflect the harsh reality that we forget when we are just “living our dream”: “I want to say, brothers, this: The time is short. Therefore, let those who have wives be as if they did not have them, and those who weep as if they did not weep, and who are cheerful as if they were not (cheerful), and who buy as if they did not own, and who enjoy the things of this world, as if they were not enjoying; for the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
WHAT IS THE ETERNAL CITY?
The form (r. scheme) of this world passes away, recedes, leaves, disappears. So was Rome and its fame and wealth, though many were shocked by it. Much like in Old Testament times, many Jews were shocked when Jerusalem was destroyed and sacked. They thought that the writer of Psalm 46 and others speaks of it as “the city of God,” when he describes its permanence in the words: “The river with its streams surrounds the city of God, the sanctuary of the dwelling of the Most High. He will not be moved, God is in his midst.” But no river flowed through Jerusalem; not far beyond the walls was only the stream Cedron. The psalmist spoke figuratively, not literally about an earthly city, but about God’s people, in the midst of which God dwells and surrounds them with his presence, his word, his promises, his Spirit.
This is also how Augustine saw it, who in his book refers to all people throughout human history as “city of God” who gave up mere earthly pleasures in order to devote their hearts to God’s eternal truth, now fully revealed in Christ. On the other hand, Augustine calls the “earthly city” a people whose hearts are fixed on the cares and pleasures of the present, transient world. This “earthly city” must protect walls and guards, but it will not save forever. But “the city of God”—we who cling to God, among whom God dwells and works, through whom God mutually comforts and encourages us—this city will not be moved, nor will the “gates of hell” prevail against it! So, in a certain way, we can hide from the waves of turmoil in the church – namely, where we gather as God’s people around God’s word and His sacraments, so that our faith, hope and love are strengthened.
Friends of God, according to people who have and know only this world, we offer ourselves and others a false comfort, an opium to calm the fear of harsh reality. However, we would say that we offer a medicine that opens the eyes of faith. Because through them we “see” that reality includes more than just “external happenings” that impinge on us; reality also includes the “inner happenings” – God’s action in us, God’s reign among us – in a city that, thanks to Jesus, the Rock on which it is built, will last forever.
Song 411 says about it:
“O city of God, you are a shield,
mighty dam from all sides.
God’s people flow in abundance
take refuge in your gates.
Your pure word will sprinkle us
like dew forever.
Your empire flourishes again and again
in love and truth.”
Author: Petr Krákora Source: luteráni.cz Date: September 4, 2022 Photo: Pixabay – illustration
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