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Of 2012 and Augustine’s Sermon 97

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Today, the movie “2012” — a film based on the prediction that the world will end in 2012 — began to be shown in our cinemas. Providentially, yesterday and today, the Gospel readings from Luke refer to the day of the Son of Man, and so I had the opportunity to speak about how Christians should prepare for the last day. I reminded our congregation that the last day coincides with the return of Christ and the revelation of the sons of God. Hollywood distorts the picture when it only shows the end of the world and does not include the renewal of creation and the final establishment of the reign of God in Christ, just as the book of Revelation describes it. Fortunately too, next Sunday’s Gospel will be on the coming of the Son of Man and based on Mark 13:24-37

Fear and panic should not be the Christian’s reaction to the end of the world, since the Lord himself has said that when the end comes, it will be sudden and no one will be able to avoid it. All that the Christian can do is to watch and pray and cling to the Lord. A nice classical sermon on the matter is Augustine’s Sermon 97.

The Sermon’s Outline

Below is an outline of Sermon 97 showing the main threads of Augustine’s arguments.

1. Heed the warning about keeping watch for the last day

1.1. the last day also refers to each one’s last day (day)
1.2. Aside: do not misinterpret Mark 13:32. The Son knows the day in the Father; it is not his work to make it known

2. “Have mercy on me Lord, for man has trampled on me (Psalm 56:2)”

2.1. Human beings are mortal and it should not make us boastful
2.2. Proud mortals should be ashamed in the presence of the Devil who is immortal
2.3. Mortality is our punishment (Gen. 2:17), and we should make good use of it: Let us recognize our mortality and break our self-esteem

3. All our other goods and ills are uncertain, only death is certain

3.1. Illustration: the case of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-23)
3.2. As long as we live, we should be on the watch and should be choosing what we are going to keep in the future.

4. Let us not love the world

4.1. The world will be shaken but Christ will remain firm
4.2. “Rejoice because I have conquered the world” (Jn. 16:33)
4.2.1. We should rejoice because Christ has battled and conquered for us
4.2.2. How did he battle for us? In becoming man. He won and gave us the guarantee of the resurrection
4.3. Return to the topic of Psalm 56:2
4.3.1. What is the remedy for the fear that makes one be trampled by the one who lives according to his own lights? Cling to God. In God will I hope (Ps. 56:11)

Sermon Summary

The Sermon is on Mark 13:32-37 but with emphasis on one’s life as a preparation for death.

Each one of us should be thinking about our own last day or else perhaps while are remarking or supposing that the last day of this world and age is a long way off, your last day may catch you napping

After clarifying what is meant by the passage in Mark 13:32, Augustine picks up the theme from the responsorial psalm of that day, Psalm 56:1, focusing on the words “Have mercy on me Lord, for man has trampled on me.” Augustine will return to this verse towards the end of the sermon, but in the meantime, he picks up another verse from Psalm 82:6-7

I have said: You are gods and all of you sons of the Most High
But you like men shall die, and shall fall like one of the princes

The man who lives according to God’s standards is the one referred to as “gods, sons of the Most High”; when these become reprobates and live according to their own lights, they “like men shall die; they shall fall like one of the princes”. Augustine then uses this reference to man’s mortality to move on to the argument about making good use of it.

Let us make good use of our punishment, brothers and sisters, let us make good use of our life so that they may turn to our good.

The certainty of death — Augustine says — should prompt us to be watchful as long as we live and be discerning about the goods that we are going to keep in the future. Since what we sow here, is what we also reap in the after life. Referring to the story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16), Augustine says:

That rich man, when he finished with an illness of delights, came into one of torments. That poor man, on the other hand, finished with illness and arrived at perfect health. But what he got afterward, he chose here; and what he reaped there, he sowed here. (3)

The certainty of death should also be the reason why we are not to love the world. Augustine here, I think, alludes to the whole of Mark 13 where the dissolution of creation (which begins with the destruction of the Temple) is the background of the Son of Man’s return. Edmund Hill thinks that Augustine is referring to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Just look, the world is falling to pieces; the Christian stands firm because Christ is not falling to pieces.

The world is unstable and should not be the object of one’s delight. Christ is stable and therefore can be trusted and loved. And the Christian, instead of being afraid should rejoice, as the Lord himself says so (John 16:33): “Rejoice, because I have conquered the world.” Christ has fought and conquered in His incarnation, death and resurrection. And because of the guarantee given for our own resurrection, we can say “Have mercy on me, Lord, because man has trampled on me” (Ps. 56:1).

Psalm 56 is presented as a prayer of David to God while he was prisoner among the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:12-14). The prayer arises because of the threat of death, he, being in the power of his enemies.

If what you say is true, take a look at yourself; because you are afraid of man’s threats, your fear is trampling on you; and because you wouldn’t be afraid unless you were a man, man is trampling on you.

Early in the sermon, Augustine explained the word “man” in Psalm 56:1 as referring to those who live according to their lights. Thus here, we find Augustine applying the passage to those who fear because they have turned away from God. Instead of remaining in this state of fear and insecurity, we should cling to God.

So what’s the remedy? O man, cling to God, by whom you were made a man; cling to him, rely on him call upon him, let him be your strength. Say to him, “In you, Lord, is my strength”. And in response to the threats of men you will sing; and the Lord himself tells you what you should sing at the end of it all: “In God will I hope, I will not fear what man may do to me.” (Psalm 56:11)

Conclusion

The end of the world will come on a day and an hour no one expects. The date December 21, 2012 is a highly sensationalized prediction comparable to the predictions made in the past. The end may come today, or tomorrow or the next day. Just remember that the end of the world will also be the beginning of something new. The Mayans thought that after the 12th cycle, everything will be reset. This is in keeping with their cyclical conception of history. The Scriptures tell us something else. Here, history does not return to the beginnings but moves forward to what is new. Thus when the end of this world comes, there will be a new beginning. John’s Apocalypse announces something beautiful. “Rejoice, I have conquered the world”, the Lord tells his disciples. Augustine reminds us of it and therefore also tells us that fear and panic should not get the better of us. Instead, we should have the peace and the assurance based on the Lord’s promises for He will come according to His words: “I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be” (Jn. 14:3)

Originally posted 2009-11-13 00:05:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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    Carolann Wollner

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