“…Grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again…”
St Augustine of Hippo (ca. November 13, 354 – August 28, 430) did everything he could to maintain a reconciled and unified Church. He was constantly urging Christians to follow the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. Part of his teachings which I find most encouraging are centered around, what do we do with “bad members” in our Churches? The following is an excerpt from Sermon 223:
Don’t be surprised, either, at how many bad Christians there are, who fill the church, who communicate at the altar, who loudly praise the bishop or priest when he preaches about good morals…They can be with us in the Church of this time; but in that Church which will come into being after the resurrection, they will be unable to be gathered in with the saints.
The Church of this time, you see, is compared to a threshing-floor, having on it grain mixed with chaff, having bad members mixed with good; after the judgment it will have all good members, without any bad ones….as the gospel states, “He will have a winnowing fan in his hand, and will cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat together into the granary, while the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.17).
You older faithful, you listen to what I am saying. Any of you who are grain, rejoice with trembling, and stay where you are, and don’t leave the threshing-floor. Don’t attempt on your own judgment, to shake yourselves free, as it were, from the chaff; because if you separate yourself from the chaff, you won’t be able to stay on the threshing-floor. And when that one comes who distinguishes infallibly between grain and chaff, he won’t carry up to the granary anything he doesn’t find on the threshing-floor. So it will be no good at that time for grains to boast about the ears of wheat they came from, if they have left the threshing-floor. That granary will be filled and closed. Anything left outside will be gutted by fire.
So then, dearly beloved, if you are good, you must put up with the bad; if you are bad, you must imitate the good. The fact is, on this threshing-floor grains can degenerate into chaff, and again grains can be resurrected from chaff. This sort of thing happens everyday, my dear brothers and sisters; this life is full of both painful and pleasant surprises. Every day people who seemed to be good fall away and perish; and again, ones who seemed to be bad are converted and live. “God, you see, does not desire the death of the wicked, but only that they may turn back and live” (Ezekiel 18.23).
Listen to me, grains; listen to me, those of you who are what I desire you to be. Don’t let the mixture of husks depress you; they won’t be with you forever. How much, anyway, is the pile of husks that is covering us? Thank God, it’s very light. We only have to be grains, and however big it is, it won’t crush us. “God, after all, is faithful, and he will not permit us to be tempted or tried beyond our capacity, but with the trial will also provide a way out, so that we can endure” (1 Corinthians 10.13).
Let the husks listen to me too; wherever they are, let them listen. I hope there aren’t any here; but let me address them all the same, in case there are perhaps some here. So listen to me, you husks; though if you do listen, you won’t be husks anymore. So listen. Let God’s patience stand you in good stead. Let your association with the grains, and their advice and admonitions, make you too into grains. You are not denied the showers of God’s word; don’t let God’s field in you be barren. So, grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again. The one who sowed you, after all, wished to find full ears of corn, not empty husks.
I thank the Lord for Saint Augustine, he has helped propel so many followers of Christ forward in their journey along The Way. I pray as he did, that the Church would be unified, reconciled, and welcoming. As I said earlier, Augustine was truly into sustainability: he did not want to throw people away, and he saw that God is able to renew them in a better re-creation. I hope these words give you encouragement. I would love to hear any and all thoughts. Happy Birthday, St Augustine!