August 28: ST. AUGUSTINE, BISHOP of HIPPO; August 29: MARTYRDOM of ST. JOHN the BAPTIZER
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me. Psalm 17:6-9
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Revelation 6:9-11
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5
But when Herod heard of [Jesus’ ministry and miracles], he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. . . .
. . . But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” . . . And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist. . . . I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. Mark 6:16-19a, 21-22, 24-28
Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity and the life of Martin Luther as well as other figures of the Reformation. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, before Augustine’s conversion to Christianity he, by his own account in his book “Confessions,” lived a pagan life of immorality and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, Augustine was baptized into the Christian faith. He served as Bishop at Hippo in North Africa for 35 years, during which he fiercely defended the orthodox faith in his ministry and the numerous works he authored. Regarding the call to proclaim the Word of God, Augustine wrote:
“The prophet says, ‘Come out from among them, and touch no unclean thing,’ [Isaiah 52:11]. I also cry out and say to you, ‘Come out from among them, and touch not the unclean thing,’ but with the touch of the heart, not of the body. For what is it to ‘touch the unclean thing’ but to consent to sin? And what is it to ‘come out from among them’ but to rebuke the wicked, as far as can be done, according to each person’s grade and condition, with the maintenance of peace? . . .
“How many vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, . . . ‘he came out from among them’ [and did] not ‘touch the unclean thing’ [by] not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, of Isaiah and Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people.”
The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptizer was, to the world, a tragic end to the life of St. John that signaled a defeat of his ministry. However, the truth is that it was a faithful and noble participation in the cross of Christ–the greatest glory of all. Christ Himself said that there had arisen none greater than John the Baptizer (Matthew 11:11). He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and also the herald of the New Testament who pointed sinners to “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By his preaching and Baptism of repentance, John turned “the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). And in the footsteps of the prophets who had gone before him–in anticipation of the Christ whose way he prepared–this servant of the Lord manifested the cross by the witness of his death.
In regard to the suffering and martyrdom (i.e., witness) of Christians, Martin Luther writes:
“Christ is risen from the dead, has ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God in divine power and honor. Nevertheless, He is hiding His greatness, glory, majesty, and power. He allows His prophets and apostles to be expelled and murdered . . . . He allows His Christians to suffer want, trouble, and misfortune in the world. He acts as He did in the days of His flesh, when John the Baptizer had to lose his head for the sake of a desperate harlot, while He, the Savior and Helper, said nothing about it, departed thence in a ship and withdrew to the solitude of the wilderness (Matthew 14:10ff., Mark 6:17, 32). [The unbelieving world thinks,] is he not a petty, childish God, who does not see how badly they were faring? . . . [I]f He sees and knows but cannot help, then He has no hands that are able to do anything, nor does He have the power to enable Him to save.
“Hence the prophet Isaiah correctly says of God: ‘Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior’ (45:15). . . . Now He lets our adversaries treat His Word, Sacraments, and Christians as they please. He lets us call and cry and says nothing, as though He were deep in thought or were busy or were out in the field or asleep and heard nothing as Elijah says of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). . . .
“Meanwhile Christians baptized in His name, must hold still, must permit people to walk over them and must have patience. For in the kingdom of faith God wants to be small, but in the (future) kingdom of sight He will not be small but great. Then He will show that He saw the misery of His people and heard their crying and had a will inclined to help them, also power to help them. . . . For this appearance of the glory of the great God we must wait.” [Compilation of the devotional “Writings” from the CPH “Treasury of Daily Prayer for August 28-29.]
DAILY PRAYER for MONDAY
O Lord, merciful and holy Bridegroom; we grieve the fall of Your Church. It is our fault that we beauty of Your Bride is no longer recognized. Therefore we pray You: give and increase in us faith, love, and hope in You; root out of us all sins and vice, all strife, all disbelief, all error and heresy; rebuke the erring, convert the unbelievers, bring the rebellious again to the unity of the Christian Church and show them the light of Your truth. Protect our shepherd from all danger of body and soul. Bless all pastors and those who administer in the Church in the building of Your congregation; grant them success in all things. Equip Your whole Church with the power and proof of the holy faith. Stand by You witness among the nations and further the course of Your Gospel in all the world.
Fill all government with the fear of You and let their ruling serve to foster and preserve peace. Have mercy on our people and country. Let the youth be brought up in discipline and in a right knowledge of You, so that they may recognize Your law and the way of Your salvation. Give constancy and loyalty to all pious teachers.
Comfort all the troubled and sorrowful. Impart health of body and soul to the sick. Grant to all pregnant women, according to Your mercy, a happy result in their childbearing. To the needy give bodily and spiritually according to Your good pleasure. Let those who travel be commended to the protection of Your holy angels. And be a strong help to all who need You. For the sake of Your holy wounds, O Jesus. Amen.