Sermon: Anselm

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Several years back, the Episcopal Church came out with some fairly clever advertising with black and white images and short messages.  Pall bearers carrying the casket into the church: “Will it take six strong men to bring you back into church?”  Two pictures – Jesus and the Easter Bunny: “Which one rose from the dead?”  And the one that is relevant to today – a picture of Jesus: “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”

There are those who encourage us to have faith based on how and what we feel.  Do you feel the presence of God?  Can you feel the movement of the Holy Spirit?  It is a good thing to be able to “feel” God, but when our experience of God resides only in feeling, then how can our faith sustain us when there is no feeling, no perception of God?  Through feeling only, we can “feel” abandoned by God when He does not seem to be near.  Therefore, we must also discover him in our minds and through our intellect.  St. Anselm (he was martyred in 1109 a.d.), who we celebrate today, understood this.

Anselm writes, “I want to understand something of the truth which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek thus to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.”  Through faith he believes and through this same faith, he seeks to understand through his intellect the truths of God.  However, what can be said about relying solely on feeling can also be said about relying solely on the intellect.  My friend Thomas à Kempis points this out, “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity?… I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.”  

What Anselm and Thomas are both saying to us is that there is a balance between what we feel and what we know.  A balance of head and heart.  Such a balance is attained, not through books alone or by chasing spiritual highs, but instead, by seeking God.  Anselm writes in Proslogion (Discourse on the Existence of God), “Come on now little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, ‘I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek.’”  The balance is attained by seeking God in prayer, by bringing heart and mind – our entire being – into the presence of God and seeking to know him more fully.  And it is the heart and the mind working in concert that makes God accessible to all, not just spiritual or intellectual giants.  As Jesus said in our Gospel: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things [that is, the truth of Jesus’ identity and the true nature of God] from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

King David said to the people, “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.” (1 Chronicles 22:19a)  That is a piece of advice that Anselm would certainly be behind.  Seek God with your entire being. 

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