Take heed lest thou live ill, and chant well
Tuesday in the second week of Advent
Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 50:7-15; Matthew 18:12-14
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and make good your vows to the Most High.
From St. Augustine’s Exposition on the Book of Psalms (Psalm 50)
For now some one or other, because God had said to him, “Immolate to God the sacrifice of praise,” and had enjoined in a manner this tribute, did meditate to himself and said, I will rise daily, I will proceed to Church, I will say one hymn at matins, another at vespers, a third or fourth in my house, daily I do sacrifice the sacrifice of praise, and immolate to my God. Well thou doest indeed, if thou doest this: but take heed, lest now thou be careless, because now thou doest this: and perchance thy tongue bless God, and thy life curse God. O my people, saith to thee the God of gods, the Lord that spake, “calling the earth from the rising of the sun unto the setting,” though yet thou art placed amid the tares, “Immolate the sacrifice of praise to thy God, and render to Him thy prayers:” but take heed lest thou live ill, and chant well.
Augustine warns of a great danger in the Christian faith–that we do a splendid job of worshiping Jesus in church and lousy job of being his followers in the world. It’s an occupational risk, and it’s a challenge the church has faced from its inception. Jesus had plenty to say in his time about religious people whose lives did not show forth what they professed with their lips.
There are other dangers lurking nearby. What if we are good at backing the correct causes, showing up at the right do-gooder events, or making pubic gifts to the best charities, but our lives apart from this do not bear up the same virtue? In other words, it’s not just a failure to connect worship and charity that can undo us. We are at risk whenever our lives are not integrated, when we followers of Jesus have disconnected worship from prayer from mission from evangelism from charity from advocacy. It’s all meant to hang together.
Augustine is most certainly not attacking excellent worship, or suggesting that we shouldn’t chant well. Rather, he’s suggesting that we should offer our best to God with our whole lives, whether we’re in church, at work, at home, or in the streets.
Photo by yours truly of a priest censing the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.