Archive for September, 2013

Waited on By Angels. St. Michael 2013.

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Altarpiece_of_St_Michael_WGASt. Michael and All Angels

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 12:7-12 (Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3)

September 29, 2013

Out of Nothing, Week 3.  Prayer.

“We are waited on by angels”



There’s nothing like seeing an angel to make you understand clearly what you are apart from Christ.


Apart from Christ, you are nothing.  The greatest of saints experience this when they see the holy angels.  Because the angels are in the presence of God.  They reflect His glory.  The light that shines from them exposes the corruption in us like a searchlight.


Godly people like Daniel see an angel, and it kills them.  The angel has to pick Daniel up and put him on his hands and knees.  Daniel is a godly man, greatly loved by God, but not because of any goodness in him.  The goodness of the angels is spotless.  Angels exist wholly to praise God and serve Him and look upon His face.  When the angels praise God, there is nothing in them held back from God.  But Christians never praise God without reservation.  Not while we are in the flesh.  And the truth is, we don’t want to.  We think it’s unreasonable to do nothing but praise God—at least in the flesh.  Daniel was no exception.


The angels are with us.  We don’t see them.  If we did we’d be terrified.  Yet they are with us.  In the liturgy we sing it repeatedly.  First the Gloria in Excelsis, which is the angels’ song at Christmas—Glory be to God on High, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Then at the Sacrament of the altar: Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth”.  That is the hymn that Isaiah the prophet and St. John in Revelation heard the angels singing.  Sabaoth is Hebrew for “hosts” or “armies”.  In singing those hymns we are announcing something to the congregation and the world that is terrifying to anyone who is paying attention and believes what the words say.  We are in the presence of the angels, singing their songs to God; their glory is among us, the glory that laid Daniel in the dust.  Even more we are in the presence of their Lord, the fountain of all glory, daring to open our lips to sing praise to Him—our unclean lips and hearts which, because of the sin inherited from Adam, do not want to give God all glory, but instead want to hold some of it back for ourselves.


Yet we do not die.  The Scriptures say that God sends the holy angels to serve us.  Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? asks the Epistle to the Hebrews (1:14).


The angels are spirits.  They are not flesh and blood, although they appear in the Scriptures usually in the form of a human being.  Their work is to praise God forever, constantly, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27).  That is what heaven is; to see God’s face and praise Him constantly.


They also serve human beings.  They pray and intercede for the Church.  They lead and protect Christians.  We see that in the readings from Daniel and Revelation today, and it’s hinted at in the gospel also.  The little children are protected by guardian angels who are assigned to them personally, Jesus tells us.  The angels fight against the devil and his fallen angels on behalf of God’s people.  St. Michael the archangel is depicted in Scripture as being the commanding officer of the angelic army; he fights alongside the angel coming to speak with Daniel, and he and the angel host fight against Satan in Revelation and throw the devil out of heaven.  In 2 Kings Elisha is alone with his servant in an enemy city.  The servant is afraid, and Elisha prays that the Lord would open his eyes.  And when his eyes are opened, he sees that Elisha is surrounded by horses and chariots of fire—an angel army.

Read more…

Death Rattles of a Civilization, part 2. Media, Democracy, Money.

September 29, 2013 Leave a comment

200px-Decline_of_the_West_1922Spengler asserts that democracy is simply the political weapon of money, and the media is the means through which money operates a democratic political system. The thorough penetration of money’s power throughout a society is yet another marker of the shift from Culture to Civilization.

Democracy and plutocracy are equivalent in Spengler’s argument. The “tragic comedy of the world-improvers and freedom-teachers” is that they are simply assisting money to be more effective. The principles of equality, natural rights, universal suffrage, and freedom of the press are all disguises for class war (the bourgeois against the aristocracy). Freedom, to Spengler, is a negative concept, simply entailing the repudiation of any tradition. In reality, freedom of the press requires money, and entails ownership, thus serving money at the end. Suffrage involves electioneering, in which the donations rule the day. The ideologies espoused by candidates, whether Socialism or Liberalism, are set in motion by, and ultimately serve, only money. “Free” press does not spread free opinion—it generates opinion, Spengler maintains.

Spengler admits that in his era money has already won, in the form of democracy. But in destroying the old elements of the Culture, it prepares the way for the rise of a new and overpowering figure: the Caesar. Before such a leader, money collapses, and in the Imperial Age the politics of money fades away.

Spengler’s analysis of democratic systems argues that even the use of one’s own constitutional rights requires money, and that voting can only really work as designed in the absence of organized leadership working on the election process. As soon as the election process becomes organized by political leaders, to the extent that money allows, the vote ceases to be truly significant. It is no more than a recorded opinion of the masses on the organizations of government over which they possess no positive influence whatsoever.

Spengler notes that the greater the concentration of wealth in individuals, the more the fight for political power revolves around questions of money. One cannot even call this corruption or degeneracy, because this is in fact the necessary end of mature democratic systems.

On the subject of the press, Spengler is equally as contemptuous. Instead of conversations between men, the press and the “electrical news-service keep the waking-consciousness of whole people and continents under a deafening drum-fire of theses, catchwords, standpoints, scenes, feelings, day by day and year by year.” Through the media, money is turned into force—the more spent, the more intense its influence.

For the press to function, universal education is necessary. Along with schooling comes a demand for the shepherding of the masses, as an object of party politics. Those that originally believed education to be solely for the enlightenment of each individual prepared the way for the power of the press, and eventually for the rise of the Caesar. There is no longer a need for leaders to impose military service, because the press will stir the public into a frenzy, clamor for weapons, and force their leaders into a conflict.

The only force which can counter money, in Spengler’s estimation, is blood. As for Marx, his critique of capitalism is put forth in the same language and on the same assumptions as those of Adam Smith. His protest is more a recognition of capitalism’s veracity, than a refutation. The only aim is to “confer upon objects the advantage of being subjects.”

A Civilization’s Death Rattle

September 29, 2013 Leave a comment

spengler….Decline is also evidenced by a formlessness of political institutions within a state. As the “proper” form dissolves, increasingly authoritarian leaders arise, signaling decline. The first step toward formlessness Spengler designates Napoleonism. A new leader assumes powers and creates a new state-structure without reference to “self-evident” bases for governance. The new régime is thus accidental rather than traditional and experienced, and relies not on a trained minority but on the chance of an adequate successor. Spengler argues that those states with continuous traditions of governance have been immensely more successful than those that have rejected tradition. Spengler posits a two-century or more transitional period between two states of decline: Napoleonism and Caesarism. The formlessness introduced by the first contributes to the rise of the latter.

Spengler predicts that permanent mass-conscription armies will be replaced by smaller professional volunteer armies. Army sizes will drop from millions to hundreds of thousands. However, the professional armies will not be for deterrence, but for waging war. Spengler states that they will precipitate wars upon which whole continents—India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam—will be staked. The great powers will dispose of smaller states, which will come to be viewed merely as means to an end. This period in Civilizational decline he labels the period of Contending States.

Caesarism is essentially the death of the spirit that originally animated a nation and its institutions. It is marked by a government which is formless irrespective of its de jure constitutional structure. The antique forms are dead, despite the careful maintenance of the institutions; those institutions now have no meaning or weight. The only aspect of governance is the personal power exercised by the Caesar. This marks the beginning of the Imperial Age.

Spengler notes the urge of a nation toward universalism, idealism, and imperialism in the wake of a major geopolitical enemy’s defeat. He cites the example of Rome after the defeat of Hannibal—instead of forgoing the annexation of the East, Scipio‘s party moved toward outright imperialism, in an attempt to bring their immediate world into one system, and thus prevent further wars.

Despite having fought wars for democracy and rights during the period of Contending States, the populace can no longer be moved to use those rights. People cease to take part in elections, and the most-qualified people remove themselves from the political process. This marks the end of great politics. Only private history, private politics, and private ambitions rule at this point. The wars are private wars, “more fearful than any State wars because they are formless”. The imperial peace involves private renunciation of war on the part of the immense majority, but conversely requires submission to that minority which has not renounced war. The world peace that began in a wish for universal reconciliation ends in passivity in the face of misfortune, as long as it only affects one’s neighbor. In personal politics the struggle becomes not for principles but for executive power. Even popular revolutions are no exception: the methods of governing are not significantly altered, the position of the governed remains the same, and the strong few determined to rule remain atop the rest of humanity.

The Gospel for the Unforgivable

September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

cranach jesus adulteress 1532reposted from Chad Bird’s blog “The Flying Scroll”

They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent.  Each step up took them closer to the fall–the abbreviated, fatal fall to come.  As the criminal stood above the trapdoor that, moments later, would open to rope him into eternity, an officer asked him if he had any final words.  ”I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul,”  he said.  Then, turning toward the man who had been the shepherd of his soul during his incarceration, who had been his confessor, his preacher, and the one from whose hand he had received the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper, he said, ”I’ll see you again.”  Then noosed, hooded in black, and legs tied, he dropped out of this world into another.

As gripping as this account is, no doubt many similar scenarios have played out in the course of history, where condemned men have found repentance and faith when certain death looms nigh.  What makes this story remarkable is that this man, along with many others who were hanged that day, was among the most hated men in human history, guilty of atrocities so horrific only words forged in hell could adequately describe them.  These were Hitler’s men.  His closest confidants.  His very own pack of wolves.  Yet in the months leading up to their executions or imprisonments, many of them had been transformed from Hitler’s wolves into Christ’s lambs thanks to the ministry of a farm boy from Missouri, who grew up to be a pastor, and who reluctantly agreed to be the chaplain of the fifteen Protestant war criminals during the Nuremberg trials at the close of World War II.

Henry Gerecke was in his early 50′s when he went, cell by cell, to introduce himself to his infamous ‘congregation’ and to invite them to chapel services.  Some refused, others wavered, and still others promised to be there.  Of the fifteen chairs set up for the first service, thirteen of them were filled.  Scriptures were read, sermons preached, hymns sung, prayers prayed.  And, through it all, hearts were changed.  Soon some of the very lips that had once barked, ”Heil Hitler!” spoke a repentance-confessing, faith-affirming Amen as they knelt to eat and drink the body and blood of their forgiving Lord.  They expressed a desire for their children to be baptized.  One of them, though he began reading the Bible to find justification for his unbelief, ended up being led to faith by the very same divine words.  So reliant did these men become upon their pastor that, when a rumor surfaced that he might be relieved of his duty and allowed to return home, they wrote a letter to Mrs. Gerecke, begging her to ask him to stay.  On that letter were the signatures of all these former Nazis, men who had enjoyed power and rank, now humbly beseeching a housewife in America, who had not seen her husband for two and a half years, to let him stay.  In her brief reply, “They need you,” is packed a whole volume about sacrifice and love.

Pastor Gerecke’s story has already been told (see links below), but it deserves to be retold, again and again, to every generation, for two very important reasons.  The first has to do with the men to whom he ministered, the ones who repented and believed in Christ.  The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there.  Had it been a human decision, many would have thrown these men, guilty of such atrocities, into the flames of hell.  But the truth is that people are not condemned because they murder, or steal, or lie, but because they reject Jesus as the one who has already endured hell for them on the cross, and earned a place for them in heaven.  There is no one who is so vile that he is beyond redemption, because the redemption of Christ envelops all people.

Another reason Pastor Gerecke’s story needs to be remembered involves his vocation, and those who share it.  What pastor, knowing he was about to visit men such as these, would not have struggled to find any hope in their possible repentance?  But Gerecke visited each cell anyway, invited each man to hear the Word, and left it to the Spirit to do the work of making new creations of these hardened criminals.  Nor did he mince words, surrender his convictions, or water down the truth for them.  On the evening before he was to be hanged, one of the men, Goering, asked to be communed, just in case he was wrong and there was some truth to the Christian claims.  But Gerecke refused to give the Sacrament to one who so obstinately refused repentance, and treated the Supper as if it were an edible, just-in-case, insurance policy.  When Christ calls men into the office of the holy ministry, he calls them to be faithful—not successful, not popular, not practical, not winsome, not cool, but faithful.  They are to preach even when they doubt it will bear fruit.  They are to give the word of Christ to sinners, and let the Christ of that word do his work.  And he does.  He convicts, he calls, he saves, he baptizes, he feeds, and, finally, he welcomes one and all into his kingdom with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In 1961, at the age of sixty-eight, Pastor Gerecke passed from this life into the next.  He entered that innumerable company of saints who had gone before him, some of whom had been among his flock during his years of ministry, one of whom, atop the gallows, had promised, “I’ll see you again.”  And he did.

Online Resources:

I strongly urge you to click on one or all of the links below to read Pastor Gerecke’s story.  The details and quotes I included above are from these resources.

Gerecke’s story, in his own words, was published in the Saturday Evening Post, 1, September, 1951, pp. 18-19, under the title, “I walked to the Gallows with the Nazi Chiefs.”  Click here to read his story:

Don Stephens, in War and Grace:  Short biographies from the World Wars, (Evangelical Press, Faverdale North, Darlington, DL3 0PH, England) devotes a chapter to Gerecke and his ministry.  The chapter is available online at:

In 1950, Gerecke was called to be Assistant Pastor at St. JohnLutheranChurch, Chester, IL.  That congregation’s website includes audio files of Pastor Gerecke speaking about his experience.  These can be listened to by following the link below, and clicking on the audio files on the right side of the website.


Before You Leave Seminary

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

walther pointing to bibleThis is a passage to read, read, and read again.  I am grateful for the education I got at seminary.  But some of the pastoral wisdom Walther displays here would have been very helpful.  And the assertions he makes about hermeneutics at the end…some of my professors would have argued with them.  But I think Walther is right.  Ambiguity and failure to distinguish law and gospel clearly is responsible for so many failures in caring for souls.


Twentieth Evening Lecture

(February 27, 1885.)


My Friends:–

            When a place has been assigned to a Lutheran candidate of theology where he is to discharge the office of a Lutheran minister, that place ought to be to him the dearest, most beautiful, and most precious spot on earth…  Do not the blessed angels descend from heaven with great joy whenever the Father in heaven sends them to minister to those who are to be heirs of salvation?  Why, then, should we poor sinners be unwilling to hurry after them with great joy to any place where we can lead other men, our fellow-sinners, to salvation?  

            However, though great be the joy of a young, newly called pastor on entering his parish, there should be in him an equally great earnestness and determination to do all he can to save every soul entrusted to him.  Frequently it may seem to him that the majority, if not all members, of his congregation are still blind, dead, unconverted people.  That observation must not make him morose or discourage him, but rather fill him with an ardent desire to rouse them out of spiritual death through the divine means of grace and make them living Christians.  Spite of the devil he should take up his work in the power of faith.  If he observes that some members of his new charge are even living in manifest shame and vice, he must not despair, but bear in mind that he has a powerful Word by which he can make an effort to liberate these slaves of sin.  If he observes that his congregation is on a low level as regards the knowledge of salvation, that his people are still sadly ignorant of what the Gospel really is, he must cheerfully resolve to take up the task of instructing the poor, ignorant people with patience and zeal, until they will see the light.  Or he may notice that there are people in his congregation who are sincere, but disposed by their Pietistic schooling to be legalistic, who, therefore, regard some things as sinful that are not sinful.  In that case he must resolve to forego exercising his Christian liberty lest he offend souls that regard as sin something that he feels free to do.  On the other hand, he may discover in his congregation members of an Antinomian tendency, who are inclined to go too far in the exercise of their Christian liberty, because they are not accustomed to have the Law preached to them in its severity.  In such a case he must not decide forthwith to oppose them with all his force and preach nothing but the sternest Law to them for a whole year.  No, he must go after them gently and gradually make them see the stern demands of the Law.  For the Apostle Paul says concerning himself: “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”  1 Cor. 9, 22.  This statement he wants every servant of Christ to take to heart.  Its import is that a minister must not be satisfied merely with proclaiming the truth; he must proclaim the truth so as to meet the needs of his people.  He may have to defer saying many things until his people have gained confidence in him and his teaching and he knows that he may frankly tell them anything without fear of repelling them.  Briefly, he must resolve to turn his congregation from a dreary desert into a flourishing garden of God.

…Blessed is the minister who starts his official work on the very first day with the determination to do everything that the grace of God will enable him to do in order that not a soul in his congregation shall be lost by his fault.  Such a one resolves that by the grace of God he will do all he can, so that, when the day comes for him to put down his shepherd’s staff, he may be able to say, as Christ said to His Father: Here I am and those that Thou gavest me, and none of them is lost.  Even the blood of those who shall stand on the left side of the judgment-seat, he resolves, shall not be on his hands.

            But now the question arises: What is the matter of chief concern to a minister who wants to attain this glorious object?  He must approach the Lord with heartfelt prayer and earnest entreaties in behalf of his congregation and, when preaching the Word of God with great zeal publicly and privately, jointly or severally, rightly divide the Word of Truth.  For that is what Paul demands 2 Tim. 2, 15, saying: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”

            During your present year at the Seminary this very thing, you know, is the subject of our study—the proper division of the Word of God, of Law and the Gospel.  These two are the cardinal doctrines of all the Holy Scriptures, which are made up of these two.  Any passage of Scripture, yea, any historical fact recorded in Scripture can be classified as belonging either to the Law or to the Gospel.  No one should be permitted to graduate from a school of theology who is unable to determine whether a given passage of Scripture is Law or Gospel, or whether in any compound clause of Scripture the protasis is Law and the apodosis Gospel, or vice versa.  It is your duty to become perfectly clear on this subject.


C.F.W Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 207-210.

Loehe: Catechetical Questions on the 2nd and 3rd Commandments

September 18, 2013 Leave a comment

loeheFrom “Questions and Answers on the Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism of Dr. M. Luther.”  By Wilhelm Loehe.  Home, School, and Church-Book for Christians of the Lutheran Confession.  First Edition.  Stuttgart, 1845.


47.  What should you not do, according to the second commandment?  “Misuse the name of the Lord, my God.”


48.  What is the Name of the Lord, Your God?  He is called YHWH, that is, “I will be who will be.”  Ex. 3:14.


49.  Does God have any other names?  He has many names, but the name YHWH He has given Himself and only by it does He refer to Himself [sich allein vorbehalten].


50.  Is it permissible to misuse the other names of God?  I may misuse none of the names which I use to refer to God.


51.  According to the explanation of the second commandment, what should you do?  Above all, what belongs to the first commandment: to fear and love God.


52.  And what should you avoid, out of fear and love of God?  “To curse by His name, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive.”


53.  But if you nevertheless do any of these things, what are you doing?  Then I am misusing His name.


54.  Is all cursing and swearing forbidden?  Not at all.


55.  Is all use of witchcraft, lying, and deceiving forbidden?  Yes, all.


56.  Why isn’t all cursing forbidden?  Because God (Deut 27: 15-26) commands all the people to say “Amen” to the curses He pronounces.


57.  But then is one himself cursing, if one to someone else’s curses says “Yes and Amen”?  Certainly one then is cursing himself, because he joins in with the curses.


58.  Why is not all swearing forbidden?  Because God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His Apostles swore holy oaths, and the word of the Old Testament cannot be cancelled: “ You shall fear the Lord, Your God, and serve Him, and swear in His name.”  (Deut. 6:13, 10:20)


59.  Which cursing and swearing is forbidden, then in the second commandment?  That swearing and cursing through which the name of the Lord would be misused.


60.  Is all use of witchcraft, lying and deceiving forbidden by the second commandment?  No.  The second commandment only forbids witchcraft, lies, and deception which uses God’s name.


61.  Why?  Because every use of God’s name for witchcraft, lying, and deceiving is a misuse of His name.


62.  But what should we do out of fear and love of God according to the second commandment?  “We should fear and love God, that we call upon His name in all trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

63.  Then for what end may we use the name of God?  In all kinds of prayer.


64.  What should you do according to the third commandment?  “Keep the holy day sacred.”


65.  What was the holy day in the Old Testament?  The seventh day of the week, or Saturday.


66.  What is the holy day in the New Testament?  The first, or Sunday.


67.  Why don’t we celebrate the Old Testament Sabbath or Saturday anymore?  Because the Holy Spirit says through St. Paul to the Colossians: “So let no one judge you about holy days, or new moons, or Sabbaths.”  (Col. 2:16; see also Gal. 4:10)


68.  But are we commanded in the New Testament to observe Sunday instead of Saturday?  No….


69.   So why then does the Church of God celebrate it?  It was necessary that one set a day so that the people would know when they should come together; out of Christian freedom they chose Sunday for this purpose, on which the Christians’ holy memories [knuepften]. (Quotes Aug. Conf. Art. 28)


70.  Since it no longer lies in the day itself, what is the main thing in the third commandment?  It is the thing through which Sunday and all days and all things are sanctified: God’s Word and prayer (1 Tim. 4:5), as also the explanation of the third commandment makes clear.


71.  What does the explanation of the third commandment again like the explanation of all the commandments put forth as the first and most necessary thing?  The explanation of each commandment commands before everything else that we fulfill the first commandment, that is, “Fear and love God.”


72.  And why is that?  Because out of the fear and love of God flows the fulfillment of all other commandments.


73.  What should we not do, according to the explanation of the third commandment, out of fear and love of God?  “Despise preaching and His Word.”


74.  But what should we do?  “The same hold sacred.”


75.  Is it enough that we hold it to be sacred?  No, for that very reason we should also “hear it.”


76.  And is it pretty much the same no matter how we hear it, as long as we hear it?  No, we should “gladly” hear it.


77.  And finally, what should we do beyond that?  Diligently apply ourselves and “learn” it. 

God calls what is not as though it were. Trinity 16 2013 Sermon.

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Gideon16th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Kings 17:17-24, St. Luke 7:11-17

September 15, 2013

“Out of Nothing”

Week 1: God calls things that are not as though they were


(not exactly what I preached.  I tried to revise it after this but I couldn’t get it to print so I went off of handwritten notes.  But I think it’s probably much the same, except with more in the “gospel” portion and less in the introduction.  I took out the stuff about Abraham, for instance.)



Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith…


Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end [that] the promise might be sure to all the seed…of Abraham, who is the father of us all…before Him whom He believed, even God, who quickens the dead, and calls those things which are not as though they were.


Who against hope believed in hope…And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead…nor yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.


He did not stagger at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;


And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.  And therefore it was imputed to him as righteousness.  (Romans 4:13, 16-21)


Why did God promise Abraham that he would inherit the earth?  Was it because He foresaw that Abraham would believe Him?  Was there less disobedience and sin in Abraham than in other people?


The words from Romans chapter 4 we just heard say a resounding “no.”  It was not through the law that Abraham received the promise.  It was not because Abraham had obeyed God.  It had nothing to do with measuring and calculating.  The promise was free.  God made it unconditionally.


Most of what Abraham saw after hearing God’s promise did not help him believe.  He went to the land where God told him to go and lived there as a stranger.  He was not among friends and he did not have his clan there to protect him.  And years stretched into decades, and he had no son.  And without a son he would have no offspring for God to make into a great nation, out of which God would bring salvation to the whole earth.


Finally he got to be about a hundred years old.  His wife was ninety.  Her womb was long dead.  His body was a withered tree.  What kind of a fool would go on believing that he had heard God’s voice say that the whole earth would be saved through his offspring?


But Abraham believed what God had promised.  So he ignored the fact that it was impossible, as far as he could see, for him to have children now.  He only looked at the promise of the God who quickens the dead and calls those things that are not as though they were.”  (Rom. 4:17)


So God counted it to him for righteousness.  As Abraham believed, so it was done for him.


God counted to Abraham the righteousness of his descendant, through Whom all the ends of the earth would be saved.


And God did what reason and experience said was impossible.  He gave a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman a child according to His Word which raises the dead and calls that which does not exist into existence (Rom. 4:17)…or calls what is not as though it were.  From this child, born by the word of the Lord, came a nation of people.  And from this nation came a virgin who conceived and bore a child by the word of the Lord even though she had never been with a man.  This child was the Word of God in human flesh who gives salvation to all who believe in Him.


God raises the dead.  He calls things that are not as though they were.  He creates out of nothing simply by His Word.


But where people are still alive His Word does not raise them from the dead.  Where people are something His Word does not call them into being.


In Elijah’s time things were very bad.  There was one nation on earth that worshipped the true God.  But it had started to worship the false gods of the nations alongside of the Lord.


The one place the people in the world were supposed to be able to look and see the true God and what He was like had set up other gods to worship alongside the Lord—even in His house.


So what did they see?  The Lord is just one god among many.  The God of the Israelites is no different than our gods; they have their God, we have ours.


The people of Israel were dead, and they didn’t even know it. So God sent His Word through Elijah to make them realize that they were dead, and Elijah said, “As the Lord lives, it won’t rain at all unless I say.”  Then God sent Elijah out into the wilderness.  Ravens brought him food and he drank water from a brook while Elijah hid and waited for God to tell him to turn the rain back on.


But the people did not repent.  “The rain will come,” they said.  Then the harvest failed and people started to die of starvation.  “We must not have offered enough sacrifices to the Lord and to Baal,” the people were saying.  “We need to fix this!”  Meanwhile, the brook went dry in the wilderness where Elijah was staying.  The people still hadn’t learned that they were dead and there was no fixing this until the Lord gave the word.


God told Elijah, “Go to the pagan city of Zarephath, north of here.  There is a widow there that I have commanded to feed you.”  And when Elijah got there and met the widow, she was getting ready to make a last meal for her and her son, because the surrounding nations were getting no rain either.  But when Elijah told her, “Before you eat, bring me some of your last meal.  Because the Lord says that your flour and oil will not run out.  God will make it last until the rain returns.”  And the pagan woman believed the word of the Lord.  She had nothing; she was as good as dead.  But the word of the Lord called what did not exist as though it did.


But now in the text today after saving her and her son’s life it seems that God has only blessed her in order to crush her.  Now her son dies.  She says to Elijah, “You have only come with the word of the Lord to expose my sin and slay my son!”


And Elijah prays, “Is this Your way, Lord?  You withhold rain from Your people and slay them because they turn away from you.  Then you send me to a nation of idolaters and a widow receives Your Word and lives, only so that you can even turn around on her and not forgive her sin either?”


Yet did she deserve better?  Isn’t it the Lord’s right to punish our sins?  Even if we are sorry?


Yet Elijah knew the Lord.  That this is not His way.  “He chastens with forbearing” as the hymn says.  In wrath He remembers mercy.  He longs to be gracious; He raises His arm and strikes down in order to raise up again.  He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner.


Rather His Word reduces us to nothing and kills us so that He may call us what we are not and raise us from the dead.


We are in a similar situation to Elijah’s day.


He brings us to nothing, like He did Elijah and Israel, and the widow, and Abraham, so that He may call us what we are not.


He stops the funeral procession and says what we cannot imagine to happen.  He speaks a new word.


He does this not because there is anything worthy of His pity or compassion, but by His pure grace.


He had every right to come to the widow at Nain and pass her by.  This is the wages of sin.


But He is not here on earth to judge and condemn, but to save.  To raise the dead and call that which is not as though it were.


He is the Word of the Father made flesh; in the beginning it was He who created the world and all that is in it; now He is in our flesh saying that we are what we are not without Him and He is what He is not without us.


He is not sin but became sin; He became nothing.  He was laid in the depths.  That is because He has become us.


We are not righteous and holy children of God but He declares us to be in Baptism.  We have nothing in us that would permit us to be children of God, or to be His church.  His word creates it out of nothing in Jesus’ incarnation death resurrection, ascension.


His word declares it to be true of us.


His word will continue to sustain His church, even if it is impossible to see how it will survive, and even if it is overrun by idolatry.  God had His church drinking from a brook in the wilderness and being fed by ravens.  And scattered in places where His prophet did not see it were the remnant that God had chosen, including this woman from a pagan country.


They were nothing, like us.  The only conclusion was that they were sinners and deserved God’s wrath.


But God looks on those who are nothing and calls them something.  Calls them a new creation.


It is not because of any human possibility but because of His Word, which enabled Abraham and Sarah to conceive a child when they were dead.


Even more, His Word imputed righteousness to them, even though they were dead in sin.


His Word sustained Elijah in the wilderness, the widow with the handful of flour.


His Word declares God’s compassion to two sinful widows who had no reason to expect compassion.


On us who also deserve no compassion he raises us to life through His holy Baptism and through the preaching of the Gospel, where He declares us forgiven of our sins through Christ alone.


He declares that we will march triumphant over our sins and the devil in righteousness through the cross into eternal life, and that we will live in this world by His power and then forever at His right hand.


That is why we have hope even though we are sinners and even though the Church is weak and a mess and no small part of it is our fault.


We come and say, “there is no reason why you should not destroy me and the church.  That is what I deserve.”  But He speaks another word.  “Do not weep.  You are alive, righteous, heirs of my kingdom.”


The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.



%d bloggers like this: