The Lord our God Repenteth of the Evil. Day of Supplication and Prayer. September 11, 2013
St. Peter Lutheran Church (Chapel)
Joel 2:13 (2:12-19)
September 11, 2013
The Lord our God Repenteth of the Evil
And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil. Joel 2:13
Luther looked on the Turk—that is, the invading Muslim armies—as the scourge of God, the punishment of God on a godless Christendom. Should we not recognize those attacks that came to us over a decade ago as the stroke of God? It doesn’t mean that God is for jihad, but it is a call for us to repent. God raises up nations and casts them down for His own purposes. But when His Church suffers in His rebuke of the nations, He has a different purpose for her.
God chastens or punishes his church to bring her to repentance, humble her, strengthen her faith in her Lord Jesus Christ.
But He also punishes in His wrath, where He gives people over to destruction.
It seems that He is giving the United States over to His wrath. The Word of God departs from our people, even if it was mostly only learned and embraced in an outward way in prior generations; it is no small thing that young Americans can no longer tell you who Moses is. It is no small thing that more and more infants are unbaptized. Along with these signs of His wrath in spiritual things we see our nation’s decline in moral vigor and consequently in strength and influence.
It seems that He is handing the United States over to His wrath, and that He is bringing severe discipline on the church. Should we see nothing of God’s chastening in the decline of Christian churches in the United States? No. God’s action in the world preaches to us. It preaches His law, His coming judgment and His righteous wrath against sinners.
We don’t know always how to interpret what God is doing in the short term. We know that in the long term wars and rumors of wars are signs of the final judgment. Then the United States will not have to worry about fighting terrorists or China but will be destroyed along with all the enemies of God in His wrath.
God spares sinners who humble themselves before Him. He did it with Nineveh at Jonah’s preaching. He spared Hezekiah’s life when Hezekiah prayed. When Jerusalem was besieged by the King of Assyria, Sennacherib, an angel of the Lord slew one hundred thousand men in one night. Even Balaam was spared being slain by the angel of the Lord–not because he repented, but because his donkey “repented” on his behalf.
The Lord repenteth of the evil. Who knows if He will return and repent and leave a blessing behind him: even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord thy God?
Joel says, “You never know. Doom is proclaimed for you. But the Lord is gracious. He may turn around and not only not strike us down but even leave us a blessing.”
But the Lord is not pleased simply with the outward tearing of garments and fasting—outward acts of humility and sorrow and contrition. But rather the kind of repentance He desires is the tearing of the heart.
It should not be so hard when you consider that
We individually have many sins of our own—thanklessness, ingratitude, unbelief—from our youth up.
Our congregation also has many sins; one of the chief ones being despising the Word and great self-sufficiency. Very few in the congregation fear God’s wrath. It has become the climate of St. Peter to despise God’s Word and when others become members they learn from the congregation to do the same.
Then there are the many members of the congregation who have gone far away from the Lord, but we have not sought them but worried about ourselves and our own comfort more than their souls.
And then our nation. Like many in our congregation, they are not even able to pray for themselves or see the hand of God lifted up over them. We are not guilty of their sins. But we are responsible to love them, preach the Word to them, instruct them in the right way. And pray for them. And weep over the evil that comes to them.
But our hearts are very cold. We barely can bring ourselves to take seriously God’s threats concerning our own sins, let alone weep for the members of our church who don’t weep for themselves, or the citizens of our country.
Yet what awaits them is not only damnation in the life to come, but also quite likely grave punishments and suffering here. Really we should hope that our nation gets that. Because after having freedom to hear the Word of God and being given all manner of earthly blessings, the United States has not become better but worse. Punishment would be better for us than to continue in our complacency; that would mean that God had really given us over.
What is it to rend your hearts?
Not simply to fear God’s wrath and be sorry and want to sin no longer. Not to have anything like perfect fear or sorrow. But it is to fear God’s wrath and confess to Him:
There is no reason why you should not punish me. There is no reason why you should not condemn us. No reason in us or in me.
That is the truth. There is no reason in us whatsoever that we should not receive God’s wrath. “I justly deserve your temporal and eternal punishment;” we say it but seldom consider the weight of it.
Yet also to say, “You are the Lord our God who is gracious and merciful, and even though there is no reason why You should not destroy us in ourselves, yet you will because of who You are. You are the Lord our God; You swore to be our God and placed your name on us. If we deny you you will deny us, but if we are faithless you remain faithful, for you cannot deny yourself.
And you have promised to forgive our sins and be our God in Baptism.
And you have promised not to cast away anyone who comes to you, but raise them up on the last day.
And you have promised not to reject our prayers but to hear us for Jesus’ sake.
These things you will do because You have promised and because it is who You are, even though everything we are and remain even today deserves punishment.
Jesus, whose heart was torn open by the spear of the Roman soldier, is the only one able to rend our cold hearts of stone. He pierces them not only with the knowledge of our sins (imperfect though it is), but also with His Word which carries into our hearts His promise–the full forgiveness of our sins at the price of His death. Yes, even the ongoing coldness and hardness of your heart and mine is not counted to you because of the unspeakable goodness and mercy of this Lord who is liable to turn around and bless those whom He threatens with His wrath. He releases you from the guilt of your hard heart too and bears it Himself. And where there is the tiniest tear that opens to the hope and the longing that this is really true–ah, our Savior whose heart was pierced tears our hearts, showing us our sin but greater still His love which tears Him open and pours out the flood of the treasures of His grace.
Then whether He gives temporal punishments or spares us, having prayed this we have His promise that He has heard our prayers and will turn all these things to our good.
Fasting and prayer…not for show, but entreating the Lord to show mercy on us, but not only us, also the sinners who unlike us are not able to seek His mercy; priesthood.
You are able to seek His mercy. Therefore we seek it for ourselves, but also our congregation and the lapsed members who don’t care, and for our country.
But of course it is God who really desires mercy for them more than we do.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
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