St. Peter Lutheran Church
Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
November 24, 2016
“Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline”
Setting apart a day to give thanks to God has a long history in America. The Pilgrims didn’t invent it. The French and Spanish explorers are said to have had their own “thanksgivings” to give thanks to God for allowing them to arrive safely in the new world. A group of English settlers in Virginia wrote a constitution for their colony in 1619 that said “that the day of our ships arrival … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Both Catholics and Protestants set aside days of Thanksgiving because they recognized, or wanted people to recognize, that they didn’t get to America safely or accomplish anything here on their own. God enabled them and allowed them. Without His favor they would have died on the voyage, and without His favor they would not be able to succeed in anything once they arrived. So together, as a society, they gave thanks to God, recognizing His hand in the events of their lives, and thanking Him for the good He allowed them to receive in spite of their many sins against Him.
We aren’t like this anymore in America. We don’t recognize God’s hand in the things that happen to us as a nation. And imagine the President or Congress announcing a national day of thanksgiving, or a national day of supplication and prayer, in response to some great blessing received or tragedy experienced by the nation, announcing that schools and businesses and the stock exchange would be closed so that the nation might turn to God for a day!
Things are not much better in the Church among Christians. If we announced a special service of thanksgiving in response to a special blessing of God on a day that people are not accustomed to coming to church, I know very well what would happen. Even, say, if someone wrote a check to St. Peter for several hundred thousand dollars, covering the whole cost of our roof repairs. This is an indication that for many people worship is not the spontaneous, living response of their hearts to God’s love and gifts; for many people it is a formality, doing what they think is required and no more. Worship is on Sunday, period.
But God does not stop being our God at noon on Sundays. He doesn’t stop giving us gifts then or providing for our needs of body and soul. Every day He lets His sun shine on the just and the wicked alike. I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them [or preserves them] Luther’s Catechism teaches us to say. And it goes on to remind us of all the gifts He gives us, day in and day out, whether we please Him or not: He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
Yes, as we sing in the communion liturgy each week, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It’s only right that we should recognize that God has given us our life and existence, and that He constantly provides for our lives to be sustained, whether we do good or evil. And recognizing this, it’s right that we should give thanks from our hearts to Him at all times. And when He shows us special kindness as a church or as a nation, it is right that we should publicly thank Him in the Church with a special service of thanksgiving.
This has immediate practical importance for your lives as individuals, this issue of recognizing God’s hand in your life and thanking Him. Because if we do not recognize God as the giver of the good things in our lives and give Him thanks—the things that we need and the people and things we love—we will not be able to recognize Him as the giver of the things that seem evil to us. When we get sick and when we suffer in various ways, we will feel ourselves abandoned or cursed by God, because we have not learned to recognize Him and His hand in all that we experience in life.
Consider the reading from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy chapter 8. You would think that the people of Israel would have no difficulty understanding that God was intimately involved with what happened to them. He had, after all, sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to make Pharaoh let them go; led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the wilderness; parted the Red Sea to bring Israel through in safety and then drowned Pharaoh and his mighty army. He had fed them with bread from heaven in the desert. He had come down on Mt. Sinai in fire and spoke the Ten Commandments to them. He had entered into a covenant with them there that they would be His people and He would be there God.
And yet they did not recognize that God was among them and leading them. At the beginning of their exodus, right after coming through the Red Sea, they went a few days without water and began to say, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7) Then Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came out for the whole congregation of 3 million. But after 40 years in the wilderness they had still not learned to recognize God’s presence among them and how He was providing for them and teaching Him the whole way. So Moses explains to them, not long before his death: You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…Know then, that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deut. 8:2-3, 5
The Israelites did not understand the reason why they experienced the things they did, why after God gloriously led them out of Egypt, He allowed them to wander in circles in the desert for 40 years. Maybe many of them began to think that God’s promise that He loved them and had chosen them to be His own people out of all the nations on the earth was just religious talk that doesn’t actually have any significance in real life, because they seemed like they were going nowhere, and the promised land seemed a long way away.
But Moses explained that no, God did have a reason for their wandering in circles. As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. A man disciplines his son because he loves his son. Kids with strict parents look at other kids whose parents let them do whatever they want and think those kids have it better. But as adults we understand that parents who let their kids do whatever they want on the internet without paying attention, who let their kids run around as teenagers without paying attention to what they’re doing are parents who don’t love their kids very much. Parents who love their kids allow their kids freedom when their kids have proven that they can handle the freedom without ruining themselves. They “test” their kids “to know what is in [their] hearts.”
This is why God led the Israelites in circles in the desert forty years, why He humbled them so that they had to rely on God to drop bread down from heaven if they were going to eat. He didn’t allow them much freedom at all, did He? It was to discipline them so that they worshipped Him—that is, so that they believed in Him, so that they trusted Him, so that they learned faith in Him. Then when they entered the promised land and suddenly had houses that other people built, and rich farmland that other people cultivated, they would not turn away from Him and think they had gotten all this for themselves, or worship the idols of the people who lived there before them. They would remember the Lord who brought them out of slavery and give Him thanks for the good land that He had given them.
Another amazing thing is hidden in that sentence: Know then in your heart, that, as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. It’s easy to focus on the word “discipline” and think of a dad in the old days taking his son behind the woodshed with a switch or something. But that is not the key word: the key word is “son.” I don’t think anywhere before the exodus of the people of Israel did God call any human being his “son,” not even Abraham or Noah or Enoch, who walked with God. But here Moses tells the people of Israel that God has been treating them like His Son. A man disciplines his son not only because he loves him but because the son is going to inherit everything that belongs to his father, and he needs to learn to be wise so that he will be capable of managing his inheritance instead of destroying it and himself. God is dealing with Israel, rebellious Israel, idol-worshipping Israel, as His own son, whom he is preparing to inherit everything that is His.
This would have little meaning for us as Gentiles, as non-Israelites. Our ancestors worshipped idols, and God did not discipline them and deal with them as His sons. But long ago someone came to them and taught them about Jesus and proclaimed Him as the Son of God. And our believing ancestors taught their children about Him until it came down to us.
We learned that Jesus, the Son of God from eternity, through whom God the Father created and preserves the world, became the son of Adam, one of us. He lived among us so that we might see in Him the exact image of God the Father. And being our brother, He died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended with our human nature to the throne of God. Through His suffering the wrath of God for our sins, He caused human beings to be adopted by God as sons; and He received the inheritance of eternal glory in human flesh as a pledge of what is to come for all who believe in Him.
Because of Him, you have a certain pledge from God about what His heart is toward you and what He is doing in the events of your life.
They are not random, meaningless events, like the Israelites were tempted to think. God is dealing with you as sons. He is dealing with you like a father who loves his son and who wants to prepare him to inherit all that is his.
A father loves his son, so he provides for him; he gives him food, shelter, clothes, and defends him from danger. At the same time, because he loves his son, he also tests him and disciplines him. He humbles him so that he learns to be faithful and obedient when he is not entrusted with much freedom. He schools him so that when he grows to be a man and inherits his father’s house, he will not squander it and ruin himself.
Many of you are dealing with personal suffering that is hard to see as God’s love. You are sick or have constant pain. It may be that the doctor has told you you have a limited amount of time left on earth. Others are suffering from seeing their children or relatives in conflict or unforgiveness, or having abandoned God.
We grieve over what our nation has become, many of us, since many of our people have forgotten right and wrong, forgotten what is decent and good. Most have also forgotten God and seem to be past repentance.
And then for many of us there is the grief at the state of the church—especially our own congregation, but also the Christian church more generally in our country….
How can we give thanks?
God has not stopped being kind, gracious, and merciful. See how freely Jesus heals the lepers of their diseases, even though 9 out of 10 are unthankful. He continues to provide us with wealth, peace, safety.
But when we suffer He is dealing with us as sons. See how His only begotten Son was chastened with the lash for your sins, how He hung on the cross, suspended by nails in His hands and feet, crowned with a curse, abandoned by God. Did the Father love Jesus? He did. Yet Jesus, though He was a son, was made perfect through suffering.
God is dealing with you as sons, preparing you to inherit glory with Jesus.
Do not lose heart. Go against your heart and praise Him “at all times and in all places.” Recognize His love not only in your daily bread, in the turkey on the table and the family gathered around it, but also in your afflictions.
St. Bartholomew, Apostle (transferred)/ Altar Guild Opening Service
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:43-51
August 25, 2016
“Come and See”
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45
“Wait a minute. Cut! I’d like to interject…” Philip and Nathanael (his mother calls him Bartholomew) swivel their black-bearded faces in the direction of the voice, which belongs to a gray-haired man walking toward them, dressed in a jacked with leather elbows and a bow tie. He speaks with a slight east coast accent, and as he talks he gestures with a pipe.
“I understand what you’re trying to do with this scene,” he says to Philip. “You want to tell a compelling story. I get it. But if it’s going to speak to people two thousand years from now, you’re going to have to revise the script. You sacrifice accuracy for the sake of rhetorical power and you’re going to lose your audience.”
Philip stares at the man, who goes on: “The thing about Moses. ‘Moses wrote about Him in the Law.’ Reputable scholarship stopped believing Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy in the 19th century. Until relatively recently everyone agreed that these books were cut-and-pasted together from different sources by editors a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived. Everybody that’s educated knows this today, even the partially educated. So let’s try it again without Moses this time.” The bow tied man sits in a canvas chair and puts on sunglasses.
Philip keeps staring at him and finally utters, “Who are you?”
“I’m chair of New Testament at a top-tier divinity school in New England.” Then, in response to Philip’s blank stare, he says, “A scribe, of sorts. Okay, take two.”
Philip turns back to Nathanael. “So, like I was saying, ‘we have found the man who has been written about in the Law and the Prophets’—whoever wrote them—Jesus of Nazareth…”
“Cut!” the professor yells again. “Another thing: you really can’t say that Jesus is the one written about in the Law and the Prophets. The early New Testament community interpreted the Law and the Prophets as foretelling Jesus. Then they wrote the Gospels to show Jesus as the fulfillment of those passages. But to say the Law and the Prophets spoke about Jesus is a stretch, at best. Leaves us open to the charge of anti-semitism, too. Try it again. Take three.”
Philip stands there for a minute trying to figure out what to say. Then he looks at Nathanael and says, slowly, “We have found the man who isn’t really written about in the Law and the Prophets, probably. But there is a community of people who think that the Law and the Prophets wrote about Him. Or at least they want us to think that. It’s Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Cut!” the professor cries again. “You can’t say it like that! When you say it that way it sounds like a scam!”
What’s amazing is that so many people let themselves be scammed for so long. The professor in the story isn’t based on a real person, but he is doing what leading bible scholars have done for at least a hundred years. They have taught and written that the Bible is a literary construction made by men to advance certain beliefs, and then creatively interpreted by men to advance certain beliefs. But as far as being historically reliable and telling us about things that actually happened? The Bible doesn’t do that, they say. That’s not its point.
Did this conversation between Jesus, Nathanael, and Philip actually happen? We really can’t know, they say. The idea that the Bible is verbally inspirited by God, and therefore not only the final authority for truth about religious matters, but also true when it speaks about geography, history, or anything else—that has been regarded as “fundamentalism” by scholars for a long time—despite the fact that the authority and clarity of the Scriptures was foundational for the protestant reformation. And these scholars taught the ministers in mainline protestant churches—the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, some Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—since before I was born. This skeptical approach to the Bible has become normal in the Catholic Church too.
But laypeople in these churches don’t look at the Bible this way, right? The pastors don’t preach this way, do they? I don’t think they do, generally. It doesn’t work very well for preaching to have the professor bursting in every few verses to correct the Bible. But if this is the way you have been taught to view the Scripture during your training for the pastoral office, it is going to affect how you carry out the work of that office. If the Bible isn’t to be taken literally when it says Moses wrote the Penteteuch, or when it says that Jesus had a conversation with Nathanael, why should it be taken literally when Jesus forbids divorce in it, or when it says it’s immoral to have sex when you’re not married? So is it a surprise that the mainline protestant churches have approved homosexual “marriage” as pleasing to God? If the Bible was put together by human beings to teach what they wanted to teach, why can’t we just put a new spin on it to teach what we think is right now?
And this affects more than simply Christian morality. It attacks the Gospel itself. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1); the healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9). The result of treating the Scriptures as human productions is often revision of the Law of God; but the end result of revising God’s law is that pastors begin to preach to people that they, after all, are not sinners in need of saving. Perhaps we are in a general way—none of us love people as we should. But never in such a way that the specific forms our lovelessness takes are condemned; never in such a way that the sins that our time and place seeks to excuse are made to stand before the unchangeable judgment of the unchanging God. And so the churches, instead of proclaiming the Son of God incarnate and crucified to reconcile sinners to God, by degrees remove the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11) and nullify the grace of God (Galatians 2:21). God’s grace in freely remitting sins for the sake of the bloody death of His Son on a cross is only necessary for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins and cannot raise themselves. It’s not necessary for those who have committed no grievous sins because there are no longer any grievous sins to commit.
And what have the laypeople done in response to this perversion of God’s Word in the mainline churches? Did they walk out when their pastors and teachers revised the ten commandments? Some did. Most didn’t care. They’d gotten used to re-interpreting the Bible when it said things they didn’t agree with a long time ago. When it forbade women from being ordained. When it forbade divorce. When it forbade intercommunion between those who were not united in the one faith and doctrine of Christ. When it forbade Christians to participate in the religious rites of secret societies. And so on, all the way back to the time of the Reformation, when people found the teaching that Christ’s true body and blood in the bread are present in and with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper an offense to reason.
But what does all this have to do with the altar guild? In the reading, Nathaniel (who is probably, but not certainly, Bartholomew the apostle, whose feast day was yesterday) expresses skepticism at what he hears from Philip—that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Moses and the Prophets. He considers it unlikely that anything good could come from Nazareth. But Philip says, “Come and see.” Pretty confident, Philip is. He doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael about whether or not Nazareth is a dump. He invites him to come and see for himself whether Jesus is the one Moses and the Prophets talked about.
When we talk about Jesus to people who don’t believe in Him, say He is the Savior of the World, and our Savior, they will very likely be skeptical. What do we do then? Sure, you can debate with them if you’re equipped to do so. That has its place. But in the end, answering their objections won’t bring them to Jesus. The Holy Spirit must bring them. And that happens when they “come and see” Jesus.
But where do you go if you want to “come and see” Jesus? He is at the right hand of the Father, where we see Him no longer (John 16). Yet He promised that as His Church goes into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything He commanded: and lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:20) If anyone wants to come and see Jesus, we direct them to follow us to the place where His Word is being taught and His sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper are being administered. We say, “Come to church with me and see.”
And what will they see there? We hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, they will see Jesus, true God from eternity, who became human to live among us and fulfill the Law of God that we are unable to keep. Who became sin for us, bearing our offenses on the cross, and was raised from the dead for our justification. We hope that, being made to see Jesus by faith, they will also learn to see His presence with His Church in the Word and Sacraments, and learn to see the little congregation of sinners gathered around them as the community that has been declared righteous by God and adopted as His heirs.
But none of that is what they will see right away. What they will see is an altar with a cross above it. They will see a pulpit and a lectern and candles. They will see some stuff under a sheet in the middle of the altar. They will see pews, bulletins, hymnals, some men dressed in suits handing them pieces of paper and passing a plate. They will see a guy up front in a white robe with a piece of colored cloth around his neck. And the more years go by, the less familiar and comprehensible these sights will be.
And this is where you come in. Can you make people see Jesus by putting oil in the candles, arranging the fair linen just so, ironing the alb? No. Neither can I. A person sees Jesus, believes that He is the Son of God and our Savior, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
But by care and diligence in your work you can give a witness to what we confess. In fact you will give a witness one way or the other. By adorning the altar and chancel with care and beauty and precision you can testify to your faith and the faith of the church that “God Himself is present” in this place. By being careful, diligent, and scrupulous in your cleaning of the sacred vessels you can testify to our own members to the reality that Jesus has truly given us His sacred body and his redeeming blood in the wafers and wine. And as members of the altar guild you can be leaven in the congregation, instructing your brothers and sisters how in the Divine Service Christ Himself is present in flesh and blood, opening heaven to us each week, letting down Jacob’s ladder into this Nazareth called Joliet, where people wonder if there is anything good. You can say, Yes, Jesus visits Joliet; He visits us at 8 am and 10:45 each week. He speaks to us His good news that raises us up from sin and despair; He renews our souls with His crucified flesh and blood, and as He does so He brings with Him the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
And by that witness the church will be edified and perhaps visitors will come and say, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it. Or at least if He isn’t, I am convinced that the people who care for the altar believe that He is.”
May God bless you and strengthen you, then, in your holy work this year, as you continue to make the sanctuary a place where we are proud to invite people to “come and see” our Lord Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Wednesday Chapel (Matins), St. Peter Lutheran School
Ezekiel 2:8-3:11 (St. Matthew 9:9-13)
September 21, 2016
September 21st is the day that Christians have set apart to remember St. Matthew. Who was St. Matthew? He was the man the Holy Spirit inspired to write the first book in the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew. He was also one of the 12 men Jesus called to be an apostle, which means “someone who is sent out.” After Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent out the apostles into the world to proclaim how Jesus died for our sins and rose again to declare us righteous before God. Then they baptized those who believed what they preached and continued to teach them everything that Jesus taught. The apostles planted Jesus’ Church, His community of saints in a world of darkness. And wherever you find Jesus’ Church in this world, you also find Jesus, because, as St. Matthew recorded in his Gospel, Jesus promised to be with them “every day until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Now it’s right that we should remember and honor the apostles of Jesus. We remember and honor them when we learn and believe the Gospel Jesus sent them to proclaim and thank Him for sending them with the message of salvation. On the other hand, when people make gods out of the apostles or other saints, when they trust in Christians through whom God did great things instead of trusting in God, that is not honoring the apostles and the saints. Faithful Christians never want other believers to put their trust in them. Faithful Christians always boast in Jesus and what He has done for us. They trust in Him and teach other people to do the same.
A lot of times when a faithful Christian dies, people start to talk about how great he was. But when faithful Christians are alive, that’s not how it usually goes, particularly for those Christians who are called to preach God’s Word, like St. Matthew was.
When Jesus called Matthew, there was nothing great about him. He was sitting in his tax booth. To the people at that time tax collectors were terrible sinners. They were known for cheating and stealing. And yet while he was still a sinner Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. He forgave Matthew’s sins and had plans to send Matthew out to preach how God freely forgave all sinners through Jesus, who received the punishment for our sins in our place.
And the first thing Matthew did after Jesus called him was have a feast, a party, where he invited all the other tax collectors he knew so they could come and meet Jesus and also be saved. But the Pharisees didn’t like this. They criticized Matthew—and Jesus—for being willing to hang around with all these sinners. To which Jesus responded: “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus came to save sinners! That’s the good news. That’s the Gospel! It’s the joyful message that Matthew preached. But it’s not a joyful message to many people, even to most people. Why not? Because they don’t want to hear that they are sinners before God. That’s true of people outside of the church. It’s also true of people inside the church. People in the church will usually agree, in a general way, that they are sinners. But if they are confronted with their specific sins, they often get mad. Understanding that all people are sinners is one thing. Accepting that you have sinned and deserve God’s punishment in hell is something else.
That’s why the saints are not usually loved when they are alive, especially preachers.
In the reading from Ezekiel, we heard how God called Ezekiel to be a prophet. He told Ezekiel not to be rebellious like the people of Israel, and gave him a scroll to eat. It had bitter words written on it—words of judgment from God, meant to bring people to repentance. But when Ezekiel ate the scroll, it tasted sweet. That’s how God’s word is. When it tells us we are sinners and calls us to repentance, it is bitter; but when we receive it, it becomes sweet—because God takes away our sins.
But God told Ezekiel before Ezekiel went out to preach, “The house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all of the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” But God told Ezekiel that he had made Ezekiel as hard as the house of Israel, so that Ezekiel would not lose heart when he preached and the people got angry, refused to listen, or hated him.
God made Ezekiel as stubborn in preaching His Word as the Israelites were in rejecting it. Why did God do that? Because God stubbornly keeps working for the salvation of sinners. Even when they fight Him and don’t want to listen, He keeps preaching His judgment until they are broken and terrified. Then He proclaims the good news that Jesus was broken for our sins and took them away.
People are stubborn. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners. Matthew knew he was, and when Jesus called him, he came. The Pharisees didn’t accept that they were, and they fought against Jesus, until finally they got their way—they thought—and had Him put to death on the cross.
We rejoice today that Matthew didn’t give up when many people rejected his preaching of Jesus. He was faithful until death. Because of that the Gospel continues to be preached to us that we may be saved.
Honor St. Matthew today for preaching Christ…see that you have a heart that listens to God when He rebukes you. Then you will find that His word is sweet, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
C. F. W. Walther, Sermon “On the Annual Day of Repentance”, Brosamen p. 270-278.
Condensed translation by Pastor Karl Hess,
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, IL.
September 13, 2016
Hearers, guilty together with me and yet dearly purchased by Christ!
The most terrifying punishment which God has ever allowed to happen to a land and people is without doubt the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans…
…Outside the city stormed the foe. Inside was the uproar of fanatical parties which, in wild fury, rent each other even in the face of external foes…hunger, pestilence…thousands of unburied corpses inside and outside the city gates filled the air with pestilence…A mother killed her own baby and prepared it as a last meal; the soldiers killed people in the search for gold. 1.5 million died. Land laid waste.
…Fulfilled word of Jesus…”There will be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world…and if these day’s weren’t shortened, no one would be saved.”
…But this was not the worst thing. The worst thing was this: they didn’t recognize that God’s wrath had come upon them, and they didn’t confess their sins and repent. If they had, the wrathful rod of God would have turned into His fatherly rod, and He would have snatched their soul like a brand from the fire.
But the Jews didn’t see God in it; they saw it only as the work of the Romans. (p.272) They didn’t want to see that it was God who worked through the Romans like an avenging angel. In the midst of the punishment they thought they were still God’s elect people and that their cause was righteous…and believed that at last God would give them victory, even without repentance and conversion. No exhortation and no chastening through men helped. Nor did warning-signs, which were visible in the heavens, nor did offers of peace on the part of the Romans. The people were hardened until all mercy with God and men came to an end, and the blinded people were thrown into the open doors of death and hell.
Oh dear brothers, I wish to God I could call out on this day of repentance and say, “Praise God! It’s not like this with our land and people! We recognize God’s punishing hand and repent!” But if I said that I would be a false prophet….
It’s true that not all true Christians have left America like they did Jerusalem for Pella. I don’t doubt that there are still thousands of believing children of God among our people. But, my loves, not only has the state of Jerusalem for the most part repeated itself in our land, but also most of the present virgins still here now appear to have fallen asleep, so that they still don’t see the true condition of our nation and people, as He pictures it in the divine Word. Thus they themselves stand in great danger to their souls.
In order that we may envision that condition, this hour has been consecrated.
Verse: Jeremiah 5:3
(p. 273) Lord, your eyes look for faith. You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend. They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.
With these words, my loves, the holy prophet Jeremiah describes the state of the Jewish people shortly before the destruction of the first temple before the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. In these words is also described the present condition of our people. And that it is then also that I, to the awakening of true contrition in us all, mean now to show you. Namely:
That the prophet’s twofold complaint, “You strike them, but they feel it not,” also applies to our people:
1. The lament: “You strike them,” and
2. The lament: “But they feel it not.”
That the first part applies to our people no one can deny unless he is an atheist and no longer believes in a God in heaven, and has silenced the loud voice within all men that says “There is one God!”
It’s true that pestilence and famine comes as a consequence of failure of harvest from God, and that it is easier to see that these national disasters are not by means of men. But even if godless people alone were the mediate cause of all wars, the final cause for these [wars] is always God, who uses them as the rod of His discipline and punishment.
God is not only the Creator, but the ruler of the world…He isn’t an idle spectator who lets the world do whatever it wants. Jesus explains that not one sparrow falls from the sky without the will of the Father…and all the hairs on our heads are numbered.
“The Lord looks down from heaven and sees all the children of men…He marks all their deeds.” Psalm 33
God is not the cause of sin, but without His will no sinner can move or control heart, tongue, hand nor foot…. (p. 274) ”Whatever, therefore, the sinner would like to do, he can do nothing except fulfill what God has resolved.”
Therefore the prophet Amos cries (3:6): “Is there also disaster in the city, and the Lord hasn’t done it?” and in the prophet Isaiah the Lord Himself says, “I make the light and create the darkness; I give peace and create evil. I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
If we want to know the reason for war and bloodshed, we must lift our thoughts up higher, because no people on earth could terrify another with war were it not, as Daniel says, “Concluded in the council of the watchers, and deliberated on in the discussions of the holy ones.” That is, in the council of the Triune God…Thus in Holy Scripture it is said of God that He is a “true man of war”, who “governs the wars in all the world, who breaks the bow, shatters spears, and burns the chariots with fire”… Also that He visits the peoples’ sin and falling away with war and bloodshed…The prophets threatened His covenant people over and over and finally really punished them with bloody wars, for instance through Nebuchadnezzar, God’s chosen instrument…
So it’s clear without a doubt that “You strike them” applies to our people at this time.
For a long line of years God rained streams of love on our land and people. He made it a place of refuge for the poor and oppressed of all nations, and opened thousands of wells of wealth here, gifted us with all the blessings of religious and civil freedom; in short He made this place an earthly paradise, “so that our America stood as a wonder before the eyes of all nations.”
He wanted to lead our people to repentance through the riches of His kindness. But what has happened? Our people, like Nebuchadnezzar, didn’t give God the glory for these benefits…Our people have propagated the idolatry of themselves, their freedom, their might, their wealth. Instead of being led to God, we fell from God more and more and said to gold nuggets, “My consolation!” Open atheism, false oaths, despising of the Word of God and desecration of the Sabbath, disobedience to parents and uproar (p. 275) against authority, murder, unchastity, deceit of all kinds, usury, bribery, false witness, unrighteous judgment—all these have become such everyday horrors that nobody is surprised or appalled by them—horrors which, unpunished by men, now already for long years have cried loudly to heaven for vengeance.
Thus God finally decided no longer to look on with His despised, mocked patience; thus He has finally allowed the fulfillment of John’s vision to go forth, who in his Revelation wrote: “And behold, I saw a pale horse, and he who sat on it, whose name was called death, and hell followed after him.” A terrifying war has broken out, such as has been seldom seen in the world before. Already hundreds of thousands have fallen…and only God knows how many departed in the midst of their sins and were cast into hell. Thousands and thousands have turned into weeping widows and orphans, or lie groaning in camps of pain…or live as cripples throughout the land. Thousands of peaceful homes, yes, whole cities and villages have been transformed into soot and ashes and their formerly blooming…fields into wastes. Thousands upon thousands of formerly peaceful neighbors have been transformed into bitter foes, who mortally hate each other. In whole great swathes of land families which once lived in golden peace surrender themselves in fear to murderous raids in the stillness of the night. And, what is most terrifying of all, thousands upon thousands have lost the little spark of faith and love which had been lit in their hearts in the torrential flood of the passions of war.
In His wrath, God has punished sin with sin. With every further day of wartime, the last sensation of love, morals, discipline, respectability, and domestic happiness dies away in ever more hearts, and the hosts of war, returning home, will deluge the land with still greater hosts of new sins.
O the great, O the fearful wrath of God!
Still, my loves, this is only one side of the picture of the present condition of our people and our land. Still another, disproportionately more terrifying, our text shows us, when it not only says, “You strike them,” but rather also, “But they feel it not”; not only: “you plague them,” but also: “But they do not amend themselves. They have a countenance harder than a rock, and will not be converted.” Let us then direct our gaze now also on this still darker side.
My loves, if our people had allowed this nearly two-year long distress of war to serve for the purpose for which God sent it to us, then we would have to kiss the bloody rod with tears of joy today, the rod wherewith God has struck us and our people, and with which He still is striking us. And we would have to thank Him for it.
But what is actually happening? Can we say, “Lord, you strike them and they feel it?”
Businessman feels the loss of business…propertied class feels the devaluation of property. Taxpayers feel the burden of increased taxes. Soldiers in the field feel the hardness of their service. Father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter and friend feel the pain of fallen loved ones, destruction of their hometowns, fields, the insecurity of their lives. Servants of mammon, greedy and usurers feel how their speculations of ever greater riches have been crossed out, halted, and ended. The poor feel how even their barest needs have increased in price.
But all of this is not the feeling which the Prophet meant when He said, “You strike them, but they don’t feel it.”
He means here the feeling that God is the one who strikes, that this striking is the punishment of our sins, that it is God’s wrath which has come over this Sodomitical land, that these are finally God’s judgments wherewith God in His burning wrath, unto the lowest hell, visits our people’s forgetting of God and godlessness.
But where is this feeling? There is still nothing of this feeling to be observed among our people. Much more is the old security in sin still ever present, the old pride, the old idolatry in ourselves and our works.
As the only reason for all this misfortune that has come upon us, our people regards the foe that is fighting against us; himself justified and blessed. Therefore only his opponent is execrated and cursed. But he sees nothing of God’s sword of vengeance [lifted up] over him. If one bears witness frankly and freely to our people that God is punishing our sins with this war, the answer would be like the answer of those inhabitants of Sodom, of whom it says that when they were informed of God’s judgment “It was laughable to them.” Yes, not only will people be blind and deaf to this, but still more will declare you to be a traitor to the nation, a desecrator and slanderer of the majesty of the people. And as against Stephen, who spoke against Jerusalem and the temple, people will pick up stones to throw at you as if against people who are not worthy of having the earth sustain them.
So then, in truth, the prophet Jeremiah has described the condition of our people when he writes: “You strike them, but they feel it not; you plague them, but they do not amend their ways. They have a face harder than a rock, and do not want to be converted.”
But now, my listeners, what is our condition? Must we not also admit to our own shame that even among us the majority have not recognized and felt from the beginning on in this war the punishment of our sins, the wrath and judgment of God over our people? Where are our tears of repentance over our joint guilt in the common misery? Where are our daily prayers, supplications, wrestlings, and struggle with God for contrition and grace for us and our unfortunate people? Haven’t we rather cheered those who in this war saw nothing besides the birth pangs, full of hope, of a new age of perfect freedom and equality? Haven’t we gotten our opinions about this war from the godless, atheistic newspapers instead of taking them from the unerring Word of God? Instead of looking to the Lord of all Lords, whose fierceness against our fallen people has been awakened, and who alone, above all, “carries out such desolations on earth”, have we not looked to men, and thus nurtured hatred of foes and party-anger within ourselves—indeed, even helped to increase this fire from the netherworld into a bright flame in others? Have we not taken part in the universal confidence of our people in its own might and intelligence and in its deification of men? That we have faithfully stood by the authority God has set over us, that was right; but have we not at the same time committed ourselves to the plans of those partisans which puff themselves up hypocritically with their loyalty as long as the government serves their purposes, but which cast away the mask when it appears to want to pursue another course? Those partisans which intend nothing else than to overthrow everything, and to bring about those conditions in which equality, mob rule, and impudence count for freedom?
Oh, how many have fallen into this whirlpool, of whom one frankly expected something completely different! Truly, twenty years ago such things would not have been possible in our congregation.
Twenty years ago (1843), when we were still without our own house of God, we would have considered that fact that we as Christians must follow another way than the world. We wanted at that time not to be condemned with the godless world. But we have gone backward. We have fallen. The spirit of the world has broken in among us and has carried out terrible devastations among us.
Oh my brothers and sisters, it is time; it is already high time that we remember, that we rise up from our fall, that we turn back. If we don’t want to do this, then the spirit of the world, even if he perhaps still leaves the external form of a right-believing church—still, in short he will have eaten through our core like an evil worm, and we will become an empty shell. We will have the name of being alive while we are dead.
Oh, then hear me to day, in order that you hear God again! Don’t turn away indignant from your old cure of souls (Seelsorger) who chastens you, that God Himself may not one day depart from you in the hour of your death! For I don’t speak to you in my own name, but in the name of the Lord, the Most High, to which I have been solemnly called and sworn by you.
Let each one then test his previous conduct and his condition according to God’s Word with heartfelt sighs for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
Also, as true spiritual priests, help one another to a right knowledge of himself, and let everyone allow himself to be helped to this end. Confess then to God your deviations from His Holy Word with remorse and a stricken heart, and comfort yourselves against your sins with the sweet promises of divine grace in Christ, given to all repentant sinners. Let no one here wait on another. Begin, each one, with himself, without first consulting with flesh and blood.
Oh, if we would do that, then the plan which Satan has in mind, to fight through this war against our salvation, and to cheat us through the same, would be foiled. Because when God strikes, and one feels it; when God plagues, and one amends, then God repents of all the evil that He had thought to do to us; the pain will turn into medicine, the misfortune to good fortune and the bloody war itself to means of, if not temporal, still spiritual and eternal peace.
But because God alone can give the willing and the doing, alone can give grace and peace, temporal and eternal salvation to any individual and to whole peoples, let us, in closing, cast ourselves on our knees, and call upon God together for us and our people, for the whole Christian Church, and the whole redeemed world, as we sing the indicated hymn of prayer, no. 368: Kyrie eleison.
 Luther’s translation.
 Daniel 4:17, Luther’s translation: Solches ist im Rat der Wächter beschlossen und im Gespräch der Heiligen beratschlaget…KJV: This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.
 Exodus 15:3 (Luther’s translation: Der Herr ist der rechte Kriegesmann.)
 Psalm 46:10 (Luther’s translation: Der den Kriegen steuert in aller Welt; der Bogen zerbricht, Spiesse zerschlaegt, und Wagen mit Feuer verbrennt.)
 Revelation 6:8 (Luther’s translation: Und siehe, und ich sah ein fahl Pferd, und der daraufsaß, des Name hieß Tod, und die Hölle folgte ihm nach.)
 Psalm 46:9 (Luther’s translation: Kommt her, und schauet die Werke des Herrn, der auf Erden solch Zerstoeren anrichtet…)
 i.e. the Litany.
St. Simon and St. Jude, apostles (School Matins)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 15:17-22
October 28, 2015
St. Simon and St. Jude were apostles of Jesus, two of His twelve hand-picked men. Since Jesus is the king and Lord of all the earth, you’d think that all of the twelve men He specially picked to be His witnesses to all the earth would be famous. But they’re not. Most of the apostles we know next to nothing about. Of St. Simon and St. Jude we have only their names in the Scriptures, except for one verse about St. Jude, which we’ll get to later. Not a lot to remember them by. Tradition says that Jude and Simon went together on a missionary journey—where, we’re not sure—an d they had their heads cut off with an axe. But we can’t be sure about that either.
There is one passage that tells us a little more about St. Jude, in John chapter 14, verse 22. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’” What we know for sure about St. Jude is only this—at least at one point, he was disappointed by Jesus. See, Jude along with all the disciples had seen Jesus manifest His divine power and glory. He had seen Jesus raise the dead. He had seen Him silence the wind and the waves with a word. He had seen Jesus do countless other miracles and had come to believe that Jesus was not just a great man, not just a prophet, but God in human flesh. And Jude thought, “Jesus, if You would just manifest Your glory to the world, the whole world would come running to You. Then everything the prophets said about peace on earth would come true!” But it turned out Jesus was not going to manifest Himself that way to the world. He was going to manifest Himself by being lifted up, broken and bloodied and pierced, on the cross. He would show Himself to the world as the One who would be covered with all the world’s shame and sin. He would expose Himself as the One who bears the anger of God against the sins of the world. And when the world saw its God, stretched out on the cross, crushed by the wrath of God, it would not accept Him. It would reject Him, cast Him away, say, “We want nothing to do with this Jesus.”
When Jude asked Jesus why He was not going to reveal Himself to the world, Jesus had this to say to Jude’s disappointment: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:23-24)
This is the painful lesson that Jude had to learn from Jesus. And it is one that Jesus teaches all His disciples through disappointment, pain, and loss. Jesus did not come into the world to force people to believe in Him through the manifestation of His glory. He will come to those who love Him and make His home with them. But He will not force anyone to believe. He will not force anyone to believe that God became one of us and came not with glorious majesty and spiritual excitement but in the form of a slave to become sin for us.
That means the world is not going to come flocking to the Church and to us. It means that those who go out preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified, like St. Simon and St. Jude, will get the same thing Jesus got. The world doesn’t love faithful witnesses to Jesus. If you go out into the world armed only with your confession of Jesus—that He died for our sins on the cross, and He alone is the way to the Father, the world will hate you. If you came with miracles or spiritual excitement, the world might respect that. But come only with Jesus the Crucified? The world will hate you and call you insane. “What is a crucified man going to do for us? Don’t you have something better than that?” So shouts the world at us. So it shouted at St. Simon and St. Jude, until it stopped shouting and grabbed (so they say) an axe.
But we have something better than miracles, spiritual excitement, and the approval of the world. We, like St. Simon and St. Jude, have Jesus’ word comforting us, telling us we are His own. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (St. John 15:18-19) Jesus chose us as His own out of the midst of a world that is lost and doomed to eternal wrath.
How did He choose you? He chose you before the world began, but in time He called you to be His own through the Holy Gospel. He called you to believe that Christ crucified is the true God. In His rejection by the world on the cross He reconciled you to God. And then by His lowly means of water joined to His Word in Baptism, He claimed you, came to you and made His dwelling with you. And so the world responds to us as it did to Jesus. A few hear Jesus’ Word. Most reject and hate it.
That’s why Jesus’ Church always lives a tenuous existence, on the fringe of the world. She doesn’t have allies in the world, because she belongs to Jesus. But she, the Church, is rich and glorious, though her treasure and glory are not seen by the world or even by our own eyes. The world may hate her. She may seem weak, helpless, and crucified, just like her Lord. But her Lord, the Son of God, dwells in her members. He was crucified in weakness but was raised from the dead in glory, never to die again, and seated at the right hand of the Father. And so all who remain with Jesus’ Word. They die, but behold, He will raise them again and seat them with Himself at God’s right hand to reign with Him over all His enemies.
So St. Simon and St. Jude never got the praise of the world. Even in the Church on earth we hardly remember them. But through their preaching and their blood the kingdom of Christ has come to us. And because it is among us, because we believe that Jesus shed His blood for us, He makes His home with us and has prepared a home for us at the Father’s right hand. We probably won’t be remembered or loved by the world for believing in Jesus and serving Him with our lives on earth. The nations probably won’t flock to us. But we belong to the eternal Son of God. He chose us out of the world. He bought us with His blood. There is more glory in that than there is in the whole fallen world.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 17:11-19
November 27, 2014
This is a day of public thanksgiving to God, appointed by our government. It hearkens back to a day when, although there was no established religion, there was a shared belief in the triune God that united nearly all the people in our country.
We are, or should be, glad to have the opportunity provided by our government to have a special day of thanksgiving to God for all His benefits. Giving thanks to God is the joy, the high point of a Christian’s life.
We should realize, though, that true thanksgiving to God is a rare thing. We can’t just take for granted that people can thank God, that they know how. True thanksgiving to God, thanksgiving that is acceptable to God, is not a work that people can do out of their own natural powers. True thanksgiving that God accepts is a work of God in us.
On this day of thanksgiving, very few people make any serious effort to give thanks to God, even though He surely deserves the thanks of every citizen of our country. He does so much for everyone, even evil people, as the Small Catechism says. In the past year He has faithfully provided all the citizens of our country relative peace and security. Our government, while full of failings and sins and far from perfection, provides security and order better than that enjoyed by most nations on earth. In the past year God has guarded us from danger and protected us from so many evils that the devil would have liked to inflict on our body and property.
Yet most people this day will make little or no effort to thank God for these gifts. To most people it is a day off from work, a day to feast, a day to see family—but not a day to thank and praise God.
There will be a few to try to give thanks to God today. But most of them will not know who the true God is whom they thank. To many people in our country He is just some nameless being whose name is on our money. He wants people to be good and takes almost everyone to heaven when they die. Most people don’t know the true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so they can’t give thanks to Him.
On this thanksgiving day, may God help us to learn what true thanksgiving is, so that we may offer it with joy to our Father in heaven not only today, but always!
Today our Lord teaches us true thanksgiving through a leper, a man horribly disfigured by a disease that turns a person into a walking corpse. We find his story recorded in the Gospel reading for today, from Luke chapter 17.
First of all, we see the lepers’ thanksgiving began with their great need.
–Our great need
–Only God’s powerful hand keeps us alive, healthy, and prosperous. We have nothing in ourselves. Our lives depend on God.
–We have a grave disease—the wasting disease of sin, which makes us as needy as the lepers even if we can’t feel or see it.
–It brings down God’s wrath upon us.
Secondly, the leper believed with the others that Christ would help Him.
–where he got that faith. (the word. Jesus’ power to heal, his kindness to the desperate).
–true thanksgiving comes from faith in Jesus; we believe the message that He has cured us from the leprosy of sin by His death on the cross
Thirdly, his faith was tested.
–How? Jesus didn’t say, “You are healed,” but just, “Go to the priests.” They had to trust Him.
–Jesus tells us that all of God’s favor is turned toward us, but then in our lives we experience weakness and suffering.
–we don’t feel God’s favor, and we have to trust and believe that He has healed us of sin and that He will give us what we need; what we ask for or something better.
Fourthly, after he was tested, God gave joy to his soul.
–the leper experienced cleansing from leprosy.
–after the time of testing, where God seems to withdraw His favor from you, He will comfort you again; if we hold fast to His promise that He has forgiven your sins and will give you everything else good. Romans 8.
–Until finally He comforts you with everlasting life.
The joy of his heart overflowed from his lips in praise to Jesus Christ.
–the other lepers acted as if Jesus didn’t do it.
–sometimes Jesus helps people and they forget and think they did it themselves.
–but true thanksgiving recognizes Jesus as the giver, recognizes that God gives us every good thing through and on account of His Son, Jesus Christ.
True thanksgiving comes from faith in Jesus Christ, and God makes our thanksgiving increase and abound through the testing of our faith. Through the testing of our faith we are taught not to rely on ourselves for anything, but only on Jesus and His Word.
So, if you are undergoing tribulation now, thank Jesus in the midst of it. Through it HE strengthens your faith to trust in His goodness even when you don’t feel or experience it.
Through this testing He will strengthen your faith so that you will come to the highest good—His everlasting presence. Then there will be no more testing and you will give thanks to Him forever.
Let us give thanks for all His benefits to us—our eyes, ears, and all our members, etc.
Let us give thanks for His help in the past and for the assurance that He will do so in the future, that “we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Let us give thanks for Jesus Christ, in whom we have perfect healing, and in whom all things are ours.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 6:14-29; Revelation 6:9-11, Romans 6:1-5
August 28, 2014
Men may hold power, but women often guide their hands. Wasn’t Adam the head of Eve? Then why did he follow her into sin?
And the women in the story of John the Baptist’s death have great influence over the powerful man Herod. Herodias plays Herod like a fiddle. She uses her charm to make herself queen, even though she was the wife of Herod’s brother. She uses her daughter’s charm to get the head of John the Baptist for telling them it’s wrong.
But the same power of influence that these women use for sin and death, other women in the bible use for righteousness and life. Women teach the disciples what it is to worship Jesus—one woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair. Another woman breaks open her alabaster box of perfume to anoint Jesus for his burial. It is the women who follow Jesus to the cross, and the women who go out early in the morning to anoint His body.
It is your task to adorn the altar. That may seem like a mundane task. Humanly speaking, it would have looked like a mundane task to go out and anoint the body of Jesus in the tomb. Dressing the altar is mundane and yet has divine significance. The altar is the focal point of the church, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross. It is the place from which we are fed and given drink of His holy body and blood. This is where Jesus comes to us in His body. It is the place where His sacrifice on Golgotha meets the people of this congregation, where sin parched lips are touched by the Holy One who was crucified.