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You Strike Them, But They Feel It Not. Day of Supplication and Prayer, 2016.

September 15, 2016 Leave a comment

the-prophet-jeremiah-michaelangeloDay of Supplication and Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Jeremiah 5:3 [Revelation 1:9-20]

September 14, 2016

“You strike them, but they feel it not.”

 

[Outline borrowed from Walther’s “Busstagpredigt” in Brosamen]

[The sermon was long—about 28 minutes.  But it wasn’t as long as this manuscript; part of it was in outline form and I fleshed it out.]

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

What is a day of supplication and prayer, or a day of humiliation and prayer?  It is a service set apart for public confession and repentance, and for prayer for God to help us in our distress.  The prophet Joel called for such a day in the reading we just heard: Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly, gather the people…between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.”  (Joel 2:15, 17)

 

Joel called this “solemn assembly” in response to a calamity that was coming on the people of Israel—a plague of locusts which would cause a massive famine.  And so many people would say, “This is not something for the Church to be doing in the 21st century.  People don’t want to have a public service to mourn their sins and pray for God to spare them.  That kind of thing doesn’t help get members—it drives people away.”

 

The people who say or think that are at least partly right.  It’s true that what we’re doing here today definitely doesn’t appeal to many people who are looking for a church.  It hasn’t for some time.  The day of supplication and prayer or humiliation and prayer is not something new in the Lutheran Church.  If you look in the old red hymnal you’ll find it there.  Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve met any Missouri Synod Lutherans who can remember their church having such a service.  Even though they had annual services of repentance and prayer in Germany into the 20th century, I don’t know how common they were in America.

 

However, there was at least one Lutheran Church that had this kind of service each year at least until around 1880—Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis Missouri.  This was the church pastored by C. F. W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri.  And to prepare to preach to you on this day I read a sermon that He preached in his congregation in 1863.

 

His text for the sermon was Jeremiah 5:3, which says: O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?  You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction.  They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.

 

As I preach to you on the basis of this word of God I will be following the theme and outline of Dr. Walther’s sermon, which he preached at the height of the civil war.  Because although we think the world has changed so much since 1863, or 800 B.C., when Joel lived, certain things have not changed very much at all.

 

The Triune God still rules the earth.  And He is not an “idle spectator” of what goes on here.  Just as in the Bible, He looks from where He sits enthroned…on all the inhabitants of the earth…and observes all their deeds.  (Psalm 33:14-15)  And just as in the Scripture, God punishes and chastens nations and groups of people in His wrath—not only in eternity, but also in this life.  That is what the verse from Jeremiah is talking about, only the people that God punished in Jeremiah’s day did not feel his punishment, did not repent and turn to God.  Walther preached to his congregation in 1863 that the same thing was happening to the people of America, and what was true in Walther’s day is still true in ours.

 

Theme: Jeremiah’s two-fold lamentation applies to us and to our congregation.

+ The lamentation “You strike them down.”

+The lamentation, “They do not feel it.”

 

++

 

  1. How we know it’s God that has stuck both our country and our congregation; how we know it’s because of our sins

Walther preached in 1863 that God had struck America down in His wrath.  The civil war, which had already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives at that point, was God’s anger being poured out on the United States because of its sin and rebellion.

 

This is not a kind of sermon I have ever heard preached in my lifetime, except maybe by the Westboro Baptist Church when it holds up signs outside the funerals of soldiers saying, “God hates America.”

 

We don’t hear these sermons anymore, but they are all over the Bible.  Did God stop punishing nations?  He didn’t.  We still confess that we deserve God’s “temporal” or “present” punishment.  Temporal punishment refers to wars, natural disasters, famines, plagues—events that bring death and suffering to nations and communities.

 

What Walther preached in 1863 is true today.  God has punished our country in our lifetime.  When the twin towers exploded and fell to the ground, killing thousands—God struck us.  When the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal in the United States, and in the 45 years since 60 million of our babies were murdered—God struck us.  As we watch the American family collapse and children grow up missing a parent or with parents never married, we are watching God’s hand strike our country.  Even if these things haven’t happened to you, they affect you.

 

But how do we know God is responsible for these things?  Don’t they happen because of people’s sin, or because of natural forces and laws?

 

The Scripture tells us that God is in control over everything.  He doesn’t cause sin, but no sinner can do the evil in his heart unless God permits it.  Jesus tells us that a sparrow doesn’t fall from the sky without the Father in heaven.  More specifically, we hear from the prophet Amos, “Does evil befall a city unless the Lord has done it?”  (Amos 3:6)

 

Jesus does tell us to be careful about making judgments about a person when something bad happens to them.  When a tower fell on some people in Jerusalem and killed them, Jesus said, Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no: but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  (Luke 13:5)  Jesus says—that didn’t happen to them because they were worse sinners than everyone else.  Nevertheless, it happened because they were sinners.  So the Christian response to any tragedy is to recognize God’s hand in it, and to allow it to cause us to repent.

 

But God has not only struck our country.  He has also struck our church.  Can anyone say otherwise?

 

Is it an accident that our church has declined since the seventies?  Is it an accident that, during my time here at least, St. Peter has been racked by division?  And the closure of the school—do we think God didn’t know how to keep it open, even in a bad neighborhood, even in a time of people falling away from the Church?  Is God bound by the rules of sociology?  Is He only able to save those who seem likely to us to accept the Gospel?  Is it too hard for Him to work in the hearts of people that belong to different ethnic groups, socio-economic groups?  He oHe And our recent hugely expensive repairs?  Is all this an accident?

 

No, God has struck us with His rod.

  1. Why has God struck America and St. Peter?

 

There are things that God doesn’t reveal to us.  His secret judgment on individuals and nations is not something we are given to know—whom He has predestined to salvation.  And if we aren’t prophets we can’t say that God has decided to give the United States of America over to destruction for this or that reason.  Whether He has or not, He alone knows.  He may yet grant America time to repent.

 

What we can acknowledge, when God strikes us, is the sins that are obvious in us that we know provoke His anger.  And if we are not certain, we can search the Scriptures, asking Him to enlighten us.  We can examine ourselves in the light of His Word.

 

When Walther preached in 1863, he pointed out how God had for decades blessed America, seeking to lead it to repentance and the knowledge of Him by His kindness.  He opened wells of prosperity, blessed her with civil and religious freedom, and made her a refuge for the downtrodden of the world.  But instead of acknowledging God as the giver of these gifts, the country boasted of its own enlightened intelligence, its strength, its wealth, and gave God’s glory to itself.  And so, in time, God let his anger fall on the United States, and sent the pale horse of war and its rider, with death and hell following after.

 

The situation is much the same today.  America has enjoyed incredible wealth and prosperity since the Second World War.  Even during the two great wars that ravaged the populations of Europe, American casualties were light in comparison.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union we became the world’s hegemon.  Even today most of the nations of the world dance to the tune played by the United States.  But the power, wealth, and prestige God gave to the United States was not paralleled by an increase in godliness and the knowledge of God.  Instead, despite a bump in church attendance after World War 2, Americans began to throw off moral restraint.  Divorce became common.  Fornication became normal.  In the name of equality and sexual liberation we justified the murder of the unborn.  Then, after the major challenger to our power in the world collapsed, we were shaken awake.  Somehow a handful of Islamic fanatics living in caves in Afghanistan succeeded in flying jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, claiming thousands of lives.  It became apparent that wealth and immense power was not enough to make the world into a liberal democratic Garden of Eden.  There was another power in the world with which we had to reckon.

 

It was a wake-up call.  And for a few months, maybe a few years Americans were shaken.  But not enough to turn to God, to listen to His Word, to trust Him above our billions, our stealth bombers, our assurance that “freedom” was the answer to all the problems of the world.  Not enough to repent of allowing our children to be dissected in the womb and then tossed into medical waste dumpsters.  And in a few years America became worse than it was before.  We not only didn’t turn back to God, but went on to embrace an evil that history has never seen before—the attempt to make homosexual relationships equal to the union of a man and woman in one flesh.

 

Since that time God does not seem to be striking us anymore, at least not with death and devastation.  Perhaps that is because, as Romans 1 suggests, God has given us up and is reserving us for utter and final destruction.  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.  Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men…Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them (Romans 1:26-27, 32).

 

And what about our congregation?  Why has God struck us?  That last verse from Romans—though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die—doesn’t apply just to sodomy.  Paul lists other sins: evil, covetousness, malice…envy…strife, deceit…they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful…disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless…(Romans 1:29-31)  Those vices that are common to the corrupt, sinful flesh, have not been absent among us, and they are sufficient to provoke God’s anger and sentence of death.  When we tolerate such sins in the Church and allow them to be practiced without rebuke, we should not imagine that God will allow them to go without His discipline.

 

But we have a much larger problem at St. Peter.  For many years, during the long ministry of  Erdmann Frenk and his son, God blessed St. Peter with many members.  3 services on Sunday were full.  Sunday school filled the entire gym with kids, as I’ve heard.  On Palm Sunday forty or fifty kids were confirmed each year for decades.

 

Then suddenly God took Erdmann to his reward.  Five years, to the distress of the congregation, He took Martin too.  And then, by all accounts, the congregation began to decline.  And during that thirty years of decline from 1975 until about 2005, much of the congregation forgot—if they ever knew—the pure doctrine of God’s Word.

 

People forgot the ten commandments.  They forgot that God commands us to gladly hear and learn His Word.  People stopped coming to church at all, or came inconsistently.  They forgot about the sixth commandment and remaining chaste until marriage.  They forgot about the fourth commandment and the obligation of parents to teach their children God’s Word.

They forgot the Apostles’ Creed, particularly the third article, which teaches that the Holy Spirit alone is able to bring a person to faith in Christ and preserve them in it, and that He does that through the preaching, hearing and reading of His Word.  They were offended to hear that much of what is taught by famous preachers and popular Christian books is antithetical to Christ’s teaching, in particular when they say that salvation comes as a result of the decision of a human will.  And they forgot that when the Holy Spirit brings a person to faith in Christ, He also brings them to the Holy Christian Church.  They forgot that the Church is not just a gathering of people who feel comfortable with each other, tied together by blood or likemindedness, but it is the congregation of those who hear, believe and confess only God’s pure word.

 

They forgot about the Office of the Keys, that God has given the church the authority to forgive the sins of repentant sinners and to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant, and as a result they forgot to practice church discipline and were offended that I started offering private absolution and exhorting people to make use of it.  Finally, they forgot about the Sacrament of the Altar, and that since we receive not only bread and wine but also the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus in our mouths at the altar, we have no authority either to replace the bread and wine with some other element, nor to give Christ’s body and blood to those whose faith we don’t know, or who have confessed another doctrine than Christ’s by becoming a member of a Church that deviates from His teaching.

 

And when it became clear that many people in the congregation had forgotten the teaching of God’s Word that this congregation had confessed and stood for in the past, did the congregation repent?  No.  Things went on just as before.  Most people did not take the opportunity to learn what they had forgotten.  They chose to go on eating donuts in the gym during bible class. Some became irritated when other services were held during the week.  Even tonight, when everyone who is here regularly heard me ask for everyone who is worried about the future of St. Peter to join with us tonight in confessing our sins and praying for God’s help for our congregation, ninety percent of the people who attend on Sunday declined.

 

God blessed St. Peter for many years under the ministry of the Frenks; but those blessings did not result in ongoing fruit in the lives of many of the people who were served by them.  Many have forgotten what those men taught and are not zealous to learn it again, nor to do everything in their power to ensure that it continues to be taught and proclaimed here to another generation.

 

We can’t know for sure if that is the reason why God’s rod has struck us.  Yet the fact that we have been knocked down by His blows should move us to recognize these things and ask for grace.

 

++

Walther preached to his congregation that the worst part of Jeremiah’s lament is not that God had struck the country; the worst thing is the second part:  “they do not feel it” or “they refused to take correction.”  Despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the crippling of many more, despite all the souls that had been snatched suddenly and cast into hell, and the others whose faith had been snuffed out by the passions elicited by the war, America did not “feel” God’s punishment.  They felt the pain of lost business, lost loved ones, lost limbs, lost property.  But they did not feel the reality that it was God who had struck them down, who was angry with them.  They saw only the enemy government as the cause of the evils they were experiencing.

 

Our country hasn’t changed.  Faced with crippling national debt, moral chaos, polarization between “red” and “blue” America that approaches the animosity between the North and South prior to the civil war, Americans almost unilaterally agree that the instability in our country is caused by bad politics.  We continue to be confident that prosperity and happiness would come to our country if it weren’t for the left controlling the media and universities, or bitter gun-toting Bible-thumping hillbillies wanting to oppress people.  And any problems not caused by bad politics are just a matter of researching and applying the right technique or the right program.  There are very few people who would take seriously any suggestion that the reason the United States seems to be teetering on the brink of economic collapse or social disruption is because God is against us.  God has struck the nation, but the nation does not feel it; it refuses to receive correction.  It has made its face as hard as rock and refuses to repent.

 

Dear God!  How awful it is to think that same hardness is present in our church!  And yet how else can we explain it?  Everyone sees the congregation on the brink of death.  Yet people continue to tell themselves and each other: “Well, the bad neighborhood we’re in drives people away.  Besides, this is happening to all the churches and schools all over the Synod.  And what can we do?  The young people like the informality of the non-denominational churches—their parking lots are always full.  And, you know, there are all these activities on Sunday that there didn’t used to be, and people often have to work then.”  And so on.  Not that these things aren’t real—clearly they are!

 

But they are all ways of evading the reality that God has done this.  We are on the point of death because God has struck us.  God made a dry scrub brush in the middle of the desert burn without going out until Moses came over to see what was going on.  Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee; He commanded a storm to be still.  In the reading from Revelation He appeared to John on the isle of Patmos with a voice like a trumpet, like the sound of many waters.  His eyes were like fire, and His face like the sun in its full strength, and out of His mouth came a double-edged sword.  He was walking among the candlesticks—that is, the Churches.  The sound of His voice and the terrifying beauty of His appearance are the reflections of His glory that He put on in His resurrection.  All the fullness of God dwells in His body (Colossians 2); He has ascended to sit on the throne of God, from which He reigns over the earth.  But He is in the midst of the churches, including ours.  The sword of His mouth had the power to cut open the kingdom of the antichrist through the preaching and teaching of one monk in a backwater German university.  It had the power to convert this congregation from a heterodox bunch of German immigrants who didn’t know what “Lutheran” meant into a congregation that confessed the Bible as God’s inerrant word  and the Book of Concord as a faithful exposition of the Word of God.  It has the power to drive out Satan from a person’s heart, to pierce our hearts of stone so that they become hearts of flesh.  This Lord Jesus is more than powerful enough to preserve this congregation in the midst of a bad neighborhood and in the midst of rising irreligiosity among young people.

 

But He has not done this.  Instead He has struck us.  He has permitted division and contention to weary the congregation; He has sent us huge building repairs we don’t know how to pay; he has allowed children and young families to disappear from the Church.  But we don’t feel it.  We haven’t taken correction.  We see no need to interrupt our routines.  I have heard people express the thought that they have heard everything I preach to them a long time ago.  “We know this already,” our actions seem to say.  It’s the furthest thing from most of our members’ minds that God is striking us with His rod, that He is displeased with us.

 

But you are here tonight.  So maybe I’m talking to the wrong people.  But no; how often we tell ourselves that because we are doing better than others we have no further need of repentance and growth!  But that is what just about everyone tells themselves.  “Well, sure, I don’t give ten percent of my income, and I don’t go to bible class, but I do go to church just about every week.”  “Well, sure, I don’t go to church every week, but I go a lot more than most people do; most people I know don’t go to church at all.”

 

That’s not the standard.  You no longer need to repent when you are fully in the image of Christ.  But if you have not yet shared in His sufferings completely and become like Him in His death (Philippians 3:9-10), if you have not already obtained this and become perfect (Phil 3:12), you are still in need of repentance and of pressing on to make it [perfection in Christ] your own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [pressing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3: 12-14).  We also have often been negligent in hearing, reading, and growing in the knowledge of Christ’s Word.

 

Even more, we are also immature in Christ, and lack the love that would drive us on to ensure that we not only learn His Word, but teach it to others.  To proclaim the Gospel to people who don’t believe, to seek out the people who learned the Word of God but fell away, to struggle to ensure that God’s Word is kept pure in the congregation—all of this results in opposition and hostility, both from people and from the devil.  So we often keep quiet.  Or we start to proclaim the Gospel to others and then fall back when it becomes difficult.  This, too, is sin that provokes God’s anger.  And when we become comfortable with failing to confess, teach, and witness to God’s Word, the sloth and lethargy can kill our spiritual life just as well as outright rebellion against God’s Word.

  1. Results of not repenting.

 

Walther told his congregation that their sin was that the spirit of the world had made inroads into the congregation.  Instead of praying and wrestling for the salvation of their neighbors during the war, many of the congregation had adopted the thinking of the world.  Instead of seeing the civil war as God’s judgment on the country, many of these German immigrants, who opposed slavery, had allowed their thinking to be directed by the atheistic philosophy fed to them in the newspapers.  They saw the war as birthpangs of a utopia that would arise when “equality” reigned in the land.

 

This should sound familiar to us.  How little America has changed in 150 years, despite appearances!  The media was advancing a philosophy that was—unbeknownst to many American citizens—essentially opposed to the teaching of Scripture.  The religious hope it preached was “equality”—the same hope that in recent years has brought us homosexual “marriage”, transgender bathrooms, the execution of police officers.

 

“Equality” doesn’t sound like an evil philosophy.  It sounds right and good—who would be opposed to people being treated equally?  Doesn’t God want that?

 

But that’s just the point.  When our minds are directed by the spirit of the world and by our own reasoning, moral or otherwise, we are easily led away from God.  Walther told his congregation that by not being directed by God’s inerrant word, they had been led away from Christ.  Instead of praying for their neighbors, seeking their salvation, telling them the truth, they confirmed their neighbors in their error and were caught in it themselves.  God, of course, made all human beings from one man.  We are all equally God’s creation, all equally subject to God’s Law and judgment, all equal participants in the sin of the first man.  And we have all been equally redeemed by the death of God’s Son in order that we may all have a share in eternal life.

 

Yet God also created people unequal.  Some are smarter than others; some are born with more wealth.  Some are born into Christian homes.  Men have been appointed by God the head of their wives and their families; He has also given them leadership in the Church, while to women He has given the ability to bear, birth, and nurse children, and to influence children, husbands and other men not by authority but by nurture, gentleness, and submission.  God gave rulers and judges the authority to bear the sword in His name and the authority to rule and punish, and He commands those under their authority to be subject to them.  In the church, God has given the authority to preach His Word and administer the sacraments only to those He has called.  So “equality” sounds like a noble, moral cause.  Yet when in the name of “equality” or any other noble idea people oppose God’s Word and His order, they are not being led by Christ’s Spirit but by the spirit of the world.

 

So Walther concluded by telling his congregation that this worldliness was like a worm gnawing through the core of the congregation.  If the congregation did not repent and return to the unerring Word of God, he said, it might retain the external form of a right-believing congregation, but it would be a hollow shell.  They would have the name of being alive and yet be dead.

 

The same words apply to us.  Our congregation has learned to think of “church” in a very worldly way.  It has forgotten that the life of the church is God’s Word; it has come to believe that a bare minimum of Christian doctrine is enough of God’s Word because, while it may be necessary for us to keep the name doctrine, God’s Word is not the power that keeps the Church alive.  It has forgotten that a limited Word of God is not God’s Word at all.  If it is God’s Word, then He will not allow it to be edited, limited, shortened, boiled down to what we think is essential.  We have forgotten that a church that has to submit to cultural expectations of what it ought to be in order to attract people is not Christ’s Church.  Christ doesn’t lead His church to a tasteful modern building in the suburbs with a full parking lot unless it is on the way to Golgotha.  We have forgotten that a personal piety that is merely formal and traditional is dead.  A piety that says, “I will go to church on Sunday morning for an hour.  But no one can demand anything more than that of me” is not a living Christianity.  A Christian believes in Christ and follows Christ.  If tradition says, “You only have to learn the catechism when you’re fourteen and then you’re done,” and Christ says, “No, I want you to learn more,” a Christian gladly receives what His Lord is giving.  If tradition says, “Lutherans don’t do private confession,” and it turns out tradition is wrong—and moreover, that there is a gift to be received there from Jesus, namely the forgiveness of sins—a Christian forsakes tradition and goes to receive from Jesus.

 

The worm has eaten deeply into the core of our congregation.  We do retain the form of a confessional Lutheran congregation; we require our pastors to swear that they believe and will teach according to those confessions.  Our congregation’s constitution says that the doctrine of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions is an unalterable article; if we want to change our confession of faith, we will have to disband as a congregation first.  Yet few remember what those confessions even are; few remember what they say, and few are willing to be taught.

 

We are already, largely, a shell.  Whether the spiritual life that remains among us will endure at all depends on God alone, as it always has.  And whether God will expel the worms and cause what remains to thrive in this place—that too depends only on God.

 

But to think that He will preserve our congregation without repentance is a false hope.

 

  1. How we should repent.

Ninety percent of those who attend each week are not here tonight.  You cannot cause them to repent.  You can pray for them and speak God’s Word to them when the opportunity presents itself.  But everyone else’s repentance is finally in the hands of God.

 

Repentance in the congregation can only happen if individuals repent.  Each one of us needs to examine our lives in the light of God’s Word, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us where we ourselves have failed to hear the Word and to bear the fruit of repentance.  How have I been part of the reason for God striking St. Peter?

 

Then we can begin to help one another see our faults, and be willing to accept this exhortation and rebuke from one another.  It is unpleasant to think about this if you have experienced criticism from people in the Church, particularly if it was harsh or unloving, but it is possible that many times that criticism was actually the voice of God rebuking you, calling you to repentance.

 

And if in the course of this self-examination you are overcome by grief or a sense of the greatness of your sin and guilt, an awareness that you contributed to the suffering and decline of this congregation, take to yourself God’s certain promise of grace and forgiveness that He gives to repentant sinners.  He never says that He will cast off the person with a broken heart, a contrite spirit, who is broken over his sins.  Rather, God says, “If we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin…If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteus.  He is the propitiation for our sins.” ( 1 John 1-2)  Take your grief to God in confession and comfort yourself with His promise of absolution.  Or still better, confess your sin privately to me and the Lord will speak His absolution to you through me.  And if that is too difficult, confess to someone else who will declare God’s pardon to you.

 

  1. Result of repentance.

Repentance is never pleasant at the time, but God always follows it with great comfort and great blessings.

 

Repentance will undo the devil’s work at St. Peter, and turn God’s judgment and punishment into healing.  The pain will be turned into joy.

 

It may not result in everything we desire.  It may not result in St. Peter  being renewed and flourishing again, or even remaining here another generation.

 

But it will be a work of God in us that will endure.  The fruit of repentance may be refreshment for other sinners in need of repentance who are being stricken by God and do not feel it.  It may be something else.  But it will certainly be this—a greater love for the treasure of Christ’s word, an ear more open to the voice of Jesus, followed by a heart more open to Him and others and more full.  Finally, its fruit will be eternal life, when we who have been gathered together in Him here will be gathered together again in Him with the great congregation at the wedding feast, the feast of victory, the feast of joy, when there will be no more need for repentance and when the Lord Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

  1. Acknowledging God as the giver of repentance.

But this gift of repentance and the consolation and exceedingly great joy that follows from it is a gift that can only be given by God.  Therefore we bow our knees before Him tonight to confess our sins, to receive His absolution that unchains us from all our sins, and to call on Him to grant His mighty power to work repentance in our congregation and in its members who have fallen away, as well as to many others who have never known our Lord who was stricken by God for our offenses and felt the anguish of those stripes to deliver us from the bonds of our sins.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Prayer to Christ Jesus about His Appearing on the Last Day

July 2, 2014 2 comments

This prayer was written in the 1600s, but it sounds like someone wrote it yesterday.  From the Gebets-Schatz.

last judgmentPrayer to Christ Jesus about His Appearing on the Last Day

Lord Jesus Christ, though no one knows the hour of your appearing, not even the angels in heaven, but only the Father, who has reserved it for His power—still there will be an end to this world and its form will pass away.  You will come with flames of fire to take vengeance on those who do not know You, God, and are not obedient to Your gospel.  And so that we do not doubt this, You have allowed faithful hearts to know the signs of Your appearing and identified them.  The world is now pregnant with these signs, giving certain proof that the end of all things is near.  Great signs happen in the sun, moon, and the stars, which fall from heaven and lose their light.  One hears of wars and rumors of wars.  One nation is incensed with another and kingdom rises against kingdom.  There are earthquakes in various places.  It is a time of rising prices and famine.  Unrighteousness more and more gets the upper hand.  The brotherly love of many has grown cold.  The times are so terribly wicked that the people are fearful and anxious.  They faint and almost perish because of the tribulation and distress that is in the world.

In the church many people have risen up who speak perverted doctrine and falsify Your Word, and Your Word must still endure being called heresy by many.  In the secular government power often passes for righteousness.  Right is turned into gall and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood; evil is called good and good evil, black must be called white.  In the household estate is great unfaithfulness, disobedience, disunity, discord, quarreling, and strife.  Even though everyone in common leads a godless life, no one regards it as sinful.  These are all signs of the approach of the last day.

Since these are all now hanging before our eyes, graciously help us, Lord, that we take it to heart, and not be secure, or be rash and have our lamps fail like the foolish virgins.  Grant instead that we always be brave and pray, do good and not grow weary, that we might thereby escape Your strict judgment and sentence, and might be worthy to stand before Your holy face, when You will come in the clouds with great power and glory, and send Your angels to gather Your elect from the four winds, and from the end of the earth to the end of the heavens.  Lord, we wait daily for Your salvation.  Come now, O Lord Jesus.  Make an end of all our misery and take us poor wretches, together with all believers, to paradise.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen.  Georg Schimmer, 1652-1695

The New Elect–The Politically-Correct Class

April 9, 2014 1 comment

puritanshttp://www.american.com/archive/2014/february/the-post-protestant-ethic-and-spirit-of-america

from “The Post-Protestant Ethic and Spirit of America” by Joseph Bottum

…We live in what can only be called a spiritual age, swayed by its metaphysical fears and hungers, when we imagine that our ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but actually evil. When we assume that past ages, and the people who lived in them, are defined by the systematic crimes of history. When we suppose that some vast ethical miasma, racism, radicalism, cultural self-hatred, selfish blindness, determines the beliefs of classes other than our own. When we can make no rhetorical distinction between absolute wickedness and the people with whom we disagree. The Republican Congress is the Taliban. President Obama is a Communist. Wisconsin’s governor is a Nazi.

Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_CooperWe live in a spiritual age when we believe ourselves surrounded by social beings of occult and mystic power, when we live with titanic cultural forces contending across the sky, and our moral sense of ourselves, of whether or not we are good people, of whether or not we are redeemed, takes its cues primarily from our relation to those forces. We live in a spiritual age when the political has been transformed into the soteriological, when how we vote is how we are saved.

Our world is filled with bastard Christianities, on both the Left and the Right. It is populated by Christian moral ideas set loose from the churches and the theological dogmas that once contained and controlled them. Victimhood, the all-American cult of niceness, the merging of social classes with social politics, they all derive in their way from what the novelist Flannery O’Connor once mocked as the Church of Christ without Christ.

For example, there’s a very interesting debate going on in some French intellectual circles about whether political correctness could possibly occur in any culture that wasn’t formerly Christian. Or perhaps even clearer, think of environmentalism. It is commonplace among conservative commentators to point out the ways in which environmentalism sometimes acts as though it were a religion, rather than a political or social view. But few of those commentators pursue the thought down to the actual worldview, which is almost definitively the Church of Christ without Christ.

This is a Christian story, a supernaturally charged history that would have been familiar to Augustine and Anselm. We have an Eden, a paradise of nature, until the fall, which was the emergence of sentient human beings as polluters, injuring the world as the world was meant to be. We have a long era of progressive damage, all aiming toward the apocalypse – the final injuring of the world beyond repair. Strong environmentalism offers, in essence, St. Augustine’s dark worldview without any grace or redemption for human beings. Environmentalism offers, in essence, Christianity without Christ.

The real question, of course, is how and why this happened. How and why politics became a mode of spiritual redemption for nearly everyone in America, but especially for the college-educated upper-middle class, who are probably best understood not as the elite, but as the elect, people who know themselves as good, as relieved of their spiritual anxieties by their attitudes toward social problems.

46 Percent of Americans Have Not Recanted Gay Marriage Heresy….(yet.)

April 9, 2014 1 comment

The purge of gay-marriage heretics begins

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-purge-of-gay-marriage-heretics-begins/14901#.U0X56cJOXug

 

“Some gay-marriage proponents also argue that the issue is unique, and opposition should be considered beyond the pale of social acceptance – seeking to dismiss Eich and others is therefore perfectly reasonable. According to this view, being against gay marriage is like – pick your analogy – opposing inter-racial marriage, backing the KKK, espousing neo-Nazism, etc. But this logic doesn’t hold up. For a start, in a free society, the expression of such ideas, however odious, should be tolerated (and argued against). More to the point, these analogies are wildly off the mark as a way to describe how gay marriage is viewed in society. Today, according to Pew Research, 46 per cent of Americans are not in favour of gay marriage; are we to believe that these millions of people are the equivalent of KKK members who should not be tolerated? Barack Obama was opposed to gay marriage until 2012, and Hillary Clinton was against it until last year; were these two on a par with neo-Nazis until their recent conversions?”

” This will affect many other companies, including other tech companies in Silicon Valley, that want to ‘align with the values of their employees’. Ridiculous as it may seem, ‘Are you, or have you ever been, opposed to gay marriage?’ could become a litmus test.

False Flag in Syria? Srjda Trifkovic

The "black flag of jihad" as used by...

The “black flag of jihad” as used by various Islamic terrorist organizations (since the late 1990s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As if the Afghan blowback of the 1980s had never happened, as if the Iraqi debacle were ancient history, the Obama administration is about to involve the United States in yet another multi-faceted Middle Eastern conflict without good or bad parties, a civil war irrelevant to the welfare or security of the U.S. regardless of its outcome. The result can only be a minus-sum-game for America. If Bashar survives, the American prestige will suffer; but if the rebels prevail, Syria will become safe for jihad. As Milton Bearden, a CIA veteran who oversaw the covert program to arm the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets told Foreign Policy last June, the Obama administration should realize that if you arm the rebels, you are no longer in control. The U.S.-supplied weapons will end up in jihadist hands—with groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is active in Syria as the Jabhat al-Nusra. This is the group the Obama administration placed on the State Department’s list of “terrorist” organizations late last year. It is now the likely recipient of U.S. largesse as the best organized rebel group in Syria. – See more at: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2013/08/27/syria-a-classic-false-flag-atrocity/#sthash.snxCmVK1.dpuf

Weapons of Mass Destruction…reprise

kerry wmdBack in 2002 or 2003, I’d just started seminary.  I had an uneasy feeling about attacking Iraq, but I kept my mouth shut because I had no place to put the feeling politically.  I figured it must just be leftism leftover from all that time trying to be a poet.
But now I really regret that I didn’t stay with that uneasiness.  Not that it would have changed anything.  But I wish I would have said, “No, Saddam is a bad guy, but it’s better for him to be there than to give weapons and ammunition to al-Qaeda.”  How did the leaders of the country then not realize that taking Saddam out of power was more likely to result in al-Qaeda being funded and armed than leaving him there?
Then of course there was the minor inaccuracy that Saddam turned out not to have any chemical weapons.  Woops.
George W. Bush was idealistic.  He naively thought “American Democracy” could be transplanted to the Middle East, and that would solve the problem of al-Qaeda.
It’s too bad that he thought this way, since he is and was (by all reports) a Christian.  Essentially the strategy was to neutralize religion as a motivating force by introducing consumerism.  That is the Western model, right?  That’s how warring, passionate Christian sects have been tamed here.  So they thought it would work in the middle East too.
Anyway, it wasn’t quite that simple.
But Obama didn’t learn the lesson.  He still thinks that “American Freedom” is going to make life better in the middle east.  At least that’s what he says.
If anything he has ratcheted up Bush’s policies.  In the name of creating democracy in the Middle East he becomes the supporter of the folks we went into Iraq and Afghanistan to get rid of.  That was, remember, not Middle Eastern secularist dictators.  Assad and Hussein never had someone fly a jumbo jet into an American skyscraper.  It was Muslims.  Not all Muslims, but Muslims who believe that Islam obligates them to perpetrate terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the name of getting rid of the sources of such terrorism, Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  He supported the revolution in Libya which killed Qadafi and then turned around and killed the American ambassador.  Now he’s supporting the “freedom fighters in Syria” who are jihadis.  Those who aren’t will be just like the pro-democracy protestors in Egypt who were quickly thrown to the side after Mubarak was gone.
Common denominator between Syria and Egypt?  Massacre of Christians by opponents of the regime.  Of course the Christians in Egypt and Syria supported the dictators!  They knew the dictators were going to give them something more like equal rights under the law than they would get under Islamic law, which makes all unconverted “people of the book” second-class citizens who are subject to discrimination, extra taxes, limitations on who they can marry…etc.
Obama really does seem like he’s more intelligent than George Bush.  That’s why I can’t believe that he doesn’t know that he’s just pursuing George Bush’s Middle East policy more vigorously than George Bush did.
Even down to the weapons of mass destruction excuse again.  Come on, Mr. President!  As easily manipulated as Americans are (see my confession above), it’s going to be difficult to convince Americans using the same excuse again even with the media feeding us Pravda twenty-four hours a day.  Can it possibly be that the White House really believes this same story about weapons of mass destruction after the same story was used to bring us into Iraq?  Even if it’s true, shouldn’t an intelligent person automatically assume that it’s not?
Most politicians become dumb from being advised by experts who keep telling them what all the experts believe and from constantly responding to what the broad majority of their constituents believe.  They are incapable of having an original thought.  If they weren’t that way before they went to Yale they became that way in public life.  John Kerry is a great example.  Rumsfeld and George Bush Sr.  seem like Republican versions.  They’re company men and know how to advance quietly, or they’re public personalities.  But they only are as useful as the experts’ opinions are correct.
Others are just yokels and rednecks.  They may be blue collar, union yokels, like Biden.  They may be southern liberal yokels.  Or they may be true gun-toting right-wing yokels.  W. Bush was one of these.
Then there are politicians and cabinet members who actually seem intelligent.  Cheney seemed that way, but his cunning didn’t extend as far as world diplomacy.  Obama always seemed like an intelligent politician, but he has a different type of intelligence than a guy like Cheney.  Unfortunately, it’s a college boy sort of intelligence that is driven by ideal and ideology and not the way things work.  I think JFK was this way too.  Ego gets in there too and that clouds your judgment.
Maybe I’m wrong about the President, but that would only mean one of two things: he does see what’s going on clearly and he wants to aid and support al-Qaeda.  Or else he thinks that it is morally necessary or in America’s long-term interest to topple Mideast dictators and support popular sovereignty even when that means people vote in Islamic theocracies who are sympathetic toward jihad and terrorism.  The first is hard to believe.  The second, which seems more likely, is despite good intentions a complete misunderstanding of human nature.  It’s better to have a bloody tyrant run countries in the middle east than a cabal of religious zealots whose ultra ultra conservatism and willingness to die terrifies the rest of the populace into submission or silence.
It’s better to have an unprincipled tyrant running the country than a principled, committed, true believer who is wrong.  The Tsarnaevs were committed enough to kill and to die exchanging gunfire with cops when every law enforcement officer for miles around was actively searching for them.  The men in Iraq who made videos of themselves sawing off the heads of American contractors were principled, dedicated, and committed.  They truly believed their god was pleased and honored when they cut off people’s heads.
No, it’s better to have bloody corrupt dictators.  It’s more moral for us to not help principled jihadists overthrow corrupt tyrants.  Why?  Because the more principled and devoted you are to a mistaken cause, the more evil you will do.
That same principle applies to our leaders.  Better a corrupt, lying politician who rules prudently than a well-meaning, idealistic fanatic.
Here’s a liberal writer in the Washington post sheepishly admitting that Obama may have less evidence for his weapons of mass destruction pretext than Bush did.

The case for Syria may be worse than Iraq

By Alex Seitz-Wald, Published: August 30 at 10:07 am

A Code Pink demonstrator in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A Code Pink demonstrator in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

With Code Pink protesting outside the White House as the administration grows impatient with United Nations inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, it’s beginning to feel a bit like 2003 in Washington.

The Iraq War is casting a long shadow over a potential  Syria conflict, as even President Obama had to acknowledge. “[We’re] not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about,” Obama told PBS NewsHour Wednesday night.

But for all the fears of repeating Bush’s mistakes, Obama is taking the country to war in Syria from an arguably weaker position than Bush did with Iraq 10 years ago.

On public opinion alone, they are worlds apart (and this is a democracy, after all, so such things should matter). “Do you think that the United States should or should not take military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll asked two days before the bombing began in 2003. A clear majority, 65 percent, said yes, while just 30 percent said no.

Compare that to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning that found that 50 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, compared with 42 percent who support it. When asked if the U.S. should prioritize removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, just 16 percent of respondents said yes. Now even Republicans are turning against a potential attack, Nate Cohn noted.

Syria is a historical anomaly here as Americans have generally supported military intervention in recent years, from the humanitarian missions of the 1990s to the Bush wars of the 2000s, to the Libya campaign in 2011.

And while Bush’s “coalition of the willing” was a joke, at least he had the United Kingdom. Obama lost London yesterday when Parliament voted to oppose the war effort. “Gosh, it’s as if they’ve had some unpleasant experience working with the United States on an armed adventure in that part of the world,” Jonathan quipped. It was a major defeat, but the Obama administration is nonetheless preparing to go it alone, the New York Times reported:

Although administration officials cautioned that Mr. Obama had not made a final decision, all indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United Nations investigators charged with scrutinizing the Aug. 21 attack leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday.

“How very Bush-like. Or Bush-lite, I suppose,” Kevin Drum wrote.

Meanwhile, in Congress — and 79 percent of Americans told the NBC pollsters that Obama needs to get congressional approval to attack Syria — there’s mounting opposition to attacking Syria. Yesterday, 53 liberal Democrats sent a letter to President Obama saying that while the regime’s crimes are “horrific,” that alone “should not draw us into an unwise war.” That comes on top of the 140 members of Congress who signed on to a Republican letter cautioning against intervention.

It’s still entirely possible that a resolution to authorize force in Syria would get somewhere in the neighborhood of the 297 votes the Iraq resolution got in late 2002, but there’s hardly the same drumbeat for war coming from members of Congress that we saw back then.

And while the legal foundation for the Iraq war was shaky, at best, the justification for Syria is also pretty dubious. Jon Chait, who notes that he’s “predisposed to favor a punitive air strike against Syria,” explained:

The clearest justifications for military action don’t apply. This is not a case of self-defense, or defense of an ally, or the prevention of genocide. There is an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but Syria didn’t sign it, perhaps correctly calculating that it would one day need to use such weapons. We would be enforcing an informal norm against the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The sad irony here, Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ben Smith wrote at BuzzFeed today, is that many of the problems facing Obama’s war effort have their root in the failure in Iraq. “We’re now paying for the mistakes of George Bush and it hampers the United States’ ability to do something,” Howard Dean told BuzzFeed.

Fortunately, there seems to be little appetite in the White House for anything near the scale of Iraq  – “just muscular enough not to get mocked,” as an unnamed administration official said — so the actual consequences will never be as bad.

But while it’s infuriating that someone like Donald Rumsfeld is criticizing the White House for failing to justify a potential attack on Syria — it puts him in ”the Chutzpah Hall of Fame,” as Steve Benen wrote — it’s even more infuriating that Rumsfeld may be right.

Lamech and Revelation

Noah preparing the ark

In the Aggadah

Most of the legends about Lamech, the grandson of Cain, center around his killing of his grandfather. He was blind and when he went hunting, he was led by his young son Tubal-Cain, who would tell his father when game came in sight, so that Lamech could shoot at it with his bow and arrow. Once he aimed at some horned creature which Tubal-Cain thought to be a beast. In fact it was Cain, the “sign of Cain” being a horn in the forehead, and he killed him. In despair, Lamech smote his hands together inadvertently killing Tubal-Cain. After this incident his wives, Adah and Zillah, wanted to leave him on the ground that Cain’s descendants were doomed to annihilation. But Lamech argued, “If Cain who committed murder with malice aforethought, was punished only in the seventh generation, then, I who have killed inadvertently may hope that retribution will be postponed for 77 generations” (cf. Gen. 4:23). Lamech and his wives put their case to Adam who decided the case in favor of Lamech (Tanh. Gen. 11). According to another tradition, Lamech’s wives refused to have intercourse with him because they knew that a flood was to come and therefore they did not want to bear children. Whereupon Lamech answered “Cain was guilty of murder, yet judgment was suspended in his case for seven generations; for me who am guiltless of this crime, surely judgment will wait 77 generations” (Gen. R. 23:4). Lamech took one wife solely for sexual gratification, and the other for procreation (ibid. 23:2).”

from here:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0012_0_11781.html

I was trying to think of a theme for VBS, because me and someone else from our congregation were thinking we should just do our own–which is another story.  So I was thinking about the creation, fall, the curse on Adam and Eve, and the promise of the Savior.  This got me thinking about Adam and when he died.  Was he alive when Noah was born?  Answer–he was not.

I think this will be a fun thing to do if there is time, and it will be very good on a number of levels for the church.  The story of the creation is a story of law and fact, and once people start to view it as mythological, it means also that moral law is mythological.  Human beings’ intrinsic worth as having been created with dominion in the image of God is also lost.  Being male and female is also lost and becomes an accident of evolution, so that transgenderism is not a rejection of God who created you male or female, but instead a rejection of an order that could have just as easily gone in a different direction; we could have evolved as asexual beings–it wasn’t God’s will that we be male or female.

Answers in Genesis pointed this out a long time ago.  They are evangelicals, so I can’t praise other parts of their theology.  However, their understanding that waffling on the 1st chapters of Genesis really strips Christianity of its vitality by teaching us to place our faith partly on the Word of God and partly on our reason and senses–they are to be commended for this understanding, which too many Missouri Synod Lutheran pastors don’t have.

Anyway, doing a VBS that deals with creation will do good by teaching the story of creation and also by teaching the sacred account of the origin of human life and the institution of marriage.

As I was reading Genesis 5 and trying to figure out whether Adam was still alive when Adam was born, I noticed that Lamech from the line of Seth lived “777 years”.  This made me think about Revelation and the number of the beast’s name–666.  Then I started noticing some other parallels with the numbers in Genesis.  Noah is the 10th from Adam (in the line of Seth).  10 seems to correspond to “times and half a time” which comes up repeatedly both in Daniel and Revelation; also the church at Smyrna suffers tribulation for “10 days” from Satan.  The beast has “10 horns and 10 crowns.”  Then I noticed that the genealogy of Cain has seven generations, although several of the names are similar between Seth’s and Cain’s lines.  The seventh generation in Seth’s line is Enoch, who is taken to be with the Lord like Elijah.  The tenth generation is Noah, who has three sons–Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

In Cain’s genealogy, Lamech is the 7th from Adam.  He also has three sons: Jabal, Jubal, Tubal-Cain.  And he sings a song to his two wivesadah and zillah and lamech which ends “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”  So Cain’s Lamech does a better job of avenging than God apparently; but the numbers seem to parallel the age of Seth’s Lamech.  The number of Lamech’s vengeance (he claims): 777.  Then God takes vengeance.  One might read it as if Lamech is claiming that he will complete the vengeance God promised to Cain.  If that were so, then the flood would be God avenging Himself after “a little while”, “times and half a time”.  Noah has to endure the wickedness of the earth, but God delivers him after ” a little while;” there are seven generations to Lamech, but a few generations later (long generations, incidentally–it takes Methusaleh and Lamech from Seth’s line 180 years or so to have kids, significantly longer than preceding generations)–God floods the earth in His wrath.

Compare for yourself:

Revelation 13:18 (KJV) “Here is wisdom.  Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

Genesis 5:28-32 (KJV) “And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son:  And he called his name Noah (i.e. Rest, or Comfort), saying, ‘This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.’  And Lamech lived after he begat Noah five hundred ninety and five years, and begat sons and daughters:  And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died.  And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

Genesis 4:19-24 (KJV) “And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.  And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.  And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.  And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.  And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.  If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”

 

 

I don’t really know what it all means, but the patterns are fascinating and there seems to be something in them.  So I decided that I’m going to try to study Revelation this summer, comparing it to the early chapters of Genesis, and I may write about it on here sometimes.  Because it seems like the day is drawing near.  It really does.

 

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