Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Anfechtung’

Be Bold! Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2017. 160th Anniversary of the Congregation. St. John 16:23-33

GideonRogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter/ 160th Anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16: 23-33

May 21, 2017

Be Bold!

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Jesus tells His disciples about something in the Gospel reading that will be necessary for them after He ascends to the Father, and they are left in the world, seeing Him no longer, something that the disciples will need for prayer, and something they will need in order to carry out their mission in the world without Jesus’ visible presence.  That something is boldness, daring.

If Jesus’ word to His disciples here had been recorded in American instead of Greek, maybe it would have used our phrase, “Have some guts!”

The disciples of Jesus will need to be bold, daring in order to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. They will need to take heart, as our translation says it; they will need to “be of good courage if they are going to continue in faith in their Lord and continue His work in this world in which they will have tribulation.

That is our Lord’s word to us on this morning where we are gathered to give thanks for the 160th year of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church. Take heart!  Be of good courage!Be bold!  Be daring!

Here on our 160th year many of us are anxious. Our future as a congregation appears uncertain. Many have already concluded that it is only a matter of time before St. Peter has a service of thanksgiving that marks the congregation’s end, just as later today we will be doing with St. Peter’s school. Those who love that school are already full of anguish, grieving the loss.  We ought to have compassion for this grief.

At the anniversary dinner last night for the church I saw tears in the eyes of men who do not cry as we saw the pictures of beloved brothers and sisters in Christ who our Lord has taken from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven. There is no doubt about how much many of you love this congregation, and the pain that would be in your heart if you were forced to say goodbye to it.  Let us have compassion on those among us who were closest to St. Peter school and are therefore already grieving.

But even now, many who work tirelessly at St. Peter, giving hours and hours every week, are anxious, full of heaviness, worn out with work that never seems to bring the desired results.  We would like renewal for St. Peter, security for St. Peter, visible assurance that when our work is over, this congregation that we have been nurtured by and love will outlive us.  But it doesn’t appear to come.

Again, the word of our Lord to His apostles is the word of Jesus to us this morning, grieving at the closing of St. Peter school, anxious about the future of St. Peter congregation: In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart; I have conquered the world.  (John 16:32-33)  Be bold, says our Lord; be daring! Be of good courage!  Have a smile on your faces in tribulation, uncertainty, in the face of looming death!

Lord Jesus!  How can you say this to us? Don’t you know we are flesh and blood, not gods?  We fear death! We are weak and needy, and are terrified when the things that give our lives meaning are taken away!  Have mercy on us!  How can we obey this command?

Don’t doubt that Jesus knows who we are, what we are, what we are capable of; that He knows our weakness, our fear.  Don’t suppose His compassion for us is as little as our ability to understand it.

Be daring, be of good courage!  This is not a command from Mount Sinai, with fire, lightning, and the terrifying splendor of God’s glory.  It is an invitation. It’s like when our Lord says, “Believe the Gospel!” That means, “Receive forgiveness, life, and the glory of God as a free gift!”  It comes not out of cloud and fire, but out of the mouth of a man who appeared with no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him.  It comes from the mouth of a man like us in every way, who is facing death Himself.

Be bold!  I have conquered the world.

 

Jesus is not a sergeant in a trench, stoking his soldiers’ sense of courage and honor to motivate them to go over the top and charge into gunfire against the enemy.  The boldness Jesus is talking about comes from Him. I have conquered the world.  He is victorious. We have been singing about Jesus the conqueror all through Easter.  This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever, Amen; for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. We sing as people whose war is already won. We sit down and feast at the victory banquet. We praise the conqueror, Jesus our Lord.

Jesus has conquered the devil, trampling him underfoot.  He cannot accuse Christians before God.  We were already condemned for our sins when Jesus was handed over by Pontius Pilate.  We died for our sins when Jesus was crucified, when we were buried with Him through Baptism into death.  And God the Father raised us, gave us new lives, made us new creatures when Jesus rose from the dead.  Our new life as sons of God, no longer slaves of the evil one, is by faith in Jesus, our righteousness and justification.

When Jesus conquered Satan, He also conquered sin.  It is now forgiven and blotted out, not through our repenting and being sorry and trying to do better, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And, as He says here, I have conquered the world. The world gives tribulation to Jesus first, then to all who belong to Jesus. Tribulation means to be threatened with death. Open persecution for Christians is part of this, but also the world’s mockery, refusal to hear, its despising of Jesus and scorn of His people.  All these things threaten the existence of Jesus’ community of holy believers, His Church, as well as the existence of congregations like ours.  The Church has always been threatened with death in one way or another.  It has never been clear to human eyes how Jesus’ true Church, that believes His Word and is faithful to it, could continue to survive on the earth.

But Jesus tells us how the Church survives, and how Christians will be bold and daring when their existence seems uncertain, even impossible.  Our security, our existence is assured not by working hard, and not by visible signs that we are secure. The life of Christ’s Church is sure because Jesus has defeated the world.

He made a mockery of the world’s threats, showed them to be hollow. When Jesus proclaimed the Word of God in purity, He was opposed by all the powerful people in His society. Also most of the masses of people didn’t hear what He was saying; they came for His miracles but didn’t believe or listen to His teaching.  If Jesus had wanted to be a success in a worldly way, He needed to change His message to something that didn’t threaten the world.  But He didn’t. He preached God’s Word even though few listened and though He was threatened with suffering and death.

The world followed through on its threats, and Jesus was crucified and buried.

And then He rose in victory.  The world did its worst to Him; it killed Him. And this only resulted in the world’s defeat.  Because now His disciples went forth and preached His resurrection.  Instead of destroying Jesus’ kingdom, tribulation only laid its foundation and caused it to spread.

Be bold, St. Peter.  Be daring, St. Peter!  Do not be afraid.  Be of good courage.  You have not and will not overcome the world by hard work, industry, virtuous living, though these things are good and necessary.  Extraordinarily talented leaders and preachers are gifts of God, but they do not and cannot overcome the world. Churches that the world marvels at because they are full, beautiful, and successful according to your eyes are sometimes that way by my blessing, says the Lord.  But they have not overcome this world. Should you be confident and bold when you have these things, and terrified, anxious, and despondent when you don’t?

Be bold and daring, says He who sits at the right hand of God.  I have conquered the world, and You have Me.

From this boldness and daring which comes from faith in Jesus’ victory come two things.

The first is prayer.  It takes boldness to dare to come and speak with God with confidence that He will hear You and grant Your prayer.  People think prayer is easy until the reality of their sin dawns upon them. Then they are full of doubt about whether God listens to them; they are doubtful about whether they should even come into His presence, how they can even dare to take Jesus’ name on their lips.

This is why Jesus said to the 12: Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  (John 16:24)  The disciples were timid in approaching God.  Who are we, that God should listen to us?  Indeed, we are nothing.  In ourselves, we are right to suspect that God will not listen to us.

But we are not in ourselves.  We come to God in the authority of Jesus His Son who came for us and gave us His Name and standing before the Father.

When our Lord says, “Be bold!” He is saying, Ask the Father in My Name.  Jesus doesn’t promise that God will give us whatever we think is good.  He promises to give us whatever we ask according to Jesus’ will for His Kingdom.  St. Peter is part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is His fortress, His outpost on this limestone cliff, overlooking an anxious, depressed city, full of people crushed by sin.  Many of them don’t even know what is crushing them.  They don’t know what sin is, much less who saves from it.

Kings and generals have in front of them the map of the whole campaign.  Soldiers on the front lines don’t.  Whether the Lord wills for St. Peter to be here till He comes, whether He wills, at some point in the future, to send His soldiers here elsewhere, we do not know.

But let us be bold and daring, confident that the King is victorious and will lead us in victory.  Trusting in Him, let us go to Him for the spiritual armor and provisions we need to carry out His purpose for us here and now with good courage and high morale.  Let us fight!  Let us dare to be courageous in this fight, to stand for the truth, to hold to His Word, to sacrifice and risk that His name may be glorified!  But let us do so under His authority, and call on Him to give us what we need to carry out His plan, not our own plans.

Second, the boldness that comes from Jesus’  victory works in Christians something that the world doesn’t understand.  In addition to confidence that God hears us, that we are saved and forgiven–something the world regards as uncertain–faith in Jesus’ victory over the world produces joy in the midst of tribulations, in the midst of the threat of death.

That is something incomprehensible to the world, and even to us in our weakness, much of the time.

But consider.  Jesus says, In this world you have tribulation. Tribulation, the threat of death for the Church, will never go away as long as we are Christians and are in this world.  Jesus had great tribulation; so did His apostles.  Martin Luther had it 500 years ago.  Faithful Christians at St. Peter experience it.  Various people have told me the same story at different times: It seems like God just sends me one thing after another.  I can’t understand it.

We shouldn’t look at this as though something strange were happening to us, as St. Peter says in chapter 4 of his first epistle. Instead, he says, Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Jesus says that it will be this way in the world.  When it happens, it is a mark that we belong to Jesus and will share His glory.

The president of our congregation, Mark Kroll, wrote a history of St. Peter at the 150th anniversary of the Church.  If you don’t have a copy, you should get one and read it.  It isn’t long, and it is encouraging to read, because we see that we are not unique in our tribulations; yet God managed to keep St. Peter through them in the past.  That is the benefit also of learning about the history of the Reformation.  All throughout the history of the church, people wondered how it would survive, it had so many troubles; yet the Lord’s mercy upheld her.

The history relates that a few years after St. Peter started, there was a pastor who came, after which great divisions erupted in the congregation.  He was accused of  “not fostering peace in the congregation, and not supporting the use of the German language in the school.” The second doesn’t seem like a very godly thing to have conflict about in the church. Yet the division was so bad that, a story says, one member got in the habit of carrying a pistol to church meetings.

That’s pretty bad.  We have experienced our share of conflict and division in the decade I’ve been here.  Even though no one has come to church armed–that I know of– it’s still a sad and sinful thing when the church is full of unforgiveness and division.

Eventually the pastor left with about half of the congregation.  It’s hard to see how you could look at this with anything other than mourning and near despair.

I am sure that people thought or said things like this: “How can God be in this place when there is so much sin and evil?  We have been judged for our sins.  We are defeated.”

Yet, something amazing happened.  The congregation, which had not really been Lutheran at that point–though it had that name on the door–called a pastor from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  This pastor taught the congregation patiently, and in a few years St. Peter was a different church.  It adopted the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as its confession of faith, the first statement of faith of the Lutheran Reformation, in 1530. A few years later it embraced the entire Book of Concord, the book that contains all of the Lutheran statements of faith.  As a result it joined the young synod that we now know as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

How different things would have been had this not happened!  If St. Peter had not gone this way, if the tribulation of conflict had not come to her in her formative years, if she still existed today she would have almost certainly been a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in this country.  That would have meant that St. Peter would be part of a church that does not confess the Bible as the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God.  It would be part of a denomination that has embraced same-sex marriage and other revisions of God’s commandments.  It would be served by pastors who may or may not acknowledge the Bible as God’s Word in every part. And as a result, the truth taught only in the Bible, and nowhere else–that we are by nature sinful and unclean and are saved from hell only through faith in Jesus, without our works–that would not be clearly proclaimed.

Be of good courage!  Be bold!  By faith in Jesus, who died and rose again, overcoming the world, we come to have joy in this tribulation that is always with us in the Church.  We have joy because tribulation can’t destroy us; it can’t even harm us.  Our conqueror always turns it to our blessing, as He did in such a magnificent way at the very beginning of our congregation. Our defeats become victories–for Jesus and for us.  Even our worst falls into sin are turned to blessing and victory by our Lord–as He did long ago with the fall of the apostle whose name our congregation bears.

Be bold and daring, St. Peter.  Your Lord has not left you.  He has conquered the world, and in Him, so have you.

Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42

deposition raphaelGood Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)

April 14, 2017

“Died and was Buried”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of

forgetfulness?

 

But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me?

(Ps. 88:8-14)

 

Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried.  Imagine.  Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists.  As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face.  It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.

 

After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus.  Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.

 

They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.

 

And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over.  All that was left was loss.

 

We know that death is the way of this world.  That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies.  It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come.  If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful.  But otherwise, we don’t want to die.  We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.

 

When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided.  We are right about being attacked, at least partly.  Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens.  Death comes from God.  It is—judgment.

 

Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God.  King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13).  Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God.  God is using the foreign enemies as His rod.  Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5).    And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)

 

Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ.  In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?

 

Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away.  And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays.  Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many.  The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself.  Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father.  Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).

 

Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems.  He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust.  We are struck with illness and the sentence of death.  Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed!  The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!  Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2).  The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all.  And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word.  The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.

 

When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us?  And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?

 

Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says.  Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.

 

Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus.  This man has done nothing wrong.  There was no deceit in His mouth.  He never displeased His Father.  He never spoke lies.  He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:

 

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.  He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation.  (Ps 24:3-5)

 

Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips.  His heart is pure.  Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!”  He trusts God not to forsake Him.  He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.

 

Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king.  The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.  He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.

 

We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.

 

You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God.  It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you.  Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father.  He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”  How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him!  Makes Him suffer!

 

How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience!  How much He loves it!

 

He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!

 

We deserve suffering and death because of our sins.  But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve.  The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ.  The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself.  He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins.  He will not lie or go back on His Word.  It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament.  It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar.  He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins.  That means you, even with your weak faith.

 

Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.

 

When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.

 

We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation. 

 

We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.

 

Today He cast our sins behind our back.  Jesus said, It is finished.

 

Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?) 

 

The answer is: yes.  For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest.  When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.

 

Amen

 

SDG

Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline. Thanksgiving Day 2016. Deuteronomy 8:1-10

January 11, 2017 Leave a comment

puritanos-peregrinosThanksgiving Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Deuteronomy 8:1-10 (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

November 24, 2016

“Thanksgiving for the Lord’s Discipline”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

Sorrow into Joy. Jubilate-Easter 4, 2016

resurrection mantegna.jpgJubilate (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:16-22

April 17, 2016

“Sorrow into Joy”
Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

When Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer,” we know what He is talking about, unlike the disciples in the Gospel. Soon Jesus will be arrested and tried before the high priest. When that happens, most of the disciples will “see Jesus no longer,” because they will all run away, except for John and Peter. Then at the high priest’s house, Peter will deny Jesus three times, and he too will leave. Only John will be there when Jesus is mocked and beaten and Pontius Pilate hands Him over to be crucified. He alone out of the eleven disciples will see Jesus die on the cross. And then he too won’t see Jesus anymore, because Jesus will be wrapped up in linen cloths, placed in a tomb, and the stone will be rolled in front of the door and hide Jesus from his sight.

 

When all this happens, it will appear that everything the disciples believed and hoped for had died. Their faith in Jesus will seem to have been empty. Jesus’ Kingdom will appear to have come to nothing. All the disciples will have with them is guilt and fear. They will remember how they had denied their Lord and perhaps, at the same time, they will wonder whether they had been deceived and followed a false prophet.

 

This experience wasn’t unique to the eleven disciples. All Christians experience this one way or another. It may happen when you are dying; then you may not feel Jesus’ presence with you to comfort you. How will you endure that?

 

Or it may happen as we watch loved ones abandon Christ and His Church. Brothers, sisters, or children simply walk away from Jesus and fall in love with the world. We pray for them, we cry for them, we plead with them, and nothing happens.

 

Or we may watch as the Church appears to die.

 

Of course we know that Jesus will not let His Church die; He will always preserve a remnant on earth. But there have been many times when the Church appeared to die in a particular place. There were many Lutheran churches in territories that later were reclaimed by the Catholic Church during the counter-reformation in the 17th century. Those churches suffered persecution. Many Lutherans gave in and joined the pope’s church again, telling themselves they could still be saved, even though they denied the Gospel. Others worshipped in mountains and forests so that they could continue to hear the pure Gospel. But many were finally forced to leave those countries, along with their possessions and sometimes their children. Once flourishing Lutheran churches disappeared from those lands.

 

What do you do then, when your church is wiped out? When your church dies, isn’t it hard to see Jesus?

 

We are living through this as a congregation. It’s hard even to talk about it, just like often we don’t admit a loved one is dying until it becomes too late to talk with them about preparing to die. But just as in that situation, those who love this congregation are full of turmoil. Sometimes we accuse ourselves. Sometimes we accuse others. We look for a reason why God lets this happen. But nothing seems to change things. People leave, often because they can’t see how Jesus is present in a suffering congregation. Meanwhile, as Jesus said, we lament, but the world rejoices. People who are angry at St. Peter—because of our sins or because they were offended by the Word of God—privately or publicly take pleasure in seeing its decline.

 

Jesus says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21) When Jesus used this illustration with His disciples childbirth was harder than it is today. There were no painkillers; there were no doctors to perform emergency c-sections. When the time for labor came, the mother was in God’s hands. She couldn’t prevent labor from happening. She couldn’t speed up the delivery. She couldn’t bring herself safely through labor, and neither could the midwife, her husband, her family, nobody. She had no choice but to recognize that her life and the life of her baby were in God’s hands alone. Meanwhile, she simply had to endure the pain and trust that God would deliver her.

 

However, when the baby was delivered, she didn’t remember the anguish of labor. The anguish turned into joy. All that was left of her anguish was the joy of this new life that had come into the world.

 

That is what Jesus tells the disciples will happen with the little while they are not able to see Him. And He tells us the same thing.

 

The disciples forgot about the anguish they experienced when Jesus was buried. All they could see when Jesus appeared in their midst was the joy of the new life that He brought with Him from the grave—a new life no longer under sin and no longer under the condemnation of the Law. His resurrection brought forth a new life for them in which they lived in freedom, in which their sins were no longer counted to them.

 

The same will happen during the “little whiles” when we can’t see Jesus. There is no way to make ourselves feel His presence and no way to deliver ourselves out of our anguish. We only have His promise that this suffering will last only a little while. Then we will see Him again and rejoice. When He raises us up from affliction we rejoice more profoundly in the Gospel. Not that we didn’t believe it before we were afflicted, but that after we are raised up again we see that He is the one who preserves our faith. We hold more firmly to His resurrection and victory even when we see defeat and death surrounding us in the world.

 

If God resurrects our congregation when it seems near to death, we will rejoice in His power and grace that delivered us when human help failed us. And if He does not, we do what we do when He allows one we love to die. We trust in the forgiveness of sins our Lord won by His suffering and His victory over hell and the grave in His resurrection. We don’t despair but we trust Him who is victorious and sits at the right hand of the Father.

 

Jesus says that we will not only have joy, but that we will have joy that no one can take away. S0 you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:22) Now of course, this will happen in heaven, when Jesus brings us from this valley of sorrows to see His face. Then our hearts will rejoice, and no one will take our joy from us.

 

But this joy already belongs to us. With our eyes, we can’t see the outcome of our suffering—we don’t know whether our loved ones will repent and return to Christ. When we feel like we are dying, we can’t see whether God will restore us to health. We also can’t see heaven or the forgiveness of our sins on the far side of death. And when our church seems to be dying, we can’t see whether God will save it. We can’t determine with certainty the cause of its decline—our sins? The godlessness of the time we live in? We can’t see.

 

But we have seen and do see Jesus. In the Gospel we see Him risen from the dead, with death and destruction beneath His feet.

 

We see Him with us: in His Holy Supper; we see Him baptizing and absolving sinners in our midst. We see this not with our eyes but by faith in His Word. By faith we see that in His resurrection He justified us of our sins before God—even when we have been unfaithful and abandoned Him, like the disciples. By faith we see that He is with us, as He promised, until the end of the age. He will remain with us in His Word and Sacraments and preaching, whether we are few or many, whether the Church is persecuted or has peace.

 

We can’t see the outcome of the suffering we endure with our eyes. But by faith we see, because we see Jesus. We see our resurrection from the dead and our victory.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 4)

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment

But such strength is quite rare in the world. For how many are they now, who so take up the subject, that they be certain of their faith and life in their hearts, that they can firmly hold to them and despise all other things? Yes, the whole world does not come to this point that they intend to have God’s Word and to live according to it. It is desired nowhere, rather despised in the highest degree. The majority live according to their insolence toward God’s Word and strengthen themselves only in their wickedness and devilish ways…But we talk now of those which would gladly be Christians and who are serious about the Word, which have trouble and labor with it and must defend themselves with all might so that they do not also get into such ways, that they do not regard the word or faithfully wait upon their calling.

As the devil cannot let faith go unattacked, so that he may tear us away from the Word, so also can he not leave our life in peace either, and he has no rest until he makes you falter. He drives such thoughts into the heart that you should find your station tedious, not desire it, and become impatient with it. Whoever now here is not armed so that he can stand fast, nor knows how to defend himself with the Word, the devil soon overcomes, as he did the others, which he totally rules with lack of desire and boredom in their stations. He lets no one find pleasure in his station and work. Even the heathen lament this, because they saw and felt it everywhere, what a noxious plague it is, that no one lets himself be satisfied with his office and station, but instead always gapes after another and holds it to be better. As they say, an ox would gladly be a horse, and again the horse an ox; a farmer or townsman would gladly be a nobleman, the nobleman a prince, the prince emperor, etc. Out of displeasure with one’s calling follows unfaithfulness, that no one his commanded office and work diligently waits upon, but instead despises it and either undertakes another, or cheats his neighbor in it and does him wrong.

Continued

Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 2)

6. What “Be Strong in the Lord” Means

This is so much as to say, be so minded that you hold fast and remain with that which you have received, and each carry out his faith and his office well, and not follow or give in to the devil’s promptings or his own flesh and the world’s enticements. Guard yourself, that you do not allow yourself to be hindered, nor to be made tired and faint, that you let up from your faith and office, or become lazy and sluggish. It is necessary to be strong and fight, because we have such a foe (as we will hear) who everywhere attacks and harries us with all his might and powers, and without ceasing [attacks?] with evil thoughts and poisonous, destructive tongues, and [bruises?] both the ears and the heart, in order that we should not regard the word, nor with seriousness carry it out. [He works] that in our station or office we become careless, inattentive, depleted, and impatient, until he brings it about that you no longer stand firm, but instead, loose and unstable, stagger here and there, and fall from one thing to another, both in doctrine and life. To be strong in the Lord means to stand firm and fixedly, and to hold to the doctrine which you have received from the Lord, which teaches us how we should believe in Christ. And thereafter we should so live, that each one serve his neighbor in his station and calling, and faithfully and diligently wait upon [our office.]

(continued)

Place Yourself Beside the Publicans. Luther

Luther-Predigt-LC-WBThe Gospel is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and their sins they acknowledge when they repent of them. But this Gospel is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those, however, who do acknowledge them, and are about to despair, the Gospel must be brought…

Therefore, when you feel your sins gnawing at you, and feel your heart trembling and agitated, place yourself beside the publicans where they are standing. These are the very ones who shall receive the Gospel. Do so joyously, and say: “Oh God! It is thy word that says there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance, and that all the righteous and angels are to interpose and cover up sins. Now, Oh, God! I have come to this that I feel my sins. I am already judged. I need but the one Shepherd who seeketh me; and I will therefore freely venture on thy Gospel.”

It is thus that you come to God. You are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd. You are the piece of silver in the hand. You are the one over whom is joy in heaven in the presence of all the angels. We are not to worry, if we do not experience or feel this at once. Sin will daily decrease, and its sting will drive you to seek God. You must struggle against this feeling by faith, and say: “Oh God! I know thou hast said this, and I lean upon thy Word. I am the sheep and the piece of silver; thou the shepherd and the woman.”

You might say: Yes, this I will gladly do; but I cannot atone for my sins. I can render no satisfaction for them. Consider then the publicans and sinners. What good have they done? None. They came to God, heard his Word and believed it. Do the same.

Luther, Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity, Lenker, vol.2, p.65-66.Luther-Predigt-LC-WB

%d bloggers like this: