Posts Tagged ‘cross’

When I am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men to Myself. Good Friday, Chief Service, 2018. John 18:31-32

jesus crucifixion de ribera.PNGGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (18:31-32, 19:33-37)

March 30, 2018

“When I Am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men To Myself”


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.”  The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”  This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 18:31-32


By what kind of death He was going to die.


St. John draws our attention to the kind of death Jesus was going to die.


He was going to die by the form of execution the Roman world considered the worst—crucifixion.


And John draws our attention also to the fact that Jesus had said beforehand that He would die this kind of death.  That God had planned it out beforehand.


In chapter 12, the Gospel for Monday of Holy Week, Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.  He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 12:31-33


Jesus was going to be lifted up.  Not fly away into heaven, away from all the pain and ugliness down here, but be nailed to a tree and lifted up as the very image of all the evil of this world.


Our natural response to John’s words about the kind of death Jesus was going to die is to say, “So what?”  We’ve all known since Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross.  Why draw attention to it?


The Holy Spirit is impressing on us the offense of the message about Jesus, the craziness of the Gospel.


For John’s hearers and readers in the first century of our Lord, and for centuries after, the message of the Gospel was madness.  For Romans and Greeks who believed in the old gods it was insane that Christians preached that the Son of the One True God was crucified.  For the fundamental characteristic of pagan gods was that they were immortal and could not die.  And for the philosophers who believed in one God the message of the cross was crazy because reason told them that the Creator, being eternal and omnipotent, could not suffer.


For the Jews, it was unthinkable that God would be crucified, because the Scripture says that people who are hanged on a tree are cursed by God.  And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.  Deut. 21:22-23


And if we lived then and saw the horrible suffering and shame of people who were crucified, it would not take much faith to believe that they were cursed by God.  They were usually pierced through their hands and feet after being flogged and made to carry the beam of their cross to the place of execution.  When they were lifted up, they died slowly, often taking several days to finally die from suffocation.  They were usually crucified in public places, where their last agonies could be watched.  When they died, they typically were left on the crosses to rot and be eaten by vultures and crows.


People did not sympathize with those who were crucified.  Many were glad for the peace and order the Roman rule provided, and they supported the Romans making examples out of those who threatened that order.  Crucified people were considered bad people who deserved their death, people whom God had cursed.


So when the apostles went out and preached that a manual laborer from out of the way Galilee, who was crucified was the Son of God and the world’s Redeemer, it was mostly received as insane folly.  When Paul wrote in first Corinthians the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, he was speaking from years of experience as a missionary, where his message encountered rejection upon rejection.


Today, the word of the Cross is not as strange to us or the people we live among.  It has been preached and pictured in Europe and America’s literature, art, music for more than a thousand years.  It is not strange, but it is still crazy to us when you scratch the surface.  People do not react to it because for the most part they do not take it seriously.  It’s just religious talk, even to many people who go to church.


But you see in the popular preachers of today that the message of the cross is still considered ineffective.  And when a church wants to, like Paul, know nothing..but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the feeling that this is craziness begins to rear its head.  At the grave of my half-brother’s mother, one of the pall bearers talking to me about his church told me, “What is killing churches like yours is a lack of marketing.”  This is a common idea.


But it does not appear to be Jesus’ idea.  Now is the judgment of this world.  Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.


By this craziness of God being lifted up to die, accursed, on a tree, Jesus says that He will cast out the devil, judge the world, and draw all men to Himself.


According to our wisdom, that is simply insane.


And yet, Jesus lifted up to hang from the tree, that message brought down the worship of the old gods in Rome.  Then in northern Europe, Russia.  Then in America.  It is doing the same now in Africa and in Asia.


And even if few seem to be listening to this word of the cross today, let us hear it and take it to heart.


John also makes a point of drawing attention to the reality of Jesus’ death, how he witnessed Jesus’ side pierced with a spear and the outflow of water and blood from His heart.


He is drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus really and truly died; He was not simply passed out from shock or something like that.  He was dead.  As really as our loved ones are dead when we go up and stare into their faces at their wake.


God was dead, just as God was cursed and put to shame, just as God was condemned.  And Jesus had said before that this would happen, because it had been God’s plan before the foundation of the world.


It was God’s plan for you, who face condemnation and judgment and shame for your sins before the court of God.  And for you whose loved ones die, and who are facing death.


God had planned long ago that His Son would be put to shame and cursed and would suffer so that you would be released from the curse you were under and the shame that belongs to you.


God planned that His eternal, undying Son would be lifted up and die for you.


And in doing so He would bring you to Himself and back to God, without curse, without shame, free from eternal death.


The spear that pierced His heart let loose the sign that you are free and that the ruler of this world no longer has any power over you.  Water.  Blood.


These streams that flowed out as proof of Jesus death flow to you as God’s pledges that you live.


The water flows from Jesus’ death over you in Baptism and cleanses you from sin.  It flows over you and begins your new life.


The blood flows from Jesus’ body into the cup that you drink, where Jesus seals to you with His own blood that the folly of the death of God, this unspeakable kind of death on the cross, has given you life.


And for all who receive these pledges in faith, now is the judgment of this world, and they are judged righteous, acquitted.  Now the prince of this world is cast out from them, and the prince of heaven reigns in their hearts.


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






Meditations on the words of Christ from the Cross. Tenebrae Vespers 2013.

March 30, 2013 4 comments

jesus' back 7Good Friday—Tenebrae Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

The Seven Words of Christ from the Cross

March 29, 2013

Jesu juva.


1.  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,

O Lord, hear my voice.

Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,

O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You,

That You may be feared.  Psalm 130


Watch out.  Be careful.  There is forgiveness with the Lord Jesus.

You may be hard at work, trying to enjoy your sin, and all of a sudden His eyes might catch yours in the place where you thought He Christ_mockedwould never come, where you are trying to silence His voice forever.  And then when His eyes meet yours you would see that He forgives you, even after all this.  And that will either torment you further, that He just won’t leave you alone, just won’t let you be, but keeps loving you.  Or, it might make you lose your freedom.

Father, forgive them.  They shouted and shouted for Him to be crucified.  They chose a robber and a murderer instead of Him. They looked for anything they could find to condemn Him.  They needed forgiveness, and He prayed for them while they hammered home the nails.

Is He such a threat?

He threatens forgiveness.  The threat of forgiveness puts at risk the one sure thing, the one rock all people are sure will not move—that we are free.  And if we aren’t right with God now, we can get there if we are serious about it.

Forgiveness.  It meant all they had tried to do for God could not stand.  The cracks had appeared, and it was all coming tumbling down.  You’re no better than the Gentiles, priests, wide phylacteried Pharisees and scribes, hypocrites!   God did not smile on their offering or on them.

He did not look on Cain’s offering with favor, either.  He did not praise it.  He had no pleasure in the bulls and goats burned by the priests.  He did not accept the long prayers and handwashing, the fasting and tithing of the Pharisees.

Instead He demanded a strict accounting, absolutely impartial.  The sins that we consider not worth thinking about because they are unavoidable—such as pride, selfishness, evil thoughts that fly through heart and mind like sparrows flying through a barn—God forgot nothing of them.  Every one was recorded, and the ledger had to be balanced.

No smiles from the Lord at Cain’s dutifulness in bringing an offering.  He was not pleased with the knowledge of the Scribes, the tithing of the Pharisees, not even, at the end of the day, with the ministry of the priests, even though He had commanded it.  He had commanded it, but it had never really been sufficient.  The priests were sinners.  The animals they slew did nothing to help pay back their outstanding debts, much less other people.

Only one worship was pleasing to the Father: the innocent, spotless, pure life of Jesus, and the offering of that life to pay the debt of His sinful brothers.  His blood which poured for the sin in the heart, and the sins of our hands and our lips.  Which poured for the sins of our fathers and the sins of our sons.

For our willful sins, the ones which make noises in the dark room of our conscience.  And our daily sins, which are too many to count, which for the most part our hearts are too sick and dead to feel.  Our unavoidable sins.  They cry out for punishment.  They cry out for blood.  They cry for Jesus’ crucifixion.  He prays for the crowds then and the crowds of sinners throughout history whose hearts cry out for His blood.   Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they do.

Read more…

Unconcerned in the Face of the Devil’s Raging. Luther.

March 6, 2013 2 comments
Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ lag in Todes Banden, and who, with Johann Walter, also wrote the melody (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But here we should also learn, on the other hand, that this is our Lord Christ’s way of proceeding.  Whenever He intends to save and help, He is accustomed first to act and to make Himself appear in just this way.  He permits distress to become extreme when things are most dire so that He may thereafter manifest His power and assistance all the more gloriously and powerfully, driving us to cry out and call upon Him in order to exercise and strengthen our faith, and so that we may experience how He is able in time of distress to help marvelously and, as Psalm 9 [:9] says, “at the right time.”

For He wants to teach us here about…the genuine masterstroke by which He ensnares the devil and brings his guile and attacks to nothing.  He does it in this way: He permits the devil to assail Himself and His Christians with great and frightful storms, and moreover makes Himself appear so very weak that it seems as if He were unable to fend off [the devil] or to prevent him.  Rather, He allows him to advance until the waves cover the little boat and are now about to swamp it altogether, so that the devil now thinks he finally has Him in his power, with the boat and everything else, so that He cannot escape.  And the disciples themselves neither see nor feel anything else, but cry out, saying, “O Lord, we are perishing,” etc.

But watch out for this sleeping and snoring Christ, when He makes it seem as if He saw and heard or knew and could do nothing at all.  For when He is altogether weak and (as it appears) unknowing and powerless, and the devil presses hard and snaps his jaws at Him, as if about to devour Him along with His Church, just then He shall awaken and make Himself heard and manifest…When it appears as if He has delayed for too long and let the devil extend his grip too far…then at once…with a flick of His finger—He brings the devil, together with the wind and waves, under His control. 

This is what the dear Lord would teach us to believe and hold fast, so that we might not be so frightened and despairing in times of distress but might be of good cheer and unconcerned in the face of the devil’s raging, even when he attempts his worst against us when we are at our weakest.  This is what He shows with this example: how He is entirely without any concern or fear in the face of His enemy and all his guile and power, to the extent that He even seems to be careless and incautious…

But even though He knows [the devil’s malice and power] very well, so that He needs no reminding or advice about what He should do, still He is not afraid or frightened at the devil’s anger or guile but is of good cheer and undismayed, being certain that the devil shall not be able to injure or drown Him.  He will therefore not give up the natural rest and sleep that He needed at the time, for He knows that He has a God and Father who cares for Him and will protect and defend Him from the devil and all enemies.

He does all this as…[an] example for us…so that we, too, will not be too frightened and anxious or worry ourselves to death even when we see danger and distress at hand, when the devil lies in wait and plots against us or suddenly bursts upon us…But because we know that we have Christ with us, and that it is on His account that the devil attacks us, we should not doubt that He can and will defend and deliver us as well, so that we remain safe in the face of the devil and all his might, so long as Christ Himself remains.

That is why He here also rebukes the unbelief of the disciples, which makes them waver and be dismayed.  He says, “O You of little faith!  Why are you afraid?” –as if to say: “So!  Are you My disciples and yet have such little faith?  Do you not see that you have Me with you, and the peril affects Me as well as you?  Or do you think that I am no more, that I do not know or realize or consider what the devil has in mind against you and Me, or that he has so quickly gained power over Me, as he thinks?”


With these words He still chastises all such doubts, wavering, and dismay in us all, which proceed from unbelief.  How quickly, when the devil begins to rage so abominably and horribly and Christ makes Himself appear weak, do we all think that everything is lost and we must perish….

Though we feel ourselves waver and are dismayed because of the weakness of our faith (for by nature we can do nothing else), we should still be wise enough to run to Christ and cry out and wake Him with our petitions and prayers.  For He here makes it known that He delights in such calls and cries, even though they proceed from a weak faith, just as St. Paul in Romans 8 calls them the calling and crying of the Spirit, who helps our weakness and takes our part with inexpressible groans, etc.  Indeed, He desires this from us when we feel our weakness and wavering, so that we may cry out and call to Him with confidence, and then He at the right time will extend His help and deliverance.

For He knows that we will not experience of learn to believe in His power and help in any other way than when He brings us to such an extremity that we are forced to cry out and call to Him.  And even though He could indeed curb and control the devil’s raging and storms without our crying out and waking Him, nonetheless He wants to be awakened and called upon by us so that we may learn how His power is mighty and invincible in our weakness [2 Cor. 12:9].


Luther, Sermon on Matthew 8:23-27, Jan. 31, 1546.

AE vol. 58, p. 426-428. WA 51: 160-163

Prayer in Sickness. Eisenach Hymnal (1760). Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

February 11, 2013 3 comments

P1030983456.  Prayer in Sickness.

Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

(Eisenach Hymnal.  1760)


Merciful and righteous God, You are Lord of health and sickness, of life and death.  I acknowledge before you with a sincere heart that I have justly deserved this present visitation from You by the way I have so greatly misused the many days of health and prosperity which You have granted me in the past.  O Lord, I desire from my heart to receive this punishment for my sins from Your hand, and to bear the anger of the Lord, for I have sinned against You.  O gracious and merciful Father, when You chasten You do not desire to destroy but to improve; I beseech You, that You would therefore sanctify me through this chastisement so that, through this illness, my body might become, by your grace, a means to my soul’s health.


Heal my soul, O Lord, which has sinned against You, and then, when it is Your holy will, heal my body also, and help that I may from now on live my life to Your praise, and bear fruit befitting repentance.


But should You, in Your wisdom, have determined otherwise—that this sickness should be unto death, then I beseech You: prepare me and make me fit for death.  Grant me heartfelt and unfeigned repentance, to which You have promised Your grace and forgiveness.  Withdraw my heart from the world and all its vanities, which are passing away, and give me longing and yearning for Your glorious and imperishable treasures, which belong everlastingly to Your righteous ones.


Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon me.  Let Your comfort quicken me in all my pains of body and in all the agonies of my soul, so that I may be courageous and wait patiently until things change for me.  Grant, O Lord, that when my earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, I may have an eternal habitation built by God, a house not made with hands, which is eternal in heaven.  Grant this for the sake of Him Who bought purchased me with His priceless blood, namely, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

O Muslims! Teach not your children to say: “We love death”!

December 4, 2012 1 comment

child preacher martyrdom  (I thought the video was on here when I published this post! Sorry.  )

O Zionists, we love death for the sake of Allah just as much as you love life for the sake of Satan.  We long for martyrdom for the sake of Allah just as much as you hate death, O enemies of Allah….I am just a small child, but nevertheless…If it were up to me, I would come to you [Palestinians] and I would fight alongside you in the battlefield. –Wee Egyptian TV preacher Ibrahim Adham 

I heard a Lutheran 6 year old preach a sermon in response to this video.  Unfortunately I didn’t record it.  But below is the transcript.

“O Turks, why do you protest so loudly that you love death?  That is not something to brag about.  By saying this you show that you are Satan’s children, since he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.

nea-molech-sacrificeO Mohammedans, the true God does not love death.  Idols love death, especially the death of children.  The Jews who did not know their God sacrificed their children to Moloch, and you, O Mohammedans, are the spiritual children of those unfaithful Jews who offered up their children to a bloodthirsty god.

O Saracens, the true God loves life and blesses little children.  This God Whom you do not know said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it.’

O prisoners of the bloodthirsty idol Allah, the living and true God said, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust.’

cranach law's torment (2)O you who have been ensnared by the false prophet Muhammad!  The true God became man and died on the cross–not because He loves death, but because He loves human beings who are made slaves through the fear of death.  O deceived ones!  You may love death, but you are still slaves to its fear.  That the dead will rise is certain, but whether God will raise you to paradise or the fires of hell you do not know.  O false ones!  Your conscience does not let you rest.  You run toward death and push your children ahead of you because you seek to atone for your sins with your own blood!

O you who submit to the devil’s yoke!  O you among the Mohammedans whose consciences are not yet completely seared!  Your heart condemns you that you have done evil deeds which God must surely bring to justice.  Let the pain of your conscience remain as a witness to the truth that Islam cannot deliver you from your sins.  Do not believe the false hope that death for Allah will result in certain salvation for you.  If Allah could take away sins he would have done so for you already.

O you whom Christians should pity, even while you rape their daughters, bear false witness against their husbands, and steal their property!  The only Muslims who have relief from the accusations of their consciences are those who have destroyed their consciences and have lost the ability to see that ablutions and prayers and special diets do not erase sin or give the conscience rest.  Or else they are those who are convinced that “martyrdom” is an assured path to salvation.  But when a Mohammedan’s body falls to the ground while waging jihad, his soul is carried away by angels not to paradise but to the laughing mouth of Satan, who says, “Well done, my faithful martyr!”

cranach_law_gospelO Moors, Turks, and Saracens!  Christian martyrs die willingly for Christ because they have already died with Him.  O idolaters!  Christians wear crosses not because we love death and execution, but because by the true God’s death on the cross, death’s power and fear is taken away.

O blind, most miserable Muslims, who intend to die for God but do not know Him!  The true God was crucified, dead, and buried, and rose again on the third day, and destroyed death.  O lost ones!  For Christians death is no longer death.  Christians have been born a second time.  They are sons of God, not His slaves.

nativity giotto 1311

O Mohammedans!  the true God was born a human being to live in the midst of His enemies.

O you lovers of violence! The true God died for His enemies.  Because all men were His enemies–Jews, Christians, Mohammedans.  But He had compassion on all the sons of Adam and gave Himself as a burnt offering to take away their sins.

O murderers of Christians, oppressors of the helpless!  You have blasphemed the true God and shed the blood of His saints! Yet He seeks your salvation.  His believers with whose blood you paint church walls seek your salvation.  They pray for you.  Even though you have made your children preachers of murder and worshippers of death, the living God suffered for you to rescue you from the eternal fire.

O Janissaries and Assasins, do not believe that God will receive you into Paradise when you embrace death for the sake of Allah and when you murder in the name of Allah.

O you who desire to be martyrs!  The true God only receives those who embrace His death in their place.  His true martyrs suffer or die not to earn something but because they have already been given everything in Jesus Christ crucified.

O Mohammedans, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and will come to judge the living and the dead.  This Jesus is the true God, and no one can know God unless they know Him.

crucifixion-1904 russian guyO Muslims!  If you would submit to God, you must know who He is.  He makes Himself known through the cross.  Through Jesus the true God is known–the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  They are not three gods, but one God; not one person but three.

O Mohammedans, do not think that you can philosophize with God.  Do not think that you will be able to present yourselves before God without shame for your sins on judgment day.   O Mohammedans! God does not judge like men.  He will not overlook sin or take a bribe, or accept suicide and murder as a ransom.  He will not accept your arguments that “God cannot have a son.”  God knows far better than you what He can and cannot do.

O blind-hearted Muslims, like all Adam’s race blind to God because of self-love!  The Trinity, the God you do not know, is love.  He loves you, O Arabs, O Mohammedans, and He seeks your blessing.  Wearing the scars from nails which pierced Him He loves you, even now.  Even though you have burned churches and blown His believers apart in the countries where they pay you tribute, Jesus the Lord God still loves you and wants you to live.  So he allows you to kill His people so that they may bear witness to you that He died to save the whole world.  He allows you to display your remarkable zeal for your idol and your false prophet by slaughtering Christians like lambs, spilling and spattering their blood on your streets and walls, thinking that in doing this you do God service.  He hears their blood crying out to Him, and yet He delays your punishment.  coptic-martyrs

Oh Mohammedans, listen to the true God.  You love death, but He loves you.  He wants you and your children to live.

‘So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.  I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in an dout and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice.  So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” ‘ (John 10:7-12, 14-18)

‘At this time Jesus declared, ‘”I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealeed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.  All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Fahter, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”‘ (Matthew 11:25-30)”

The Joy of Lamentation

September 26, 2012 2 comments

Last week I was in Fort Wayne for a continuing education class with Dr. John Kleinig, who is, I think, retired from a professorship at the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Australia.  Between the class and difficulties with my internet connection, which are still ongoing, I was unable to post anything.  One of the topics discussed in the class was on my mind this morning as I lay awake for the last hour, unable to go back to sleep.


The class was on the book of Exodus, specifically how Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt and formed into a liturgical community—that is, a worshipping community.  Israel was not freed simply to be another nation among nations but to be the people among whom God lived and was worshipped.  But the subtext of the class was worship and our contemporary predicament of being disconnected from biblical worship.


One of the things Dr. Kleinig said was that western people have forgotten how to lament, and that this has had tragic consequences for the church in the western world.  If you have read Dr. Kleinig’s book on Christian spirituality (and if you haven’t, there is pretty much no book I could recommend as highly—it was life changing for me), or if you have attended Doxology (a Lutheran training program for pastoral care), you are familiar with the topic. 


There are several different genres of psalms in the psalter.  There are penitential psalms, which express grief and remorse over sin and seek forgiveness from God.  There are seven of these in the psalter.  Then there are psalms of ascent, which were hymns sung by pilgrims to the temple in Jerusalem.  They were used liturgically when worshippers travelled to Jerusalem, or perhaps in the temple itself.  I think there are 14 psalms of ascent.


Then there are psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist brings anger and grief in the midst of suffering to God in the form of complaint.  The psalms of lamentation have a particular structure, which I won’t get into.  Dr. Kleinig outlines this structure as a way to bring our anger and suffering before God.  He points out that there are vastly more psalms of lament or lamentation than there are penitential psalms, although pious Lutherans are comfortable praying the penitential psalms and confessing our sins, and often aren’t sure what to do with the psalms of lamentation, where David or another psalmist will protest their righteousness, complain at God, and call for God to punish their enemies.  Yet there are something like 50 psalms of lament out of the 150 in the bible.


Why are there so many?  Why do I know how to pray the penitential psalms but find it difficult to make sense of the psalms of lament?  What are we missing by not knowing how to pray them? 


I want to explore these questions.  I won’t be able to get it done in a single post, though.


To begin with, I, along with other Lutherans who at least sometimes want to pray, approach the bible with the correct belief that I am a sinner.  Because I am a sinner, the only righteousness I can claim before God, and my only ground to stand on, is His sheer mercy in Christ.  God does not count my sins to me, but counts me righteous for the sake of Jesus’ suffering as my substitute.  He died for me, the righteous for the unrighteous.  On account of His death which atones for my sins I am righteous before God.  Otherwise, in me, there is nothing but sin which provokes God’s righteous wrath.


That being the case, when someone wrongs me, what do I do?  Since I have sinned against God and my neighbor, but I live by Christ’s forgiveness, I assume (rightly) that I should forgive those who sin against me.  When I suffer, I should forgive as I have been forgiven. 


But I’m not very good at that.  Besides, sometimes you forgive, and the person continues to sin against you.  Then what?  It’s not so hard to forgive things that don’t hurt.  But some sins committed against you hurt deeply.  Sometimes they go on for years, and the person committing them doesn’t even acknowledge that they are doing it.  Oftentimes they are inflicted by people you love and on whom you rely.  More than that they are people God calls you to love and care for—it could be your spouse, family member, your pastor (or parishioner.)  At the end of the day God forbids us to take revenge on anyone but seek everyone’s eternal good, no matter what they do to us.


So what do you do?  Matthew 18 says “If a brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  But not every sin is such that you can or should confront it directly. And what when you have confronted it and the sin goes on—either because the person committing it doesn’t acknowledge it, or because for one reason or another they continue to repeat the sin?


Then Jesus says to bring with you someone else, and if that doesn’t work, you take it to the church, and if that doesn’t work, the church excommunicates the culprit.


But of course, there are very few churches that practice church discipline.  In my congregation, even if we had many people who were willing to, we couldn’t do it yet, because the congregation is simply too immature spiritually, and I have not been mature enough spiritually to lead them to the point where they would be able.


Besides, even in a church where discipline is practiced, how can a child practice Matthew 18 with his parents?  Does a wife with a husband suffering from addiction always want to have him disciplined or leave him?  What does a pastor do when a sizeable group of ignorant people cause him trouble?  Does he want them to be disciplined when they don’t really even know what they’re doing?


No, not always.  So it isn’t always as simple as just applying Matthew 18.  Yet, Matthew 18 does show that “turn the other cheek” doesn’t mean “do nothing, don’t say anything.”  Besides, that way of dealing with anger doesn’t work.  Very few people are capable of not getting angry and doing destructive things when they are chronically sinned against.


Then sometimes you confront it with the person, and you pray about it to God, and you push and push against the intolerable situation, and nothing changes.  This is the most painful part of  the whole affliction—that you don’t know when the suffering will end, and there’s nothing you can do about it, and God doesn’t deliver you.  And time keeps ticking.  Weeks, months, years go by and nothing has changed.  And as you get older (as I am getting older; I never used to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and not get back to sleep)—you start to realize that if things don’t change, you’re never going to get back what is being taken away from you by the person or things that are causing you pain.  Then maybe after awhile you realize—it’s too late, and exactly what I feared when this suffering began has happened.  Maybe the pastor who I resent has continued his foolish ways of pasturing, alienated my children, and now they’re teenagers who won’t go to church and it’s too late to hope that they will make it into young adulthood without falling away.


Or it’s too late—my hope of having a happy marriage in my youth has been destroyed.


Or the congregation that has been giving me hell for 10 years hasn’t changed, and now my youth ends and I have nothing but failures to look back on.


I could think of dozens more hypothetical situations like this that I or people I know have experienced in part.


Finally, you have this thought process that starts when you want to complain to God about your suffering: “Who am I to complain to God?  Isn’t that the same as the grumbling Israelites who provoked God’s wrath?  On top of that I know that I am a sinner, so who knows whether I haven’t done more to sin against this person who sins against me, and I’m not even aware of it?” 


Here is where the psalms of lamentation would help us, if we were able to pray them, or if we were able to lament according to their pattern. 


First of all lamentation allows us to acknowledge our suffering as it really is before God, with all its ramifications.  We go to God and say, “Because of what this person is doing, I am in pain, and I am losing what belongs to me, and I will never get it back.  And You are able to help me, yet You have not.”


Secondly, in lamenting we confess faith in Christ.  We say, “I am righteous.  I am righteous because you have promised me that I am counted righteous because of Jesus.  Even though I am dying because of this affliction, and even though I do not know to what degree my sins may have brought this suffering on me, I know that You are still perfectly pleased with me because Jesus has redeemed me with His holy, precious blood.”


Third, we claim and confess before God that He will deliver us and bless us, and that even  in giving us affliction He still is dealing with us as a loving father who only wants to see what is good come to us.  The psalms of lament usually end with a profession of trust in God and thanksgiving, as though God had already delivered us.  How can we pray this way in the midst of ongoing suffering?  Because God has promised.  He is well-pleased with us for Jesus’ sake.  He will not cast us away.  “All things work together for the good of those who love God, and are the called according to His purpose.”  (Rom. 8:28)  And when He has allowed our affliction to work in us what pleases Him and what will lead toward His good purposes for us, He will bring it to an end and deliver us. 


By lamenting we put the matter in God’s hands, and we know that something is being done about our trouble.  By putting it in His hands we honor Him.  We are saying, “You are God.  You will be faithful to me and will keep Your promise.  You will handle this better than I will, and You are trustworthy.”


We also confess the Gospel, and do not allow ourselves to be deceived by Satan.  We are saying, “Whatever my sins are, God still regards me as righteous, as He promised to do in Baptism, in the Gospel, in the Absolution, and in His body and blood.  I am loved by Him.  I am the apple of His eye.  So I will be safe and this will turn into blessing.”  We find comfort, and at the same time we acknowledge that God’s promise of salvation is true, and we defy and escape from Satan’s trap, which would have us think that perhaps God’s promise had failed or does not apply to us.


It seems to me that there are several obstacles that keep me (us) from praying this.  I will name them, but then I’ll have to explore them further in another post.


One is that lament is coming to terms with death.  When you suffer for a long time, maybe the most painful part of it (especially as you get older) is the death of what you had hoped for for your life (or maybe someone else’s).  I think it is in Lamentations 3 where Jeremiah mourns this way: …So I say, ‘My hope has perished, and so has my expectation from the Lord.  Remember [my affliction?], the wormwood and the gall.  My soul remembers them…But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.  His mercies never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”


Whatever it was Jeremiah hoped for—enjoyment of life as a young man on earth?  Seeing Israel become godly and not brought into the dust of death for its sins?—he acknowledges that it is over.  It’s not going to happen.  That hope is lost; it has died. 


That’s how affliction goes with me.  I had some plan or other.  It may have seemed—and may still seem—like a God pleasing plan.  I may not have been wrong to expect it.  It may be that I was sinned against when I did not receive it—my neighbor who has a calling to love me did not fulfill his calling.  An example would be a pastor who had planned to help his congregation bring the Gospel outside of its four walls and reach out to its community, and instead met with constant opposition from members of the congregation.  After a certain point of struggling and praying, he comes to the conclusion that it is now too late.  Maybe the congregation’s unwillingness has gone on so long that he is looking at its impending closure.  If that were me I would find great difficulty accepting it.  How could this be God’s will?  Why didn’t God intervene, even when I prayed and worked so hard?  How could it please Him that this congregation close its doors instead of preach the Gospel?  And I would also feel angry that I had, seemingly, wasted years preaching and serving a congregation only to see it all fall apart, knowing that on top of it the failure of the congregation would be seen as my fault.  And I would have the nagging fear that maybe, in fact, it was.


In lamentation, we come to terms with the death of our hopes for this life.  Maybe “come to terms” is the wrong phrase.  We acknowledge the death of our hopes.  This is very difficult for me, and I think for all Americans.


Connected to this is a latent theology of glory that seems to stick to me in spite of my knowing better.  I think that my victory and success is partly from the Gospel, and partly from my actions.  I think that my reward is in heaven, but also at least sometimes it should be visible and tangible.  But really the only victory Christians have is Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection.  Any victories that we have in our life of discipleship are really Christ’s victories; they are the playing out of His victory on the cross and in His resurrection in our bodies.  So His victories in us are going to frequently look and feel like defeats and failures on our part.  Christ is our only victory and our only reward.  If my church grows or shrinks, nothing is proven by that in itself.  I can neither take comfort in its growth or its decline; my comfort is Christ and His Gospel, and the visible fruit of a pastor’s work must be interpreted by the light of the Gospel.  Because Jesus has reconciled me to God, my church’s growth or decline is evidence of His love toward me. 

But until recently I did not really grasp or understand that was how it works.  That is faith.  That is the faith which Jesus works in us—faith that sees the waves of the sea about to destroy the little fishing boat, but says, “Jesus is with us, so we are safe—“even though all we see and feel is darkness, terror, despair, wrath, hell.  Even if Jesus seems to reject me, faith does not give up.  Like the Canaanite woman, to whom Jesus said, “No,” who still did not turn away but kept praying—not to wear Jesus down, but because she was sure of His grace, even though He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.


Finally, I think I (and most American Lutherans I know) have a real difficulty with the idea that we are actually and truly righteous before God by faith.  Since I sin, I think, I can only confess my sins, and never claim God’s help, deliverance, and favor to me over against those who mistreat me.  But really, if God actually counts me righteous, I can protest my innocence to God.  This is not saying, “I never sinned.”  It is saying, “You promised to cover my sins.  You do not lie.  So I speak to you as one who is innocent and righteous in your sight.”  I am not claiming that I am better than the one who sins against me.  I am telling God that He is truthful, so I know He will regard me as righteous, because that is what He promised.


I will continue this topic at some point, because it is immensely comforting in ongoing suffering.  What a beautiful thing it is to suffer and yet know for certain that God is still well-pleased with you, gives you access to Him in Your suffering, honors you by making you a participant in Jesus’ suffering, and turns even your suffering into eternal glory and blessing!  If you believe this and learn to lament, then you are joyful even in suffering, knowing yourself to be God’s beloved child and heir.  And upon the death of your own hopes you receive the hope of eternal joy, which enables you not to fear death or anything else that human beings or Satan can do to you.


Related Links

Islam crucifies. Christians love the cross.

September 6, 2012 1 comment

“The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter.”… Compare the verse from the Quran above with the words of the New Testament: “O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  …For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them….” “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree…'”  Galatians 3:1, 10, 13 “For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently?  But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in hi sbody on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:19-24 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  St. Matthew 5:43-48 But far be it from me to glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  Galatians 6:14 For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  1 Corinthians 1:22-25 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  St. Matthew 16:24-25

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