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God Looks Into the Depths. Luther, Sermon for Christmas Day, Church Postil

jesus upon the cherubim.PNG

  1. Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men, and that very gladly! Here you see that His eyes look into the depths of humility, as it is written, “He sitteth above the cherubim” and looketh into the depths.*  Nor could the angels find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news;  but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth.  Could they not have addressed the high priests, who it was supposed knew so much concerning God and the angels?  No, God chose poor shepherds, who though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded worthy of such great grace and honor.

 

  1. See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty! And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God’s sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.

 

  1. This has been considered sufficiently for plain people. Everyone should ponder it further for himself.  If every word is properly grasped, it is as fire that sets the heart aglow, as God says in Jeremiah 23, 29, “Is not my word like fire?”  And as we see, it is the purpose of the divine Word, to teach us to know God and his work, and to see that this life is nothing.  For as he does not live according to this life and does not have possessions nor temporal honor and power, he does not regard these and says nothing concerning them, but teaches only the contrary.  He works in opposition to these temporal things, looks with favor upon that from which the world turns, teaches that from which it flees and takes up that which it discards.

 

  1. And although we are not willing to tolerate such acts of God and do not want to receive blessing, honor, and life in this way, yet it must remain so. God does not change his purpose, nor does he teach or act differently than he purposed.  We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us.  Moreover, he who will not regard his word, nor the manner in which he works to bring comfort to men, has assuredly no good evidence of being saved.  In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth, than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels rejoice, and make it known to no one but to the poor shepherds?

 

Martin Luther, Sermon on Christmas Day (Luke 2:1-14), Church Postil

 

*The Song of the Three Holy Children, 32

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To Jordan Came our Lord the Christ. Martin Luther, Trans. R. Massie.

martin luther old with bookThis translation is far better than the one in The Lutheran Service Book.  The last stanza is goosebump-inducing.

To Jordan came our Lord the Christ,

To do God’s pleasure willing,

And there was by Saint John baptized,

All righteousness fulfilling;

There did He consecrate a bath

To wash away transgression,

And quench the bitterness of death

By His own blood and Passion;

He would a new life give us.

 

So hear ye all, and well perceive

What God doth call Baptism,

And what a Christian should believe

Who error shuns and schism:

That we should water use, the Lord

Declareth it His pleasure;

Not simple water, but the Word

And Spirit without measure;–

He is the true Baptizer.

 

In tender manhood God the Son

In Jordan’s water standeth;

The Holy Ghost from heaven’s throne

In dovelike form descendeth;

That thus the truth be not denied,

Nor should our faith e’er waver,

That the Three Persons all preside,

At Baptism’s holy laver,

And dwell with the believer.

 

The eye of sense alone is dim,

And nothing sees but water;

Faith sees Christ Jesus, and in Him

The Lamb ordained for slaughter;

It sees the cleansing fountain, red

With the dear blood of Jesus,

Which from the sins, inherited

From fallen Adam, frees us,

And from our own misdoings.

 

M. Luther, 1541.  Trans. R. Massie, 1854.

Boasting Before the Devil

martin-luther-1526

It would be very much in order were we to employ such arrogance when addressing the devil and say, I have God’s Word and I know that with it I have accomplished much good–some I have instructed, others I have admonished, here I have helped some with charitable gifts; I know these to be good works in spite of the devil’s slander.  I say, we may boast before the devil, because we have received nothing from him.  But toward God, from whom we have everything, we may not boast; rather we must humble ourselves.

Luther, House Postil, Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (first sermon, part 11)

Luther on the Estate of Marriage. Part 1

October 8, 2013 1 comment
Jörg Pencz, The Family at Table (1534). This woodcut illustrated a poem by Hans Sachs on table manners which advised guests not to sit at the head of the table, the seat reserved for the master of the house, to wait for Grace, to close their mouths while chewing, and not to flirt. Source: Henry J. Cohn, The Impact of the Reformation on Women in Germany.

Jörg Pencz, The Family at Table (1534). This woodcut illustrated a poem by Hans Sachs on table manners which advised guests not to sit at the head of the table, the seat reserved for the master of the house, to wait for Grace, to close their mouths while chewing, and not to flirt. Source: Henry J. Cohn, The Impact of the Reformation on Women in Germany.

I had an email handed to me that someone had sent to someone else asking some questions about divorce and remarriage.  In our time the church struggles when it comes to counseling people about divorce and remarriage.  Even though in the Old Testament divorce was permitted, God says through the prophet Malachi:

“You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, …16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”  [Malachi 2:13-14, 16]

And Jesus taught that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her (Matthew 19: 9).

On the other hand, the New Testament permits divorce in cases of adultery and desertion (1 Corinthians 7: 15, Matthew 19: 9).  It also permits separation for Christian spouses (1 Cor. 7:10-11).

So what do we do in a setting in which there is so much divorce, particularly in the case of those who have troubled consciences?  It’s not a simple question for pastors.  In the case of those who are unrepentant it seems pretty apparent to me that there needs to be remedial teaching and a return to church discipline.  But in the case of the repentant who have perhaps remarried already, or in the case of spouses who are not seeking a divorce and yet have functionally abandoned their spouses already, it’s not always so clear.  So for those who have unsettled consciences I thought I would post Luther’s sermon from 1522 on marriage, not necessarily as referring to it as the definitive answer to questions about marriage for our time, but as a place to begin thinking about the questions confronting pastors and congregations with regard to questions of marriage and divorce.

http://pages.uoregon.edu/dluebke/Reformations441/LutherMarriage.htm

Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage” (1522)

How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! I am reluctant to do it because I am afraid if I once get really involved in the subject it will make a lot of work for me and for others. The shameful confusion wrought by the accursed papal law has occasioned so much distress, and the lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter nor to hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences, and take up the matter boldly. This sermon is divided into three parts.

Part One

In the first part we shall consider which persons may enter into marriage with one another. In order to proceed aright let us direct our attention to Genesis 1 [:27], “So God created man… male and female he created them.” From this passage we may be assured that God divided mankind into two classes, namely, male and female, or a he and a she. This was so pleasing to him that he himself called it a good creation [Gen. 1:31]. Therefore, each one of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as he created us: I a man and you a woman. Moreover, he wills to have his excellent handiwork honoured as his divine creation, and not despised. The man is not to despise or scoff at the woman or her body, nor the woman the man. But each should honour the other’s image and body as a divine and good creation that is well-pleasing unto God himself.

In the second place, after God had made man and woman he blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” [Gen. 1:28]. From this passage we may be assured that man and woman should and must come together in order to multiply. Now this [ordinance] is just as inflexible as the first, and no more to be despised and made fun of than the other, since God gives it his blessing and does something over and above the act of creation. Hence, as it is not within my power not to be a man, so it is not my prerogative to be without a woman. Again, as it is not in your power not to be a woman, so it is not your prerogative to be without a man. For it is not a matter of free choice or decision but a natural and necessary thing, that whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.

For this word which God speaks, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice.

[continued…]

Judge not–unless you’re a parent, ruler, or pastor. Luther.

June 21, 2013 2 comments

lady in a preaching gown as his ambassador.

FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.

LUKE 6:36-42.

from Martin Luther’s Church Postil.

 

Luke 6:36f.

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom…

3. Hence it is not meant, that by such works as are here enumerated they should first obtain forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that avails before God; but Christ speaks plainly and simply to his disciples whom he had chosen and called Apostles, as St. Luke shows preceding this Gospel. Christ teaches them how they shall conduct themselves when they preach, as though he would say: You dear disciples, I send you as sheep among wolves, and commend this office unto you to preach, and others shall hear your preaching, accept and believe it. And you will be so received that the world will be offended at you and regard you as enemies, and you will find just as much friendship and love in it, as sheep among wolves. For it will become wholly mad and foolish at your preaching, and will by no means tolerate it. Therefore see to it that you lead a better life and conversation than your enemies, who will practice upon you all kinds of unmerciful deeds by judging and condemning you. Moreover they will not only not forgive you any sin, but will proclaim your best works and deeds of mercy as the greatest sins. Again, they will not only not give you anything, but they will also hunt down that which is your own, and will take and keep it by violence. Thus they will treat you. But beware, that you be not like them; on the other hand where they judge, judge not; where they condemn, bless; where they take revenge, forgive; when they take, give. For immediately before, the Lord teaches the very same when he says: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.

….

15. To this friendly admonition of Christ our Lord we Christians and especially we ministers should diligently give due heed, for we also have at the present day adversaries of our faith and doctrine, who are great and powerful, ‘kings, princes, lords, Pope and bishops. To these our enemies according to this doctrine of Christ we show all mercy, and are not willing that a hair of their heads should be injured, or that they should be robbed of a cent. But this we wish them from our heart, that they may learn to know their errors and sins, and c

Rebukes wealthy member of congregation for sexual immorality, calls rest of congregation children of the devil

Rebukes wealthy member of congregation for sexual immorality, calls rest of congregation children of the devil.

ommit themselves to the grace of God and believe the Gospel. On this account they judge, condemn and persecute us, rob us of honor, goods, body and life, as though we were the worst rogues that tread the earth. Such things we do not to them in return, God be praised! but show them all love and kindness, and would willingly help them, if they would only permit it.

16. Yes, they say, you revile us nevertheless, both in writing and preaching, and condemn us as heretics, and will not permit us to be the Christian Church. Is such reproof and condemnation mercy? We answer: This is quite a different matter. Christ in this Gospel speaks of those who shall suffer injustice. And it would not be right to apply this to those who by virtue of their office are required to reprove what is wrong. For those who have the office to judge and condemn, do no wrong thereby, in so doing. For as little as it agrees or is valid for a child to say to its father when he would punish it; father, be merciful, and God will then also be merciful to thee; so little is it valid against those who have the office of reproof. For it would be very inappropriate for a thief or evil doer to say to the officer of the law: Dear sir, forgive and do not judge me, and then our Lord God will again forgive thee. No, my dear fellow, the officer of the law by virtue of his office will thus answer and say: It is not necessary that I should forgive you. I do what is right, and doing right needs no forgiveness, but is praiseworthy. Thus also when father and mother punish their children, they do right, for this is called true punishment, when the office requires it. But beware, that you do not revenge yourself against him who must punish you, even if at times he treats you unjustly.

17. Wherefore it is not appropriate to twist this text, as though the Lord speaks of those who have the authority to punish the wrong, as ministers and all persons in authority, fathers, mothers, princes, lords, and finally also the executioner, who should not say to the evil doer, to whom he must administer justice, as however they are accustomed to do: “Dear Sir, forgive me, what I do to you today,” for why should he say this? As he does right, he needs no forgiveness, which pertains alone to sin and wrong; for. his office is to punish wrong. Just as it would be wrong if a father would say to his son when he would punish him: Dear son, forgive me, that I punish you. No, he does right, therefore the son should bear it, for thus God will have it. Read more…

Prayer Before the Sermon. Luther

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Eva...

Martin Luther, commemorated on February 18 Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2006), 15. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

54.  Prayer before the sermon.  Evangelische Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz.  Concordia: St. Louis, 1881.  (p. 44)

Dear God, through Your beloved Son You have said that those who hear Your Word are blessed.  How much more fitting it would be for us to bless You, praise, thank and laud You unceasingly, O eternal and merciful Father, with glad hearts, that You show Yourself so friendly—indeed, so like a father—to us poor little worms, that You speak to us about the greatest and highest of subjects—eternal life.  Nevertheless, You don’t stop there, enticing and wooing us to hear Your Word through Your Son.   He says: “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  As if You couldn’t get by without our ears—we, who are dust and ashes!  Many thousand times more do we need Your Word.  O, how unspeakably great is Your goodness and patience!   On the other hand, woe!  Woe! over the ingratitude and colorblindness of those who not only don’t want to hear Your Word, but even stubbornly  despise, persecute, and blaspheme it.  Amen. Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Can Christians Talk To Dead Loved Ones? Pray for them?

May 28, 2013 1 comment

ghost_movie_musicalThese days it is quite common for conservative protestants to claim to speak with the dead.  At least in my experience.  You often hear people speak as though their deceased loved one was in the room on a certain occasion, speaking with them, flipping the lights off and on, etc.  On the other hand, conservative protestants generally think of it as a law that you don’t pray for the dead.  Luther teaches exactly the reverse: you may pray for those who have died (although not repeatedly, because God hears you in Christ the first time.)  But you never, ever, under any circumstances, talk to a dead person who claims to be your loved one, or believe that your loved one communicates with you in any way from the other side of the grave.  Read on…

 

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity (on Luke 16:19-31)  http://www.lutherdansk.dk/1%20Web-AM%20-%20Trinity%201-12/index.htm

“28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham’s bosom and hell, and those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.

 

29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.

 

30. But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.

 

31. However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God’s will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: ”They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.

 

32. Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, ”They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.

 

33. And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.

 

34. Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.

 

35. A similar story we read about Gregory, the Bishop of Cappadocia, that he crossed the Alps and lodged with a heathen sexton or clerk of the church, who had an idol, that answered him the questions he asked; and he made his living by telling the people secret things. Now the bishop knew nothing of this, and proceeded the next day as soon as it was morning on his journey. But Satan or the evil spirit could not endure the prayers and presence of the holy man, and at once he betook himself out of the house, so that the heathen sexton could no longer receive answers as before. As soon as he felt his great loss, he set up a great howl to call back his idol, which appeared to him while he was asleep, and said, it was his own fault because he had lodged the bishop, with whom he (the evil spirit) could not remain. The sexton hastened to overtake the bishop and complained to him that he had taken his god and livelihood, and returned evil for the kindness extended to him. Then the bishop took paper out of his pocket and wrote these few words: ”Gregory sendeth greetings to Apollinius. Be thou at liberty, O, Apollinius, to do as thou hast done before. Farewell.” The sexton took the letter and laid it by the side of his idol; then the devil came again, and did as before. Finally the sexton began to think, what a poor god is he, who allows himself to be driven away and lead by my guest who was only a man. And at once he started to the bishop, was instructed and baptized, and grew in his faith, so that he became the eminent bishop of Caesarea, a city in Cappadocia, upon the death of the bishop that baptized him. Behold, how simply faith proceeds, and acts joyfully, securely and effectively. Treat all your troublesome evil spirits in the same way.

 

http://https://deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/luther-on-spirits-and-communication-with-the-dead-epiphany-sermon/

https://deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/ghosts-haunted-houses-prayer-to-the-dead-and-pastoral-care/

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