Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday of Easter 7

Hereditary Sin, Inherited Righteousness


Psalm 51:1–12 (ESV) Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

I am happy to use the English Standard Version (ESV) for Scripture reading at home and at church, since it is overall a very accurate translation. However, there are a handful of passages in it that are less than felicitous, including the fifth verse of the Psalm appointed for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This translation is simply unclear, especially the second phrase. Was David’s mother “living in sin” or “participating in sin” when she conceived him? Or was David conceived “in sin,” as in, he was sinful from conception onward?

The latter, of course, is the correct sense, which is properly rendered from the Hebrew in the NIV: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” The context of the Psalm also helps us get the proper meaning, since it would make no sense for David to be confessing his mother’s sin in a prayer to God that is all about how sinful and in need of cleansing he himself is. Philipp Melancthon, the great Lutheran Reformer, comments: “David does not deplore the sin of [his] mother, but his own.… There was born with me an aversion away from God and a corrupted tendency. Therefore he testifies that there is sin in human beings which they bring with them when they are born.”

Psalm 51:5 teaches about original sin, which is not a biblical term but is taught throughout Holy Scripture. Original sin is known variously as the sin of origin, root sin, hereditary sin, ancestral sin, and other formulations. This doctrine is essential for revealing our desperate need for cleansing from sin and our utter inability to achieve this ourselves. It is the sharpest teaching of the Law, which prepares us for the Gospel and gives all glory to God for our salvation through Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Of course, original sin is not a popular doctrine, since it seems so pessimistic. The romantic notion that we are all basically good, or the myth of progress that humanity is gradually getting better, is much more appealing. And dead wrong.

I think an honest look at history and human behavior provides plenty of evidence for original sin, but the sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) principle means that we must establish all doctrine from the Bible. Luther says in our the Book of Concord, “This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture” (Smalcald Articles III.I.3).

Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), the doctrine of original sin means not only that we are unable to live in a righteous way that can reconcile us with God but also that we all are headed for temporal death and would face everlasting death, were it not for Christ. But Paul goes on in that same verse, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In the previous chapter, Paul had written, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18–19). This means that we have hereditary sin from Adam, but inherited righteousness from Jesus Christ by Baptism into and faith in Him. In this, David’s (and our) prayer in Psalm 51 is answered, especially the introductory verses: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

Prayer:

1. All mankind fell in Adam’s fall;
One common sin infects us all.
From one to all the curse descends,
And over all God’s wrath impends.

2. Through all our pow’rs corruption creeps
And us in dreadful bondage keeps;
In guilt we draw our infant breath
And reap its fruits of woe and death.

3. From hearts depraved, to evil prone,
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Seeks not nor finds its heav’nly goal.

4. But Christ, the second Adam, came
To bear our sin and woe and shame,
To be our life, our light, our way,
Our only hope, our only stay.

5. As by one man all mankind fell
And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,
So by one Man, who took our place,
We all were justified by grace.

6. We thank You, Christ; new life is ours,
New light, new hope, new strength, new pow’rs.
This grace our ev’ry way attend
Until we reach our journey’s end. Amen. (LSB 562)

Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday of Easter 7

I Will Confess My Transgressions to the Lord

2 Samuel 11:26–12:14 (ESV) When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ ” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”

Joseph’s brothers feared his retribution against them after Jacob was dead, but he assured them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). The Lord does something similar with David’s shameful adultery with Bathsheba and his cover-up through the ruthless murder of Uriah. Through the pen of the sinner David, he has given us poor, miserable sinners prayers for and promises of forgiveness from the Lord.

Two important parts of our Divine Service are related to this event. Prior to the Confession and Absolution, the pastor says, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” and the congregation says, “and thou forgavest the iniquity of sin” (Psalm 32:5). And after the sermon we sing in the Offertory, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12).

We know that Psalm 51 is associated with David’s fall and restoration, since its superscription says: “TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN NATHAN THE PROPHET WENT TO HIM, AFTER HE HAD GONE IN TO BATHSHEBA.” Psalm 32 seems also to be written about David’s fall and subsequent repentance and forgiveness. Psalm 32:3-5 says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” For all of us wallowing in the depths of guilt over our sin, we have divinely inspired words given here to pray, and the example of a fallen sinner who was raised back up by the Absolution of the Lord!

St. Paul cites Psalm 32:1-2 in Romans 4:5–8 in order to emphasize the central doctrine of Christianity: justification by grace received through faith for the sake of Christ. He writes, “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” There is no question David was ungodly, but through Nathan, God justified him. There is no doubt that we are ungodly, but for the sake of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, God justifies us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Almighty God, call us to repentance as Nathan called David to repentance, so by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David, we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins. We give You thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thursday of Easter 7

New and Clean Hearts

Mark 7:14–23 (ESV) And Jesus called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

“New hearts” is a theme in the Old Testament reading and Psalm of the Day for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In Psalm 51:10, we pray (as we do in the Offertory every Sunday), “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Ezekiel 36:25-27 points forward to the answer for that prayer in the New Testament: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

We need new hearts created in us! In Mark 7, Jesus makes clear that what defiles us, what makes us impure and unclean before Him, is a wicked heart and its wicked thoughts, words, and deeds. Your heart is the source of all your sin, and it is the culprit that provokes God’s wrath. Some preachers tell you to give your heart to Jesus, but based on His description here, why in the world would He want it? He wouldn’t. Our hearts are not fit for His holy presence.

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him,” Jesus says, but there is something outside a person that by going into him can cleanse him. As the Gospel is proclaimed into our ears, the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, cleansing our hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). As the Absolution of Christ is spoken to your guilty conscience, it drives out the accusations of all laws and creates in you new hearts and right spirits. As the waters of Holy Baptism poured forth from Jesus’ pierced side, the love of God was poured into your heart “through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5), given to all of us who are baptized. And while no foods can defile us any longer, there is a food that can and does purify and sanctify our sinful hearts, the pierced body and poured out blood of our Lord Jesus given to us under the bread and wine.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, by the death and resurrection of Your Son You cleansed our hearts and put a new Spirit within us. Grant that all who are brought to newness of life in the fellowship of the body of Christ may show forth in their lives what they confess with their lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 7

The Fiery Trial

1 Peter 4:7–14 (ESV) The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

The Epistle reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter calls upon us not to be surprised when we face “the fiery trial.” From the outset of his First Epistle, St. Peter has spoken of the positive benefits of trials for our faith: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3–9).

One positive thing about suffering is “to test you” as a “fiery trial”—this implies the fiery process of separating metal ore from dross, freeing it of its impurities and refining it; just as fire refines precious metals, so the fiery ordeal tests and proves the genuineness and constancy of faith, and increases our trust in the Lord. As we sing in “How Firm a Foundation,” the Lord says, “When through fiery trials your pathway will lie, My grace, all-sufficient, will be your supply. The flames will not hurt you; I only design Your dross to consume and your gold to refine” (LSB 728:4).

Here are a couple excerpts from a sermon by Joel Osteen, followed by some of Dr. Luther’s comments on First Peter. Note a contrast?

Joel Osteen: “See, convince a man that there is no hope and you've done the worst possible thing in the world for him. If I want to be guilty of one thing, it is that every time I got up here I instilled hope in the people. See I know if I can get your hopes up, if you'll have hope, you'll start to have faith. You'll start to exercise your faith. And faith is what moves God to act… See I've got the hope that every one of you will be blessed in every area of your life. Not just finances. I believe God is pouring out his wisdom upon you. I believe you're going to...you know God's supernatural favor is going to overtake you. And we're going to rise up and have the healthiest, most prosperous, most sound congregation in this whole nation…See that's God's dream for all of you. That's God's dream for every one of you. God's dream is above all else you prosper and be in health.”

Dr. Luther: “When faith begins, God does not forsake it; He lays the holy cross on our backs to strengthen us and to make faith powerful in us. The holy Gospel is a powerful Word. Therefore it cannot do its work without trials, and only he who tastes it is aware that it has such power. Where suffering and the cross are found, there the Gospel can show and exercise its power. It is a Word of life. Therefore it must exercise all its power in death. In the absence of dying and death it can do nothing, and no one can become aware that it has such power and is stronger than sin and death. Therefore the apostle says ‘to prove you’; that is, God inflicts no glowing fire or heat (cross and suffering, which makes you burn) on you for any other purpose than ‘to prove you,’ whether you also cling to His Word…God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God—the power which they have taken hold of through faith.”

Osteen’s outcome of truly faithful people is that they will be healthy, wealthy and wise; Luther’s outcome for the faithful is that God will place a cross upon them. Our Old Adam, our sinful flesh, hates the cross and is surprised when it comes, but our new man, created after the image of Christ, recognizes fiery trials as no surprise but as needful blessings. So, along with St. Paul, we can receive the words of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And along with St. Paul, we can respond: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Prayer: O God, You are like a refiner’s fire, and Your Spirit enkindles the hearts of Your faithful people with the fire of Your love. Bless, we implore You, all who have kept the joyful Easter festival that, burning with desire for life with You, we may be found rightly prepared to share in the Feast of Light which has no end; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Tuesday of Easter 7

Are You Prepared for Persecution?



John 15:26—16:4 (ESV) Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.”

In our Seventh Sunday of Easter Gospel reading, Jesus says, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Those who killed Jesus thought they were serving God by killing Him; they thought He was a blasphemer and needed to be eliminated. So also, Jesus said, would unbelievers continue to persecute and even kill Christ’s disciples. Jesus said that the Church would follow in His footsteps and be persecuted for the sake of His righteousness.

Earlier in John 15, He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21). In other words, when Christians are persecuted for the sake of Christ, it is not caused by someone’s personal hatred against the Christian, but it’s the result of the unbelieving world’s hatred of the One True God and the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

As we read through the Acts of the Apostles, we see this persecution of the Christian Church almost from day one. In Acts 5, St. Luke tells us that the earliest Christians did not meet this persecution with fear, but in fact, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ. In Acts 7 we see St. Stephen become the first martyr, losing His life for confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the world. We see him dying confident of his salvation and even praying that Jesus would have mercy on his persecutors (if that sounds familiar, remember that Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”).

Now you would think that persecution would have snuffed out Jesus and the early church, but Christ rose from the dead victoriously and the early Christians knew that oppression could not keep the Gospel down. In spite of all the persecutions, the Word of the Lord continued to draw more and more disciples into the Church.

In Acts 9 we learn that all persecutors of the Church are fighting a futile battle, as Saul (also known as Paul) found out firsthand. On the road to Damascus, Jesus manifested Himself to Saul, who had been persecuting the Church, and the Lord said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Here is the deep mystery of Christ in His disciples and with His disciples. Since Jesus said that He is with us to the end of the age—since He tells us that we are united with Him through Baptism and faith—this means that when anyone attacks Christians for their faith, they are actually attacking Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth. And what has always kept Christians from falling away and renouncing their faith has been Christ’s presence with persecuted Christians, and the Holy Spirit’s comforting words in the Gospel.

I don’t know if any of us will face persecution, even to the point of death, for being a disciple of Jesus, but I can tell you this: if that persecution does come, it will be a blessing to us. According to our Lord Jesus, blessings often times come in the shape of crosses, not in the shape of earthly peace, health, and prosperity. No matter what comes in life, because of Christ’s presence with us, because of the promises that He makes in the Gospel – the promises that the Holy Spirit comes through the Word of God to continually remind us of – because of our Lord’s grace to us, we have nothing to fear. As St. Paul puts it so wonderfully, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, before whom all in heaven and earth shall bow, grant courage that Your children may confess Your saving name in the face of any opposition from a world hostile to the Gospel. Help them to remember Your faithful people who sacrificed much and even faced death rather than dishonor You when called upon to deny the faith. By Your Spirit, strengthen them to be faithful and to confess You boldly, knowing that You will confess Your own before the Father in heaven, with whom You and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Monday of Easter 7

Listen up, Lord!


Psalm 27 (ESV The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Exaudi, gets its name from the first word of the Introit, from Psalm 27:7—“Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud!” Grammatically, exaudi is a second-person singular imperative verb, which is really a bit stronger than “hear”—“listen up” better conveys its intensity.

It seems a bit presumptuous that we tell God to “listen up,” doesn’t it? In fact, many of the Psalms—particularly the “lament” or “complaint” Psalms—make me pause and ask: “How can I talk to the Almighty Creator that way?” For example: “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?... Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted” (Psalm 10:1, 12). Who are we to complain or demand an explanation from God, and if He is omniscient, why does He need reminding?

The latter question is philosophical, which means it is not a good one for evaluating a Christian practice such as prayer: in spite of the fact that God’s omniscience seems to render prayer unnecessary, we pray nonetheless because the LORD has commanded us to and promises to hear and answer: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek’” (Psalm 27:8).

The former question (“who are we to complain?”) is a better one, since it starts from the Bible’s description of us as sinful creatures: not only did God give us life, but by our rebellion we have called down His wrath and deserve whatever punishments might happen. But that’s where grace comes in.

Not only are the Psalms the “prayerbook of the Bible,” they were the prayerbook of Jesus. While David and other Hebrews penned them, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the reason we can pray them (or even pray at all) is because of Christ. Covered by His blood and righteousness, we can stand with confidence before the Father and pray “in the Name of Jesus,” which could be paraphrased as “in the shoes of Jesus.” Yes, we are invited to take the place of “beloved son of God” through “God’s Beloved Son,” which means that there is nothing presumptuous about telling the Father to “listen up”—in fact, He just loves to hear us talk to Him.

As the Small Catechism so beautifully puts it: “Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

“Listen up” still sounds presumptuous, though. I wouldn’t tolerate such language from my own children. Or would I? I wouldn’t let them talk to me that way if they were defying me, but what if they needed me? For example, what if they were drowning? More urgent, even bossier, modes of speech are tolerated and even demanded in dire situations. Since every day on this earth is “the day of trouble,” we are in dire need of help from God, so we can cry out to Him at any time: “Listen up! Help me, Lord!”

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, the consolation of the sorrowful and the strength of the weak, may the prayers of those who in any tribulation or distress cry to You graciously come before You, so that in every situation they may recognize and receive Your gracious help, comfort, and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer requests: for Uce Gruetzner, hospitalized with pneumonia; for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care; for our homebound members: Joe and Lynn Cottle, Carolyn Dube, Duane Gruetzner, Delma Roitsch, Willard and Ann Teinert, Joycelynn Harvey, Virginia Wilkins, Cheryl Kieschnick, Wilbur Gaskamp, Doris George, Alice Kovar, Helen Ray Gustafson, Ruth Wissen.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday of Easter 6

Free to Pray

Luke 11:1–13 (ESV) Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

In Christ, we are set free to pray. By the Gospel we are set free from the clamoring voice that says, “You’ve gotta pray this much…You haven’t prayed enough,” and we pray that that voice be driven out for good: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

You are baptized, and if baptized, then: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). You do not pray on our own, but, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

Wherever, whenever, in whatever situation, we have an open line to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. We are new creations in Christ, made ready for an ongoing dialogue with God: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Though the new day of prayer has come, we do still have our sinful Old Adam constantly seeking to drag us back into slavery. For him we must always be on watch: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). And one of our primary services to each other is prayer: in the Divine Service, in regular daily prayer and devotions, and whenever the need arises. Prayer: just do it!

Prayer: Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells. In the multitude of Your tender mercies prepare my heart that I may soon enter Your house to worship and confess Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, my God and Lord. Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday of Easter 6

Pray without Ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:15–28 (ESV) See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Our Lord tells us to pray without ceasing, and He “never lies” (Titus 1:2). We get nowhere by minimizing His demands on us. Jesus is not joking when He says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God does expect perfection of us, and anything short of perfection is sin. God does expect unceasing prayer from us, and anything short of unceasing prayer is sin.

“But that’s just unreasonable,” you might protest. “Who could live up to that standard? We can’t live without sleep.”

I don’t remember where I heard this anecdote, but supposedly there was a European ruler in the middle ages who had his servants wake him every hour so that he could pray for the salvation of his soul. He was worried that if he died without having recently prayed for forgiveness, he would wind up in hell. In this poor man’s mind, he thought by waking each hour during the night to pray, he was actually fulfilling the command to “pray without ceasing.”

A great debate throughout the middle ages and on into the Reformation was over whether God would give commands that we do not have the power to fulfill. To many, it just didn’t seem fair He could lay such an expectation on us. Luther and the Lutherans rightly said, “God certainly has given us commandments that we could never dream of fulfilling.” In His demand for us to be perfect, in His requirement to pray without ceasing, in His Ten Commandments, the Lord has laid upon us a burden too great for any sinner to bear.

Anyone who thinks it unfair or unreasonable for God to place such weighty expectations on us frail humans has never fully come to grips with what we owe our Creator, nor has he properly estimated the insidious nature of sin, which is our total rebellion against God. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11).

That’s right, no one seeks after God; rather, everyone seeks his or her own pleasure. Lest we get any silly notion that we can enter God’s courtroom and even open our mouths to defend ourselves on the basis of our level of moral perfection, our faithfulness in prayer, or our obedience to the Decalogue, our Lord stuffs our mouths full by the following words and shuts us up for good: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).

So the answer to the question, “Do I have to pray all the time?” is certainly “Yes!” But as we assess our lives in the light of that law, we are brought to the “knowledge of sin” in our hearts. The situation is much worse than we ever could have imagined. But this is just what God wants us to realize, and that is why He makes such unbelievably stringent demands on our lives. And this prepares us for the Gospel!

“God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32). Isn’t that a shocking statement? If we hope to be found under God’s mercy, we first must be found disobedient. But while we each have been disobedient from the time of our conception, God’s mercy had already been shown when Christ “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). “God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

For all our failures to pray without ceasing, we have a Redeemer from sin and a Mediator with God, which should change our perspective on prayer: we get to pray without ceasing, and the Father promises to hear and answer according to His good and gracious will!

Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give You thanks that by the patient suffering and death of Your Son You rescued us from all faithlessness. Deliver us from the sin of impatience. By Your Word and Spirit, teach us to commend ourselves to You and to trust that in all things You work for our eternal good. Strengthen us to bear all crosses, adversities, and trials with patience and fervent trust in our Savior as we await Your deliverance and peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Thursday of Easter 6

The Day of Trouble

Psalm 50:1–15 (ESV) The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?  Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Our Lord tells us to call upon Him in the day of trouble. Does that mean only on certain days of the week, on particularly difficult days? Hardly! As Luther so aptly says in the Large Catechism about our daily situation: “You will also have the devil about you…He is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it, so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk about so securely and carelessly, except that we neither think nor believe that we are in the flesh and in this wicked world or in the devil’s kingdom” (Large Catechism, Lord’s Supper, lines 80-82). If we really believe our situation is so dire, we will seek regular protection from Satan by our faithful use of the Lord’s Supper, and similarly seek our Lord’s help and protection in prayer continually. Every day is the day of trouble!

But when have we finally prayed enough? How often is often enough? I think this area is where we run the risk of getting shipwrecked. Our Lutheran forefathers often spoke of the drunken peasant trying to steer his wagon down a narrow way, careening from one ditch to the other. That is how we are tempted to think about prayer and devotions, with one ditch being “I don’t need to pray at all” and the other being “I have to pray all the time.”

So often our questions need clarification. “Do we need to pray?” should be answered with, “It depends on what you mean.” If you mean that we need to pray in order to acquire salvation, then the answer is, “No. We don’t need to pray in order to be saved.” Prayer is a work, and we are not saved by works. Rather, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

But once we have down the basis that we are not saved by our own prayer, then the answer to the question, “Do we need to pray?” is most certainly, “Yes!” Prayer is something a Christian just cannot live without. God commands us to pray and promises to answer. We desperately need to pray because we need God’s help and protection against Satan. And we need to pray because God tells us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Prayer: O Lord, our saving light and our shelter in the day of trouble, turn us not away in anger because of our sins. Calm our hearts, strengthen our faith, and lead us in Your straight paths until we see Your surpassing goodness in heaven with all those who live in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Wednesday of Easter 6

As Moses Lifted Up the Serpent...

Numbers 21:4–9 (ESV) From Mount Hor Israel set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

After the Exodus a pattern of grumbling had formed among the Israelites: "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna" (Numbers 11:5-6). In that case, the people’s grumbling is first answered by fire that killed some and later a plague that struck down others.

A bit later: “All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Numbers 14:2) and "Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink." (Numbers 20:5). In Numbers 14 and 20, the Lord does not directly smite the Israelites as we might expect but withholds temporal judgment. As Numbers 14:18 points out, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”

However, by the next time the Israelites grumble, God’s slowness to anger has reached its end. In our Old Testament reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, God smites the Israelites with many fiery serpents. Many die. But God’s willingness to forgive iniquity has not ended, as He relents and shows mercy through the bronze serpent. After the Israelites come to Moses in repentance, he intercedes on their behalf. God commands Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and hold it up for the people to see. Whoever looks up at the serpent has his life spared. While God punishes sin, He also shows mercy!

The reason this event happened, however, is much greater and more profound than might first be suspected, since later Jesus will say: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14–17).

John 3:16, “the Gospel in a nutshell,” has the story of the bronze serpent as its Old Testament background! Who’d a thunk it? I’ll delve deeper into this theme in my upcoming sermon on June 7, when the Gospel reading for Holy Trinity Sunday is John 3:1-17. But for now, rejoice and marvel that God’s own Son was lifted up on the cross like an accursed serpent so you may look at Him through faith and have everlasting life in His name!

Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, You want all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Magnify the power of the Gospel in the hearts of Your faithful people that Your Church may spread the good news of salvation. Protect, encourage, and bless all who proclaim the saving cross that Christ, being lifted up, may draw all people to Himself, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Tuesday of Easter 6

Pure and Undefiled Religion


Acts 9:36–43 (ESV) Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

James 1:22–27 (ESV) But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

You probably know that I'm not a huge fan of the word "religion," since in our pluralistic age, people approach religion like one might approach a buffet in a cafeteria: you can pick and choose as you whatever you like. I prefer not to describe Christianity as "a religion" but as "The Truth." The earliest Christians considered themselves part of "The Way" (Acts 9:2) as in, Jesus is "The Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6).

But since St. James uses the term "religion" in our Easter 6 Epistle reading, I shouldn't disparage the term. As we learned last week, we Lutherans can learn a lot from James! What James is talking about here might better be translated as "piety," that is, the daily practice of one's faith, especially in regard to sanctification. He says "pure and undefiled" religion is to care for those in need and avoid being corrupted by the world.

It sounds like Tabitha (aka Dorcas) practiced this pure and undefiled religion as a "disciple" of Christ. She took care of widows, and their appreciation is shown in their coming to mourn for her. They had not forgotten the good works Tabitha had done for them! Neither does God: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!' ” (Revelation 14:13).

But the Lord wasn't quite done with His servant Tabitha that day! He sent Peter to her house to raise her up in order to testify to the power of the Risen Christ and so that she could continue to practice pure and undefiled religion for a while longer, until she would die again and await the final Resurrection, along with all the saints. And it is this hope that undergirds all of our religious practice as Christians, all of our daily piety: 

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed... Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 57-58).

Prayer: Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things, graft into our hearts the love of Your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Monday of Easter 6

Rogate

John 16:23-33 (ESV) [Jesus said,] “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

I fear that I misled you in a previous post. Two weeks ago, I wrote, "The Sundays of the Church Year historically are named based on the first word (in Latin) of the Introit." This is true--except when it isn't. I should have qualified it with a "generally," since Rogate Sunday (The Sixth Sunday of Easter) is one of those exceptions. The verb rogare means "to ask" or "to request," and Rogate ("ask, y'all!") is nowhere to be found in the Introit, which begins with Isaiah 48:20b, "With a voice of singing, declare this with a shout of joy to the end of the earth. Alleluia. The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob! Alleluia."

Best I can tell, Rogate Sunday takes its name from the the general theme of the day: prayer. The verb rogare does appear in the Gospel reading, when Jesus says, "I do not say that I will ask (rogabo) the Father on your behalf," and then goes on to explain that, after His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, His disciples will have the right to pray to the Father directly through the Name of Jesus.


The theme of prayer does come through strongly in the Introit: "I cried to God with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. Truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Bless├Ęd be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!" (Psalm 66:17, 19-20).


Some years ago I preached a sermon entitled, "Prayer: Just Do It." So I am going to stop writing now and simply say, "Rogate," since Jesus has promised that whatever you ask the Father in His name, He will give it to you!



TLH General Prayer, pp. 23-4, with modernized language

Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks for all Your goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Your dear Son and for the revelation of Your will and grace; and we beg You so to implant Your Word in us that in good and honest hearts we may keep it and bring forth fruit by patient continuance in good works.

Most heartily we pray You so to rule and govern Your Church Universal, with all its pastors and ministers, that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Your saving Word, whereby faith toward You may be strengthened, love increased in us toward all mankind, and Your Kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those whom You have sent, that the Word of Reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world.

Grant also health and prosperity to all that are in authority, especially to the President and Congress of the United States, the Governor and Legislature of this state, and to all our Judges and Magistrates, and endue them with grace to rule after Your good pleasure, to the maintenance of righteousness and to the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty. May it please You also to turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries, that they may cease their violence and be inclined to walk with us in meekness and in peace.

Comfort, O God, with Your Holy Spirit, all who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity. Be with those who are suffering for Your names and for Your truths sake, that they may receive and acknowledge their afflictions as the manifestation of Your fatherly will.

And although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and manifold punishments, yet, we beg You, O most merciful Father, remember not the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions, but out of Your unspeakable goodness, grace, and mercy defend us from all harm and danger of body and soul. Preserve us from false and destructive doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. And in every time of trouble show Yourself a very present Help, the Savior of all men, and especially of them that believe.

Cause all necessary fruits of the earth to prosper, that we may enjoy them at the proper time. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge; and crown them with Your blessing.

Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring before You, for You have purchased us to be Your own, that we may live to You.

Special petitions here

These and whatever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant to us for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Prayer requests: for the family of Anne Walker, as they mourn; for Bessie Mahaffey and Alma Gause, under hospice care; for our homebound members: Joe and Lynn Cottle, Carolyn Dube, Duane Gruetzner, Delma Roitsch, Willard and Ann Teinert, Joycelynn Harvey, Virginia Wilkins, Cheryl Kieschnick, Wilbur Gaskamp, Doris George, Alice Kovar, Helen Ray Gustafson, Uce Gruetzner, Ruth Wissen.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday of Easter 5

Play It One More Time

Isaiah 12:1–6 (ESV) You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: 'Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.'”

We began the week of Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, with the Introit, "Sing to the Lord a new song, Alleluia!" from Psalm 98. As we prepare to join our voices in song in the Divine Service tomorrow, we return to this theme by glancing back at the Old Testament reading from last Sunday.

Isaiah 12 follows, obviously, Isaiah 11, where we learn: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (11:1-2). And before that, in Isaiah 7: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14). These promises were fulfilled in Jesus!

Writing some 700 years before the Incarnation of God's Son, Isaiah had been given as clear a view of God's plans for the future as any of the prophets. Most significantly, Isaiah 53 recounts the sufferings of Jesus: “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5). Since Jesus suffered this on our behalf, the Father’s anger has been turned away and we can rejoice to know that the righteousness of Christ has made us right with God!

Isaiah foresaw the joyful gathering of the Christian Church in worship, especially accompanied by song, and this likewise is what St. Paul urges us to do: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17).

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, You dwell in the heavens surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as they offer their worship and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” We thank You that You have united our voices with their unending hymn of praise. Of Your goodness You have blessed us with the gift of music to enliven our hearts and adorn our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Grant that by Your mercy we may ever glorify Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.