Psalm 85


LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. (ESV)



Appointment With the Gospel

Friday of Advent 2

12 December 2014

It took me a long time to gain a modicum of wisdom as a parish pastor (my parishioners might claim that I have yet to gain it!). When I was younger I would meet once with a parishioner struggling with some grief, a besetting sin, or a major conflict in their marriage, give counsel and often proclaim holy absolution. Inevitably those people sooner or later returned to my office or to the confessional. One meeting was seldom enough. As I gained a little wisdom I began to schedule follow up meetings with people as a matter of principle. I found that they needed to process what we discussed and mull it over. When I scheduled that follow-up meeting they came back with new insights or issues over which they struggled.


This was especially true in their experience of holy absolution. How hard it is for us weak humans to overcome the fear of our sin and the wrath of God. Yes, I can tell you that for Christ's sake you are free of your wickedness; that He has taken it into Himself and declared you to be free from guilt in His sight. That proclamation does all because it is not merely the word of a man, but it is the disclosure of the very heart of God to poor sinners in speech. That we Christians get: God has spoken. I am forgiven. The problem is that our poor flesh takes some convincing. We feel the burden of God's wrath to our very core. Hearing holy absolution and confessing its faithfulness and feeling the burden of our sin lifted from our hearts are two different things. We know what God has said, but we struggle to trust it.


This battle is a fight against what our Lutheran theologians called "the opinion of the law." The opinion of the law hovers out there over all the waters of our trouble. Our Lutheran forefathers recognized that humans most easily believe the law and doubt the gospel. The gospel is such a shocking and counter-intuitive message that only those who have the Spirit of God could ever trust it or believe it. The law is a message firmly stitched upon our fallen hearts (Rm 2:15). We know it intuitively. Every experience is strained through the sieve of the law and so we feel the burden of the accusation of God's law and His divine wrath. The opinion of the law is especially powerful because it is truthful. It does point out our sin and the divine judgment to us. This is wholly truthful.


We must not remain caught by its terrifying accusation. The Holy Spirit must lead us to plug our ears to the law's threats so that we might listen only to the divine gift of grace and the proclamation that Christ our Savior has 'borne our griefs and carried our sorrows' (Is 53:4). When God speaks His word of consolation to poor terrified sinners they must not return to the law and its opinion or they will never have a moment's peace. If they return to the law, they will carry their own griefs and bear their own sorrows. This is exactly the opposite of what the holy gospel tells us. Here is why we must return ever and again to hear the proclamation of the message of absolution. It is not a thing that is gotten and captured easily by us sinners. We need make an appointment with the gospel again and again.


Martin Luther


"[Joseph's] brothers (Gn 45:5-7) are not yet able to collect themselves, even though Joseph mitigates and extenuates their sin and calls his mission ordained by God's counsel and occurring for their salvation and that of others. They still stand there quaking, trembling, terrified, and thunderstruck. He accomplished too little by encouraging and soothing them, despite the fact that he lightened their sin and covered it by repeatedly referring to the divine ordinance and the blessed outcome, which was especially salutary to so many nations. This he had done both to strengthen them and later to console his afflicted and troubled father through them. So difficult a task it is to cheer up and strengthen souls overwhelmed by the fear of God's wrath and divine judgment. Indeed, look at the apostles, with whom Christ spends 40 days, strengthening them and teaching them concerning the kingdom of God. In addition, there were even appearances and sermons of angels. Yet they could not give sufficiently firm assent to all this. Such a sad and horrible thing is sin and a bad conscience.


"Let us, then, with all zeal and piety beware of falling into sin; or if there is any sin by which the soul is troubled, then let all devote all their counsels and consolation to freeing it from affliction and grief and to stirring it up to faith in the mercy of God. Thus Joseph preached this to his brothers most diligently, saying: 'Do not, I beg you, be overcome by grief of soul; be secure and sure of the forgiveness of your sin, which in itself is indeed great. But salvation and liberation, both physical and spiritual, are even greater.' They listen to this outstanding sermon. Nevertheless, they still hesitate; they do not yet dare to utter even a word."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.7

Lord, we tremble because of the threat of the holy law. Send Your Word that we might never return to the law for our righteousness in Your sight. Keep us steadfast in Your gospel and its grace. Amen.


For Sandy Leger, as she continues to recover from injuries sustained in a car wreck, that that Lord would strengthen her


For all public safety officers, that they would be kept safe in the legitimate conduct of their duties patrolling the streets of our cities


For all those who are looking for work in keeping with their vocation, that the Lord who says, "those who will not work, should not eat," would grant the gift of daily work
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)

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