so the Lord shows compassion to
those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we
heard earlier tonight. But dust?
Any intelligent person knows that people are carbon-based lifeforms,
comprised of complex amino acid chains, DNA, and that we are capable of
tremendous intellectual power and creativity. Dust seems far too insignificant a substance
for such a noble creature as man.
But that goes to the
question of origins. Where does man come
from? Where is He going, and what is significant about his existence? “Then
the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis
2:7) Our origin is from God. Our
existence is from God. We are
self-aware, moral, intelligent, and creative because God made us in His
likeness. All of human life exists and
depends on God.
God remembers that
people are dust, but do people often remember that? They go about their daily routines, make
plans for what they’re going to do, undertake projects, worry about how other
people think of them, plan and fret about the future. Most of the time, they live without a need
for God (a 2018 study found 36% of religious “nones” agreed that religion was
irrelevant to their life). But
how quickly all that comes unraveled!
On August 17, 1999, a
7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit, Turkey, 100 kilometers east of
Istanbul. In 37 seconds, 17,000 people
were killed and 500,000 were rendered homeless as 20,000 buildings were
destroyed or heavily damaged.
We forget how we are
dust, but God has His way of reminding us.
Sometimes it’s evil that happens to us or our loved ones, other times a sudden
illness, still other times a natural disaster like in Turkey. The bottom drops out of our plans for the
future and we’re left scrambling. We’re
found to have taken the whole thing for granted, and we wish we could go back
and do it over.
The Lord, however, never
forgot that we are dust, and in His fatherly compassion, He was moved to
act. His Son came down and entered our world
through the womb of a young Virgin named Mary.
The Man of heaven became a Man of dust with us. Jesus has compassion on us as He humbled
Himself with us to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. He faced evil done to him as he fled into
Egypt, as lies were told about him, as He was condemned on false charges. He lost family and friends to death, and He
wept over the curse we are under. He
bore anguish and pain in His own body as He was scourged, compelled here and
there by soldiers, crucified, and the life ebbed out of Him. He was made dust, and to the dust He
returned, buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.
But unlike our dust,
which stays in the ground, His Spirit returned to Him and He rose to be a living
creature once more. Like no other, He
rose so that He might restore life to our dying and dead dust. “The
first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 15:45) Jesus rose from
the dust, never to die again, so that He could break the power of sin and
death, and so raise up the sons of Adam, the man of dust, of you and me. St. Paul continues: “48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of
the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just
as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of
the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:48-49)
It takes a reminder
from God to remember that we are dust.
As painful as this discipline is, God is doing it for our eternal good,
because if we forget that we are dust, the danger is that we will return to the
dust, never to rise again (Psalm 140:10). Unless we remember that we are dust, the Man
from Heaven does us no good.
Yet, “The Lord shows compassion to those who
fear Him.” He comes to you when you
are bowed down, trembling as your frame of dust threatens to crumble. The Man of Heaven comes again and breathes
His life into your dust. When you were
baptized, in the water and the Word, God took your lifeless dust and made you
into clay (Isaiah 64:8). Day by day,
even with dust upon our heads and under the shadow of death, He is shaping us
into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
Every time you confess your sins and the Absolution is spoken, it says “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the
Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold
forgiveness, it is withheld.’” (John 20:22-23) The Absolution truly has the power to restore
your life, even as you sit in dust and ashes.
If you live try to live apart from it or without it, how can your dust
He has still one more
way that He remembers you in your dust.
Recall His Word through St. Paul: “Just
as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of
the man of heaven.” The Son of God’s
lifeless clay rose to new, eternal life, and that is what He gives you in His
Supper. Each time you receive His Body
and Blood, united to Him with faith, He is strengthening you with the power of
His resurrected flesh. It’s the
unfortunate state of the Church in our generation that we minimize the Supper’s
importance and think we can make it by without this. Someone has told you (and now it’s become
entrenched as tradition) that Communion only needs to be offered every other
But this teaching does
not come from your Lord who says, “Do
this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me”
and who says in John 6: “Truly, truly, I
say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you
have no life in you.” (John 6:53) It
is only hubris that says we can have life apart from our incarnate, crucified,
and risen Savior—His Body and His Blood and His Holy Spirit breathed on us in
See all the ways that
the Lord shows compassion to you, O man of dust! As a
father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those
who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we
are dust.” And on the Last Day, He
will raise you from the ash heap to be with Him forever. Persevere in this hope, beloved. Amen.
Some argue that “often” does not necessarily mean weekly, but if we stay in the
way of the Law and look only to satisfy the minimum requirement, we can also go
without having midweek Lenten services because the Old Covenant only required
corporate worship once per week.
Christians are privileged to receive it “as often” as we gather.
Fourth Sunday after the
Epiphany + February 3, 2019
Text: Jonah 1:1-17, Matthew 8:23-27
One of the great myths about
our life is that we’re safer at some times than at others. The disciples were under the impression that
they were safer on land than when they were on the stormy sea. It’s only when the waves are crashing into
the boat that they realize how fragile their existence is.
Jonah thought that he
was free and clear if he just fled to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from
where God would have him be. But on the
way, God intervened and caused a great storm. And Jonah, even though he was
resting secure in disobedience to God, was awakened and called to account.
On the other hand, the
disciples in Matthew 8 were doing the Lord’s will, and they still suffered near
disaster. What gives, God?
This is the great
question of Christians: I did everything
right, so why am I suffering? I know
that Jonah fled from the will of the Lord, and he was driven back by the will
of God to preach to the Ninivites. But what had the disciples done that this
terrible storm came upon them?
The answer is, we don’t
know. If we look for God in the chances
and changes of this life, all we will find is uncertainty and doubt, “Perhaps the god will give a thought to us,
that we may not perish” (Jon. 1:6)
But let’s explore this
in what we might say to either Jonah or the disciples. Jonah, though a professed Hebrew “who fears the Lord who made the sea and
dry land” (Jon. 1:9) did a very foolish thing by disobeying the Lord’s
call. If you read on through chapter 4,
you find out that Jonah did it because God
doesn’t give people what they deserve. He relents over disaster for those
who fear Him. (4:2) He demonstrated this
not only for the mariners but also for the people of Nineveh. So, Jonah, if you believe God should give
people what they deserve, what would happen if that judgment were applied to
you? Do you believe that suicide at the
hands of the sailors is the last word God has for you? What is your faith, Jonah?
Jonah, the God you fear
and serve is indeed “a gracious God and
merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from
disaster.” (Jon. 4:2) You did a
foolish thing fleeing the presence of the Lord because you disagreed with His
ways. But repent of your evil and
believe that He is a God gracious and merciful to you also, and His intent has
always been to save you from disaster. “He
will not always chide, nor will he keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our
sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high and the heavens are
above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him; as
far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from
us.” (Psalm 103:9-12)
What would we say to
the disciples? Remember, they are
following the will of the Lord; they got on the boat in the right
direction. Yet, disaster still visited
them. The fishing boat is being swamped
by the waves, and even worse, Jesus is the one sleeping this time. They wake him with a prayer: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
Peter, James, John, and
the rest, who do you have in the boat with you?
Jesus awakens with a question, “Why
are you afraid; O you of little faith?”
You rightly fear the God who made the sea and dry land. You are right to
call on Him to save you. But why are you
afraid? Won’t He will care for and
protect you as much on the sea as on the dry land? Why do you fear this circumstance more than
the God who made heaven and earth?
What is your faith and where is your faith? They’re both important questions to ask, especially,
if like Jonah, we’re called to be witnesses of this God and Savior. We learn what
our faith is when we are exposed as sinners and have to learn anew who God
reveals Himself to be. True knowledge of
the Gospel is not learned by memorizing doctrines and Bible passages in
confirmation class—no matter how demanding your pastor was; it’s “taught by the
Holy Spirit and the school of experience” as
one pastor put it. That means you need
to be made a real sinner before you can know a God, gracious and merciful.
The other question is,
once we poor sinners know a gracious and merciful God, what does that look like
in the dangers and disasters we face in life?
What did we confess in the Creed? “I
believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all
things visible and invisible.” It
does no good to compartmentalize where God works—whether sea or dry land, on
Sunday morning or five minutes before closing when your supervisor tells you
you’re being laid off. The God who made
both visible and invisible is also our strong defense against all spiritual
dangers. “The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below” as
much as the demons obeyed when He commanded them. This is the God who holds your life at every
moment! Repent of your little faith and
the fruit of fear it bears!
What damage can be done
to our calling as disciples by little faith.
Through fear of temporal things—the church running out of money, the
lies of the devil and the narrative of the world gaining ground, the future of
the nation in which we live. All of these
things are temporal, and we believe in theory that they’re all going to pass
away. But God help us to believe His
holy Word, that He cares for us and gives us and the whole world our daily bread.
In the boat, it was not
time for Jesus or His disciples to die.
But the time came when this same Jesus, fully man and fully God, was
offered up on account of your sins and those of the whole world, that whoever
believes in Him should not cry, “We are
perishing,” but have forgiveness and eternal life.
Take a moment to let
these words soak into your heart again: “Do
not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who
can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows
sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your
Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear
not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:28-31)
God revealed His will
to Jonah—go and preach to these pagans so that they might be saved. And they were. So was Jonah, perhaps the biggest unbeliever
of the book until the end. He revealed
His power to the disciples in calming the stormy sea. But the lesson for both is that God’s saving
purpose will be done, even if for the moment it looks like He’s changed His
mind. Every person who believes in Him,
He chose from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6), and as God does
not lie, we can be sure that “nothing in
all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
(Rom. 8:39) This is not a license to put
our faith to the test, but a reason to fear the God who made the sea and dry
land, who is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in
steadfast love, and relents from disaster; through Jesus Christ. Amen.
A radical idea from the Founding Fathers that still works today
Since 1993, the president has formally
recognized January 16th as Religious Freedom Day. The day marks the
anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which cut formal ties between the Church of England and the state of Virginia.
In an age of hyper-partisanship, Religious Freedom Day offers all
Americans — religious and nonreligious — an opportunity to celebrate and
renew our commitment to safeguarding principles we have historically
agreed on: religious liberty and conscience protection.
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and passed into law in 1786, the Virginia
Statute disestablished the state church, abolished parish taxes, and
protected the civil rights of citizens to express their religious
beliefs without fear of censure or reprisal. A precursor to the First
Amendment, the Virginia law recognized the pursuit of religious truth as
a basic human good and acknowledged that citizens should be free to
live out their faith without imposition from the government. The law
also anticipated Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that there
“shall be no religious test” for anyone seeking to serve in public
Because religious freedom is largely taken for granted today, it is
easy to forget the radical nature of Jefferson’s proposal when he first
made it 233 years ago. At a time when cuius regio, eius religio
(Latin for “whose realm, his religion”) was still the dominant way of
conceiving the relationship between church and state, Jefferson argued
that religion is inherently an interior matter between an individual and
God and that consequently, faith cannot be coerced. The state has no
business interfering with man’s quest for religious truth because God,
not the state, is Lord of the conscience.
Moreover, true faith requires sincere adherence to specific
doctrines. The state cannot force anyone to believe. While people may
feign belief to avoid punishment, the state can never effect genuine
belief at the level of conscience. Therefore, civil authorities should
allow the free flow of religious opinions and use persuasion, not
coercion, to encourage belief in God.
Historically, America’s commitment to religious freedom has enjoyed broad support. In fact, in 1993, when the issue was again brought to the nation’s attention by the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with a bipartisan consensus. Then-Congressman Charles Schumer drafted the House bill. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). The law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97-3 in the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Article accessed from http://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/religious-freedom-day-vital-founding-principle/ on January 16, 2019. Our congregation does not have any affiliation with or endorsement of this news source.
LSB 655 Lord, Keep
Us Steadfast in Your Word is a children’s hymn that Martin Luther composed
in 1541-42. At that time, the Evangelical (later called Lutheran) church was
under ongoing threat by those loyal to the pope. In addition, the advancement of
the Turks into the region of Budapest brought war to the eastern border of the
Empire. In the original text of stanza 1, we beseech God to “curb the Turks’
and papists’ sword” (later a more general and mild “by deceit or sword”) so
that the Gospel of Christ may be preached and believed in spite of its devilish
LSB 496 Holy Spirit,
Light Divine was written in 1817 by Dr. Andrew Reed in London. During his
ministry in the Congregational church, Dr. Reed had a heart for orphans and the
mentally ill. This hymn was penned as a prayer to the Holy Spirit, who alone can
enlighten the darkness of our guilty hearts and sanctify us to fully know and
trust in Jesus Christ.
TLH 650 Joseph Grigg was a Presbyterian pastor in London
and composed this hymn in 1765. Behold, a Stranger at the Door, based
on Revelation 3:20 expands on the Lord Jesus’ call for spiritual renewal and
perseverance within His Church. Aware of
how easy it is for us sinners to become spiritual indifferent and not pay
attention to our Shepherd’s voice, this hymn rather bluntly admonishes us to
realize this and repent of it, and then to be forgiven and renewed in devoted
serve to our Lord and Savior.
LSB 718 Jesus, Lead
Thou On, composed in 1721, has long been a favorite among Lutheran
Christians. Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, its
composer, was born of royalty and had strong roots in the Pietist revival movement
in Halle, Germany. He zealously left everything to become a missionary and
travelled around Europe, the British Isles, and America. Although during his
lifetime, von Zinzendorf caused trouble by inserting himself into established
congregations, he left a beneficial legacy of several hymns and spiritual
Jerusalem the Golden, written by Benedictine monk, Bernard of Cluny (France), echoesthe hope of all the faithful. Based on visions from Revelation 21 and 7, “we know not what joys await us there,” but it will be our eternal Sabbath rest andhome with our God.
In Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, we sing of the angel hosts of heaven (Eph. 1:19-21, 6:12; Col. 1:16), whom we are privileged to join in adoration and praise of God. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Feast in Revelation 19, therefore the preface says, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…”
For All the Saints, though a relatively recent hymn (19th century), depicts the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1-2). On earth, the church “feebly struggles; they in glory shine,” but though hidden from our eyes for now, the same hope awaits all who have hoped in Christ in every generation.
Onward Christian Soldiers, an American favorite, emboldens us for the journey and spiritual warfare that still await us in this present world. Our victory over sin, death, and the devil belong to our Lord, and He calls us to follow Him as His cross goes before us. (Exod. 14:13)
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
I mentioned in the sermon on Sunday that it’s dangerous for a person to be baptized without being part of a congregation because it paints a big target on their back for the devil to attack them. I wanted to elaborate on that more.
In Baptism, there is necessarily an exorcism, a casting out of all evil spirit as the Holy Spirit enters in. Martin Luther’s 1526 baptismal rite actually begins very boldly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” In the more familiar rite, this is what’s happening with the threefold renunciation of the devil (“Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?).
Well, once a person has had an evil spirit driven out, it’s necessary for the Holy Spirit to take residence in the heart and create and sustain faith. But what happens to the person who is baptized, but does not stay in the Christian community around the Word of God?
This issue is personal for me, because I was brought to the saving waters of Baptism, but my parents rejected subsequent invitations to worship. Whatever faith the Holy Spirit had created in my heart eventually died because my discipleship was stunted (remember Jesus commands not only Baptism but also teaching in Matthew 28:19-20). The result was I became a rank unbeliever and was even adverse toward the Christian faith. For 23 years, my last state was worse than the first because I had lost the treasure delivered to me in Baptism and Satan sifted me like wheat.
Despite the sinful will and the devil’s evil plans for me, my Good Shepherd brought me back to the faith of my Baptism. But it was rough going and I now bear the scars of a Christian who spent years under the devil’s sway. The message for parents of baptized children who don’t go to church is get them into the holy ark of the Christian Church at all costs. I mean, if you will drive them to dance, soccer, and Boy Scouts for their social and physical development, why not on Sunday morning drive them (or have a relative get them) to church for their eternal welfare. Don’t put the Lord to the test. Who knows? You might even be saved along with them.
The point which the Lord makes, and which I was trying to convey in the sermon, is how profound Baptism is, and what an enemy the devil is. It’s not safe out there in the world, and the baptized believer needs a community in which they are regularly renewed and prayed for. Keep praying for your baptized, yet unchurched relatives. I had people praying for me and I didn’t even know it. Remember that Jesus is the Stronger Man who is able to cast out Satan and make room once again for His Holy Spirit. Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.
We are familiar with this prayer, because the Lord taught it to us. But what are we really asking for? Is there a chance that God actually would carry us into temptation?
Luther explained it well in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
Jesus teaches us to pray this, because He knows that there will be no shortage of temptation for Christians. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” “See that you are not led astray!” “Watch and pray!”
But these temptations are not always easy to identify. It’s not like a devil appears with a pitchfork and a pointy tail and sits on your shoulder like in the cartoons. Satan comes into your day to day life to tempt you. Most often, he tempts you, not with obvious blasphemy and sin, but with doubts and reasonable-sounding arguments.
Each of us has times when Satan will offer a substitute for God’s clear command. The Word of the Lord says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28), but there are so many reasons why some people don’t deserve the time of day from us. God tells us that we should give back to Him a portion of what He gives us (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10), but boy if our budgets look tight and it sure is hard to give with so many demands on our limited income.
Christian congregations as a whole are also under attack. Satan would have us exchange the truth of God for what seems to “get results.” He puts the lie in our heads that church is about the externals: the building, the music, and how many pews are filled. When Satan is at work, the things which God actually commands—being salt and light to our neighbors (Matt. 5:13-16), giving to missions (2 Cor. 8:1-7), and providing a living for the pastor (Galatians 6:6-8)—are sacrificed in the name of what’s more appealing. Thus Satan subtly turns our eyes (and our prayers) from God, and worries a congregation about “keeping the doors open.” The devil would have us believe the life of a congregation runs under human power.
Pastors, too, are tempted in a variety of ways. Remember that the devil’s goal is to get them out of the pulpit or make their word ineffectual. So, Satan attacks pastors’ families and is quick to point out the pastor’s inadequacies. He points out all the places that their sowing seems to only sprout weeds or die. He plays the gripes and grumbles of people on repeat in the pastor’s head and is sure to connect every departed member with something the pastor did wrong.
Beloved in the Lord, this is honestly what we’re up against. Satan is an enemy too powerful for any of us, yet One fights for us who holds the victory. Jesus is our great Deliverer who crushes the Ancient Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 20:2-3). Therefore, pray that He would defend you, your congregation, and your pastor against such spiritual assaults. And the Almighty Lord will come quickly to your aid!
“Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” Amen, Lord! Yes, yes, it shall be so!