Worship

Be Gracious To Me – Psalm 41

Our Lenten series this year will focus on Psalm 41. No Old Testament saint attests to God’s grace quite like King David. Raised from the sheepfold to the throne of the house of Israel; raised again (and again, and again) from sin: pride, murder, adultery, and despising of God; lifted clear of the snare of the wicked (Psalm 119:110), of the pit (Psalm 30:3), of the very gates of death (Psalm 9:13); with no merit or worthiness in    himself, David was continually raised up by God’s grace and favor.

How has God’s grace raised you? If you haven’t been set on a royal throne or made ruler over a great   people, maybe you’ve seen improvements in your finances or employment. Or perhaps family strife has been quieted. Or maybe a compassionate helper or valuable ally has entered the picture at just the right moment. Have you shaken off a bad illness, a bad habit, or a bad influence? If so, rejoice and thank God for His grace.

But if you feel like you’re sinking instead of rising, what then? Is there any comfort for the saint of God who looks around to find that “the waters have come up to my neck” (Psalm 69:1)? David knows that saint’s fortunes because they are his as well:

In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
You do not give him up to the will of his enemies. (Psalm 41:1–2)

In the Lord there is hope. Therefore, do not look for hope in your experiences or your emotions, which will portray for you the same bleak scene that David captures in Psalm 41: “My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die, and his name perish?”” (v. 5) “When one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while His heart gathers iniquity.” (v. 6) “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” (v. 9)

Faith offers a better vision: despite all that binds and bruises and bleeds you, God will raise you up. He has raised you already. In Holy Baptism, God has “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). If you are in Christ, how can you sink? How can you fall?

Lent is a good time to meditate on David’s ordeals and your secure position in Christ. Psalm 41 provides a good guide to your meditation. If the laments of Psalm 41 call to mind your numerous difficulties and need for deliverance, they depict even more clearly the work by which your deliverance has been won.

David “prophesied about the grace that was to be yours” and “searched and inquired carefully” concerning your salvation (1 Peter 1:10). And that salvation is this: the Son of David, by grace, “might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Because you are in Christ, you share in all things with Him, even the prophetic Word. David’s vision in Psalm 41 has become your reality in Christ. In the day of trouble, the Lord delivers you; the Lord protects you and keeps you alive; you are called blessed in the land (see Psalm 41:1–2). As surely as the Lenten journey ascends to the victory of Easter, you shall be raised up.

~ Paster Mehl

Looking Ahead

“And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him…” Exodus 13:14a

The end of one year and the beginning of another is, in reality, just another day. But because we put away our old calendars and get out new ones, and because we measure things in years, it seems like a new start. Traditionally, perhaps infamously, people make grand plans and have grand ideas about how the future year is going to go. Often these plans have to do with establishing, or perhaps breaking, some kind of a habit. Some people want to get into the habit of exercising more. Some people want to break the habit of snacking when they aren’t really that hungry. It’s a good idea to evaluate one’s habits periodically and what better time than the beginning of the year?

God’s word addresses some habits of Christians. The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 10, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” This verse recommends that habit of meeting with other Christians for encouragement and speaks against the habit neglecting to meet with other Christians regularly. Going to church on a regular basis is a habit. It’s not just some thing Christians do because of tradition. Meeting together for worship is a habit that lets us receive God’s gifts anew and lets us encourage other Christians and receive encouragement from them.

Speaking of traditions, they have their place too. I don’t know that you would call celebrating Christmas a habit. It’s more of a tradition. I don’t know where the line is between ‘tradition’ and ‘habit’ but ‘tradition’ seems less regular and more occasional than a habit. God’s word addresses occasions. Exodus 13:14 reads, “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’” This verse comes in the context of redeeming the firstborn of man and animals. This is not a thing that would happen weekly. A first born child only comes once but I suppose a first born animal might depend on how much livestock you keep. In any case this would be an occasional event but would also be an opportunity to talk about why this is done. Indeed, God seems to have instituted this practice, in part, so that questions would be asked about it in the future and an opportunity would be given to explain and thereby remember God’s saving works and promises of the past.

Christmas affords us this opportunity every year. The same is true of all of the church’s holidays both major (Easter) and minor (St. Michael and All Angels). It seems like we often celebrate holidays because they’re fun or because ‘that’s what we have always done’. Now might be an interesting time to think about celebrating holidays as an opportunity to talk about God and what He has done or will do. Who knows, in time to come your son (or somebody else) may ask you, ‘What does this mean?’ and you will have an opportunity to tell them. Here are some suggestions for the upcoming season of the church year, Epiphany.

Chalking the Door – The Epiphany season is about Jesus being made known to the world beginning with the three magi/wise men/kings/sages. Epiphany starts after the 12 days of Christmas, that is, January 6. To bless their homes or to let the wise man know that they could stay there, many Christians write on their doors (or door frames) the year bracketing the initials of the wise men. The traditional (they are not included in the Bible) names of the wise men are Casper, Melchior and Balthazar. For this Epiphany then, the chalking would look like this, 20 + C + M + B + 24. Break out some chalk and scrawl it on your door for a good conversation starter.

King Cake – King cake also celebrates Epiphany with a nod to the three kings. King cake is a round pastry cake with a féve in it. A féve is a little prize hidden in the cake. Traditionally it was a bean but in order to prevent it from being knowingly or unknowingly eaten, most people use an inedible object such as a plastic baby. Finding the baby hidden in the cake can be likened to the three kings finding the baby Jesus who would be crucified for being the king of the Jews but was, in fact, the king of all. It can easily be another conversation starter, and hey, cake.

Whatever habits or traditions you decide to engage in this year try to put them into the context of your faith. How does what you plan to do or not do this year help strengthen your faith or the faith of those around you? What opportunities might you have to talk about the most important things in life such as a baby who lived and died and rose to be your king?

Pastor Mehl

Thanksgiving Eve Service

Join us November 22, at 7:00 pm, for a special Thanksgiving Eve Service with Holy Communion.

It’s a perfect time to reflect on all our many blessings and to give thanks to our Lord and Savior for all that we have.

O Give Thanks unto the Lord, He is good and His mercies endure forever.” 

 

Theology of the Cross

THESIS 26. The law says, “do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe this,” and everything is already done.

Permit me, if you will, a deep dive into an aspect of the Reformation. In 1517 Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. The 95 Theses were 95 arguments that Luther wished to debate. As you may know, these 95 Theses caused quite a stir in the church of Luther’s day. Yet, Luther was hardly the first theologian        to claim something outlandish in the church. Wild things had been said before and what usually happened was the theologians would split hairs and walk their statements back. A year after the 95 Theses were posted, (that is, in 1518) there was a meeting in Heidelberg of Augustinian Monks of which Luther was a part. It was expected that Luther would take this opportunity to walk back some of the more outlandish things he claimed the year before. What happened,    however, was that Luther let fly with what we now call the Heidelberg Disputation. He prepared 28 further theses (arguments) that were a bit sharper and more developed than the 95. While Luther’s 95 Theses may be more famous, the 28 theses of his Heidelberg Disputation are arguably more “Lutheran”. One monk who was there to hear them delivered remarked that there was this crazy brother who, “propounded some paradoxes, which not only went farther than most could follow him, but appeared to some heretical.” Let’s have a brief look at thesis 26.

When Luther says that “The law says, “do this,” and it is never done.”, we should probably define what he means by “law.” For our purposes in this case, the “law” is anything good that God says you are supposed to do. Some synonyms might be ‘good works’ or the 10 Commandments or living the Christian life. One might think of the young man who comes up to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “You know the [10] Commandments.” To which the man replies, “All these I have kept.” Jesus then points out that there are even more good works to do when He tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. In this story from Mark chapter 10, Jesus is demonstrating that there are always more good works to do. It is true that you can get to heaven by being perfect, by doing all the good works, but that path to heaven is only open to Jesus. For us mere mortals, the law will never get us to heaven. The law only shows us, like it did for this man from Mark 10, where we have failed to do what we should. The law only shows us our sin.

If what I have just said in the previous paragraph seems rather basic to you it’s probably because you’ve listened to a lot of pastors over the years who are either Lutheran or were influenced by Luther in one way or another. For Luther to suggest that it was impossible for a person to be perfect and thereby earn heaven was a novel notion at the time. In Luther’s day, people would’ve been more inclined to look at Jesus’ words as helpful to the young man in Mark chapter 10 because He was telling him what to do next. He was being helpful by giving him more good works to do. What     Luther and others before and since have learned is that though we are told by God’s word to do good works, we will  never be able to check that off our to-do list. “The law says, “do this,” and it is never done.”

So, if being good is not going to get you to heaven, how do you get there? “Grace says, “believe this,” and     everything is already done.” How do you get to heaven? That job is already done, by Jesus, on the cross. This is what has come to be known as the ‘Theology of the Cross’. It is the concept that Jesus alone has done the all the good works     necessary for you to go to heaven. God alone makes you good enough to get into paradise. Salvation is truly salvation, you being saved from something as opposed to you being rewarded for your good work. Grace is a gift, not payment from God. Believing this is to let Jesus be the one who has done all things for you on the cross.

If that paragraph also sounds like something you have heard before, it is because of the Reformation. It can be surprising how much of what we might think of as normal or standard messages about Jesus were thought of as novel “paradoxes” that might have even been “heretical” 500 years ago. Today there are many Christians of many different stripes that would comfortably point to Jesus and say that He alone is the reason they will find themselves in heaven. Luther wouldn’t have it any other way, except that “many Christians” might be too few. It would be best that all people know that the work of salvation is finished. Believing that Jesus has died on the cross for you is to have the assurance that everything, everything necessary for your salvation, is already done.

Paster Mehl