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Psalm 126


When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)



Instructions Not Useful

Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian

28 August 2014

Sometimes when doctors have done their very best for a patient suffering with great injuries or the painful outcome of invasive surgery, the patient seems to experience a cascade of crises, so that doctors just get one crisis resolved with medication or therapy, when the thing that resolves the previous crisis triggers another worse crisis. And so it goes. Those who seek to become right in the sight of God by the law face the same series of cascading crises. Just when they think they have this or that law well under control several others are found to be transgressed. For example, when we are trying to battle gluttony and take control of our eating habits, we may establish the rule that we cannot snack, but may eat only at specific meal times. How easily, however, we manage to be just as glutinous, packing away extra food at regular meal times. Our inability to snack may also make us irritable and uncooperative with others, and so we find that we are transgressing the boundaries of civil and pleasant behavior. Worst of all, if we manage to keep one little law at least externally, such as "thou shalt not snack" we have the deluded opinion that we have managed to get the law under our control. However, finally we may fall into pride over against God, annihilating the first commandment, because we have made ourselves our own god.


The law is like the manure pit that was on my parent's poultry farm. It was an enormous concrete swimming pool in which no one would desire to swim. It could fill up with chicken manure for months, but sooner or later it had to be emptied. It required a never ending cycle of spreading manure. The job was never done. So it is that the law is a never ending task. The manure tank is never permanently emptied. We often feel that way, as we should, that the law puts us in a never ending battle. Luther, of course, is much classier, not to mention cleaner, in his description of the impossibility of fulfilling the law, referring as he does to the stories of classical literature from Homer and Horace. The Roman author, Horace, paints the picture of carrying water in a sieve as an illustration of futility.


The law teaches futility for a good reason. God does not want us to despair unto hopelessness, but He does want us to despair of our salvation on the basis of our obedience to the law. We are quite unable to save ourselves. Our only hope and our complete hope is Christ. We don't drain the cesspool, Christ rescues us from it. Christ pulls us out of the mire and covers us with His own perfect holiness. The law, after dumping us into the manure pit, instead offers a detailed set of instructions on how to get ourselves out of the pit. And while we are treading the, uh, "water," we need to read the instructions, and then find a way to scale the sheer wall and finally have the strength to clean ourselves off. "Whew, what's that smell!?" We will not survive the effort. We Christians needn't even try because our Savior, after jamming his cross down into the mire, has climbed down into the muck of our life on the cross and carried us out again by the same means. Instructions are not necessary; they are not even useful.


Martin Luther


"It is impossible for men who desire to provide for their salvation through the law, as all men are inclined to do by nature, ever to be set at peace. They do nothing else than pile laws upon laws, by which they torture themselves and others and afflict their consciences with such misery that many of them die before their time because of excessive anguish of heart. For one law always produces ten more, until they grow into infinity....


"In summary, anyone who strives to be justified by the law is trying something that he can never achieve. Here one can apply, as I see that the fathers did, the sayings of learned and wise men about a useless work, such as 'rolling a rock' or 'dipping water with a sieve.' I think that by such tales and parables the fathers wanted to commend to their pupils the distinction between law and gospel, to indicate that those who forsake grace may indeed tire and wear themselves out with difficult and troublesome labor, but that they accomplish a useless work. Therefore such men are correctly said to be 'rolling a rock,' that is, to be sweating foolishly, as the poets tell the story about Sisyphus. Each time he rolled the rock from the bottom of the mountain to the top, it would roll right back again. And 'dipping water with a sieve' means wearing oneself out with an inexhaustible and a useless labor; thus the poets tell that the daughters of Danaus in the underworld carried water in cracked jars to a container with a hole in it.


"I wish that you students of Sacred Scripture would equip yourselves with such parables, in order to retain the distinction between law and gospel better, namely, that trying to be justified by the law is like counting money out of an empty purse, eating and drinking from an empty dish and cup, looking for strength and riches where there is nothing but weakness and poverty, laying a burden upon someone who is already oppressed to the point of collapse, trying to spend a hundred gold pieces and not having even a pittance, taking clothing away from a naked man, imposing even greater weakness and poverty upon someone who is sick and needy, etc." 


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.9

Lord Jesus Christ, You have rescued us from the mire and muck of our lives by the power of your sacrificial death on the cross. Keep us from trying to return to self-salvation by being pulled back down into the law. Amen.


For Hugh Travis Pernoud, born to Tessa and Jeff Pernoud, that mother and child would be kept safe unto the day of his baptism into Christ


For the mission projects of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be funded according to their need and that the Lord would plant the cross in the world using us as His humble instruments


For Kim Cheng, that the Lord Jesus would be with her granting her strength and healing following surgery
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057