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Isaiah
57:14-21


 

And it shall be said, "Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way." For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near," says the LORD, "and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." (ESV)

Swing, Batter, Batter!

Wednesday of Pentecost 20

29 October 2014

Once again, the Houston Astros suffered a season that tries the patience of even the staunchest baseball enthusiast. With the exception of Jose Altuve, the bats went to sleep for the first half of the season. They seemed so poor that they must even have struggled at batting practice. You could see, though, that there was no lack of trying on the part of the team when they stood in the batter's box. But the harder they tried the less success they seemed to have. The more they tried to hit the ball, the fewer were actually put into play. In mid-June the dam broke and the team began hitting like a World Series wannabe, tantalizing famously optimistic baseball fans (think: Cubs) with visions of next year's team. It seemed that they were having more fun at the plate, loosened up, and stopped trying so hard. The less they tried, the more they hit.

 

Life under the cross of Christ is certainly much like this. The harder people try to accomplish good works, the less likely it is that they actually do anything meritorious in the sight of God. The more they do the less they accomplish. Christianity is more about letting be, than doing. It is about letting God be God in Christ, who is the one who accomplishes salvation for the world in His suffering and death. Indeed the effort to accomplish may well lead us away from Christ. The minute we begin to trust our own works and efforts to put us in God's good graces, we have fallen from the grace of God. We are trying too hard to get what is already given to us as a gift.

 

In that sense, those who have fallen into some terrible moral hole know that they aren't going to dig their way out of it. Pride is not an option. They tried hard once and that got them nowhere. They recognize that trying hard again is not going to get them out of the hole their effort dug. All that is left is Christ and trust in Him. His promise of eternal life must suffice, because they recognize that there is nothing to be proud of. Those who remain proud of their own efforts will find themselves simply digging a deeper hole that is darker and farther from God. Christ is much more useful to the contrite fallen person than to the proud self-righteous one. So, just swing, batter, batter!

 

Martin Luther

 

"It is certainly true that those who are keeping the law do not keep it. The more men try to satisfy the law, the more they transgress it. The same must be said about human traditions. The more a man tries to pacify his conscience through these things, the more disquieted he makes it. When I was a monk, I with the greatest diligence sought to live according to the prescription of the monastic rule. I made a practice of confessing and reciting all my sins, even if it was apart from contrition. I often repeated my confession, and I scrupulously performed the assigned penances. Nevertheless, my conscience could never be restored to certainty but always doubted and said: 'You have not done this correctly. You were not contrite enough. You omitted this in your confession, etc.' Therefore the longer I tried to heal my uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more uncertain, weak, and troubled I continually made it. In this way, by observing human traditions, I transgressed them even more; and by following the righteousness of the monastic order, I was never able to reach it. For, as Paul says, it is impossible for the conscience to be restored to peace through the works of the law, much less through human traditions, apart from the promise and gospel about Christ.

 

"Therefore those who desire to be justified and made alive by the law depart farther from righteousness and life than do tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes. Such people as these are not able to rest on a trust in their own works, which are such that they are not able to trust themselves for attaining grace and the remission of sins on account of them. For if the righteousness and works done according to the law do not justify, so much less do sins committed against the law justify. Therefore such people are more fortunate than the self-righteous in this respect; for they lack trust in their own works, which, completely destroy faith in Christ. On the other hand, the self-righteous, who refrain from sins outwardly and seem to live blameless and religious lives, cannot avoid a presumption of confidence and righteousness, which cannot stand together with faith in Christ. Therefore they are less fortunate than tax collectors and prostitutes, who do not offer their good works to a wrathful God in exchange for eternal life, as the self-righteous do, since they have nothing to offer, but beg that their sins be pardoned them for the sake of Christ."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.3
 
Prayer

Lord, keep me confessing my abject depravity, that you might be all in all for me. Amen.

 

For all pregnant mothers and young children, that they might be kept in the care of the Lord Jesus

 

For all persecuted clergy, that they would wait upon God's rescue at the right time

 

For Mary Lewis, that she would be kept in the arms of her Lord

Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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