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Psalm 34

 

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.(ESV)

The Consolation We Need

Martin of Tours, Pastor

11 November 2014

Everything has to be "dumbed down" in our society. We want the easy way. We crave a short cut to everything. This is true also for Christianity where a plethora of self-help books of the "Christianity for Dummies" genre crowd the shelves of book sellers. This dumb down effect is almost always to the benefit of the law. From the fall, we are wired to think that if we just had the right formula of works, we could influence God's attitude toward us. This attitude ranges from people who believe that the proper cosmic resonance emanating from the correct set of crystals will set everything in their lives just right to the most rigorous monastic discipline with its prayers, deprivations, and religious works. Unfortunately, both will be equally successful in influencing God's attitude toward sinners, that is, not at all. Some years ago, parents of children in a parochial school where I served went on the warpath against the celebration of Halloween, contending "orange and black" were the colors of the devil. Therefore, bulletin board displays using those colors and featuring pumpkins and black cats invited Satan to the school. How easy it is to root out the evil in our lives by dumbed down works like avoiding certain colors ("I don't look good in orange, anyway!").

 

Such simplistic ways of gaining merit with God finally ignore the power of the law to accuse the human heart. The law does not worm its way into our lives, it does not need to. The law was propagated there by God (Rm 2:14-15), but our spiritual timidity makes it a hammer that shatters our pretensions to self-righteousness if we listen to what it really says about us. It places all persons under sin and silences our claims to a personal holiness in the sight of the all holy God (Rm 3:19). So there is no way to tame the terror of the holy and implacable law of God. The divine law resists the attempt to dumb down.

 

While hearing its terrifying accusations against our brokenness, we are to turn to another divine speech that supersedes the law, that is, the gospel. There is another word from God that knows nothing of rules, prayers, requirements, worship forms, lists of 'dos and don'ts,' and the latest spiritual advice offered by legalistic gurus. At one level, then, the gospel's message is the simplest proclamation of all: it tells us that all is done, that Christ has redeemed us by taking on the curse of the law in our place, and that the law has been silenced by Him. There is nothing simpler than that, is there? And yet, as we live in a world where the Lord proclaims both law and gospel, there is an irreducible complexity to living in Christ. There are two words that come from God and we have the challenge of living in both, but living by the gospel. The difficulty we have is that we will hear the law rising up from our own troubled heart every time there is a crisis in our lives. Inevitably, we ask 'What did I do to deserve this?' We think wrongly, that then there is something we could do to avoid the menacing wrath of God. Instead we must turn our back on doing and let God do the doing that He has promised to His people. We must not let the law tyrannize us, but turn constantly to the comfort of the gospel. No matter how crushed and downtrodden we may feel, there is a message that totally trumps that feeling: the gospel of Christ. This is our consolation. It is all we need.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Circumcision, the observance of the law, as well as the works, religious observances, and vows of the monks, and of all the self-righteous, are carnal things. 'But we,' Paul says, 'go far beyond all these things to be turned to the Spirit, because through faith we hold Christ, and in trial we wait in hope for that righteousness which we already possess by faith'  (Gal 5:5).

                           

This is consolation, that in your deep anxieties (in which your feeling of sin, gloom, and despair is so great and strong that it penetrates and fills up completely your heart) you do not follow your feeling. For if you did, you would say: 'I feel the violent terrors of the law and the tyranny of sin, not only waging war against me again but absolutely overcoming me. I feel not consolation or righteousness. Therefore I am a sinner and not righteous. And if I am a sinner, then I am sentenced to eternal death.' But battle against this feeling and say: 'Although I feel myself absolutely oppressed and swallowed down by sin and my heart calls God a hostile and wrathful judge, yet in fact this is not true; it is only my feeling that judges so. The Word of God, which I ought to follow in these anxieties rather than my own feeling, teaches much differently, namely, that 'God is present with those who are troubled in heart, and saves the humbled in spirit' (Ps 34:18), and that 'He does not despise a broken and contrite heart' (Ps 51:17). And here Paul then teaches that through the Spirit, by faith, those who are justified do not feel the hope of righteousness but still expect it." 

 


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.5
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, be my sole consolation when I struggle with the feeling that God's wrath is coming down upon me. Send faithful preachers to hold before me Your precious cross when I feel the burden of the law. Amen.

 

For the unemployed, that they would be granted the gift of work in keeping with their God-given gifts

 

For the people and pastors of the Rocky Mountain District, that they might be led by God's Word to proclaim Christ's peace to a broken world

 

For the leaders of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would not become weary in confessing Christ
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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