Every Friday we receive an e-mail from one of my daughter’s teachers, Jessica Wittcop, a middle school teacher at Our Savior Lutheran Academy. The emails recap the week’s events and apprise us of what our daughter will be studying in the week ahead. Ms. Wittcop is blessed with an amazing insight into Scripture, an insight that she shares with her students daily. Her email’s always start with a meditation. This week’s message addressed God’s long-suffering patience with his children, His desire out of love to bring us to repentance, and forgiving us so that we in turn may learn to share this same love with others and learn to forgive. As Christians, we sometimes forget that repentance and forgiveness of others is a vital part of our lives. Here is how Ms. Wittcop states it:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anything to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:8-9
Remember, God is love. His love remains unfailing despite our numerous moments of weakness. I can’t help but be so very grateful for God’ patience with us. He knows every weakness, yet forgives us time and time again when we seek him out with repentant hearts. How many of you often find it difficult to forgive someone who has sinned against you time and time again? Or even committed the same sin against you time and time again? No need to think that God has difficulty forgiving us our sins. He looks to the cross every time we repent. He listens to Jesus pleading our case every time we come and repent. And as hard as we all know it is to go to someone and admit when we are in the wrong, God still wants us to come to Him and share with him those faults we have committed. God wants more than anything in the world to hear us repent. That’s why He remains patient with us. Because it is through Christ’s death on the cross that we are assured of our forgiveness each time we repent of our sin.
Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”
John was known as one of the three great Greek Fathers of the early church. His Easter Sermon, reproduced below, is read each Easter at the end of the Matins Service on Easter Sunday in the Orthodox Church. It was written in the late fourth or early fifth century, and is a wonderful example of John’s “Golden Tongue.”
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
He must increase, and I must decrease. Repent! Repent! Behold the Lamb of God. John the Baptist, the man of the desert, came preaching a Baptism of repentance, but Christ came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Listen to Deaconess Pam Nielson from Concordia Publishing House discuss this week’s Sunday School lesson here on Issues, Etc.
I ran across the nugget below in C. F. W. Walther’s the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible from Concordia Publishing. How does your preacher measure up?
“The worst fault in modern preaching, my dear friends, is this, that the sermons lack point and purpose; and this fault can be noticed particularly in the sermons of modern preachers who are believers. While unbelieving and fanatical preachers have quite a definite aim, — pity, that it is not the right one! — believing preachers, as a rule, imagine that they have fully discharged their office, provided what they have preached has been the Word of God. That is about as correct a view as when a ranger imagines he has discharged his office by sallying forth with his loaded gun and discharging it into the forest; or as when an artilleryman thinks he has done his duty by taking up his position with his cannon in the line of battle and by discharging his cannon. Just as poor rangers and soldiers as these latter are, just so poor and useless preachers are those who have no plan in mind and take no aim when they are preaching. Granted their sermons contain beautiful thoughts; they do not, for that matter, take effect. They may occasionally make the thunders of the Law roll in their sermons, yet there is no lightning that strikes. Again, they may water the garden assigned to them with the fructifying waters of the Gospel, but they are pouring water on the beds and the paths of the garden indiscriminately, and their labor is lost.
Neither Christ nor the holy apostles preached in that fashion. When they had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations. For instance, when our Lord Christ had delivered the powerful, awful parable of the murderous vine-dressers, the high priests and scribes confessed to themselves: He means us. When the holy Apostles Paul, on a certain occasion, had preached before the profligate and unjust Governor Felix concerning righteousness, temperance, and the Judgment to come, Felix perceived immediately that Paul was aiming his remarks ant him. He trembled, but being unwilling to be converted, he said to Paul: “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” But he never did call him. He had heard the sermon suited to his spiritual condition, and Paul’s well-aimed remarks had struck home.
The reason, then, my dear friends, why in the Lutheran congregations of our former home country Germany unbelieving preachers are nearly always in the ascendancy is unquestionably this: the sermons of the Christian preachers are aimless efforts. Unbelievers are increasing in the congregations about as fast as the Christian preachers are increasing, of whom there are considerably more now than when I was young. Why do they accomplish nothing? Oh, would to God that these dear men had the humility to sit down at Luther’s feet and study his postils! They would learn how to preach effectively. For the Word of God, when preached as it should be, never returns void.
May God help you in your future ministry not to become aimless prattles, so that you will have to complain that you accomplished so little, when nobody but yourselves is at fault because you have no definite aim when preparing your sermons and do not reflect: To such and such people I want to drive home a lesson, — not this or that person whom I am going to name, but persons in whose condition I know to be such and such.
However, while it is important that your sermons do not lack a special aim, it is equally important that your aim be the right one. If you do not aim properly, your preaching, after all, will be useless, whether you preach the Law or the Gospel.”
CFW Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, Concordia Publishing House, (St. Louis, MO: 2010).
Much of what passes for preaching these days are platitudes, beautiful thoughts with a little Scripture added for good measure. But the message lacks point and punch. Thunder without lightning; tree without fruit; belief without conviction; faith without works. It is grace given out cheaply. The depths of Law and Gospel are not plumbed such that the hearers of the Word are made to realize that the sermon was meant for him or her. When Christ and the apostles preached, the message convicted the sinner secure in his sins, and raised the broken-hearted and despairing. As Walther says, “When they (Christ and the apostles) had finished preaching, every hearer knew: He meant me, even when the sermon had contained no personal hints or insinuations.” The job of a preacher is to deliver the truth of the Law in all its crushing weight, and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in all its purity and sweetness so that the sinner, secure in his sins, feels the condemnation of the law and turns to repent, and the drowntrodden, those without hope are given life through the proclamation of the Gospel. As our Lord told Peter, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.” Otherwise the sheep are left hungry and will wander looking for greener pastures. There is a hunger, a famine for the Word of the Lord. Where others must wait until the dark of night to turn on a light just to read the Bible, we, in this country have the opportunity to proclaim it in the full light of day. Let us not squander this opportunity. The cross is an offense, a scandal. Foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, the very power of God for eternal life.
So Many Books
So many books, so little time
So many hunger, so many blind
Starving for words they must wait in the night
To open a Bible and turn to the Light
There is a hunger, a longing for bread
And so comes the call for the poor to be fed
More hungry by far are a billion and more
Who wait for the bread of the Word of the Lord
There’ll come a time the prophet would say
When the joy of mankind will be withered away
A want not for water, but a hunger for more
A famine for hearing the words of the Lord
The Word won’t go out
Except it return
And so we must learn
Michael Card, 1992 The Word: Recapturing the Imagination
Sanctity of Life not an issue anymore? Right to life issues do not seem to get the same kind of play and attention that they once did. The issues seem to have been quieted and pushed to the side, or other matters have filled the public agenda. If a statistic such as the one in the above article is any indication, this issue needs our attention now just as much as it always has. We need to work through the cross, offering the healing message of the Gospel on this matter and remember our call to do justice and mercy for the defenseless and the least of the children of God.