Posted on July 29th, 2014
Tuesday Matins, Saint John’s Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska
July 29, 2014: “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People”—LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music
Psalm 3; Ephesians 5:14-21
“The days are evil.” St. Paul’s words could have been written yesterday. Churches are burned in Mosul, Christians driven from their ancient home: these days are evil. In the land of the free, religious freedom is threatened, the slaughter of children glorified and publicly funded: these days are evil. The devil got his renunciation removed from the Anglican baptismal liturgy: these days are evil.
Recognizing this, the temptation can be to despair, as the Psalmist seems to despair:
O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. (Ps. 3.1f)
“How many are my foes!” Such disillusionment among Christians quickly turns to disillusionment with Christians, with the Church. Things are not as we would like them to be, how we think they ought to be. We can resemble the apostles more in their contention for power than their witness to Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that if we are fortunate, our disillusionment with other Christians will turn into disillusionment with ourselves (Life Together). We must say, “I have seen the problem in these evil days, and it is me.” I must repent. Then we are prepared to receive the promises of Jesus in faith – not a faith in our abilities to improve the state of the world or church, but a faith that abandons every pretension of superiority or intelligence or piety, every false gospel that says we will fix the church through our labor and skill.
The days are evil, but the Psalms comfort us by giving us words for every condition, words belonging to Jesus our true liturgist. It is Jesus who is confessing, “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill.” The greatest comfort is in Jesus who on the hill made holy by His cross cried aloud, “Father, forgive them.”
There we see in Jesus the thing we least want to do ourselves. Jesus completely submits to the will of the Father, thereby submitting also to the will of His enemies, allowing Himself to be abused and mocked, all the while petitioning the Father for forgiveness of His enemies.
Therefore, when St. Paul in this morning’s reading calls us to submit one to another, he is not giving us an etiquette lesson, merely calling us to politeness and civility. Submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ,” the One who submitted Himself to the Father’s will, the One who surrendered His life to win us, His holy bride, making us spotless and unblemished.
And yet you say, “I don’t feel spotless and unblemished – just the opposite! I not only look at the world and say, ‘The days are evil,’ I look at my own heart, and find there the worst kind of corruption and impurity. Arrogant and boastful, lustful and lazy; slow to study Scripture, slow to pray, quick to demand my own way. O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; indeed, these foes rise up within me, causing me to love what I should hate, and hate the things I should love.”
And then these foes turn on my conscience, saying, “There is no salvation for [you] in God.”
“I lay down and slept,” says the Psalm, signifying the weakness of our flesh. “I lay down and slept,” journeying through darkness and death. “I lay down and slept,” but I did not stay there! “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” That is the answer from the holy hill: Jesus woke again, and I shall awake too. The resurrection of Jesus and the delivery of His victory over sin, death, and hell is the content of every Psalm, Hymn, and Spiritual Ode the Church sings.
The song is one, the song is the same through every generation until the end: Jesus sings to us, “I have conquered all your foes,” and we reply with His own words back to Him: “I will not be afraid! Salvation belongs to the LORD.”
The days are evil – but my Jesus is good, and He prays for us, with us, and in us, “Deliver us from evil.” Therefore we will go to our death in peace, and when the new creation dawns, we shall together repeat this morning’s Psalm with Jesus our High Priest: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” +INJ+