Archive for the ‘resurrection’ Category

Jesus

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (CJB)

 “With the hand of the LORD upon me, The LORD carried me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley, and it was full of bones. He had me pass by all around them—there were so many bones lying in the valley, and they were so dry! He asked me, “Human being, can these bones live?” I answered, “LORD GOD! Only you know that!” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones! Say to them, ‘Dry bones! Hear what the LORD has to say! To these bones the LORD GOD says, “I will make breath enter you, and you will live. I will attach ligaments to you, make flesh grow on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you. You will live, and you will know that I am the LORD.” “So I prophesied as ordered; and while I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound; it was the bones coming together, each bone in its proper place. As I watched, ligaments grew on them, flesh appeared, and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. Next He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy, human being! Say to the breath that the LORD GOD says, ‘Come from the four winds, breath; and breathe on these slain, so that they can live.’ ” So I prophesied as ordered, and the breath came into them, and they were alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army! Then He said to me, “Human being! These bones are the whole house of Israel; and they are saying, ‘Our bones have dried up, our hope is gone, and we are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy; say to them that the LORD GOD says, ‘My people! I will open your graves and make you get up out of your graves, and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD—when I have opened your graves and made you get up out of your graves, my people! I will put my Spirit in you; and you will be alive. Then I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and that I have done it,’ says the LORD.”

How can this story be true for us? Ezekiel was a prophet to God’s people, Israel, who had been taken into exile by Babylonians after the destruction of Jerusalem.

This is a story about Israel’s despair at their captivity. What is despair? Despair is a state in which all hope is lost or absent. Depression leads to despair. Have you ever felt that way? I have. I can truly say, we are all hopeless without God. What despair means, is that a person is willing to be absorbed with themselves and at the same time have a defiant attitude toward God. Sometimes, even resent God!

Sometimes, we get to the point where our own self-perception is one of total hopelessness. We do not look outside of ourselves to God. Sometimes, we cannot understand the consequences of our own behavior and wonder why we suffer from those consequences. We become despairing of our own weaknesses. That is how the people of Israel felt.

Three years ago a funeral director told me that within several months he dealt with a handful of funerals that were related to suicide. Suicide is the result of total despair. Is that any way to live? Sometimes we ask, “what is life, anyway?” It is not simply a physical life; but, it is a life that God gives us, it is an emotional and spiritual life, which includes love, joy, peace, hurt, pain, suffering, sickness, and even death.

It’s interesting that God would call a man to preach God’s Word, and then ask him to speak over lifeless dry bones. It seemed pointless. However, what the preacher discovers is the promise from God, that He will perform the impossible—and bring the dry bones back to life.

In Germany, I was trained as a lifeguard for our community pool at 5th General Hospital. I was certified as an American Red Cross lifesaver. I had the skills to resuscitate those who stop breathing. However, with the breath of God, resuscitation comes quickly and gives life powerfully.

Ezekiel’s vision alludes to God’s creative work in Genesis; how God creates, and how God re-creates. There is a very important and fundamental lesson to be taken from Ezekiel’s vision: when the Spirit is present, God’s people are enabled to live. This is the only basis for the hope given to a despairing person, community, church, or people like the nation of Israel.

How do you know the Holy Spirit is in your life? How do you know the Holy Spirit is present in our church? We get the answer from this passage in Ezekiel.

It is God’s promise to give the dry bones (His people) new hearts and a new spirit. It is the magnitude of a miracle; it is how God is mighty to save! When God saves us, it is indeed a miracle, a miracle of His mercy and grace.

The bones Ezekiel sees are “very dry,” emphasizing the fact that there is no life in them whatsoever. The chance that they will ever live again on their own is zero. Then, God asks the preacher, “will these bones live?” The preacher says to himself, “looking at their current state, um, no.” However, the preacher has learned never to presume on God’s power and intentions. So, he answers, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

God wanted the preacher and the people to know that it is His Word alone that brings life. God wants us to know, that in the most hopeless of situations—even in a valley full of death—God’s Word is powerful to bring resurrection life.

What is the resurrection? What is new life? It is the same as when God spoke the creation into existence, the same as Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb with only a word, the same as Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones, God’s Word always gives life. God promises to give us life! It is that our confidence is in God alone, in any situation, even in our darkest struggles.

The supreme Word from God, the Gospel message itself, tells us not what we must do to earn life, but what God has done, in Jesus Christ, to give us life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]. John 10:10

There is always hope that God will bring restoration and renewal to our lives. Whether it is a long struggle with sin, or broken relationships, hard affliction, trials, temptations, or even illness, life’s circumstances can often blind us to God’s life-giving power.

The vision of the dry bones, however, is a promise to us and should remind us that our God will truly give life and purpose to everything that seems hopelessly dead. Remember John’s Gospel, where Jesus declares to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26.

Beloved, do you believe this?

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

noahs-ark

Noah’s family and animals saved in the Ark.

In Genesis 6:14-22 it says, Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.”

In Genesis 7:1-24, the story continues, “Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male, and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah.

And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark— they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

Now the flood was on the earth forty days. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days.”

Exodus in Genesis

Did you know that the story of Abram and Sarai’s journey into Egypt (Gen. 12:10–13:2), is not only about Abram and Sarah: it foreshadowed the Exodus of Israel that would happen 400 years later. In both accounts, we find a descent into Egypt as a result of “heavy famine,” plagues upon the Egyptians, and fleeing Egypt because of the plagues; and the departure from Egypt with great riches.

Moses, Israel’s Redeemer in an Ark

Our Bibles say that Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, the word is tevah in Hebrew. Surprisingly, we find the same word, tevah, in the story of Moses: however, most modern English translations say that Moses was put into a basket. The truth is baby Moses was put into an ark. Why would the Torah use the word “ark” here, instead of the common Hebrew word for basket? The answer is clear: to make an intentional link between the two stories—Noah prefigures Moses’ role as Israel’s redeemer.

Baptism as an Ark

In 1 Peter 3:18-22 we read, “Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit. In it, He went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to Him.”

Noah and his family came through the water, in other words, “by means of water” in the ark, and so were saved by the water in spite of the floodwaters around them. So, baptism is our own spiritual resurrection. Because our regeneration is made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Peter says earlier in 1 Peter 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This leads me to what I want to encourage you with today. Just as Noah and his family were saved in the Ark, and Moses was saved in an Ark, and we are saved in the Ark of baptism, we are being saved in the “Ark” of sheltering in place. God is protecting us by our government advising us to remain in the safety of our own homes. Ensuring us to make every effort of cleanliness like washing our hands, covering our coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting things around us, we are under God’s protection.

The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 7:1, “I come to you for protection, O LORD my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!” Psalm 27:1 says, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The LORD protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.” Another example is from Psalm 31: 1-5, “I come to you, LORD, for protection; never let me be defeated. You are a righteous God; save me, I pray! Hear me! Save me now! Be my refuge to protect me; my defense to save me. You are my refuge and defense; guide me and lead me as you have promised. Keep me safe from the trap that has been set for me; shelter me from danger. I place myself in your care. You will save me, LORD; you are a faithful God.”

So, remember you are sheltering in place in the hands of God, held in His everlasting arms, underneath His mighty wings, guarded by His massive pinions, protecting you from this pestilence. You are being saved in the Ark of sheltering in place!

May God bless you all with His mercy and grace!  Amen!

Copyright © 2020 Gary DeSha

 

Historical Plagues

WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE

1527

Translated by Carl J. Schindler

INTRODUCTION

The Black Death, which from 1347 to 1350 swept out of China or India to the Crimea and thence into Europe and as far as Iceland, killed one-fourth of the population of Europe. This traumatic experience left a deep emotional imprint on the religious life, outlook, art, literature, folk customs, and superstitions of medieval Europe. Four great epidemics swept Germany in the fifteenth century and further ones occurred in the sixteenth.

The bubonic plague, as we know it, is spread by infected rats and other vermin. It is communicated to human beings by fleas, through infection in cuts and abrasions of the skin, even (as Luther surmised in the writing that follows) by breathing the air which has been polluted when the sick cough up germs, and by contact with the clothing and excrement of the ill. The sickness, after a very short incubation period, manifests itself as a fever accompanied by rapid pulse and sometimes by spells of delirium, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. On the second day boils as large as hen’s eggs appear on the neck, legs, or in the armpits. If the boils penetrate the lymph glands, they infect the bloodstream and lead to death within three or four days. In cases where the germs enter the bloodstream and multiply there, death can occur in a moment to an apparently healthy person. At the height of an epidemic, the mortality rate can range from 30 to 90 percent and even higher.

On August 2, 1527, this dread plague struck Wittenberg. Fearing for the safety of Luther and the other professors at the university, Elector John, on August 10, ordered Luther to leave for Jena. Five days later the university moved to Jena, then to Schlieben near Wittenberg, where it remained until April of the following year. Unmoved by the elector’s letter or by the pleas of his friends, Luther, along with Bugenhagen, stayed to minister to the sick and frightened people. By August 19 there were eighteen deaths; the wife of the mayor, Tilo Dene, died almost in Luther’s arms; his own wife was pregnant and two women were sick in his own house; his little son Hans refused to eat for three days; chaplain George Rörer’s wife, also pregnant, took sick and lost both her baby and her life; Bugenhagen and his family then moved into Luther’s house for mutual encouragement. Writing to Amsdorf, Luther spoke about his Anfechtungen and about the hospital in his house, closing his letter by saying, “So there are battles without and terrors within and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have, and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen. At Wittenberg on All Saints’ Day in the tenth year after the trampling down of the papal bull, in remembrance of which we, comforted .in both respects, have drunk a toast.”1 By the end of November the plague had definitely receded and in December Luther’s wife was happily delivered of her child, Elizabeth.

The plague also appeared in Breslau in Silesia, on August 10, 1527, and continued until November 19 of that year. A question had been raised among the clergy of that city whether it was proper for a Christian to flee from such deadly peril. Through Johann Hess, the recognized leader of the Reformation in Silesia, they wrote to Luther asking his advice, and when a first letter brought no answer, they wrote again. Luther was not inclined to answer immediately, in part because of illness and severe spells of depression which struck him July 6. Near the end of July, he began an answer to be published in the form of an open letter. Changes in handwriting and the kind of paper used (the original printer’s manuscript has been preserved) indicate that the writing was interrupted twice. In the meantime, the plague struck Wittenberg, and the people around Luther heard how a Dominican in Leipzig had, early in September, mocked the way the Wittenbergers had run away from the plague. These events stimulated Luther to finish the letter, which was completed not later than the first part of November.

In this open letter to Hess, Luther declares that the Christian pastor, lake a good shepherd and not a hireling, is commanded by Christ to stay despite the danger of death because he is needed by his flock for comfort and strength in the hour of death. Similarly, city officials and all who are bound by responsibilities to their neighbors are not free to flee. Even servants should not flee unless given permission by their masters, nor even a neighbor unless there is someone else to take his place in caring for the sick. If not bound by such responsibilities to one’s neighbor, one may flee rather than tempt God by exposing oneself to contagion. Luther goes on to suggest the establishment of public hospitals rather than using private homes for that purpose. He has a word for those who are horrified at having to nurse the sick, explaining that this feeling is a weapon of the devil and that many who nurse the sick with love and devotion are protected against the plague. But if they should succumb, God, Himself would be their nurse and physician. On the other hand, he warns against the over-bold who scorn ordinary precautions against contagion, thus tempting God, who has created medicine and given us the intelligence to care for our bodily health. Furthermore, such recklessness endangers others with whom one comes in contact. Use medicine, take what helps you, fumigate the house, yard, and streets, avoid unnecessary contact with the sick and their houses, Luther exhorts. He warns against those who, reportedly, when they get sick deliberately spread contagion out of spite; these should be arrested and executed. Luther suggests that another means to combat the plague would be to establish quiet, well-kept cemeteries outside the city to avoid contamination in the crowded town. He urges that the pastor be called promptly in case of sickness and not when it is too late and the ill person is unconscious. Furthermore, daily services should be conducted with the ministry of the word, as Luther did in Wittenberg. While enlarging on his opinion, Luther was careful not to take from his friends the personal responsibility of making their own decisions in the light of their accountability to God.

The fourteen-page pamphlet was published by Hans Lufft in 1527 and was reprinted in nineteen subsequent editions. It enjoyed a wide circulation, particularly in times of pestilence. An English translation by Theodore G. Tappert of a substantial part of this open letter was published in 1955 in Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 230–244. The translation which follows is based on the printed text of the original manuscript text, Ob man vor dem Sterben fliehen möge in WA 23, (323) 339–379.

WHETHER ONE MAY FLEE FROM A DEADLY PLAGUE

To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ

Martinus Luther

Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Your letter, sent to me at Wittenberg, was received some time ago. You wish to know whether it is proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague. I should have answered long ago, but God has for some time disciplined and scourged me so severely that I have been unable to do much reading or writing.1 Furthermore, it occurred to me that God, the merciful Father, has endowed you so richly with wisdom and truth in Christ that you yourself should be well qualified to decide this matter or even weightier problems in his Spirit and grace without our assistance.

But now that you keep on writing to me and have, so to speak, humbled yourself in requesting our view on this matter so that, as St. Paul repeatedly teaches, we may always agree with one another and be of one mind [I Cor. 1:10; II Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2]. Therefore we here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them.

To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly ff one holds no public office.

I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk2 faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread. Who would not acclaim these earnest people to whom death is a little thing? They willingly accept God’s chastisement, doing so without tempting God, as we shall hear later on.

Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16 [:18], while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned.3 When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion. Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 15 [:1] and I Corinthians 12 [:22 ff.]. To put it briefly and concisely, running away from death may happen in one of two ways. First, it may happen in disobedience to God’s word and command. For instance, in the case of a man who is imprisoned for the sake of God’s word and who, to escape death, denies and repudiates God’s word. In such a situation everyone has Christ’s plain mandate and command not to flee but rather to suffer death, as he says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” and “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Matthew 10 [:28, 33].

Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death.4 We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay ff it had been necessary. We read that St. Athanasius5 fled from his church that his life might be spared because many others were there to administer his office. Similarly, the brethren in Damascus lowered Paul in a basket over the wall to make it possible for him to escape, Acts 9 [:25]. And also in Acts 19 [:30] Paul allowed himself to be kept from risking danger in the marketplace because it was not essential for him to do so.

Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain. This, too, is God’s word, which institutes secular authority and commands that town and country be ruled, protected, and preserved, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13 [:4], “The governing authorities are God’s ministers for your own good.” To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin. It is the kind of disaster the devil would like to instigate wherever there is no law and order. St. Paul says, “Anyone who does not provide for his own family denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” [I Tim. 5:8]. On the other hand, if in great weakness they flee but provide capable substitutes to make sure that the community is well-governed and protected, as we previously indicated, and ff they continually and carefully supervise them [i.e., the substitutes], all that would be proper.

What applies to these two offices [church and state] should also apply to persons who stand in a relationship of service or duty toward one another. A servant should not leave his master nor a maid her mistress except with the knowledge and permission of master or mistress. Again, a master should not desert his servant or a lady her maid unless suitable provision for their care has been made somewhere. In all these matters it is a divine command that servants and maids should render obedience and by the same token masters and ladies should take care of their servants.6 Likewise, fathers and mothers are bound by God’s law to serve and help their children, and children their fathers and mothers. Likewise, paid public servants such as city physicians, city clerks, and constables, or whatever their titles, should not flee unless they furnish capable substitutes who are acceptable to their employer.

In the case of children who are orphaned, guardians or close friends are under obligation either to stay with them or to arrange diligently for other nursing care for their sick friends. Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them. In such cases we must respect the word of Christ, “I was sick and you did not visit me …” [Matt. 25:41–46]. According to this passage, we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.7

Where no such emergency exists and where enough people are available for nursing and taking care of the sick, and where, voluntarily or by orders, those who are weak in faith make provision so that there is no need for additional helpers, or where the sick do not want them and have refused their services, I judge that they have an equal choice either to flee or to remain. If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name as long as he does not neglect his duty toward his neighbor but has made adequate provision for others to provide nursing care. To flee from death and to save one’s life is a natural tendency, implanted by God and not forbidden unless it be against God and neighbor, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4 [5:29], “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” It is even commanded that every man should as much as possible preserve body and life and not neglect them, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 12 [:21–26] that God has so ordered the members of the body that each one cares and works for the other.

It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is, therefore, to seek to preserve life and avoid death ff this can be done without harm to our neighbor, inasmuch as life is more than food and clothing, as Christ himself says in Matthew 5 [6:25]. If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same.

Examples in Holy Scripture abundantly prove that to flee from death is not wrong in itself. Abraham was a great saint, but he feared death and escaped it by pretending that his wife, Sarah, was his sister.8 Because he did so without neglecting or adversely affecting his neighbor, it was not counted as a sin against him. His son, Isaac, did likewise.9 Jacob also fled from his brother Esau to avoid death at his hands.10 Likewise, David fled from Saul, and from Absalom.11 The prophet Uriah escaped from King Jehoiakim and fled into Egypt.12 The valiant prophet, Elijah, I Kings 19 [:3], had destroyed all the prophets of Baal by his great faith, but afterward, when Queen Jezebel threatened him, he became afraid and fled into the desert. Before that, Moses fled into the land of Midian when the king searched for him in Egypt.13 Many others have done likewise. All of them fled from death when it was possible and saved their lives, yet without depriving their neighbors of anything but first meeting their obligations toward them.

Yes, you may reply, but these examples do not refer to dying by pestilence but to death under persecution. Answer: Death is death, no matter how it occurs. According to Holy Scripture God sent his four scourges: pestilence, famine, sword, and wild beasts.14 If it is permissible to flee from one or the other in clear conscience, why not from all four? Our examples demonstrate how the holy fathers escaped from the sword; it is quite evident that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fled from the other scourge, namely, hunger and death, when they went to Egypt to escape famine, as we are told in Genesis [40–47]. Likewise, why should one not run away from wild beasts? I hear people say, “If war or the Turks come, one should not flee from his village or town but stay and await God’s punishment by the sword.” That is quite true; let him who has a strong faith wait for his death, but he should not condemn those who take flight.

By such reasoning, when a house is on fire, no one should run outside or rush to help because such a fire is also a punishment from God. Anyone who falls into deep water dare not save himself by swimming but must surrender to the water as to a divine punishment. Very well, do so if you can but do not tempt God, and allow others to do as much as they are capable of doing. Likewise, if someone breaks a leg, is wounded or bitten, he should not seek medical aid but say, “It is God’s punishment. I shall bear it until it heals by itself.” Freezing weather and winter are also God’s punishment and can cause death. Why run to get inside or near a fire? Be strong and stay outside until it becomes warm again. We should then need no apothecaries or drugs or physicians because all illnesses are a punishment from God. Hunger and thirst are also great punishments and torture. Why do you eat and drink instead of letting yourself be punished until hunger and thirst stop of themselves? Ultimately such talk will lead to the point where we abbreviate the Lord’s Prayer and no longer pray, “deliver us from evil, Amen,” since we would have to stop praying to be saved from hell and stop seeking to escape it. It, too, is God’s punishment as is every kind of evil. Where would all this end?

From what has been said we derive this guidance: We must pray against every form of evil and guard against it to the best of our ability in order not to act contrary to God, as was previously explained. If it be God’s will that evil come upon us and destroy us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in this pestilence in the same way as if I were in fire, water, drought, or any other danger.” If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, “Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it. I am nevertheless in thy hands in this danger as in any other which might overtake me. Thy will be done. My flight alone will not succeed of itself because calamity and harm are everywhere. Moreover, the devil never sleeps. He is a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44] and tries everywhere to instigate murder and misfortune.”15

In the same way, we must and we owe it to our neighbor to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. If there are enough other people around to put the fire out, I may either go home or remain to help. If he falls into the water or into a pit I dare not turn away but must hurry to help him as best I can. If there are others to do it, I am released. If I see that he is hungry or thirsty, I cannot ignore him but must offer food and drink, not considering whether I would risk impoverishing myself by doing so. A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor. He will always reckon with the possibility that doing so will bring some disadvantage and damage, danger and loss. No neighbor can live alongside another without risk to his safety, property, wife, or child. He must run the risk that fire or some other accident will start in the neighbor’s house and destroy him bodily or deprive him of his goods, wife, children, and all he has.

Anyone who does not do that for his neighbor, but forsakes him and leaves him to his misfortune, becomes a murderer in the sight of God, as St. John states in his epistles, “Whoever does not love his brother is a murderer,” and again, “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need [yet closes his heart against him], how does God’s love abide in him?” [I John 3:15, 17]. That is also one of the sins which God attributed to the city of Sodom when he speaks through the prophet Ezekiel [16:49], “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Christ, therefore, will condemn them as murderers on the Last Day when he will say, “I was sick and you did not visit me” [Matt. 25:43]. If that shall be the judgment upon those who have failed to visit the sick and needy or to offer them relief, what will become of those who abandoned them and let them lie there like dogs and pigs? Yes, how will they fare who rob the poor of the little they have and plague them in all kinds of ways? That is what the tyrants do to the poor who accept the gospel. But let that be; they have their condemnation.

It would be well, where there is such an efficient government in cities and states, to maintain municipal homes and hospitals staffed with people to take care of the sick so that patients from private homes can be sent there—as was the intent and purpose of our forefathers with so many pious bequests, hospices, hospitals, and infirmaries so that it should not be necessary for every citizen to maintain a hospital in his own home. That would indeed be a fine, commendable, and Christian arrangement to which everyone should offer generous help and contributions, particularly the government. Where there are no such institutions—and they exist in only a few places—we must give hospital care and be nurses for one another in any extremity or risk the loss of salvation and the grace of God. Thus it is written in God’s word and command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in Matthew 7 [:12], “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another. First, we can be sure that God’s punishment has come upon us, not only to chastise us for our sins but also to test our faith and love—our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. I am of the opinion that all the epidemics, like any plague, are spread among the people by evil spirits who poison the air or exhale a pestilential breath which puts a deadly poison into the flesh. Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” [I John 3:16].

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He is such a bitter, knavish devil that he not only unceasingly tries to slay and kill, but also takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles. We would sin thereby against God and man; that would be the devil’s glory and delight. Because we know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread, we should, in turn, minimize it, take such courage as to spite and annoy him, and send those terrors right back to him. And we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:

“Get away, you devil, with your terrors! Just because you hate it, I’ll spite you by going the more quickly to help my sick neighbor. I’ll pay no attention to you: I’ve got two heavy blows to use against you: the first one is that I know that helping my neighbor is a deed well-pleasing to God and all the angels; by this deed, I do God’s will and render true service and obedience to him. All the more so because if you hate it so and are so strongly opposed to it, it must be particularly acceptable to God. I’d do this readily and gladly if I could please only one angel who might look with delight on it. But now that it pleases my Lord Jesus Christ and the whole heavenly host because it is the will and command of God, my Father, then how could any fear of you cause me to spoil such joy in heaven or such delight for my Lord? Or how could I, by flattering you, give you and your devils in hell reason to mock and laugh at me? No, you’ll not have the last word! If Christ shed his blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for his sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with his precepts, his kindness, and all his encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, his servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.”

The second blow against the devil is God’s mighty promise by which he encourages those who minister to the needy. He says in Psalm 41 [:1–3], “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; the Lord will bless him on earth and not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed. In his illness, he will heal all his infirmities.” Are not these glorious and mighty promises of God heaped up upon those who minister to the needy? What should terrorize us or frighten us away from such great and divine comfort? The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards that St. Paul says to Timothy, “Godliness is of value in every way, and it holds promise both for the present life and for the life to come” [I Tim. 4:8]. Godliness is nothing else but service to God. Service to God is indeed service to our neighbor. It is proved by experience that those who nurse the sick with love, devotion, and sincerity are generally protected. Though they are poisoned, they are not harmed. As the psalm says, “in his illness, you heal all his infirmities” [Ps. 41:3], that is, you change his bed of sickness into a bed of health. A person who attends a patient because of greed, or with the expectation of an inheritance or some personal advantage in such services, should not be surprised if eventually he is infected, disfigured, or even dies before he comes into possession of that estate or inheritance.

But whoever serves the sick for the sake of God’s gracious promise, though he may accept a suitable reward to which he is entitled, inasmuch as every laborer is worthy of his hire—whoever does so has the great assurance that he shall, in turn, be cared for. God himself shall be his attendant and his physician, too. What an attendant he is! What a physician! Friend, what are all the physicians, apothecaries, and attendants in comparison to God? Should that not encourage one to go and serve a sick person, even though he might have as many contagious boils on him as hairs on his body, and though he might be bent double carrying a hundred plague-ridden bodies! What do all kinds of pestilence or devils mean over against God, who binds and obliges himself to be our attendant and physician? Shame and more shame on you, you out-and-out unbeliever, for despising such great comfort and letting yourself become more frightened by some small boil or some uncertain danger than emboldened by such sure and faithful promises of God! What would it avail you if all physicians and the entire world were at your service, but God were not present? Again, what harm could overtake you if the whole world were to desert you and no physician would remain with you, but God would abide with you with his assurance? Do you not know that you are surrounded as by thousands of angels who watch over you in such a way that you can indeed trample upon the plague, as it is written in Psalm 91 [:11–13], “He has given His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands, they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the adder, and trample the young lion and the serpent underfoot.”

Therefore, dear friends, let us not become so desperate as to desert our own whom we are duty-bound to help and flee in such a cowardly way from the terror of the devil or allow him the joy of mocking us and vexing and distressing God and all his angels. For it is certainly true that he who despises such great promises and commands of God and leaves his own people destitute violates all of God’s laws and is guilty of the murder of his neighbor whom he abandons. I fear that in such a case God’s promise will be reversed and changed into horrible threats and the psalm [41] will then read this way against them: “Accursed is he who does not provide for the needy but escapes and forsakes them. The Lord, in turn, will not spare him in evil days but will flee from him and desert him, The Lord will not preserve him and keep him alive and will not prosper him on earth but will deliver him into the hands of his enemies. The Lord will not refresh him on his sickbed nor take him from the couch of his illness.” For “the measure you give will be the measure you get” [Matt. 7:2]. Nothing else can come of it. It is terrible to hear this, more terrible to be waiting for this to happen, most terrible to experience it. What else can happen if God withdraws his hand and forsakes us except sheer devilment and every kind of evil? It cannot be otherwise if, against God’s command, one abandons his neighbor. This fate will surely overtake anyone of this sort unless he sincerely repents.

This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, “As you did to one of the least, you did it to me” [Matt. 25:40]. When he speaks of the greatest commandment he says, “The other commandment is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matt. 22:39]. There you hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal to the greatest commandment to love God and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word. If you do not wish or care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there. Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person. Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well. This is said as an admonition and encouragement against fear and a disgraceful flight to which the devil would tempt us so that we would disregard God’s command in our dealings with our neighbor and so we would fall into sin on the left hand.

Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually, that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead, they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.

No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree, the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary. Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he, in turn, should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death. “Whoever loves danger,” says the wise man, “will perish by it” [Ecclus. 3:26]. If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man—here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair. Then the one who flees, the devil will pursue; the one who stays behind, the devil will hold captive so that no one escapes him.

Some are even worse than that. They keep it secret that they have the disease and go among others in the belief that by contaminating and poisoning others they can rid themselves of the plague and so recover. With this idea they enter streets and homes, trying to saddle children or servants with the disease and thus save themselves. I certainly believe that this is the devil’s doing, who helps turn the wheel of fate to make this happen. I have been told that some are so incredibly vicious that they circulate among people and enter homes because they are sorry that the plague has not reached that far and wish to carry it in, as though it were a prank like putting lice into fur garments or flies into someone’s living room. I do not know whether I should believe this; if it is true, I do not know whether we Germans are not really devils instead of human beings. It must be admitted that there are some extremely coarse and wicked people. The devil is never idle. My advice is that if any such persons are discovered, the judge should take them by the ear and turn them over to Master Jack, the hangman, as outright and deliberate murderers. What else are such people but assassins in our town? Here and there an assassin will jab a knife through someone and no one can find the culprit. So these folk infect a child here, a woman there, and can never be caught. They go on laughing as though they had accomplished something. Where this is the case, it would be better to live among wild beasts than with such murderers. I do not know how to preach to such killers. They pay no heed. I appeal to the authorities to take charge and turn them over to the help and advice not of physicians, but of Master Jack, the hangman.

If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination [Leviticus 13–14], we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine. Under such circumstances, it is our duty to assist such a person and not forsake him in his plight, as I have repeatedly pointed out before. Then the poison is stopped in time, which benefits not only the individual but also the whole community, which might be contaminated if one person is permitted to infect others. Our plague here in Wittenberg has been caused by nothing but filth. The air, thank God, is still clean and pure, but some few have been contaminated because of the laziness or recklessness of some. So the devil enjoys himself at the terror and flight which he causes among us. May God thwart him! Amen.

This is what we think and conclude on this subject of fleeing from death by the plague. If you are of a different opinion, may God enlighten you. Amen.16

Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit and still do so every day in fulfillment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors.

First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation. A person who wants to live like a heathen or a dog and does not publicly repent should not expect us to administer the sacrament to him or have us count him a Christian. Let him die as he has lived because we shall not throw pearls before swine nor give to dogs what is holy [Matt. 7:6]. Sad to say, there are many churlish, hardened ruffians who do not care for their souls when they live or when they die. They simply lie down and die like unthinking hulks.

Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.

Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient. The reason I say this is that some are so negligent that they make no request and send no message until the soul is perched for flight on the tip of their tongues17 and they are no longer rational or able to speak. Then we are told, “Dear Sir, say the very best you can to him,” etc. But earlier, when the illness first began, they wanted no visit from the pastor but would say, “Oh, there’s no need. I hope he’ll get better.” What should a diligent pastor do with such people who neglect both body and soul? They live and die like beasts in the field. They want us to teach them the gospel at the last minute and administer the sacrament to them as they were accustomed to it under the papacy when nobody asked whether they believed or understood the gospel but just stuffed the sacrament down their throats as if into a bread bag.

This won’t do. If someone cannot talk or indicate by a sign that he believes, understands, and desires the sacrament—particularly if he has willfully neglected it—we will not give it to him just anytime he asks for it. We have been commanded not to offer the holy sacrament to unbelievers but rather to believers who can state and confess their faith. Let the others alone in their unbelief; we are guiltless because we have not been slothful in preaching, teaching, exhortation, consolation, visitation, or in anything else that pertains to our ministry and office. This, in brief, is our instruction and what we practice here. We do not write this for you in Breslau, because Christ is with you and without our aid he will amply instruct you and supply your needs with his own ointment. To him be praise and honor together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.18

Because we have come upon the subject of death, I cannot refrain from saying something about burials. First of all, I leave it to the doctors of medicine and others with greater experience than mine in such matters to decide whether it is dangerous to maintain cemeteries within the city limits. I do not know and do not claim to understand whether vapors and mists arise out of graves to pollute the air. If this were so my previously stated warnings constitute ample reason to locate cemeteries outside the city. As we have learned, all of us have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body, to protect and nurse it so that we are not exposed needlessly. In an emergency, however, we must be bold enough to risk our health if that is necessary. Thus we should be ready for both—to live and to die according to God’s will. For “none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself,” as St. Paul says, Romans 15 [14:7].

It is very well known that the custom in antiquity, both among Jews and pagans, among saints and sinners, was to bury the dead outside the city. Those people were just as prudent as we claim to be ourselves. This is also evident in St. Luke’s Gospel when Christ raised from the dead the widow’s son at the gates of Nain (for the text [Luke 7:12] states, “He was being carried out of the city to the grave and a large crowd from the city was with her”). In that country, it was the practice to bury the dead outside the town.

Christ’s tomb, also, was prepared outside the city. Abraham, too, bought a burial plot in the field of Ephron near the double cave19 where all the patriarchs wished to be buried. The Latin, therefore, employs the term efferi, that is, “to carry out,” by which we mean “carry to the grave.” They not only carried the dead out but also burned them to powder to keep the air as pure as possible.

My advice, therefore, is to follow these examples and to bury the dead outside the town. Not only necessity but piety and decency should induce us to provide a public burial ground outside the town, that is, our town of Wittenberg.

A cemetery rightfully ought to be a fine quiet place, removed from all other localities, to which one can go and reverently meditate upon death, the Last Judgment, the resurrection, and say one’s prayers. Such a place should properly be a decent, hallowed place, to be entered with trepidation and reverence because doubtlessly some saints rest there. It might even be arranged to have religious pictures and portraits painted on the walls.

But our cemetery, what is it like? Four or five alleys, two or three marketplaces, with the result that no place in the whole town is busier or noisier than the cemetery. People and cattle roam over it at any time, night and day. Everyone has a door or pathway to it from his house and all sorts of things take place there, probably even some that are not fit to be mentioned. This totally destroys respect and reverence for the graves, and people think no more about walking across it than if it were a burial ground for executed criminals. Not even the Turk would dishonor the place the way we do. And yet a cemetery should inspire us to devout thoughts, to the contemplation of death and the resurrection, and to respect for the saints who rest there. How can that be done at such a commonplace through which everyone must walk and into which every man’s door opens? If a cemetery is to have some dignity, I would rather be put to rest in the Elbe or in the forest. If a graveyard were located at a quiet, remote spot where no one could make a path through it, it would be a spiritual, proper, and holy sight and could be so arranged that it would inspire devotion in those who go there. That would be my advice. Follow it, who so wishes. If anyone knows better, let him go ahead. I am no man’s master.

In closing, we admonish and plead with you in Christ’s name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons and defiles the world. That is, particularly against those who blaspheme the sacrament, though there are other sectarians also. Satan is infuriated and perhaps he feels that the day of Christ is at hand. That is why he raves so fiercely and tries through the enthusiasts20 to rob us of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Under the papacy, Satan was simply “flesh” so that even a monk’s cap had to be regarded as sacred. Now he is nothing more than sheer “spirit” and Christ’s flesh and word are no longer supposed to mean anything. They made an answer to my treatise21 long ago, but I am surprised that it has not yet reached me at Wittenberg.22 [When it does] I shall, God willing, answer them once again and let the matter drop. I can see that they will only become worse. They are like a bedbug which itself has a foul smell, but the harder you rub to crush it, the more it stinks. I hope that I’ve written enough in this pamphlet for those who can be saved so that—God be praised—many may thereby be snatched from their jaws and many more may be strengthened and confirmed in the truth. May Christ our Lord and Savior preserve us all in pure faith and fervent love, unspotted and pure until his day. Amen. Pray for me, a poor sinner.

[1]

 

[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1968). Vol. 43: Luther’s Works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Vol. 43, Page 113-139). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Transform

Christ Lutheran Church is in the process of a modern transformation! By the time this newsletter reaches you, we will have celebrated and re-dedicated Christ Lutheran Church to worship, the ministry of the Gospel, missions, the discipleship of believers, and the correct administration of the Sacraments – all to the glory of God. God has blessed this congregation with many blessings. What I hear God telling us is that we must submit ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How are we transformed?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

Our transformation enables us to be of service to God in bringing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to a lost and dying world. A recent Pew Research Center study has identified some interesting facts:

  1. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons score higher in religious knowledge and outperform Protestant Christians on questions about the core teachings and history of Christianity.
  2. Those identifying themselves as “Christian” shrunk from 78% to 70% – a drop of 8% points in just seven years. Meanwhile, those calling themselves atheist, non-religious, or simply unaffiliated rose from 16% to almost 23%.
  3. Almost 60% of our youth leave their churches as young adults – many joining the growing number of the so-called “nones,” those who profess no adherence to any faith whatsoever.

What can we at Christ Lutheran Church do? We must do what we believe, teach and confess!

  1. To preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  2. To preach and teach the Law of God, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  3. To preach and teach repentance from sin and faith toward God through Jesus Christ alone.
  4. To preach and teach belief in the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of God’s Word (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) – the Bible.
  5. To teach her followers of Jesus Christ, their family and children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and why it matters.
  6. To teach followers of Jesus Christ what the Christian faith is and that it is important to know and understand what they believe, and why.
  7. To preach and teach about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the continuation of the gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit; the gifts God gives for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ.
  8. To preach and teach how God has arranged the Body of Christ (the local church); how He has defined its leadership; and how the Body of Christ (the local church) should function in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  9. To support her members by assembling together for worship, ministry, and fellowship. We are exhorted in God’s Word to always assemble for worship, because it is the evidence that we care, love, and work for one another and our community.

“And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

At Christ Lutheran Church we must seek to do just that. Let us make the necessary commitment to transformation. It is time to take a sound biblical stand for God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and His Church. Let us come together, from ashes to renewal. Join us, help us, fellowship with us, support us. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Gary

Do you remember this song from Seals and Croft?

“See the curtains hanging in the window, in the evening on a Friday night; A little light shining through the window, lets me know everything is alright… Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

See the paper laying in the sidewalk, a little music from the house next door; So I walked on up to the doorstep, through the screen and across the floor…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom; July is dressed up and playing her tune; And I come home from a hard day’s work; And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world; See the smile waiting in the kitchen, food cooking and the plates for two; Feel the arms that reach out to hold me, in the evening when the day is through…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…”

In John 3:8, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone who has been born from the Spirit.” Nicodemus had objected to Jesus’ teaching because he did not understand. Jesus shows him that he ought not to reject it on that account, for he constantly had a problem believing. Jesus’ words might appear incomprehensible, but His teaching was to be understood by its effects. As in this case of the wind, the effects were seen, the sound was heard, important changes were produced by it, trees and clouds were moved, yet the wind is not seen, nor do we know where it comes, nor by what laws it is governed. So it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person.

When the Holy Spirit comes, we see the changes produced. Men who are sinful become holy; the thoughtless become serious; the licentious become pure; the vicious, moral; the moral, religious; the prayerless, prayerful; the rebellious and obstinate, meek, mild, and gentle. When we see such changes, we ought no more to doubt that they are produced by God ‐ by the mighty Agent, than when we see the trees moved, or the waters of the ocean piled upon heaps, or feel the cooling effects of a summer’s breeze. In those cases we attribute it to the “wind,” even though we do not see it, and we do not understand how it operates.

Here are four things we learn from this passage:

1. That the proper evidence of conversion is the effect of change on the life.

2. That we must not search for the cause or manner of the change on the life.

3. That God has power over the most hardened sinner to change him, as He has power over the loftiest oak, to bring it down by a sweeping blast.

4. That there is a great variety of the modes of the operation of the Holy Spirit. As the “wind” sometimes sweeps with a tempest, and knocks everyone down all before it, and sometimes blows upon us in a mild evening zephyr, so it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit.

The sinner sometimes trembles and is prostrate before the truth, and sometimes is sweetly and gently drawn to the cross of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s invisible operations gives visible evidence of His power. The Holy Spirit works His own way beyond our comprehension just like we do not know the law of the wind.

So, as our summer draws nearer and covers us with its warmth, remember as you feel the summer breeze upon your face, that God, by the invisible power of His Holy Spirit has moved you and changed you, and is in the process of changing you, from glory to glory into the blessed, holy image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have a blessed summer!

individualconfession

Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

comfort

My late wife and friend, Patricia, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. After many surgeries and over a year’s worth of chemotherapy, she went into remission. In August of 2006, she complained of chest pain and went to the doctor. She had a chest x-ray done which discovered that the breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs and chest wall. After seeing her oncologist that treated her the first time, he told her this time it was much worse and that this cancer now is of the terminal kind. In January 2007, her oncologist gave her 8-12 months. In August of 2007, she was still here, and was doing her best to keep on living!

I have always wondered why she had cancer. I have always wondered why it has affected me so much. I have heard of others with cancer, Lance Armstrong for one, who has continued to “beat” cancer. Then there are those I’ve known who haven’t won over cancer, my mother, a real good friend named Bill, and countless others.

Then a friend of mind named Jim sent me a reply to a message I sent him regarding a bulletin he sent about his daughter reporting that her friend Hillary had “beat” cancer. It was about her receiving a “wish” from the Make a Wish Foundation. Her wish was to care for some children in a third world country. Her wish came true.

In his reply, he said that my family was “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” I was taken aback from his reply; I was kind of hurt by that statement. I asked God, “how is Pat being sick sharing in Christ’s sufferings?” How can that be? Then prompted by the Holy Spirit, I looked up the passage, Philippians 3:10, which says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”

Did God make her suffer? Did God give her the same cancer – twice? What I came to understand was that God had given her Himself; God was very present with her. He was a God of mystery to her; yet now she knows He is the God of all comfort. She knows that now with Him in heaven. Moreover, I know this now…however much it hurts me inside to actualize the reality that any kind of suffering we experience, Christ suffered the same on the Cross.

Isaiah 53:3-5 explains it, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

I really know this now. I know this experientially. I feel that most people don’t know this until it actually happens to them. At least, that is how I feel about it myself.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

Through my friend’s words, God’s Spirit touched my heart, and even though I weep at this knowledge, I am comforted as never before. I am comforted knowing that God had compassion on Patricia. He had compassion on even me! God has compassion toward all of His creation. I feel that God may be enabling me to help others to see the compassion of God in times like these, when they are fearful, hurting, doubtful and in despair. Pat went to be with the Lord eleven years ago, July 29th, 2008.

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