Believing Christians Pray in Time of Widespread Sickness: An Exhortation and Prayer Adapted from Starck’s Prayerbook


This morning’s devotion is adapted from The Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book. Johann Friedrich Starck was a Lutheran pastor and favorite author of evangelical Germany in the early 1700s.

Exhortation

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.—Deuteronomy 28:15, 20-21

When wrath, tribulation, and anguish come upon those that do evil (Romans 2:8­–9), contagious diseases and pestilence must certainly be included in that anguish. To a large extent this plague comes when people put no faith in the word of warning and admonition (Numbers 14:12); when they serve God only outwardly and not with the heart (Jeremiah 24:10; 27:9); when they despise the servants of God (Jeremiah 29:17); when the people become bold and unruly (Ezekiel 14:19); when fornication and murder are rampant (Ezekiel 33:26–27); when no admonition to repentance is any longer heeded (Amos 4:10); on account of adultery (2 Kings 19:35); on account of pride (2 Samuel 24:15); and also on account of other sins. Now when God inflicts this chastisement, it is necessary that people repent because the Lord allows Himself to be entreated according to His mercy.

So far, Pastor Starck.

Why do you suppose we view situations so differently—between us and Stark’s time? I must admit some reluctance to directly assign the COVID–19 Coronavirus pandemic to God’s anger, not because I don’t believe He would do such a thing but rather, but rather, how can I tell that He is directly behind this specific instance—same as any natural disaster or why a particular accident happens? Today, when there is trouble, people seem more apt to believe that there is a problem with God, rather than a problem with sinful humanity. Such was not the case with the ancients. Martin Luther in his day, and Johann Starck some two-hundred years later, and Christians until about the era of the World Wars[*], believed that God is real and that He interacts with this world in real, tangible ways. They didn’t trust the sciences for their salvation. There was no higher authority than God, so if man didn’t orchestrate the disaster, than God must have since man clearly deserves it.

Today, we don’t believe God is real and active in this world (or at least we don’t behave like we do). We are empiricists. We need to see the proof before we believe. We trust science and our behavior to cure us. God isn’t the highest authority, therefore God wouldn’t have done anything to us since we really are not that bad.

In his Preface to the Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book, editor Pastor Will Weedon writes: “I didn’t like it. Not at first. I do not think I am alone. Starck’s prayers are meat for the soul in an age accustomed to devotional cotton candy.” Has our “Jesus is a nice guy” culture fundamentally altered our own view of God in ways we haven’t recognized?  Have we become so accustomed to “the Law only lasts for 7.5 minutes before the Gospel in the sermon overcomes it” that we have lost our ability to rightly ponder and fear the holy wrath of God? Do we trust more in twenty-second hand washing than we do in the water and the Word of our Baptism?

When bad things happen, we are not privy to the reason or the mechanics behind it. We will certainly acknowledge that nothing happens apart from the divine will of God. Yet we are not given the wisdom to even begin to understand the ways of God. Ultimately, all things are assigned to the divine work of God. We can be certain that, of all that work of God, we deserve nothing good. So, if bad happens to us, we deserve it. If good happens, we rejoice in His great mercy. We also rejoice because God uses all things, good or bad, to our good.

Prayer

{Starck:) O strong and mighty God, great is Your wrath against willful sinners who will not permit Your kindness to lead them to repentance. For a time You deal with people like a loving father, who seeks with much patience to draw back his disobedient children to himself, but then, when people willfully abuse Your grace, You manifest Yourself as a stern judge. We, too, are experiencing this now, O just God. We hear that in many places a contagious disease has appeared, devouring many thousands of people, so that death is a guest in many homes and there are not enough hands to bury the dead. We are consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are troubled. Have we not strong reasons to fear that You will send this spreading contagion also into our borders and our city? O jealous God, we need not think that those on whom Your heavy rod is now descending are worse sinners than the rest; rather, we confess that we all deserve to perish like them. There is found among us security in our sinfulness, contempt of Your Holy Word, stubbornness, wastefulness, fornication, unrighteousness, worldliness, and pride. Yes, there is scarcely any fear of God in our land; the godly ceases and the faithful fail among the children of men. If You, O Lord, kept a record of iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?

O Lord, when You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8). You have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his way and live. Therefore, we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes. Do not look upon our countless sins; graciously pronounce us not guilty. Comfort us in our distress and remove all punishments from us. We have sinned with our ancestors; we have committed iniquity and done wickedly. Command the destroying angel who is wielding the sword of vengeance to cease, and say to him, “It is enough.” Let us live, and we will glorify Your name. Although we do not deserve any mercy, we are in need of it. Although we are all children of death, You have promised the penitent that You would exercise mercy instead of justice toward them.

Oh, grant us Your grace and life, for Jesus’ sake, our only mediator and advocate. Have mercy, have mercy upon us, O God of mercy! Be gracious to us; spare us, good Lord! Be gracious to us; help us, good Lord, our God! Have mercy on the poor and afflicted who have been seized with this violent pestilence, who must suffer hunger and grief, who are destitute of all nursing care, and forsaken by others. Lead them to the knowledge of Your grace in Christ, Your dear Son. Aid them with Your comfort and let Your Spirit witness to their spirit that they are God’s children, though they have to die of this plague. O Lord, hear our prayer! Protect our country, and we shall say: The Lord has done great things for us. Yes, You can deliver all who come to You. Amen.

Hymn

LSB 726 Evening and Morning

Evening and morning,

Sunset and dawning,

    Wealth, peace, and gladness,

    Comfort in sadness:

These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!

Times without number,

Awake or in slumber,

    Thine eye observes us,

    From danger preserves us,

Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.

 

Father, O hear me,

Pardon and spare me;

    Calm all my terrors,

    Blot out my errors

That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned.

Order my goings,

Direct all my doings;

    As it may please Thee,

    Retain or release me;

All I commit to Thy fatherly hand.

 

Ills that still grieve me

Soon are to leave me;

    Though billows tower,

    And winds gain power,

After the storm the fair sun shows its face.

Joys e’er increasing

And peace never ceasing:

    These shall I treasure

    And share in full measure

When in His mansions God grants me a place.

 

To God in heaven

All praise be given!

    Come, let us offer

    And gladly proffer

To the Creator the gifts He doth prize.

He well receiveth

A heart that believeth;

    Hymns that adore Him

    Are precious before Him

And to His throne like sweet incense arise.

 

[*] Take a look at The Lutheran Liturgy‘s prayer for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer, pp. pp. 366-68. It is unsettling for quite a number of folk with words like, “… We have seen Thy judgments abroad in the earth, but have not learned righteousness…” The Lutheran Liturgy ©CPH 1947.

 

Prayer Doesn’t Begin With Us


Prayer does not begin with us; it does not begin with our longings and desires or even with the truest and best intentions of the human heart. Prayer begins with the hearing of God’s gracious words of life and salvation spoken to us in the Gospel of His Son. Just as faith comes by the hearing of Christ’s words so prayer is created and sustained by the Word of the Lord. The confidence that God will hear our prayer cannot be found in our determination, in our fervency, or in our sincerity. The confidence that our prayer is heard is found not in the praying heart but in the promises of God. Christian prayer is not based on the instincts of the heart, instincts that by there very nature rob us of the fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Instead, our Lord invites us to pray in His name, that is, on the basis of His good and gracious will and His sure promises.

God Has the First Word

Prayer is often described as a conversation with God. This is a helpful image if we keep in mind that God always has the first word. We can speak to God in prayer only because God has first spoken to us in His Son. We are reminded of this reality in Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise,”. It is only as God opens lips locked by sin that mouths are free for the full-throated prayer that delights the ears of our Heavenly Father. When we sinners try to open our own lips in prayer, we know what happens. Instead of praise and thanksgiving, intercession and supplication, out come petitions of self-justification and attempts to bargain with God.

To use the language of Lutheran theology, prayer is not a means of grace. When we are troubled and tortured by our sin and the attacks of Satan we do not take comfort in the strength or sincerity of our praying. Our comfort comes only from God who richly bestows on us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for the sake of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. This and this alone is the rock-solid gift won for us on Jesus’ cross and delivered to us in the means of grace. Our confidence is not to be found in our prayers but in God’s work in Word and Sacrament. In the conversation of prayer, we speak to God because we have first listened to the Holy Trinity in His Word. The God who has given us His Son tenderly invites us to trust His Word and call upon His name with boldness and confidence.

The Activity of Prayer

At its heart prayer is communication with God. It involves and invokes the presence of God. When we pray we are not far and distant from God. Instead it is a most intimate activity with our Lord in whom we live and have or being. The activity of God presupposes this relationship between the one praying and the One being addressed in prayer.

Often prayer is spoken of as consisting of four aspects, which together shape prayer along the New Testament model. These four aspect form an acrostic in the word ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

            Adoration

Adoration consists of praising God for who He is. In keeping with the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name, we acknowledge the holiness of God’s name and His nature. It is not our praying that makes God’s name  holy, but when we speak the name of God and acknowledge His nature, we confess the One in whom we believe and trust. Adoration establishes for us the relationship we have by grace with our God. This then allows us to come to Him “with all boldness and confidence” and lay our petitions before Him “as dear children ask their dear father” (Luther: Explanation to The Lord’s Prayer, Introduction).

            Confession

As we come to God acknowledging who He is, we are brought immediately to consider who we are, our own shortcomings and failures—our sin. Even as we speak of His holy name we must consider what we have done, or not done, that has failed to keep that name holy in our lives. Confession is the second aspect of prayer that flows naturally from adoration. Recall Isaiah, who as he was lifted up to the very throne of God where the angles gathered singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,” was at the very same time brought to a profound realization of his sin and the sin of his people (Isaiah 6:1-6).

Confession is not only the acknowledgement of sin but also the agreement with God that sin is abhorrent and incapable of existing in His holy presence. Sin has separated us from God, and in His righteous anger God punishes sin with death that would separate us from His holy presence forever. It is a necessary part of our relationship with God that “we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer” (Luther: Explanation to Confession). Confession is a prerequisite to the reception of God’s gracious word of comfort, hope, and forgiveness (e.g. Jeremiah 5:25, Psalm 66:18). God’s messenger comes to Daniel, for example, while Daniel was “was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God” (Daniel 9:20).

            Thanksgiving

The third element of the human conversation with God that is prayer is thanksgiving, giving voice to our gratitude for what God had done and is doing, giving “thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thessalonians 5:18). Thanksgiving differs from adoration in that the former focuses us on the nature and character of God, while the latter is our response to what God has done on our behalf. Thanksgiving is a natural outgrowth of confession as we acknowledge the grace that is ours because of the salvation wrought for us in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The experience of being a redeemed and forgiven child of God results in a thankful heart.

            Supplication

The final facet of Christian prayer is supplication. This includes petitioning God on behalf of the needs of others (1 Thessalonians 5:25) as well as one’s own needs (Philippians 4:6). The freedom that we have to come before God and ask anything is a result of being forgiven before God.

On our own we could not heed the words of our Lord when He invites us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But because we first listen to God in His gracious Word of life and salvation our prayers are created and sustained not by our own will, dedication, or commitment, but by the will and power of Him has promises to hear us when we pray


Originally appeared in Teachers Interaction, Volume 47, no. 4 Summer 2006, pages 20, 21.

Understanding the Historic (One-Year) Lectionary


The lectionary is a set of readings that establish the various seasons of the Christian Church Year. The Historic Lectionary follows a one-year cycle that retains the traditional order of Epistle and Gospel readings used by Lutherans before the adoption of the newer three-year lectionaries. This lectionary is “historic” in that it has been used by many Lutherans since the sixteenth century and that it reflects much of what was common in the medieval practice inherited by the Lutheran reformers. The Latin names are retained for many of the Sundays. This post is designed to be an aid in understanding the Sunday-names used in the Historic Lectionary. Continue reading

Is Lent Lutheran?


“During the forty days of Lent, God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”…..

This is in no way Lutheran!!!!!!!!!!! We are saved by God’s GRACE not WORKS of discipline. We cannot cleanse our own hearts.

You are correct. Lent is not about our giving up something to somehow please God by our good work. Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world — His holy and innocent life. This is the message of the Gospel.

If during Lent Christians choose to give up something or rededicate themselves to helping those in need as a way to proclaim the salvation Christ has won for all by His suffering and death, then such activities are sacrifices that glorify God. Yet as you say in your note, nothing we do through discipline, self-denial, or good works can ever earn the Lord’s forgiveness or repay Him for what He accomplished for us. We are saved by grace.

Though the Scriptures do not mention Lent, it has a longstanding tradition in the Church. Though we are not certain how it developed, by A.D. 350 the forty-day fast that we now have was already part of the Church’s practice in most places. Many identify the Second Festal letter of Athanasius in A.D. 330 as the earliest reference to a forty-day day fast leading up to Easter.

For Christians living in the Fourth Century Lent had two major emphases: First, it was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and other Christian ethical precepts and repent where necessary. They were to remember what it cost their Savior to save them, The second emphasis of Lent was as a time of instruction and preparation for those who wanted to become members of the Christian Church, i.e., the catechumens. During Lent they learned the Christian doctrine by studying the Creed. They were led step by step through prayer and special rites toward baptism. The instruction of the catechumen led to baptism and receiving the Lord’s Supper in the service on Easter.

At the time of the Reformation, some Christians wanted to eliminate Lent since Scripture didn’t command it. Luther, however, urged that it be kept, for he saw Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith. “Lent, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week shall be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to preserve the Passion history and the Gospels appointed for that season” (Luther’s Works AE, 53:90). Here Luther instructs that Lent should be preserved, in part, because it reminded Christians of the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus and encouraged them to meditate upon it. However, no one should be forced to participate. It should be voluntary.

Lutherans retain Lent to this day, because we see it as a salutary outward discipline that gives Christians a wonderful opportunity for spiritual renewal. As Lent begins, we are invited to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and love of neighbor by exercising the discipline of Lent: repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love (almsgiving). These may become specific occasions and opportunities for spiritual renewal during this season of renewal as we come face to face with the sin that hinders our walk with Christ. Living out a discipline takes our Lord’s words about self-denial seriously (Matthew 16:24). In the Lenten discipline, we come face to face with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we focus (or refocus) on His self-sacrificing passion, death and resurrection, which has brought us acceptance, forgiveness and redemption by God. Through that same discipline, we make a loving response to God who gives us the power to live anew.

Blessed Lent,

A Love Letter to My Wife


It seems that maybe more than most of the thirty-nine before it, I’m thinking about my upcoming fortieth wedding anniversary. This might be spurred by the heightened assault on marriage in our society. Or by a number of weddings seen lately-especially by work colleagues, and children of friends. It could also be because of the work that I am currently doing, especially on two manuscripts, one by Richard Warneck and the other by Jonathan Fisk. If I may then, let me share with you what is basically a love letter to my bride.

“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” Genesis 2:18a. And so, God created for Adam his Eve. His wife was a gift from God, a wondrous merciful act from a loving Father so that man would not be alone. So, put together by God, Adam and Eve learned what love was.

[Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” Matthew 19:4–5

Almost forty years ago, God put my Eve in my life. When I met Judy, I certainly knew what attraction was. Those feelings ran hot. But I didn’t know what love was, not really. But, Judy was to be God’s gift to me. He used even my lust for her to bind me to her, to see that I could build a life with this woman. I can’t imagine where, in stupidity, evil, and vice, the old Adam in me could have taken the nineteen-year-old me had I ventured out alone. When the world of the 1970s around me was lauding being unattached and “free,” God called me—certainly by His Word, but also through this woman—to not listen to the world. We know that we are never really free. Either we are sons of God or sons of perdition. We are either bound by grace to life everlasting with God or we are bound in sin to life everlasting with the devil and those who chose to reject God’s grace. In a world that is discarding marriage, I thank God that he gave Judy to me to have and to hold all my days—from November 3, 1977 until death parts us.

For my parents, especially for my Mom, it was the wrong priority. Certainly, I was committing myself to path that wouldn’t take me to college, would condemn me to end up living less than middle class. Mom had not finished college, so her ambition for her oldest son is that he would. Nineteen was too young to saddle oneself with a wife, with a family. I was closing doors that I hadn’t even explored. But the Lord knew the plans he had for me. For surely it was that I would go to college and to seminary and succeed because, I truly believe, because I had at my side, my dear wife.

I have come to know what love is, thanks be to God. My love for Judy is eros. It has been and continues to stoke my passions, it is romantic. My love for her is the heart-piercing arrow of Cupid run deep. My love for Judy is philia, a goodness that is borne of mutual benefit, companionship, dependability, and trust which we have for each other. This is the love that still draws our hands together as we walk together, even if the short distance of a parking lot. This is the love that is comfortable in shared silences, and that draws us together, if even to each read a book or iPad together in the same room. It is the shared laugh, a common regard for this or that, a gentle ‘poke’, and a considered nudge to get it done. It is this love, I believe, which gives us a ‘oneness’ that transcends romance. It is in this love that we are like two pieces of a puzzle that once put together, cannot be separated.

But above these, and binding them together, is agape love. Agape love is certainly nothing that I, on my own possess, and yet it sustains, shields, and maintains our marriage from the assaults of the world. Our Lord Jesus Christ has modeled for us this love: love that sacrifices all, even life, for the benefit of another. A love that sacrifices all so that He can hold up His Bride blameless. And while I can give such love only imperfectly, it is this love that I have for Judy, and she for me. I dare say we didn’t have this love deeply in the beginning, but I rejoice wading in its depths now. It is the love that has given me the courage to strive and endeavor and work hard to accomplish. It is the love that forgives when we wrong each other. It is because of Judy’s love that I was ‘free’ to go to school for ten years to prepare for a call into ministry in the Church. It was only because I knew I was so loved, that I alone was her man, and she my girl, that I could confidently be a parish pastor—walking out the door in the morning, not returning home until after the evening meeting, knowing that she would be there, and that the household and children were in her care. It is our agape love for each other which spans opposing sides, keeps us together during disagreement, and gives us strength during sickness, injury, recovery, and growing older.

It is because of our love for each other that we have problems saying “no” to each other, but know that, knowing our willingness to sacrifice for each other, we also come together to make decisions for our mutual care and good. It is our love, first for each other, and then for our children, that has allowed us to be there when each has come back to live with us as they transitioned from one place or circumstance to another—each time knowing we would be impacting our life, taking time away from each other and resources, sacrificing our comfort now, and, with some likelihood, an impact in the future as a result. She is the one person I would do anything for, and the one whom I always consider before doing anything else. I treasure that Judy and I have eros and philia love for each other, but it is our agape love which sustains me. It is in our love in which I live and move and define my being in this life.

The world around us continues to devalue the joining of one man and one woman in marriage because it is considered weakness to give up yourself for another. What they are missing! They are missing that marriage is a gift from God. “It is not good that man be alone.” What joy that God has bound me to Judy and more than not being alone, I am loved! XOXO

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The ruminations of a Lutheran cleric on liturgy and the Divine Service, Lutheran culture, sermons, devotional writing, tidbits from some of the projects I am working on, pictures of the grandchildren, and bits of life lived out as a child of God praying “Come, Lord Jesus.”