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.


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.


{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.


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.


An Eastertide Reflection from Martin Luther

From Concordia Academic blog.
LW 58: Selected Sermons V

LW 58: Selected Sermons V

Martin Luther’s preaching during Eastertide in 1544 and 1545 provided his listeners with four sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of St. Paul. “It would be better,” Luther wrote, “to give this season its due and, between Easter and Pentecost, for the instruction and comfort of the people, to give a thorough exposition of the article concerning both Christ’s resurrection and our own—that is, the resurrection of all the dead—on the basis of the preaching of the apostles, such as the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, all of which deals with the resurrection of the dead” [WA 21:349–50]. The sermons emphasized the assurance of the general resurrection; the ways in which Christians can “read” nature and be assured of God’s miraculous power to bring life out of death; and the unity of Christ’s resurrection with the resurrection of Christians, which means Christ’s victory over death also belongs to Christians.

For your Eastertide reflection, the following is a condensed version of the third sermon, on 1 Cor. 15:51–53. Here Luther contrasts the “bearable” divine speech in the present preaching of the Word with the unbearable sounds of the Last Day: the shout of the angel and the trumpet of God. The Christian should always keep the Last Day in mind, Luther says, as they fulfill their vocations in the world faithfully, remembering the last trumpet while enjoying the “eating, drinking, good cheer, and happiness” that God grants as a benevolent Father—but not mocking God and the last judgment with security amid unrepentant sin.

The complete text of this sermon and the other three sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, including the detailed annotations not included here, are available in LW 58: Selected Sermons V. Click Luther’s Works for information on becoming a subscriber to the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.

On the Last Trumpet of God

[1 Corinthians 15:51–53]
Translated by Mark E. DeGarmeaux

…It is fitting in this time after the Easter festival to preach and deal with the article concerning the resurrection, not only the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead for all our sakes, just as He also died for all our sakes, but also our own resurrection, so that we may be firmly grounded in faith and completely certain that our own body will come forth again and live. For the resurrection of Christ is of no use to us at all if we, for whose sake Christ rose again, do not follow after Him and rise again from the dead just as He did. But we will not be able to follow after Him and rise to life with Him unless we believe that His resurrection happened for our good. Neither will we believe it unless we preach about it continually and proclaim this article without ceasing, so that it may take root in our hearts. Continue reading. . .

Ember Days—Lent 2013

The Lenten Ember Days are soon upon us.


The Lenten Ember Days comprise the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the week following the first Sunday in Lent. This year that is this coming Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (2/20, 21, and 23).

Oh, want to know more about Ember Days?

The handy shortcut for remembering the holidays that herald the Ember Days is “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which for those of us who don’t think in Latin:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost,
are when the quarter holidays follow.

And these propers are supplied by the Brotherhood Prayer Book and can be added to your daily prayer and devotions

Ember Wednesday:

Morning Prayer – Matthew 12:38-50
Evening Prayer – 1 Kings 19:3-8

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
For as Jonas was three days and nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be in the earth.

We beseech Thee O Lord that Thou wouldest graciously hear our prayers, and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defence against all adversities; through Jesus Christ…

Ember Friday:

Morning Prayer – John 5:1-15
Evening Prayer – Ezekiel 18:20-28

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
An angel of the Lord went down from heaven and troubled the waters; and whosoever did step therein was made whole.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
He that me whole, the same said unto me: Take up thy bed and go in peace.

We beseech Thee, O Lord: mercifully to have compassion on Thy people, that they, which by Thee are enabled to serve Thee, may ever be comforted by Thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ…

Ember Saturday:

Morning Prayer – Matthew 17:1-9
Evening Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 5:14-23

V. God shall give His angels charge over thee.
R. To keep thee in all thy ways.

Antiphon for Benedictus:
And Jesus taketh his disciples, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart: and was transfigured before them.

Antiphon for Magnificat:
Tell the vision which ye have seen to no man: until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead.

We beseech Thee O Lord: graciously to hear the prayers of Thy people, and of Thy great goodness turn aside from them the scourges of Thine anger; through Jesus Christ…

Want to know more about Ember Days?
Check out What are Ember Days?

A Prayer for Holy Saturday 2011

Descent from the Cross

Heavenly Father, I am silenced at the grave of Your Son. In justice You called for Him, who knew no sin, to be made sin for us. Yet You permitted Your Son to die in innocence. In love He came to us but He was rejected by hate. He taught us obedience but men rebelled against Him.

I confess that a great mystery confronts me at this tomb of sin and death. He was buried behind the great seal of my sin and my death. By faith I know also that He who died is the One who unlocked the great secret of Your love. His tomb is my tomb. He carried with Him to the grave my sin and my death that He might break their hold on me.

Trusting in the Lord’s promise that He would rise again on the third day, I come not to mourn Him but to confess the sin that He would leave buried. Have mercy on me O God! Have mercy on me. Amen.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
–Ah, Holy Jesus, Johann Heermann (1585-1647)

O Little Town of Bethlehem

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed;
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child. (Once in royal David’s City: 1)

During these Christmas days, our thoughts easily turn to consider the little town where mother Mary gave birth to our Savior. The story of that ancient and sacred village engages us still today. Before its gates Jacob buried his beloved Rachel (Genesis 35:16-20). In the fields of Bethlehem pious and faithful Ruth gleaned and gathered her sheaves for her master Boaz (Ruth). On the hillsides above her great-grandson David tended his father’s flocks. The little brook from which the hunted shepherd king so longed to drink in his great thirst (2 Samuel 23:15) still murmurs in the green valley lying at the foot of the town. To the little town of Bethlehem came Joseph and his young wife when great David’s greater Son was born in a lowly cattle shed.

How wonderful are the ways of God! The Ruler of Israel, the everlasting King of mercy, the Lord of peace is not born in some lordly mansion in Athens or in an imperial palace in Rome, but in the poor, little hill village, insignificant Bethlehem. But our God and Father in heaven always does this: A virgin with child; a faithful husband with the proper blood lines; a difficult journey because of a census; choirs of heavenly hosts sing the great Good News to societies lowliest members, the shepherds. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51, 52).

King David no longer sat on his throne and his hometown was nearly forgotten in the Judean landscape. Yet the promise of salvation was not forgotten. “But our eyes in truth should see him through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n above” (Once in Royal David’s City: 3). And lowly Bethlehem, poor and forgotten Bethlehem, is exalted and becomes again the hometown of Israel’s King, the long-expected King – Jesus Christ!

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel! (O Little Town of Bethlehem: 4)

On the Wings of God’s Angels

In Brief

  • Angels were created by God to attend to the work and the person of Jesus Christ.
  • Angels are most often invisible to human eyes.
  • Scripture portrays angelic visitations as stunning occurrences.

The Annuciation, Eustache Le Sueur, 17th century

The angel Gabriel appears to a young girl to tell her she will be the mother of God’s Son. Nine months later the darkness is overcome as the angel choir of heaven announces to shepherds that God’s salvation has come to all mankind in the birth of His Son as a baby in Bethlehem.

The greatest good news to come to all mankind, that God in His mercy was sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, comes on the wings of God’s angels. This is not the work of cherubic figures with harp and bow, but the majestic work given to God’s mighty messengers.

A messenger is “one who is sent” to speak on behalf of another or “one who is sent” to perform a deed or action on behalf of another. From humanity’s point of view, angels are indeed God’s agents, sent from God’s side to do His will and service among us. Besides describing the function of the angels, the Greek word for messenger becomes the English name for them. The psalm writer speaks of the character and heavenly activity of angels:

Praise the Lord, you His messengers,

you mighty ones who do His bidding,

who obey His word.

Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts,

you His servants who do His will. (Psalm 103.20, 21. Also Psalm 148.2)

These messengers are the angels of God, charged with the care of men (Psalm 91). Created at the dawn of time, the angels have witnessed every action of God on mankind’s behalf and every era of our existence. As the true and loyal messengers of God, angels always act as an extension of His will and affection toward humanity.

Angels have no physical form; they are not flesh and blood. The Bible indicates, that angels are most often invisible to human eyes. However, God allows His messengers to appear visibly to aid in their contacts with the human race. When visible, the angel is described as having the appearance of a man. (Read Genesis 18.1-2 and Genesis 19.1-5 as two examples of Scripture’s description of angels.) The visible appearance of angels is so strongly associated with normal human form and appearance that the writer of Hebrews states that they can even be entertained as strangers, “without [anyone] knowing it” (NIV Heb 13.12). And yet, Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, Zechariah, Mary, and others had no problem recognizing God’s angels.

Scripture also portrays angelic visitations as stunning occurrences. In most instances when appearing visibly, angels are so glorious and impressively beautiful as to stun, amaze even terrify those who witness their presence. Read again the magnificent account of the resurrection in Matthew 28. Matthew describes the angel who rolled the stone away from Christ’s tomb as dressed in a white garment that shone like a flash of brilliant lightning. Notice the effect the angel had on those who witnessed him: “And for fear of him the guards trembled and became as dead men” (ESV).

The angels were created by God to attend to the work and the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the first Christmas, the infant Jesus was born into the world of man for our redemption. While glorious and remarkable, it is not surprising that an entire heavenly choir of angels appears on that night to sing: “Glory to the newborn king; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”