21. August 2022
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
The biggest obstacle to you believing what Jesus would have you believe is illiteracy. No doubt every one of you knows how to read and write—letters, phonics, words, sentence construction, and also having basic logic and rhetoric. But you remain illiterate, not reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting God’s Holy Word. There are large swaths of Scripture you’ve never read. There’s characters, events, leaders, nations, and places that you’ve never heard of but are central to the Bible’s story. There are truths taught by Jesus and articulated in the Apostles’ doctrine that you can’t articulate.
You are at fault for your lack of attention, effort, and focus to keep Christ and the totality of His Word upon your heart and mind. But your attitude is also a product of the church culture you’ve inherited. Most of us were never taught to read the Bible as literature, reading through whole books at a time. We were conditioned to hear and consider a brief paragraph, a sentence, phrase, or even a single word… and then ask “what does this mean to me?”
Our favorite “devotions” aren’t God’s Word but little snippets of Scripture followed by a brief meditation of an author which may or many not have anything to do with the text. And if I asked you to recite from memory the chief texts of our faith regarding Holy Baptism or Holy Absolution, could you? Never mind asking you to articulate the doctrine of justification by grace through faith from the Scriptures.
There’s a particular advantage to relying upon short Scripture readings, a few jingles and catchphrases, and maybe a campfire song or two. There’s little that is scary, intimidating, or worrisome about a watered down, sanitized, and dulled Scripture. The children won’t get scared. The women won’t have their precious feelings hurt. The men won’t be encouraged and compelled to act. We can all get along with our life—slothful, dumb, and happy. How dare Jesus intrude and make things hard, demand more of us, make us uncomfortable, and work real fear and repentance in our hearts.
Back in the day on this day, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, our congregation would hear read the account of the destruction of the Jerusalem from the historian Josephus, as abbreviated and annotated by C.F.W. Walther, I believe. It was printed in the hymnal and appointed as a reading for the day. Our fathers in the faith not only wanted us to retain Jesus’s stern warning from Luke 19, but also to expand the depth and severity of that warning by reading concerning the fulfillment of Jesus’ Word.
The account is horrific and more terrifying than even Jesus’ prophetic Word suggests. I’ll spare you all the gory details. But the point is that your fathers in the faith handed over to you a rich and full tradition of Bible literacy. Christian families read through whole books of Scripture together. Fathers taught the Small Catechism to their children who recited it by heart daily. Every layman could articulate the chief doctrinal controversies of the Lutheran reformation and articulated in the Augsburg Confession (also at the back of the hymnal!) Every pastor and teacher believed, taught, and confessed the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church according to all the Lutheran Confessions. Our churches primarily sang from the rich tradition of the Lutheran chorales. And as today’s tradition illustrated, our pastors taught their congregations to be literate of the history and context of the Scriptures using the classics of history and philosophy.
Our churches were not content with pithy sayings, brief soundbites, doctrinal shorthand, repetitive and emotive songs. Our churches drank deeply from the well of God’s Word and read broadly for greater understanding of themselves, the world, history, culture, religions, and language. Their practice as a congregation was effuse with Scripture, doctrine, and tradition. And this way, God granted them deep roots that would hold them fast, even as they would be assaulted by the winds of change, the pelting hail of false doctrine, and the poisonous opinions of the secular world.
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” The prophetic word spoken by Jesus was fulfilled some three decades later as Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. This example of God’s wrath against rebellion and refusal to hear and believe Jesus was written for your instruction and learning. Jesus warns you with extraordinary patience and long-suffering. The proud and obstinate who despise the Word and godly warnings must be called to repentance and restored to faith. Apathy and carelessness left unchecked is contagious. This is how we’ve become so illiterate, through a gradual acceptance of sinful neglect to God’s Word.
“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” But you do know! God has put the ministry of the Word into this world, not that the preachers be silent, but that they reprove, teach, comfort, terrify, and thereby save those whom the LORD wills. The preacher delivers the Word full-force, with awful examples of God’s wrath against the obstinate and sinful heart of flesh. But to the Christian who is humbled and fearful, the preacher speaks sweet words of comfort. For those repented by the law, Christ Jesus wants nothing more than their sins forgiven, their lives renewed, and their hope of heaven restored.
This why we read terrifying accounts of history and prophecy. We’re understandably reluctant because God’s wrath revealed is often frightening, gory, and horrific. They are meant to tear down the proud in the imaginations of the heart and keep the godly in the fear of God. And in the midst of every terrible event like the destruction of Jerusalem, we hear of God mercifully preserving the faithful, like Noah or Lot. God the Holy Spirit directs your heart by means of the Word and confession to repent and believe again.
Today, Jesus has set before you the things that make for your peace. The poor, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, and the mourning are given the promised pardon, freedom, as the Father’s wrath has been appeased in the death and resurrection of His Son. He has repented you and forgiven you. He has fed you with His Word as bread from heaven. He sets before you a table in the midst of your enemies. His grace and mercy overflows like a great fountain spring to refresh and restore you. You know the things that make for your peace and set aside God’s wrath. Believe and receive. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin