Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had cleansed the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. They came to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the threshold, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim and from all the remnant of Israel and from all Judah and Benjamin and from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And they gave it to the workmen who were working in the house of the Lord. And the workmen who were working in the house of the Lord gave it for repairing and restoring the house. They gave it to the carpenters and the builders to buy quarried stone, and timber for binders and beams for the buildings that the kings of Judah had let go to ruin. And the men did the work faithfully. Over them were set Jahath and Obadiah the Levites, of the sons of Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to have oversight. The Levites, all who were skillful with instruments of music, were over the burden-bearers and directed all who did work in every kind of service, and some of the Levites were scribes and officials and gatekeepers.
II Chron. 34:8-13
Probably many of you merely skimmed the above paragraph from II Chronicles. It is one of the many boring paragraphs in the Old Testament that people who want to read the Bible stories tend not to pay much attention to. It is filled with humdrum details about the nuts and bolts of religious life. It reads like the minutes of a church council meeting, which is sort of what the Chronicles were. This paragraph never comes up in church services. Plus, it has a lot of names of people that most people have never heard of and that are hard to pronounce, so nobody ever volunteers to read these paragraphs aloud in Bible studies, either.
What the above paragraph does for us, however is to help us realize that God works in both wondrous and tedious ways. God uses famous people and obscure people. His people do dramatic things in amazing ways, and they do everyday things in a workaday manner. Even Solomon’s Temple faced the people with organizational issues. They had stewardship campaigns, job descriptions, committees and organizational charts, and had to deal with payroll issues involved with hiring laborers to do basic things like make general repairs. It might disillusion us to think of people serving the Lord by punching a clock, but those people made serving the Lord possible for everyone.
The Temple and its purpose was fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Christ. The Romans utterly destroyed the building (per Jesus’s prediction) about forty years later, in A.D. 70. Our churches today are not exactly the same kind of thing as the Temple in Jerusalem about 2650 years ago as described in this passage from Chronicles. But worshiping God and receiving the fulfillment of the Temple in His gifts of Word and Sacrament still involves committees, organizational charts, stewardship campaign, payrolls, building maintenance, and so forth. Sometimes we might get the impression that such things have no place in a truly spiritual, religious life, but the fact is that they do and always have.
Kings and Chronicles explain how Temple worship went through all kinds of ups and downs of disrepair and restoration through the centuries. The same is true of congregations and church buildings. Right now, of course, we face a lot of uncertainty as we go through the regular fall routine of trying to put together a budget for next year. We’re going to have stewardship emphasis this fall as we seek to emerge from the pandemic without having to curtail our ministries or let things fall into disrepair.
Your own spiritual life probably goes through ups and downs as well. Sometimes your prayers uplift your soul, other times you feel like you’re just going through the motions. Sometimes you can almost feel the Spirit’s presence in worship, and other times you’re bored and checking your watch. But God never gives up on you. His gifts are real and true no matter they feel like, and the Spirit works through them. And your participation, your input, and your offerings make this ministry possible for everybody whether it seems like you’re part of a bold, amazing story, like some parts of Kings and Chronicles, or just keeping things clean and helping to make payroll, like other parts of Kings and Chronicles.
Christ is King, and all of history, the exciting and the boring, is the chronicle of His salvation and grace toward sinners like you and me.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs… I Thes. 4:10-11
Sometimes it seems like the world conspires to make it impossible to mind your own business. That’s why St. Paul called living quietly an aspirational thing. In some translations of the verse it says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…” We can often be tempted to think that it is our job to save to the world and get swept up in causes that end up merely distracting us from the actual tasks of our vocation. We devote ourselves to grand things God hasn’t called us to do in order to avoid doing the ho-hum things He has called us to do.
On the other hand, we are all called to do our part. It’s just that we should know the extent of our part. We can’t just ignore the larger world or pretend that problems don’t exist. What we can do is understand that we don’t make the world better when we abandon our daily vocations to fix the world. We make the world better by seeking to make sure whatever tiny part of it God has given us stewardship of operates according to His will.
When we’re stuck at home and the normal goings-on of life are on hold, we can be tempted to live according to the news. This crazy thing took place there, these people did that, can you believe what happened over there… That isn’t real life; that is like watching a soap opera as a distraction from real life. Real life comes from the Table of Duties in the catechism. Your membership in the church, your job description at work, your relationships at home, your neighborhood and citizenship—those are what God has entrusted to you.
Yesterday I did my first in-home communion visit in months. Pastor Stock has been doing the few that have come up, but I don’t think I’d done an in-home visit since early in March. Normally that would be part of the regular job description of being a pastor. It felt good to do it. It felt normal. And it reminded me how important those normal things are. Maybe a year ago had I been going through the normal routine of a typical day, week, or month of my pastoral responsibilities I would not have been struck so much by how crucial and amazing the things on my regular to-do list really were. But it is the same for everyone following a Godly vocation. Feeding the baby, paying the bills, praying for loved ones, working as for the Lord—every day is filled with such opportunities.
Today as you go about doing whatever it is God has given you to do, be it what you were aspiring toward or making it your ambition to do or something less exciting, do it all to the glory of the Lord. His faithfulness endures through all generations.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels. Prov. 31:10
This verse came up this morning in our family devotions from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It reminded me of an elderly woman I once knew who never missed a Sunday of church, with one exception; she never showed up on Mothers’ Day. The congregation’s tradition was to read Proverbs 31:10-31 for the Old Testament reading every year on Mother’s Day, all about the amazing “woman of noble character” who does everything really well and makes everyone’s problems go away. This woman, who was an exemplary and talented Christian wife and mother and active in leadership in virtually every activity of the congregation, thought these verses of Proverbs were too hard to live up to. They made her feel bad about herself, and the last thing she wanted to do on Mothers’ Day was listen to what she took to be a laundry list of all her shortcomings.
We can all say these words didn’t mean to be putting her down and she shouldn’t have taken them that way, but she did take them that way. It is a basic Law/Gospel problem that confronts all of us. Yesterday’s verse from 1 Cor. 13 is almost not fair—it is talking about the New Man, the life of Christ, but we all fail to live up to it. The question then becomes, what do we make of the fact that we cannot live up to the Bible’s descriptions of what God calls us to be? Do we despair and stop trying? Do we try harder and check our progress later? Do we adjust the standard to be more attainable? Those would be Law-based responses. Those are the strategies of the Old Adam, the sinful nature, to be declared righteous by earning it. The Gospel response to reading such descriptions of righteous behavior and realizing that we don’t live up to them is to see how great is the love God has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God.
Our efforts aren’t acceptable because they’re so good. They’re acceptable like the crayon drawings of children that the parents lovingly put on the refrigerator. Hardly Rembrandt, but the merits aren’t the point. And the kids who know they are loved respond by trying to make an even better drawing next time. They don’t earn their parents’ love. They try to live up to their parents’ hopes for them because they already have their parents’ love.
Everyone who is honest suffers from the feelings of inadequacy like the women who felt she couldn’t live up to Proverbs 31. I could be a better pastor. You could be a better parishioner. St. Paul’s could be a better church. But we shine with the glory of the children of God because of the unearned, unmerited righteousness of Christ we have by faith. So I urge us never to be discouraged. Not by the pandemic and all the changes going on. Not by the political turmoil in the news. Not by aging and the changing times. Our goals remain what they always have been—to be more and more conformed to Christ according to Hid will. That’s what we’ll be about here no matter else is going on.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Titus 1:12
This is any interesting verse on the topic of stereotypes. Paul is instructing Titus on how to establish Christian congregations among the Cretans. He quotes a famous saying by the great Cretan prophet/wise man Epimenides (c. 600 B.C.). Yet St. Paul quotes this famous pagan about the terrible general character of Cretans in the midst of instructing Titus to appoint elders throughout Crete. He is to appoint men who are trustworthy, sober, upright, and disciplined. Where would Titus find such men in Crete if the Cretan saying were true?
Every pagan culture, in Crete or anywhere else, produced general behavior at odds with sound Christian living. Yet Christ died for the Cretans and everyone else, and the Christian Church is/was to go throughout the entire world. Every Christian comes from and lives in a particular culture. That means we must live with the tension of competing loyalties. One didn’t cease being Cretan by becoming Christian, but Cretan Christians had to buck their own culture in some ways, just like Christians from other parts of the world had to overcome other cultural roadblocks. Our earthly culture—national, regional, ethnic, familial, whatever—can only ever demand our penultimate (second from the highest) loyalty.
... read Pastor Speckhard's full message
Christians must never let any group-identity become their identity, and they must never force other people to fit into the box of a group-identity. But given how difficult a topic this is, I ask the members of St. Paul’s to watch the video linked below. It is an interview presentation by Rev. Dr. John Nunes, who has visited us here at St. Paul’s and who is now president of Concordia-Bronxville. The introduction lasts about four minutes before the real presentation starts: Interview with Rev. Dr. John Nunes
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts. Prov. 17:3
This proverb of Solomon was part of the devotion today for those who use the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It is an amazing thing, and a fearful thing, to ponder.
A crucible is a sort of pot in which you heat up metal or some other chemical compound. You may have used on a chemistry lab. You can use on to purify silver, but gold is a heavier metal. We think of a furnace as something that heats the house, but in this case it refines gold. To purify gold, you have to heat it up to such high temperatures that the impurities, the dross, everything that clings to it that isn’t gold, burns away in the smoke. What remains is purer gold.
The prophets talk about the Lord coming as a refiner’s fire. You put a little chunk of silver over a Bunsen burner, you put a gold ring in a blacksmith’s or a forger’s furnace. The presence of God does to your heart what that furnace does to the gold.
The thing to remember is that God tests hearts because they are precious to Him. He doesn’t do it to cause pain, though the process is painful. Precisely because your heart is precious to Him, He hates the sin that clings to closely. He wants it gone.
When we come into the presence of the Lord, we repent of our sins and submit to the painful process of turning away from them. The sins we love are the hardest to let burn away. Confession of sin that is painless probably isn’t very honest.
Christ redeems us sinners not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood. When the Lord tests hearts, He looks for the blood of Christ, more precious than silver, and finds it in the faithful. Therefore we stand in the judgment.
The Judge still hates the dross. The great blessing of ongoing confession/absolution, ongoing Holy Communion, daily remembrance of Baptism, is that is lets you participate, not in your salvation, but in your purifying. It will never happen completely in this life; it will remain a work in progress. But entering into the presence of God and staying there when the knowledge of sin starts to bubble up and the defense mechanisms kick in is a painful but glorious opportunity we all have as members of the Body of Christ.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22
We’re used to quoting St. John when we do Divine Service 1, when we begin by saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” Here St. James makes the flip-side point. If we say we have no good works to do or that we do not need to amend our sinful lives, we deceive ourselves. Your spiritual life was given to you as a gift, just like your physical life. But it needs to be nurtured, exercised, and fed.
When we think about the Gospel and salvation, we naturally think in terms of what God has done for us. Salvation isn’t something we do, nor is forgiveness something we earn. It is given to us for free. We are adopted into God’s family and declared to be His children by His Word of promise, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s faith-creating call.
But St. Paul and St. James both knew there was in innate tendency in all of us to hear the good news and think, “Oh. That’s nice. I’m going to heaven when I die,” and leave it at that. In other words, we think of the Gospel as something that doesn’t change anything in this life. St. James called that a “dead faith” that isn’t really faith. It deceives us because it claims eternal life while leaving the Old Adam, the sinful nature undisturbed. There is no new life without a killing of the old in contrition and repentance and the arising of the New Man to a life of righteousness. That is the daily struggle of the Christian life. Absent that struggle, there is no faith.
The Holy Spirit gives us faith in the call of God’s Word. He also “gathers, enlightens, sanctifies…” He makes us a part of a living body, He opens our eyes day by day through preaching and teaching to the realities of the kingdom of God, and He helps us always to be turning away from sin and temptation and to confess our sins when we fail.
At our voters’ meeting last night we all understood that nothing was happening as usual. We don’t really know what the future will bring. It is a time of testing in many ways. Times of testing call on us not to be mere hearers of God’s Word, but doers of it. While we are purely passive in the matter of salvation, we must not remain purely passive in the matter of Christian living. To do so would be to deceive ourselves.
One thing you can do in this time of separation is continue to make sure everyone you personally know at St. Paul’s stays connected. You might be that connection. When physical proximity doesn’t bring us together, nevertheless the mutual consolation of the brethren can continue. Praying for one another, giving a ride, chasing away loneliness for someone, delivering hard copies of the bulletins or updates to those who don’t have internet, and maybe watching the services together with someone who can’t figure out how to watch on their own. That’s the sort of thing that a congregation with living and active faith can be doing. And we could list a million other things. Nobody has nothing to do.
Thanks be to God, I’ve seen St. Paul’s rise to the occasion. How long it will last or what it will look like in the future nobody can say. But God’s Word continues to work and spread in our midst no matter how strange the times we live in might try to stop it.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana