Devotion for Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Lectionary Readings for Third Sunday of Easter:
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 1:17-25
Collect of the Day: O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: With High Delight Let Us Unite (LSB 483)
32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
How long has it been for you? While emotions aren’t important when it comes to our worship experience as how we feel doesn’t take away from the awesome work of God in the Divine Service, that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel anything. So how long has it been since you felt it? How long has it been since your heart burned within you upon hearing God’s Word and being shown from those blessed pages that you are forgiven for the sake of the Christ and what He came to do?
I wish I could say that it was when I did my personal devotions this morning, or even when I witnessed the worship service online on Sunday, or even that it was the last time we gathered together here as brothers and sisters in Christ in worship at Messiah, but the truth is, I can’t remember the last time. I remember in my past feeling that way occasionally, feeling that overwhelming sense of … wow. The passion, the gratitude, the overwhelming emotion when you received the Lord’s Supper after a particularly hard week; Hearing the words of absolution, and knowing that God had forgiven you despite the things you had done just the day before; singing the words to the hymn as they just kind of struck you and rang true, giving you a sense of happiness, joy, and peace.
One time I remember feeling it was after I had partaken in private confession and absolution when I was on a pastor’s retreat. I had been struggling with a particular sin, and still do from time to time, but in that moment, after telling the pastor what I had been going through, and seeing him look me in the eye and telling me “I forgive you” was an emotionally overwhelming experience. The tears of joy where real, and I felt so light, so grateful to have such a forgiving God. At that point, I understood the mindset of these disciples, who had just walked all the way to Emmaus that day, and how they felt the need to jump up and run back to Jerusalem to tell the others – the feeling of being overcome with joy, energized to the point of being able to face anything, and just having to tell someone about what God had done for you and everyone else.
I could list others, Christmas Eve as a small child, or even Easter Day with the joyous proclamations of Alleluia! Times of retreat, especially a young adults’ retreat I remember going to when I was in university – I was so energized after that one I read through the whole Old Testament in a matter of weeks. My ordination service, my wedding service, the baptisms of my children, and several others – sometimes even just a random Sunday morning when the Word of God hit me just right. But again, if we’re being honest, those moments are few and far between.
Some denominations claim that this is a problem – that you should ‘feel’ the Spirit working every time you gather together, and if you don’t, then there must be something wrong with your church, or maybe your faith. They’ll recommend trying other churches to see if their praise bands will whip up that frenzied feeling in you once more. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. That style of worship is all about emotions, so it’s not that surprising, when the music and the atmosphere is just right, you start to feel good and happy. This happens at sporting events and concerts too – they target and manipulate your emotions to get the desired response. But is that the Spirit working of just man?
How do we know that the Spirit is at work in our midst? How do we know that when we do gather here at Messiah Lutheran Church, that the Holy Spirit is there with us, that Jesus is there with us bringing us His forgiveness and building up our faith? How can we be sure that when we gather around His Word on Sunday mornings now, in our own homes without His house to worship in, that He’s there with us, that His forgiveness is real? If we can’t feel it, how do we know?
One thing I make abundantly clear to my confirmands when talking about God working in the lives of believers is this: “Your emotions are just as sinful as the rest of you.” I’m not saying that what you’re feeling isn’t real, or that you’re not really feeling it, or some such. Your emotions are real…they’re just not always right. Examples? Have you ever laughed when someone hurt themselves? Have you ever felt attraction to someone when you are already committed to someone else? Have you ever gotten mad at someone for no real reason at all? Have you ever felt happy doing something that you know is contrary to God’s Law? You know you have, just as I have. We are broken, sinful people, and because of this we need to be aware that our emotions do, in fact, lead us astray. If that is true, is there any way of knowing whether or not God is at work in our church? In our lives?
Yes, there is.
The faith He has planted in us is not reliant on our feelings, it’s reliant on His grace. We read the pages of Scriptures and know that they are true, not because they feel true – on the contrary, our sinful heart and mind don’t want to believe them, but we do anyways because of that faith.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9
Faith is how we know. Faith is a gift, and one that we receive by the inworking of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to ‘feel’ that God is with us to know that God is with us always – even to the ends of the earth – even when it doesn’t feel like He is.
Faith helps us to trust and believe our God despite our sinful fallen emotions and overall condition. We has given us His Word so that we can know for certain that He is at work in our lives even when we don’t see or feel Him. Even when we’re trapped in our houses due to a quarantine, He is with us and sitting with us, comforting us, and strengthening us through it all. His word tells us time and time again:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me – Psalm 23:4
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. – 1 John 4:13
Throughout this time, and the rest of your lives, know that you are never alone: He is always with you. No matter what you’re going through, where you are, who you’re with, or even what you’re feeling, God is right there with you through it all. He is always ready to forgive, always ready to comfort, always ready to be your God. He comes to you in Word, and when we are able to gather together once more, He will once again come to you through His Sacrament also. Now I don’t encourage you to run out of your houses to tell others of this great news as the disciples in our Gospel lesson did – on the contrary: Stay home! But I do encourage you to share that love with others in ways that are in keeping with our current situation: call friends and family; Call your fellow members here at Messiah; Thank the people who serve you, especially in this difficult time.
God is with you, even now in your seclusion, just as He was with you before it. There is no need for doubting it just because you’re not overcome with intense emotions every time you gather in His name, though it is nice and a good to give thanks for the times where you do. Don’t be discouraged in the days ahead when your study of God’s Word becomes frustrating, or dare I say ‘boring’, that’s part of being a fallen sinner with broken emotions. Instead, rejoice that you have His Word at all, and on those particularly difficult days, turn to a section of Scripture that you know and love and find comfort and encouragement in that.
God’s grace and peace be with each of you today and everyday. Amen.
In Christ and His service,
P.S. The latest edition of the Canadian Lutheran that you received the link to in the last email is a great place to start if you’re not sure what to read, or which resources to use in your current devotional life. Should you want a hard copy of that, we them at the church and I’d be happy to pass one along to you should you come by while I’m here. Just give me a call and I can either arrange a time, or leave one for you in the mailbox to be picked up later.