So whether we seem to be poor and dead to ourselves, or in sin, or lying prostrate before the pestilence [a fatal epidemic disease] or some other sickness, let us, in spite of all this, believe that in God’s eyes things look quite different. And let us say with a merry heart, “though poverty, pestilence, and death are before me, yet as a Christian I know no poverty, no death, no pestilence. For in the eyes of Christ my Lord there is nothing but riches, health, holiness, and life.” But if I do not see this yet, it is only for him to speak the word, and I shall see it, even with my very own eyes, that it is true, and the end of all things shall certainly be as He has said.
May God, for the sake of Christ, our redeemer, and his Son, through His Holy Spirit, grant us also such spiritual eyes, that we may look upon all adversity differently than the world, hold fast to this consolation, and at last be saved. Amen.
—Martin Luther, 1533
This quote was also the beginning of my last communication. This time I want to discuss where it comes from for the sake of identifying resources to use at home. The two paragraphs above are from the end of a sermon in Luther’s House Postil. It was a sermon on Christ’s raising the little girl from the dead and healing the woman, Mark 5:21-43. This was the appointed Gospel reading for the twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity in the old one-year lectionary. In the early decades of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, from 1521 on, Postil’s were collections of sermons, generally corresponding to the Sunday readings of the church year. Especially in the earliest years, Lutheran clergy were poorly educated. On Sunday mornings many of them would simply read from Luther’s postils in the pulpit. This seems strange to us today, but many congregations were supportive of their pastors reading these very good sermons. I confess that throughout my life, especially when I’ve been attending school and looking for a church in a new town, I have heard more than one Sunday sermon that definitely should have been replaced with the reading of a postil sermon.
Reading postils also became an effective of means of teaching the faith in homes. Although the literacy rate was very low, if one member of a household could read, all the others could listen. Luther encouraged the father and mother of the house to preach to their children as well as servants and apprentices that might be living in the house. Those less confident could simply read from the postils. Those who were more comfortable could read them and then add some of their owns words.
We can use these postils the same way today. A section of a postil sermon can be read during family worship. We often refer to family worship as devotions, which is fine, but we should remember that the preaching of God’s word is just as real and authentic as the preaching of God’s word on Sunday morning. I speak about this in relation to the forgiveness of sins in my sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 19th.
To that end I offer some resources. These would be especially helpful now and there will be no reason to stop using them when public worship resumes. Baker Books has published the postil I quote from at the beginning of this post in three volumes, Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996). Unfortunately, this edition seems to be near $150 on Amazon. If you want to use it, it is well worth the price. It is a total of over 1,000 pages that could be used daily in the home for multiple years before repeating any pages. Thankfully, there is an older version, published by J. A. Schulze in 1884 in Columbus, Ohio. It is available for free on archive.org. Here is the link to volume 1: https://archive.org/details/Dr.MartinLuthersHouse-postilVol1Ohio1884secondEdition/page/n9/mode/2up
Other versions of House Postil sermons can be found in various places on the internet.
In Luther’s Church Postil the sermons tend to be longer as many of them were sermons written specifically for publication that were never preached (he preached almost all the House Postil sermons in his home on Sunday afternoons). Concordia Publishing has recently published a new translation of the Church Postil covering five volumes of the new volumes in the Luther’s Works series. Each volume is about $50 but provides a great deal of reading. Whether using the Church or House Postil, you’re probably going to want to read a few paragraphs or a page rather than whole sermons during one family worship service.
Day by Day We Magnify You (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2008) and Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) provide shorter excerpts from Luther that follow a daily reading regimen. These are just a few suggestions and options for hearing God’s word during this interruption in public worship. That being said, this is a tremendous opportunity to develop a plan for learning the word at home that we carry on, long after the pandemic is over.
Those who studied the word on a daily basis in the past were well prepared for at least this aspect of life today. While the early Lutherans certainly wanted everyone to hear God’s word at home often, they also emphasized preaching at home because of the tense political situation in many Lutheran lands throughout the sixteenth century. Either at a ruler’s whim, or as the result of war, Lutherans could suddenly be deprived of their ability to worship in public, and their pastors wanted the church to be prepared for such circumstances. Although the current situation is very different, we have suddenly and unexpectedly learned that public worship is not guaranteed in absolutely all circumstances for us either. Hopefully, this situation will lead to a new birth of worship in the home.
Announcements and Updates from the office
This is a resource for announcements and updates from the office and council that occur between VOICE mailings. Most are included in the VOICE and emailed to the congregation as well.
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