1st Peter 1. 17-23
The first word of gospel is love!
“If People feared going
to Hell as much as
they fear the Coronavirus.
More People would be
coming to Jesus.”
“If People feared going to Hell as much as they fear the Coronavirus. More People would be coming to Jesus.” Those words came across my monitor, just a few days ago. And I have to admit, they surprised me! Not because of the sentiment. I’ve heard that before. But because until that moment, I hadn’t seen or heard a whole lot about god, during the pandemic! Now, it could be that I just haven’t paid much attention. I mean, after a while, you just become numb to it. Blind to it. Or it could be that I’m just not on the grapevine like I used to be. So, memes like this just don’t make it to my computer. Or it could be that Covid-19 is, simply, hitting too close to home. OUR city. OUR towns. OUR families. OUR friends. It’s more difficult, this time, to stand back and point a finger and say, “They’re the ones to blame!”. Whatever the reason, this was the first time I saw anything about faith and the pandemic. “If People feared going to Hell as much as they fear the Coronavirus. More People would be coming to Jesus.”
So, where to begin? Where to begin? Well, first of all, I was glad to see that it starts out with Hell! At least, for us Americans, that much hasn’t changed. That’s the way it’s been from the time of the first Great Awakening! Sinners in the hands of an angry god! That’s what we’ve been! It’s the staple of every revival … “The bow of God’s wrath is bent,” Jonathan Edwards said, “and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.” And of course, this little tidbit a couple paragraphs later … “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else ….”
There’s more, to be sure. Much more. But you get the point. You’ve got to be afraid to come to Jesus! You have to be terrified! To invite him into your heart! To receive him as your personal Lord and Savior! “If People feared going to Hell as much as they fear the Coronavirus …” The Gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ!
After that I picked up a copy of Today’s Readings … Third Sunday of Easter … April 26, 2020 … And I looked at First Peter, chapter one, verses seventeen to twenty-three. “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear …” “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear …” I didn’t get to the end of the first sentence. I don’t know what I did first. Roll my eyes? Shake my head? I sat back to think. It sounded a whole lot like “Peter” was telling me not only to fear Hell, but to fear god, as well. “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in fear …” Live in fear?
Here I was … listening to Jonathan Edwards, all over again. Here I was … reading that meme, for the umpteenth time. So, I did what any self-respecting preacher would do. I closed the notebook … put the bulletin insert on top of it … my pen on top of that … and I got up and walked away! To everything there’s a season, the preacher tells us! If there’s a time to write, there must, also, be a time to refrain from writing! This was that time. Well, after a while, I did something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I dug out a sermon – more the outline of a sermon – Brother Martin had preached on just this passage. Basically, he said, “What we need to understand is that god isn’t angry! God isn’t angry and you aren’t a spider! God doesn’t abhor you! And it’s not god’s wrath that burns like fire; it’s god’s love that does that! “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds,” that must mean you are referring to yourselves as children of god! God’s daughters! God’s sons! And that is what makes all the difference!
In the Small Catechism, as he explains the introduction to the Lord’s prayer – Our Father who art in heaven – Luther writes … “With these words God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.” Think about those words … “boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father!” No wrath, no retribution! No hell, damnation! No fire or brimstone! Only love! Only love! Truth is, Luther didn’t have to write the Catechism. There were others who could have done that. But the more I think about it … the longer I’ve been a dad myself … the more I’ve come to believe he wanted to do it! As a new father himself, the Small Catechism was a gift he could pass on! To his children! To their children after them! You see, his own son – Hans – was two years old, at the time. And little Hans was as curious as any two-year-old. Instead of asking, “Why? Why? Why?” He would walk around the house asking, “Was ist das?” What’s this? What does this mean? That question becomes the heart and soul of the faith. Something only a father would do! Something only a father would do! “Was ist das? What does this mean?” It’s a father’s tribute to his son!
If you invoke as Father – as our Father – the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds … There are no warnings! No threats! There’s only grace! Only charity! Only love! Sure, now and again, there are flashes of anger! Of frustration! Of irritation! Of exasperation! On the part of both the parent and of the child! But that only provides more opportunities to love! To forgive! Not just seven times! Or even seventy-seven times! But always! Forever! To be sure, there’s fear! But it’s the fear of not knowing what we would do without god? Where we would be?
“If People feared going to Hell as much as they fear the Coronavirus. More People would be coming to Jesus.” Well … probably not. “If you invoke God as Father,” though, it’s about the love of a parent for a child. Like Luther writes about God the Father, in the Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides everything we need! God protects! God shields! God preserves! And all this, God has done … All this, god does … “out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy!” God does all this … out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy! Without any merit, without any worthiness, of my own, at all! No, my friends, it’s not about the fear. It’s never been about the fear! But it’s always been about the love!