Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2019, Proper 12 (Luke 11:1-13), “Fully Reliant on the Father”

“The Lord’s Prayer/Le Pater Noster” (1886-1894), by James Tissot (1836-1902). The Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Final Sermon preached as Vicar at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Martin Rinkart, 1586.
Public Domain

The Thirty Years War was a terrible time for Europe.  From 1618 to 1648, Europe was wracked by violence, famine, and plague— Protestant and Catholic mercenary armies scoured the landscape, especially in Germany.  By the end of the war, one third of the German population had been wiped out in what would be the largest known war for three hundred years until the outbreak of World War One.  It would also be known as a war that was as hard on civilians as it was on soldiers.  In the midst of it all was a German Lutheran pastor, Martin Rinckart (1586-1649), the archdeacon of the walled town of Eilenburg, Saxony.

            Rinckart’s war was, by most accounts, a terrible one.  Troops were forcibly billeted in his home (they didn’t have the 3rd Amendment then), and the contents of his pantry and barn were frequently requisitioned by foraging soldiers, leaving him and his family with few resources.  In 1637, nineteen years into the conflict, plague brought by refugees fleeing the Swedish army swept through Eilenburg, killing 8,000 people, including Rinckart’s first wife.  Among those killed by the plague where all but three members of the town council, many children, and the pastors serving in the neighboring parish.  As a result, Rinckart had to do the work of three men, visiting the sick and dying, and overseeing over 4,000 burials.  1637 was an unimaginably awful year.

“Soldiers Plundering a Farm” (1620), by Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647). Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Public Domain.

Hot on the heels of the plague came famine, and so Rinckart shared what little he and his family had with those starving in his community.  When the Swedish army showed up in Eilenburg in 1639, they levied a 30,000 Thaler tribute on the town, a sum that beleaguered Eilenburg could not pay.  (It is roughly equivalent to $460,500 in today’s money.)  Rinckart went into the Swedish camp to parlay with their general for mercy on Eilenburg, but the general would not budge.  He wanted his 30,000 Thalers, and so Rinckart turned to those who came into the camp with him and said, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.”[1]  With this, he fell to his knees, and began to pray.

Prayer comes to the forefront in our Gospel reading this morning.  Jesus, sitting with his disciples, is approached by one of them who asks him to teach them how to pray properly.  After all, John’s disciples had a certain mode of prayer  So did the people in the Dead Sea communities.  Fixed prayers were a standard part of the spiritual life of your average first century Jew.  “Does Jesus have one that he promotes, too?  Does he know a better way?” they may have wondered.  So Jesus begins:  “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,[a]
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.[b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation[d]’” (Luke 11:2-4 NIV).

And after he has said this, Jesus illustrates the importance of such a prayer.  He poses them a hypothetical situation: suppose one of them has a friend who shows up outside the house at midnight and raps on the window.  “Hey, buddy, can you lend me three loaves of bread?  I have a friend passing through on a journey who stopped at my place, and I’ve got nothing to give him.”  And the one in the house replies, “Don’t bother me!  The door is locked, we’re all in bed, and I’m not getting up!”  Some parents here this morning might sympathize with that sentiment— doubtless you’ve all heard the midnight water call.  And yet, the disciple in bed will get up, if not on account of his friendship, then on account of the brazenness of his friend in coming to bother him at that hour—if only to make him go away.  (This reminds me of many a night in college, though instead of bread, it was pizza money our nocturnal visitors were after.)  Jesus encourages the disciples to approach God the Father with the same boldness in this prayer, continuing: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10 NIV).

“The Importunate Neighbor” (1895), by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910). National Gallery of Victoria. Public Domain.

            When Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in Luke 11, his prayer does several things for them.  First, it orients the disciples to acknowledge God as their Father.  Not some distant thunderer, not some cosmic horror, but as a God who has a relationship with his creation that is so close that he views them as his children and they view him as their father.  Second, it orients the disciples to ask God to “be” God (“let thy name be made holy,” “let thy kingdom come”)— it orients them to rely upon God to do his will in the world and fulfill his promises.  And third, it forces them to reckon just how totally reliant they are upon God and how helpless they are without him.  Daily bread— everything that one needs to live both now and in eternity—, forgiveness, and protection from the assaults of sin, death, and the Devil, all come from him and him alone.  When the disciples pray as Jesus has taught them, they talk to him in such a way that indicates their full reliance on God and his promises for their lives and their utter helplessness without him.  Altogether it is, as Dr. Peter Nafzger, our professor at the Seminary, says in his recent notes on this text, a prayer focused on asking God to do what he promises to do–it is “an expanded version of the recurring prayer throughout the Gospels, ‘Lord, have mercy.’”[2]

And we need his mercy, because without it, we’d be lost!  In a weird and twisted way, our sinful selves desire to be free from God’s provision and mercy, seeking after evils and illicit pleasures that separate us from him and go against his will for us.  Left to our own devices, we seek self-aggrandizement and see ourselves as our own sustainers, believing that everything we are and have and do depends on us.  But in our sin-warped vision, we seek the things that destroy us, focusing on temporal pleasures that are fleeting, and misallocating the gifts we receive.  We fail to acknowledge our creator and his gifts for us.  In our unthinking arrogance or ignorance, we go our own way.

Invariably, left to our own devices, we go so far down the rabbit hole of self-gratification and self-reliance that we get in trouble.  We might find ourselves caught in a particular sin that, though at one time it felt “okay” to engage in and not wrong— even healthy— now suddenly becomes all-consuming.  Or we might find ourselves caught in activities that are unethical, and though we know what we’ve done is wrong, we’re in so deep that we cannot get out of the web of lies and deceit we’ve created to maintain ourselves in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.  Or maybe we’ve placed so much dependence on ourselves that we find ourselves juggling too many responsibilities at once, thinking that everything depends on us and telling ourselves that we can handle it all, hurting ourselves and others due to our foolish pride.  Or if things do seem to go well, we perhaps think that we deserve all the credit, even when we do not because we’ve needed other people for our success.  And when we hit rock-bottom, failing to conduct ourselves properly or to carry out our vocations in a way that helps our neighbors, we can find ourselves in a hopeless position, one full of despair, fear, and self-loathing because we could not carry ourselves and the rest of the world on our shoulders like some sort of Atlas.  When that happens, we seek some kind of relief, some kind of mercy.  But how do we know to ask for it and where to find it?

“Pater Noster” ca. 1890s, by Fridolin Leiber (1853-1912), from Wolfgang Brückner, Elfenreigen – Hochzeitstraum. Die Öldruckfabrikation 1880–1940. (Köln: M. DuMont Schauberg, 1974). Public Domain.

This is why Jesus teaches the disciples his prayer because he gives us the words to speak and know that God the Father is the one on whom all depend for their life, well-being, and all they have.  When one is being crushed by sin and adversity, the words of Jesus’ prayer remind him that God is the Lord and also the loving Father of all; that he will keep his promises and be God to the one praying; and that he is the source of all that is needed for this body and life, of all love, and of all forgiveness.  As Luther writes in the Large Catechism:

82] Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. 83] And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. For when He withdraws His hand, nothing can prosper nor be maintained in the end, as, indeed, we daily see and experience.[3]

“Christ teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer” (1550), by Hans Brosamer (1495-1554) from the 1550 Frankfurt Edition of the Small Catechism of Martin Luther. The British Museum. Public Domain.

“Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need.” Luther is talking more about the petition “give us this day our daily bread” here, but it goes for the whole prayer.  Jesus, in teaching his disciples (and us, by extension) to pray in this manner shows them and us that all the good we have comes from God, not just those things that satisfy our daily needs (and for which we ought to give thanks to God), but also the gift of forgiveness of sins, protection from the powers of hell, and everlasting life.  It is all his mercy, and he gave us his ultimate gift of mercy to sustain us in every need when he sent Jesus to win salvation and life for us through his death on the cross and resurrection.  The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of this gift and our reliance upon God for it— we could not gain that act of mercy and love for ourselves.  But God teaches us to remember it.  He teaches us to pray, to boldly ask him to remember us in his mercy, and indeed to know that we have already received it from him.  Indeed, as Jesus says to his disciples in our Gospel lesson, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV).

That mercy has been given for you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is yours, and you can go before your Father in Heaven, asking him to be God for you with all the boldness and unmitigated temerity of a guy knocking on your door at midnight asking for bread for a guest and more.  When you are weighed down by guilt, shame, fear, and stress, and you don’t know how to pray for the mercy you need but don’t know where to find, let the words of Christ’s prayer point you back to him who takes those sins and buries them in the tomb, clothing you in his mercy, and giving you eternal life and everything you have.  His mercy is for you, and he will sustain you by it, fully reliant on the Father.

And now…the rest of the story.  Remember Martin Rinckart?  When he got down on his knees with his parishioners to pray to God for a solution to their suffering and the harsh tribute that the Swedes planned to inflict on their town, the Swedish commander was so moved by their display of faith— it may be fair to say that God softened his heart toward them— that he cut the tribute from 30,000 Thalers to 2,000.  You and I might not see that kind of answer to prayer in every circumstance; indeed, it seems miraculous.  But we know that, though [we] are evil, [and] know how to give good gifts to [our] children, how much more will [our] Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  God the Father is your good Father and mine, and he will always be merciful to us and give us what we need, we who are fully reliant on him, when we ask him as dear children do their father.  This is his promise to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, and we can thank him just as Rinckart thanked him when the Thirty Year’s War ended with our prayers and songs, perhaps with words like these of Rinckart’s:

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices
Who wondrous things has done
In whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mother’s arms
Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.

“Nun danket alle Gott,” published in Johann Crüger, Praxis Pietatis Melica (Berlin, 1653).
Public domain.

And now may the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Rinckart.htm

[2] https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-luke-111-13-pentecost-7-series-c

[3] LC V.82-83


Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9), July 7, 2019 (Luke 10:1-12) – “Sent Out as Lambs among Wolves”

“He Sent them out Two by Two/Il les envoya deux à deux” (1886-1896), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Originally preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is worth noting that von Lettow’s legacy is not without controversy and the man not without his own sins–thousands of natives died in East Africa as a result of famine caused by his campaigns. Von Lettow may also have been involved in a previous action against the Herreros in German East Africa that is considered the first structured genocide in modern history, but it is unclear as to the extent of his involvement, and some biographers claim that he was against it or was not actually involved. Nonetheless, I am more interested in his prowess as a guerrilla commander here, and Gaudi’s recent study of him provides a well-rounded look at his military legacy leading up to and during the Great War.

As all of you know, I have an interest in history, and one area that I’ve recently been devoting a fair amount of attention to is the history of the First World War.  As part of satisfying that interest, earlier this year, I happened to read a biography of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who commanded troops in an extensive guerrilla warfare campaign against both British and Belgian forces in German East Africa, what is now modern Namibia and Tanzania.[1]  Even though his army of native Askari troops and German colonial Schutztruppe were equipped with outdated single-shot, black-powder Jägerbuchse rifles, had little artillery at their disposal, and were technologically and numerically outmatched, they were nonetheless able to inflict severe losses upon the British and Belgians.  They were the only German forces in the entire war who were able to successfully bring the war into British territory, and only surrendered at the end due to shrinking numbers of men and supplies in the face of increasing numbers of British and Belgian troops being brought in from outside of Africa.   Because of his gallantry in battle and his ability to win the admiration of his enemies, von Lettow was given the nickname, “The Lion of Africa,” and he has gone down in history as one of the greatest guerilla fighters of all time.  (He is also remembered for colorfully telling-off Hitler in the 1930s when the latter asked for his endorsement.)

Lightly-armed Askari troops in German East Africa.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 105-DOA7209 / Walther Dobbertin / CC-BY-SA.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we see a different kind of lion, the Lion of Judah, preparing “soldiers” for a different kind of guerrilla warfare.  Jesus is preparing 72 (or in some manuscripts, 70— it’s a difficult textual question as to which one Luke originally wrote because existing manuscripts are split between the two numbers; that said, theologians have determined that 72 is most likely)– 72 new disciples to go out into the world to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the towns Jesus was going to come through.  Like von Lettow’s Askaris, they’ll go lightly armed, with little equipment, but their foes are not flesh and blood like the British or Belgians.  These 72 disciples are going behind the lines deep into enemy territory, territory ruled by Satan, the Prince of the Power of the Air.  Jesus is sending them out like sheep among wolves— the enemy is dangerous and deadly, and going as they are, they appear vulnerable.  We might assume that the territory is not just hostile because they’ll be doing battle with the forces of evil, preaching the good news of the kingdom, but also because they will literally be going into hostile territory for Jews.  As we heard last week, Jesus and his disciples have been going through Samaria, and the Samaritans, long considered by the Jews to be a people and religious group tainted by foreigners brought into the region by the Assyrians when they conquered Israel, aren’t terribly friendly toward the Jews.  Jesus and his disciples have already been turned away from one town in Samaria; it’s likely that the 72 won’t receive a warm reception here as well.  But nonetheless, they’re going out, vulnerable, to preach a message of repentance and the coming of the kingdom to an unbelieving and hostile world.  And they are going into this hostile world, full of sin and its entanglements, full of violence and hate, full of unbelief and persecution, to do the will of their master, to preach the peace of the coming kingdom to potentially enemy ears.  He sends them off like lambs in the midst of an enormous wolfpack.

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Like the 72, Jesus sends us out to be his ambassadors to the world as well, to shine the light of Christ before others.  Our task may not be quite the same— for us, the kingdom of God is now here, and we, as Christians, are citizens of it— but the world today isn’t any less hostile to the message of the kingdom of God than it was when Jesus sent out the 72.  This seems odd to us as members of the Church in a country where Christianity seems pretty mainstream and (as of 2017), 70% of the population identified as Christian.  But there are still plenty of people who are hostile to the Gospel or who have not heard it and are enthralled by other religions, and the number of people who claim no religious affiliation is growing by the day.  Here in Northern Virginia, “nones,” those people who seem to have no religious affiliation or belief has increased to roughly 60% of the local population.  That’s a lot of people who have either left the church, never were part of the church, or are burned out on religion who are trapped in their sins and need to hear the Gospel, many of whom likely have their own conceptions about the church that don’t make them well-disposed to hearing the good news of the Kingdom of God.

And adherents of other religions and the rising prevalence of irreligion aside, the world certainly doesn’t want to hear a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The world is partial to sin.  The world likes violence and greed and sensuality and hatred.  The world loves pride and vanity and envy, gluttony and mindless consumption. The world loves apathy and dehumanization and death and objectification, among myriad other things.  And the devil and the world thrust these things upon us, their own foul panoply, in order to entice and captivate with the aim of leading astray and, ultimately, destroying souls.  The devil and the world play to man’s sinful nature with these things, and they seek to undermine the message of the Gospel by bringing down those who would be God’s ambassadors to the world and who would live as his children.  All of us have been tempted by these things, all of us have given into them one time or another.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, and sometimes the wolves have attacked us.  Sometimes the wolves have taken a few members of our flock.  Sometimes some of us have been turned into wolves.  Sometimes, we have had wolves in sheep’s clothing among us.  When we see the weapons arrayed against us, we realize that it’s not easy being someone sent by Christ.  It can be downright frightening, and when we seem to be losing our battles to the wolves, it can lead us into fear and despair.

“Wolf und Fuchs” (1666), by Franz Rösel von Rosenhof (1626–1700). Bavarian State Painting Collections. Public Domain.

And of course, the mission for us is different.  The 72 were sent out by Jesus to specifically preach the kingdom’s coming.  We haven’t been commissioned that way.  Not all of us are gifted preachers.  Not all of us have been given the vocation to preach and teach like a pastor or a missionary does.  And we are living in the world post-resurrection; Jesus has died and risen to forgive our sins.  The kingdom of God has come near and is with us.  But how do we go about in this hostile world with confidence, knowing what lurks out there, waiting for us?  If Jesus has called us to serve him, what is he calling us to do?  How can we face the dangers of this still dangerous world if we’re not being sent out in the manner of the 72 to explicitly do battle with evil?

“Wolf reißt ein Lamm” (1666), by Christopher Paudiß (circa 1618 –1666/1667). Bavarian State Painting Collections. Public Domain.

When Jesus sends out the 72, he apparently sent them “unarmed,” but in reality, they are carrying a super-weapon on their mission into enemy territory.  Think of it as something like a spiritual briefcase nuke.  Jesus gives them authority to speak his peace to the people they come to.  The peace of God comes with them, and that peace is the blessing of eternal life through faith in the promised work of Christ, in the coming of the kingdom of God.  Their job is to speak that peace, to tell other people about the reason for their peace, and should they be open to it, pass it on to them.  It is the peace that comes when the kingdom of God draws near.  The faith they have in the promise keeps them safe; it gives them the power to cast out demons, to heal, and to tread upon all the evil schemes of the enemy; to strike such a blow against Satan through the good news of God that Jesus sees him falling from heaven, his power weakened and grip on mankind loosened.  Faith in the redemptive work of God forgave their sins, and put their names in God’s book of life.  Jesus reminds them that they should not rejoice in the power he gives them over evil forces, but rather to rejoice in knowing that their “names are written in heaven,” that their hope and joy should be in their salvation.  The 72 can boldly go about their mission, as sheep among wolves, but safe from the enemy’s assaults.  Jesus assures them: “And nothing will harm you.”  They are forgiven, and reconciled with God to do his work.

The Eastern Church preserves some of the names attributed to the 72 disciples. From psephizo.com.

The peace of God, the promise of redemption from sin and the gift of eternal life, made it possible for the 72 to go forth and perform their mission for Jesus, preparing the way for him on his journey through Samaria.  That peace of God is also ours.  Though we are not called by Jesus to perform the exact mission of the 72, we are nonetheless his missionaries.  As Peter writes in his first epistle, all Christians “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pe 2:9 NIV).  We, therefore, trusting in the work of Christ for our salvation from sin, can, through our daily vocations, witness Christ by the way in which we live, and by so doing, we can be the light of the risen Christ in the world for others. 

Martin Luther once said the following through how a Christian can be a source of light and peace in the world in a 1522 sermon:

“The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.”[2]

Christ has sent us, recipients of the promise of eternal life, royal priests in a holy nation, to serve one-another and to be agents of the Gospel through our interactions with others in an unbelieving world.  You can be confident as a Christian, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pe 3:15 ESV), because Jesus has empowered you to serve others because he first served you.  You don’t have to be afraid to reach out to others who are not in the church, you don’t have to fear engaging those who are in the thrall of the world because Jesus has written your name in the heavens.  He is with you, and though you may seem to be a sheep among wolves, no power of the enemy can harm you when you trust in him and let him use you as his instrument.  Go forth and serve joyfully— Jesus has saved you and sent you to share his peace!  Amen.


[1] Gaudi, Robert. 2017. African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa. (London: Hurst & Company.)

[2] Martin Luther, “Sermon in the Castle Church at Weimar” (25 October 1522, Saturday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity), in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 60 vols. (Weimar: Herman Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1883–1980) 10/3:382 (translation F.J.G).  Cited in F.J.G., “What Luther Didn’t Say about Vocation,” Word & World 25:4 (2005): 361.