Beckett: The Gospel in A Tumultuous Nation

Both sides of the political spectrum keep saying we need to stop being divisive. Meanwhile, both sides continue to be divisive, even on days like January 6th when “protestors” stormed the Capitol and a Trump supporter and 14-year veteran was shot and killed.

Our nation continues to disgust me. I served our nation in the Army. I used to wear our flag on my shoulder with pride. No more.

On several social media platforms, I’ve seen people saying things like, “We’re better than this.”

Clearly, we’re not.

If 2020 and the first six days of 2021 have shown us anything, it’s that we’re not better than this. If we were, things would not have gotten this bad, and I won’t be surprised if things get worse.

Yesterday’s events took me by surprise. I took a long nap and woke up to angry Twitter feeds (big surprise), quickly learning of the violent shenanigans that took place at Capitol Hill. Now, this blog is by no means a political commentary. If you’re familiar with my writing on here, you know that I’m no Democrat. And while I consider myself conservative, I do not consider myself Republican. And no, I do not settle for “Independent” either.

My core identity is in Christ—through my Baptism—and it is to Him I appeal for this article.

While many pastors, I imagine, are tempted to shout the Law during these tumultuous times, I believe a better pastoral response would be to proclaim the Gospel. The art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel is no easy task, and while there certainly needs to be Law proclaimed during this time, my concern here is mainly with the Gospel. My mind is set on AC V of the Lutheran Confessions:

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe.

It is vital to know that the faith this article is talking about is the faith just briefly discussed in the prior article, justification by faith:

Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in His sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21-26] and 4[:5].

AC IV

Hence, “To obtain such faith,” etc.

Strictly speaking, what tasks are given to the man who stands in the Pastoral Office? According to AC V, in order that justification by faith might be given, these tasks are preaching the Gospel and giving the Sacraments wherein he trusts and respects the Holy Spirit to do His work as He sees fit.

No doubt people will be seeking their pastor’s counsel during these times, maybe even asking for his political opinion. And no doubt he has his own political opinions and even his own anger toward the whole matter, but that is not the task to which God has assigned him. While there is a time for the Law here, let the Gospel dominate.

Concerning this, several passages came to mind for me. The first is John 1:1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Need I say that we are living in dark times? Even so, the darkness has not overcome Christ, the Word of God made flesh—and it will never overcome Him, for the darkness is already overcome (John 16:33). It is to this Word whom pastors need to point people toward—the Word who spoke the word, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). And who has taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13), “for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

People of the world place their trust and hope in meagre politicians who make a living off of lying to them. People of God’s kingdom place their trust and hope in Christ, who is grace and truth (John 1:14), “my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Another passage that comes to mind is Psalm 2:1, 4-6 (Hebrew translation), “Why are the nations in tumult and the people plot in vain? …He who dwells in the heavens laughs; the Lord mocks them. Then He will speak to them in His wrath and terrify them in His burning anger: ‘But I Myself have set My king upon Zion, My holy mountain!'”

I know I’ve said there needs to be Gospel and there’s Law in this psalm, but I also said there’s a time for the Law that needs to be spoken while the Gospel must dominate. While this is certainly Law in the psalm for the nations and unbelievers plotting in vain against God and His Anointed, this is Gospel for the Christian: “But I Myself have set My king upon Zion, My holy mountain!”

God placed Jesus in Zion (Jerusalem, a synecdoche for all Israel) as King over all people, and not just a King who has reigned since the beginning as we read earlier in John’s prologue, but also a King who died and rose again for you. God placed Jesus on Mt. Calvary in Zion for you. This is whom every pastor must speak about during these times, indeed at all times.

As Psalm 2 continues, Jesus reigns with total power and authority to destroy nations, but He also reigns in grace. Psalm 2 ends abruptly, “Blessed are all who seek refuge in Him” (v. 12). Indeed, for they find refuge in Him under the cross from God’s fiery wrath depicted in the psalm.

As evil men and women stormed Capitol Hill, let us storm the hill of the cross whence Jesus fulfils His words, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

How does Jesus do this? How does He provide rest for laborious and heavy laden souls?

He does it all through His Word, for He is the Word. It is only natural, then, that He does so through His spoken Word.

This is where the Lutheran Service Book is a remarkable tool for us to use during such times. I’m writing this article very late (or very early). As soon as I’m finished writing this article, before I go to bed I’ll be going through Vespers by myself (my wife is currently visiting family in Finland, so I can’t do this with her). I encourage you to do the same, especially with your spouse, whether Vespers (p. 229), Morning or Evening Prayer (pp. 235 and 243 respectively), or whatever you find brings you comfort.

I specifically chose Vespers because of the beautiful chanting that calls upon God to be my refuge and there’s a section for additional collects of intercession during which I’ll be praying for our nation.

May the peace of God find you during these tumultuous times in our nation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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