Trinity Lutheran Church
1111 East 22nd Street, Cheyenne, WY
Pastor John C. Preus
March 18, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ — Members of Trinity Lutheran Church,
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).
Please pardon the length of this letter. Please read it.
In the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray for forgiveness: And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is the most important thing we ever pray for. When we cry to God for mercy in any affliction or want, we are binding to our every request the more fundamental request for forgiveness. When we pray in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, or if there is any other way to pray — when we pray in faith, we are acknowledging that we need forgiveness above all things, even if everything else we ask for isn’t granted until we get to heaven. Forgiveness is the only thing we cannot wait until heaven to get. We need it now.
This is why God afflicts us. This is why he sends war and bloodshed, drought and famine, and every sort of sickness and pestilence. He seems to hold off in giving us what we need — he seems even to take away what he gave us already — he seems to be far away from us in order that we might humble ourselves under his mighty hand and seek him where he is always near, where he is always found, where he gives us forgiveness for our sins on account of the suffering, death, and resurrection of his dear Son (Isaiah 55:6, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Matthew 28:18-20).
If the current crisis from the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus does not drive us to humble prayer, then we do not know how to pray. But we do! If the panic and uncertainty of these days does not remind us of how dearly and constantly we depend on God for everything we have, then we have no faith. But we do! This is not to say that we must all be bursting at the seems with anxiety, or that how worried we are is some indication of how faithful we are. Not at all! If anything, it is the opposite. We must not worry. It adds nothing to our safety. It cannot preserve us. We do not fear this world. We fear God.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:18-19)
I write to you dear members of our Lord Jesus as to those who fear the Lord – as to those who are already engaged in fervent prayer — I write to you to encourage you to continue as you are, commending yourselves and all you have and love to him who cares for you.
Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He promises that all other things that we need will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). God is trying us. He is testing our faith. This is proof that he loves us. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). When God permits such panic, when God sends pestilence and dread on earth, when God withholds what we think we need (be it milk, toilet paper, medicine, or just social interaction), or else just takes away for a while what we grew to depend on — when God does these things, he is teaching us to seek first what is more certain, what he will never stop giving us — what we need above all things in order to receive everything God gives us in thanksgiving. And this means that we bless him when he takes away (Job 1:21).
Consider what we are praying for in the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Luther says:
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that he would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So we will also heartily forgive, and readily do good to, those who sin against us.
What are these things we pray for that we admit we don’t deserve? For this we turn to the 4th Petition for starters. It is in regards to everything that pertains to the support and wants of the body. We pray for our daily bread. We pray for good government, good neighbors, health, and so forth. With the 5th Petition we admit that forgiveness is more important. Only by reflecting on our greater need for the kingdom of God and his righteousness (forgiveness), and only by receiving it for Jesus’ sake – only then are we taught to receive all these things with thanksgiving. God is teaching us to be grateful.
It is unlikely that God will take away forever what we must now go without. It does not appear that the current restrictions and shortages will last more than a few weeks or (at worst, pray God) months. It is already hard. Many of us are already stir-crazy. Many of us are anxious about what effect this will have on the economy, our jobs, our investments, our children’s safety, and so much more. So much is so uncertain. But as we confess that we do not even deserve the uncertain things (daily bread), so we also confess that we do not deserve the surer things. Consider. We are not worthy of any of the things for which we pray. What else have we prayed for? We have prayed that God’s name be kept holy and that his kingdom come. Review the Lord’s Prayer in your Catechism. We do not deserve the pure preaching of God’s word. We have not earned the Holy Spirit who graciously works faith in our hearts. We do not deserve that God’s good and gracious will be done. But look! It’s done. Look what you have heard and learned, what has planted faith in your heart! Look how gracious God has been to reveal his mercy to you in Christ. In him we have died through Baptism — what can death do to us, or any plague? In him our life is hidden — what else in this world do we depend on that he will not give in due season? (Colossians 3:3) In the world we will have tribulation. Jesus tells us not to be afraid. He has overcome the world. (John 16:33) In Christ we have peace.
God is trying us. Even if we imagine that this is all a hoax and an overblown paranoia (and I do not believe this is so, and strongly urge you also not to treat it as such) — but even if it were, we cannot control the panic all around us. But God can. And he also is able to settle our hearts in this time of uncertainty and fear.
I have struggled much about what to write to my congregation (to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I am charged by God and so privileged to serve with the saving word of God). I have not been sure what is most needful. Are you scared? Are you starving? Are you sick? Is death in the balance? Or is the extreme inconvenience of this whole crisis just annoying you? Each of you is different. For you who are scared, trust God. Look at how he uses the foaming of the seas, so to speak, the unrest of nations to drive you to prayer. He teaches you to base your prayers on the sure mercies of David. He teaches you to believe that with the forgiveness of sins there is life, salvation, and “all these [earthly] things added to you.” For you who are sick or afraid of death, or of losing a loved one, remain steadfast in prayer, knowing also that your brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for you. For you who are concerned about the economy, see how God teaches all of us to be willing to lose it all – even our very lives – for the treasure that surpasses them all. God will not forsake you. And he hasn’t. For you who are most put out by the inconvenience of this whole thing, love. We are called to love one another. Love those who are more concerned than you think they should be. Bear with them who are plagued by anxiety. Keep your distance, respect others for the measures they take to keep safe and not to spread this virus. To this we were called above all: to love. Love bears all things and is patient.
We are worthy of none of the things for which we pray. Nor have we deserved them. But we pray that God give them to us by grace. This is a time of repentance for sure. When we promise also to readily do good to those who sin against us, how much more do we promise to readily do good to those who have not sinned against us. Let us care for one another. Let us be patient. God grant us the thankfulness and faith toward him that we need so that we might focus our hearts on the one thing needful, the precious treasure of the gospel that cannot pass away. This is the chief fruit of repentance. It is the chief fruit of those whose sins are freely forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
With all this in mind, I would like to lay out some plans for our congregation in the coming weeks, and some requests and reminders for all of us to bear in mind:
First, I am asking every single one of you who receives this letter (all members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, WY) to do a couple of things:
Send me either a text (307-222-8299) or an email (email@example.com— you can also reply to this message) with your name, your phone number, and your email address. Indicate whether you prefer text or email. I want to establish a quick and ready chain of rapid communication with all of you. Please do this even if you know I have your information. If you do not have text or email, please call me. I would like to know who does not have the internet so that I can provide you with resources for you to continue to be encouraged and taught by God’s word. I would also like to provide sermons and prayers to you.
Please let me know if you are willing or able to volunteer your time in bringing needed items to members.
Please let me know if you need someone to bring you something. We are the Body of Christ. We care for each other.
Second, we will be canceling services this weekend and until further notice. We will provide a recorded service each Sunday morning beginning this Sunday for you to watch on our website. For anyone without the internet, we will be able to provide either CDs or other materials. I don’t want anyone to be cut off from hearing God’s word.
Third, beginning as soon as next week, I will be posting a sign-up sheet online for individual households who desire to receive the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, given and shed on the cross, and bestowed on us in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. We must not neglect this. While it is not absolutely necessary, it will not be withheld. And we will begin soon, by God’s grace, to hunger and thirst for it if we are not already famished by fear, dread, and sorrow. Times for household reception of the Sacrament will take place on Saturday and Sunday by appointment. If things don’t calm down by Holy Week, I plan especially to devote Maundy Thursday and Good Friday for this purpose.
Fourth, please pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for yourselves. Pray for your family. Especially pray for our congregation, the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs. Pray for our rulers and our medical professionals. Pray for the elderly and those who have weak constitutions. Let me know whom you would like me to pray for and if you would like any requests sent out to all of us at Trinity. Pray in repentance. Remember, we don’t deserve the “normal” we want to return to. Live in repentance. Pray with humility. Pray in Jesus’ name by whose invitation alone we can make bold to call our mighty Maker and Judge our Father. Our prayers, along with our love for each other, are the most reasonable of all sacrifices that we make to God (Romans 12:1).
Fifth, please continue to support the preaching of God’s word and the work of Christ’s ministry at Trinity. Even though things are different for a while, and uncertain, yet the needs of our congregation continue. The word is still being preached and souls are still being served. Our school also, though closed for the time being, still stands in need of our commitment. Please continue to support with offerings (by mail or by online giving, available on our website) what our faith depends on. As we are pressed down and urged to humbly repent until God grants relief, we also remember what great things God has done for us. And he continues and will continue. Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. But God’s servants and our teachers and staff continue to rely on their daily bread which comes from God through your offerings of thanksgiving to God our Savior.
Sixth, in accord with the inspired words of God, let us not wholly neglect gathering:
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
This evening (Wednesday, March 18) as well as the next couple Wednesdays, we will continue to meet for evening Vespers. It will be at 6:30 PM. Please keep your distance. Don’t shake hands. Respect other people’s desire not to be too close. Spread out in the pews. Leave separately. I will lead our service and then leave through the vestry. Most of you won’t come. But please know that for now you are invited to come.
Seventh, and finally, please pray with me. I tried to update the language, but couldn’t bring myself to disrupt the beauty of it. Read it slowly and then pray with your family the Lord’s Prayer and sing the following hymn. I will miss seeing your faces. I will continue to update you by the website (and/or by email, text, phone call, or however I must). The peace of Christ be with you all.
O Lord God, the giver of our health, it is only of thy mercy that we have so much health continued, after the manner in which we have lived. And O how just were it with thee, utterly to take away that health from us which we have so greatly abused to a forgetfulness of thee, and wantonness against thee! How justly mightest thou smite us with sharp and noisome diseases, which our nature most abhorreth: to hurry us out of the land of the living, and put a sorrowful end to our wretched days! But, thou Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble! regard not our ill deserts; but remember thy own tender mercies and gracious promises; and take pity on us, and turn away this plague from us. Put a stop to the raging pestilence, and say to the destroying angel: “It is enough;” that we may not be afraid of the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flies by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon-day: but with calmness in our minds, and gladness in our hearts, may serve thee faithfully and cheerfully all our days: and devote our spared lives, which we have begged at thy hands, and our health and every mercy, to thy honor and glory; through the strength and the righteousness of thy dear Son, our most compassionate and prevailing Mediator, Jesus Christ.
Our Father …
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son For my own
To my faith hath given?
Naked was I, nothing owning,
When on earth At my birth
My breath came with groaning.
Naked hence shall I betake me
When I go From earth’s woe,
And my breath forsake me.
Though a heavy cross I’m bearing
And my heart Feels the smart,
Shall I be despairing?
God, my Helper, who doth send it,
Well doth know All my woe
And how best to end it.
God oft gives me days of gladness;
Shall I grieve If He give
Seasons, too, of sadness?
God is good and tempers ever
All my ill, And He will
Wholly leave me never.
Hopeful, cheerful, and undaunted
Everywhere They appear
Who in Christ are planted.
Death itself cannot appall them,
They rejoice When the voice
Of their Lord doth call them.
Death cannot destroy forever;
From our fears, Cares, and tears
It will us deliver.
It will close life’s mournful story,
Make a way That we may
Enter heavenly glory.
There I’ll reap enduring pleasure,
After woe Here below
Suffered in large measure.
Lasting good we find here never,
All the earth Deemeth worth
What is all this life possesses?
But a hand Full of sand
That the heart distresses.
Noble gifts that pall me never
Christ, our Lord, Will accord
To His saints forever.
Lord, my Shepherd, take me to Thee.
Thou art mine; I was Thine,
Even e’er I knew Thee.
I am Thine, for Thou hast bought me;
Lost I stood, But Thy blood
Free salvation brought me.
Thou art mine; I love and own Thee.
Light of Joy, Ne’er shall I
From my heart dethrone Thee.
Savior, let me soon behold Thee
Face to face —May Thy grace
Evermore enfold me!
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Pastor John Preus