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"'When Life's Troubles Rise to Meet Me': Sifted in Satan's Sieve" (Paul Gerhardt sermon series)
March 14, 2007 | The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Posted on 03/14/2007 9:10:02 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson

"'When Life's Troubles Rise to Meet Me’: Sifted in Satan's Sieve"
(Sermon series on "The Hymns of Paul Gerhardt")

Tonight marks the third in our series of midweek services on “The Hymns of Paul Gerhardt.” We are using the life and the hymns of this great Lutheran pastor and poet as an aid for our Lenten devotion. We began two weeks ago by seeing Gerhardt’s life as an example of how to live as a baptized child of God within your vocation. Last week we heard how Gerhardt’s hymns warm the believer’s heart by pointing us to God’s great love all around us. Now tonight we take up the question that forms the backdrop for so many of Gerhardt’s hymns, namely, How can we sing hymns and be joyful when there is so much suffering all around us? Is there a way I can rejoice and sing, “When Life’s Troubles Rise to Meet Me”?

Paul Gerhardt was certainly familiar with life’s troubles. Born 400 years ago this week--on March 12, 1607--Gerhardt grew up during a time of great turmoil and tribulation. When he was 11 years old, the Thirty Years’ War broke out across northern Europe. This long war was a struggle to see whether the Lutheran Reformation would survive. The Holy Roman Empire was striking back and trying to re-take, by force, the lands it lost a century earlier. Back and forth the armies fought, and much of Germany lay in devastation and ruins as a result. Towns were burned. Homes were destroyed. Then add to the ravages of war the deadly toll the plague was taking across Europe, and by 1650 it is estimated that Germany lost 20-30% of its population.

Gerhardt himself, his own town, and his own family suffered greatly from this double-whammy of war and pestilence. Perhaps due to the disorder and disruption in the land, Gerhardt was not able to get a call as a pastor until he was 44. He was not economically settled enough to get married until he was 47. He and his wife had five children, but four of them died in infancy or childhood. After 13 years of marriage, Gerhardt’s beloved wife, Anna, herself died. Paul Gerhardt was no stranger to suffering.

Then there was the suffering he endured due to persecution for his beliefs. Gerhardt was serving as a faithful Lutheran pastor at St. Nikolai Church in Berlin. The local ruler, Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, was a Calvinist. The Elector issued an edict forbidding the Lutheran preachers from saying anything against the Calvinist or Reformed teachings--for instance, on the Sacraments. If the Lutherans did not agree to this decree and sign it, they would be forced out of office. Some men succumbed to the pressure and gave in. But many faithful pastors, including Gerhardt, knew that they could not in good conscience sign the edict. That would be to be unfaithful to their ordination vows, to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, which require that pastors teach the truth and refute error, no matter what may come. “We must obey God rather than men,” the apostles boldly stated, and every faithful confessor since then says likewise.

So said Gerhardt: “The edict is in front of me, and I shall either sign or become unemployed. I would rather prefer the latter than the former. What would it benefit me if I had a kingdom, yes, or even could win the whole world, and should suffer harm to my soul? On the contrary, what can harm me if I have to do with less outwardly or temporally, when I can keep the most beautiful, costliest treasure, the truest jewel? If it is God’s will that I serve him again in this world as a minister, I want to honor him gladly and sacrifice what is left of my life. If not, I shall praise him in my loneliness, praise and thank him as long as my mouth and my eyes are open.”

Again: “I am willing and ready to seal the truth of the gospel with my blood, and as a true Paul with St. Paul I will offer my neck to the sword.” “And in this faith, so help me God, I will remain till death. The consistory may do with me as it is ordered. To my Lord I stand and fall.”

On the day he was deposed, Mrs. Gerhardt wrote in the family Bible: “Today my lord has been ousted from office! Hold out, my dear Gerhardt, and be not ashamed of the gospel of Christ! I will follow thee into privations, into the desert, into suffering and death! Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.”

So Gerhardt was forced out of office in Berlin. He called it a “small Berlin sort of martyrdom.” After a couple of years without employment, was called to a small parish in Luebben, where he lived out his days in reduced circumstances and as a widower.

Shortly before he died, Gerhardt wrote to his sole surviving son: “Having reached my 70th year and having the joyful hope that my loving and gracious God will soon release me from this world and lead me into a much better life than I ever had on earth, I thank God for all the mercy and faithfulness he has shown me from my mother’s womb to this present hour. And I pray from the bottom of my heart that when my hour comes he will grant me a happy departure and take my soul into his hands and give my body a gentle rest in the earth until the wonderful Judgment Day. Then I with all mine will awaken to see, face to face, my dear Lord Jesus Christ, in whom I have believed.” And so Paul Gerhardt died on May 27, 1676.

In the church at Luebben there is a full-length portrait of Pastor Gerhardt, with this inscription: Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus, “A theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve.” The inscription recalls what Jesus said to Peter before going to Gethsemane: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

You see, when life’s troubles rise to meet you--as they did Simon Peter, as they did Paul Gerhardt--it is as though Satan is sifting you like wheat in his sieve. You are being forced and put under pressure and “put through the grinder,” as we say. The troubles of this life--hardships, war, disease, death of loved ones, persecution for your Christian beliefs--all these things Satan would like to use to get you to despair of God’s mercy, to doubt God’s goodness. None of us is immune to these trials and afflictions and temptations. Every one of us is tested, in one way or another. What is it that would try to cause you to doubt God’s goodness? What would be the pressures that would have you buckle under and not be loyal to the faith? Satan is sifting you like wheat in his sieve.

But with that sifting, Jesus promises that he will sustain you, “that your faith may not fail.” Our Lord restored St. Peter, he kept Pastor Gerhardt faithful under pressure, and he will no less support and sustain you! The same Lord and the same gospel promises will strengthen you in your time of distress. Do you know that Jesus is praying for you? He is! Our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered sin and Satan and death for you, and now he is ruling all things for your good. He ever lives to make intercession on our behalf! God is merciful to you and he cares for you!

How the hymns of Paul Gerhardt ring out with this comfort and confidence! You know, Jesus told Peter that after his time of testing he was to return and “strengthen his brothers.” Well, in like manner, Gerhardt strengthens us with the comfort he himself received from the Lord during his time of testing. So many of Gerhardt’s hymns fit this category of “Cross and Comfort” or “Trust” or “Hope.” These hymns express, as the Germans say, Trost und Trotz, that is, consolation and defiance. On the one hand, they bring consolation and comfort to the troubled soul. And on the other hand, they bid defiance to Satan and his trials, which are not able to defeat us in our faith in Christ. From our first hymn tonight, “Entrust Your Days and Burdens”:

Rely on God your Savior
And find your life secure.
Make His work your foundation
That your work may endure.

You and I have a sure foundation in our life, in God’s most loving hand, his care and guidance, his help in every trial. So we turn to our Savior in prayer, confident that he will see us through:

Our hands and feet, Lord, strengthen;
With joy our spirits bless
Until we see the ending
Of all our life’s distress.

Or then there is the hymn that we just sang, “If God Himself Be for Me.” That is, of course, just a paraphrase of the reading we heard earlier from Romans 8. There is nothing, in all creation, that “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” My friends, you can bank your whole life on that promise! If God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all”--which he did on the cross, where Jesus died to pay the price for all of your sins and to win for you eternal life and joy with him forever in heaven--if God is for you in this way, which he is, then all these troubles, as painful as they may be at the time, cannot overcome you or pull you away from Christ! That’s why Gerhardt can sing:

The sun that cheers my spirit
Is Jesus Christ, my King;
The heav’n I shall inherit
Makes me rejoice and sing.

This is the faith that sustained brother Gerhardt and will likewise sustain you, until the end. As Paul Gerhardt lay on his deathbed, he prayed a stanza from one of his hymns. It’s from our closing hymn for tonight, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”:

Now in Christ, death cannot slay me;
Though it might, Day and night,
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
From the strife, Of this life
To His joy immortal!


TOPICS: History; Music/Entertainment; Religion
KEYWORDS: gerhardt; germany; hymns; lcms; lutheran; paulgerhardt; sermon

Paul Gerhardt (1607-76)
Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus
"A theologian sifted in Satan's sieve"

1 posted on 03/14/2007 9:10:06 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
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To: lightman; old-ager; Cletus.D.Yokel; bcsco; redgolum; kittymyrib; Irene Adler; MHGinTN; ...

PG ping.


2 posted on 03/14/2007 9:14:35 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thank you, Pastor, for the ping. I'm falling behind on my reading.


3 posted on 03/14/2007 9:29:03 PM PDT by MHGinTN (If you've had life support. Promote life support for others.)
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To: Charles Henrickson


Outstanding, Pastor. Few things touch me as deeply as beautiful hymns. It may seem odd, but whenever I kneel at Communion and the congregation sings a wonderful hymn, it sounds like something I imagine as angelic. The Real Presence of Jesus and the reverence of the hymns are breathtaking.


4 posted on 03/14/2007 9:33:48 PM PDT by Southflanknorthpawsis
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thank you pastor. Saved as usual.

God's blessings,

Jim


5 posted on 03/15/2007 3:55:01 AM PDT by bcsco
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thanks Pastor. I had to miss church last night to drive my husband to the airport. This served as a bit of a substitute.


6 posted on 03/15/2007 4:34:04 AM PDT by stayathomemom
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thank you, Pastor.


7 posted on 03/15/2007 5:29:21 AM PDT by Conservativegreatgrandma
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To: bcsco
Saved as usual.

That's my goal! That those who hear my sermons would be saved. ;-)

8 posted on 03/15/2007 5:34:48 AM PDT by Charles Henrickson (Yeah, yeah, I know what you meant. . . .)
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To: All
I posted this article (by Uwe Siemon-Netto) on Monday, Gerhardt's 400th birthday:

Lutheranism's Sweetest Voice Turns 400: Paul Gerhardt's beloved hymns were a product of suffering

Also, here are my first two sermons in this series, "The Hymns of Paul Gerhardt":

"'Hymns That Adore Him': The Baptized Life within Your Vocation"

"'Oh, May Thy Love Possess Me Whole': A Heart Warmed with Love"

9 posted on 03/15/2007 5:42:24 AM PDT by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor, LCMS)
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To: Charles Henrickson
That's my goal! That those who hear my sermons would be saved. ;-)

And you're doing well, I must admit ;-)

Pray for me today. I'm doing an interview for a part-time position, then assisting someone in picking out the right laptop for them.

I need all the prayers I can get; especially for the job interview ;-) Jim

10 posted on 03/15/2007 5:54:57 AM PDT by bcsco
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