SERMONS - NOVEMBER 2006
5 November 2006 - All Saints’ Sunday - Romans 14:8-9
“O blest communion, fellowship divine, | We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; | Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. | Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Today we are observing All Saints’ Sunday. Among the things we ponder today, as reflected in this stanza from today’s first hymn, is the heavenly life which those who have gone before us in the faith now enjoy. We also consider the deep, mystic chords of Christian unity which cause us still to be “one body” with them. On this day in particular, but truly on all days in which God’s Word is at work among us, we are renewed by the Gospel in our faith in the one church of Jesus Christ, the unity of which transcends even the divisions between earth and heaven; between bodily life and bodily death.
As Christians, we reject the notion that the dead are no more. Rather, their souls live on, awaiting their resurrection on the last day, even after their bodies are laid to rest in the earth. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read that at death “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Regarding his own life and ministry, and his desire to be of service to the church, St. Paul writes to the Philippians: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” And when the apostle’s mantle was finally laid down, he did then depart to be with Christ. And he is with him still.
We need to remember these things, especially in view of the fact that the continuing, conscious existence of the souls of the departed is often denied today, even by groups that understand themselves to be Christian. In general, such groups do believe in what they call a “resurrection” on the last day. But what they think will happen then is that God will, in effect, recreate the dead person on the basis of his own perfect divine memory of all of that person’s characteristics, thoughts, and memories. But at best this would be only a copy of the dead person - a perfect copy to be sure, but a copy nevertheless. It would not be that person himself, in continuity with his previous existence.
No. Our Lord spoke truthfully when he said in St. John’s Gospel: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” The dead still live. Their bodies return to the elements of the earth for a time - until the day of resurrection - but their immortal spirits live on. As Jesus and the penitent thief were facing their deaths together on Calvary, the Savior spoke these words to his forgiven child, as recorded by St. Luke: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Sometimes, however, people may misapply the Biblical truth of the continuing existence of the saints in heaven, in ways that are not condoned by the Bible. A common practice in some churches is the invocation of the dead. People pray to the saints, asking them for protection, for miracles, for spiritual strength, and in general for a whole lot of things for which they should actually be asking God. In Psalm 50 the Lord himself assures us: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” There’s nothing that God in his mercy is unable or unwilling to do for a troubled Christian, according to his true needs as God knows them and understands them. There would therefore never be any valid reason to ask a saint for the kind of blessings that Scripture tells us are to be sought from the hand of God alone.
At other times, the Biblical truth of the continuing existence of the saints can be misapplied in the mistaken notion that the spirits of our departed loved ones become, as it were, our “guardian angels,” who actively watch over us in the affairs of our life, and who, in unseen ways, prevent bad things from happening to us, or bring successes to us. There are protecting angels, of course, who are sent from the Lord to guard us from spiritual and temporal dangers. For example, in speaking of small children, and of God’s special love for them, Jesus said in St. Matthew: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” But the souls of departed human beings do not become angels. Angels are a totally distinct kind of creature, without a physical nature, and without gender. And God’s human saints are at rest in the next life. As we read in the book of Revelation: “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors...’”
For those who have been well catechized in the teachings of Scripture and of our church, these mistaken notions will probably not be seen as beliefs that we might be tempted to embrace. We know, or should know, that God’s Word does not teach that these things are so - and it teaches, in fact, that they are not so. But there is yet another possible misapplication of the Biblical truth of the continuing existence of the faithful departed that may not be so easy for us to resist.
No doubt one of the greatest trials in life that anyone ever faces is the loss of a devoted husband or wife - the companion of a lifetime. The grief that accompanies such a loss can be hard to bear. The loss of a child or parent is similarly trying. For Christians, though, the comfort of God’s Word can and does sustain us in such times. And one of the things that a grieving widow or widower, parent or child, may latch onto in such times, is the Biblical assurance - recounted above - that those who die in Christ do in fact live on, and that they are in heaven even now.
But that’s when danger can come, and when our faith in Christ can be tested in subtle and unexpected ways. A mourning spouse, parent, or child may begin to yearn for a reunion with the deceased relative in the next world in a manner that begins to overpower and overshadow the true basis for our heavenly hope. Listen again to St. Paul: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Christ Jesus is our heavenly hope. He alone has saved us from what would otherwise be an eternal destiny of separation from God. He reconciled us, who were by nature children of wrath, to our heavenly Father. He forgave our sins and still richly forgives them. In his atoning death as our substitute under the judgments of the divine law, he solved for us our most basic problem - our alienation from God - which we could never have solved ourselves. And in his resurrection he opened for us the way of everlasting life. Through faith in his gracious promises, we, in him, will indeed live forever.
Consequently, no one but Christ deserves our highest loyalty. No one but Christ deserves our deepest devotion. As recorded in St. Matthew, Jesus soberly declares: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” When you reflect on the joys that you hope to experience in heaven, what, or who, do you think of first? At the emotional level, if not at the intellectual level, for whose companionship do you chiefly yearn? Is it the Lord, who purchased and redeemed you with his own blood, who comes to mind first, or is it someone else?
It’s not wrong to cherish the memory of departed loved ones. It’s not wrong to continue to love them even when they are gone. But it is wrong to love them first, to love them the strongest, to love them the most. You will not be ready to join your loved ones in heaven until your desire to do so is in its proper perspective - under and within your desire to be with Christ, to know Christ’s embrace, to experience Christ’s unending fellowship in a realm where sin and death are no more. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
But in our human weakness, how can we muster up within ourselves that kind of undiluted love for God? How can we make ourselves to have a love for him that is as strong and undistracted as it needs to be? This is too much for us to do! Yes, it is too much for us to do! Just as we could never save ourselves by our own works, or atone for our sins by our own sacrifices, so too we cannot love Christ, as he deserves to be loved, by our own strength. Our love for him is, rather, his gift to us. St. John says in his First Epistle: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ... We love because he first loved us.”
You don’t really get yourself ready for heaven, and for the joys that your heavenly fellowship with Christ will bring. Christ gets you ready. He loves you, and he manifests his love whenever he gives himself to you in forgiveness and in his sustaining presence in your life. He doesn’t demand love from you as a condition for his love, but he creates love in you by loving you first. St. Paul expresses it very well in his epistle to the Romans: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
If your love for Christ has been weak, Christ is now strengthening that love through the ministry of his Word and Sacrament. If your devotion to Christ has been unsteady and wavering, Christ is now bringing that devotion back into focus by the power of his forgiveness. If your heart has not been firmly clinging to Christ alone as its one and only hope, Christ is now sending his Spirit once again into your heart to reclaim it, to renew it, and to reinvigorate its faith in his saving promises.
And, Christ died for your loved ones, too. Those who trusted in him in this lifetime, and who have passed beyond this life to the next, are indeed now waiting, with him, for us. We may and should look forward to seeing them again. But only because they are with Christ, who is their Savior and ours. Only because they belong to the same Lord to whom we belong, who has purchased us all with his own precious blood, and who has joined us together in the eternal fellowship of his holy church. In the meantime, as we wait for the end of our own earthly pilgrimage, and as we look forward to being with the Lord in his heavenly kingdom, we can ponder these words from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
“O blest communion, fellowship divine, | We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; | Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. | Alleluia! Alleluia!” Amen.
12 November 2006 - 3rd-Last Sunday of the Church Year - Hebrews 12:26-29
Our society is an increasingly irreverent and disrespectful society. In the past, people tended to have a high regard for parents, for elected officials, for older people, and in general for anyone whose station in life made them deserving of our deference. But things are quite a bit different now. In the America of today, people talk back to their fathers and mothers. They mock and insult their civic leaders. They ignore seniors and the elderly. And in the religious attitudes and actions of many, even God has not escaped this kind of treatment. How could he, when those who represent his authority on earth are treated so disdainfully?
In the sixteenth century a major pastoral problem that Luther and his colleagues had to deal with was the people’s overwhelming fear of God and of his punishment. Christ was often portrayed in Medieval art and teaching in terms of a severe and demanding judge sitting sternly above the earth. Because the Biblical teaching on justification by grace through faith in Christ was so often ignored or distorted, the people didn’t realize how merciful God really was toward them. They didn’t understand how eager and willing he was to forgive them for the sake of his Son. It was easy for the people back then to recognize the importance of fearing God - although the fear that they had toward him was usually a slavish fear and not a respectful fear. But the people needed to be taught, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, about a God who was indeed worthy also of their gratitude and love.
Today the situation is a bit different. People have little difficulty envisioning a God who is easy to love - at least according to the various ways in which the religious imagination of man defines such love. But in our irreverent age, the idea of fearing God, and of being humble before him, is quite unpopular. For many, the only time they think about God is when they are looking for someone to blame for injustices, both real and imagined. Others, however, do think about a Deity of one kind or another as a “resource” on whom they can draw when it suits them, to help them solve their problems - as they understand them; to help them achieve success - as they measure it; to help them overcome adversity - as they perceive it; and to help them live a happy life - as they define it. But a God who reserves for himself the right to judge us, and who makes demands on us, is a God in whom most people have little or no interest in believing. To say the least, this is a serious problem.
But ours is not the only era in human history in which this kind of problem has manifested itself. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was also dealing with people who were not taking God as seriously s they ought to have taken him. We read in today’s lesson from that letter: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken - that is, things that have been made - in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
When the Lord delivered the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, his voice did indeed shake the earth. It is this portion of the book of Exodus to which the lesson is alluding: “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.” God does not want us to forget that he is both holy and powerful. He is to be revered and feared by mortal man.
And if the shaking of the earth on this occasion were not enough to remind us that the Lord deserves our humble and awe-filled respect, God warns through the prophet Haggai that all creation - the earth and the heavens - will also be shaken by his might on the last day. The prophet declares: “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.” Nothing in the created order will remain as it was, once the Lord’s judgments have been poured out in fullest measure.
And finally, the epistle to the Hebrews gives us all a more personal warning too, when it calls to our minds what Scripture warned would happen to the people of Israel if they turned away from the true worship of God to embrace the popular idolatries of their day. These words of Moses, spoken before the people entered the promised land, are recorded in the book of Deuteronomy: “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed.”
Nothing in this world that we think is important, and nothing in this world or within ourselves that we are tempted to rely on for our security and stability, will ultimately endure without being shaken by the Lord’s judgments. When he shakes the heavens and the earth, and when he shakes all nations, there will be no place to hide. There will be no place to go to escape his attention. This will be a fearful day. All of us, in our moral frailty, should tremble just to think of it.
But again, most of us today don’t seem to be thinking about anything like that being a part of our future, and we don’t seem to be very serious about getting ready for it. Instead, we are, in a sense, busy making our own idols, and bowing down to them. What is it, after all, but a form of idolatry, when we invent in our own minds a god whom we have the right to criticize and question when something that we think is unfair happens in our life? Does such a god actually exist? What is it but a form of idolatry when we imagine that our creator is a god to whom we do not really need to listen, when his word commands us to do something that we don’t want to do, or when it forbids us to do something that we want to do? Is the true God so uncertain of himself, and of the moral and ethical standards that he holds out to us, that he can be so easily persuaded to ignore our selfishness, our pride, our lust, or our greed, just because we think we have figured out a way to silence his law through creative “interpretations” of its demands? Are we truly believing in the only God that there is when we look to him for “one set of principles for happy living,” rather than for “one baptism for the remission of sins?”
The true God - the God who shakes the heavens and the earth - is not a God who can be so easily tamed or domesticated. The true God does not exist for the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves, or fulfilling our shallow wishes. The Lord’s words are abundantly clear in the book of Deuteronomy, where he says: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
Such a God is not to be worshiped with superficial ditties and shallow choruses, which are really little more than projections of our own silliness up onto God. Such a God is not to be approached with a casual and frivolous attitude. As the epistle to the Hebrews proclaims: “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” “Acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” This is worship that brings us before God with empty hands that are ready to receive what he gives, not with a list of our own felt needs that we expect him to satisfy. This is worship in which we acknowledge that God Almighty is in charge of our lives, and of our worship. In and for such worship, we are willing to be taught by his Word how to believe, how to pray, how to call upon the Lord.
And, please also notice this important phrase in the lesson about why we worship the Lord, and why we stand and kneel before him in reverence and awe: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship.” This is what makes the difference between our having a slavish fear of God, with which our consciences are terrified by the holiness of the Lord, and our having a respectful fear of God, with which our consciences are healed and comforted by the holiness of the Lord. In Christ, and in the Gospel, God is giving us a holy kingdom. It is a kingdom of righteousness - that is, of the righteousness of Christ, which God bestows on us when he gives us his Word and sacraments, and which he imputes to our faith for the sake of Christ. And it is a kingdom that will not be shaken.
As a baptized child of God, and beloved heir of eternal life, there will always be a place for you in this kingdom. In the Gospel, through which Christ continually comes to you, God is continually giving his kingdom to you, and is continually drawing you into this kingdom. When you are gathered by the Lord to worship him - that is, to receive from his hand what it is that he wishes to give - what you do receive is his unchanging, unshakable, eternal kingdom. You are receiving it now.
If you belong to Christ, you can cling to him always, in any circumstance. You can put your trust in him no matter what kind of threats are swirling around you. In Christ, and in his eternal kingdom, you will weather any storm. You will prevail over any trial. The church of Jesus Christ will also not be destroyed by God, who is otherwise a consuming fire. Unlike everything else, it will instead be sustained by him forever. Within the embrace of Christ and of his church - as you daily repent of your sins in humility and Godly fear, and as you believe what the Lord lovingly tells you when he forgives you - you too will be sustained forever.
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken - that is, things that have been made - in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Amen.
26 November 2006 - Sunday of the Fulfillment - Psalm 39:4-11
Listen with me to the words of Psalm 39 - a Psalm of David - verses 4 through 11: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am spent by the hostility of your hand. When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!” Here ends the reading.
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” What a strange prayer this is. King David is imploring the Lord to make him realize how brief and temporary his life really is. Why would he be asking this? And why would the Lord cause these words to be recorded and preserved for us in this Psalm, as a guide for our prayers?
People who live for eighty or ninety years would usually think that they have enjoyed a long life. Even those who have lived for less time than that would usually think that they had been given enough time to accomplish something of importance. And so, with the reasonable prospect of being able to live for several decades, we work, and struggle, and strive, to fulfill our dreams, to reach our goals, to succeed in the endeavors to which we have committed ourselves. We know that the time is short, but we’re confident that it won’t be too short. We expect that there will be enough time to accomplish what we want to accomplish, and to give meaning to our life by these efforts.
But is this the right way to think about the purpose of our existence? In humility before God, King David doesn’t think so. We get the impression from his prayer that he formerly might have thought so, but not any more. David continues to call out to the Lord in these words: “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow!”
Our lifetime is short. Very short. From the perspective of the world we may seem to be able to achieve some successes before it is over, after a few decades. Some people may still remember our name for several years after we have died. The things that we accomplished may still be having an impact on a small segment of the world for a while, even after we have gone. But in the bigger picture, from God’s eternal perspective, do any of those things for which we work so hard in this life really matter? Are the many sacrifices that we make for our earthly successes really worth it?
In his prayer David answers that question too. He continues: “Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” The things of this world that seem so important to us now will probably not be important to anyone in a hundred years, let alone for eternity. And in and of themselves, they are not important to God either. On the day of judgment everything in the created order will be purged and transformed by fire, so that there will be new heavens and a new earth. The greatest of the magnificent monuments that humanity has erected to its own fleeting glory in this world, both literally and figuratively, will be toppled and destroyed.
Driven as we often are by a desire for the material security that this world seems to offer, the works also that each of us has performed, in human pride and vanity, will likewise be for nothing. Ultimately, no one will remember them. No one will care. And in spite of any feelings we may currently have about our own importance, we will find out on the last day, if not before, that we were as a vapor. In the larger scheme of things, we are like the mist of the morning, which appears for a short time and then disappears - unnoticed, unremembered. David wants the Lord to shake him out of his self-deception. He wants the Lord to deliver him from what is actually a meaningless life, which does not have God and his Word at its center. He wants the Lord to rescue him, before it is too late, from all those strivings and struggles that flow from sinful ambition and not from faith. A long time before they were penned by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, David already knows the truth of these words: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
And so, in his prayer, as he continues to pour out his heart before the Lord, David does indeed seek God, and express his belief in the goodness of God’s ways. He declares: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.” As he is coming to his senses about what it is that makes life truly meaningful, David knows that he has been a fool’s fool, and deserves to be thought of as such. He is therefore silent before the Lord. He offers no excuses for having ignored God. He accepts the divine chastening through which he is now learning this hard but beneficial lesson.
But in faith, David is also waiting for the Lord, hoping in the Lord, and clinging to the Lord. This is supremely important, for David, and for us, as we also struggle with some of the same distractions and misdirected priorities that he experienced, and for which he repented. God is going to forgive David. Indeed, he had already revealed his forgiving heart to him by means of the messianic promises that had always sustained the faithful people of Israel. And David, in repentance and faith, is going to receive this forgiveness.
God forgave him for the sake of Jesus Christ, whose saving work on the cross was, from God’s timeless viewpoint, already a present reality for David. And God is also going to purge David’s mind of his love of earthly success, and fill it instead, by his Spirit, with a love for God and for the eternal kingdom that God has prepared for his people.
And what about us? What about you? Have you dedicated your life, and oriented your priorities, to that which is temporary and of this world, rather than to that which is eternal? If this is so, or if this might be so, then join David in asking the Lord to shake you out of this misdirected confusion. And join David in receiving the Lord’s forgiveness. The Lord does forgive you. And the Lord will help you to get your priorities and your values straightened out, and to reshape your understanding of what is truly important in life, and what will have enduring value.
This kind of inner transformation and moral reorganization can be painful, as God leads us to let go of the worldly values that, in our own minds at least, had previously defined the meaning and purpose of our life. God is also gracious - in mysterious ways that are not always apparent at the time - in his destruction of some of those worldly achievements that may surround us, and that may otherwise pose a temptation to us to return to the old priorities and the old selfish ambitions. David acknowledges: “When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him.” Indeed, he does.
But in place of that which is consumed by the cleansing Spirit of the Lord, God causes new and better things to become dear to the man of God. The outward activities in which a man of renewed faith engages may not change all that much. He will likely still have the same job, and be carrying out the same kind of duties in his home and in his community. But the reasons, the motives, and the intensity will be different. The works in which we are engaged in this life are now no longer to be tools for serving and enriching ourselves. Rather, in Christ they are embraced as opportunities to fulfill the sacred calling that God has given us, to serve our neighbors in his name through the tasks that we perform for their benefit.
And finally, when you are in Christ, and when in the Lord’s forgiveness you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, your lives will not then be as a mere vapor, disappearing without notice. Instead, in Christ you are in a sense already where he is, seated in heavenly glory. Because of Christ’s righteousness, credited to you by faith, you are already citizens of an eternal kingdom. His resurrection is a pledge to you that you too will live forever. In Christ, his beloved Son, your Father in heaven will never forget you. In Christ you have been adopted into the family of God. You are his, with a place in his house for your everlasting habitation.
In his epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul describes this new way of living and this new way of thinking: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way.” Yes, let us think this way. Let us join King David in his prayer that the Lord’s forgiving Word would cause us to think this way. By faith in the Gospel of Christ, let us receive from the Lord, for the sake of our Savior, the grace that can and will change us, so that with God’s help we will think this way.
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am spent by the hostility of your hand. When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!” Amen.