13 September 2020

Forgiven and Forgiving by the Cross of Jesus Christ

St. Peter has been listening, and he has gotten the point to some extent.  That is what prompts his question.  But either he has not yet perceived the full implications of what he has heard from Jesus, or else, and perhaps more likely, he simply chafes at those implications and so resists them.

Now, you along with St. Peter have also heard (this past Sunday) that greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven is that of humility — dependance and need — like that of a little child.  And those little ones will stumble.  It is inevitable, Jesus says, that there will be stumbling blocks and stumbling.  The little ones will stumble, as you will also stumble.  But you dare not be a cause of stumbling.

Today it is made clear, if it was not already clear, that the causes of stumbling include, not only temptations to sin, but also refusals to forgive and restore the one who has sinned.  To withhold the Gospel from those who repent of their sins is, in fact, the most grievous stumbling block of all.

As Christians, we take sin seriously, as surely as the Lord Himself takes it seriously.  We exercise both self-discipline and church discipline, as the Lord Himself has taught us.  We hear and heed His call to repentance, and we call each other to repentance from within our respective callings.

But the aim of all our dealings — and what the whole life of the Church on earth is all about — is the rescue and reconciliation of those who have been lost, the full and free forgiveness of sins, the restoration of faith, and the fraternal fellowship of life and love in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Therefore, do not despise the little one who stumbles and falls and by God’s grace gets back up.  Do not despise the little one who wanders away and returns to the fold.  Do not despise the little one who sins and repents.  But rejoice with the Lord to receive back and forgive your brother.

Really, such falling and rising are the shape of the Christian life on earth — the shape of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who died and rose again.  So is it also the shape and significance of your Baptism in His Name, the daily dying to sin, and the daily rising to newness of life.  And if that is what your Baptism means — that every day of your life is one of such dying and rising in and with Christ Jesus — then every day is one of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.

So has the Lord Himself taught you to pray every day in the Our Father for the forgiveness of sins — and likewise to forgive those who sin against you.

That is what the Christian life on earth is like.  That is what it’s all about.  Not so much being “nice” and avoiding conflict and controversy (as the world imagines), but forgiving real sins with real forgiveness.  Therefore, do not ask “how often,” or “how many times,” and do not even keep track or keep score at all.  If there were a score kept in this game, then you have already lost!

But the Lord does not keep score, and He does not keep track.  He does not count your sins against you.  He does not consider how often you have sinned or how many times He has forgiven you.  He simply calls you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins: again and again and again.  For it is not the will of your Father in heaven that you or any of His little ones should perish, but that you should be rescued from sin and death, reconciled to Him in faith, and raised up forever.

Thus do you live by the compassion, grace, and mercy of the Lord, your King, who freely and fully removes your entire debt.  He doesn’t set up a payment plan.  He doesn’t bargain with you or reduce your debt.  He removes it altogether.  He forgives it completely, as though it never were.

Now, as I also pointed out last Sunday, you and your fellow Christians are brothers and sisters of this one Lord Jesus Christ, fellow subjects and servants of this one gracious King.  And all of you alike live by His forgiveness and His love.  It is therefore necessary that you forgive those who trespass against you — as often as they do — just as you depend upon your Lord’s forgiveness.

The necessity of forgiving those who trespass against you is of one piece with your Redemption and with the Gospel of your Lord Jesus Christ, of one piece with His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins; because there is one and the same forgiveness for you and for all.

There is only that one forgiveness which flows for you and for all from the crucified and risen Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, who was crucified for your transgressions and has been raised for your justification.  For God was in Christ reconciling the whole world to Himself, and it is by His Ministry of reconciliation that He has called you to Himself by the Gospel of forgiveness.

As you here come into the presence of this Lord, your King — and as you worship Him, bending your heart, mind, body, and soul before Him, praying to Him, singing His praises, and calling on His Name for mercy and for peace — you are released from all your debts by His forgiveness of your sins.  It is not that you have bought Him off or “stroked His ego” with your worship; but it is truly meet, right, and salutary that you should worship and adore Him, thank, praise, serve, and obey Him, because He forgives you all your sins and saves you from sin and death by His grace.

Accordingly, have mercy on each other.  Not just your own husband or wife, parents or children, but on all of the children of your own dear God and Father in Christ Jesus.  Forgive each other, as your gracious Lord forgives you.  Have mercy on all of your neighbors, even on those who do not know the Lord who loves them and gave Himself for them.  Forgive them for Christ Jesus’ sake, that they might learn to know His mercy and His grace through you, His freely forgiven servant.

What does such forgiveness mean?  What does it look like and entail?  You have no better example than that of the Lord Jesus Himself, who prayed for the forgiveness of those who were nailing Him to the Cross, even as He gave Himself into death as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.  You know the love and forgiveness of God in Him, who has mercy and compassion even on you, His unworthy and often unfaithful servant, chief of sinners though you be.

You also have the example of your fellow servants, such as you have heard this morning in the case of the Patriarch St. Joseph, who in faith forgave his brothers, in spite of all they had done.  St. Stephen in the New Testament is another powerful example of forgiveness, as he prayed for those who were stoning him to death, trusting in his merciful and great High Priest, Christ Jesus.

Now, as we learned from Christ Jesus last week, forgiveness does not mean ignoring sin or taking it lightly.  There is the call to repentance and the exercise of discipline for the good of the Body.

Yet, you call your brother to repentance and restore him in a spirit of gentleness, as St. Paul the Apostle expresses it.  You likewise exercise discipline in such a spirit of gentleness and humility, because you recognize and know both your own sins and the gracious forgiveness of your Lord.

That is why you cover your neighbor’s sin and shame as much as you possibly can, as the Lord Jesus has directed.  If your neighbor has sinned, then you first of all go to him privately, so that, if he will hear you and come to repentance, you have won your brother.  And if he will not listen to you, then two or three others go with you to address the sin quietly and patiently, in the hopes that he will repent and be restored to the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Even if it finally comes to church discipline and excommunication, the goal remains repentance and forgiveness.

In all of your dealings with all of your neighbors, you are to be always ready, willing, and eager to be reconciled with them, to forgive their sins and do them good, and, in so far as it depends on you, to be at peace with them for Jesus’ sake, in whom God has reconciled the world to Himself.

Forgiveness does not mean that you must remain in harm’s way — aside from what duty requires; for duty does sometimes require that you put yourself in danger, that you suffer hurt and harm, like the soldiers who fight for us, like firefighters and police officers and emergency personnel.  But where duty does not require it, forgiveness does not mean that you must leave yourself in harm’s way and simply take ongoing abuse.  Neither does forgiveness mean that you strike back.  You do not throw back anger at anger.  You do not return hurt for hurt.  You do not seek vengeance for the wrongs that you have suffered.  If need be, you simply remove yourself from the situation.

Forgiveness does not mean that you leave your neighbor’s body and life in the jeopardy of harm and danger, either.  In the same way that governing authorities punish those who have committed crimes — even if they have repented and are fully forgiven before God — likewise, forgiveness does not condone or tolerate the ongoing abuse or neglect of another neighbor.

As surely as love calls the one who is sinning to repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins, so surely does love also work to guard and protect the one who is being sinned against.

But forgiveness does not seek revenge.  It does not retaliate.  It does not harbor grudges.  It does not keep track of wrongs done, nor does it keep score as to how often such-n-such has happened.  Forgiveness leaves no room for bitterness and resentment to grow and fester in your heart.

Forgiveness does have compassion.  It views weakness with sympathy, as you yourself are weak.  It demonstrates mercy for the frail, the fallible, and the fallen.  It exercises patience, and it is long-suffering.  It turns the other cheek and still does not grow weary of doing good.  It does not say, “This is the seventh time.”  It does not even say, “This is the 490th time — next time watch out.”

Forgiveness rather speaks and acts with gentle kindness for the one who has been neither gentle nor kind.  Forgiveness does not withhold love, but it is always seeking ways to love and serve and care for the neighbor.  Not only does it bear the neighbor’s burdens, but it bears the burden of the neighbor in peace, in the confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

You are free to forgive, because you are forgiven.  You are free to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to do good to those who hurt you, because God raised Jesus from the dead — and He raises you.

In short, forgiveness does for your neighbor what your God and Father in heaven does for you by His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.  For that whole debt of yours — that huge, insurmountable, unpayable debt of your sins, the curse of your mortality, your death, and your damnation — that huge debt of yours, which you could never have repaid in a thousand lifetimes — the Lord your God has removed from you entirely.  It is all gone.  Not a penny of that debt remains to be paid.

Your Father in heaven has taken that entire burden off your back and laid it squarely on Christ Jesus, His own dearly-beloved Son.  And that is what the Lord Jesus Christ has willingly borne for you in love.  The Father has handed Him over to death, to the torture of His Cross and Passion, to the prison house of Hades, in order to make full restitution on your behalf.  And He has done it.

On account of His Cross and Resurrection, the Lord is patient and long-suffering with you.  He does not grow weary of forgiving your sins and doing you good, again and again and again.  Daily and richly He provides for all your needs of both body and soul.  Indeed, He does not withhold any good thing from you but grants you His own divine Life and eternal Salvation, although for your sins you have deserved nothing but temporal and eternal punishment.  Instead of that, He rewards you with good things, with food and clothing and shelter and love, with family and friends, with His Church on earth, His means of grace, the forgiveness of all of your sins, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, the waters of His Holy Baptism, and a place at His Table in His House forever.

In mercy and compassion He is always seeking you out, He’s always calling you back home to Himself, He’s always watching and waiting with arms wide open, eager to receive you into His loving embrace — as your dear God and Father, and you His own dear child in Christ Jesus.

And here at the Altar of the same Lord Jesus Christ — with His Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins — He enfolds you in the blessed fellowship — the Holy Communion — of His Body and Bride, the Holy Christian Church.  Thus, with all His saints, with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, you do not die but live.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

06 September 2020

The Greatness of the Grace and Glory of God in Christ Jesus

Jesus called the child to Himself, and He put the child in the midst of His disciples.  And so does He also call you to become like a child — to become His disciple — by the humility of repentance.

But first of all, the Son of God Himself became a little Child, not just metaphorically, but in fact.  That is where the Gospel According to St. Matthew begins, and over and over again in those first couple chapters of the Gospel we hear the Lord Jesus described as “the Child.”  For so He was, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Not only that, but, having become true Man, He humbled Himself, taking on the form of a Servant, coming in the likeness of fallen, sinful, mortal flesh.  And He became obedient, unto His sacrificial death upon the Cross for your salvation.

It is precisely by His Cross and in His Resurrection that you are born again as a child of God by way of your Holy Baptism.  Named by Him, adopted by His Father, anointed by His Holy Spirit, you have become a dear little child of God in Christ Jesus.  You are humbled and exalted in Him.  Not just once-upon-a-time, but your Baptism retains an ongoing, daily, and lifelong significance, whereby you die and rise with Christ each day by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  And thus do you continue to live and abide as a little child of God within His Kingdom of Heaven.

The greatness of such a little child in the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus describes in this Holy Gospel, is the greatness of humility in the presence of God.  He’s not talking here about modesty, far less about any false modesty, but about the genuine need and real dependence of a little child.

The fact is that, before God, you and everyone else alike have such dependence and need.  But in the arrogance and pride of your sin, you do not recognize or acknowledge your need for the Lord or your utter dependence on Him.  Thus, you must be called and brought to the humility of a little child by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Little children must also be called and brought to the humility of repentance and faith in order to enter and abide within the Kingdom of Heaven.  But their day-to-day existence and survival in this body and life on earth are an indication of what it means and what it looks like for you or anyone to live as a child of God, regardless of your age, abilities, achievements, or circumstances.  Just as a little child must depend on his father and mother for food and clothing, shelter and protection, discipline and education, so must every Christian depend on the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and upon His Holy Christian Church, for the salvation and eternal life of body and soul.

So, too, the ongoing care that little children need also includes the love and mercy and forgiveness of their parents.  For it is not only the case that little children can do nothing to care for themselves, but they sin against their parents, siblings, and family in all sorts of ways, which increase as they get older.  To continue serving and providing for them requires daily forbearance and forgiveness.

By the same token, to be sure, parents and other authorities, all adults and older children, are no less in need of forgiveness from God and from their neighbors on a daily and ongoing basis.  And to maintain the responsibility of caring for their children requires discipline, correction, training, repentance, and effort.  For none of us, by sinful nature, consistently does what is good and right.

Discipline, correction, and training also belong to the care that children of all ages need from their parents.  They need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, to carry out their duties, to recognize the consequences of their choices, decisions, and actions, and to know how to live, to love and serve their neighbors, to repent of their sins, and to forgive those who sin against them.  Some of this they may learn the hard way, by trial and error, as do we all to a certain extent.  But much of it must be taught, and ideally it should all be taught and exemplified by their own parents.

To live as a little child of God within His Kingdom, likewise, requires His gracious forgiveness of sins and His providential care of both body and soul (for both this life and the Life everlasting) — and also His paternal correction, loving discipline, and patient training in both faith and love.

Within His Kingdom — His Household and Family — you and your brothers and sisters in Christ are all alike in your need for Him and in His grace toward you.  You all have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father, one Holy Spirit, one Name with which you have been named, and one Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  As children living in the same Household and having the same Father, born from the same Womb, washed in the same Tub, and eating at the same Table, you are all alike the little children of God, no matter the differences between you.

Therefore, love and care for each other, as your Father in heaven loves and cares for each of you in body and soul, in grace, mercy, and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  In this fallen and perishing world, that loving care — of God for you, and of His children for each other — centers in the forgiveness of sins.  Indeed, there is nothing more characteristic and definitive of the Church on earth than the forgiveness of sins.  It is the coin of the realm, the economy of God’s Kingdom, to forgive sins, to show mercy, to have compassion, and to love even those who sin against you.

But such forgiveness does not excuse, ignore, or make light of sin.  The world does have that sort of  “forgiveness,” which deals in “second chances,” makes excuses, rationalizes circumstances, and may at times choose to overlook faults or wrongdoing.  But genuine forgiveness does not excuse sin or rationalize its reasons.  It does not ignore sin or take it lightly.  Real forgiveness confronts sin head-on and removes it by the Cross of Christ, by His atoning sacrifice, by way of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, unto newness of life in His Resurrection from the dead.  And it is thus administered and exercised along with the loving discipline of a father for his children.

Which is to say that, in those places where the Lord your God has given you authority over others, or where He has made you responsible for the care of others, there is also a need for discipline — exercised in love and with forgiveness.  I’m not talking about punitive retribution, but about a kind of discipline that seeks to protect and serve the one who is disciplined (and his neighbors, also).

A father disciplines his son, in order to protect his son from harm and danger — and to protect his other children (and other neighbors) from his son.  He thereby teaches and trains his son in the way of life and love.  And he does so in and with the forgiveness of sins.  That is, when he teaches his son to do differently than he has done, it is not because the sin is retained and remembered and is going to be brought back as an accusation in the future.  It is rather that, along with the forgiveness of the sin, the sin will not be permitted to continue ruling and dominating the life of the child.

So, too, the governing authorities are God’s ministers, whereby He does punish sin, He punishes evildoers, in order to protect and serve everyone.  It is in love that He thereby restrains and limits wickedness; not as though He were petty or vindictive, but precisely because wickedness and evil are harmful — in both body and soul — to those who sin and to those who are sinned against.

Think about it.  No parent would stand back and watch a little child reach for an open flame or run toward a busy street and not do or say anything to stop the child.  No, love compels the father or mother to act immediately, to keep the child from mortal harm and danger.  Such obvious things are simply examples and analogies, but they do help to give a sense of why correction, discipline, and the preaching of repentance are so important and so necessary.  If only we took the eternal harm and danger of sin as seriously as the temporal threats of fires and traffic and so forth.

That is why God’s Law must be preached.  Not as though the Law would save you or anyone else, but that the Law of God must do its own proper work of guarding and protecting His children from sin and every evil, and so also driving the lost and erring to the genuine humility of repentance — to recognize their need, their weakness, and the danger they are in — and to rely upon His help.

As a Christian, you do this for yourself, or so you should.  For the Lord has taught you to examine yourself in the light of His Commandments, to acknowledge and confess your sins according to His Word, and to seek out His forgiveness in the Ministry of His Gospel.  You likewise discipline your flesh, your body and life in this world, your words and your actions, in accordance with the Word of the Lord and your own calling and station in life.  Not as though to save yourself, which is neither possible nor necessary, but because you belong to the Lord, your Savior, and His Word is Spirit, Truth, and Life, whereby you live in faith and love within His Household and Family.

Above all, you train and discipline yourself to live and abide in God’s Kingdom, not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but by repentance and faith in the Gospel.  And it is in the same spirit and for the same purpose that you call your brother or sister to repentance, so that your brother or sister might also live by the same grace as yourself, in the same Body of Christ Jesus, as a member of the same Household and Family of God, as a beloved child of the same God and Father.

So it is that Christ Jesus has taken His stand with sinners (even you), especially beginning in the Jordan River when He submitted Himself to a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He had no sins of His own, but He took His stand with sinners — not to condone sin — but to atone for the sins of the world, and to deliver the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

And as He was baptized with and for sinners, so does He also eat with Gentiles and tax collectors, with prostitutes, and all manner of sinners, in order to share His fellowship and life with them.  He does not confirm them in their sins or encourage them to continue in their sins.  In His mercy and grace He rather calls them to repentance, to become His disciples, His brothers and sisters, to be and to live as the children of His own God and Father, and to eat with Him at His Table in peace.

Here then is the greatness of Christ Jesus, in which He does all of this for you, as well, and for all people.  For He has become the little Child, and He has lived as the true Man, in holy faith before His God and Father in heaven, and in holy love for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

As a little Child, the Lord of heaven and earth, by whom all things were made, depended on His Mommy, St. Mary, and upon His father on earth, St. Joseph.  He had real human needs, and He depended on His parents to care for Him.  He also honored them, as the Fourth Commandment requires.  He submitted to them in all things, even though He was without sin and they were not.  And He learned from them.  The One who is the very Word and Wisdom of God learned from His human parents, St. Mary and St. Joseph, with all their mortal frailties and weaknesses.

And as He grew, He knew hunger and thirst.  He knew tiredness and fatigue.  He knew heat and cold, hurt and pain.  And finally He knew death, even death upon the Cross, bearing in His Body all the sins of the world and submitting Himself to their consequences and punishment.  He yielded up His Body and Life to the judgment of both church and state, and to the condemnation of God’s holy and righteous Law, trusting that His God and Father in heaven would vindicate Him and raise Him up.  To such an extent did He humble Himself “like a child,” unto His death upon the Cross.

So it is that His Cross and Resurrection are the way of repentance, by which you are born again as a child of God in Christ Jesus, as you are raised up to newness of life in His crucified and risen Body.  This is not only the shape and pattern of your repentance, but the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are your repentance, into which you are called and brought by His Word and Spirit.

And so it is that real greatness is found in the Cross of Christ Jesus.  Not only because the Cross works humility and repentance in you — in your heart and mind, body and soul — but especially because it is from His Cross and in His Resurrection that He freely and fully forgives your sins.  In calling you to repentance by His Cross, He calls you to receive and to rely on His forgiveness.

The good and gracious will of God is that you should not perish but have everlasting Life — not by your own works, but by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  And so it is that He rejoices over your forgiveness, over your recovery and salvation, even more than He would rejoice over the hypothetical ninety-nine who never strayed.  He is happier to save you by His grace than He would be if you could save yourself by your own righteousness.  For this is the greatness and glory of God, that He has mercy upon sinners and saves them for the sake of His own divine Love — that the sons and daughters of affliction should become His own beloved children in Christ Jesus.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

30 August 2020

The Theology of the Cross

This is what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.  This is the vocation to which His God and Father has called Him.  This is what His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan signifies and indicates: That He must suffer and die, and that His Father will raise Him up on the Third Day.

As surely as He went into the waters of His Baptism, so surely must He be crucified, put to death, and buried in the dust of the earth.  And just as surely as He came up out of those waters of the Jordan to an open heaven and the blessing of His Father, so surely shall He rise from the dead.

He proceeds from the waters of His Baptism to His sacrificial death upon the Cross in faith toward His God and Father and in fervent love for God and man.  And that is precisely what divine Life and the Glory of God look like in the Flesh — within this fallen and perishing world.  If you would know what God is like, then look to Christ the Crucified, to His innocent suffering and death.

The Lord is neither sadistic nor masochistic, but He demonstrates His divine strength and almighty power — in mercy and love — by His voluntary weakness, by His humble obedience, and by His willing Self-sacrifice for the salvation of sinners.  For the life of the whole world.

His Crucifixion is your Redemption.  For His Body and Life are the price God pays to buy back His own Creation.  And His Resurrection is your Righteousness and your Reconciliation with God.  For the very One who was crucified for your transgressions has been raised for your justification.

It is in this way that Christ Jesus, the Son of Man, comes into His Kingdom in the Glory of His God and Father — from His Baptism to His Cross and Passion, through death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.  His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  Hence, He is the Firstborn from the dead; and by way of His Baptism, Cross, and Resurrection, He becomes the Firstborn of many brethren.

So, then, do not despair in the face of sin and death (not even your own), but rejoice that you are called to be His disciple — to follow after Him and learn from Him — to bear His Cross and share His death — and so also to share His Resurrection, His Life, and His Salvation in His Kingdom.

This is what it means for you to be a Christian, for you to be anointed by the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And this is your first and foremost vocation — to which your God and Father in Christ Jesus has called you by His Word and Holy Spirit and by your Holy Baptism in His Name — to be and to live as His beloved and well-pleasing child and heir, a member of the Bride of Christ, His Church.  To be conformed to the Image and Likeness of the incarnate Son of God by the bearing of His Cross and rising with Him to newness of life, as your Baptism signifies and indicates.  None of which is abstract or generic, but practical, tangible, and specific throughout your days and weeks.

Within your own particular place in this life on earth, in keeping with the Ten Commandments, you are called to bear the Cross of Christ in faith and love, to suffer and die with Him in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.  Day by day you are called to examine yourself, to repent of your sins, to die to your sins, and to rise up again in the righteousness of Christ by faith in His Gospel.  But so are you also called to bear the Cross in love for your neighbor — by faithfully doing the work that God has given you to do; by graciously serving your neighbor and bearing his burdens; by patiently suffering his insults, covering his weaknesses, and forgiving his sins against you.

That is what your Christian faith and life look like.  That is the cruciform shape and the pattern of your Christian faith and life on earth — in all the many particularities of your own specific place — in the way that you relate to and interact with those whom God has placed alongside of you.

If you are a husband and father, for example, you are called to live toward your wife and children in such a way that your wife and children see in you the mercies of our God and Father in heaven, His long-suffering patience, kindness, tender forgiveness, loving care, and providence in Christ.

But so it is for each and all of you as Christians, who are named by God, His own dear children, anointed by His Spirit, and united with Christ Jesus as fellow members of His Body and Bride, the Church.  So are you called to bear the Cross of Christ in love for one another.  You are not to hold grudges, harbor bitterness, or seek revenge against those who sin against you, but to forgive them.

You are to forgive those who trespass against you, as the Lord has taught you.  And what does that mean?  That as your neighbor goes about sinning against you, day after day, and time and again, you persist in loving your neighbor anyway.  You do for him or her as Christ Jesus does for you.

In this way, also, the Lord your God lays the Cross upon you, along with His Spirit and His Name, in order to glorify you with His own Glory, with the righteousness of faith and love in Christ.

Do not despise or flee from His Cross, but receive it in faith and bear it patiently in love.

And as the Cross is laid upon you — even as it disciplines your flesh and calls you to repentance, as it exposes your sins and nails them to the wood, and as it calls upon you to love those who are seemingly unlovable — do not suppose for this reason that God is angry with you or hostile toward you, because He is not.  God the Lord is reconciled to you in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.

Do not suppose that your Father in heaven hates you or despises you.  Let such deceptive thoughts be far from you!  For the Lord your God loves you with an everlasting Love that proceeds from His own Being.  He cannot deny Himself, and He will not deny you whom He has called His own.

He does not punish you (as you deserve), as though to extract some pound of flesh for your sins — but He disciplines you in love (to live as a disciple).  He does not “take it out of your hide,” but with the gentleness of a loving father He trains and teaches you to live a life that is shaped by love.

The Lord does not delight in your hurts, nor is He apathetic to your suffering and pain.  Has He not borne your griefs and carried all your sorrows in His own Body on the Cross?  He has indeed.  And now He lays that Cross upon you, not for your destruction, but for your rescue and salvation from sin, death, and hell, unto the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul.  By His Cross the Lord brings you through suffering and death into Life with Himself.

By His Cross He puts sin to death in you.  And make no mistake, that is difficult, and it is painful.  As your old Adam is crucified, as your flesh is crucified to sin and to the world, it is the case that God is taking away from you everything you love, everything you trust, and all that you live for.  For none of those false gods that you love and trust and live for in your native sinfulness — none of those idols that you worship with your body, time, and energy in the pursuit of your passions — none of those things give you real life, but they destroy faith and love and bring you to death.

Accordingly, the Lord lays His Cross upon you — and He puts sin to death in you — not to hurt or harm you, nor to deprive you of any good thing, but that you might have true divine Life and Peace with God, and that you might live and abide with Him in His Kingdom as a beloved child.

None of this is obvious or sensible to your fallen flesh and blood.  It is by the revelation of God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and by the ways and means of His own Cross in the Ministry of the Gospel, that you are taught and learn to know and understand the grace and glory of God in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  The preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name, the significance of His Baptism, and His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, all bestow upon you the fruits and benefits of His Cross, that you might have life in and with Him.

As in the case of St. Peter, you still have much to learn.  But see how your dear Lord faithfully continues to teach you, to catechize you by His Word of the Cross.  He leads the way, and He calls you to follow after Him.  Not only does He open up the Way before you, but He is the Way.

His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance, your dying to sin and your rising to new life in body and soul.  His Cross and Resurrection are your redemption from sin and your resurrection from the dead, your reconciliation with God, and your righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, by which you now stand before your Father in heaven, not in terror, but in faith and confidence.

As often as you falter, fail, and fall down, He raises you back up again — in and with Himself.  Take comfort in that promise, and be encouraged by the example of His dealings with St. Peter.

It’s easy to look at Simon Peter and shake your head, although many of us see ourselves in him and his foibles.  In this case at hand, having just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and having just received the blessing of God and the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, Simon Peter here becomes a stumbling block, an agent of Satan, who has to be told to get back in line.

It’s not the first or last time that Peter messes up and misses the mark badly.  Yet, the Lord in His mercy calls him to be the prince of the Apostles, and by his preaching brings many to faith and life.

So it goes, because the Lord is faithful in all His dealings.  And He is so faithful to you, as well.

As often as you open up your mouth when you should not — or, as often as you fail to speak when you should — the Lord firmly but gently corrects you in love, and He restores you to discipleship, which is to say, to follow after Him.  By His good and gracious Word to you, He opens up your mouth to confess what is right and what is true, and He opens up your lips to show forth His praise.

He strengthens you and keeps you in all of your callings and stations in life.  And this He does out of love for both you and your neighbors.  When you are on the verge of despair, because you know your faults and failings, and you do not think that you can do what God has given you to do — because it seems too hard, and you seem too weak, and you know your sins, and it feels impossible that you will ever do any better — take heart that God loves you, that He has stationed you in the office to which He has called you, and that He is with you in that place, whether you are a father or mother, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, or simply a neighbor nearby.

The Lord your God loves you.  He has not called you in ignorance or foolishness, but in mercy.  And not only does He love you, but He also loves the neighbors whom He has given you to serve.  So it is that He strengthens and sustains you in all that He has given you to do by His grace.

And what is more, He daily and richly forgive you all your sins and failings.  He does not count them against you.  He does not count them at all.  They have already been drowned and buried with Christ Jesus in the waters of Holy Baptism, and removed from you by His death upon the Cross.  He does not hold your sins against you, nor does He punish you for your sins as you deserve.  But instead, He persists in loving you, caring for you, and providing for you in both body and soul.  He opens His hand to feed you, to clothe you, to shelter and protect you.  And above and beyond all of these good gifts, He continues and He persists in granting you His Spirit and His Life, His gracious Word of Peace, which does and gives what He says, and the Body and Blood of Christ.

As often as the Cross crucifies your old Adam and puts you to death, the more often does the Resurrection of Christ Jesus raise you up from sin and death to newness of life in Him.  As surely as you have gone into the waters of your Baptism, so surely must you die every day.  But just as surely as you emerged from those waters to the Voice of the Father who loves you and is pleased with you — and to an open heaven in Christ Jesus — so surely do you rise with Him each day.  And all your sins are washed away.  For your Lord Jesus — the Son of Mary, Yahweh in the Flesh — He has borne your sins and suffered your death upon the Cross.  So it is that, by His rising on the Third Day in accordance with the Scriptures, His God and Father raises you up in Peace, as well, and He sets His Seal upon your body and soul, from your Baptism to the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

23 August 2020

Upon This Rock Christ Builds His Church

He is the Son of a carpenter, after all.  Our Lord’s father on earth, St. Joseph, is described as a carpenter, a craftsman, a builder of things.  So, perhaps it should not be surprising that our Lord is also a Builder, a Carpenter of sorts, who builds a House to the glory of His Father in heaven — a House wherein He dwells among and with His people on earth — His Church upon the Rock.

We’ve recently heard how King David came up with the grand idea that he would build a temple for the Lord.  After all, he reasoned, he already had his own palace made of cedar, while the Ark of the Lord was still kept in a tent.  So David, the Lord’s anointed, would build for God a worthy house.  Except that God said, “No, that’s not going to happen. You will not build a house for Me, but I will make a House for you. Your Son, however, He will build a House for My Name.”

Now, Solomon did build the Old Testament Temple that his father David had envisioned.  And a glorious Temple, a glorious House it was, which God blessed with His Word and Holy Spirit.  God did cause His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people in that House that Solomon built.

There’s yet another son of David who had a privilege even Solomon did not; and here, again, I’m thinking of St. Joseph, the husband of St. Mary.  Whether or not he actually built a structure for his family out of wood, he did make a house and a home for his wife and her Son, and in his vocation as a husband and father he took care of his household and family in this life on earth.

But as always, our focus is on the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus Christ, who is the Builder of His Church, as surely as His true God and Father in heaven is the Builder of all things.  For Christ Jesus is the living and eternal Word of God by whom and through whom and for whom all things have been created and continue to exist.  What is more, Christ Jesus is the Wisdom of God, by whom all of creation is crafted, structured, ordered, and arranged in a good and right and beautiful manner.

The same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, has come down from heaven to establish and build an even more beautiful Creation.  To establish for Himself a Household and Family — in His vocation as a Husband to His Bride, the Church.  For He is like His Father in all things, and He does and says all that His Father has given Him to do and say.  So has He come to build His Church on earth as a place of safety and security, peace and rest, for you and all His people.

To this end, He first of all establishes the Rock foundation of His Church — in His own Body of human flesh and blood just like your own, with skin and muscle, and bone and sinew, and blood running through His veins; with hair, as you have hair; with toenails and fingernails, just like you.  He became true Man in every way, conceived and born of St. Mary.  And as true Man, in His own Body, He establishes the foundation of His Church.  But He does it, oddly enough, by the way and the means of His Cross — by His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious Blood.

Because the foundation is laid by the Cross — cornerstoned on the crucified Body of Christ Jesus — it is deeply hidden from the world.  You cannot see it by any reason or strength of your simple flesh and blood.  You can do as we have sung.  You can look up here and see the Font before your eyes; you can behold the Altar; you can look upon the Crucifix.  And you know by faith what these things signify, what God has done for you through His means of grace.  But you cannot see the strength.  You cannot see the power and the glory.  You cannot see the firmness of the foundation.

What you do see is foolish in the eyes of the world and to your own mortal flesh.  It is scandalous, offensive, and ridiculous.  It makes no human sense that anyone should build a house of any kind upon the death of a Man condemned and executed as a criminal.  On water, bread and wine, and words that speak such foolish things as the forgiveness of sins.  None of this looks or seems like a firm foundation at all, but already a catastrophe, a failed effort before it has even begun.

But such is the way of the Lord, Yahweh, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who once established a household and a family and a people for Himself, beginning with Abraham and Sarah when they were old and childless, and their bodies were already as good as dead.  As He created all things out of nothing by His Word, so does He bring forth new life from out of death, according to His Word of promise.  He gives to Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, in their old age and weakness.

It is from this very household and family of Abraham and Sarah that our Lord Jesus Christ received His human flesh and blood in the fulness of time, when He was conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary.  And then what?  His Father hands Him over — and He willingly hands Himself over — to His sacrificial death upon the Cross; as Father Abraham was once prepared to offer his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord, according to His Word (trusting that God would indeed raise Isaac from the dead, in order to fulfill His promise).

The Lord God stayed Abraham’s hand, and He provided a Lamb for Himself, a sheep, a ram caught in the thicket, as a sacrifice in place of Isaac.  But God the Father has not spared His own beloved Son, who is in fact given as the Lamb, as the Ram caught upon the horns of the Cross for you.

He and His Cross are hidden and foolish to the eyes of the world; and to your own outward senses He is hidden, and He is foolish.  Yet, the confession of Christ the Crucified is the foundation on which He builds His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is to the Ministry of that confession — to the preaching and administration of the Gospel in His Name — that Christ Jesus called and commissioned St. Peter and the other Apostles; so that, by the foolish preaching of His foolish Cross through foolish men of flesh and blood, He would establish and preserve His Holy Church.

It is by the preaching of Christ and His Cross that His Church prevails over death and the grave, because He is the almighty and eternal Son of God in the Flesh, and He is the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit in His Body of flesh and blood, from His conception in the womb and His Baptism in the Jordan River, to His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, for your Atonement, your Justification, your Redemption and Sanctification, unto the Life everlasting in both body and soul.

He has gone the way of the Cross, and He has submitted Himself to death and the grave, because you have been subject to death and the grave; because your flesh is mortal; because you are a sinner in your thoughts, words, and actions.  He journeyed into Hades, and right back out again, that you should not die but live; that you should rise from death and enter into heaven with Him.

He was anointed for death.  And in love for His Father and in love for you, He voluntary subjected Himself to humility, to weakness, to suffering and death, to sacrifice Himself in steadfast faith and holy love.  And then, just as He trusted, just as He believed, just as He prayed, His Father raised Him up from death and the grave, and glorified Him, and exonerated Him before all of Creation.

His Cross and Resurrection are the Key that opens heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  That is what is done for you and given to you in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  For such repentance, which God works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit, is your dying and rising with Christ Jesus from your Baptism to the Life everlasting.

In your Holy Baptism you died with Christ Jesus; and so it is that by your Baptism you daily rise and live with Him, as well.  Even now you live, although you are yet mortal and dying.  For God raises you up to newness of life through His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  It’s a hidden life, to be sure, as Christ and His Glory are hidden for now under the Cross.  What you see and feel and experience is that you keep on sinning every day.  You think and say and do what you should not; whereas you often fail to do what you should.  But you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  So, you do live by faith; and at the last, you shall live, for God will raise you up.

Your poor body, right now dead and dying, sinful and unclean — He will raise that same body from the dust of the earth.  And you shall not only be a living creature, but you shall be glorious as Christ is glorious, immortal, and imperishable.  That is as sure and certain as your Baptism, and your Baptism is as sure and certain as the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

And all that was given to you in your Baptism is worked in you and given to you in Confession and Holy Absolution.  By that Word of the Gospel your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

So, too, in the Holy Communion, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ feeds you with His own Body and Blood, not only for the forgiveness of your sins (just as He says), but as a down payment on the resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul with Him forever.

Each of these means of grace gives to you and works in you the Life-giving Fruits and Benefits of the Cross of Christ — and therefore also raises you up from death to life in His Resurrection.

This Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — which began with St. Peter and the other Apostles — continues even to the ends of the earth, even to the close of the age.  It continues here and now among us by the special authority of Christ Jesus our Lord — by His Word.  And that Apostolic Ministry exceeds that of the holy Prophets, and even that of St. John the Baptist, because Christ has come in the Flesh, and He has conquered the gates of Hades by His own Cross and Passion.

For years I never understood that expression of Jesus, that even the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church.  That always seemed backwards to me, because I pictured the Church outside of the gates, somehow beating against them.  But I was the one who had it all backwards.  The gates of Hades are the bars and bonds of death — the grave — the box that you put your loved ones in — the box that you may have already picked out for yourself — your hole in the ground.  But none of that will prevail against the Life that Christ Jesus gives to you by His Gospel.

The gates of Hades are brought down.  Those whom death has claimed, Christ has set free.  By His own death He tread death underfoot, and in His Resurrection the whole thing was blown apart.

By His innocent suffering and death, by His holy Bloodshed, sin has been atoned for.  And where sin is atoned for, where sin is forgiven, death is defeated.  And the devil’s head and jaw and face and teeth are smashed.  The devil has got nothing left to work with; he’s got no sins to accuse you of; he’s got no fear of death to hang over your head; he’s got nothing.  Christ Jesus has defeated the devil and plundered the house of death — by that foolish and ridiculous way of the Cross.

Thus and thereby God has reconciled the whole world to Himself in Christ Jesus.  God is at peace with you, and all of Creation is made brand new in the Body of Christ.  In His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, a new Garden of Eden has been planted and raised, the Paradise of God for you and your children.  And His Cross is the Tree of Life in the midst of that Garden, from which He feeds you with His Body given and His Blood poured out — here within His Church on earth.

Indeed, in this Body of Christ the Kingdom of heaven is established and built on earth in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is the Household and Family of God.  Beginning with one Man, consider how He fills the earth with His beloved and well-pleasing sons and daughters.

With the Ministry of the Gospel — the Ministry of the Confession of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God — the Father gives to you a place within His House, a place within His Family.  He gives to you a place within His Church and His Kingdom.  He gives you freedom.  You are not a slave, but a son, and a free citizen of the Kingdom of God.  You are set free from sin and death.

So are you also free to give your body and life as a living sacrifice of faith and love to the glory of God and for the good of your neighbor.  You are free to give yourself, as Christ has given Himself for you and all by His Sacrifice on the Cross; because even as you are poured out for others, even unto death, your life and your place remain safe and secure with Christ in His House.  Indeed, you are at home with Him, even on that long, hard journey to the far country of death and the grave.  For even death cannot separate you from the Love of God that is yours in Christ Jesus.

Hades cannot have you, no more than death and the grave could hold on to Christ Jesus, your Savior from sin and death.  You shall not die but live.  Already here on earth it is given and done for you in heaven.  So, your life remains with God, and that shall never be taken away from you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

16 August 2020

Pray, Praise, and Give Thanks in the Confidence of Christ Jesus

No matter what happens, no matter what comes down the pike, and no matter what your heart and mind might tell you, do not let go of this fact: the Lord Jesus has come to you, and by His Gospel He calls you to Himself in love.  He desires to receive you to Himself.  He longs to help you, to give you life both now and forever.  In mercy He brings you to His God and Father in both body and soul.  He promises grace and every blessing to all who call upon His Name, and He does it.

In Holy Baptism, the same Lord Jesus Christ has bound Himself to you — and you to Him — in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.  So are you also bound to God the Father in His Son.  For He has named you with His own Name.  He has adopted you to be His own dear child, and He will not renounce you.  He has anointed you with His Holy Spirit, and so has He given you divine, eternal Life.  He forgives you all your sins and remembers them no more.  He justifies you by His grace alone.  He sanctifies you with His Blood.  He shall not withhold any good thing from you.

All of this is sure and certain, for His call and His gifts are irrevocable.  It shall be done for you as He has promised through the Gospel.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.

Therefore, ask, and it will be given to you.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and it will be opened to you.  Call upon the Name of the Lord in faith, and do not doubt that He will hear and answer.

In Christ Jesus, your God and Father in heaven has commanded you to pray in this way.  And He has taught you how to pray, He has put the very words upon your lips.  And He has promised to hear you.  Therefore, pray at all times, and do not lose heart.  Pray without ceasing.  Pray with confidence and courage, and say “Amen,” that is, “It shall be so!”  Pray, praise, and give thanks.

Pray, not only for yourself, but for your neighbors in the world, and even for your enemies.

Pray, not only by yourself, but along with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the company and fellowship of His holy Christian Church.

Praise and worship the Lord your God with heart and hand and voice — in prayer and confession — in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs — not only giving thanks for His good gifts and benefits, but praising Him for who He is.  Praise Him in the splendor of His Holiness.  Praise and glorify His Holy Name in all that you do and say.  Praise Him for the God He has revealed Himself to be — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — for it is truly meet, right, and salutary so to do.

And of course, do also give Him thanks for His gracious gifts and His generous benefits.  Above all, give thanks to God for His free and full forgiveness of all your sins — and for the Life and Salvation that are yours by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ, your Savior.

Give thanks, not only for what you already see — for what you already hold in your hands — but also for what the Lord your God has promised, even as you wait upon Him in the confident hope of His mercy.  Such prayer is the voice of faith, an active confession of God’s Word in Christ.

To pray with such faith in the Word of God is the most decisive and definitive characteristic of Christian discipleship and life.  Christians pray.  It is that simple, basic, and fundamental, because it is an exercise of trust and confidence, by which you not only look to God in Christ Jesus for help, but you rely upon Him alone for all that you need, for both your body and your soul.

To pray with such faith depends entirely upon the Word of Christ.  Therefore, true Christian prayer always begins with — and continues to rest upon — the hearing of His Word.  You cannot pray without the Word of Christ.  So, if you would pray, open up your ears before opening your mouth.

Where you have not prayed as you should, Repent.  Hear and heed the Word of Christ, and pray.

And for all the ways that you have prayed only out of habit or superstition, without the fear, love, and trust of God in your heart, Repent.  Do not cease to pray, but pray with a new and right spirit.

If you have been lazy or distracted, so that you have not given your time and attention to the Word of God and prayer, Repent, and pray in Jesus’ name.  Pray because you need Him above all else.

If you have neglected to pray with and for your family and your congregation, Repent, and fulfill your calling (your vocation) as a Christian.  To pray and intercede for your neighbor — and to offer the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving — that is your royal priesthood as a baptized child of God.  Do it faithfully.  Where you have fallen short, do it better.

If you have become discouraged, given up hope, and ceased to pray — because you have felt as though the Lord were not listening or answering — Repent, trust Christ, and live.  Do not despair, but continue to cry out to Him.  He is not deaf to your pleas.  He is not blind to your tears.  He is not slow about keeping His promises, but He is patient with you, and He is merciful.

The Lord’s desire is to save you.  That is His good and gracious will.  If His help tarries for a night, a week, a month, a year — if it tarries for a lifetime — His help will yet come in the morning.  Even if you go down to the grave in death, He shall raise you up again to Life with Himself in both body and soul.  It shall be done for you as you wish.  It shall be done for you as you believe.

As often as His Law accuses you of sin, say “yes” to that.  His Word is Truth.  You are a sinner.  But do not take that thundering “no” of the Law as the Lord’s last word or final answer to your prayer.  For Christ is the Savior of sinners.  He is your Savior.  And He speaks another Word, which satisfies the Law and rescues you from sin and death.  It has been spoken by His Cross and in His Resurrection, and it has been spoken to you in your Holy Baptism.  So it is that the sure and certain “Yes” and “Amen” of the Gospel stands fast, even through the long dark night of silence.

Do not despair, give up, or lose heart, but continue to pray.  At just the right time, in due season, you shall hear and receive His Word of mercy, which does what it says and gives what it promises.

If you suffer hardship, loss, pain, and grief, even this is for your good, for the strengthening of your faith unto Life.  It is a participation in the Cross of Christ, by which you enter into Life with Him.  What is more, your suffering is an opportunity and a blessed privilege to confess your hope in Christ Jesus and His mercy, for the strengthening of your neighbor’s faith unto Life everlasting.

Trust your dear God and Father in heaven.  He knows what He is doing, and He does it all for the sake of love, out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  For the sake of His beloved Son, He governs and guides all things in heaven and on earth for the blessing and benefit of His Church, for the eternal welfare and well-being of all His baptized children.  All of history — including all current events — it is all constrained to serve His purposes for the salvation of His entire family.

Likewise, trust your gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has not only taught you to pray — who not only hears your prayer and answers in love — but who also prays and intercedes for you, Himself, as your merciful and great High Priest.  His Spirit also helps you in your weakness and prays for you, bearing the groans of your heart to God the Father in Christ Jesus.  So, then, by the prayer of God Himself, you are strengthened and sustained in faith and life — and in prayer.

For you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  You belong to the flocks of His pasture.  You were lost and in danger, but the Lord has found you, and He has brought you home with great rejoicing.

You are not a dog.  You are a dear child seated at your Father’s Table.  You are no more a stranger, an alien, a foreigner, or an outcast, but a member of His own household and family.  This is where you live.  This is where you belong.  Not by any merit or worthiness in you, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, which is constant, sure, and certain.

When you pray, you are not begging for table scraps, but asking your own dear God and Father for the Food that He loves to give you, for the gifts Christ freely gives.  Ask Him, then, not as though He would otherwise withhold His gracious hand, but to confess and give thanks for His mercy.  For here is the living and Life-giving Bread which He bestows from His open hand to satisfy your deepest longing and your heart’s desire.  As He feeds you in body and soul with this supernatural Bread which endures unto eternal Life, you lack no good thing at all in heaven or on earth.

Open your ears to hear, and speak as you have heard.

And even as you then open your mouth to pray, so shall you find that you are fed — that you are healed and satisfied, cleansed and refreshed, rescued and sustained — unto the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

09 August 2020

The Boat, the Bride, and the Body of Christ Jesus

There is no more appropriate place for holy matrimony to begin and to continue than the Liturgy of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  For that is where your life is found in both body and soul.  And that is where husband and wife are recreated in the Image and Likeness of Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Church, and united to Him and to each other in His Cross and Resurrection.  Thus are you launched from this Feast of His Body and Blood, upon the waters of Holy Baptism, aboard the Holy Ark of His Christian Church — to weather the storms of this body and life on earth by His grace alone, through faith in His Word alone, unto the Life everlasting.  For how else shall you believe in Him, pray to Him, or live in Him, except by the preaching and hearing of His Word.

That is likewise the case for the disciples in this Holy Gospel.  They’re in the Boat where Jesus has put them, making their way across the sea according to His Word.  They’re doing what He’s given them to do, in the place where He has called them to be.  And yet, for all that, the way is difficult, exhausting, and stressful.  Indeed, they’ve been out there, hard at it, for most of the night already; and even now, in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning, they’ve still got a long ways to go.

So, then, as you also go about your own callings and stations in life — in your marriage, home, and family — do not be dismayed or despair, though you are tried and tested in various ways.  Not that you’re always where you ought to be and doing what you ought to do!  But even on your best day, it is still the case that life can be very hard.  Your hand is on the tiller, your shoulder to the plow, your nose to the grindstone, but still it may seem that you’re doing no good and going nowhere.

Does it not appear to you and all the world that you are on your own, that Jesus is not with you, even when you’re following the path on which the Lord Himself has set you?  Your own little boat on the water and even the Great Boat of the Church, the Holy Ark of Christendom, are tormented by the waves and tossed about by strong, persistent headwinds.  Your progress is slow and hard, your destination remains distant and elusive.  You’re tired and worn out, maybe ready to give up.

In truth, the Lord has not forgotten about you, not once, not ever, not even for a little while.  Nor has He left you to fend for yourself.  His Word attends you, for one thing, and it remains sure and certain, come hell or high water against you.  He has provided the boat, and He preserves it for you, even as the waves that trouble you uphold the boat, and you in it, through the long dark night.

But there is more to it than all that.  It’s not as though the Lord has just left you with supplies for the journey while He’s gone away and left you alone.  I know that it can feel like that, but not so.  He has gone up to the Father whence He came — in being lifted up as a Sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the Right Hand of God — yet, in all this He does not leave you or forsake you.  For He fills all things and upholds them with His own Flesh and Blood, even as He contains all things and preserves them by His Word and Holy Spirit.

He has gone to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection, not to leave you, but to open up the way for you, and to bring you to His God and Father in Himself, in His own Body, crucified and risen.

He has gone up the mountain to pray as the beloved Son who relies upon His Father in all things; as the true Man who lives by faith and calls on the Name of the Lord; and as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, in order to make intercession for you, and to prepare a place for you within the household and family of God, as a member of His own Body and Bride, the Church, and so also as a son or daughter of His own God and Father in heaven. Just as Moreah becomes Ariksander's wife on this day, and therefore also my daughter, so have you become, by the Word and Spirit of God, a member of the Bride of Christ and a son or daughter of His God and Father.

As the Lord Jesus thus bring you to the Father in Himself, He is no less with you on your journey.  He comes in the flesh and draws near to you in the midst of the chaos and deep darkness of sin and death in this fallen and perishing world.  As the Father spoke His Word to create all things out of nothing, to bring forth Light out of the darkness, and to bring forth Life in His own Image, so does the same Word of the Father come to you in the Ministry of the Gospel in order to save you.  From heaven He has come — and He still comes — to seek you out and love you as His Bride.

He comes by ways and means that are in some respects surprising and perhaps even suspicious, unexpected on the basis of your prior knowledge and past experience, and so incomprehensible.  He plants His footsteps on the sea and comes to you upon the water; and not by the water only, but by the water with His Word and Spirit, and with His holy and precious Blood poured out for you.

Not only that, but He comes to you, cares for you, and serves you through the neighbors He has set beside you in this body and life, in this poor life of labor: Pastors and teachers; brothers and sisters in Christ; pilots and sailors, engineers and auto mechanics; doctors and dentists, nurses and hygienists; and, not least of all, your father and mother, your siblings, and your husband or wife.  So are you surrounded on this day, Ariksander and Moreah, with your family, friends, and fellow Christians, even as the Lord in His mercy, by His Word and Holy Spirit, gives you to each other.

In all of these tangible ways and means of His grace, these agents and masks of His mercy, He is not a ghost, a disembodied spirit, a lost soul wandering the depths in search of peace.  No, He is the very Word of God in the Flesh, by whom, through whom, and for whom all things have been made and exist.  He is the Lord, your Savior and God, who was crucified for your sins, who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever as your Righteousness and Holiness and eternal Life.

Take courage, and do not be afraid.  He is with you in the Flesh, a very present help in every kind of trouble.  He is not here to haunt you, but to deliver you from every evil of body and soul.  He can and will do it.  He is the One who has already passed through the gates of death on your behalf, whose bodily Resurrection is the dawning of the beautiful New Morning of the eternal Eighth Day.

Proceed, then, at His Word.  Continue in the way He sets before you.  Trust and do what He says, even when your reason and all your senses defy and contradict the Truth of His Word.  Honor your parents, love your siblings, cling to your spouse, and care for your children in the faith of Christ.

All of that, of course, is easier said than done.  I get that it’s hard.  If you’re like the disciples, your life in this world is a mixed bag of mixed emotions.  You’re pushed and pulled this way and that, you’re torn between doubt and faith, between the fear of death and the fear of the Lord.  You want to believe, and by God’s grace you do fear, love, and trust in Him.  But God help your unbelief!

Do you not find an example of your own perils and predicaments in Peter?  He tries and tests the Lord, and he begins with such boldness and confidence when he climbs out of the boat onto the wild water, only to sink into doubt and descend into fear.  It’s not the last time, either, that Peter will rush forward only to fail miserably.  Peter the Rock often seems more like a tossing wave!

And are you really any better?  Different, no doubt, in personality and temperament, but no better.  You’re proud when you ought to fear the Lord, and afraid when you ought to be courageous.  You step out in bold confidence, but then you’re easily overcome by the trials and tribulations of life. The first step is the one you believe in, but the second one might be profound.

The plain and simple fact is that you will not make it to Jesus on your own, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned you may be, and no matter how hard you may try.  Take your eyes off Him — in order to look to yourself or to look anywhere else for help — and you’re going to sink.  You cannot save yourself.  To whatever extent your faith in Christ falls short and fails, so will you.

But do not doubt His Word and promises, even when hell and high water assault you on all sides.  No matter how hard things may get, no matter how daunting your obligations and responsibilities may be, and no matter how many the overwhelming obstacles that threaten to capsize your boat, the Word of the Lord remains sure and certain for you within His Church and in your vocations.

It is the Way of the Cross that He has set you upon — by His preaching and Baptism of repentance, and in all your callings and stations in life, whether as husband or wife, married or unmarried, with or without children.  And though it feels like the problem, that Cross is the Lord’s own solution.  By it He brings you through death and the grave into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

It’s not a game that God is playing with you.  It’s not a sadistic maze that you must navigate.  It is the Cross of Christ, which puts you to death in order to save you.  That is why the relentless wind assaults you, and why the wild waves surround you and overwhelm you; for not only must they obey the Lord’s voice, but they are constrained to serve His divine purposes.  Thus do you drown and you die in the depths of the sea, in order to arise and emerge, a new creature in Christ.

That is true with all the joys and sorrows of marriage and family in this fallen and perishing world.  The good and happy times are surely God’s gift of grace; but so are the difficult and sorrowful times, as well.  You pledge yourself to each other, Ariksander and Moreah, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in the confidence that God the Lord has pledged Himself to you in Christ Jesus.  By the way of His Cross, in all the ups and downs of this body and life, your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, cleanses you inside and out with the waters of your Holy Baptism, and He adorns you in the white wedding gown of His own perfect Righteousness.

Now, to be sure, it is not comfortable or pleasant to bear the Cross, to be crucified, put to death, and buried — as you are confronted by your sins, your shortcomings and failures, out there on the waves with the wind whipping your face and tossing you around.  Caught in the heart of the storm, you know that you must die entirely to yourself and to all your own self-reliance.  If you are going to be saved, then you must have a Savior; and there is only One of those, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not suppose that you will ascend into the heavens to bring Him down; nor that you will descend into the depths to raise Him up.  You cannot do it, but neither do you need to.  For this Word of God is near you.  He has drawn near in the Flesh, and He stands upon the waves before you.

So it is that, by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you are taught to cry out for mercy, and to call upon the Name of the Lord.  “Kyrie, eleison!”  “Lord, save me!”

In this respect, St. Peter is a beautiful example for you.  He is brought to the point of doing what Jesus has already and always been doing for you and all His people; that is, he is brought to prayer.  And as Peter prays to the One who ever lives to pray and intercede for him — to his merciful and great High Priest — so does the same Lord Jesus Christ immediately act.  St. Peter’s prayer is heard and answered.  And so is yours.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

The Lord Jesus stretches out His hands to save you.  He takes hold of you and gathers you to Himself in both body and soul.  He preaches repentance and faith, that you not doubt but trust in Him, and He restores you to the Boat of His Church, in which the wind stops: To the Boat which is also His own dearly-beloved Bride, made beautiful by His love for her, by the bestowal of His royal Righteousness upon her through His Word of the Gospel, by which you also have such peace and rest and quietness as this world neither knows nor can give.  Oh, yes, the world still rages all around you, fierce and furious.  But here in the Boat with Jesus and His disciples, you are at peace; and here you are safe, because here your sins are all forgiven by the Word and work of His Gospel.

It is to this Church, and to her life in and with Christ Jesus, that every human marriage points.  Not that any of us gets it just right or achieves it on our own in this body and life, but that the Lord remains forever faithful, ever true.  And so it is that every Christian husband and wife are given to find and receive the life to which they are called within the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus.

Here then, in the Boat, you worship Him, the Son of God — in His Word — and in His Body of flesh and blood like your own, given into death upon the Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins, and given to you here to eat and drink for the bestowal of that forgiveness, for Life and Salvation with Him in both your body and your soul forevermore.  He is no ghost but the true Man who has become your true Husband, and you a member of His beloved Bride.  You hear and you receive His Word; you believe and you confess what He has spoken; you eat and drink His Body and His Blood; you worship and bow down before the Lord, your Maker.  And by His grace you are saved.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

26 July 2020

A Fish Story: Caught in the Net of Christ's Gospel

The Lord Jesus Christ, that expert Fisherman, has caught you in His Net, and He has brought you aboard His Boat, His Holy Church.  He has made you a member of His Household.  And here within His House, as a good and faithful Scribe, He teaches you all about the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is by the catechesis of His Word, and by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, that He has made you a disciple of His Kingdom, a fish in His Net.  So, what kind of fish are you?

When it comes to the sorting of the fish at the close of the age, will you be among the righteous who are gathered in, or among the wicked who are thrown out?

If you would know and understand these Mysteries of the Kingdom, hear and heed the catechesis of Christ Jesus.  You are to be holy, as He is holy.  You are to be perfect, as He is perfect.  You are to be righteous, as He is righteous.  And you are to have no other gods besides Him.

Search for Him diligently.  Seek for Him always.  And when you have found Him, let go and leave behind everything else.  Let go of all the treasures that you would otherwise cling to and depend upon, in order that Christ may be and remain your true and only Treasure on earth and in heaven.

Love Him most.  Love Him best.  Let Him be the priceless Treasure for which you willingly give up everything else.  Let Him be the one great Pearl on which you fix your single-minded devotion.

Put away all the other gods (the idols) that occupy your heart, mind, body, and life.  Put away all the other gods from your thinking, from your speaking, and from the way that you act.  In short, do not allow anything to deter you or distract you from Christ Jesus.  And do not allow anything or anyone to compete with Him for your time and attention, for your energy and your affection.

Favor the Lord Jesus Christ above even your own home and family, indeed, more than even your own life.  Rather serve your home and family with Christ Jesus.  Take care of them with His Word.  Do not neglect the catechesis of those whom the Lord has placed under your care and supervision.

In particular, if you are a father, you are the head of your household and family, and the burden of responsibility for your wife and children falls especially on you.  God has commanded you to teach them His Word, to pray with them, to bring them to church, and to see to it that they are kept safe and secure within the Net of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  Do that, in order that they may live.

If there is any treasure in your life other than Christ, be done with it, and get rid of it.  If there is anything that you value more than Him — anything that consumes you at the expense of His Word — Repent, and put all of that away from you, lest you be put out and cast away from Him forever.

What are those things in your life?  Or who is it that you love and honor more than Jesus Christ?

What’s your price?  If it’s not thirty pieces of silver, what does it take to buy you off?  What does it take — how much, or how little — to turn you away from Christ and the hearing of His Word?

The truth of the matter is that, even if you were able to gain the entire world, if you let go of Jesus, then you have let go of everything.  You have lost everything.  And you, yourself, will be lost.

Again, what kind of fish are you?  When that great Net is finally dragged to shore and all the fish are sorted, will you be gathered with the righteous or thrown out with the wicked into eternal fire?

You have no righteousness of your own.  By your inheritance from Adam, there is nothing but sin and death in your heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.  You are, as you have confessed, sinful and unclean.  You have fallen far short of the glory of God, and you have gone astray from His Law in all your thoughts, words, and actions — by what you have done wrong, and by the good that you have left undone.  Your faith and your love are not what they should be.

What hope, then, do you have?  How shall you ever see or ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

Well, understand that the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing like you.  The Kingdom of Heaven is not like your life on earth.  The Kingdom of Heaven does not look like all your striving after stuff.

But the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in that Man who has found you — who has sought you out and found you hidden in the world, a sinner among sinners — that Man who has given everything, even Himself, in order to redeem you, to purchase and win you for Himself forevermore.

You are His treasure.  You are His pearl of great price.  Not because of any merit or worthiness, strength or impressiveness in you, but solely for the sake of His divine and holy Love.  It is for the sake of His Love that He has done this.  And it is on account of the price that He has paid for you — when you were worth nothing — that you are of such exceedingly great and precious value.

It was in His Love for you, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, that He came down from His Father in heaven, and sought you out, and found you, in order to save you and to bring you with Himself into the Kingdom of Heaven, to the bosom of His God and Father.

It is with great joy that He has purchased you for Himself, ransomed and redeemed you, and paid for you — lost and condemned person though you were — not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious Blood and by His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own.

He delights in you.  He truly does.  He takes great joy in you.  You are His greatest pleasure, you are His dearest treasure.  For He has sought you out and paid the dowry of His own Body and Life, that you should be a member of His beloved and beautiful Bride, His Holy Christian Church.

And it is in His great joy and delight over you — for the sake of His Love, for the sake of His Beloved Bride — even for you who are His treasure and His pearl of great price — it is for all this that He has bought the entire Field.  He has purchased and redeemed the whole wide world.

So, if you’re in the field, if you’re part of the world, Jesus has paid for you, and you belong to Him.

All this He has done because He loves you.  There is nothing in heaven or on earth more sure and certain than that.  When everything else has passed away, this Truth remains: That for your sake, Jesus has given Himself and paid for you with His own life; and not only you, but the entire world.

So it is that He causes His Gospel to be preached, even to the ends of the earth.  He sends out His Apostles to preach, to catechize, to baptize, to absolve, and to commune disciples from all nations.  In St. Mark, as I have often pointed out, He sends them out to preach the Gospel to all creation.

And it is by that great Dragnet of the Gospel that He has called you by name, and He has caught you into His warm and wide embrace, as surely as He has gone fishing for you by His preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  That is how He’s taken you in hand.

He surely has not tricked you.  He does not lie to you.  Take it to heart that you are not in His Net by any mistake.  You are not in His Net by accident.  He knows right where you are.  He has called you to Himself because, in love, He desired to make you His own — and His Gospel makes it so.

The One who has called you is faithful and sincere.  By His Blood, your sins are forgiven.  All of them.  Every last one.  He is not ignorant or naive, but in mercy He has forgiven you everything.

As Christ and His Holy Spirit have called you by the Gospel, so has He justified you with His own Righteousness — just as He is righteous.  You will not be thrown out with the wicked, though that is what you deserve.  Instead, you are gathered into the Kingdom of Heaven with Christ Jesus because, by His grace, through faith in His forgiveness of sins, you are righteous and holy in Him.

It is by and with that Gospel of His that He adorns you beautifully, and He glorifies you with His own Glory.  As often as He preaches to you, as often as He feeds you with Himself, His Body and His Blood, so are you among His many brethren, abiding with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.

He is the Head of His Household and Family, and as a good and faithful Head of His Bride and all the children of God, He takes care of you by and with His Word.  So, then, you are the sort of fish that Jesus is, because by His Gospel He has declared you to be righteous and holy and perfect, as He Himself is righteous and holy and perfect.  He is in the Field with you, in the Net, and in the Boat — He is here on the Altar in His House — in the Ciborium and Chalice, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins — that you should be with Him in His Kingdom forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.