15 October 2017

Like a Bride Made Ready for Her Husband

Everything is done for the sake of the beloved Son.  Everything is done for Him.  It is in the Name of Jesus, and for His sake, that the Father loves the Bride, and for the sake of Jesus that He rejoices over her with lavish generosity and gracious hospitality.  The Father loves the Bride because she is the Bride of His beloved Son.  He loves her as He loves Him — with divine, eternal Love.

It is the Bridegroom who speaks this Parable and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven within it.  And He is at the heart and center of it all, not only as the Author of the story, but the Author and Giver of Life by His Word of the Gospel, by the gift of His Holy Spirit through His forgiveness of sins.

The whole story is about this Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  The Feast is held in His honor.  And yet, He is the One who has been sacrificed in order to become the Feast.  He is the One who has been slaughtered, so that you might eat and drink, cleansed and forgiven.  He feeds His guests from His own hand, as the Waiter, for He is among you as the One who serves.  And what He sets before you is nothing else and nothing less than Himself, His own holy Body and His precious Blood.

Indeed, the invitation and the call that you have received to this Wedding Feast are actually a marriage proposal.  You are called, that is, not simply to be a guest of the Bride and Groom, but to be a member of the bridal party and, what is more, to be a member of the Bride herself, the holy Church.  For the call and invitation are a betrothal, that you be wed to Christ, the beloved Son.

Take to heart, therefore, the seriousness, the importance and significance of this call and invitation.  The King would have you be united to His Son, joined to Him, as one flesh and blood with Him, both now and forever, so that even death is never able to part you from Him.  The Father would have you married to His Son, and He would love you in Him as a dear and delightful daughter.

So it is that, from heaven Christ came and sought you out — to call you to Himself, to make of you His Bride by the washing of the water with His Word.  In your Holy Baptism, He has cleansed you, and He has clothed you in His own righteousness.  He has made you ready for Himself, as a Bride for her Husband.  He has dressed you for the Wedding and for the Wedding Feast.  You are gloriously adorned, and there is no spot in you; there is no wrinkle; there is no blemish; there is no flaw.  There is nothing to be seen but the beauty with which Christ has made you beautiful.

And now, made ready, you are called to partake of the Feast.  To rejoice and celebrate with Christ, your Groom, your Husband and your Head.  To eat and to drink the Meal that He sets before you, the Meat and Drink indeed, which He has prepared by His sacrificial death upon the Cross.

“It is finished,” He has spoken from that Cross.  There’s nothing more to be done that He has not done.  His Feast is ready.  Everything is ready.  So, come and eat.  Already here and now, His great Feast is set before you in the Holy Communion.  You are called to celebrate and rejoice by eating and drinking this Food and this Drink, and thus to abide in Christ, and He in you, in the Kingdom of His God and Father — already manifested here under the Cross within His Church on earth.

The Feast in question is not simply a metaphor.  It is not simply a picture of something yet to come.  It is already here and now in the Lord’s Supper.  The Sacrament really is that central and important to the Christian faith and life.  This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  More than that, this is the Kingdom of Heaven, which is here with you on earth in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

The Lord’s Supper is not simply a means to some other end.  It’s not play-acting in remembrance of what happened a long time ago.  Nor is it some dreamlike anticipation of some sweet by-and-by yet to come.  But here you actually taste the Feast that goes on forever in the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, do not despise His Feast.  Do not reject His gracious invitation.

On the one hand, you despise His Feast when you are unwilling to come, when you engage in other activities while turning your back on that which Christ the Lord has set before you; when you treat the things of this world as a higher priority than the things of Christ Jesus, the things of heaven.

On the other hand, you also despise His Feast when you presume to come dressed in your own attire; when you refuse the hospitality of your Host by refusing to wear the garment He provides.

So do not come trusting in yourself, nor in any human might or merit.  But fix your eyes upon the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, by fixing your ears upon His Word of the Gospel.  Rely upon Him, and come to the Feast.  Wear the clothing with which He has clothed you in your Baptism, that is, the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of Christ Himself, which now cover you in His peace.

To wear those garments of salvation is to live by faith in Christ and His forgiveness, clinging to His Word and trusting His Gospel.  It is to come, knowing that you are not worthy of yourself to eat and drink this Meal, but that Christ has made you worthy, that He has called you to Himself, and that He has wed you to Himself.  Come to the Feast believing that.  Here there are only the free gifts of God, and for your part there is only thanksgiving.  There is nothing else you can give to Him who gives you everything by grace, except to return thanks through Jesus Christ your Lord.

It is for this reason that one of the primary names which the Church has given to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is “Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving.  What else do you have to bring?  But clinging to the Cross, you simply give thanks for the free gifts of God in Christ Jesus.

That is what characterizes the Kingdom of Heaven: Thanksgiving and rejoicing, praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has done everything for you, who gives everything to you, and who withholds no good thing from you.  You, then, give thanks to Him.  That is what faith does, as surely as it hears and believes what God says and gladly receives what He freely bestows in the Gospel.  Rejoice, give thanks, and sing to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

Rejoice in what is good and right and true.  Be gentle of heart.  Be honorable in all of your actions.  Be pure and chaste in all of your thoughts, in your words, and in your deeds.  And do whatever you are given to do with excellence, as the Lord so enables and provides; not as though you were competing, but to the glory of your God and Father and to the praise of your heavenly Bridegroom.

Trust His grace and favor.  And living by His grace through faith in His Gospel, be at peace as you go about your days in this world.  So far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.  If you are hurt, bear it in Christ, in patience, forgiveness, and love.  Be content and confident in what the Lord has done and said and given to you; do not be anxious or worried about anything.

Remember that Christ has clothed you with His righteousness.  He has dressed you in the robes of salvation.  He’s got you decked out in better than your Sunday best.  That’s true day and night, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you happen to be wearing.  You are clothed by and with and in Christ.  How then shall you live in relation to your neighbors in the world?

Glorify the Holy Name of Christ by confessing His Name, not only in what you say, but also in how you act, in how you live your life within the world.

Do not clothe yourself again in death.  That is the garment that was spread over all the nations by the fall into sin, the pall of death that covers the entire world apart from Christ.  Do not clothe yourself in that legacy of fallen Adam, but be clothed by Christ Jesus with His Life and Salvation.  Be clothed by Him in wedding garments fit for the Feast of a King.

Okay, but what does that mean?

This Parable is troubling in its conclusion.  Just when you think that you’re finally sitting down to eat, the King comes in, and He scans His guests, and there He sees a man not wearing wedding garments.  He says to him, “How did you get in here, friend, not wearing wedding garments?”  And the man is speechless.  He has nothing to say for himself.  So, what does this mean for you?

How shall you know that, coming to the Feast, you will not be spotted for the sinner that you are, and thrown into the outer darkness of death and damnation, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?  With what worthiness do you dare to come and recline at the Table of the Lord?

The conclusion of this Parable is frightening, if it is heard apart from faith in the Gospel.  But that is precisely the point and the problem at hand in the case of this man without a wedding garment.  He has approached the Feast apart from faith in the Gospel.  He has presumed to dress himself, instead of receiving and relying on the hospitality of the King in the righteousness of Christ.

Do not attempt to feed and clothe yourself.  Do not stay away from the Feast in fear that you are not worthy.  And do not try to work and strive and primp in order to dress and adorn yourself, as though you could ever be made worthy by such efforts to sit at this Table and to eat this Feast.

Simply come in this confidence, that you are called to feast upon the One who has given Himself for you in love, and you are dressed in His righteousness from the waters of your Holy Baptism.  That is where you have received the wedding garment.  It has already been given to you.  It is already yours.  You have already been dressed by the hands of the One who loves you.

And here your heavenly Bridegroom cares for you as His Bride, His beloved Church.  He clothes you, and He feeds you in His love for you, in His faithfulness and mercy, in His steadfast loving-kindness and tender affection for you, whom He has sought and called to be His own.  Humble yourself to receive His good work and His gracious gifts, since He is your Savior and your Head.

His care for you, that is your wedding garment.  Not what you do for yourself, and no amount of preparation on your part, but His gracious, loving care for you — that is your wedding garment.  Wear it well, that is, by faith and love.

Don’t go rolling around in the mud, in the muck and the mire, when your Lord has dressed you in such wedding finery.  But where you have stained the wedding garment with which the Lord has dressed you, don’t take it off; and don’t try to cover yourself with fig leaves or high fashion.  Only return to the waters of your Baptism; not to be baptized again, but to be cleansed by the Blood of Christ, again and again, as often as you fall, through His Absolution, His forgiveness of sins.

And being clothed and fed by Christ — though He and you are despised by the world — clothe and feed your neighbors with the love of God in Christ, even as you daily return to His love in the Gospel.  Pass the serving tray, as it were, with which the Lord Jesus Christ continues to serve you.

In living by faith and with such love for others, you glorify your Bridegroom who has dressed you so beautifully and well, and who cares for you with a passion that never wanes or ceases.

Be content, be confident, and be at peace in Him.  Receive the gifts Christ freely gives, and know that you belong here at His Feast, not simply as a guest, but as His own dearly beloved Bride.  From heaven He came and sought you, and He has called you to Himself; He loves you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Come, then, to the Feast, and rejoice in His great salvation.

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

08 October 2017

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the Church of God, the Kingdom of God on earth.  It is the whole congregation and communion of His people, who are called to be His own, to be holy and perfect like Himself.  He has planted them and provided for them to be a priestly people, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise to the glory of His Name, and serving one another in love.

The wall that He has built around the Vineyard is the Word of His Law, which is the revelation of His good and acceptable will.  Its boundaries and parameters are defined by faith and love.

And the wine press that He dug in the midst of His Vineyard is the holy priesthood, by which He proclaimed and promised the coming of the Christ and administered the means of grace, the sacrifices offered according to His Word, the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood.

The tower He established is the Office of the Prophets and Apostles, who preach repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Christ Jesus, the promised Seed of the Woman, the Son of Mary.

Collectively, these three — the wall, the wine press, and the tower — are the Church and Ministry of that same Lord Jesus Christ, from within which the vinegrowers are entrusted with the care of His Vineyard.  That is a sacred stewardship, and so it is required of the stewards that they be found faithful.  They are held accountable to God for the work that He has given them to do.

The vinegrowers include the scribes and the pharisees, entrusted with the teaching of God’s Word; the chief priests and elders, who oversee the administration of the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the Temple; and the Apostles and Prophets, by whom God establishes and builds His Church.

As God cares for His creation and guards and protects His Church through the ministry of the holy angels, so does He call and send these men to serve and care for His Vineyard.  They are men under authority, and they are given authority for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the forgiveness of sins, by which the Vineyard lives and thrives in His grace, mercy, and peace.

And by His grace, you also are a vine within His Vineyard.  And you are called to bear the fruits of faith and love to the glory of His Name, as you are cultivated and cared for by the Ministry of His Word, by the Law and the Gospel, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

At the same time, you also are entrusted with a portion of the Vineyard, be it big or small.  And there within your portion, in your own place, you are to cultivate and care for it according to His Word, in order to bring forth the fruits of the Lord, the produce of His Vineyard in due season.

That, too, is a sacred responsibility, a sacred trust or stewardship.  And so it is required, also of you, that you be found faithful within your own proper office and station in life, even unto death.

Bear in mind, therefore, that this Parable was not only spoken against the chief priests and elders of the people, against the scribes and pharisees in Jesus’ day.  It is also put to you as a question and a challenge concerning your faithfulness and fruitfulness within the Vineyard of the Lord.

Have you cared for the portion of His Vineyard that He has entrusted to your stewardship?  Have you regarded it as a sacred trust from God?  Your family.  Your job.  Your studies.  Your place in the community.  Your responsibility to those whom God has placed beside you in the world — Have you cultivated those portions of the Vineyard to the glory of God, in faith before Him and in love for your neighbors, according to the Word of the Lord, doing all that He has commanded?

Or have you rather gone about your work, and gone about your days, seeking and striving for your own glory and benefit in selfishness and self-idolatry?  Have you sought to grow fruits, not for the glory of the Lord your God, but for your own pleasure, for your own satisfaction?

As you are not only given authority and responsibility to do what God has called you to do, but have also been placed under authority, have you received the servants of God and submitted to them in His Name, in the humility of repentance and faith?  Are you willing to be instructed and corrected?  Do you repent of your sins, confess them, and seek the Absolution of the Gospel?

Or do you go your own way?  Do you turn a deaf ear, a cold shoulder, and a hard heart toward the Ministry of the Word of God in favor of your own self-righteousness, relying not on the Gospel, not on the grace of God in Christ, not on the preaching of His Word, but on your own powers and abilities, your own cleverness and ingenuity, your own savvy and hard work?

That may seem commendable to the world.  But when you despise and reject the preaching of Christ, when you neglect and abstain from His means of grace, from the Ministry of His Gospel, then you throw the Son of God out of your place in the world and put Him to death to yourself.

So, too, when you exercise your stewardship of God’s gifts and go about your place in life, not according to His Word in faith and love, but to make a name and a fortune for yourself, to satisfy yourself, to serve your own lusts and desires, to feed your own hunger and passions, you despise the Lord your God, the Owner of the Vineyard, and you assert yourself against His beloved Son.

These two paths, they run together, that is to say, the neglect of the Ministry of the Word of God and the living of life for yourself instead of for His glory and your neighbor’s benefit.  They run together, and they will run you to a wretched end.

Make no mistake about it: The Lord will have His Vineyard cared for and cultivated.  And He will bring forth the fruits thereof to the glory of His holy Name.  So just as surely as the unfruitful vines will be removed from the Vineyard, so will the faithless vinegrowers be removed and replaced.

If you do not care for the portion of the Vineyard that God has entrusted to your care, He will take care of it, because it is His own, but you will be removed from that stewardship.

Repent, therefore, and turn away from all unfaithfulness in your thinking, in your words, and in your actions.  Hear and heed the Word of Christ, and live according to His Word.

It is not a lost or hopeless cause.  It is not too late, not yet.  And it is not beyond your grasp.  For the Word of the Lord is near you, echoing even now in your ears, addressing itself to your heart, and calling you to repentance and to faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is not for you to replant the Vineyard or any portion of it.  It is not for you to lay the foundation of the Church or to build the Kingdom of God.  All of that is the Lord’s doing, and it is done.  It is from Him, and it is His good work, by His grace and mercy.  And it is marvelous in our eyes!

Thus are you called simply to live and to grow wherever the Lord has planted you; and to care for your neighbor, within your portion of the Lord’s Vineyard, with the means provided by the Lord.

For whatever task it is that He has given you to do, whatever He has called you to do, whatever stewardship He has entrusted to you, He has also provided the necessary means to carry it out.  So that you are able to be the husband and the father that God has called you to be.  You are able to be the wife and the mother that God has called you to be.  You are able to be the son or the daughter, the brother or sister, the friend, and the neighbor that God has called you to be.

In Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in Him, you are all that God has called you to be.

Indeed, the Lord provides for His entire Vineyard, so that it grows and thrives, it is fruitful and multiplies and fills the earth.  For the same Stone which the builders rejected — Jesus Christ, the Crucified — He has become the Chief Cornerstone on which the entire Church and the Kingdom of God are established, and upon which they rest and remain, safe and secure, now and forever.

He is likewise the sure foundation of your place within His Kingdom, and of your work and service in that place.  For He is the life and health, the vitality and vigor of His entire Vineyard.

His death on the Cross and the shedding of His blood have atoned for all the sins and failings of the Vineyard from the failure and fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden, even to the close of the age.

Whatever has been missing, whatever has been lacking, whatever has been wrong, His Blood has cleansed, and His death and Resurrection have set right.  Not only as payment for sin; not only as Atonement and Propitiation; but also, in offering Himself unto His God and Father in perfect faith and holy love, His own Body of flesh and blood has become the First Fruits of the Vineyard, which the Lord brings forth to the glory of His Name in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Everything that Christ has done and accomplished by His Cross is made manifest, and brought to light, and proclaimed to the whole world in His Resurrection from the dead.

So it is that His Cross is now the Wine Press in the midst of the Vineyard, by which and from which He pours out His Blood for the forgiveness of sins, and for life and salvation in Him.

And that same Cross is also the very Tree of Life in the midst of a new and better Garden — the Vine of Life, if you prefer — from which He feeds the whole world with the Fruits of that true Vine, which are His holy Body given for you and His holy, precious Blood poured out for you.

You have been grafted, body and soul, into that true Vine; you are grafted into His side.  Taken as a wild vine, growing and producing nothing but wild, worthless grapes, you have been grafted into the true Vine, Jesus Christ, into His crucified and risen Body.  That is among the many good things that God has done for you in your Holy Baptism.  By water and His Word, He inserted you into the riven side of Christ — He planted you in Him — so that you now live and abide in Him.

Thus do you have life in Him, newness of life in Christ.  And He is fruitful in you.  He truly is.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, in your heart, mind, and body.  And He bears good fruits in you, after His own kind, that is to say, the fruits of His own Cross and Resurrection.

You are nourished and sustained, as a branch of this one true Vine, by the Word and Spirit of one and the same Lord Jesus Christ.  By the preaching of His Gospel for the forgiveness of all your sins.  By the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

Apart from Him, you can do nothing.  But  you are not apart from Him!  For He has called you and gathered you to Himself.  He has united you to Himself, and He has bound Himself to you.  He cultivates and cares for you here within His Church, in order to preserve you, alive and well, within His Vineyard.  And He goes with you from here — with His Word in your ears, in your heart, and in your mouth, and with His Body and His Blood in your body, animating your flesh and blood.

As you go back to your job, as you go back home to your family, as you love and serve your wife, as you love and serve your husband, as you honor your father and mother, as you love and care for your children, and as you tend to the needs of your neighbors, Christ goes with you all the way.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and of St. Mary, has accomplished and fulfilled everything that God intended for His Vineyard.  He has become the great and merciful High Priest of His priestly people.  He has rendered Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all sins, and so also as the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, as the Eucharist, for the communion of His Church with God.

Far from the wrecking of His plans and purposes, His Cross and Passion, His Crucifixion, and His death have been the full realization of His Glory and His Grace as the true God in the flesh.  For in this way He has saved the world and reconciled the world to His own God and Father in heaven.

In His fruitfulness of faith and love, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, not only are you fruitful within your own vocation, but you are actually among those good fruits that Christ Jesus bears and produces and offers to His Father.  He bears you to His God and Father, and you are received as a dearly beloved and well pleasing child of God in Him, unto the life everlasting.

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

07 October 2017

15 x 15 Favorite Acts and Artists of All Time (for now) Across Genres

One of my Facebook friends recently tagged me on a music list meme, in which I was supposed to list my top twenty favorite artists/bands of all time. That was a pleasant distraction from the cares and occupations of this old world, so full of disappointments, discouragements, violence, and strife. It was also a challenge, not only to limit my list to just twenty (!) artists, but also to compare the artists I most enjoy across a diversity of genres. Doesn't seem quite fair, really. So, it got me to thinking about my favorite artists according to the various kinds of music they make. Here follows the results of that thinking: My fifteen favorite acts and artists across fifteen different musical categories, listed roughly in order of preference within each category. I am well aware that others may quibble, not only with my tastes, but also with my categorizations. But isn't it great to live in a free country!? 😎


Modern Country

Tim McGraw
Kenny Chesney
Big & Rich
Darius Rucker
Jason Aldean
Sugarland
Carrie Underwood
Rodney Atkins
Billy Currington
Toby Keith
Blake Shelton
Lady Antebellum
Rascal Flatts
Eli Young Band
Dierks Bentley


More Traditional Country

Zac Brown Band
Sturgill Simpson
Eric Church
Miranda Lambert
Johnny Cash
Brandy Clark
Trace Adkins
George Strait
Brooks & Dunn
Montgomery Gentry
Allison Moorer
David Nail
Gary Allan
Casey Donahew
Alan Jackson


Folk & Americana

Parker Millsap
The Avett Brothers
Simon & Garfunkel / Paul Simon
The Decemberists
Lori McKenna
Bob Dylan
The Honeycutters
Passenger
The Secret Sisters
Mumford & Sons
American Aquarium / BJ Barham
Alison Krauss
Amanda Shires
Amos Lee
James Taylor


Pop

Mat Kearney
Five For Fighting
Gavin DeGraw
ABBA
Michael Jackson
Taylor Swift
Jason Mraz
John Mayer
Dawes
Ingrid Michaelson
Uncle Kracker
Sheryl Crow
Colbie Caillat
Grace Potter
Dan Fogelberg


Alternative Pop

Train
Matchbox Twenty
Ed Sheeran
Imagine Dragons
The Fray
Plain White T’s
Switchfoot
Bowling for Soup
The Clarks
The Script
Weird Al Yankovic
Sister Hazel
Augustana
Barenaked Ladies
OneRepublic


Pop Rock

Elton John
Electric Light Orchestra
Billy Joel
Rick Springfield
Rod Stewart
Fleetwood Mac
Don Henley
REO Speedwagon
Hall & Oates
Paul McCartney
Jackson Browne
Asia
Journey
Huey Lewis
The Doobie Brothers


Heartland Rock

John Cougar Mellencamp
Will Hoge
Kid Rock
.38 Special
Green River Ordinance
Jason Isbell
Bryan Adams
Bob Seger
Sammy Hagar
Tom Petty
ZZ Top
Jimmy Barnes
Gaslight Anthem / Brian Fallon
Kenny Loggins
Bruce Springsteen


Classic Rock

Led Zeppelin
Queen
The Beatles
The Eagles
Black Country Communion
Styx
Heart
Rival Sons
Whitesnake
Rainbow
Deep Purple
Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Doors
The Kinks
Cream


Rock

Black Stone Cherry
Bon Jovi
Daughtry
Foreigner
Pat Benatar
Night Ranger
Boston
Creed
Black Star Riders
Thunder
Tesla
KISS
Joan Jett
Europe
Loverboy


Modern Rock

Shinedown
Alter Bridge
3 Doors Down
Three Days Grace
Ten
Jorn
House of Lords
Eclipse
Smash Into Pieces
Like a Storm
The Winery Dogs
Pretty Maids
Audioslave
Chevelle
Trapt


Hard Rock

Ozzy Osbourne
Def Leppard
Scorpions
Volbeat
Van Halen
Guns ‘n’ Roses
Dio
AC/DC
Saxon
Cinderella
Dokken
Velvet Revolver
Gotthard
W.A.S.P.
Harem Scarem


Heavy Metal

Judas Priest
Black Sabbath
Megadeth
Iron Maiden
All That Remains
Metallica
Firewind
Dragonforce
Black Veil Brides
Stryper
Primal Fear
Disturbed
Iced Earth
Accept
HammerFall


Progressive Rock & Metal

Theocracy
Dream Theater
Amaranthe
Sabaton
Avenged Sevenfold
Apocalyptica
Redemption
Queensryche
Xandria
Sonata Arctica
Delain
Within Temptation
Serenity
Avantasia
Insomnium


Alternative Rock

Hootie & The Blowfish
U2
Good Charlotte
Linkin Park
Fall Out Boy
Breaking Benjamin
Need-to-Breathe
INXS
R.E.M.
Counting Crows
Everclear
Kings of Leon
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Dommin
Goo Goo Dolls


Guitarists

Slash
Joe Satriani
Mark Tremonti
Paul Gilbert
Joe Bonamassa
Brad Paisley
Gus G
Zakk Wylde
Keith Urban
John 5
Marty Friedman
Eric Clapton
Yngwie Malmsteen
George Lynch
Jeff Beck

29 September 2017

Though Devils All the World Should Fill

Woe to you who live on earth, in the midst of sin and death and the devil’s great wrath.  Be on your guard, constantly vigilant, sober and watchful.

Satan is a fierce foe, and he hates you with a vengeance.  He does not rest in his attacks against you, but day and night he is plotting to entice and deceive you; and at the same time he is always accusing you of your sins.  He mocks you with guilt and shame, whether real or imagined; and he threatens you with death and damnation, even with the condemnation of God’s Law.

Pray, therefore, at all times and without ceasing.

Do not rely upon your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but humble yourself before God.  Repent of your sins, and seek the Lord where He may be found in His grace and mercy and forgiveness.

And even so, even now, take courage and stand upright.

For here there is One who helps you, who is mightier than sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Here there is Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, who has become the true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that He is your Brother in the flesh.  He is your Savior.

This Lord Jesus Christ, true God and Man, has conquered in the fight.  Not by the raw power of His Law, which would also destroy you along with your enemies, but by the Holy Spirit of God, by perfect faith and love in His own flesh and blood, by His own Cross and Resurrection.

He has robbed the devil of his threatening might and fearsome power.  He has stripped the devil of his teeth, and ripped off all the bars and doors from the devil’s prison house of fear and death.

The devil is done for, because the Cross of Christ has satisfied the Law and perfectly fulfilled it, meeting all its demands and removing all its threats.  The Lord Himself has made propitiation and atonement for all sins, including yours; He has reconciled you and all the world to God the Father.

With what, then, shall Satan accuse or condemn you?  And what threat or fear of death shall the devil hold over your head?  For Christ Jesus has trodden death and hell under His feet, and  in His Resurrection He has opened the grave and opened heaven to you and all the baptized.

The Lord your God in His own flesh, the Son of Man, has accomplished this victory for all men and women, all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  By the way and means of this victory, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He has saved you.  He has given you His Name and Himself, with His whole life and His salvation, in Holy Baptism and through the whole Ministry of the Gospel.

Even more relentless than Satan accuses, the Lord Jesus Christ never ceases to speak forgiveness and peace.  So long as the heavens and the earth remain, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, He preaches His Gospel and thereby takes away the sins of the world.  So it is that Satan is cast out and thrown down, not only out of heaven, but also from your conscience.

It is for this purpose that the Lord has so ordained and constituted the ministry of men and angels, unto the life and salvation of all who are called by His Name.

Thus are you, dear child of God, dear “little one” of Jesus, guarded and guided by the Word of the Lord that is preached to you.  His Word is a lamp to your feet and a light upon your path, so that you know the way of faith and love, and by His grace you live in safety and in peace.

The Law of the Lord curbs you from your wickedness, in order to protect you from the devil’s treachery and deceit.  And even as the Law exposes your sin and calls you to account, the Lord is thereby directing you to the Cross of Christ, and to His sweet and salutary Word of the Gospel.

As often as you stumble and fall, that Gospel lays the gentle hand of Christ upon you and raises you up in His Resurrection with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  That is the special authority with which He has called and sent your pastors, His messengers of the Word, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name; that you not die but live.

As surely as you are baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, so does He also nurture your body and soul and preserve your faith and life in Him — by the preaching of His Word, and by nourishing you in the wilderness with the spiritual Food and Drink of His Body and His Blood.

By that Ministry of His Gospel, just as surely as He named you with His Name in Holy Baptism, so has He written your name with His own blood in the Lord’s Book of Life.  For as you share His Baptism, and as you receive His forgiveness of your sins, His Resurrection is also your resurrection from the dead, and He Himself is forever and always your life and your salvation.

It is for this reason that His holy angels surround you, to guard you and protect you in both body and soul, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting.  For they see in you — what you often fail to see in yourself and in your neighbor — they behold in you Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, His Name, His flesh and blood.  As a member of His Body and Bride, they love and care for you.

The angels are not given the highest honor of preaching the Gospel to you; for that is done by men of flesh and blood, like that of Christ Himself, who is not an angel but is both God and man.  But the angels do guard and protect you for the sake of that Holy Gospel.

The angels preserve your life, in order that you may hear and confess the Word of the Gospel, so that both you and your neighbor may live, in both body and soul, both now and forever.

Of course, the devil doesn’t fight fair.  He is a liar and a murderer, by night as by day.  And he is crafty, with a serpent’s body that slithers this way and that and strikes in the blink of an eye.  By hook and by crook he attacks you on the left and on the right.  He tempts you into sins of all kinds, and then he quickly points the finger at you and vehemently accuses you.  He assaults your heart and mind with distractions and enticements; with fears and trepidations; with pride at one moment, despair at the next; with envy and jealousy; with guilt and shame.

And when he cannot shake your hope and confidence within, the devil levels all his wrath and hatred against your frail flesh, against your household, family, and friends.

With his lying and murdering day and night, the devil lets you have no peace within or without.

But do not be afraid.  The armies of the Lord who loves you surround you.  And because they always behold the face of your own dear Father in heaven, they are more fierce and determined in their protection than even Satan in his wrath.

Nothing will by any means injure you.  That is the Lord’s promise.

But how can that be so?  Given that you bear the Cross — that you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus — how shall you not be injured, even to the point of death?  For you are frail flesh and blood.  You are but mortal.  You get sick; you get hurt; you suffer and die.

What is more, you are in fact, as you confess, a poor, miserable sinner.  You surely deserve nothing but punishment.  Does the devil not have a point in accusing and condemning you?

But, no, you are in Christ, and He abides in you and with you and for you.  There is therefore no condemnation that shall stand against you.  There is no punishment or death that shall injure you.

The One with all authority in heaven and on earth, who could destroy your soul and body in hell, has named you with the Name of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and He has declared that you are well-pleasing in His sight.  He judges you righteous, and He gives to you all good things.

If you are crucified and put to death by the Cross of Christ, it is also by and from His Cross that He daily and richly forgives you all your sins.  And it is from the same Cross that He also feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  And it is by His Cross that He brings you through death into life with God in His own Resurrection and Ascension, through His suffering into His glory.

For it is by His Cross that the dragon, that old serpent who is called the devil and Satan, is even now and forever conquered and crushed under the heal of Christ, the Son of Man, your Savior.

If you and your body and life are marked by the Sign of that Cross, so do you also bear the Name of Christ, and His Spirit, and His Body and His Blood.  By these means you overcome.  Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour you, yet you are kept safe and sound in Christ.

The Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you and has given Himself for you — He sees to it that none of the treasures of His Kingdom shall be taken from you.  Nor shall you be snatched out of His hand.

Indeed, the same Lord sends His men to preach and administer His Gospel to you, and His holy angels to guard you round about.

Rejoice, therefore, and bless the Lord.  All that is within you, give thanks and bless His holy Name.  For as He feeds you here and now with His own Body, so shall He awaken your body from the dust of the earth and raise you unto life everlasting in the never-ending Feast of His Kingdom.  And as you worship Him and sing with saints and angels here at His Altar on earth, so shall you continue to worship and sing with all the company of the blessed in heaven forever and ever.

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

24 September 2017

Living and Working by the Mercies of God in Christ

“St. John the Baptist came preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  So the professor began, preaching in the seminary chapel.  “And whereas the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners received and responded to his word and submitted to his Baptism, the scribes and pharisees grumbled and complained, questioned his authority, and criticized St. John with smug, self-righteous arrogance.”  Then the preacher posed a question to all of us wide-eyed seminary students: “If you had lived back then, to which of those two groups would you have belonged?”

At which point, one of my classmates, sitting next to me in the pew, leaned over and whispered a rather humbling observation to me.  “Let’s be honest,” he said.  “We’re all out here thinking that, if we had lived back then, we would have been St. John the Baptist!”

Well, I fear the same sort of temptation has presented itself this morning.  We hear the Parable of the workers in the Vineyard, and we dutifully begin to apply the Law to ourselves:

“How are we like those first workers who were hired early in the morning?  And where, then, have we acted with contempt toward those later workers in the Vineyard?”

Maybe you’re already considering some pretty good answers to those painful, probing questions.  And to be sure, you should examine yourself and repent of any arrogance against your neighbor.

But lest you get ahead of yourself, take note that the position of those early workers has already been taken; and it isn’t you.  To begin with, St. Matthew has previously identified Simon Peter as the first among those who are sent.  Then again, among those born of women, there is no one greater that St. John the Baptist.  Yet, long before him, there was Moses, who was faithful in all God’s House as a servant.  And if it so happens that you are persecuted for the Name of Christ, well, so were the Prophets persecuted long before you were ever standing idle in the marketplace.

The fact is that even St. Paul describes himself as one born late, and as the least of the Apostles.  But which of you would compare your work, your burdens, or your sufferings with St. Paul’s?

So don’t be too quick to offer your patience and your pity to those eleventh hour workers; at least not as though you had worked all day in the heat of the sun.  Do not presume that you have carried the cross, drained the cup, or suffered the Baptism of Christ with Peter, James, and John just yet.

Or maybe you are tempted, not so much to look down on the work and service of your neighbor, but to bemoan how little you have done and contributed, and to suppose that your place and your purpose in the Vineyard of the Lord is of little value or significance.  But that is yet to measure and evaluate the Kingdom of Heaven with the economics of the world and not by the Word of Christ.

It is a challenge to us poor sinners, mortal and perishing as we are, to deal rightly with differences in strength and skill, with apparent inequities in possessions and opportunities.  The fact that your stewardship, your duties and responsibilities are more or less than those of your neighbor seems unfair, because your sinful heart, mind, and spirit are wired to compare and contrast, to compete, and to jockey for position.  Your fallen flesh is covetous and selfish, greedy and self-serving.

Not even the Apostles were immune to such temptations of prideful comparison and competition among themselves, even though Jesus taught them otherwise.  Peter has just asked, for example, in the verses immediately prior to this Parable, what reward the disciples will be given, since they have given up everything to follow Jesus.  And right after the Parable, James and John will ask to be given the places of honor at the right and the left hand of Jesus in the glory of His Kingdom; which the other ten disciples resent.  All of this despite what the Lord has taught them concerning the childlike greatness that belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is characterized by humility, need, and dependence on the Lord — and not by strength and power, hard work, or productivity.

So it is, also, in the case of this Parable at hand.  The Kingdom of Heaven is presented in striking contrast to the wisdom, criteria, expectations, sensibilities, and strategies of this workaday world.

Our human inclination, of course, is to focus on the workers and the difference in the number of hours they worked.  But far more important than any of those workers is the Master of the House.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is not like the workers, but like this Man, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  It is for His sake that any and all of the workers are hired and sent to the Vineyard of His Church.  And it is according to His grace and mercy that any and all of them receive their pay.

The denarius that each of the workers receive at sundown was roughly a typical day’s wage, and it was more or less what was needed to survive and to provide for a home and family.  It was, in short, their daily bread, which God provides according to His gracious generosity, even without our prayer.  Indeed, He gives sunshine and rain to all people.  He feeds both the evil and the good.

And while it is true that, if anyone will not work, let him not eat, it is also the case that your daily bread is not what you deserve, but what you receive by grace alone from the open hand of God.

That is the paradox in this Master’s pay, which you also receive.  No matter how hard or long you work and sweat, it is still a wage you cannot earn.  After all, what you actually deserve on account of your sins is nothing else than temporal and eternal punishment.  But the Lord has called you to work within your own particular office and station in life, and you will receive your wages, because the Master of the House has chosen you and has promised to do what is good and right.

It is, in fact, the way of the Lord to provide for the needs of the entire community of His people, for each and all of them, even though He has gifted each of them differently in a variety of ways.

In the Old Testament Exodus, when the Lord provided the Manna from heaven each day of the week, those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little did not have too little.  St. Paul interprets this for the Corinthians: Those who had more than they needed shared what was extra with those who had less than they needed.  So were the Corinthians asked to share their present abundance with the saints in Judea who were in the midst of a famine at that time.  And so do you have the opportunity, now, to share the much that God has entrusted to your care with those who are suffering want in various parts of our country and around the world.

As you know, that is how the earliest Christians lived, according to the Acts of the Apostles.  They had all things in common.  Those who had plenty provided for those who had not.  Those who were strong supported the weak.  Those who were young and able worked long and hard to care for the widows and orphans in distress, for the elderly and the little ones, as each one had need.

So does the Lord take care of His people.  He provides daily bread alike for one and all, though some of them work many long hours, as they can, while others are unable to do so.

In much the same way — according to His grace and mercy, because He is good — He has chosen to make you equal to His Prophets and Apostles who bore the heat and burden of the day.  They were stoned; they were cut to pieces; they were tempted and slain with the sword.  They wandered about in animal skins, destitute, afflicted, and tormented — of whom this world was not worthy.  But to you, as well, so late in the day, He has given a job to do and promised to do right by you.

Use whatever time you have, therefore, to do what you are given to do within the Vineyard of the Lord, to cultivate and care for your own little corner of His Garden.  Use whatever gifts and opportunities He provides to exercise your stewardship of His things.

You know how to discern your task, and who it is for whom you labor.  Simply consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments, and you will know what the Lord wills you to do.  Where you have failed and fallen short, where you have done wrong instead of right, repent.  Confess your sins and be forgiven.  And bear the fruits of faith and love within your own place in the Vineyard, for as long as you have the chance, until that night comes when no one can work.

Work for now, in this body and life, in the confidence that the Lord who has called you will also provide you with all that is needed, and that He will reward you for your work according to His righteousness.  Not according to any merit or worthiness in you, but according to His goodness and mercy — according to His gracious generosity — which is to say, for Christ Jesus’ sake.

As little as you can work for the sunshine or rain, far less can you earn the Kingdom of Heaven.  But it is for you as it has been for the Prophets and Apostles, who received their daily bread, their life and salvation, by the goodness of Christ. It is just and righteous pay for everyone, because the Master of the House, the Vineyard Owner’s Son, has borne the burden for us all and received the only wages that you have truly earned and deserved, that is, the wages of your sin, which is death.

In the early morning, He was hauled before Pilate.  And from the third hour until the sixth hour, He suffered in your place upon the Cross, even unto death.  And at the eleventh hour, He was buried in a borrowed tomb, from which He has risen in His own Body unto the Life everlasting.

It is for His sake, and from His Holy Cross, that the Vineyard of His Church receives the Ministry of His workers, even to the close of the age.  For He has paid the wage in full, not with a denarius of gold or silver, but with His holy, precious Blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.

Now, then, do not presume upon the Lord your God, neither with regard to yourself nor with regard to your neighbors in the world.  Do not presume to dictate or demand what the Lord may or may not do with His own things within His Kingdom and according to His Righteousness.

Be cautioned by the example of St. Peter and St. John following the Resurrection of our Lord.  When St. Peter was told that he would glorify God by way of suffering and death, he immediately wondered and asked about St. John and what would happen to him.  The Lord Jesus told him not to worry about that, but simply to follow in the way set before him.  What difference would it make if the Lord chose for St. John to remain until the Judgment?   People were confused by this, and the saying went out that St. John would not die.  But that was not the point.  The point is simply that the Lord may do as He wills with each of His own servants and within His own Kingdom.

Exactly so in the Parable before you.  It is of no consequence to you whether the Lord chooses to give your neighbor more or less than you, whether here in time or hereafter in the Resurrection.  It is of no consequence to you whether your neighbor is called to work more or less than you are.

The point is not that God must deal the same with everyone, but that He deals with you and all within His Kingdom according to His good and gracious will; not according to human standards or criteria of merit, but with His own generosity, for the sake of His own loving-kindness.  And you are called to look to Him, to rely on Him, to love and trust in Him, and to work for Him in the joyful confidence of His righteousness — not in competition or comparison with anyone else.

As for you, then, bear the Cross and follow Christ.  Trust His promises, and live according to your calling.  Use whatever time and stuff the Lord has given you, whatever strength and skill, to love and serve your neighbor.  And know that it is not for nothing or in vain.  The Lord has promised to reward each one according to his works.  Have no fear, therefore.  He will do right by you.  Not what you deserve, but the wealth and riches of the Kingdom that Christ has obtained for you.

At the end of every day, the Lord has taught us to say, “We are unworthy servants; for we have done only what was our duty to do.”  And even on our best day, we have hardly done even that!  “We are beggars, that is true!”  But as a beggar before God, receive with thanksgiving the denarius that He provides for all your needs of body and soul.  And so receive the wages of His goodness: the Fruit of His Vine and the very Body that has borne the entire burden and heat of all your sins.

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

18 September 2017

Bearing the Cross and Following After Christ Jesus

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was finally executed by the Nazis for his opposition to Adolf Hitler.  Among his many writings, he famously wrote, concerning the cost of discipleship, that when Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  And I recently recalled that, years ago, when I made reference to Bonhoeffer and those poignant words of his in a sermon at Emmaus, Bob made a point of telling me afterwards how deeply he was moved by that calling of our Lord to bear the Cross and follow after Him, even unto death.

I was reminded of that occasion on one of my recent visits to Bob and Hilda over these past few weeks, as I preached to the two of them on the Holy Gospel we have heard this morning.  It was the Gospel for the coming Sunday that week, but it was also the Word that our Lord desired Bob to hear and receive as he anticipated his death from this mortal life on earth.  And afterwards he told me that it was the Gospel that he wanted me to preach for his funeral; it was the Word of the Lord that Bob wanted his children and family to hear on this day.

These past couple months were not the first time that Bob was confronted with the fact of his mortality.  I don’t know what dangers he may have faced while serving in the army (in those two years immediately following Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution, actually).  But I do know that Bob was thinking about his life and his death when he had heart surgery some time ago, and again when he was hospitalized with bleeding on his brain a couple years ago.  In each of those cases, as again this past month, he spoke seriously to me about his faith and his future.  There was a clarity to his thinking in the face of death, a genuine humility, and an awareness of what really mattered.  And what he sought, what he wanted and needed in that hour, was the Word of his Good Shepherd.

In this most recent case, Bob knew that he was dying.  Which is of course true for all of us, all the time, whether we are aware of it or not.  But the Lord answered the prayer of the Psalmist and of His Church, teaching Bob to number his days, that he should thus gain a heart of wisdom, which begins and continues in the fear and faith of God.  That is the wisdom in which he departed from this mortal life, confessing his sins in repentance, and clinging to Christ Jesus with confidence.

Like Simon Peter, Bob was also taught by God the Father, by His Word and Holy Spirit, to know and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He is the Wise Man who builds His House upon the Rock, His holy Christian Church upon the Ministry of His Gospel.  He does so with the forgiveness of sins in the mouth of His servants, on earth as it is in heaven.  And so it is that not even the gates of hades are able to prevail against those who dwell with Christ in His House; for there with Him, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

You know, as Bob did, that Christ Himself went to His voluntary suffering and death on the Cross for the sins of the world.  And God the Father raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead for the salvation of the world.  So does He also raise from death to life all who believe and trust in Him.

Of course, this way of the Cross is foolish and offensive to the world and to your fallen flesh, but in truth it is the power and wisdom of God.  Indeed, the righteous Servant of God, the Son of Man is high and lifted up and greatly exalted precisely by His death upon the Cross.  That is where and how the one true God reveals Himself as He truly is — in Self-sacrificing love, in tender mercy and compassion for those who were at odds with Him, and with free and full forgiveness of sins.

For Christians, too, as for Christ upon the Cross, what you feel and experience, and the way that you and your life appear in the world, are not the measure of what is good and right and true in the presence of God.  Bob’s condition and appearance, for example, in the final days and weeks of his life on earth, were certainly not good.  His mortal flesh was wearing out and wasting away, as he was poisoned from the inside with toxins his body could no longer process, handle, or remove.

Yet, Bob was not abandoned by the Lord who loves him, no more than Christ was abandoned to the grave when He gave His body and life in faith and love upon the Cross.  Indeed, He took all of Bob’s sickness, suffering, mortality, and death upon Himself, in order to bear it in His own flesh and blood, to do away with it forever.  And not only Bob’s suffering and death, but all of his sins and iniquities, his transgressions and trespasses, which are the deepest, most fatal sickness of all.  The Lord Jesus took all of this upon Himself; He dealt with it, atoned for it, and put it to death in His Body on the Cross, so that Bob and you and all the world might have life in His Resurrection.

The Son of the living God has become the Sheep led quietly to the slaughter, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, in order to rescue, redeem, and recover all of us lost sheep who have gone astray.  The Shepherd has given His life for the sheep who love to wander!

So it is that when you, or any of us, like Simon Peter, become Satanic in our good intentions and proud presumptions — supposing that we know better than God and have a better way than the Cross — then the same Lord Jesus Christ, who has given Himself for us, calls us to repentance.

When He responds with such strong words, “Get behind Me, Satan,” He admonishes you to get back in line and follow after Him, to listen and to learn from Him, instead of attempting to teach the Teacher.  He calls you to follow in the way of God — to bear the Cross; to be crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus — and thus to rise and live a new life with Him in faith and love.

This is what it means to be and to live as a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus.  That you hear and heed His Word, and live according to it, even when it seems foolish and makes no sense to you.  That, where you have sinned, as often as you fail and fall short, you repent of your sins and bear the fruits of repentance in your thoughts, words, and actions.  That you bear the burdens of your callings and stations in life.  That you love and serve your neighbors and forgive their trespasses against you.  And that you find your life and health and strength, your greatness and your glory, and your real, lasting treasure in Christ Jesus, in His Body crucified and risen from the dead.

It is not possible to purchase your way into heaven, which Christ has purchased for you.  Only do not forfeit your soul and your salvation by renouncing His Cross and chasing after the world!

Rather, look to Christ in the Gospel of His Cross, in the Ministry of His forgiveness of sins, and so live unto righteousness by faith in Him, in the sure and certain promise of His Resurrection.

That is where Bob’s life is truly found, even now, and that is what animated his life on earth, even in the midst of sin and death.  He was not a wealthy man by worldly standards, but in Christ Jesus he was rich beyond measure, and for that reason he was generous in his love toward others.  He was steady, hard working, and faithful in serving his country, in doing his job, in caring for his wife and family.  He was a kind and gentle man, because he knew the grace and mercy of God.

Such things have been among God’s gracious gifts to Bob in this body and life, and so also to his neighbors in the world who were served by his love.

And yet, it was not to any of his own good works that Bob turned in the face of death.  He did not boast of himself, but only in the Cross of Christ.  That is where his heart and mind were fixed in peace and hope.  He confessed his sins in the confidence of the Gospel.  He asked for his pastor to come and speak to him, to bring him the Sacrament.  It was to Christ that Bob turned, to His Word of forgiveness, and to His Body given and His Blood poured out in the Holy Communion.

That is where Bob turned when he knew that his life was ending.  And his faith and hope in Christ were not disappointed or put to shame.  The Lord who went to the Cross for him in love, also came to Bob to care for him in love, to strengthen and sustain him in repentance, faith, and life.

It was from His Cross that Christ anointed Bob with His Holy Spirit, as He does for His whole Church on earth, in order to raise him from the dust of the earth and give him life; for He divides the booty of His Cross and Resurrection with all those whom He calls to Himself in peace.

Here in time within His Church throughout the world — at Emmaus on the corner of Milton and Dale, in the living rooms or at the kitchen tables of His homebound Christians, or at their hospital bedsides — He leads His people in the green pastures of His Word; He cleanses and refreshes them with the quiet waters of Holy Baptism; and He prepares His Table before them, to feed them with the Life-giving Bread of His Body, and to quench their thirst from His overflowing Chalice.

So also hereafter, in the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of body and soul, Bob and all the saints of God shall abide in the House of the Lord forever.  For they live and abide in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, which is indeed the Temple of God, eternal in the heavens.  They feast at the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end: Not for sixty-eight years, but happily forever after.  For not even death shall ever be able to separate the members of the Bride of Christ from their true and heavenly Bridegroom.

Bob is now among those who have come out of the great tribulation.  He now rests from all his labors, and his good works of faith and love follow after him in Christ Jesus; they do not lead the way or get him into heaven, but they do follow after as a testimony to his faith in Christ.  For he washed his robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb, in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Here and now in this poor life of labor, especially for those of you who grieve and mourn, the tribulation is terrible and difficult.  It is often filled with hardship and pain, with disappointment and heartache, with hunger and thirst — or, sometimes, sadly, with the loss of appetite.  Here in this fallen and perishing world there is the beating heat of summer and the biting cold of winter.

But through this dark valley of the shadow of death, you are called to bear the Cross and follow Christ — as Bob has been called and has followed — into the life everlasting.  As the Cross puts you to death, so does it raise you to newness of life with the forgiveness of all your sins.  And as you suffer here with Christ Jesus, so shall you also be exalted and glorified in His Resurrection.

It was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things, and so to enter into His Glory by the way of His Cross, in order to open the way for the fallen sons and daughters of Adam to follow after Him — through death into life.  So it is that Bob has borne the Cross of Christ in repentance, faith, and love, and his mortal flesh and blood have suffered death, that he should enter into life with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Thus do we lay his body to rest on this day in the hope of the Resurrection of all flesh, when he shall be raised in glory, like unto the glorious Body of Christ, immortal and imperishable.  Then shall he stand before the Throne of God and serve Him day and night in His Temple — as even now his spirit lives and his soul abides in the Tabernacle of God, which is the Body of Christ, His flesh and blood, given and poured out.

Having guided him to springs of living water in the font of his Holy Baptism, Bob’s great Good Shepherd has washed away every tear from his eyes forevermore.  So shall the same Lord Jesus wash away your tears of mourning, grief, and pain, as well, that you may clearly see with your own eyes at the last your risen and living Redeemer in the flesh.  Then shall you see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him, and together with Bob and all the saints you shall praise Him in perfect joy.

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

16 September 2017

Like Those Awaiting the Marriage Feast of the Lamb

Have no fear, little flock, not even in these grey and latter days, though there be countless attacks against the Word of the Lord and His good gift of holy matrimony.  For He is faithful nonetheless.  He is the One who builds the house, not in vain, but in peace; and He gives to His beloved sleep.

But, yes, it is true that, in the world, seemingly everywhere you look theses days, the sanctity of marriage is assaulted in both attitudes and actions.  The mainstream media for young and old sets forth a daily barrage of confusion, perversity, and lawlessness in regards to what it even means to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, while the good order of God’s creation is routinely denied.

There are all manner of selfish separations of marriage, sex, and childbearing, whereby loins are not girded for good works of love but loosed in pursuit of lustful passions.  Fornication, including cohabitation, is now regarded as an acceptable norm.  Adultery, too, including its most common form, divorce, is practically taken for granted.  It is no wonder that marriage itself is no longer held sacred as the lifelong union of one man and one woman in heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Such prevailing depravity denies and contradicts, not only the Law of God, which is good and wise and true, but also the Gospel of Christ Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the Law and the one true Bridegroom to whom the Church is given.  He is the One who is rejected when marriage is denied.  But so is He also the One we are called to confess in the faithfulness and love of holy marriage.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect Man, the Image of God in whom Adam was created from the dust of the ground, and for whom the Woman is brought forth from His riven side, brought to Him and given to Him in love.

This is the picture we are given today in Daniel and Elle, and which they and all husbands and wives are called to portray in their life together: Within their home and family, and in the world, in whatever portion of His Garden the Lord entrusts to their stewardship.

It is also there that Christians, in particular, are tempted to a very different misunderstanding and abuse of marriage and family than that which is posed by the world with its idolatrous lusts and faithless passions.  For it is with holy marriage as it is so often the case with God’s good creation, that you are tempted on the one hand to demonize it, and on the other hand to idolize it.  Instead of receiving it from the Lord’s hand in faith and with thanksgiving, and sanctifying it by His Word and prayer, you either despise it with the world, or you worship it as though it were your god.

But do not run down either of those dead end roads.  Unless the Lord builds the House — as the Wise Man, Jesus, builds His Church — their labor is in vain who build it.  Which is to say that you are called to approach your marriage, home, and family in accordance with the Word of the Lord.

Your marriage is a fundamental stewardship of the Lord’s things.  For those who are married, in fact, it is the primary place within which you serve the Lord by caring for and cultivating His good creation, His Garden, His household and family, to the praise and glory of His Name.

The goal is not to establish a little kingdom of your own, to make a name for yourself, to build a tower to the stars, or to find and preserve your own life within your own home and family.  And though your spouse — and, in time, your children — do take priority over your other neighbors in the world, as per the Lord’s Word (the 4th and 6th Commandments), your marriage and family do not take precedence or priority over the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness in Christ.

Your first and foremost vocation, as a Christian, is to be and to live as a child of God in Christ Jesus, as a member of His Bride, His household and family, His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  First of all in your receiving of His gifts.  Then also in your giving and serving.

Your marriage and family on earth are temporary — they are only until death parts you — but they point beyond themselves to the Marriage of the Lamb and the Family of God, which are forever.

As Jesus says, therefore, do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, but invest yourself, your body and life, your marriage and family, in the Kingdom of your God and Father in heaven.  Live with constant vigilance and in eager expectation of the Marriage of the Lamb.  Hunger and thirst, not for the food that perishes, but for the Wedding Banquet of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

This is a matter of both the Law and the Gospel, of faith and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.  For it begins and continues with repentance in the fear of the Lord: That you acknowledge and confess your idolatry and unbelief.  That you turn away from your false gods and your sins, and turn toward the Lord and His Word.  That you cease from your evil deeds; and that you not resort to laziness, complacency, or negligence, but that you actively do good and serve your neighbors in love within your own proper office and stations in life.

Not that you must save yourself, justify yourself, atone for your sins, or make a life for yourself.  None of which is even possible; but neither is it necessary.

Rather, rely upon the Lord, and rest yourself in Him by faith in His Word and promises.  Avail yourself of His Gospel in His means of grace within the household and family of His Church on earth, even as you receive from His open hand all that you need for this body and life.

Your marriage, home, and family, and whatever else you may possess in this life, are a gift from the Lord, entirely by His grace, the charity of God.  What is more, and ever so much better, it is the Father’s good pleasure and delight — His good and gracious will — to give you His Kingdom, though you are so little, so weak, and so helpless (in and of yourself and in this perishing world).

So it is not by your works that you live, but by resting in the Word and works of God in Christ, in whom you have Peace with God and Sabbath Rest, now and forever.

But you are given works to do from within your place: Within the household and family of God, to which you belong by His grace; and, as I have said, within the particular portion of His Garden, wherever He has placed you.  There you are to cultivate and keep His good creation in His Name.  You are to provide for your fellow servants, whoever is placed under your care, to give them their meat and bread at the proper time.  Thus do you become the open hand of God for your neighbor.

As you are righteous by faith in Christ Jesus, by His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so do you live and work righteously in love for your neighbor.

As Elle is here clothed in radiant beauty, as an icon of the Lord’s Church, so do you clothe yourself outwardly in fine linens, bright and clean, which are the good works that God has prepared for you beforehand, that you should walk in them — in faith and love — in marriage to Christ Jesus.

This is how you are to live, at every hour of every day, so that you are dressed and ready for your Lord, your true and heavenly Bridegroom, whenever He shall come.  With your loins girded and your lamps lit — like those children of Israel on the night of the Passover — you also rely upon the Flesh and Blood of the Lamb, and be gathered around the Table in your Father’s House, so that your marriage, home, and family be not broken into, and that you not perish when the thief arrives.

Daniel & Elle, as members of the Body and Bride of Christ, this life of faith and love is to be lived within your marriage in your relationship with each other.  It is a life distinguished especially by self-sacrifice, by patience and kindness, repentance and forgiveness, gentleness and humility.  In all things, use whatever strengths the Lord has given you to cover each others frailties in peace.

That is to be the case for both of you.  But the weightier burden falls upon you, Daniel, to love and serve and care for Elle, and to give yourself for her in big and little ways each day, as Christ loves His Church and has given Himself for her; and as Christ, indeed, gives Himself for you and Elle.

Above all, to care for Elle as Christ cares for His Church entails mercy and forgiveness, whereby you adorn your bride with the righteousness and holiness, the innocence and blessedness of Jesus.

So, too, caring for your wife — and, by God’s grace, your children — means gathering your family around the Father’s Table, around the Word of God and the Flesh and Blood of the Lamb.  That is to say, by praying with them and for them in your home, teaching them the Bible, and taking them to the Lord’s House for the Ministry of His Gospel in preaching and the Holy Sacraments.

In this task of caring for your children, the two of you are partners — as, indeed, in all of life.  You are partners in cultivating and keeping the Garden of God; not establishing and guarding your own little dynasty, but caring for and prospering the Paradise of God in accordance with His Word.

Likewise, in your love for your neighbors in the world, and especially for the Church and Ministry of Christ, you are partners in service and in giving.  Sacrifice together.  Work together.  Show mercy and give alms together.  Encourage and help each other to love and care for those in need.

Thus does your marriage point beyond itself, not only as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, but as an agent of the same Lord Jesus Christ, as a living and active embodiment of His own grace, mercy, peace, and tangible charity toward you.

Thus do you live and work together in storing up treasures in heaven.  In devoting your hearts, not only to each other here in time, but above all to the Lord Jesus Christ, for now and forever.

Blessed are you when you live in this way, in faith and love, in expectation of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.  Blessed are you, who find in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, the meaning and purpose, the goal and significance of your life together as husband and wife.

Blessed are you, because He has come in love for you, and He has given Himself for you.  Even now He comes to give Himself to you, that you may be His own beloved Bride, and live with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  So is the Wedding Feast prepared and ready with His own Body given and Blood poured out for you.

And as He has called you by His own Name and taken you to be His Bride in Holy Baptism, so does He gird Himself to serve you: To wash you with His Word of Absolution, and to feed you from His own hand at His Altar with the Meat and Drink indeed of His Holy Supper.

See, His Blood now marks your door, and you are safe and sound within His Father’s House.  Have no fear, little flock!  Behold, He gives you peace and rest and blessed sleep within His own Body.

For He is awake and alert, constantly vigilant, and always working to give you life.  No thief shall ever be able to snatch you from His hand.  He has plighted thee His troth, He has promised you His faithfulness, and He has made His place your own, His Castle your Castle.  Thus are you one flesh and blood with Him, and not even death shall divide you from His Body and His Life forever.

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