21 January 2018

The Kingdom of God Is at Hand

The whole point and purpose to God’s good creation is that Man should live with Him in love forever.  That you also should live with Him in love forever.  And that point and purpose of creation has been fulfilled, for you and for all people, in the Incarnation of God’s Son — His becoming flesh, true Man, conceived and born of St. Mary — and in His Cross and Resurrection.

So it was first of all necessary that God become Man, because you are not God by nature; you are His creature.  You cannot live for yourself or in yourself, but you are created to live in and with God by His grace.  And now, in Christ Jesus, God and Man are perfectly united with one another forever and ever, in such a way that He has become your Place and your Life with God in the flesh.

But there is also the problem of sin, which at its root means that you’re looking for all the wrong gods, that you’re trusting all the wrong gods, and that you’re trying to live by some other way of life than by faith in the one true God, your Creator.  You make gods out of that which is not God but is created by God.  And you make a god out of yourself, as well, though you also are a creature.

That is what sin does, and by it you cut yourself off from the only real life there is.  That situation has to be dealt with and fixed if you’re ever going to have the life with God for which you are created.  And that is what God does by way of the Cross and Resurrection of His incarnate Son.

He is the true Man in every way, perfect in faith, holy in love, and without any sins of His own.  And yet, in His flesh, He has atoned for your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He sacrificed Himself and shed His Blood upon the Cross, for you and for all, so that in His Resurrection you are justified, raised up, and reconciled to God in peace and love.

All of this has been accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus.  That is what the Gospel declares.  And the Kingdom of God is thus at hand in His flesh and blood, in the Ministry of His Gospel.  That is what St. John the Baptist preached in anticipation of the Christ, and that is what Jesus Himself now preaches to the close of the age.  Indeed, that is what He declares and delivers to you by the preaching of repentance in His Name, unto faith and life in His forgiveness of your sins.

That is good news.  That is the Gospel.  That is your life and salvation.

But there is both threat and promise in this preaching of repentance, in this announcement of the Kingdom of God, in its coming to you in and with Jesus.  For it means the end of the world as you know it.  It brings the judgment of God against all that you fear, love, and trust besides Him.

Everything is made different by the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection from the dead.  All of the false gods that you trust and rely on are destroyed and put to death: In your heart and life, already now, as they shall finally be destroyed forever in themselves in the judgment at the last.

Everything is crucified with Jesus, in order to be raised with Jesus.  Thus are you confronted, as a sinner first of all, with the threat of God’s judgment, and with the painful death of your flesh, that you might be recreated in His Image and granted newness of life through faith in His Gospel.

That is why St. John, and the Lord Jesus, and later St. Peter and all the Apostles, and your pastors now, all preach and declare: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

But what does that mean for you? What does it look like?  What is it that you are called to do when Jesus proclaims to you: “Repent!”  And what does it look like to believe the Gospel?

It means that you die to the world, to yourself, and to your sins.  You die to everything that is not Jesus.  And you live unto God in Christ.  You are not set free to continue in your sins.  You are set free from sin and death, in order to live, really live, by faith in Christ.  To live unto righteousness in Him.  To live now, in your flesh, the life that God intends for you in and with Himself.

This repentance and this life are rooted in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.   Those works that He has done are not just means to an end.  His Cross and Resurrection are your justification and your righteousness in the presence of God; and His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance.  In being called to repentance, you are called into the dying and rising of Christ Jesus Himself

You are called into His crucified and risen Body, to live in Him by faith.  And that is accomplished for you in the waters of your Baptism, unto the life everlasting.  The washing of those waters with His Word is the means of your justification.  It is the form of your repentance.  For in your Baptism you have died and you are raised with Christ.  Just as Jonah was once thrown into the water and swallowed up by that great fish, and for three days he was in the belly of the fish under the water, until God brought him out of the fish and out of the water to live and work within his vocation.

So it is that, in the waters of your Baptism, you’re thrown into the depths, and you’re swallowed by that great fish, and then you are brought forth to live the life that God intends for you.  That is where and how justification happens for you.  That is the location and the shape of your daily and lifelong repentance.  And that is the shape of your entire Christian faith and life in this world.

How then shall you live in view of your Baptism, your repentance, and your justification?

Well, hold on loosely.  That’s a good way to put it.  Hold on loosely to this life, and to the things of this world.  But don’t let go.  God doesn’t call you to suicide.  And He doesn’t call you to run away and hide from your responsibilities.  He has positioned you to live among people, to do a job, to serve your neighbors.  So hold on to all of that in love.  But don’t cling to it in desperation.

Let your hold on life in this world be loose and light and flexible.  But don’t let go.  You are called to live in this world.  It is in this world that you live out your justification in Christ.  It is in this world that you repent, and bear the fruits of repentance, and live unto God in faith and love, all in the righteousness of Christ.  So do you live in this world, even though you are not of this world.

You can in fact make good use of God’s good creation.  For He has given you to receive and use His good gifts.  All things God has created are given for you to receive and to use in faith and with thanksgiving, and they are sanctified to your use by the Word of God and prayer.

So, make use of His Creation.  Make use of His good gifts.  Only do not live as though your life depended on any of these good things, or on anything else but Him alone.

So, too, be faithful to your husband or wife, and to your children.  Be loyal to your family and friends.  Be steadfast in serving your stations in life.  And love your neighbors in the world, as Christ Jesus loves you.  But do all of this for God’s sake, in Jesus’ name, and not for idolatrous affection.  Don’t love your family because you like them so well, but because God has commanded you to do so.  Likewise all of your neighbors.  Love them for the sake of God’s command.  Not in the way of fickle emotions, with your inward feelings, but in your outward actions, doing what is good and right according to the Word of God and your neighbors’ needs in this body and life.

Love your neighbors because it is the right thing to do.  It is what God the Lord has commanded.  Not to atone for your sins, to justify yourself before God, or to earn His favor — none of which is possible or necessary.  But love your neighbor in faith and love for the Lord your God, because He is your Savior and Redeemer in whom you have eternal life by the grace of His Gospel.

So, love your wife or your husband, as the case may be.  Love your sons and your daughters, however many God has given to you.  Love and honor, serve and obey your father and mother, as God has commanded, in the joy of His promise that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.  Love all of your neighbors for God’s sake, in accordance with His calling and commandments.  But do not love anyone more than (or as much as) you love the Lord your God.

Be concerned chiefly with the things of the Lord, whatever your stations in life may be.  He who has a wife, for example, should live as though he did not.  Not that you abandon or neglect your wife and live like some kind of bachelor.  But that you love and serve your wife without supposing that your life and salvation are found in her.  You love and serve your wife faithfully as one whose life is in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, that is how you are to regard everyone and everything in your life on earth.  You hold on loosely.  You don’t let go, but you live for Christ above all else.

Which means that you are ready, then, to leave your home and family, to leave behind your father and his fishing nets, to leave behind your nearest and dearest kin, to leave behind whatever it is that you otherwise cling to, in order to follow Jesus at His Word.  To go to the Cross and die with Him there.  To give up whatever He would ask of you, because your life is found in Him alone.

But normally the way that He calls you to serve Him, is precisely by loving and serving those people He has placed beside you in your ordinary, everyday life on earth.  And yet, while there is always the temptation to idolize your family and friends, there is also the temptation to despise and neglect your family and friends.  That is how it is with all of us poor sinners.  We do not know how to use God’s good gifts as He intends.  We either idolize or demonize His good creation.

And so you are tempted either to make a god out of created things, or to despise created things.  But neither of those options is right.  Rather, receive and use what God gives in faith, according to His Word.  And fulfill your callings in love for your neighbors, likewise according to His Word.

That is what the Lord calls you to do.  And if you should be ready and willing to leave behind any and all of your own people for the Lord’s sake, how much more should you be ready and willing to love and serve them at His Word, according to His calling and your stations in life.

Just do it.  Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.  Do what He has commanded you.  Where you have failed to do so, repent, and begin now to do better.  Die to yourself and live unto God.  He shall exalt you in due season.  For the Lord is faithful.  He will not leave you in the belly of the fish under the water forever.  He will raise you up according to His purposes.  He has given you His pledge and promise in your Baptism and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Find your real life and your true love in Him above all else.  Not in this world, nor in its kings and its kingdoms, be they big or small, that is not where life is found.  But in the Kingdom of God which is here for you in Christ Jesus, in His holy Body and precious Blood.

The Kingdom of God is here for you in Christ, in His forgiveness of all your sins — your sins of idolatry, and your sins of neglect and despair.  The Gospel forgives them all, because the Gospel is Jesus in action, doing His thing, loving and serving and saving sinners like you by His grace.

That Gospel of Christ is the net in which you have been caught, unto life and salvation with God.

And that same Gospel mends your nets of faith and love within your callings and stations in life, by the daily preaching and catechesis of the Word of Christ; by confession and Absolution, to which the preaching of Christ Jesus calls you.  You die to yourself, by examining yourself and confessing your sins, and you rise up to live unto God in Christ by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

That is how you live.  And here within His Church, in the Ministry of His Gospel, is where you live by His grace.  Especially in the eating of His Flesh and the drinking of His Blood, the very means with which He has accomplished your salvation, and in which all of creation is fulfilled.

Want to know what this world is supposed to be like?  Want to know what creation is supposed to be like?  Want to know what your life is supposed to be like?  It is all right here in the Body of Christ.  You can’t see it, but it’s true.  His Word gives it to you and tells you what it really is.

“Take, eat, this is My Body.  It is for you.  Take, drink, this is My Blood.  It is for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.”  Here the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Here creation is perfected and lives in the Flesh of Jesus, God’s Son.  And that promise is for you and for your children.

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

14 January 2018

The Body of Christ Is the Gate of Heaven

You have heard from this Holy Gospel the initiative of our Lord Jesus in coming to call disciples to Himself.  He sees Philip and Nathanael before they have ever seen or heard of Him.  He purposes to go to them.  He seeks them out.  He calls them to Himself.

In the case of Nathanael, Philip is the instrument of God’s grace by which Nathanael is called to come and see Jesus.  But Jesus has already seen Nathanael ahead of time.  He knows Nathanael, and He loves him, and He desires that he follow after Him as a disciple, unto life.

All of that is true, not only for Philip and Nathanael, but for each one of you, as well.  The Lord knows you, and He loves you, and before you ever heard of Him, He saw you, and He desired that you should be His own.  Indeed, from before the foundation of the world, He has known you in love, and He has brought you into existence in order to give you life with Himself by His grace.

So has He called you by His Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in His Word and faith within His holy Christian Church, by the work of the Spirit in the means of grace.

And He has opened heaven to you.  You heard it last Sunday in the Baptism of our Lord, how the heavens were opened at His Baptism, because His Baptism already anticipated and participated in His Cross and His Resurrection.  By His sacrifice upon the Cross He has crushed Satan, sin, and death beneath His feet.  And in His Resurrection from the dead He has opened, not only the grave, but also heaven itself to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.

In doing all of this for you, and in giving all of this to you by the Gospel, He reveals God the Father to you, whom no man has seen, but who is manifested in the Body of Christ Jesus.  It is in the flesh and blood of Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you behold His God and Father as He is.  And it is by the preaching of the Word of Christ that you know and love the Father by faith.

Later in the Gospel, Philip (again) will ask Jesus, “If you simply show us the Father, that will be enough.”  And Jesus says, in love, “O Philip! Have I been with you so long, and yet, you still do not understand or believe in Me?  If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  And so is it true for you, as well.  His Word declares it to be so.  It is by His Word that you recognize the one true God in the Lord Jesus Christ, even as you recognize Christ in the Ministry of His Gospel.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the whole Law of God.  He is the fulfillment of all that God has spoken in the past by Moses and all the Prophets.  He is indeed the Word made Flesh.

And by His Word of the Gospel, by the preaching and ministry of His sent ones, He reveals even greater things than Moses and Samuel and all the Prophets were able to see or perceive clearly.

He reveals greater things than human hearts or minds could ever imagine or dare to hope, to you and all His disciples, to all whom He calls to Himself in love, to follow Him by faith in His Word.

As He is speaking to you now, listen to Him.  As He calls you to Himself, come and follow Him.  As He reveals the Father to you, and as He opens heaven to you, behold and believe, and so live.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it?  It’s hard to see it.  It’s hard to feel it.  And it’s hardest of all to trust it.  To stake your life on all of this that is spoken to you — and yet, where is it?

Your experience contradicts the Word of God.  It makes it seem as though it were all a big joke or a lie.  Your expectations and experience are so very different than the Lord’s promises to you.

Meanwhile, the desires and the demands of your mortal flesh are much more immediate, much more tangible.  You can hardly escape them or ignore them.  This is the root of your addictions, which are idolatrous.  They press hard upon you, and they exert a powerful influence over you, and all the more strongly as you submit to those hungers of the flesh and pursue those desires.

And yet, at the same time that your flesh can have such a powerful influence and pull on your thoughts and feelings, and on your words and actions, there are still the frailties and failings of your mortal flesh.  Not only in your body, but in your heart and mind.  As you have confessed, your thoughts, words, and actions are all so weak, so frail, so prone to sin, and so easily dissuaded, distracted, and drawn away from the Word of the Lord and from the Way of Life in Christ Jesus.

So, instead of running to Christ in faith, hope, and love, you are sorely tempted to run away from Him, and to hide from Him in terrible fear.  That is where the first Israel, Jacob, was found, when God sought him out.  He was running away in fear from his home and family, because his father was furious with him, and his brother wanted to kill him, on account of his guile and deception.  Right there and then, God found him and called him, and Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the place where he lay: The House of God (Bethel), the Gate of Heaven.

So also for you, instead of following the Lord Jesus as a disciple, instead of walking in the way of grace and truth, you pursue the desires of your mortal flesh.  You chase the appetites of your stomach and the lusts of your heart and your eyes, instead of seeking the Lord where He may be found; even though none of your idols will last, certainly not for ever, and really not even for very long.  Your cravings are quickly satisfied, and afterwards they lose their appeal (if not their hold).  Neither your stomach nor any of your other desires will outlast the final judgment of the Lord.

None of those things that you crave with your flesh can save you or give you life.  And yet, how often do they get their hooks in you, and grip you, and lead you away from the Word of Christ?

So, what you see and feel and experience, as you look at yourself and your life, and at the world around you, is your sins, your failings, your sickness and mortality.

You don’t see Jesus dwelling in your flesh or living around you.  Instead, you see sin all over the place, within and without.  Whether you revel in it or shudder at it, that seems to be all there is.

Where is the heaven that Jesus has opened?  Where is the life that He has gotten for you?  Where is the promise of His coming?  It is all right here.  Come and see.  Listen.  Your Lord is speaking.

Do not become callous or cynical.  Don’t harden your heart to the Word of Christ.  And do not despair, no matter how terrible your life may seem.  Don’t let yourself become bitter.  That is the very opposite of faith in Christ.  But hear His Word, and trust what He says.

Here is the One who knows your heart and mind, who knows your sins, who knows you better than you know yourself.  Here is the One who loves you, who gives you a future and a hope through His forgiveness of all your sins.  All of them, every last one.

For all of your sexual sins in and with your body, and against your neighbor’s body; for all your sins of gluttony and drunkenness; and for all of your idolatrous addictions, the Lord does not turn away from you, but He calls you to repentance and to faith and life in His forgiveness of all your sins.  In His forgiveness, you shall not die.  By faith in His forgiveness, you shall live.

Oh, He does take care of you.  He does provide for the cares and concerns of your body.  He does not leave your stomach empty or your body naked in the cold.  He provides you with food and clothing, He gives you shelter, and He protects you from every harm and danger.  So it is that, as you are His Christian, you are called and taught to do likewise for your neighbors in the world.

But Jesus does all this for your body, because He does far greater things for your body and your soul.  Indeed, your body and life are far more precious to Him than you could possibly imagine.

With food and clothing be content.  But know this, your body and your life are more than food and clothing.  Your body, St. Paul says, is for the Lord, because the Lord is for your body — with all its frailties and weaknesses, with all its hurts and fears and sicknesses and death — the Lord is for your body with His indestructible life and the power of His forgiveness.

Has He not cleansed and washed your body with water and His Word, and clothed your body with His righteousness?  And does He not feed your body with His own Body and Blood?

Now, as Jesus was baptized in His Body, so was He crucified in the same flesh and blood that He gives you from this Altar.  And it is in and with the same Body of flesh and blood that He has risen from the dead for your justification and your righteousness in the presence of God forevermore.

His Body was buried in the dust of the earth, to which all the sons and daughters of Adam are destined; and He has risen again from that dust of the earth in His own glorified Body.  He has thereby opened the grave and opened heaven to you and to all who are baptized into His death.

For His Body is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  And He, in and with His Body, is the Firstborn of the Resurrection, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Therefore, one and the same Body of Christ — conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen from the dead, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father — this same Body of Christ, given and poured out for you and for the many at His Altar — His Body is the House of God (Bethel), and the very Gate of Heaven on earth.

Here is the Temple of God.  It stands open to you in the preaching of the Gospel.

It is dark round about, but the Lamp is still burning within.  The Word of the Lord is seldom heard and even less heeded.  But it is still spoken to you here.  And those who do hear and believe, by the grace of God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit, also confess and pray His Word and live according to His Word.

The initiative remains entirely with Christ.  He continues to come in love for you, and He is here with you to serve you and to save you.  Here, then, is where the angels of God take their starting point, and to this place they return, week after week, ascending and descending upon the Body of the Son of Man, the crucified and risen Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is given for you.

All the angels in heaven are paying attention to this Body of Jesus, which is put into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the life of your body.  Think of that.

This Jesus is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is the Prophet, and more than a Prophet — the very Word of God made Flesh for you and your salvation.  And He is your true King, who uses His strength to serve you at His own expense, to feed you with His Body and His Blood.  This Jesus is the Son of God who forgives all of your sins, heals all of your diseases, and gives you His divine, eternal life.  He is the Lord who speaks to you in love.

Open your ears, and be taught.  Open your mouth, and be fed.  Taste and see that the Lord is good, and that His mercy and compassion for you are for the resurrection and the life everlasting.

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

06 January 2018

To Worship the Lord Jesus in Faith and Love

The Magi were probably from Babylon or Persia, that part of the world, east of the Promised Land.  They were not magicians or alchemists, but scientists and scholars, astronomers.  We know that Babylon already had such people in the days of Daniel, and it is surely no coincidence that Daniel, after interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, was made the chief of all the magi in Babylon.  He also continued to serve in that capacity when the Medes and Persians took over.

So it is no wonder that Magi from the East had some awareness of what was going on among the people of Israel.  For the faithful Prophet Daniel, who lived according to the Word of the Lord, would also have confessed and taught the Wisdom of that Word, including the Prophecies of the Christ who was to come: The Scepter of Judah, and the Star of Jacob.

When the Magi observed a bright new light in the sky, in the area assigned to Judah, they would have known from the Word of the Lord what this meant.  The King had come, who would reign over the nations with a scepter of righteousness.  It was His star that had risen.

It is important to understand that, while the star was the sign of Christ’s birth, it was the Scriptures that actually guided the Magi to Him.  The Scriptures pointed them, first of all, to the land of Israel, to Judah.  And the Scriptures also then directed them to Bethlehem, to the City of David.

But why did they go?  Why did they bother?  Why did the Magi travel that great distance?  Why did they search so diligently?  And why did they rejoice so greatly when they found the Child?

They could have been saved by faith in the Word of God without making the long trip to see Him in person.  They could have rejoiced in the Savior from afar.  But they did not.  They undertook the journey.  They were compelled by faith and love to seek Him out.  And they tell us plainly why they went.  It was to worship Him.  That is why they made the journey: To worship the Christ.

Thus, when they entered the house, and they saw the Child with His Mother, they fell down and prostrated themselves before Him.  They worshiped Him with their bodies, with their treasures, and with their very lives.  They entrusted themselves to Him.  They worshiped Him in the beauty of His holiness, even in the frailty of His human flesh and blood, an Infant in His Mother’s lap.

They saw the same thing anyone else would have seen.  But the Word told them what to believe about this little Boy.  That He is God.  That He is the King.  That He is the Savior, the Christ, the Ruler who has come.  So they prostrated themselves before Him.  They humbled themselves in His presence.  And they gave Him their costly treasures.  As their lives belong to Him, so with body and life they worshiped Him who is manifest God in the flesh, and who has come to save them.

They came and worshiped Him, not as though to grovel and beg to get something from Him, but because they knew and believed that He had come freely, in love, to give them everything by grace.  There was nothing else they needed any longer.  In this Child they found and received everything that matters.  And that made all the difference in the world.

The same God and Savior has also revealed Himself to you.  He has also spoken His Word to you.  And He has given His Word to you, as well — His Word-made-Flesh — in outward, visible, external means of grace.  In the preaching and Ministry of the Gospel.  That is where and how you find the Christ, your Savior!  That is where and how you find the Lord your God.

Heaven and earth stand up and take notice, because in the simple preaching of the Word of God by ministers all over the world, from pulpits just like this one — and from this very pulpit — divine Mysteries are revealed, which even the angels know only by this preaching of the Gospel.

This Word tells you where God is for you.  And the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God is revealed to you in the face of Jesus Christ, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  The Crucified One who suffered under Pontius Pilate.  In Him, in His Flesh, God Himself is with you.

The Gospel of Christ reveals Him to you by forgiving your sins in His Name.  It gives you His Life and Salvation, because it gives you Jesus Himself.  And in doing so, it calls you to faith in Him.

That faith to which the Gospel calls you is not a dead or dormant thing.  It is rather a living and active thing, and before it has even been told what to do, it is already busy doing it.

And what is it that faith does?  First of all, it listens to the Word of God.  There is nothing more vital to faith than that.  Faith gives attention to God’s Word and the preaching of it, because it is by His Word that God does and gives all things.  It is by His Word that He gives life.

Faith hears and believes what the Word of God declares.  And according to that Word, it receives the gifts of God within His Church on earth in the Ministry of His Gospel.  It knows that Christ is here at hand to save and to give life.  Faith is willing to stake everything on that.  Indeed, it will suffer and die a thousand deaths before it would ever give that up.

Faith will likewise travel a thousand miles, it will go even to the ends of the earth, in order to find the Christ Child, to worship and adore Him.  Faith spares no expense.  There is no treasure on earth that it would not freely give up, because Jesus has come, the Treasure of heaven.  The riches of God are here in Him.  Everything else is rubbish by comparison (and nothing at all without Him).

So faith seeks out the Christ where His Word has determined and directed you to go.  It looks to the Signs that He has designated.  Not to stars in the sky, not for you; that was for the Magi then.  For you the Signs are here on earth, within the Lord’s House, in water, bread, and wine.  That is where Christ Jesus is for you, the Lord your God in the flesh.  That is where you find Him.

And that is where you go to worship Him in faith and love, with heart and mind, with body, soul, and spirit.  To serve Him, not because you “have to,” although He is your Lord and God, and you are His creature and His servant; but you serve Him, as you love Him, because He serves you.

You love Him and serve Him because He has given Himself entirely for you and to you, and because your life is found entirely in Him.  Thus do you worship Him with all that you are and have.  In and with your heart, to be sure.  It is in and with your heart that you cling to Him by faith, come hell or high water against you, no matter what may happen to your body.

But as your heart loves and worships Christ Jesus, so does your body also, as it can.  You prostrate yourself before Him.  You bend your knees and bow your head.  You humble yourself before Him.  And you worship Him with your hands and feet, your mouth and lips and tongue, and with your whole life.  Your flesh is put into His service.  You’ll bleed and die if necessary, for the sake of this King who has saved you by the voluntary shedding of His Blood for you upon the Cross.

You will spare no expense to love Him, to serve Him, and to worship Him.  For whatever you have is from Him in the first place, and He will not fail to supply whatever is needed for your body and life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  So you will do whatever.  You will open your treasures, be they great or small, and give Him whatever you have, because He has given you everything.

You worship Him with heart, soul, mind, and strength, with your body and life, your flesh and blood, and with your time, treasures, and talents.  You worship Him with all that you are and have.  Not to purchase His blessing (which is not for sale, in any case), but to thank and praise Him for all His grace and every blessing, for all that He is, and for all that He has done for you in Christ.

Thus, you live a very different life than the world does.  And you live in a completely different way than the Herods of the world.  You live in a different way because you have a new and different King in Christ Jesus.  And in Him you have found a new and different house and home with God.  You have a new Fatherland.  So you walk by a new and different way, just as the Magi did.

You love and serve the Lord Jesus, and for His sake you love and serve His people.  As the Magi served Mary and Joseph with their gifts — which paid for their flight into Egypt — so do you love and serve Christ by loving and serving His people, providing for their needs in this body and life with whatever means the Lord has placed into your stewardship.  You look for ways to love and serve Him by faith, by loving and serving those around you who are hungry, who need shelter and protection, mercy and care.  You do it for Jesus’ sake.  And in this way, too, you worship Him.

His Word tells you what to do and how.  He has not left you without guidance.  His Word warns you against all harm and danger.  As He warned the Magi against Herod, so does He warn you.  His Law warns you against the ways that would destroy your faith and life in Christ.  And His Law guides you, as well, in the way that you should go.  It guides your footsteps in the way of peace.

His Word teaches you how to live as a Christian.  How to live under Christ and serve Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

And by faith you do.  Because it is not only His Law that guides and warns you, but His Gospel lights your way.  His Gospel forgives every misstep, every wrong turn, every false direction.  His Gospel shines the Light of His grace, mercy, and peace upon you.  His Gospel forgives your sins.

He does not ask you to fight His battles, but He fights for you.  He is not a king like the rulers of this world.  He is God Himself, who reigns in love over His creation, the work of His own hands.

The kings of this earth and their subjects live in fear.  They are terrified of death, and so they fear the judgment of God against their sins.  They do not understand that He comes with forgiveness and salvation.  They tremble and shake at the coming of Christ Jesus.  And in response, they avoid Him, or else they seek to “worship” Him with a sword and violent bloodshed, because He threatens their existence, their self-chosen place and purpose in the world, and their idolatrous lifestyle.

Be on guard against that violence of unbelief in your own sinful heart and soul.  For it is not only those tyrants in high places who seek to be rid of the Lord Jesus.  It is whatever would dethrone Him from reigning over you as your King.  It is whatever would take His place in your body and life.  When you set Him aside in favor of your own passions and pursuits, you follow the lead of those who sought to end His life then, and the lead of those who refuse and reject Him to this day.

They suppose that He has come to take away what they love.  And to that extent they are right!  He has come to take away what they love, but so also to give them that which is actually worth loving, that which is necessary for life and salvation.  He has come to replace their false gods and idols with Himself, the true God in the flesh.  He has come to give them real life instead of death.

Now, by the grace of God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you have been called from the darkness into the Light, into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus.  Baptized in His Name, you live no longer for yourself but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.  No longer terrified by death, you fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  You serve and worship Him by faith

Your King has set you free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, so you may proceed in peace with exceedingly great joy.  You live according to His Word, because you are free to do so.  You are a free citizen of His Kingdom.  Wherever in the world you live, you are His very own.

He seeks you out, and He finds you.  And now, as then, it is God Himself who gives the greatest Treasure.  You worship Him, not because He needs your gifts, but because He has given you every good and perfect Gift already.  It is all yours in Jesus Christ.  He places it into your hand, into your mouth, and into your body, that you may have life in both body and soul, both now and forever.  Oh, come, let us worship Him!  Let us kneel and bow down at the Altar of the Lord, our Savior.

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

04 January 2018

Life with God in the Baptized Body of Christ Jesus

Here is the New Creation that God the Father makes by His Son and with His Holy Spirit.  It is in the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  And the Life of the new heavens and new earth is in His holy and precious Blood.  For He has come in the flesh to receive and bear the Spirit in His own Body on behalf of all the children of men; that He might also pour out the same Spirit upon them through His Word, and thereby grant them to be reborn as the children of God in Him.

That new birth is what He has done for you, and bestowed upon you, by the washing of the water with His Word in your Holy Baptism.  And by that means of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He has manifested Himself to you and made Himself known to you.

Otherwise, because of your native sinfulness and your mortality, you did not know Him.  Indeed, you were not able to know Him.  Nor could you have found your way to Him or figured Him out.

But, see here, the Lord your God has come to you in love in order to save you.

From before the foundation of the world He has known you in His love.  So has the Son of God come down from heaven to raise you up with Himself, to give you Life with His God and Father.

It is for such Life and Love that He conceived you in your mother’s womb and gave you birth, and for such Life and Love that He has recreated you and given you the new birth of Holy Baptism.

Before you ever called on Him — before you even knew to pray, or how to pray — He has already answered your prayer by moving to meet your deepest need and longing in and with Himself.

He has done away with death by taking away the sins of the world.  As the Lamb of God, He has taken them upon Himself and borne them in His own Body to the Cross.  He has given Himself into death as the Sacrifice of Atonement.  He has poured out His Lifeblood for you and for all, in order to redeem you from death and the grave, and to grant you His own divine Life by the Spirit.

It is for this holy purpose that He comes to St. John, to be baptized by him.  He enters the waters of the Jordan in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order to achieve and establish the salvation of the world.

On the one hand, He receives your sins and the sins of the whole world into His flesh; so that, by the shedding of His Blood, all those sins and debts are paid in full, death is undone, and the devil is defeated.  In this respect, He is baptized into your death.  He makes His Body mortal with all your sins and griefs and sorrows, in order to open the way for your mortal body to pass with Him through death and the grave into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting.

At the same time, on the other hand, He also receives the Spirit of His God and Father into His flesh.  Thus, His Body of flesh and blood — bearing the Spirit to and from the Cross, and risen from the dead in Glory — His Body has become the first fruits of the New Creation.

In this way, too, the divine Sonship that is His by nature from all eternity is manifested and fully realized in His humanity, so that He might become the firstborn of many brethren; and so that you might become a son of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, your Savior.

As pivotal as the Baptism of Jesus was for Him, for His Life and Ministry, and for His great work of Salvation, so pivotal is your Baptism for you.  In those waters of the font, your body of flesh and blood has been cleansed of all your sins and set free from death.  And at the same time, you have received the Spirit of Christ Jesus and the gracious adoption of His God and Father.

Thus do you live as a child of God, even now in your flesh here on earth, and hereafter forever in the resurrection of your body at the last.  For the flesh of Christ is your Anchor in the Paradise of the New Creation, your Stronghold in the new heavens and the new earth.  What He has already accomplished once for all by His Baptism into death, He has fully given to you in your Baptism.

The Lord is the Potter, and you are the clay whom He has fashioned for Himself in love.  He has breathed His Holy Spirit into your body and soul through His Gospel of forgiveness — from the waters of your Baptism, to His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, to the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar.  Thus are you a living creature.  As surely as God the Father raised His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, from the dust of the earth, so does He raise you from death to life everlasting in Him.

Your life in the world right now, regardless of your age, and throughout all your length of days, is meaningful and significant, because you are a child of God in Christ.  It is no longer the legacy of sin and death that you inherited from your fallen father Adam, but the inheritance of God the Father in heaven which defines your life and determines your destiny in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The promise is for you and for your children, and it is sure and certain in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  As you are baptized into His death, so do you live in His rising.  And as the Spirit remains upon His Body, so does the Holy Spirit rest and remain upon you: In life, in death, and in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting of your body and soul in Paradise.

The significance and value of your body and life is demonstrated, already here and now, not only in the waters of your Baptism, but in the fact that Christ Jesus feeds you here at His Altar with the Fruits of His Tree in the midst of Paradise, His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for your life and salvation with God.

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

03 January 2018

The Voice of the Lord

For now you find yourself living beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness outside the land that God has promised.  You do not yet see the milk and honey for which you hunger and thirst.  Nor do you see or understand what God is really like — not by any human intellect, wisdom, or strength.

You hear words, which in themselves are simple and clear enough, but they do not seem to make any sense; they do not match or measure up to your experience and expectations.  You have more questions than anything else, and the answers that you get sound more confusing than helpful — until the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus opens your ears to hear, your mind to comprehend, and your heart to believe His preaching of repentance and His forgiveness of all your sins.

Your mental picture of the Lord God Almighty and of His awesome power is all out of whack.  What you have known and experienced is the mighty power of His Law leveled against you and your sins.  And you’re certainly well aware of the world’s concept of power, too, which exerts itself against others in an effort to gain control — to dominate, to take, to punish and destroy.

In looking at yourself and your own situation, you tend to overlook or excuse your sins, and you surely do not welcome the discipline you need, far less the punishment you deserve.  Yet you are more than inclined to look for the vengeance of the Lord and the strong power of His Law when it comes to your neighbors, expecting that He should constrain them to love and serve you, and hoping that He will punish those who do not.  Like a competitive child keeping score and keeping tabs on your brothers and sisters, you want strong words for them and sweet words for yourself.

But instead, what the Lord sends is this voice in the wilderness — His preacher of repentance — to preach and administer a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He calls both you and your neighbors to repentance; not to punish or destroy, but to forgive both you and them.

There are no dominating power plays here, but simply a preacher who points out your sins, and then points you to the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself and takes away your sins.

Do not be offended by the preacher and his preaching.  Do not despise his personal unworthiness.  But listen and give heed to his voice, which makes straight the way of the Lord in the wilderness.

What is coming your way is Christ the Lord, in whom the almighty power of God is made perfect through His voluntary weakness, suffering, and death, and manifested in His mercy toward you.

The Lord Jesus comes in divine love and holy faith, in order to submit Himself to all the demands of the Law on your behalf, and to fulfill them perfectly for you and for all people; and yet, He also comes to suffer all the punishments of the Law in your stead, so that you should be set free.

So it is that the way of the Lord is opened up and made straight for you and for all the sinful sons and daughters of Adam & Eve.  For He is the One who comes and submits Himself, first of all, to the preaching and Baptism of St. John.  He passes through the waters of the Jordan River on His Way to the Cross, that you might enter with Him into the Paradise of His God and Father.

It is in and with Him that you pass through the Baptism of repentance — which is to pass through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — into His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, His salvation, and His everlasting Life in body and soul.

That Holy Baptism, with all its gracious gifts and benefits, is true divine power and strength, such as your old Adam and this whole fallen world have never known and are not able to understand.

But now the Fathers sends the preacher to preach, so that you might believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, through this preaching, and know Him rightly by faith in His Gospel, and finally see Him as He is in His Resurrection from the dead, when you shall be like Him in His true Glory.

It is for this purpose that I have been sent to preach to you, to baptize in the Name of Christ Jesus, and to recall you to the significance of your Baptism in Confession & Absolution; so that you and your children, and your children’s children, too, may know Him who loves you.  He comes in flesh and blood like your own, not for vengeance against you, but to save you and redeem you for life with God in Him.  He comes in peace, and He is here for you with mercy and compassion, with free and full forgiveness for all of your sins.  And that is the real strength and power of the Gospel.

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

02 January 2018

Living as a Son in the House of the Father

We know that, as an adult, zeal for His Father’s House will consume Him.  Then He’ll roll up His sleeves and cleanse the Temple of all attempted righteousness by works, and of all the buying and selling of indulgences.  And after that He’ll bare His holy arms again, and stretch them out, and sacrifice His Body and Life upon the Cross, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him from the dead.  So will His own Body become the Temple of the Living God for you and for all people.

All of these things He has done and accomplished.  So you have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight as you hear this story of the twelve-year-old Boy Jesus in the Temple.  In that respect, you know more now than He did then.  For in a mysterious way that we can hardly fathom, He grew and increased in wisdom: He listened to His teachers, and He learned from them as from His parents.

The little Lord Jesus was catechized by and with the Word of God and prayer in His family’s home and in the liturgical life of Israel, just as you and your children are catechized.  He asked questions in order to learn, to make progress in His knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.

Of course, He is the very Word of God made Flesh, and He possesses at all times the holy Wisdom that begins and continues with the fear of the Lord.  And yet, He lives a truly human life in the flesh.  He lives the life that you and your children have been created to live, which flows with and from the hearing of the Word of the Lord.  It is a life that is lived always to and from the Temple.

The Word of God became flesh, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order that His own Body should become the Temple of God by the way of His Cross and Resurrection.  To that end, He lives and fulfills your own childhood pattern in His upward journey to the Father on your behalf.

Which means that Mary and Joseph catechized the truly human Son of God entrusted to their care.  They did for Him what your parents have done for you, and what you parents are called and commanded to do for your children.  Not only did they feed and clothe His Body and teach Him what He would need to know for temporal life in this world.  They also taught Him the Bible; they took Him to church; they brought Him to see His pastors; they prayed and worshiped with Him.

St. Mary and St. Joseph weren’t perfect.  They were righteous and holy by the grace of God, by faith in His Gospel.  But, like you, they made mistakes.  They got frustrated, worried, scared, and impatient.  They were astonished by their Son, and they did not always understand Him.  Yet, they lived within their calling to be His parents.  So they taught Him, and He learned from them.

So did He increase in His knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

And so did the Lord Jesus also learn from the Feast of the Passover, to which His parents brought Him faithfully each year.  He learned that every firstborn male is the Lord’s.  In truth, all of God’s people are His own children; He has not only created them but has redeemed them for Himself. Nevertheless, the firstborn sons are His in a pointed and particular way.  For the firstborn sons of Israel were spared in the Exodus, when the Passover Lamb was put to death in their place.

Thus, as we have heard this past Sunday, the infant Christ Child was presented to the Lord in the Temple when He was six weeks old, according to the Law of the Lord, because He was the firstborn Son of His Mother Mary.  He was consecrated to the Lord, His God and Father.  His Body and Life were dedicated to holy service.

And now He knows, at the age of twelve, that sons belong in their Father’s House at the Passover.  For that is what the Feast requires.  And He has listened to the rites and ceremonies of that sacred Feast.  He has learned from the Liturgy.  He has taken the Word and promises of God to heart.

He belongs in the Temple, as a Son at His Father’s Table.  And in time, when His Hour has come, He will Himself be the Lamb that His Father gives for the entire Household and Family of God.

Which is why, dear child of God, that you also belong here in your Father’s House, gathered here around His Table, no matter how “grown up” you may be (or think you are).  You belong to the Holy Family of God, and the Lamb who has lived your life has also been sacrificed for you.

Therefore, let us keep the Feast to which the Lord invites us.  For here in His Body is the Temple of your own dear God and Father, in which you now abide unto the life everlasting.  For the flesh of Christ feeds you and nurtures you for life, and His Blood covers and protects you from death.

The Lord your God, the Father’s Son, has come down from heaven to abide with you here for a little while, so that you might go up with Him to the heavenly Jerusalem and live with Him there.  Find Him here in the Temple of His Church, in the preaching, teaching, and hearing of His Word, enthroned upon His Altar at the center of His Kingdom — the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives and reigns for evermore and evermore.

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

01 January 2018

The 2017 Grampies

It's that time once again. The coveted 2017 Grampies are herewith awarded. It's a more modest endeavor than recent years have seen, because I frankly don't have the time or energy to keep up with all the new music that appears across genres every year. Besides, I've been rediscovering the joys of simply savoring the music I already know and love from the past. Nevertheless, good things do continue to happen across the musical landscape, and these are my favorites from the past year. I've included a larger number of categories, but only my top ten in each (with one exception to that rule, because I simply couldn't narrow it down any further). In any case, I commend the following to your listening pleasure:


D. Rick’s Album Top 40 (across all genres)

1. Linkin Park - One More Light

2. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound

3. Train - a girl a bottle a boat

4. Accept - The Rise of Chaos

5. All That Remains - Madness

6. Zac Brown Band - Welcome Home

7. The Talbott Brothers - Gray

8. Lindsay Ell - The Project

9. The Steel Woods - Straw in the Wind

10. Ed Sheeran - ÷

11. Black Country Communion - BCCIV

12. Will Hoge - Anchors

13. Sunny Sweeney - Trophy

14. The Show Ponies - How It All Goes Down

15. Beyond the Black - Lost in Forever

16. The Waifs - Ironbark

17. Ten - Gothica

18. Inglorious - II

19. Chris Tapp - The Gospel Blues and Southern Gothic Companion

20. Black Star Riders - Heavy Fire

21. Smash into Pieces - Rise and Shine

22. Quinn Sullivan - Midnight Highway

23. Jorn - Life on Death Road

24. The Ferryman - The Ferryman

25. Brantley Gilbert - The Devil Don’t Sleep

26. Wolfpakk - Wolves Reign

27. Imagine Dragons - Evolve

28. Revolution Saints - Light in the Dark

29. Sara Evans - Words

30. Jamie Wyatt - Felony Blues

31. Signum Regis - Decennium Primum

32. Greta Van Fleet - From the Fires

33. Night Ranger - Don’t Let Up

34. The Dustbowl Revival - The Dustbowl Revival

35. Thunder - Rip It Up

36. The Drugstore Gypsies - The Drugstore Gypsies

37. Army of Bones - Army of Bones

38. Serenity - Lionheart

39. Sammy Berell - Passion Dreams

40. Electric Guitars - Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio


Pop

Train - a girl a bottle a boat
Ed Sheeran - ÷
Bryan Lanning - Us
HAIM - Something to Tell You
Grace VanderWaal - Just the Beginning
The Script - Freedom Child
Sheryl Crow - Be Myself
Lindsey Buckingham - Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie
Rachel Platten - Waves
Andy Grammar - The Good Parts


Country Pop

Lindsay Ell - The Project
Rascal Flatts - Back to Us
Lauren Alaina - Road Less Traveled
Brad Paisley - Love and War
Hunter Brothers - Getaway
RaeLynn - WildHorse
Eli Young Band - Fingerprints
Michelle Branch - Hopeless Romantic
Sarah Darling - Dream Country
Luke Bryan - What Makes You Country


Modern Mainline Country

Zac Brown Band - Welcome Home
Brantley Gilbert - The Devil Don’t Sleep
Little Big Town - The Breaker
Trace Adkins - Something Going On
Gretchen Wilson - Ready to Get Rowdy
Lady Antebellum - Heart Break
Blake Shelton - Texoma Shore
Big & Rich - Did It for the Party
Darius Rucker - When Was the Last Time
Tim McGraw & Faith Hill - The Rest of Our Life


Folk and Americana Country

The Talbott Brothers - Gray
The Show Ponies - How It All Goes Down
The Waifs - Ironbark
David Luning - Restless
Jason Eady - Jason Eady
Honest John - Honest John
Worry Dolls - Go Get Gone
Travis Linville - Up Ahead
Amanda Anne Platt - Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters
little hurricane - Same Sun Same Moon
Blitzen Trapper - Wild and Reckless
Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
Drew Holcomb - Souvenir
The Wild Reeds - The World We Built
Tunrpike Troubadours - A Long Way from Your Heart
Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts
Allison Pierce - Year of the Rabbit
Andrew Combs - Canyons of My Mind
John Moreland - Big Bad Luv
Applewood Road - Applewood Road


Retro and Traditional Country

Sunny Sweeney - Trophy
Sara Evans - Words
Jamie Wyatt - Felony Blues
Norma Jean Martine - Only in My Mind
Chris Stapleton - From a Room
Margo Price - All American Made
Luke Combs - The One’s for You
The Secret Sisters - You Don’t Own Me Anymore
Alison Krauss - Windy City
Ray Scott - Guitar for Sale


Edgy and Alternative Country

Chris Tapp - The Gospel Blues and Southern Gothic Companion
The Dustbowl Revival - The Dustbowl Revival
Son Volt - Notes of Blue
Steve Moakler - Steel Town
Angealeena Presley - Wrangled
Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a Song
Tyler Childers - Purgatory
Gwen Sebastian - Once Upon a Time
Charlie Worsham - Beginning of Things
Nikki Lane - Highway Queen


Country Rock

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound
The Steel Woods - Straw in the Wind
Will Hoge - Anchors
The Drugstore Gypsies - The Drugstore Gypsies
The Band of Heathen - Duende
The Cadillac Three - Legacy
Bad News Band - Drive Anywhere
Kid Rock - Sweet Southern Sugar
Danny Worsnop - The Long Road Home
Chris Shiflett - West Coast Town


Classic Rock

Black Country Communion - BCCIV
Inglorious - II
Black Star Riders - Heavy Fire
Greta Van Fleet - From the Fires
Thunder - Rip It Up
Black Stone Cherry - Black to Blues
Walk on Fire - Mind Over Matter
Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark?
Bob Seger - I Knew You When
Rex Brown - Smoke on This


Retro Radio Rock

Jorn - Life on Death Road
Revolution Saints - Light in the Dark
Night Ranger - Don’t Let Up
Coldspell - A New World Arise
Harem Scarem - United
Fastball - Step Into Light
Europe - Walk the Earth
One Desire - One Desire
Nick Douglas - Regenerations
Jimi Anderson Group - Longtime Comin’


Modern Rock

Ten - Gothica
Smash into Pieces - Rise and Shine
Wolfpakk - Wolves Reign
House of Lords - Saint of the Lost Souls
Hell or Highwater - Vista
Eclipse - Monumentum
Brother Firetribe - Sunbound
Mr. Big - Defying Gravity
Place Vendome - Close to the Sun
Sweet & Lynch - Unified


Progressive Rock / Symphonic Metal

Beyond the Black - Lost in Forever
Serenity - Lionheart
Signum Regis - Decennium Primum
Xandria - Theater of Dimensions
Unleash the Archers - Apex
Pinnacle Point - Winds of Change
Pyramaze - Contingent
Mindmaze - Resolve
Sons of Apollo - Psychotic Symphony
Styx - The Mission


Hard Rock / Heavy Metal

Accept - The Rise of Chaos
All That Remains - Madness
The Ferryman - The Ferryman
Striker - Striker
Battle Beast - Bringer of Pain
Trivium - The Sin and the Sentence
Firewind - Immortals
KXM - Scatterbrain
Iced Earth - Incorruptible
Bonfire - Byte the Bullet


Alternative

Linkin Park - One More Light
Imagine Dragons - Evolve
Army of Bones - Army of Bones
Black Map - In Droves
Never Say Die - Destroy + Rebuild
Sleeping with Sirens - Gossip
You Me at Six - Night People
Paramore - After Laughter
U2 - Songs of Experience
Robert Plant - Carry Fire


Guitarists

Quinn Sullivan - Midnight Highway
Sammy Berell - Passion Dreams
Electric Guitars - Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio
Aaron Keylock - Cut Against the Grain
Thorbjørn Risager - Change My Game
Ash Wilson - Broken Machine
John 5 & The Creatures - Season of the Witch
Andy James - Exodus
Marty Friedman - Wall of Sound
Richie Kotzen - Salting Earth