25 May 2017

Partakers of His Divine Nature

Among the early church fathers — especially the eastern fathers of the fourth century — it was understood, as basic to the Christian faith and life, that “God became Man, so that man might become divine.”  It sounds provocative at first, perhaps even shocking to your modern ears and sensibilities.  Or maybe you imagine the sort of new age mysticism that has twisted and perverted spirituality and detached it from Christ in exchange for personal self-realization.  But none of that.  The fathers were confessing what St. Peter has written concerning Christ in his Second Epistle:

“His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence, by which He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, that through these you might be partakers of the divine nature.”

So let us also consider this ancient confession of the faith, that God became Man, so that man might become divine.  The almighty and eternal Son of God became true Man, so that frail human beings — mortal men and women such as you — might become partakers of His divine nature.

Throughout Christmas and Epiphany, the Church focuses especially on the first point, that “God became Man.”  For the Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, has become one with us and with our children, taking human flesh and blood to be His own from the womb of the Virgin Mary; and in that flesh and blood He has lived your life and suffered all that you must suffer in your place.

But this festival day, one of the most important occasions of the Church Year, focuses attention on the second point, “that man might become divine.”  For on this day, in the Ascension of our Lord, the Church confesses and proclaims from the Holy Scriptures that our human nature has been raised from death to life and ushered into paradise, elevated to the heights of divine life, and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places.  The One who became like you has raised you up to be like Him.  For He is your own Brother in the flesh, who ascends to the Father in His Glory.  And as He was crucified and is raised for your salvation, His Ascension is your life with God.

Right now, I am well aware, that can really sound like nothing more than “pie in the sky.”  It is easy enough to feel trapped and confined by your mortal life here on earth.  And when you try to escape it, with drugs or alcohol or sex, you’ll only end up crashing all the harder on the other side.  When people speak of “heaven on earth,” surely you know that is not actually so.  More often than not, your life on earth can seem like a “living hell.”  So desperate have people become, that too many look for a tragic solution — which is no solution at all — in taking steps to end their lives.

Thank God, that isn’t the whole story, nor the real story.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, God has become your Father, and He has cleansed and restored your human nature in Christ Jesus.  In the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, you partake of the divine nature; you live with Him in God.

It is from within your Baptism into Christ that you participate in the divine nature and eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In those life-giving waters, sanctified by the Word and Spirit of Christ, you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  So are you also raised with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  And today, in particular, we also confess with great joy and thanksgiving, that by your Baptism into Christ you ascend with Him into the heavenly places.

No matter how bogged down you may be in the muck and the mire of this mortal life, in Christ you find that you are destined for higher things.  It’s not just pie in the sky.  It is the true reality, just as real, and just as much yours, as the waters of your Baptism.  In Christ you find that your entire life as a Christian is a heavenly life, which Christ lives in you, and you in Him, even here on earth.

As this heavenly life is yours in Christ, not only someday, but here and now by faith in His Gospel, so do you actually live the life of Christ in your dealings with those whom God has positioned around you and placed in relationship to you.  As the incarnate God, your Savior, Jesus Christ, lives forever in His own Body of flesh and blood, so do you live the divine life that you share with Him in and with your body, and not only in your heart or in your head.

In Christ, by His grace, through faith in Him, by the Spirit of His Father, you are like Him, and you live like Him.  You sacrifice your time, your treasures, and your talents for the sake of others.  Not that you squander these good gifts of God, but that you exercise a faithful stewardship of His gifts in the service of His Church and for the benefit of your neighbors, instead of serving yourself.

You likewise demonstrate mercy and compassion for your neighbors.  Your forgive those who sin against you, and you pray for those who set themselves against you.  You love your own family and friends, to be sure, but so also those who deal unkindly with you, speak ill of you, or think nothing of you at all.  To live the divine life is to live as Christ Jesus has lived for you in the flesh, taking up the Cross and bearing it in love, in the confidence of the Father’s Word and promises.

The simple fact of the matter is, that the life of Christ Jesus — His active faith and love, His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension — His life in the flesh is the Life of God in Man.

At all times and in all place, then, follow the example of your Lord Jesus Christ.  But of course, He is far more than just a good example.  He gives you Himself.  He gives you His life.  He pours out His Spirit upon you with His forgiveness of your sins.  And He makes you a partaker of the divine nature, as He has named you with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in your Baptism.  So are you a member of His family, a divine child of His own God and Father forever.

It’s certainly not as though you now live the divine life by your own power or initiative.  It’s not a matter of trying hard, of girding up your loins, or of pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.  Left to yourself, you remain down here on earth, with your chin and your heels dragging in the dirt.  But the divine life that you do now live is ever and only in Christ, as He lives in you, and with you, and through you, by His grace.  Indeed, you live as a Christian only as Christ Jesus lives in you.

That is why, when Christ appears to His Apostles, He includes along with His suffering, death, and Resurrection, the necessity that repentance and forgiveness be preached in His Name.  For you need the preaching of His Gospel as much as you needed His Cross and Resurrection.  The one would do you no good without the other.  You live by His Word and the preaching of it, and not at all apart from it.  It is by His Word that He takes your flesh and blood, your body and life, to be His own, to live with Him in His Kingdom, with His Father and His Holy Spirit, now and forever.

And as the Word of Christ brings you into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, so does the preaching of His Word also bring you to His Holy Supper, whereby He feeds your life in the flesh with His own divine flesh.

It is in the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ Jesus that you live and abide with God in both body and soul, both here and hereafter.  It may be that we have sometimes focused too narrowly on the Sacrament as a means of forgiveness.  And to be sure, let us rejoice and give thanks that the Body and Blood of Christ are given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins, without which you would have no life with God but only death and damnation.

But let us also revel in the divine life and salvation that are yours in the Holy Communion.  For in this Holy Sacrament, you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the true and only God.  And as you thus partake of God in the flesh, so do you also partake of the divine nature in Him, not only in your head or in your heart, but with your mouth, and with your body, unto the life everlasting.

God knows that you need forgiveness on a daily basis — as He has taught you to pray — for you sin every day and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  But in saving you from your sins, which would otherwise bring you death, He saves you for life with Himself in both body and soul.  It is to that end that He became true Man, and bore your sins in His own Body to the Cross, and died in your place; that in His Resurrection and Ascension you might become divine and live in Him.

Friend of God, “you are what you eat.”  And as you eat the divine Body and Blood of Christ, the Son of God, your own flesh and blood are raised to new heights, to partake of the divine nature in Him.  Thus are you prepared for your own Ascension into heaven.  And even now, the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ, in your hands and on your lips, sanctify your hands and lips, your body and life, for service to others; that you should live the divine life in faith and love on earth.

“God became Man, so that man might become divine.”  Not only has the Son of God become in every way like you, but He has also raised your human flesh and blood to be divine through Him.  By your Holy Baptism, He has shared His Cross and Resurrection with you.  In His Holy Supper, He feeds you with Himself, so that His Body and His Blood become a part of you, enlivening your flesh with His.  And on the Last Day, He will raise you up to be like Him forever.  Indeed, He will transform your lowly body of humiliation to be like unto His own glorious body forevermore

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

23 May 2017

Four Dozen Monsters of Rock (Give or Take)

My Facebook friends are aware (or, some of them, anyway), that over the past month or so I've been compiling a list of the best and most popular songs by more or less four dozen seminal rock bands and metal musicians from roughly the past four decades. Not sure what prompted me to do this, exactly; I suppose it was a conglomeration of factors, but so it goes. I prepared a Spotify playlist of this auspicious collection of music, a veritable course in rock 'n' roll cultural literacy, not only for my own enjoyment, but with the intention of sharing it with my family and friends. Alas, my first attempt to disseminate the fruits of my labors has fallen flat on its face, because the way I created the playlist (importing the music from Windows Media Player on my computer) meant that most others are not able to access it or listen to it, and, in most cases, are not even able to see the list. Major sadness!

Well, I'm not going to list all of the songs in that massive playlist, which would amount to ten full days of solid listening. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But, for those who are interested, I did promise to provide a list of the acts and artists included among my collected "Monsters of Rock." And true to my word, here it is. The ordering of the artists is neither alphabetical nor chronological, but is the order in which I actually came up with the list from out of my own head.  It's "roughly" four dozen artists, give or take, because you'll notice that I've combined some acts together, guitarists and/or vocalists with their bands in addition to their solo material and side projects. Yes, to be sure, there are many other rock bands and metal musicians who might have been included. But they aren't. Gotta draw the line somewhere, and these are my personal favorites.

In (parentheses) following each line item I've indicated the number of songs I've included in my playlist from that particular band and/or musician. The number of songs has mostly to do with the number of albums available, which is largely a matter of how many years the artist(s) has/have been making music. For some, the canon has been closed for awhile. For others, the music is still coming. None of these acts or artists have fewer than four albums, but some of them have upwards of a dozen.

For the benefit of the curious, and for those who minds work like mine, I determined which songs to include in my playlist on the basis of internet searches for the most popular and frequently played songs by each of these bands and musicians. In most cases, that meant a Google search of the artist and his "best top favorite songs." That usually brings up a list of the 51 most played YouTube videos (so far as I can determine), as of the time of the search. I've also made use of the Top 50 Songs site, powered by Last.fm, which similarly offers a list of the top fifty songs (go figure) from last fm (!). In a few cases, I had to do a little more searching, relying on various music blog reviews of albums, and/or The Top Tens site, which is actually pretty cool, especially for a guy like me who likes lists.

So, anyway, that's what I've done, and here are the artists that I deemed the "Monsters of Rock" from the early 70s to the present day. Feel free to lob stones, offer suggestions, make comments, shower me with kudos, or whatever. If I figure out a way to do it, if and when I actually have the time, I may take another stab at creating a new Spotify playlist that all y'all can actually access and listen to. Until then, rock on, rock on, and may the odds ever be in your favor, etc., etc.

Black Sabbath (64 songs)

Ozzy Osbourne (60 songs)

Led Zeppelin (58 songs)

Judas Priest / Halford (95 songs)

Scorpions (70 songs)

Van Halen / David Lee Roth (84 songs)

Bon Jovi (71 songs)

Shinedown (45 songs)

Def Leppard (68 songs)

AC/DC (62 songs)

Black Stone Cherry (44 songs)

Daughtry (40 songs)

Deep Purple (65 songs)

Queen (110 songs)

KISS (65 songs)

Dio / Heaven and Hell (53 songs)

Motley Crue (64 songs)

Guns ‘N’ Roses (50 songs)

Iron Maiden (81 songs)

Metallica (72 songs)

Megadeth (81 songs)

3 Doors Down (56 songs)

Foreigner (55 songs)

Dream Theater (87 songs)

Volbeat (48 songs)

All That Remains (56 songs)

Theocracy (32 songs)

Avenged Sevenfold (56 songs)

Tremonti / Alter Bridge / Creed (102 songs)

Slash / Velvet Revolver (57 songs)

Saxon (86 songs)

Amaranthe (40 songs)

Jorn / Allen Lande (90 songs)

Primal Fear (70 songs)

Dragonforce (54 songs)

W.A.S.P. (76 songs)

Disturbed (57 songs)

Stryper (62 songs)

Night Ranger (70 songs)

Whitesnake (63 songs)

Rainbow (52 songs)

Sammy Hagar (68 songs)

Journey (64 songs)

Loverboy (50 songs)

Styx (62 songs)

Firewind / Gus G (68 songs)

Black Veil Brides / Andy Black (43 songs)

21 May 2017

Living in Love with Christ Jesus

From the start, there is a lot going on in these Words of Jesus: “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments.”  Such language is typical of St. John’s Gospel, but it almost sounds conditional.

However, note that Jesus speaks these Words on Maundy Thursday, on the night when He washed His disciples’ feet and fed them with His Body and Blood.  For having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end; as He loves you, also, with water and His Word, and with His flesh and blood.  So has He previously said on that night: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.  By this all will know that you are My disciples.”

It is, therefore, not by keeping His Commandments that you enter into His Love; but it is from within His Love for you, that you now live in Him, and love Him, and keep His Commandments.

Especially in the writings of St. John, the word “love” often describes the attitude and activity of “faith,” such as St. Paul might be more likely to put it.  Such love is not a matter of your feelings and emotions.  It is rather a single-minded devotion to Jesus, and a dependence on Him alone as your only Hope, because He is the One who forgives your sins and gives you life and salvation.

Such love for Jesus belongs to the First Commandment — and to the explanation of the First Commandment in the Small Catechism.  “You shall have no other gods.”  But you shall fear, love, and trust in this one true God in the flesh, Christ Jesus, above and beyond all things.  For Him to be your God is to find your happiness, contentment, peace, and rest in Him alone, regardless of whatever else may be going on; and to forsake all things, even life itself, rather than let Him go.

To “love” Him is to know Him, and to believe and trust in Him, as your Savior and your God.

The necessary connection between loving Jesus and keeping His Commandments likewise resides in the First Commandment, which is the fountain and source from which all of the Commandments are kept in faith toward God and in love for God and your neighbor.  In love for the Lord your God, which is to say, in love for Christ Jesus, you live for your neighbor and love your neighbor — as Christ lives for you and loves you — in accordance with the Word that He speaks to you.

Notice the similarity and continuity between these two sides of the Law, that is, the command to love God with all you are and have, and the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  The entire Law is summed up in this one word, “Love.”  But notice, too, the important difference and distinction between these two greatest Commandments.  The Lord commands you to love your neighbor in order to love and serve your neighbor, to protect and provide for him.  But you are commanded to love the Lord your God, to worship Him alone, to call upon His Name, and to hear and heed His Word, because He loves you; He protects you and provides for you in body and soul.

The first three Commandments call you to have faith in God, to fear, love, and trust in Him, to receive His gifts, and to rely upon His promises; and so also to live according to His Word.

The Second Commandment depends upon the First, because you cannot rightly worship the Lord your God, nor can you call upon His Holy Name, except by way of fear, love, and trust in Him.  So do both the First and Second Commandments likewise depend upon the Third, because you neither believe in God with your heart nor confess Him with your lips except by the hearing of His Word, as you find your Sabbath Rest within His Church in the preaching of Christ Jesus.

These first three Commandments may be described and understood as “evangelical commands,” because they call you to receive and believe the Gospel, and thus to live by faith in Christ Jesus.

And again, it is from within that life, which is yours in Christ Jesus — from within His Love for you — that you are commanded to live in love for your neighbor, to give him rest in Jesus’ Name.  Not that you earn your place or earn your keep by the works of love that you do, but that you abide in faith and love within the household and family of God, as a son of God in Christ Jesus.

Each and all of the Ten Commandments reveal your sin and your desperate need for a Savior, for they expose the lack of love in your heart and life, in your thoughts, words, and actions.  But even as they do so, the first three Commandments continue to call you and point you to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has kept and fulfilled the Commandments of God in perfect faith and holy love.

You have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You have not loved your neighbor as you must.  You have loved and worshiped and served yourself, the thoughts of your own mind, the imaginations of your own sinful heart, and the lustful desires of your flesh.  In disobedience and selfishness, you have pursued death instead of life, idolatry instead of God, and darkness instead of the Light.  It is true that what you deserve is nothing but punishment.

But the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, in His perfect Love for the Father, and in His great love for you and for all people, He has kept the entire Law in your stead, on your behalf.  Yet, He has also suffered the judgment and punishment of the Law in your place and for your sake.  He has thus satisfied the demands and requirements of the Law, not only in the sense of rules and regulations to be kept, but by establishing the life and love of God in His own flesh as true Man.

When Jesus speaks of “His Commandments” in this Holy Gospel, they are indeed His.  Not only because He commands them; which He certainly does, and that is to be taken seriously.  But they are His Commandments, all the more, because He is the One who keeps them and fulfills them.  They are written, not in stone, but in His flesh and blood, in His life and death and Resurrection.

It is Christ alone who has kept the Commandments of God and lived according to them, by faith, in love, even unto death upon the Cross.  That is the height of His Glory.  For it is by His Sacrifice that He is the one true Man, the one true God in human flesh, who is divine Life and Love for you.

It is in this light that you are called to fear, love, and trust in Jesus as your true and only God, to call upon His Name in every trouble with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and gladly to hear and learn His Word and the preaching of it.  In all of this, you love Him because He first loves you.  Not simply by way of gratitude, nor merely following His good example and returning the favor, as it were.  But your love for Him — and all that follows upon that love — is made possible by His Love for you, and arises from within His Love for you.  Otherwise you remain in your sins.

Loving the Lord Jesus and keeping His Commandments is not centered in you and your doing.  It is rather a life that you receive from Him and live in Him by divine grace.  You enter into life and salvation with God in Christ as you are called out of yourself into Him, and as you renounce yourself and all of your selfish, self-centered works, in favor of Christ and His works of Love.   And these gifts He freely gives you by the Ministry of His Word and Spirit through the Gospel.

The various post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus — including that dear Emmaus Gospel, such as we heard earlier this month — mark the beginning of His ongoing and abiding presence in the preaching and catechesis of the Scriptures in His Name, and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table in His Church.  By and with these means, He bestows His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you.

And by these ways and means of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus fulfills the Word and promise you have heard from Him this morning: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  For He comes to you and cares for you, Himself, and He provides for you and protects you by His Spirit.

There is a connection between this “Helper” from the Father and the fact that Jesus does not leave you as an orphan.  His Spirit is your Paraclete, that is, your legal friend or helper, your advocate and defender, your attorney and counselor, and your intercessor.  You are not left defenseless, for the Spirit pleads your case and guards your life with the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

The same Spirit is indeed “the Spirit of Truth,” for He is the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is actively present and at work in the Word of Jesus, whose Word is Spirit and Truth.  And is it by the Holy Spirit that Christian disciples of Jesus worship the Father “in Spirit and Truth,” which is to say, according to the Word of Jesus, from within His crucified and risen Body, the true Temple of God, within the Holy Communion of His Body, the Church.

So it is that, by the Spirit of Truth, through the Ministry of the Gospel, you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, you live and abide with the Father in Him, and you do keep His Commandments.

The most obvious example this morning is to be found in your Holy Baptism, such as St. Peter describes in his Epistle.  He proclaims the Cross and Resurrection, that “Christ died once for all, the Just for the unjust, for the forgiveness of sins; He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit.”  Then he identifies your connection to this life-giving work of Christ; for “Baptism now saves you, granting you a good conscience” through the forgiveness of your sins, by virtue of the Cross, “and making you alive in Christ Jesus through His Resurrection and Ascension.”

The same Spirit of Christ Jesus is at work, forgiving your sins and giving you life and salvation with God the Father, in the spoken word of Holy Absolution, and especially in the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion.  In each of these Sacraments of Salvation, you are bound together with the incarnate Son of God in His Cross and Resurrection.

These are the ways and means by which the Lord Jesus comes to you and makes His abode with you, as He promises; and by which you also live and abide in Him.  By the Ministry of His Gospel He loves you, He forgives you, and He gives you His own divine Life in body and soul — as the Son with His Father — in place of the death and damnation that are your legacy apart from Him.

As Christ is thus with you by grace, His Spirit reveals Him to you, and awakens faith and love for Him within your heart and mind, body and soul, that you might be with Him where He is forever.

In such love for Christ Jesus, you do keep His Commandments, because you share His Life and live in Him — by the Spirit, with the Father.  Not by your own power, but Christ now lives in you.

And this Life that is yours in Christ, which you live in Him, is the very content of your Salvation.  Not that you are saved by your works of love; but quite the opposite, that you live and work in love because you are with the Lord, and you belong to the Father as a beloved child in Christ, and His Spirit animates you.  God’s Love for you and His gift of Salvation are not the consequence of your life and love, but your life with God and your love for Christ, for God and for your neighbor, are the consequence of His Love and His Life for you.  You live and you love as Christ does, because you live and abide with Christ in the bosom of the Father, as He makes His abode with you here.

It is all entirely by grace.  You love the Lord Jesus, and you keep His Commandments, because He loves you in the world, in and with His Ministry of the Gospel, within His Holy Christian Church.  He loves you to the end, that is, to the completion and perfection of His good work in you, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He has given Himself for you, and He ever lives to love you.

Of course it is true that, as you are a fallen son or daughter of Adam, and you remain a sinner so long as you remain in this world, you neither know nor recognize Christ Jesus, nor do you receive His Spirit and His Life, by any powers or pursuits of your perishing flesh.  Your native reason and strength are not able to love the Lord your God; nor are they able to keep His Commandments.  Bear that in mind, and repent, when you are so prone to chase after a life and love of your own devising and by your own efforts.  Look not for life in yourself, in your works, or in your idols.

But let not your heart be troubled.  The Life and Love of God in Christ have no end.  The Father loves you with such never-ending love in His Son, and He continues to send His Spirit of Truth to comfort you and help you.  By the Gospel, here and now, the Holy Spirit grants you the free and full forgiveness of Christ from His Cross, and He raises you up in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus to live and abide with the Father in Him.  Thus by His grace do you love Him, as He loves you.

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

14 May 2017

The New Song of the Gospel

Here’s something to make your heart sing, to soar even into heaven itself: The Lord Jesus has prepared a place for you, a place with Himself, a place in His Father’s House.  He has made His God and Father your God and Father, and His Father’s House into your own house and home.

Not only that, but you know the Way there.  You know the way home to the House of your God and Father, because Christ is the Way.  Whatever confusion may yet becloud your mind, whatever doubts and fears may yet haunt your heart, the Lord Jesus has come to you in love, and He has revealed Himself to you.  More than that, He has given Himself for you and to you.

The Son of God has come down from the Father in heaven.  He has become true Man of flesh and blood, and He has gone down into the depths of sin and death.  Yet, He is lifted up to the Glory of God in His death upon the Cross, in order to draw all men to Himself.  And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has returned to His Father, where He ever lives to intercede for you.  He is your merciful and great High Priest, and in and with His prayers for you, in and with His crucified and risen Body, He raises you from death to life, and He brings you to the Father in peace and love.

He is such a great High Priest who is not unable to sympathize with you, but who has suffered and been tempted in every way that you are, yet without sin.  He has not turned aside or departed from the Way set before Him by the Father, but in your place, on your behalf, He has persevered and prevailed for your Salvation.  So it is that His Victory has become yours.  It is credited to you, and it avails for you, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

You also share His priesthood as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.  For you share all things with Him who is your heavenly Bridegroom.  As you have been united with Christ Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection by your Holy Baptism, and as you actually eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Christ, which have been sacrificed for you and for all — offered to God as an acceptable sacrifice and a sweet-smelling aroma — so are you also taken up into His priesthood.

Which is to say that you also now offer spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God.  Indeed, you are an acceptable sacrifice.  Your whole body and life are offered to God as a sacrifice in Christ Jesus.  A living sacrifice, that is what your life is.  Not for the propitiation of your sins.  Not for the atonement of your sins.  Not for your sins at all.  There is no other sacrifice for sin than the one that Christ has offered once for all.  All sins are forgiven by His holy and precious Blood.

But the priestly sacrifice that characterizes your new life in Christ is the sacrifice of faith, which looks to God for all good things, and calls upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

Your priestly sacrifice, your priestly life, is one of prayer and of song.  And on this Sunday, in particular, you are called upon to sing.  “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” the Psalmist says.  At the Lamb’s High Feast we sing.  Sing to the Lamb who was slain, and yet who lives forever.  Sing with all the saints and angels in heaven and on earth, as they are privileged to sing with us in Christ.

Singing is closely connected to the priestly office, and to the priestly life.  One of the things that King David did, in particular, was to assign a number of the Levites to the task of singing.  To sing the Psalms.  To sing around the Lord’s Altar and His Ark of the Covenant.  To sing the praises of God, as when St. Peter says that you have been called out of darkness into Light, that you may show forth or proclaim the wonderful excellencies of God.

You sing because it is a way of giving thanks and praise to God.  It is a way of exulting in the works and gifts of God.  And you sing, Dr. Luther has said, because singing — especially singing the Gospel — chases the devil away and drives him out of your life, since he cannot stand to hear Christians sing the Gospel of Jesus.  The devil cannot tolerate the singing of God’s praises.

You sing for yourself, and you sing for your neighbor.  You sing to your children, and you sing for the person sitting next to you, whose heart may not want to sing because it is so sad.  And when you lift your voice in singing, then you are serving as a priest along with Christ, caring for His Body, the Church — even as His Body and Bride, the Church, cares for you and all the children of God by singing His Word and faith to you and for you and with you.

This Song, this singing, is called forth in you by the Word of Christ.  He speaks His Word.  He sings His Word.  A new and better Aslan is here, singing a new and better Land into being by His preaching of the Gospel.  So does the Father sing to you by His Son.  And so does the Spirit sing Christ into your very body and life through your ears with this New Song of the Gospel.

By and with the preaching of Christ, the Spirit sings the Song of faith into your heart.  For as you hear the New Song of Christ Jesus, you also begin to sing along with Him to the Glory of His Name and for the good of your neighbors.  By His Word and Holy Spirit, you sing to the Lord a New Song: The Song of Easter.  The Song of the Resurrection.  The Alleluia of faith, which exults in the Lord’s triumph over sin, death, the devil, and hell, even when everything is going wrong.

You are able to sing in the face of sin and death, in the midst of trial and temptation, and in spite of every kind of trouble, because the Gospel gives you the comfort of Christ and His Spirit.  He forgives you all your sins, so that Satan cannot harm you.  And even though death may hurt your body and rob you of your loved ones, it cannot snatch you away from Christ who loves you.

Whatever lies the devil may speak, whatever dark song the devil may sing, in this New Song of the Gospel you know the Love of God in Christ, which never ends, and from which you shall not be separated.  By His Cross you are forgiven, and in His Resurrection and Ascension you have the freedom to live and to love and to serve with both courage and compassion.

You have the courage to do the job that God has given you, even if it is tedious, unappreciated, overlooked, and hard.  And you have compassion for those who hurt you and speak ill of you.

Like St. Stephen, the faithful deacon and holy martyr, one of the most significant examples in all of Scripture.  He performed works of mercy according to his office and vocation.  He preached the Gospel.  He served the Church.  He laid down his life for the Name of Christ. And as he was being stoned to death, brought to his knees by those hard rocks, he looked to the Lord Jesus and prayed for those who were killing him, that God would not hold their sin against them.  He forgave them.

You know people like that, too.  Maybe your Mom.  Maybe a big brother or sister.  Maybe your Grandpa.  Or maybe a coworker.  People with courage to live and to work as faithful Christians wherever God has put them.  People who demonstrate genuine strength with tender compassion.

As a Christian, you have that strength and courage, too.  You have the faith to sing, and you have the freedom to love.  You have the confidence and courage to confess Christ in the face of hostility and hatred.  And you have the compassion to forgive those who trespass against you.

None of this by your own strength.  These good works of faith and love do not originate from your sinful heart or fallen flesh.  They are the free gifts of God in Christ, by the grace of His Gospel.  As He is so tender and compassionate, and forgives you all of your sins, and uses His strength to save you, so do you also have such strength in Him, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

How is it, then — after being served by Christ, after hearing His Song and singing with Him — how is it that you are still so confused, so restless and afraid, and sometimes so angry, despairing, or impatient?  Why is it that, even as the sweet Song of the Resurrection of the Lamb rings in your ears and all around you in His Church, there is still that tune of darkness and death in your heart?

It is because the Lord your God, your Savior, reveals Himself to you and sings to you by His Cross.

The Cross is laid upon your faith and life in suffering with and for Christ Jesus.  The same Cross that is preached to you, which marks your forehead and your heart from the waters of your Holy Baptism, and which you bear as a disciple of Christ Jesus — that same Cross confronts and crucifies the sin that remains in you, that is, in your flesh.  And because you are a sinner in a sinful world, and because you are a stranger in a strange land, you are crushed and confused by the Cross.

As you hear the Word of the Cross, and as the Cross is laid upon your heart and mind, your body and life, you stumble and take offense.  You too often find yourself not much like Stephen at all.  You are cowardly instead of courageous.  You decline to speak when you should, yet gossip against your neighbors, and curse and swear by the Lord’s Name.  You are bitter and resentful, instead of compassionate and kind. Eager for revenge. Defensive and defiant. Not given to prayer.

Your heart does not feel like singing, and you don’t.  Instead, you worry and you fret.  You’re anxious and afraid.  You cannot hear the Song, and you cannot sing along, because the sinful flesh that has been cut away from your ears and from your heart keeps growing back.  In fact, it gets tougher and calloused with scars.  It resists the Word of Christ, and it dulls the Song He sings.

That’s why God keeps on preaching the Cross to you, and lays the Cross upon your body and life in this world.  Because it takes the sharp, two-edged Sword of the Cross to pierce and cut through your sinful flesh — that is, to “circumcise” your ears and your heart, again and again and again.

You are cut to the quick by the Word of the Cross, not for despair, and not for the gnashing of teeth, but for repentance.  And that same Cross which crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you in and with Christ Jesus, also raises you up, in and with Him,  through His forgiveness of sins.

It is by His free and full forgiveness of your sins, by His sweet Song of the Gospel, that He calls you and brings you to a living faith in Him, out of the darkness into His glorious light.

Wherever in your life you find that you are still in the dark; wherever in your life you find that you are still dead in your trespasses and sin; wherever in your life you are burdened, and despairing, and unable to sing, the one and only remedy is still that New Song of the Gospel which Christ keeps on singing to you and for you, and by which He keeps on calling you back to Himself.

That is His good work, and that is His gracious gift.  As it was for St. Stephen and all the holy martyrs; as it has been for all of the faithful who have gone before you; and as it is for all of the faithful who are with you now, so it is that He calls you to Himself by the Song of His Cross.

By that Song He calls you into life through the new birth of His own death and Resurrection.  That’s why you hunger for His Word like a little baby; because He keeps on giving you that new birth of repentance and faith.  The Song of His Cross circumcises your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to confess the Word of Christ the Crucified.

You share His “royal priesthood” in your prayers and thanksgiving, and in the New Song of your mind and heart, your body and life, because Christ Jesus loves you, and He lives in you, and He glorifies His Father in you.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And He is the New Song, which the Spirit sings to you and for you, in you and with you, here at the Lord’s Altar, around the Lamb upon His Throne, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.

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

07 May 2017

Following the Good Shepherd of Your Soul

As so often in St. John’s Holy Gospel, this Word of our Lord is at once so simple and obvious, and yet, so profound and mysterious that you can hardly understand it.  In fact, you cannot understand the things of Christ apart from the grace of His Word and Holy Spirit.  The disciples likewise did not understand the “figure of speech” that Jesus was using in this case.  It is only in the light of the Cross and Resurrection that anyone is able to understand the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel; but of course, the Cross and Resurrection must also be explained by His Word and Holy Spirit.

There are a number of key point in this Holy Gospel, which speak to the heart of your salvation: There is the Door to the sheepfold.  There are the true shepherds who enter through that Door, in contrast to thieves and robbers who enter by some other way or means.  There is the Doorkeeper, who admits the shepherds to the fold.  There are the sheep, who recognize their Shepherd by the sound of His Voice, but they neither hear nor heed the voice of thieves and robbers.  And, finally, there is the abundant Life which the Good Shepherd gives to His own dear sheep.

You know and confess that Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  But where and how does He “shepherd” you as a sheep of His fold?  That is, by and large, the main point to our Gospel this morning.  The great Good Shepherd of the sheep comes to you, He deals with you and cares for you, by those shepherds whom He calls and sends to speak and act in His Name and stead, with His authority.

As Jesus says, He is the Door through which the shepherds of His sheep must enter.  But since He also is the Shepherd of the sheep, He enters through the Door, as well.  He enters through the door of Mary’s womb, to begin with, in order to become true Man, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.  And then He enters through the door of His Cross and Resurrection — through death and the grave — into everlasting life.  The Lord-Who-is-our-Shepherd thus becomes the sacrificial Lamb of God, a Sheep led to the slaughter, to lay down His Body and Life for the entire flock.

Accordingly, those who are called to shepherd the flock under Him must also enter through this “Door,” which is Christ Himself, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is the Lord Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd, who makes any man a pastor, that is, a shepherd of His sheep.  This work He does by His Word, by the means of His Divine Call and Ordination.

It is Christ who calls and ordains a man to the Office of the Holy Ministry, though He does so through the agency of His Church on earth: The seminaries teach and train, the Church at large affirms and certifies, a congregation extends a Call, and those who already serve within the office confirm the Call with the laying on of hands, with the Word of God and prayer.  But it is the Lord who thereby provides shepherds for His sheep.  Apart from His Word and His work, there are no shepherds but only thieves and robbers.  Only those who enter through the Door of the Body of Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit in His Church, are actually the true shepherds of His sheep.

But that is the beginning, not the end.  A man who has been called and ordained as a shepherd of the sheep — especially because he is sent in the Name and stead of the Good Shepherd — must always speak and act in accordance with the Word of Christ.  In everything a pastor says and does, he continues to enter into the sheepfold through the Door, that is, through Christ, by way of His Word.  Thus do the sheep hear and know their Shepherd’s Voice in the preaching of their pastor: because it is indeed the Voice of Christ, their Savior, with which their pastor speaks to them.

What is it, then, that all of us — pastors and people, shepherds and sheep — are called to do?  It is to hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd, and to follow Him by faith in His Word.  You know where to hear His Voice, that is, from those whom He has called and sent to be your pastors in His Name and stead.  And you follow Him by heeding His Voice and living by the Word that He speaks to you.  Thus do you receive the abundant Life that Christ has obtained and gives to you.

This abundant Life for which you were created, which is to say, your Life with God the Creator, is not only from Christ but in Christ.  It has been accomplished for you and for all by His death upon the Cross, and it is given to you in His Resurrection from the dead — as it is preached and administered in all the world — through the Ministry of His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins.

This Gospel is the distinctive Voice of the Good Shepherd, which is spoken into your ears and given into your body by His Word and Sacraments.  This Voice of the Shepherd does not simply tell you about the forgiveness of sins.  It is the actual forgiveness of all your sins.  And it is by this Voice of forgiveness that Christ Jesus gives you His own abundant Life.  It is not some endeavor that you must do or accomplish for yourself by following a set of rules or regulations.  It is Life itself, the gracious gift of God in Christ.  In hearing His Voice, you already begin to live in Him.

Everything depends on His Voice.  His sheep know His Voice and follow Him by faith; but those who do not recognize or listen to His Voice are not His sheep and have no part in His sheepfold.

That is a sobering assertion, which calls you to repentance.  For St. John has indicated that even those chosen disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about.  And do not suppose that you are smarter or superior to those men who were called by Christ Himself and followed Him to death.  No.  By virtue of your fallen flesh, you are not even able to know the Voice of Christ, because you were conceived and born in sin.  So you are not His sheep by any merit or ability of yours.

You are a sheep of the Good Shepherd, like those first disciples, only because He has called you to Himself, and by His Word and Holy Spirit He has caused you to hear and believe His Voice of the Gospel.  Otherwise, it would make no sense to you at all.  Indeed, it would be quite offensive.

You don’t like to hear that your sins are forgiven, because you cling to a denial of your sins.  You seek not forgiveness but explanations and excuses.  You don’t like to hear that you are given life in the Cross of Christ, because you don’t want a life that is shaped and defined by the Cross.  You don’t want the preaching of the Gospel, because you don’t like to rely upon the preacher whom Christ has sent.  You much prefer the self-righteousness of a prideful do-it-yourself spirituality.

The Voice of your Good Shepherd is surely the sweetest and most comforting sound that you will ever hear.  It forgives your sins and gives you Life.  But to those who are not yet sheep, even the sweetness of this Voice is bitter; and it remains bitter to the ears of your old Adam, because the forgiveness of your sin means the renunciation and repudiation of your sin, which has otherwise defined your so-called “life.”  And to live the new Life that you have in Christ Jesus involves the daily death and destruction of your old Adam — who is no one else than your own sinful self.

So it is that you will too often prefer to listen to the voices of thieves and robbers and to follow them instead of your Shepherd.  You don’t perceive them to be thieves and robbers, of course, because they say what your itching ears desire to hear.  Besides, they’re not stealing from you so much as they are stealing you from your Good Shepherd!  Yet, by doing so, they rob you of your life and health and everything else, because they lead you astray from your Savior, Christ Jesus.

Such are the grim realities that your Shepherd faces.  By all rights, He might well throw up His hands in disgust and just give up on you and your stubborn, wayward ways.  Sheep are often not the smartest of animals, as I recall from when I was a young boy living in Australia, where many of my friends and their families raised sheep.  By your native sinfulness, however, you are even more foolish and stubborn than sheep.  You are sinful and unclean, and it is surely true that you deserve nothing else but punishment for your sins, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

But what does your Good Shepherd do?  He comes through the door of St. Mary’s womb into flesh and blood like yours, in order to share your mortal life, and to bear, both with you and for you, all the deadly consequences of your sin.  He passes through the narrow door of death and the grave, in order to blaze the trail and open the way for you, into His Resurrection and His Life; that you should be forgiven all your sins by His grace; that you should not perish but live with God forever.

His own Cross and Resurrection have thus become the Door whereby you enter His sheepfold — His Church on earth and the Paradise of God — in which you are His own dear sheep, and you are kept safe from the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh, and you are cared for by Christ Himself.

So do the Cross of Christ and His forgiveness of your sins also shape the Life that you live in Him.  Which is to say that, as a sheep of the Good Shepherd, your life is characterized by self-sacrificing love and service for others, and especially by your forgiveness of those who sin against you.

So it is that, even though most of you will never become pastors of the Church, there are many ways in which the Good Shepherd does call you to serve and care for His sheep, that is, within your own particular stations in life.  That is probably most obvious in the callings of fathers and mothers for their children, and for teachers, public servants, doctors and nurses.  But whatever your particular place and calling may be, you are given to love and care for your neighbor for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Thus are you an agent of the Shepherd’s care for others.    Indeed, that is the main point and purpose of your position in life; not making money or a name for yourself, but loving and serving those entrusted to your care, and forgiving your neighbor as Christ forgives you.

As you consider how often you fall short of these good and gracious things in the way that you actually do think, speak, and act in relation to your neighbor, so do you realize that, not only are you a sheep of the Good Shepherd by His grace, but you are still a sinner, a child of Adam in this body and life on earth.  And if you conclude that it is all too much for you, and that you are simply not up to it, well then, you are quite right!  For as long as you live in this fallen world, you are going to fall short, to stray from the Shepherd and His flock, and to sin.  Of yourself, you are lost, helpless and hopeless.  But, thankfully, none of this depends on you.  None of it.  Not in the least.

It is the Good Shepherd Himself, your dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has gotten Life for you, and who now bestows that abundant Life upon you by His grace alone.  By His Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection, He has become your Shepherd.  And by His Ministry of the Gospel, He not only calls you to be His sheep, but He shepherds you and cares for you in peace.  It is His Voice that daily and richly forgives you all your sins, and calls you back to the fold as often as you stray.  And it is by His Voice of the Gospel that His Spirit strengthens and sustains your faith and life in Him.

For your part, then, hear your Shepherd’s Voice as He speaks to you, and receive His forgiveness of your sins, His life and salvation, which He freely delivers to you here and now in His Church.

You are shaped for Life with God by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, into which you have been baptized.  You are given a forgiving heart, and you learn how to forgive those who sin against you, by confessing your sins and receiving Absolution from your pastor as from your Good Shepherd Himself.  And you are nurtured in the green pastures of that same Good Shepherd, to grow up unto everlasting life in His image, as often as you are fed with His own Body at His Table and given to drink of His holy and precious Blood from His overflowing Chalice of Salvation.  So shall you live and abide in the House of the Lord forever.

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

01 May 2017

Your Home Is Where Your Heart Is at Peace with God in Christ

Real life is more than simply to exist.  Real life is more than breathing and eating and drinking, going to bed and getting up to do it all over again.  Real life is to dwell with the Father in peace and in love, to abide with Him in His House as a member of His household and family.

To live in the Father’s House, that is real life.  And that is more than a matter of location.  More than where your bedroom happens to be found at the end of each day.  It is more than whether you even have a bedroom or a bed to call your own.

The Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head in His life on earth, and yet, He was always at home with His Father.  For the Father always abides in His Son, and He remained with Him at all times, even in the midst of suffering and death.  And the Lord Jesus was always in and with His Father, no matter where He roamed, from His Nativity and His Baptism to His Cross and Resurrection.

The same is true for you by faith.  Whether you live in a mansion, or a pup tent, or under a bridge; whether you have no permanent address, or a place where you’ve lived for fifty years, your home is with God the Father when by faith you are in Christ Jesus.  Whereas, apart from faith, it doesn’t matter where you lay your body down, where you hang your hat, or what you call your home.  Apart from faith in Christ, you have no real resting place, no true home, and no lasting family.

It is by faith that you live and abide with the Father in peace and in love.  But that is not how it is for you as a child of Adam to begin with.  As a son or daughter of Adam & Eve, you have been driven from your home with God, cast out of the Garden.  Not because of any fault in God, but on account of your own fault.  Your sin, your unbelief, and your idolatry have put you at odds with God and wrecked your relationship with Him.

You know what this is like from your own home and family.  If you are at odds with your father or mother, or with your siblings; if there is some unresolved grievance; if you have done wrong but have not yet been reconciled to your father, then, even though you live in the same house, and you have your own room and your place at the table, it sure doesn’t feel like home.  You may be frightened.  You may be confused.  You may be angry and bitter.  Your feelings may be all over the map, but you’re not really at home, not when there is no peace between you and your father.

On the other hand, you may be a soldier or a student far from home; and yet, even though you are far away and cut off by distance from your mother and father and your brothers and sisters, your home is where your heart is, and your heart dwells in peace with your family across the miles.

In much the same way, as a child of God, your heart dwells in peace with your Father in heaven, and you reside in His household as a member of His family, when by faith you lay hold of Christ Jesus, no matter where in the world you happen to be, and no matter how things may be going.

But you can’t get there or live there by your own knowledge.  You have no GPS or road map that tells you where or even what the Father’s House is.  You do not know how to find your way, and you do not know how to dwell there and abide there in peace, until the Lord Himself teaches you by His preaching of the Gospel, by His forgiveness of your sins.

Forgiveness is the Key to the Father’s House.  And that forgiveness comes from Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He knows the Way to the Father.  He is the Way to the Father.  He is the exact Representation and Likeness of His Father, especially in His flesh and blood as the incarnate Son.  And now this Lord Jesus Christ — the Son of God who has become true Man, your Brother, born of the Woman — He has come to show you the Way, and to be the Way for you.

And just as God has been hidden from you because of your sin — for it is not a lack of knowledge that prevents you, but sin which bars the way, and breaks your relationship, and makes the House of God feel like a place of fear instead of a place of rest — Christ has come and hidden Himself under the Cross in the midst of sin and death, in order to reveal Himself to you by the Gospel.

It is by the Cross and Resurrection, and by the preaching of the Gospel, that the Lord reveals Himself to you.  Not to your eyesight, and often not to your feelings and emotions, nor to your intellect and reason as such, but to faith — which He obtains in your heart, where and when it pleases Him, by His Word of forgiveness.  It is entirely His good work and His gracious gift.

Christ hides Himself in weakness, in order to reveal Himself in love to you who are weak.  The one true God hides Himself in flesh and blood; and not only that, but in the likeness of your fallen flesh, subject to the curse and consequences of your sin.  Subject to your death.

God thus hides Himself in that which is the very opposite of God.  He hides Himself in darkness and gloom.  He hides Himself in hurt and sorrow and pain.  He who is the Life hides Himself in death.  And He does so in order to reveal Himself to poor, miserable sinners, like yourself, who are lost in the darkness and condemned to die; so that in the midst of deep darkness the Lord might lay hold of you and bring you in peace to His Father.

The Son hides Himself in, with, and under the Cross, in order to reconcile you to His Father in His own crucified and risen Body.  That is the Way that He makes known to you through the Gospel.

Though you have been afraid; though you have been lost and confused; though you have been angry and bitter, God has set His heart at peace with you.  He is not angry.  He is not bitter.  And He has not lost sight of you.  Instead, the Father has given His Son in the flesh, even into death, that He might become the Firstborn of many brothers and sisters, among whom you are counted.

The Son of God, who has come from the very bosom of the Father, has returned to the Father by the Way of the Cross.  He has borne the sins of the world in His own Body, and made Atonement for them by His Blood.  And by the Way of the Cross, through suffering, death, and burial, He has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  All of His enemies are trampled under His feet, the head of the serpent crushed by His sacrificial death for the salvation of sinners.

By this Way of the Cross, in His Resurrection and Ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ has prepared a place for you.  And by faith in His Gospel, that is where you now live — with Christ in God — even while you sojourn through this valley of sorrow, a stranger in a strange land far from home.

Here within the Church on earth, you are in the Father’s House.  Here you are set at peace with God, because your sins are forgiven.  Here the gentleness of the Father toward you in Christ Jesus calms your quaking heart and your trembling hands and your troubled mind, so that you know peace such as the world cannot give.  And you find that you do have a place within the household and family of God, because you do have such a Father who loves you and cares for you.  He does not cast you away from His presence.  He does not punish you as you deserve.  He does not scold you for your sins.  He gathers you to Himself, He sets you at His Table, and He delights in you as He delights in His own beloved and well-pleasing Son, your Brother and Savior, Christ Jesus.

That House and Home with the Father are yours in Christ Jesus, who has not left you alone, but He is very near you, in your ears, and in your heart, and on your lips and tongue, with His Word.

It is for this purpose that He called and gathered to Himself those poor, confused men, including St. Philip & St. James, those holy Apostles who were also men of flesh and blood, of sin and weakness, no different and no better than yourself.  He revealed Himself to them, and He sent them to preach, to baptize, to absolve sinners in His Name, and to shepherd His flock with the Gospel.

We don’t know much about Philip, and we know even less about this James, who is often confused with a few others of the same name.  And what we do know is not altogether complimentary.  Yet, Christ knows and loves them well, and He was always with them in the Office to which He called them.  He was with them in their preaching.  He was with them in their works.  So that what they spoke and what they did were the words and works of Christ Himself.  Indeed, by these men He has done greater things than He ever did before, because He has accomplished His purposes and prepared a place for His people by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.

What Philip and James and all the Apostles delivered in His Name, and what the ministers of Christ to this day preach and administer in His Name, are the fruits and benefits of His Sacrifice.

Christ has brought you home to the Father in Himself, in His crucified and risen Body  And He gives you that Home here on earth within His Church by the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel.

Sheep, you know your Shepherd’s voice.  You hear it in the Gospel.  You know it, and you follow Him, even though it is by mortal men that He now speaks to you.  You hear Christ Jesus in the preaching of His Word, and you know Him by faith.  And knowing Him, you know His Father as your own dear Father in heaven.  Because what you hear in Christ, and what you see by faith in Him, is the Father’s heart open wide to you in love, in mercy, in compassion and forgiveness.

Believe in Him.  Trust in Him.  Know that the Word He speaks to you is true.  It is steadfast, sure, and certain.  It is not empty and lifeless, but living and life-giving.  It is stronger than death and the grave.  And it is stronger than your own heart, which may accuse and condemn you.

Christ is for you.  That is what He speaks.  That is what He does.  That is what He gives.  Believe in Him.  And believe in His Father.  Believe the Word that He speaks to you, and confess that Word.  Speak it against the lies of the devil, and speak it in love to and for your neighbor.

Proceed in faith as you hear that Word, even when everything around you testifies differently.  Even though Christ is hidden under the Cross, and that which you see and experience in the world seems so tangible and so convincing, whether for good or evil.  The Word of Christ alone is true and eternal.  So confess it.  And if you are mocked and ridiculed, so be it.  Confess it anyway, and rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for the Word of Christ like the Prophets and Apostles before you.  Like Philip and James, who sealed their preaching with their own lifeblood.

Do not only confess the Word that is spoken to you, but also pray according to it.  Pray in Jesus’ Name.  That is to say, pray in the confidence of Christ who loves you.  Pray from within the waters of your Baptism.  Pray as a member of God’s household and family.  Pray as dear children ask their dear father, only that much better; for God is your true Father, and you are His true child, and He does not spurn your prayers.  He has commanded you to pray, and He has promised to hear you.

As you lift up your heart and your voice to call upon the Name of the Lord, you enter into His courts with thanksgiving; and along with your prayer, you also ascend like incense into the Holy of Holies, in and with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Your prayer is heard for Jesus’ sake.  By prayer in His Name you already dwell in the House of God, because Christ has drawn near to you.  He has not simply waited on high for you to pray, in order to have compassion, but in compassion He has stooped low.  He has built His Church here.  He has raised its walls and established its foundations by the preaching of His Holy Apostles and Prophets, which He also causes to be preached to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.

By that Word, right here and now, your sins are all forgiven.  There is no condemnation.  You are not cast out.  You are at home with your Father, because His own dear Son, Christ Jesus, is here with you as your Savior, who will never leave you nor forsake you.  And as He is here with you, with His Gospel, so shall you be with Him, where He is, forever and ever.

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

30 April 2017

The Catechesis of Christ in the Way of His Cross

The truth of the matter — in accordance with all that the Prophets have spoken and all that the holy Apostles have preached and declared to you and to the whole Church — the truth of the matter is that Jesus has redeemed His people, His Israel, His Church.  Indeed, He is the Propitiation, not only for your sins, but for those of the entire world.

True God, begotten of His Father from eternity, He has also become true Man, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He has offered His Body and Life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and has shed His holy and precious Blood to make Atonement for them all.  He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, lost and condemned creature though you were.  Not with perishable things, but with His own Body and Blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

His Cross was not the defeat that it appeared.  The shame and humiliation of His Passion were the accomplishment of His purposes.  By His death, He has conquered death, because He bore the sins of the world in His flesh and put them to death in Himself.  And when God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead, He thus declared that all of those sins were forgiven and done with.  And as the wages of sin is death, so the forgiveness of sins is life and salvation.

So, you have been redeemed by this Lord Jesus Christ.  You are His own, and His Life is yours, even as He preaches it into your ears.  He puts it into your flesh with His own.  That is the truth.

But that is not what you see, or feel, or experience in this world.  Here you often stand still looking sad, and feeling sad.  Here you are often disappointed, and all your hopes are dashed.  Here you  experience sickness in your own body, and you see it in the lives and bodies of your loved ones.  Here there is suffering within and without.  You suffer because of your sins, and because of your neighbor’s sins.  And you suffer for the sake of Christ and the Name that He has given to you.

You perceive that you still sin in your body and life.  You still do those things that you should not, even when you are trying with all your might to stop.  You fall into sin day after day.  You are hampered by temptations in what you see, in what you think and feel, and in your mortal flesh.

And there is still death.  We proclaim the Resurrection.  We confess the Resurrection.  We believe and hope in the Resurrection.  But there is still death, and we do not yet see the Resurrection here on earth.  Loved ones to the left and to the right suffer and die, even as you and they suffer the loss of parents, spouses, and children.  And every death you see is a reminder that you also will die.

That is what you see, and feel, and experience.  So it seems as though the Resurrection were a lie; that the Gospel were a lie; that the Redemption of your Lord Jesus Christ were a lie, or a hoax.

Your eyes have been closed to the Resurrection.  You hear the news of the empty tomb, but Jesus you do not see.  His Body appears to be missing.  He has vanished from your sight, and your eyes are prevented from seeing Him.  Apart from His Word, you are not able to find Him.

In so many ways, it seems as though Jesus has gone farther, that He has gone ahead without you, leaving you behind.  That your day in the sun is now almost over.  That the night is at hand.  For you and your family.  For your job or your relationships.  Perhaps even for your own Emmaus here.  As though you’ve been left behind and on your own, and Jesus is nowhere to be found.

What fervent prayer have you offered, day and night, with great tears of sorrow, and yet it seems as if no answer were ever going to come?  What hope have you had in Jesus that appears to be forever disappointed?  And, for that matter, what sort of Jesus have you been hoping for?  What sort of Savior do you think He is?  What is it that you have expected?

St. Paul is quite right that your hope shall not be disappointed — when your hope is in Christ the Crucified.  Do not despair in the face of His Cross.  O foolish man!  O foolish woman!  O foolish child!  Do not be so hard of heart and slow to believe the Word that God has spoken to you.

The Cross and suffering are not your defeat.  For the Cross of Christ is the very power of God unto salvation.  It is the victory of your Lord Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil.  It is the Glory of God manifested in His Body of flesh and blood.  It was necessary that the Christ suffer in this way, and thereby to enter into His Glory.  And it is through His suffering that you also enter into His Glory.  It is by the Cross that you have been redeemed, and it is by the Cross that you are brought into life with Jesus.  Strange as it seems, it is by Way of the Cross that you share His Resurrection and His Life.  If you suffer and die with Jesus, then you also rise and live with Him.

Live, therefore, in the Word of the Cross, in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.  For in the speaking of this Gospel — and by no other way or means or place or time, but in the speaking of this Gospel — Christ Jesus is at hand.  He draws near.  He travels with you on the road.  And He abides with you forever.  All this precisely under the Cross, in this valley of sorrow.

Take to heart the example of those first two disciples of Emmaus, and follow in their footsteps.  Though they really did not understand the things that had happened in those days, and they were so sad and slow of heart and foolish, nevertheless, they did exactly the right thing in traveling together and speaking to each other about Jesus: His death, and the news of His Resurrection.

They were speaking of Jesus.  And it was in their speaking of Him that Jesus Himself was right there with them.  That is how you also are given to proceed on the road that God lays before you.

Talk to your neighbor about Jesus.  And ask your neighbor to speak of Jesus to you.  So, too, be where His disciples are gathered by and for the Word of Christ.  For where His Word is spoken, there He is.  And He is here.  He is with you, with His Gospel, with His Life and salvation for you.

Hear and confess His Word against your despair.  Falling into despair is a burdensome thing.  It will crush you.  But it is also sinful.  Don’t wallow in it.  Don’t give yourself over to it.  Don’t listen to the lying voices in your heart and mind, but speak of Christ for yourself and for others.  Rehearse His story, His Word and promise, and don’t rely on yourself but give ear to the Gospel.

Seek the Lord where He may be found in this Day of Salvation.  Has He not here taught you that He is with you on the way in the Holy Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table?  These means of grace are the only real remedy for your melancholy, grief, and sorrow.

But on that note, why does He act as though He’s going to go farther?  It sounds like a trick, or a deception.  Is He teasing them?  Is He toying with them?  And is He playing games with you when He acts as though He’s going to go farther and leave you behind to deal with life on your own?

Well, no, Jesus is not teasing you; He does not treat you in that way.  He does not toy with you.  He loves you, and He cares for you.  But He would teach you, and He would train you in the way that you should go.  And to that end, He does not immediately place into your hands everything that you could possibly want or desire, nor even everything that you need.  He allows you to go hungry for a time, so that He may feed you in due season, and you might learn to know and trust that you do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

He acts as though He is going farther, because He would prompt you and train you to pray.  To call on Him and ask Him to stay.  To take Him not for granted, but actively to love and trust in Him.

Pray, then, as He has taught you to pray, with boldness and confidence.  Pray with the words that He has taught you and placed upon your lips.  Do not trust your experience, your senses, your own wisdom, knowledge, or intelligence.  All of those things will deceive you and mislead you.  Hear only the Word of Christ, and trust that Word, no matter what you see, and no matter how Jesus may seem to be acting at any given moment.  His Word of the Gospel has faithfully revealed that His desire is to stay with you.  Pray for that.  And know that He hears and answers your prayer in love.

Those first two disciples were exercising good hospitality by inviting Jesus to stay with them.  The people of that time and in that culture understood the importance of that practice better than we tend to in our own day.  But I suspect they also hungered for more of that Word which Jesus had been preaching to them.  For He spoke words that cut them to the quick, to begin with, but which had also begun to heal them of their doubts and fear and sadness, of their foolish unbelief and hardness of heart.  By His Word, He had begun to give them real life in the face of death, even before they knew who this was who was talking to them, who spoke as one having authority.

By inviting Him into their home, they were not only extending hospitality and love to a neighbor, but they were asking Him to keep on preaching the Gospel.  And of course He did.

You also, then, keep praying for that grace of the Gospel.  Pray that Jesus would stay with you and keep preaching His Word of the Gospel to you by those whom He has called and sent in His Name and stead.  Pray not in doubt and fear, but in faith, in hope, and in love.  Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lord Jesus has come precisely for this purpose, to abide with you forever, that you would abide in and with Him, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in His Holy of Holies.

His deepest desire is to care for you and serve you with His gifts.  Pray for Him to do that, and know that, even before you pray, He is already answering; and while you are yet speaking, He is already at hand.  He is already working to save you from your sin and death in body and soul.

From our perception we have invited Him to come and be our Guest.  As many of us often pray at our dinner tables, so do we pray together as a congregation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  We invite Him into this House that we and our forefathers have built and furnished.  And yet, what do we find?  He is here at the Table, not as our Guest, but as our Host, and we are His guests.  You are His guest at His Table in His House.  For He has come into this house and has made it His own.

So you find yourself here at His Table, and He is your gracious Host, a divine Waiter, serving you the finest of Foods, the richest of Meats, and the best of Wines.  To be sure, He is not only your Host and your Waiter, but He is the Main Course, the Meal Itself.  For He is the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for you, who feeds you with Himself as your Meat and Drink indeed.

This Table of the Lord is where Jesus is found.  Especially in Luke’s Gospel, everyone is looking for Jesus, wanting to see Jesus.  Where is His Body?  That’s what they all want to know.  They find the empty tomb and hear the news, but Him they do not see.  They don’t know where His Body is.

You know the answer.  He’s here.  His Body is here.  It’s in the Breaking of the Bread.  You know it and perceive it by faith in His Word, not by sight.  But it is no less true.  It is no less tangibly real.  Jesus is with you in this way, in this place, with His Body and His Blood in the Sacrament.

His Word — which alone abides forever — His Word declares to you the truth.  And His Word makes it so.  What He speaks, He does by His speaking.  What He speaks, He gives to you by His speaking.  By His Word and Spirit He opens your ears to hear.  And He opens your eyes of faith to see.  He opens your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend the Scriptures.  And He opens up your mouth to be fed, to be quenched, to eat and to drink, and so also then to confess.

This Blood that He pours out for you has redeemed you.  This Body with which He feeds you has conquered death and the grave.  This Body and Blood have obtained forgiveness for you, which is now given to you in and with this Sacrament.  Eat and drink, therefore.  And know that, as Christ Jesus lives, so do you also live.  By these Fruits of His Cross, you enter with Him into His Glory.

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