08 November 2015

Caring for Widows in the Lord's House

It seems natural enough to admire what that poor widow does.  She appears to be acting in faith, trusting God and giving all that she has to His Church.  To be sure, Jesus does not condemn or criticize her actions.  By the same token, though, He does not praise them, either.  The fact is that we don’t know what was in her heart or in her mind.  We can’t know, but neither do we need to.

While the story of the Widow’s Mite is appealing and endearing, this Holy Gospel has more to do with what Jesus says about the Scribes than with that poor widow and her gift.  It is an example of what the Scribes have brought to pass with their agenda of works righteousness and outward appearances.  Everything has been turned on its head, inside-out and upside-down in the piety and religion of the Jews.  Not for all of them, to be sure, but in many ways for many of the people.

What Jesus does say about the Widow’s Mite anticipates what He will go on to say in the next chapter about the Temple — the very heart of the Jewish religion — and how He, Jesus, by His own self-sacrifice upon the Cross, will really shake things up and turn them on their head again!

For the time being, though, our Lord addresses the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Scribes.  Watch out for them, He warns, because their whole aim in life and in their piety has been to impress the crowds and attract attention to themselves.  The Scribes, it should be noted, were not the ministers of the church.  They were not the ordained priests who served in the Temple, nor were they teachers of the people like the Pharisees.  The Scribes were professional theologians and church lawyers, so to speak.  Or, we might say, they were the lay leaders and officers of the church, responsible for the rules and regulations of the church constitution and by-laws.

But it was not their position or profession that was problematic in the case of the Scribes.  It was their own sense of self-importance, and the way they put on airs.  They made a prideful show of their leadership, their attention to the details of the Law, and their outward appearance of superior spirituality.  In all of this, they were seeking the praise and adulation of the people.  In doing so, they also established a religious culture and climate and expectation of self-righteousness.

It was by an extension of these attitudes that the Scribes — or rather, to be fair, some of the Scribes — were guilty of devouring the houses of widows.  But such an accusation is more difficult to understand than it might sound.  Certainly, the Scribes would not have engaged in the outright seizing or stealing of property.  That would hardly have made them popular!  Some have suggested that a Scribe might become the legal trustee of a widow’s property, and in that capacity make decisions and investments or charitable contributions that would not be in her best interests.  In my opinion, however, it has far more to do with the very thing that Jesus here points out in the case of the one poor widow who gave her last penny into the Temple treasury.

In the Old Testament, over and over again, the Lord makes clear that His people are to care for the widows and orphans above all, especially because He, the Lord, is the Husband and the Father of His people, and they are to represent Him in their care and service for others.  Along the same lines, St. James writes that true religion which is pure and undefiled before God the Father is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.  As such, it should have been a distinguishing mark and characteristic of Jewish piety to care and provide for widows.  Instead, the Scribes — by their words and actions, by their standards, expectations, and example — led poor widows to contribute their essential livelihood, even their very last cent, to the care and upkeep of the Temple.

Meanwhile, the wealthier members of the community were more than able to provide all that was really needed.  Indications are that the Temple treasury was abundantly filled and overflowing!

Now, to be clear, it is no indictment of the poor widow in this Holy Gospel that she entrusted all that she had to the Lord’s House.  It likely was an act of faith and trust in God, similar to that of the widow who provided for the Prophet Elijah.  Yet, we have here a striking contrast.  There is the poor widow who should have been receiving help and service from the people and Temple of God, who ends up giving everything she has to the Temple.  And then there are those Scribes who are most interested in receiving the attention, the admiration, and the accolades of the people.

Perhaps a more familiar example of the same sort of problem will help to clarify.  In the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation began as a response to the selling of indulgences in Germany.  Under papal authority, the forgiveness of sins was ostensibly for sale, or so it was thought.  To purchase an indulgence was considered a good work and meritorious, because the proceeds were being used for the beautiful new St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.  Consequently, Dr. Luther criticized not only the whole theological poverty behind the notion and abuse of indulgences, but also the way the poor people of Germany were being pressed into the financial support of a building for the wealthy people of Rome, Italy.  Instead of being served, they were being pressured into sacrifice.

In our own day and age, it has been common enough to become a cliché, the way that so-called televangelists have preyed upon “poor widows” and persuaded them to contribute their life savings in support of some “ministry,” perhaps real or pretend.  And you could probably think of other examples of the many ways that pious, well-meaning, faithful people are led to contribute, even beyond their ability and means, to various religious and charitable causes.  Typically, there is an unspoken premise that, by giving to this or that cause, one avoids or assuages feelings of guilt for not doing something to help.  Instead of guilt, there is supposed to be some kind of spirituality.

But let’s not dwell on the sins of others.  For we fall into the same sort of trap, ourselves, when we become focused on the preservation of our church building for its own sake, for example, or when we focus on our congregation as a human institution, as a social fellowship of like-minded people, instead of fixing our entire faith and focus solely on the Lord Jesus Christ and on His Word and Ministry of the Gospel.  Sadly, it’s far too easy for us poor sinners to be distracted and misled.

How often don’t we get worked up and focused on what we’re doing and what we ought to do; on what we’re giving and what we need to give; on what we have accomplished, or what we’re going to accomplish?  Or, conversely, we get wrapped up in our failures of the past and in our fears for the future.  And then it’s all about “our” church, “our” congregation, “our” programs and problems, and “our” building.  But that kind of superficiality — that religion of outward appearances and human structures — is the same self-righteousness that Jesus criticized in the Scribes, which led to a situation in which a poor widow would give up everything she had to support the Temple.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Temple and its sacrificial Liturgy were the very means of grace, established by God Himself, whereby He served and provided for His people with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  But that, precisely, was the key.  It was the Lord’s means of grace, and His Divine Service, whereby He provided for His people.  It was not something the people did for God, much less for themselves.  Their necessary financial support of the Temple ought to have been understood and offered as a sacrifice of faith and of thanksgiving, in grateful appreciation for and in confident support of that which God by His grace continued to do and supply for them.  And the focus, by all means, needed to remain on the Word and Sacrifices of God, not on the outward beauty and adornment of the Temple buildings, and not on the gifts and sacrifices of the people.

The same thing is true for us in our day, in our own circumstances.  You do have an obligation and responsibility to support the Church on earth with your time and talents, and yes, also with your treasures, in proportion to the measure with which God has blessed you.  And your congregation does need your support, including your financial support, if it is to continue as a part of the Lord’s Church on earth.  So, do give what you are able.  But not for the sake of preserving this building in this place, nor even for the sake of preserving Emmaus Congregation as such.  Give what you can for the sake of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments; for the sake of the Ministry of the Gospel in this place; for the sake of what God is here doing in Christ Jesus for you and for your neighbor.  Give what you can, not to purchase some advantage, but as a sacrifice of faith and thanksgiving.

Guard yourself against the strong temptation to focus on the human structures and their outward appearances.  And don’t kid yourself that you can easily tell the difference and keep things sorted out.  Even the disciples of Jesus were caught up in the impressive beauty of the Temple buildings, as we shall hear next week.  Their eyes went from that poor widow giving everything she had to that beautiful Temple, and they were no doubt thinking how noble and how good and right it was that everyone should so give in support of that proud monument of the Jewish people and religion.

Just as we might easily stand back and admire our beautiful church building, inside and out, which certainly is, in many ways, a tribute to the piety and devotion of the people of God who have gone before us on the corner of Milton & Dale.  But we must also be given that sobering reminder which our Lord then spoke to His disciples, namely, that the Temple would be destroyed, and the entire city of Jerusalem along with it, not one stone left upon another.

And what then?  Would the destruction of the Lord’s House and of the Lord’s Holy City on earth be the end of His Church, as well?  Would that be the end of His Gospel and the worship of His Name?  The end of His forgiveness, life, and salvation?  The end of His people and their hope?

No!  A thousand times, No!  First of all because the Lord Himself and His Word remain forever.  But also because the Lord Himself — in His own Body of flesh and blood — by His sacrificial death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — has become the new, divine, eternal Temple of the Living God, in heaven and on earth.  His Sacrifice has accomplished once-for-all the forgiveness of sins, so that no other sacrifice remains except for the sacrifice of faith and of thanksgiving in response to His gifts of life and salvation.

That Temple of His Body, and His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, are here for you — not because of this building, nor even because of the faithful members of Emmaus past and present — but because of the Lord and His faithfulness.  Because of His grace and mercy toward you and all His people.  Because of His Word and Holy Spirit.  Because of His preaching of the Gospel, His baptizing and absolving of poor, miserable sinners.  And because He here feeds you with His own holy Body, and He quenches your deepest thirst with His holy, precious Blood.

The Lord uses your gifts to provide for the place and the pastors and the people to make all of these things happen.  But do not ever suppose that the Lord is left depending upon you to support Him.  And do not ever suppose that His Gospel and His gifts are in any way contingent upon you and your sacrifices.  Rather, live by faith that He who created you and all things and still preserves them; who has suffered and died for you, so that you might live with Him in His Kingdom forever; who has caused His Word and Sacraments to be faithfully preached and administered for you and many others in this place — and all around the world, in all times and places, from the fall into sin until the final judgment — He will also, for the sake of His own love and faithfulness, continue to strengthen you and keep you steadfast in His Word and faith unto the life everlasting in Him.

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

01 November 2015

The Lord Jesus Christ Is the One

Most of you have known at least some of those dear Christians we name before the Lord’s Altar this morning, who have departed in the faith and confession of Christ.  And surely all of you have lost loved ones in the past, whether recently or long ago; whether from the womb or after many years of life together.  Parents and children, spouses and siblings, neighbors and friends.

Think about those people, those men and women, boys and girls, all of them sinful and mortal like yourself.  What was important to them?  What did they treasure?  How did they spend their time?  Where did they invest themselves?  With what did they depart this vale of tears, and with what did they enter eternity?  What did they take with them?  And what do they have now?

All that remains forever is Christ Jesus and His Word, His Spirit and His Father.  Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation.  So, then, where shall your heart and life be found?  And how shall you live here and now, so that you may rise and live with the Lord forever?

To set aside for God a part or portion of your time would be idolatrous.  To dedicate or offer to the Lord a percentage of your possessions would be a sacrilege.  For how shall you call Him the Lord your God, to whom you would give only a portion of yourself?  And how shall you worship Him, if you presume to assign Him a place as one priority among so many others in your life?

It will not do to subdivide yourself, your time and energy, your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  No, you are to love and serve the Lord your God, and nothing else besides Him, with everything you are and have.  For there is one Lord, one God, not many.  There is one Author and Giver of Life.  Wherever else you would look for life, you will have nothing but death.  Not that God is merely a means by which you get life for yourself, but He alone is your Life and Light and Salvation.

To whatever else you would direct or dedicate your thoughts, words, and actions, if not the Holy Triune God, that is your idol, your false god and false religion.  Or to suppose at any point that you have “done your time” and “paid your dues,” is already to have failed and fallen far short of the glory of God.  For He would have all of you, that you would have your whole life entirely in Him.

Your offerings and your alms are inadequate and insufficient, no matter what the amount, and no matter what percentage of your income and your wealth, if you still withhold yourself from God and from your neighbor.  For you are to love the Lord your God with your entire being, and you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Which is not to say that you should love your neighbor in addition to God, nor alongside of God, for that would be to make another god out of your neighbor.  Rather, you are to love your neighbor under and within your love for God, that is, according to His Word and after the example of His own great heart of love.

It is for God’s sake that you thus love your neighbor in humility, in faith, in mercy, and in peace.  And that is how you are to live your whole life in the good land to which the Lord your God has called you, which He has promised to you in His Word, and which He gives to you in Christ Jesus.

Where you do not love the Lord God and your neighbor, there is alienation, enmity, separation, loneliness, and fear.  Not peace and rest, but anxiety and hard labor.  Not life, but death, now and forever.  That is the land laid waste by your lack of love for God and man.  That is the kingdom and the city of your own idolatrous self-love.  It is sprawling, unruly, divided, and running amok.

But over His good land the Lord your God has raised up and established a good King, who is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, with whom He has made an everlasting Covenant for your salvation.  Indeed, He is the royal High Priest who has redeemed you with His Life-Blood by His Cross, and He has reconciled you to God in His Resurrection from the dead, in order that you may in fact live with Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Who is this King of Glory, who does such great things for you?  He is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord because He is the Word made Flesh, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of the Father.

In the great Mystery of His Holy Incarnation, the Lord your God has thereby fulfilled the first and greatest commandment — and likewise the second — for you and for all people.  For the Son loves the Father — also now in His own human flesh and blood — with all His heart, with all His soul, with all His mind, and with all His strength.  And in such love for His Father, He has made Himself your Neighbor, even your Brother in the flesh, in order to love you with His own body and life.

Thus, the one true God, beside whom there is none other, has come beside you, and He has placed you beside Him, so that you might share His Life and abide with Him in His divine and holy Love.

He has held nothing back.  He has emptied Himself, poured Himself out, and given Himself to God, even unto death upon the Cross.  That is His Priesthood and His Sacrifice, which He offers to God on your behalf.  His Life is in His Blood, and He gives His Life entirely in love for God and in love for you.  For by the shedding of His Blood, He atones for all your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He redeems you for Himself, forever and ever.  And He establishes the New Covenant between God and Man in His own flesh, with His own Blood.

His own Body is the new and greater Tabernacle, in which God abides with you and you abide with God.  For this Son of David, the King of Peace, replaces the old Tabernacle with the Temple of His crucified and risen Body.  And by His holy and precious Blood, you enter with Him into the Holy of Holies, which is to say, into the very presence of God.  You are brought to the Father in Him, in order to receive the eternal inheritance that belongs to the Son of God.  That is what He freely gives to you by grace in the Holy Communion, which is the New Covenant in His Blood.

Here there are no contingencies, nor is there anything lacking or amiss.  There is nothing “iffy” or uncertain about the Life that is here given by the one true God, who gives Himself to you.  For He has offered Himself as the perfect Sacrifice once for all.  And this same Lord Jesus has risen from the dead, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father where He lives and reigns forever.

Therefore, with His Gospel, which is the “sprinkling” of His Blood, He cleanses your conscience of all sin and shame and every stain.  As He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, so now He daily and richly forgives you, reconciles you to His God and Father, and sanctifies and purifies your body and soul with His Holy Spirit.  All of this by His Blood, with which He gives to you His Life.  He thereby raises you from death to divine life in Himself.

The Law commands you and requires you to love the Lord your God, but here the Lord your God loves you.  The Law tells you to cleanse your heart and draw near to God, but here, by His Gospel, the one true God draws near to you in Christ, in order to cleanse you by His grace and forgiveness.  He comes to free you from the devil’s kingdom, from the slavery and prison house of sin and death, and to bring you into the Kingdom of God.  The King Himself, the Christ, the Son of God, shares with you His faithfulness, His faith and holy love.  He fully gives to you His relationship with His God and Father, so that the true and only God is now your God and your Father in Him.

That is what the dear Lord Jesus Christ has done for those who have gone before us in the faith, whom we rightly remember with thanksgiving to God in Christ.  We do not worship them, but with them we worship God.  And loving Him above all things, we love them also for His sake.  For they belong to us in Him, and we belong to them.  They are not dead and gone, but alive forevermore.  Not by their own wisdom, reason, or strength — not by their own faithfulness and love — but by His grace, by His faith and faithfulness, and by His love for them; by His perfect obedience and the absolute sacrifice of His entire Body and Life; and by His Gospel in the Word and Sacraments.

So does He give Himself, His Life, and His Love to you.  This only-begotten Son of the Father, your merciful and great High Priest, the Prince of Peace, preaches and teaches the Word of God, which is the Word of Life, the Word of faith and love.  He does so for you and all His children, and for His children’s children from one generation to the next, even to the close of the age.

It is in the Temple that He preaches and teaches the Word to you, that is to say, within His Body, the holy Christian Church on earth as it is in heaven.  His Word is spoken to you from His Holy Altar, from which He also gives to you His Body and pours out for you the New Testament in His Blood.  For since the Word has become Flesh and tabernacles among us, the Word is never without His Flesh but He always brings you to His Father in His Body and with His Blood.  He gives you not a part or portion, but His whole self, perfect and complete.  He withholds nothing from you.

As there is one Bread and one Cup, one Spiritual Food and Drink — of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all — so there is one Holy Communion in heaven and on earth, which is the one Body of Christ.  He is not divided, but the many are united and become one in Him, just as the many grains of wheat become one Bread, given for you, and the many grapes are united in one Cup of wine, poured out for you and for the many.  So it is that, in His one Body and Blood, all of the faithful of all times and all places live and abide in perfect peace forevermore.

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

25 October 2015

Now Joshua Comes Again to Jericho

Now Joshua comes again to Jericho.  Not to bring down the walls, but to raise up the people from death to life, to rescue them from every evil of body and soul.  He comes to save His people from their sins, and to bless His heritage.  And with that, He comes for something more specific and more personal:  To honor one poor man among the many.  To give him hope.  To give him life.  To give him the good land the Lord has promised.  To give him a place in the Kingdom of God.

His disciples and a large crowd accompany Him, as the Israelites followed the Joshua of old.  But the blind beggar by the side of the road perceives something about this Jesus, the Nazarene, more clearly than anyone else at this point.  He hears the Word of the One who has come, and by the Spirit of Christ he acknowledges the promised Son of David, the true King who gives rest.

The blind man’s name is Bartimaeus, the “son of Timaeus,” which is to say, the son of “honor,” of “worthiness” or “worth.”  Yet, look at his predicament!  There’s no presuming of any merit or worthiness here.  He looks not to his own pedigree, but to the House and Lineage of David.

Bartimaeus knows his need, or at least he has begun to know his need in part, and already he has realized that his only hope and help shall be in this Lord Jesus Christ.  In this he sees truly, what even the twelve were not yet able to comprehend.  They have wanted the Lord to share with them His greatness and His glory, and they have offered their boldness, their bravery, and their sacrifice as barter.  But not so, Bartimaeus.  He offers only his blindness, in hopes of regaining his sight.  He pleads not his strength, but his weakness.  Not his contributions, but his emptiness.  Not his honor, but disgrace.  Not his merit, but the grace of God in Christ.

He is a charity case, and he knows it.  And in this beggary of his, blind Bartimaeus worships and honors and glorifies Christ, who comes not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to man.

The beggar receives what he sought, that is, the mercy of the Lord and grace to help in his time of need.  But he is also given far more than he asked.  In regaining the use of his eyes, he begins to realize a much deeper longing and a far greater need, namely, to see God, to behold the glory of Yahweh, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord — all of this realized in the face of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, along with his eyesight, Bartimaeus receives the Lord Jesus Himself.  He becomes a disciple of the One he has called “Rabboni,” a Teacher.  He begins to follow Jesus “on the way,” that is, to be catechized in the way of the Cross, which is paradoxically the way of Life in Christ.

In calling upon the name of the Lord for mercy, in the hope that he might see, the blind beggar has become a catechumen of the Cross.  In this way he enters with Joshua into the Promised Land, and with the Son of God into the presence of the Father.

So now, the question is: What do you want the Lord Jesus to do for you?  What do you need?

If you are blind or losing your sight, of course you want to see.  You need to see!  But, with or without your eyesight, what is your real blindness?   What is it that you do not see?  What do you refuse or fail to recognize?  What shadow lies upon your heart, what darkness clouds your mind?

If you are hungry, you need food, and you want to be fed.  But as soon as you have eaten your fill, you are seized by some new appetite.  If you are naked, you need clothes; you want to be covered up.  But as soon as you are dressed, you long for some further adornment, beauty, or comfort.

There is no final contentment or satisfaction when it comes to the wants of your flesh, nor with respect to the needs of your body in this life on earth.  For you are dying and wasting away, and no amount of food and clothing, nor anything else, will ever be sufficient to prevent that.  And yet, even so, how easily are you preoccupied with attempts to pamper and preserve your mortal life?

Vanity, the Bible calls it.  Chasing after the wind!  None of it does any good.  But neither should you resort to the opposite extremes, nor succumb to despair.  That, too, is sinful, and useless.

With food and clothing, let us be content.  But even as regards those most basic wants and needs of the body, the Lord teaches you not to be anxious or worry.  Your Father knows what you need, and He will provide for you.  He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, along with all the wicked who neither know Him nor acknowledge Him.  He shall do no less for you, dear Christian, for you are His beloved child.  He has created you in holy love, and He delights to serve and care for you.

As for you, then, seek the Lord Himself while He may be found.  Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and you shall lack for nothing at all, but everything else shall be added unto you.

That is what you truly need.  But that is also what you cannot see.  That is your real blindness.

We are all blind beggars, that is the truth.  So, then, repent of your pride.  Acknowledge your need.  Call upon the name of the Lord for mercy.  Pray to Him for your daily bread, as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  And doing that, pray also for the true faith which is what you need the most; that the Lord God would grant you patience to wait on Him, and to receive your bread with thanksgiving; and that you would thus learn to live by every Word and promise that He speaks.

Pray to the Lord Jesus for mercy, that you would receive your sight, which is to have faith in His forgiveness of sins.  Pray, then, for the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God Himself.  Not simply a gift from God, but God the Father gives to you His Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, His Son.

And then it all gets raucous and scary, as though all hell were breaking loose against you, no less crazy and chaotic, all around you, than when that other Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho and burned the city to the ground.  So it seems there is no hope or help for you.  Partly because the Lord Jesus comes by the way of the Cross, the grace and the glory of which are hidden from sight, whether you have eyes or not.  And partly because there are so many voices, whispering and shouting, within and without, all of them telling you to “sit down” and “shut up.”  As soon as you begin to pray, to call on the name of the Lord, those voices tell you sternly to be quiet.  Loudest among them is God’s own Law, which exposes your sin, your dishonor and unworthiness.

But now God speaks another Word, a different Word, a new and better Word than all those many voices put together.  This Word cuts through all the chaos and the noise, and it reveals to your heart and mind the truth that is hidden from your eyes.  It speaks of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, the merciful Son of David, the promised Savior who has come.  He has drawn near.  And though He seems to be passing by and going away, He has now taken His stand both with you and for you.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself by His Ministry of the Gospel, His preaching of grace and forgiveness.  So He did for Blind Bartimaeus, and so He does for you.  Have no fear, but fix your blind eyes on this Jesus by hearing and heeding His call.  It is a gentle command, or, really, a most gracious invitation.  Not that you must save yourself by some heroic effort, or by some great bold act of courage, but that He has come to save you, and that He is here to help you.

Your dishonor does not disqualify you.  Your unworthiness shall not undo you.  Your beggary honors this Lord Jesus, who is worthy of your petition.  Your need is met with the abundance of His charity.  Bring nothing else than that.  In fact, cast off your own wretched garments, whether fig leaves or fine threads, and be clothed in Christ Jesus, dressed in His glorious righteousness.

Find your life in Him who is calling you to Himself, and follow Him by faith, by the catechesis of His Word, on the Way that brings you into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

That is what He has already given you, by His grace, in the waters of your Holy Baptism; and that is what your Baptism still indicates for each and every day of your life on earth.  For it is by “streams of water” that the Lord Jesus leads you on a straight and narrow path, that is, by the way of His own Cross, through death and the grave into life and salvation.  You die with Him, in order to live with Him.  That is your vocation, your calling as a Christian, that is, to live and die by faith in Christ according to His Word and Spirit, and so to live before God in righteousness and purity.

For Christ Jesus is your merciful and great High Priest.  Which is another way of saying that He is the new and greater Joshua, who goes before you into a new and better Canaan, crossing over through the waters of the Jordan in order to possess the Land of God and to bestow it upon you.

He has drawn near to you, not only in proximity, but in making your predicament His own.  He is up to His neck and immersed in the same waters that you are drowning in.  Therein He shares your griefs and bears your sorrows.  He fully takes your sin and death upon Himself, your blindness, your poverty and shame, in order to remove the curse.  At the same time, He dedicates Himself entirely to God on your behalf.  He is the sacred Sacrifice, who offers Himself for the Atonement of all sins, for the Redemption of all people, and for the Reconciliation of the entire world to God.

Therefore, He has come, and He has drawn near to you here, in order to take away your sins on the one hand, and on the other hand to gather you to Himself and to bring you near to His own God and Father as a beloved child.  So fully has He taken your place, that His place is now yours.

As you bear His Cross and share His death by your Baptism into Him, so do you also share His bodily Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension in the flesh to the right hand of the Father.

As He has been made perfect in holy faith and holy love by His sacrifice upon the Cross for you, so does He bring you and all your prayers to His God and Father, who is now your own God and Father, in perfect peace.  “By supplication He leads you.”  Which is to say, not only does He ever live to intercede for you, but He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of God, your sweet-smelling Incense in the nostrils of His Father.  As He is thus heard and received in the heavens, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the very bosom of the Father, so are you heard and received.

By His own faith and faithfulness, the Lord Jesus upholds and sustains you.  His steadfast love is your salvation, which endures forever and ever.  Indeed, He holds His Priesthood permanently.

In Him, in His Face and in His Flesh, in the Sound of His Voice, which is the Gospel, the true Sun has risen upon you, which shall never go down nor be eclipsed.  He shines on you, and He remains forever your Light and your Salvation.  No more darkness, no more night.  Instead, you live and abide in His glorious, eternal Day — as He abides with you here, and with His Father in heaven.

In Him shall you see God.  As you do even now by faith in His Gospel, so then with your own two eyes, in your own resurrected body, you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself, to eat and drink, to taste and see, and to live.

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

18 October 2015

Remember the Sabbath Day

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Do not despise the preaching of God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  For it is by this way and means of preaching that God grants you peace and rest through the forgiveness of all your sins and the gracious gift of His life.  And in the receiving and trusting of His gifts, you worship Him by faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.  In fact, that is how you live and do not die: day by day here on earth, and hereafter in eternity.

The way that you live and work and go about the days of your week hinges on whether and how you keep your Sabbath rest.  Do you think of your rest as the due reward of your labor?  Or do you understand your work to be a way of living in the peace and rest that God gives you by His grace?

When you know your life to be from God — in God and with God — and you live your life before God, in His presence, turned toward Him in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit, then you have true peace and genuine rest, even as you work hard to do your job.  Even in your death.

But when you work as though to make life for yourself by your labors, and when you live for the accumulation of wealth and riches on earth, then you have no peace and no rest.  Not even when you call it a day and go to bed.  Not even when you’re on vacation, relaxing and living it up.

These are the chronicles of life and death and everything in between.  For the way your life begins, and the way that it will end, ought to inform the way that you live all of your days in between.

The fact is that your life comes entirely from God, and when you die He will be your Judge.  So consider that you were naked when you were born into this world, and even within your clothes and your coffin you’ll be naked before God in the end, when you return to the dust of the earth.  Whatever you may hold in your hands in your life on this earth in the meantime are gifts, not by merit, but by mercy.  And such things on earth are temporary.  So, what shall you do with them?

Ask yourself this question: Who or what is it that you worship with your life?  That is to say, who or what do you serve with your body, with your heart and mind, and with your words and works?

Do you worship the right God in the right way?  Do you fear, love, and trust in the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by faith in His Word?  If so, then you are alive, and you are living by His grace, come hell or high water against you; and even though you die, yet shall you live.

But if you do not love the Lord, the one true God, and if you do not serve and worship only Him, then you are dead and dying in your false belief and sin, which is idolatry, even as you live.

Or, here’s another way to think about it:  What is it that rules your life?  And what, then, does your life look like?  For that is “the kingdom” in which you live, whether of God or the devil.

Real life in the Kingdom of God does not originate with your works, nor does it consist of your wealth, but it is received by faith in the Gospel, and it is lived in love for the sake of Christ Jesus.

To be sure, there are all sorts of wealth and riches in the world to which you are tempted and prone to cling, for which you hunger, strive, and fight, as though your life and happiness depended on such things.  But whether you “have” or “have not,” whether a lot or only a little, it is impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God by your wealth and riches of whatever sort.

In fact, not only will your “wealth and riches” not get you into heaven; they present a temptation, a covetous desire that actually threatens to consume you, which makes it that much harder and all the more impossible for you to enter into the Kingdom of God at all.  Your stuff stands in the way.

Where, then, is the promise of peace and rest?  It is found only in Christ Jesus, in His Cross and Resurrection; and it is granted to you by His grace in the preaching of His Gospel.  Faith is born of that preaching, as it receives and trusts the promises of God in the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of life; and so does faith have rest and peace in the Lord Jesus.

Listen, then, and hear His Word to you.  He has already made Peace for you by the reconciliation of His Cross.  And He has established Sabbath Rest for you in His Resurrection from the dead, which is your righteousness in the presence of God.  All of this that He has done for you, He desires to share with you, and He does so here and now — Today! — with His voice of mercy.

In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was established with the finished completion of Creation and with the Exodus from Egypt, in order that the Lord might grant rest to His people by His works.

So did God, the Lord, create His people out of nothing, and redeem them out of death into life, out of slavery into freedom.  And He brought them through the desert wilderness, across the Jordan River, into the good land that He had promised, wherein He gave them peace and rest on all sides.

And all these things, which the Lord did for His people then, He has fulfilled in Christ Jesus for you and for all people.  By His Holy Cross and Passion, He has redeemed you from death and damnation, and He calls you out of your slavery to sin into the freedom of His forgiveness.  That is the Sabbath Rest that remains for the people of God, and so also for you, by faith in His Gospel.

And by His Resurrection and Ascension, He brings you and all His people through the waters of Holy Baptism into the heavenly Canaan, into the Kingdom of His God and Father, in His Body.

It was not easy for Him to accomplish this great salvation.  Indeed, how costly and painful it was!  And yet, He has done it gladly and willingly in divine and holy love.

And what He has done and established by His hard work, by His bloody sweat and labor, He grants to you as peace and rest in His means of grace, that is, in Holy Baptism, in the Holy Communion, and everywhere in the Holy Gospel; so that you have Sabbath Rest in Christ Jesus — even as you go about your works of love within your own stations in life — and even as you face your death.

As you have died with Christ and given up everything in your Baptism — renouncing the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh, and laying hold of life in Christ, in His Father and His Spirit — so do you now live and work on earth, in the place where God has stationed you, by faith in Him.

So, too, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ is your Peace and Rest, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  For all things in heaven and on earth are yours in Him, by grace, through His Cross.

Christ has finished His perfect work on the Sixth Day, Good Friday, atoning for the sins of the whole world and reconciling the world to God.  And He has rested on the Seventh Day, that Holy Saturday, the Sabbath, in order to sanctify your rest in Him, so that even your grave and the graves of all His saints are made holy by His own tomb.

In His Resurrection, His Body has become the first fruits of His New Creation, and His Flesh and Blood are the New Passover, by which He has accomplished the new and greater Exodus.  Indeed, all things are fulfilled, perfected, and made brand new in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood.

Therefore, do not harden your heart by setting it upon your own works or your own wealth, but worship the Lord your God by faith in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  Remember His Sabbath and keep it holy unto yourself by hearing His Gospel, by receiving His mercy and grace, and by eating and drinking His Body and Blood at His Word in faith and with thanksgiving.

For He does remember you with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and He sanctifies your body and soul for the life everlasting, and He gives you peace and rest in Himself forever.

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

11 October 2015

Christ Jesus Is the One Good Thing

You know the Commandments of God, and you know what they mean:  Do not murder, nor hate, nor harbor anger in your heart against your neighbor.  Do not commit adultery, nor lust with your eyes and your imagination, but cherish and care for your own spouse.  Do not steal, but help to guard and protect your neighbor’s property.  Do not give false testimony, but speak up in defense of your neighbor, in defense of what is good and right and true.  Do not covet, defraud, entice, or scheme to get what is not yours, but be content with what you have.  Honor your father and your mother, serve and obey them, and submit to the authorities whom God has placed over you.

You know what God commands, what He forbids, and what He requires of you.  And you know what He says concerning your life and salvation in Christ Jesus, for in His mercy He has taught you by His Word.  He has given you parents and pastors to instruct you in the Catechism, which is a simple summary of the Holy Scriptures.  You know who God is, and you know what He has said and done from the creation of the world to this day.  You know how to pray, how to examine yourself and confess your sins, and how to worship the Lord your God by faith in His Gospel.

Live, therefore, according to the Word that He has spoken.  Do what He commands, and flee what He forbids.  Exercise yourself in doing what is good, and refrain from doing evil.  Help in all the ways that you are able, as God provides opportunity, and do no hurt nor harm to your neighbor.

That is how you are to live, as God Himself has taught you by His Son.  Only not as though to save yourself or to get life for yourself by your good works.  You are not called to live and work for your own self-advancement, but for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.

Do good, and not evil, because of God’s command and your neighbor’s need; simply because it is good and right so to do, and this is how you are to live.  Not to gain life for yourself, but to live the life that you are given by the grace of God.

Keep the Commandments in the fear and faith of God.  Knowing and trusting that all things come from Him and depend on Him, and that you live all your days in His presence, do what He says, delight to please Him as your number one criteria, and be more afraid of disobeying Him than you  are of disappointing the people you work so hard to impress.

From a heart of faith, do not merely go through the outward motions of keeping your nose clean and doing your job, although at least that much is your basic duty and responsibility in any case.  But to live as God has created you and called you to live, go about all your days and your deeds actively trusting in Him, loving Him above all else, and loving your neighbor on account of God’s Word, even at the cost of your whole body and life in this world.  Value God more than your life.

More to the point, find your life and fix your hope for this life and the next in Christ Jesus, even as He goes the way of the Cross.  Do not be frightened or despair in the face of death, but trust that Christ will raise you up, as God the Father raises Him from death and the grave to life everlasting.

Follow Christ Jesus on His Way of the Cross, and learn from Him how to live, for He is your Good Teacher.  He alone is good, holy, and righteous, for He is God in the flesh, the Image of God in Man.  And He alone is your Savior, the Author and Giver of Life by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the paradoxical ways and means of His Cross and Resurrection.

Consider how this dear Lord Jesus Christ has lived, and how He has gone to His death in the faith and confidence of His Father, and in steadfast love for God and man.  It is in Him, in His Body and Life, in His Holy Cross and Passion, that the Law is perfected and fulfilled in the perfect faith and holy love that are at the heart of all the Commandments.

Christ Jesus is the “fear, love, and trust in God” in the flesh.  He has not clung to His possessions, nor to His equality with God.  He has not sought to make and establish a life for Himself.  But in the keeping and fulfilling of His Father’s good and acceptable will, He has liquidated everything and worked and suffered for the salvation of the world, for the benefit of poor, miserable sinners.

He has spent His riches and made Himself poor, not with parties and debauchery, but in order to make you wealthy with His righteousness, to give you His divine, eternal life in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  For this purpose, for the sake of your salvation, He took up the Cross and willingly laid down His life.  He shed His blood to ransom you from death and the devil, to atone for all your sins and failures, and to set you free forevermore.  All of this in the confidence that His Father would receive and accept His Sacrifice in peace and vindicate Him in His righteousness.

Now, then, as He is your Good Teacher, your Catechist, and your Pastor, listen to Him, and learn from Him.  Hear and heed His Word to you.  Forsake all else, and follow Him by faith.

He calls you to let go of all the stuff that you rely upon, including your own self-righteousness.  Not because He would deprive you of life and comfort and happiness, but that you would actually receive life, and be comforted, and find true joy and happiness in the Lord your God by faith in His Word, in His Cross and Resurrection, in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  For you will not live otherwise.  All the stuff in the world will not save you.  There is life in no one but Christ.

Do not give up and go away sad.  Do not despair of any hope or help or happiness, which are here for you in Christ Jesus; not because you are so good, but He is.

Do not harden your heart against Him in unbelief and wickedness, as those who perished in the wilderness did when they rejected the Word of the Lord.  They, too, were baptized in the water with His Word when He brought them through the Red Sea out of Egypt; and they, too, were fed with spiritual food and drink, with bread from heaven and water from the Rock.  And, yet, with most of them God was not pleased, and they died in the desert, because they did not fear, love, and trust in Him.  Heed that warning, and repent of your own sins, lest you also perish in unbelief.

Do not grow complacent or drift away from the Word of the Lord that you have been taught and which you have confessed with your lips.  Continue to hear and receive it, as He speaks to you.  Cling to it in your heart, and exercise it in your own speaking and living.  Do not entertain the lie that it doesn’t matter, nor throw up your hands in resignation as though it were too hard for you.

Truth be told, it is flat out impossible for you.  You could not believe the Word of God by your own reason, wisdom, or strength; far less could you even begin to keep it by any of your powers.

But Christ alone is good.  There is life in no one else but Him.  So, listen up, and learn from Him.

In love for you, He has called you to Himself, to live with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  This is the good and gracious will of God for you and your salvation.  And Christ Himself has brought it about by His good works of love.

It is by His mercy and His grace alone, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that you have not been cast away from His presence — you are not sent away — nor are you lost and forsaken.  But you are here because this one Lord, Jesus Christ, has sought you out and found you in love, and He has taught you His Word: Not only His Commandments, which show you how you are to live, but also the charity and forgiveness of His Gospel, by which you have life in Him and live by His Spirit.

He has brought you to repentance, and turned your heart away from sin and false belief, away from your false gods, away from trust in yourself and your possessions, to fear, love, and trust in Him.

Yes, He has put you to death to yourself, but He has made you alive to God, now and forever, in Himself.  He has stripped you of everything with which you have tried to cover yourself, to hide and protect yourself, but He has not left you naked and ashamed.  He has clothed you with His own glorious righteousness and holiness, so that you are now adorned like no rich man on earth ever.

He has brought you here to His Church, to the waters of His Holy Baptism, to the preaching and teaching of His Word, to His Holy Absolution, and to His own Holy Body and precious Blood, the fruits of His Cross, given and poured out for you.  Here is the inheritance of eternal life for you.

Along with all of these most precious and priceless Gifts, I want you to bear in mind that He has also given you to each other — as He has given His Church to you, and you to His Church — to guard and keep each other by His Word.  To encourage and support each other by His Word.  To pray and intercede for each other, but also to seek each other out, to speak the Law and Gospel to each other, and to remind each other of these good things.  Your own catechesis continues in the life of the Church, and so do you catechize your brothers and sisters in Christ by confessing His Word.  So, too, use whatever other means the Lord has placed into your hands to love and serve and care for one another in His Name.  For so does Christ Jesus love and serve and care for you.

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

04 October 2015

The Marriage and Family of God

You cannot know what it is or what it means to be a man, woman, or child, not really, except in  relation to Christ Jesus and His Church.  Likewise, you cannot comprehend the significance of marriage and family, except by way of Christ and His holy Bride.  For man is made in the Image of God — which is to say, in Christ Jesus — and marriage and family belong to that divine Image.

From the beginning of creation, when He made all things out of nothing by His Word, the Holy Triune God created man, male and female, to live in communion with Himself — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and so also to live in loving communion with one another as members of one Body in Christ Jesus.  That is the point and purpose and significance of holy marriage.  And that is the higher purpose and ultimate reality to which even marriage and family are subordinate.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they all labor in vain, whoever attempt to build their own.

But there is a larger household and family to which the Bride of Christ and all the sons of God in Christ belong.  And He has built it for you here and now for eternal life with God hereafter.

The intimacy of the male and female within the lifelong union of husband and wife is a living icon, a bodily confession, and a God-given testimony to the divine, eternal unity of the Holy Triune God, and to the loving intimacy and holy communion of Christ Jesus with His own Bride, the Church.

Consequently, fornication on the one hand (including any and all kinds of sexual intimacy outside of holy marriage), and divorce on the other hand (that is, the breaking of the marriage bond), and all other forms of adultery are false confessions of a false Christ.  These all contradict the Gospel.

Within holy marriage, whatever children God may give to a husband and wife demonstrate the fruitfulness of Christ’s Church in conceiving, bearing, giving birth to, and nurturing the children of God.  And the children who are born to Christian parents and brought to Christ in His Church (through Holy Baptism and the catechesis of His Word) belong precisely to that fruitfulness.

By the same token, to avoid or reject children is to reject the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus.

But do not misunderstand the point.  I do not speak of any sort of competition or supposed merit in attempting to maximize the number of children that you or anyone else may have.  It is rather a case of faith and love, by which you look to God for all good things, trust in Him in every situation, and receive from His hand whatever He may give you.  So shall you also live graciously and generously toward your neighbors, beginning with your own family and household.

Christian families are called to live in this way, by faith and love, because it is in this way that God the Father gives life to the household and family of His Church.  It is the way that Christ Jesus lives for His Bride and gives His own life to and for the children of God.

Husbands are thus called to sacrifice themselves in order to give life to their wives.  And wives are called to trust the Lord Jesus Christ in their husbands, to receive life from Him through them, and so to bear in faith and love the children that God the Father gives within their marriage.

And fathers and mothers together are called and commanded to bring their children to Christ in His Church, and to God the Father in His Son, understanding that children are created and born for life with God, both now and forever.  Withholding them from Christ and His Church, so as to make a life for them in this world instead, would be a grave offense and a serious stumbling block.

So is it also the case, when it comes to your children — as they grow up and leave your home and family to establish households of their own — that you are reminded of what is true for them and you and every one of us: Here on earth we have no permanent home, but we are strangers and aliens, sojourners in a foreign land, on our way to our eternal dwelling in the city of God.

It is a painful and difficult fact that our children do not remain with us forever in this world.  And even the sacred institution of holy marriage is not eternal, but only as permanent as our temporal life on earth.  In heaven you shall neither be married nor given in marriage, but, like the holy angels, your whole delight shall forever be in the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Truth be told, there is finally and forever one God and Father, one heavenly Bridegroom, and one holy Bride, adorned and radiant with the one Holy Spirit and the divine, eternal Righteousness of Christ our Savior.  But so do there remain many sons and daughters of God, many brothers and sisters of our one Lord, Jesus Christ.  And so it is that marriage and family and every other human relationship are called and taken up into the unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace in the holy communion of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

Already here and now, that divine and holy fellowship is a present reality within the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  That is the case, although we cannot see the perfect unity of the Church except by faith in Christ, our Husband and Head.  We do not yet experience the loving unity of the household and family of God, because we do not care for one another as we should.

All manner of things intrude upon the Church and interfere with her unity in Christ Jesus.  Envy and jealousy and a spirit of competition, even among His disciples.  Hardness of heart, even among the people of God.  Sin and death.  Frailty and failures.  The burdens and obligations of mortal life in a fallen world.  And all the particular irritations and hardships of each particular situation.

Give thanks to God, and Christ be praised, that marriage and family, husbands and wives, parents and children, all point beyond themselves to something more — to something even more blessed, to something divine, eternal, and holy.

For that reason, and for the sake of His Church on earth, God has not called everyone to be a spouse or a parent.  He establishes other vocations and stations in life, which serve His household here and now, while also pointing beyond themselves in their own way to His heavenly Kingdom.

Perhaps it is to such a vocation that God has called you, or to which He will call you.  Discerning your place in life is largely a matter of listening to your parents and the other authorities whom God has placed over you.  If you are a child or a young person, talk to your father and mother, and to your pastors and teachers concerning the path that you should pursue.  Even if you are an adult, do not despise or disregard the counsel and guidance of your parents, but talk to them and listen to them, as well as to your pastors and teachers, your peers and colleagues.  All of this belongs to living in the Kingdom of God like a little child, that is, by faith in the Word that He speaks to you.

If you are not married or given in marriage, be patient and proceed in faith, but also consider and discuss whether you may be given the vocation of celibacy.  That is to say, perhaps you are given to live the heavenly life already here on earth, devoted to the service of Christ and His Church, and devoted to serving your neighbors in the world, in purity and chastity, faithfulness and love.

Likewise, if you have been widowed, perhaps there is then an opportunity for you to serve the household and family of God in ways that you would otherwise not have been able to do.

In these circumstances, whether as unmarried or widowed, you are able to live unto your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in the service and support of His Bride, the Church — whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  You thereby anticipate the consummation of all things in the Resurrection of the faithful departed to the life everlasting.

Similarly, if the Lord has not granted you the blessing of your own children, or if your children are already grown and out of your home, you have the opportunity to receive and care for the children of God within the household and family of His Church.

Especially by those Christians who are unencumbered by the responsibilities of their own marriage and family, the Church is able to care for orphans and widows in their distress, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; and to visit the sick and imprisoned, the lonely and forsaken.

Whether married or unmarried, and with or without children, you are called in any case to live by faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.  You are called to live as belonging to the Bride of Christ, and as a child of the heavenly Father, whether within or without a family on earth.

You are called to repent of your sins, and to live by faith in the forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

So then, if you have been lazy or unfaithful in your marriage; if you have neglected or dealt harshly with your spouse; if you have committed adultery or gotten divorced, repent of your sins, and be joined to Christ the Lord, who cleaves to you in love and does not cast you off or send you away.

And if you have refused to receive the little children in His Name and for His sake — even if you have put them to death by abortion — or if you have failed to provide and care for the children God has given you, repent of your sins and return to the waters of your Baptism.  Be drowned and die in the depths of that great sea, and be born again as a little child of God.

Have you heard again this morning how the dear Lord Jesus takes the children in His arms and blesses them?  So He does for you, as well.  His hands are stretched out to you here at His Altar, in love, in order to receive you to Himself like a little child.  It does not matter how old you are, how big or small you are, how smart you are, whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.

The Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, because it belongs to Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son, who gives Himself entirely for you.

He has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  He has thereby clothed you with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish or flaw.  Beautiful, that is what you are.  And you are His, and He is yours forever.  He has given you His Name, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  His God and Father is now your own God and Father in Him.

Do not shy away from this, that you are now one flesh with Him: bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, blood of His blood, and a member of His own Body and Bride.  For God the Father has caused Him to sleep the sleep of death upon the Cross, and from His wounded side, by the water and the blood, the Lord your God has recreated you to be His companion.  The Father walks you down the aisle in this new Garden of Eden, this Paradise on earth, and He gives you to this Groom, the most handsome of men, to be His very own.

Dearly beloved, here He receives you to Himself, to have and to hold unto eternal life.  With His own wounded hands, and by the bloody sweat of His brow, He has built you a house that shall remain.  His labor has not been in vain, but He shelters you with His good work and His perfect righteousness.  Whatever hardness of heart you have harbored, He has opened to you and given to you His own beating heart of flesh and blood.  In this there is the love of God the Father, which is from the beginning to the end, even from everlasting to everlasting.

Even death shall have no power to separate you from Him, nor He from you; for He has tasted death for you and for all the children of men, and He has been vindicated, raised from the dead, and exalted high above the highest heavens, to the right hand of God the Father, forever and ever.

It is true that, in the Resurrection, you shall be like the angels in heaven, neither married nor given in marriage, but wholly devoted to Christ.  Even so, in His flesh and blood you are crowned with glory and honor exceeding that of all the holy angels.  For He is not the Savior and Bridegroom of angels, but He is your Savior, and He is your Bridegroom, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

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

27 September 2015

Salted by the Cross and at Peace in Christ

In what does your life consist?  What does it mean for you to live?

It is not by your own works, nor is it found in the wealth and wisdom of the world, but it is by the Name of the Lord that you live — as His child — by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

The Name of Christ has been granted to you in your Holy Baptism, inscribed upon your forehead and your heart, your body, soul, and spirit, by the Cross.  That is your strength and your salvation.  For so are you also anointed by the Holy Spirit for faith and life with God, who is now your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

What, then, does this mean for you and for your life?

You are salted by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Cross.  And so are you disciplined unto daily repentance by the Cross, which crucifies you to the world, to your sin, and to your self.

But so are you also “seasoned,” inside and out, with the peace and love of Christ the crucified, because you are granted new life through His forgiveness of all your sins, and you are righteous before God in His Resurrection from the dead.

In that light, how shall you deal with yourself?  And how shall you deal with your neighbor?

There is a kind of startling violence in the Word of Jesus today.  It is a violence, not against your body per se, far less against your neighbor at all, but a violence of the Cross against the sinfulness of your heart, and against all your sins of thought, word, and deed.

The truth is that your only hope and help, your life, and your salvation, both now and forever, are in the Name of the Lord.  His Name saves you, gives you divine life, and bears good fruit in you, in your heart and soul, and in your flesh, here in time and forever in the resurrection of your body.

By contrast, the sin that reigns in your heart and in your fallen flesh, your unbelief and idolatry, brings forth death in your body and actions, and leads to the damnation of body and soul in hell.

Both sinful unbelief and repentant faith are matters of the heart, which are embodied and bear fruit in your flesh, in your bodily life and actions.  And those actions of your body, in turn, substantiate and strengthen the attitudes of your heart, whether for good or for evil, for life or for death.

Therefore, deny your body the sinful desires of your lust and greed, your jealousy and selfishness, and live instead in the faith, hope, and peace that are yours in the promise of the Resurrection.

Live in and with your body, even now by faith, in view of the fact that your body shall be raised to live with God in His Kingdom forever.  For your body also bears the Name of God in Christ.

Live, therefore, in such a way that your body confesses and glorifies His Holy Name.

If your hand or foot or your eye is involved in sin — if you stretch out your hand to take what is not yours, or to hurt and harm your neighbor in his body; if your feet turn and walk away from your neighbor in his need, but they run to find trouble in places you ought not be; or if you look with lust at your neighbor, or at pictures of your neighbor, and allow your eyes to linger on such images that feed your covetous desire (which is idolatry) — in any and all such cases of sin, repent in your heart, and so also repent in your behavior.  Discipline your flesh to cease from doing evil and begin to do good.  Avert your eyes, divert your feet, and withhold your hand from wickedness.  But look to your neighbor in love, draw near to him in peace, and reach out your hand to him to give help.

To persist in your sin is already a kind of living death, a hellish and demonic existence on earth.

But to live by faith is to rely on the Name of Christ Jesus, unto the life everlasting.  To live by faith in His Name is to pray by and with His Word and Holy Spirit.  And to live by faith in His Name is to avail yourself of His Ministry of the Gospel — to seek it out, to ask for it, and to support it.

Stemming from what you thus receive, to live by faith is also to live in love, catechizing and caring for others in the Name of Christ.  It is to speak to and care for others as Christ Jesus does for you.

Would that all Christians would thus faithfully profess the Word of the Gospel they have heard!

In the way that you speak, and in the way that you act, deal with your neighbor in patience and peace, with long-suffering kindness, in mercy and forgiveness.  Be slow to anger, reluctant to hurt, eager to heal, and quick to forgive, just as you are forgiven in the Name of Christ Jesus.  Restore your erring brother or sister in a spirit of gentleness, for love’s sake, in the humility of repentance.

To say it simply once again, discipline yourself, your words and actions, not only to avoid what is not right, but also to do and to say what is good and right.  Live in that way whether you feel like it or not.  It is not hypocrisy but Christian discipline to do what is right when you’d rather not.

In all of these efforts and actions, and in all your failures — as you recognize your own sin and stumbling, which are all the more apparent as you strive to resist them — do not despair — and do not continue in your sins, either — but call upon the Name of the Lord, and rely on Christ Jesus.

Take to heart and rest assured that He cares for you and provides for you.  He forgives you all your sins for His own Name’s sake.  He raises you up, as well, in both body and soul, to newness of life each day in His own righteousness and holiness.  And so shall He also, finally and forever, raise you up from death and the grave to the life everlasting in heaven.

This is most certainly true.  For Christ has borne all your burdens in His own body on the cross.  Indeed, He alone has carried the whole burden of His people in His flesh and blood, in His living and His dying, in His perfect faith and holy love.  He has brought His people, you included, out of slavery to sin, through the desert of death, into the promised Kingdom of His God and Father.

And see here how He feeds you on the way, and how He feeds the vast multitude of His Church with Meat and Drink indeed: He pours out His Cup for you to drink His holy and precious Blood; and He gives you His own Body to eat, the life-giving Manna of God, which refreshes and restores your soul and renews your body for the resurrection and eternal life with God.

So it is that, even in the midst of death, here is real life and real living, which are yours in Christ.  He beholds you in love.  He comes to you and stretches out His hand to you in Peace.  He washes your dirty feet, and you are altogether clean by the forgiveness of His Word and Holy Spirit.  And at the last you shall behold Him; from your own flesh, your own two eyes shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.  For He is your Redeemer, and He lives.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

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