29 June 2015

Christ Has Built His Church Upon the Rock

The Wise Man has built His House upon the Rock.

The almighty and eternal Son of the living God has come down from heaven in the flesh to give His Life a ransom for many.  He has entered our pagan territory of sin and death, in order to slay and defeat our ancient enemy, that old dragon, the devil or Satan.

By His death upon the Cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for the sins of the whole world, reconciled all of us to God the Father in heaven, and thereby destroyed death, released us from the fear of death, and removed all the power of the devil, namely, sin and guilt and accusation.

He has plundered the grave and Hades of their dead, and in His Resurrection He has opened the gates of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him, our Savior and our God.

It is by this precious Gospel of Christ — His forgiveness of sins, and life & salvation by His Cross & Resurrection — that He establishes, builds, and protects His Church unto the life everlasting.

Whoever lives and abides within His Church, even here on earth under His Cross, is safe and secure from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and shall live and abide forever with the same Lord Jesus Christ in heaven.  For He is indeed the Wise Man who has built His House upon the Rock.  The winds rage, the rains downpour, the floods rise and pummel that House, but it shall not fall.

Why, then, would you drown and die outside of His House in the midst of the storm?

The problem that confronts the flesh and blood of your old Adam and the whole sinful world in which you live, is that the Wise Man appears to be, not wise, but foolish; and the Rock foundation of His Christian Church appears to be, not solid and secure, but shifting sand.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, the “Son of Man,” appears to be no more nor less than a man like any other.  Extraordinary, yes; a great Prophet, perhaps; a good and righteous man, no doubt, and a powerful preacher; but surely not the Son of God.  No one is able to perceive or to believe who and what He truly is by means of mortal flesh and blood.

And when He is crucified, dead, and buried; executed as a criminal; hung upon a cursed tree in naked shame and humiliation, and laid to rest within a borrowed tomb, where is the divine in that?

Where is the power and might of the glory of God in His Cross & Passion?  Where is the promise of His coming?  And where do you ever see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life?

He says that the gates of Hades shall not be able to overpower His Church, but what then shall you say about the fact that you and your loved ones, your family and friends and fellow Christians, are all subject to death and finally buried in the ground?  Whether by disease, old age, or martyrdom.

Where is your hope, your life, and your salvation?  Where is the living God who can help you and save you from death and the grave, who will actually bring you out of Hades into His Heaven?

The Church appears to be a pitiful fortress indeed, little more than a fisherman’s shack upon the seashore.  After all, its so-called “Rock” foundation is nothing but the Ministry of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of repentance, the spoken word of forgiveness, the washing of water with the Word, and the administration of bread and wine in the remembrance of Jesus who was crucified.

And what sort of men are actually called and sent to preach and administer this Gospel?  Sinners, the lot of them!  Men like Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus — the one a wavering denier of Christ, and the other a former diehard Pharisee, a persecutor of Jesus and His followers.

Pastors to this very day and age are likewise quarried from the same Rock.  They, too, are sinners, each and every one of them, in need of forgiveness for their own sins.  They are mortals, just like you, subject to death and the grave.  Finite, flawed, and frail creatures of flesh and blood.

And what keys do they bring, what instruments and means by which they are to help and save you?  With what do they come to set you free from the death-grip of sin and to open the gates of heaven to you?  By what power and authority are they supposed to keep you safe from the devil and hell?

They have nothing but the Gospel, which is the Word of Christ Jesus and His forgiveness of sins.  It is admittedly pathetic and pitiful to all appearances, and impotent in the face of all your needs.  Nor shall you perceive or believe otherwise about any of this, not by your own reason or strength.

The truth is that you cannot recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is, nor can you come to Him, nor are you at all able to love and trust in Him, unless the Father reveals Him to you, and gives Him to you, and lays Him upon your heart by His Word and Holy Spirit.

But all of this the Father surely does for you, in grace and mercy and peace, according to His steadfast loving-kindness, by that very Cross of Christ and that preaching of His Gospel which appear to all the world — and to your own fallen flesh — to be so foolish and miserable and weak.

You could not possibly open your eyes wide enough to see it, but He has opened your eyes in faith by the Light of His Word, that is, by the Gospel of His forgiveness of all yours sins.

You could not even begin to open your heart or your head to accept it, but He has opened your ears to hear, your mind to understand, your heart to believe, and your lips to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who has also become your Savior, your Strength, and your Song.

The Word of Christ that His servants speak to you in His Name, is His Word upon their lips.  The Sacraments they administer in His stead, in remembrance of Him, are His own works of life and salvation for you.  Their forgiveness of your sins is His forgiveness, as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself.  Truly, this is how He cares for you.

And this Word of forgiveness, this Holy Absolution, this free and full forgiveness of all your sins — although it seems like such a still small voice against the rage and roaring of the devil — it is a most solid foundation of a truly mighty fortress, which shall not fall nor fail to preserve your life.

Where sin is forgiven, the devil cannot accuse you, and even God’s own Law does not condemn you anymore forever.  There is therefore no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.

Where sin is forgiven, death no longer has any rightful claim on you, but it must relinquish you, body and soul, unto Christ your Redeemer, who has purchased you with His very own lifeblood.

Where sin is forgiven — and your sin is forgiven by the Word of Christ — there is only life and salvation.  Come hell or high water against you, they cannot touch you, nor shall they reach you.

You shall not die but live.  The gates of Hades shall not prevail against you.  For you belong to the Body of Christ, His Church, and just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever in His own Body, so are you raised up by His Ministry of the Gospel to live with Him.

His death has been the death of death, the devil’s defeat, and hell’s destruction, and all of this on your behalf.  Therefore, His Resurrection from the dead is your resurrection, and His own life is yours eternally.  So has He spoken, and so shall it be.  His Word abides and stands fast forever.

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

28 June 2015

To Worship the Lord Your God in the Flesh

No one has taken a whip to her back, but a string of doctors have taken all her money without helping.  In fact, she has grown worse under their care.

Twelve years of bleeding from the inside out.  The curse of sin upon the first Woman has been multiplied in this daughter of Eve.  Her life is in the blood, but it won’t stop flowing out of her, slipping away.  And so she is left anemic and drained, low on energy, and tired in every way.

How many of her clothes has she had to scrub clean or discard in all that time?  How often has she broken down and sobbed in discouragement?  We do not know such details, but imagine yourself in her place, and consider the metaphorical whips that have fallen upon you over the years.

To pile insult onto injury, her burden is embarrassing, so that she is ashamed and wants to hide herself away from any attention.  Indeed, the Law of God is clear concerning her condition and its consequences.  She is unclean.  She is not to go out into public.  She is not even to be in church.

And yet, you have heard the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He was rich but for our sake became poor, so that, by His poverty, you and that woman and all of us might become rich.  Don’t imagine dollar signs here, but do look to Him for salvation, for life and health and strength and every good thing.  For here is the great Physician of body and soul, who does in fact make house calls.  He has come to help.  He will not take all your money and leave you still bleeding, but He pours Himself out for you, and gives Himself to you, in order to fill you up with His own Life.

Therefore, worship and adore Him: With your heart by faith; and with your lips by confessing Him and calling on His Name; and with your body, also, since your body shall be raised to eternal life.

To “worship” is to bow, to genuflect or kneel, to fall at the feet of Jesus, the Lord, and prostrate yourself before Him.  Such outward bodily “worship” will avail you nothing without faith, but where your heart bows before Him, there your mind and mouth and hands and feet and your whole body will follow suit.  Don’t worry, Jesus isn’t keeping score, and neither am I.  Don’t try to score each other, either.  But do worship the Lord Jesus and lay hold of Him where He is found.

What He has accomplished for you, in and with His Body and His Blood, He gives to you in the means of grace, in the Ministry of the Gospel, which you receive with your body.  Your ears hear His Word.  Your eyes see the sign of His Cross set before you, and they see the administration of His Holy Sacraments.  Your body has been washed with the water included in His command and combined with His Word in Holy Baptism.  And so do you eat His Body and drink His Blood with your mouth, with your lips and tongue and teeth and throat.

To receive these good gifts of Christ Jesus with your body, in faith, is to worship Him most surely. In this way, by these means, you seek Him out, and lay yourself before Him, and call upon His Name in the hope and expectation that He will hear you and help you.

That is what Jairus did.  For he was a leader of the local synagogue, and he knew the Scriptures, the Word and promises of God, and evidently recognized that Word made flesh in Christ Jesus.  In faith and hope he approached Jesus and fell at His feet.  He worshiped Him with his body, and with prayer and petition for his little daughter who was at the point of death.

Now she was only twelve years old, which seems a tender age at which to die.  You moms and dads, picture one of your daughters — or one of your sons, for that matter — wasting away before your eyes and dying.  If there’s anything worse than dealing with your own frailty, weakness, and mortality, it is the anguish and sorrow of watching your own child suffer and die, and realizing how utterly helpless and powerless you are to save her (or him).

By the grace of God you pray, as Jairus prayed, that Jesus would come and help.  And do you see how bodily all of this is?  Jairus prays, not only with his mouth, but with his body prostrate at the feet of Jesus.  He implores the Lord to come, to lay His hands on the little girl so that she will get well and live.  He’s pleading for her salvation, that is what his words imply, but his immediate concern and prayer are for her bodily health and well-being.  He wants her to go to heaven in the resurrection of the righteous, but right now he does not want her to die.  He loves his little girl and does not want to lose her.  So Jairus goes to Jesus and confesses that He is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life, and that His flesh — the touch of His hand — is strong and powerful to save.

The Lord Jesus responds right away by going with Jairus, just as He also hears and answers all your prayers.  Indeed, He is God’s Answer and Amen to your prayers.  Before you have called, and while you are yet speaking, the Father in heaven has given this same Son, Jesus Christ, for you and for your children.  He has had mercy and compassion upon you, and He comes to save you.

But then there is this interruption, this intrusion and delay.  Pushing through the crowd, like trying to swim your way upstream, having appealed to the Lord and secured His promise of help, you’re anxious to get home, to see some results, to experience the blessed relief and the great joy of an answered prayer.  It’s your turn.  Your need is so great and the time is so short.  Yet, Jesus stops and turns and waits upon another.  He turns His body and His attention to someone else, and you are left waiting until it is seemingly too late, while not yours but your neighbor’s prayer is granted.

The woman has it right, of course, in knowing and believing that Jesus is the answer to her need, according to what she had heard about Him.  That Word and promise is all that she has, so that is where she puts her faith.  Her prayer is not with her voice but in the reaching out of her hand.  She lays hold of Jesus in faith by laying hold of His cloak, His garments.  For He is the merciful and great High Priest, and the hem of His garment is bound up with the Word of God.  That is how the Lord God works: He attaches His Word and His promises to external things which you can touch and take hold of.  That is where faith looks for Him, and finds Him, and receives Him.

You also lay hold of Him in faith according to His Word: in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine which are His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.  And power goes out from His Holy Body to the one who lays hold of Him by faith.  The crowd presses upon Him, but it is by faith in His Word that you discern and receive the Life that is in Him.

That is how it was for the woman in this Gospel, and so also for you.  Immediately, the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed.  After twelve long years, she was suddenly no longer broken and dying, but made whole and clean and filled with Life.  Because Jesus has borne our griefs and carried all our sorrows in His Body, and He has poured out His Blood for all of us.  He was whipped for our transgressions, and by His scourging we are healed.

Faith receives that healing, that forgiveness, life, and salvation in the means of grace, in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  It is here for you to have and to hold, so that you also may have peace and joy.

Which is all well and good for that woman, whom Jesus tenderly addresses as a “daughter.”  But what about the synagogue official’s little girl?  What about his daughter?  And what about you and your children and your hurts and desperate needs?

They came to Jairus with the news, like the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.  It’s too late.  It’s all over.  “Your daughter has died.”  End of story.  “Why trouble the Teacher anymore?”

And yet, the Teacher has something more to say.  Even now, He teaches you: “Do not be afraid any longer.  Only believe.”  Sounds like Jairus was afraid at that point, as you can well imagine, just as you are afraid and tempted to despair.  But the story does not turn on what Jairus was thinking or feeling, or doing or saying.  Everything moves with Jesus.  He is the One who speaks and acts.

The woman with the twelve-year flow of blood went looking for Him and found Him where His Word said that He would be.  You also seek Him where He may be found.  And you call on Him, for yourself and for your neighbor, as Jairus besought Him in the first place for his little daughter.

By comparison, that twelve-year-old girl does absolutely nothing for herself in this case.  We are told nothing of her faith.  Besides, she’s already dead when Jesus shows up.  Do not suppose that her family, friends, and doctors have made some kind of medical mistake in thinking that she has died.  The Word of Jesus, that “the child has not died, but is asleep,” is not a second opinion or a different diagnosis, but a powerful Word of Life that makes all things new.

Of course the world regards the Word of Jesus as ridiculous.  So the people go from a wailing commotion to hysterical laughter, from devilish despair to the mockery of unbelief.

But for all of that, the Lord Jesus enters in and casts out doubt and fear and blasphemy and sin.  He takes hold of that little girl, and He calls her to “Get up!”  He speaks the Resurrection Word, and as surely as the death of Jesus swallows up death forever, so surely do His flesh and His Word raise up the dead in His own rising.  Immediately the girls gets up and begins to walk.  She lives.

You live, too, because the same Lord Jesus has done the very same thing for you.  Others have prayed and interceded for you, surely, but even when everyone else in the world has been silenced, Jesus enters in and saves you.  He comes into your room of death, and He takes you by the hand, in order to raise you up from death to life.

He has done it in your Baptism: by the hand and mouth of your pastor, with the water and the Word.  He does the same thing with His Word of Absolution: His forgiveness says to you, “Get up, and go in peace.”  Not only are you healed of your deepest affliction, but you are brought back from the dead.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not be afraid anymore, but only believe.

Wait upon the Lord, for He will help you.  If He delays in answering your prayers, He has not forgotten you.  If He causes grief, He will also have compassion.  He does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons and daughters of men, and He will not reject forever.  His steadfast love never ceases, but His mercies are new every morning.  He forgives you all your sins, and He will save you from all evil.  He is faithful, and He will do it.

It is good and right for you to seek Him out, to lay hold of Him in His means of grace, to avail yourself of His Gospel, and to worship Him with heart and mind, body and soul.  But rest assured that His faithfulness is greater than yours.  Therefore He has borne the yoke for you, that you might be set free by His hard labor and by His patient obedience.  In silence before His accusers, He has waited upon His Father to vindicate Him and to deliver Him out of death for your justification.  He has given His cheek to the smiters and put His mouth in the dust, that you might have hope, even when it all seems so very hopeless.

In truth, as God has raised this same Lord Jesus from the dead, you have a sure and certain hope in Him.  Therefore, hang on to Him for dear life.  Grab hold of His garments here, in the preaching of His Word and in His Sacrament, and don’t let go.  Do so in the confidence that He holds on to you.  For the One who took you by the hand and raised you up through the waters of your Baptism, here also gives you something to eat.  He feeds you with His Body, and His Blood still flows for you, poured out from His Cup, that you might be filled with the power of His indestructible Life.

That fact stands fast and remains forever, even in the face of suffering, sickness, sin, and death.  For He has called you His daughter, His son, and He shall not let you go.  No one shall ever snatch you out of His hand.  If you can imagine the loving care and concern of Jairus for his daughter, so much greater is the love and compassion of the Lord your God for you, His own dear child.

In the death of Jesus Christ for you, your death is but a peaceful sleep and Sabbath rest.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, you also are made well, and you live in soul and body forever.

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

21 June 2015

Christ Orders His Creation in Peace

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.  By His Word and Spirit He brought forth light out of the darkness, and He established a beautiful and brilliant order throughout His Creation.  It is still by His Word and Spirit that He creates and gives life and upholds all things in their proper place.  Whereas, apart from His Word and Spirit, creation collapses back into chaos.

Now there is such chaos in the world on account of man’s sin.  For the Lord God, who made the man in His Image, also gave the man dominion over the creation.  By the Word of the Lord, the man was to exercise authority over the earth, to govern it according to the good order that God had put into place, and to act as God’s own agent and representative.  Thus, for example, it was the man who gave names to all the animals.  So, too, the man and his wife were to fill the earth with children, and to subdue it, not as tyrants, but as a godly king and queen over God’s good creation.  When the woman and the man deviated from God’s Word and reversed the order of His creation, they opened the floodgates to the deep dark waters of chaos: Real storms that wreak havoc on land, at sea, and in the air, and a host of metaphorical storms that threaten you inside and out.

Even after the fall into sin, man still attempts to exercise dominion; and so you should, in keeping with your place in life, your office and station, according to the Ten Commandments.  The chaos of sin and death is undone by the right logic of the Word of God, by the keeping of His good and acceptable will.  When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and you listen to His Word and call upon His Name, and you honor your father and your mother, and you faithfully love and cherish your spouse, and you do no harm to your neighbor but help him in every way that you can, then the light shines in the darkness, and the chaos gives way to a beautiful order and form.

Yet, man attempts to exercise dominion, not by living under the authority of God’s Word, but by imposing his own will against his neighbor, and by pitting his own strength against the challenges and dangers of life in a fallen world.  He sets his own wisdom, ingenuity, and skill to the task of survival.  He takes on the chaos like an exhilarating adventure.  He thrills at the prospect of riding the storm out and forcing it to serve his purposes.  He harnesses the wind and dams the water.

It can be an invigorating contest, up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong and becomes life-threatening.  Then it’s no fun anymore, but scary.  Not only the danger that threatens your body and life, but the overcoming of your will, that is the most disturbing chaos.  The danger can be a thrill, but not the realization that you are powerless, that you are at the whim of wind and wave.  That is when the chaos rolls over you completely and drags you down into its depths of darkness.

The external chaos is bad enough, whether it be a destructive storm, an oppressive boss, unruly children, or financial calamity.  Those outside forces make you angry or afraid, or both, and they can fill your days and nights with anxiety.

Even more alarming and disarming than the outward turmoil is the chaos within you which drives your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions.  You would like to believe that you’re in charge of those things; that, whereas others may push you around and refuse to listen to you, at least you have your own mind, your own will, and that you’re still your own person.  Except that the storms inside of you are tossing you about and threatening to overwhelm you as much or more than anything that rages against you from without.  Even there, within yourself, you’re powerless to take control.  Lustful thoughts seize your mind, no matter how hard you try to resist them.  Envy and jealousy drive you to resent and avoid the very neighbor you are called to love and care for.  Bitterness and regret cast long dark shadows across your heart, no matter how pleasant your outward demeanor may be.  Failure and disappointment rob you of any confidence or ambition.

In the face of all such storms, within and without, the Lord Jesus has come to help you, and He is here with you.  He is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, who with His Word brings peace and calm to His Creation.  He undoes the chaos and orders all things rightly with His divine Wisdom.  Even the winds and waves obey Him.  For He is the Word-made-Flesh by whom all things are made, and He is the true Man who exercises godly dominion over God’s Creation.

But why, then, are the disciples even more afraid when Jesus has quieted the wind and stilled the waves than they were of the storm in the first place?  That is what St. Mark has written:  Before, they were afraid because they were perishing, but afterwards they are very much afraid.  Why?  And why are you so afraid of the good and right ordering that Jesus establishes by His Word?

Such fear is another aspect of the chaos inside of you.  It is the fear of sin and death, instead of the faith and love of God.  For in your fallen state, the power and authority and right ordering of the Word of Christ confronts you and challenges you with the force of the Law, with the imposing of His will upon whatever is contrary to His Word.  So, yes, all the chaos in the world that threatens you must obey Him and submit to Him.  But so is your own chaotic and sinful behavior confronted by the authority of His commands, and your own stubborn will is silenced and stilled before Him.

That recognition of the Lord and His authority, according to the power and judgment of His Law, is even more frightening than the chaos that rages all around you.  For it presses upon you and contradicts your will, and in a single stroke it undoes all of your self-righteousness and sin.

That’s what you hear when Jesus speaks and the winds and waves obey Him.  And that’s what you hear when the Lord speaks to Job in response to that poor man’s worries and complaints.  That’s what you hear in response to your own sufferings, your struggles and sorrows.  After all, who are you (a finite fallen creature) to call into question or complain about the judgments of the Lord?

But God is not backhanding Job with chastisement when He speaks.  He does not add yet another crushing blow atop the assaults and accusations of the devil.  He does not compound the chaos, and neither does He calm things down by constraining and compelling Job to “shut up.”  Rather, He quiets Job with comfort and consolation in his suffering.  The Lord reveals the mysterious truth that suffering is not a mark of His displeasure, nor is it foreign to His good and gracious purpose.

It is true that the Law reveals the good and right order of God’s world, as He intends it to be and to live.  But there is a deeper and different authority of the Law than its demands and prohibitions, than its threats and punishments.  All of these confront you and accuse you, and weigh so heavily upon you, but only because your heart and mind, your body and spirit, and the whole sinful world around you, are out of order and chaotic with sinful unbelief and stubborn disobedience.  At the heart of the Law itself, however, is the harmony of faith and love, the peaceful unity of the Holy Triune God, who lives in perfect freedom and acts in perfect love, who gives life to those who are His own creatures, to those whose very existence is brought about by His free choice of grace.

Which is also to say that the foundation and good order of Creation, as well as the fulfillment of the Law, is finally nothing else and nothing less than Christ the Crucified.  He is the Cornerstone, not only of His Church, but of the heavens and the earth and of all things, visible and invisible.  From before the foundation of the world, this Lamb was slain for the life and salvation of all flesh, and God’s good Creation is now completed and perfected in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is the Self-giving Love of God, the divine grace by which and for which whatever is made has been made.

As the Lord your God established His Creation upon the dying and rising of Christ Jesus, so does He renew His Creation and bring it into peace and quiet, not by imposing His sovereign will upon it, nor by forcing and constraining it to obey the rules and behave, but by entering into it, becoming part of it, and establishing the good order of His Word and Will in Himself, in His own flesh.

The Son of God enters the waters of St. Mary’s womb, and He is born from those waters under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law.  He then enters the waters of St. John’s baptism in the Jordan River, thereby submitting Himself to sacrificial death as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and from those waters He emerges to make His way steadfastly to the Cross.  So does He also embark upon the sea, in order to cross over with His people — through death into life — and He too is found on the boat in the chaotic storm, amid the raging winds and thrashing waves.

He is on board “just as He is.”  He has flesh and blood like you.  He sleeps because He is true Man.  That means, not only that He has gotten tired and must sleep, just as you must take your rest, but also that He lives by faith, as you are called to live.  Only, where you often cannot sleep but toss and turn at night, He rests in peace and quietness while the winds and waves toss the boat about.  It is neither exhaustion, nor laziness, nor a lack of care and concern for His fellows, but faith and trust in His Father which enable the Lord Jesus to sleep in peace even in the midst of chaos.

He lives as true Man by entrusting Himself entirely to His God and Father, in order to live entirely from Him.  This is how all of Creation, and man in particular, is created to live.  So that is how Jesus lives, and that is how He dies.  For not only does He lay Himself down to sleep in the peace of His Father, but so does He lay down His life, even unto death, in the confidence of His Father’s love and care for Him.  But consider the striking contrast between His peaceful sleeping and His panic-stricken disciples, who wonder whether He even cares that they are perishing.

And yet, it is in His sleeping, even unto death upon the Cross, that He fully sets Himself, His faith, and His love against the chaos of sinful unbelief.  His voluntary suffering and death, in faithful obedience to His God and Father, atones for all of man’s sin and remedies the brokenness of the Creation.  So, too, it is in His rising from the dead that all of Creation is fully restored in peace, as life and immortality are brought to light through the preaching of the Gospel.  When He wakes and rises from His sleep, He speaks, and all becomes perfectly calm.

It is in His dying and rising that Christ Jesus receives the authority to exercise a godly dominion of love over all of His Creation.  For He is the one true God, who has become true Man and given Himself for all mankind.  Because He has risen from the dead, the whole earth is full of His Glory.

Nowhere is that Glory of God more clear than in the Holy Communion.  There the Lord exercises dominion over His Creation by taking bread and wine and giving them to you as His own Body and Blood, crucified and risen, as Meat and Drink indeed for your own body of flesh and blood.  He uses His dominion to bless and sanctify Creation, to love and to give life by giving Himself.  And right there, in His Body and His Blood, is the heart and center of His Peace.  For the Peace of the Lord, the Pax Domini, is with you in this Holy Sacrament, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  With this forgiveness, the winds and waves are hushed and stilled.

This, then, is how He truly cares for you in all things, in body and soul, both now and forever.  Not by enslaving you, but by feeding you with Himself, with His own flesh, and by forgiving you with His own voice of the Gospel.  He speaks, and it is so.

As you hear this Word of His and receive His gifts, remember that you are baptized into Him; that you are in the boat with Him, and He is in the boat with you, that is, within the Holy Ark of His Church.  And here you are safe in the midst of the storm, even though you are sometimes so afraid, and even though it seems as though your Lord were sleeping and not very much concerned about you.  He has laid Himself down to sleep in flesh and blood like yours, so that you may find your peace and rest and quiet sleep in Him, and that He should raise you up with Himself in His rising.

By the authority of His Cross and the Resurrection of His Body, by the power of His indestructible life, He stills the storm, He quiets the waves, He calms your heart and mind with His Peace, and He brings you through the deadly waters into the safe harbor and salvation of His Kingdom.  For all of Creation is made brand new and beautiful in His crucified and risen Body.  And you are a member of His Body, here and now and hereafter in eternity, even as you eat His Body and drink His Blood.  So does He abide in you, and so do you abide in Him in perfect Peace.

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

10 June 2015

Thanksgiving to God for His Servant, St. Barnabas

Praise Christ, give thanks to God, and bless His holy Name for the gift of His servant, Barnabas: who supported the Apostles and the Church in Jerusalem, Antioch, and elsewhere, among both Jews and Greeks; who welcomed and supported St. Paul and served with him at the vanguard of the Gentile mission; who supported and assisted St. Mark and so encouraged that holy Evangelist from whose hand we have received the Gospel.  In addition to all of that, the same St. Barnabas was himself called and sent as a minister of the Word, a pastor and teacher of the Lord’s Church.

Learn from his example and be encouraged in your own vocation and stations in life.  For he was a Levite in deed and in truth, whose own body and life were dedicated to the service of the Lord.

He was born Joseph, from the island of Cyprus, but the Apostles called him “Barnabas,” that is, the son of encouragement, because of his generous assistance and support.  To begin with, he sold his property and gave it to the Apostles for the benefit of the Church, and then he devoted himself entirely to the Ministry of the Gospel and the care of his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Indeed, Barnabas exemplified, taught, and encouraged Christian charity, as in the case of Antioch where he gathered contributions for the brethren in Judea in the midst of a worldwide famine — not unlike his Old Testament namesake, Joseph, who provided for Israel and his sons and many others from the storehouses of Egypt.

You also, then, live your life as a true priest of God in Christ, in whom you have been baptized, and by whom you have received the new name of “Christian.”

Repent of all that is contrary to faith and love.  Turn your heart away from worldly wealth and the false wisdom of fallen man, and find your treasure and true inheritance in the Church of God.  Set aside all pride and selfishness in order to serve and support and encourage your neighbors, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and His Church and Ministry, all for the sake of His Holy Gospel.

You don’t have to sell your house or quit your job, but do go about your work and live your life in faith and love.  Find your identity, place, and purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  And in such confidence, pour yourself out in love for your neighbor, forgiving his sins against you and giving him life with whatever means the Lord has given you.

Do not despair or become discouraged where you have fallen short and failed in faith and love.  But repent of your sins and return to the Lord your God.  Where you have done wrong, cease and desist, and make amends wherever you are able.  And where you have neglected to do your duty and the good that you should, begin now to live according to God’s Word within your calling.

Consider again the way that St. Barnabas received and supported both St. Paul and St. Mark, and be encouraged by the same grace of God: Not only by the example of that good man, but by the word and work of those who, by the Holy Spirit, follow in his footsteps within the apostolic office.

Take to heart that Christ the Lord, your great God and Savior in the flesh, deals with you by the Ministry of His Gospel, by the ways and means of those men whom He has called and set apart for Himself and sent in His Name to preach and teach and catechize and forgive.  In receiving them, you receive the Lord Jesus Himself and His forgiveness of all your sins.

That is why St. Barnabas served and supported the apostolic Church and Ministry with his time, treasures, and talents, and why you are called to do the same in proportion as the Lord has enabled you: For the blessing and benefit of others, yes, but also for your own benefit and blessing in the preaching of Christ Jesus.

Hear, then, the new song of the Gospel, and behold by faith the new thing that God has done for you in Christ: Your sins are all forgiven, and you are daily raised up as a new creation in Him.  For the Lord who made the heavens and the earth has dealt decisively with sin and death by the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, and has made all things new in His Resurrection from the dead.

The same Lord bestows His Spirit upon you and breathes anew the Breath of Life into your body and soul through one and the same Holy Gospel of Christ Jesus, your Savior, which St. Barnabas also preached and administered in his day (and helped St. Paul to proclaim and St. Mark to write).

So it is that you are here on this night to receive these good tidings and these good gifts of Christ, to stand in the presence of God and kneel at His Altar, and to sing the praises of His Holy Name.  For His Name is everlasting, and Christ is given as a New Covenant to you in His Body and His Blood, and He shows compassion to you who are called to be His very own, both now and forever.

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

31 May 2015

The Faith and Worship of the Holy Trinity

The Holiness of God is that He alone not only lives but is Life in Himself, from all eternity to all eternity, in the permanent relationship of three divine Persons in the perfect unity of mutual Love.

And the Glory of this Holy Triune God is that He, solely for the sake of His own divine love — that is, the Father for the sake of His Son, the Son for the sake of His Father, in the Holy Spirit — the Lord almighty and all-merciful moves outside of Himself to create and give life to others whom He deals with entirely by His grace.  He grants them the freedom to live and to love in holiness; and when they fall, He saves them from their sin and death by His own voluntary Self-sacrifice.

This divine Glory of the one true God is manifested and exercised by His Word and by His actions in and with and for His creation.  Specifically, the Glory of God is manifested and exercised by the Word of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh: by His Incarnation and Atonement, His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension, His Ministry of the Gospel, and the entire Life of His Church.

The Father gives His only-begotten Son into the flesh and even unto death upon the Cross for the life and salvation of the world.  He reveals Himself and speaks to you by His Son, and He pours out His Spirit upon you by the same Son, Jesus Christ, in order to save you from sin, death, and every evil, and to give you His own divine life in your body and your soul.

This Divine Liturgy of the Holy Triune God — that is, the Father’s giving of His Son, and His giving of the Spirit by His Son — this Divine Liturgy forms and fills the Church of Christ on earth as it is in heaven.  It has done so once and for all in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  And it has given Life to you in the washing and new birth of Holy Baptism, which is foundational to the Church and the particular way and means by which you enter the Kingdom of God within His Holy Christian Church.

The Divine Liturgy culminates in the Holy Communion.  There the one true God gives Himself to you in Christ, the incarnate Son, by His Word and actions, by the gift of His flesh and blood, and by the gift of His Spirit for your body and soul.  There the Father loves you and cares for you as His own dear child and heir.  He forgives your sins and gives you His Life in place of your death, His Light in the midst of your darkness, and His Love in place of your selfishness and lust.

It is in this way that the Lord your God reigns over you in love as your King; not from the throne of a dictator in a royal palace, but from the Cross of His own Sacrifice in the midst of His Temple.  For here in the Temple of His Church He serves you with the Priesthood of His Atonement and by the Ministry of His Gospel.  In this way, the glorious train of His royal robe fills the Temple.

And in the royal priesthood of all who believe and are baptized into Him, in the faith and life of His Christian disciples from all nations, in all times and places, His Glory fills the earth.

It is for the worship, praise, and glory of the Father in His Son and by His Spirit that you and all have been created.  Not that He depends on you or needs anything from you, but that you live by His grace, receive life and all good things from Him, abide in Him by faith, and give Him thanks and praise.  To worship the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity, is to live within His Divine Liturgy.

Such worship actually is the Christian faith and life.  It is your Christian priesthood.  It is to receive and share the Life and Love of God, and to live in the Light of His Glory, in and with Christ Jesus and by His Holy Spirit.  It is to speak as He speaks, by His Word, and to live with Him as He lives.

It is to prostrate your heart before Him in repentant faith, with fear, love, and trust in Him above all else; then also to prostrate your body and your life before Him, and for your neighbor in love.

This Christian faith and life — this true “catholic religion,” as we confess in the Athanasian Creed — is manifested, exercised, and lived in the worship that you render unto God by your words and by your actions, by the confession of your mouth and the living sacrifice of your body.

It is in what you say with your lips and what you do with your body that you worship the Lord your God by faith, and that you live in love toward Him and toward your neighbor.  For with your heart you believe unto righteousness, and with your mouth you confess and call upon His Name unto salvation.  And because your body shall also be raised in glory unto the life everlasting, so does your body likewise participate in your faith and worship of the one true God, the Holy Trinity.

But how can this be?  How is it even possible?

In your own flesh, you have inherited the guilt and mortality of your parents, and to that deadly inheritance you have added sin upon sin from your conception onward, even to the present day.

Truth be told, there is nothing in your fallen flesh but sin and death and the vile stink of a rotting corpse, though you hide in a whitewashed tomb.  You are a man or woman or child of unclean lips.  You have not spoken as you should.  Nor have you lived in and with your body as you should.

How then shall you worship the Holy Triune God with your mouth and with your body?

How shall you take the holy body and precious blood of Christ, the Son of God, upon your unclean lips?  How shall you eat and drink the Lord Himself, the Holy One, with mouth and lips and tongue that have lied and cursed and gossiped, borne false witness, and profaned the Name of God?

How shall you ascend with your heart and mouth and body, and with your thoughts, words, and actions, unto the Lord your God in heaven?  And how shall you enter into His Kingdom?

How shall you come out of the night into the day, out of the darkness into light, and out of death into the Life of God?  How shall you ever be able to see Him and know Him and live with Him?

Beloved of God, repent of your sins, and listen now to what the Father speaks to you by His Son.  For His Word is near you, in your ears and in your mouth, in your heart and in your life; that is, the Word of faith and forgiveness, which is preached to you in the Name of Christ your Savior.

To be sure, you could not ascend to Him, nor could you have entered into heaven on your own, but He Himself, the Son of God, has come down from heaven to you.  He has descended from the bosom of the Father to embrace you to Himself in peace, and to abide with you in steadfast love.

He has become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, and He has taken upon Himself, into His Body, all the curse and consequences of sin and death and hell, in order to atone for the sins of the whole world and to reconcile all flesh to God.  Thus, in His own flesh, with His own blood, He has cleansed your flesh from sin and set your flesh free from death.

As He has been lifted up in death upon the Cross, so does He raise you up from death and the grave unto life with God in both body and soul, now and forever, through His Gospel of forgiveness.

For He is not simply a teacher sent from God.  Nor is He merely a means to some other end.  But already in Him, in His Person, in His Body conceived and born of Mary, crucified and risen, the one true God has drawn near to you and dwells with you.  Not just once-upon-a-time, back then, but right here and now in the earthly things of His Church and Ministry.  In His means of grace He reveals and bestows the heavenly things of God, preached and given and poured out for you.

As He has descended from the Father, and as He comes to you in divine and holy love, so does He pour out the Holy Spirit upon you in peace; and so do you ascend in and with Him to the Father.

It is in and with Christ that your faith and life, your heart and mind, your body and soul, your words and actions are gladly received in the presence of God.  The Father delights in your worship because He delights in you for the sake of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten and well-beloved Son.

Behold here the burning coal with which He touches your lips from His Altar of sacrifice, that is, the Body of Christ which burns brightly with the Holy Spirit. This He places on your lips and on your tongue, not to condemn you or destroy you, but to cleanse you of iniquity, guilt, and shame.

And as this touches your lips, His Word also opens your mouth to show forth His praise, to glorify His holy Name, and to sing with all the host of heaven, the angels and archangels and all saints:

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, Yahweh Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of His Glory!

Come, then, let us worship Him in peace, because He has shown His mercy to us in Christ.

All glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

24 May 2015

Made Alive by the Spirit in the Body of Christ

As a son or daughter of Adam & Eve, you spend your whole life trying to exonerate and justify yourself, to defend and excuse your behavior: to yourself, to your neighbors, and in comparison with your neighbors, and even before God when you’re not trying to run away and hide from Him.

But for all of that effort, there yet remains the unavoidable fact of death, which shuts down all of your attempts to make a life for yourself.  You can’t argue with death.  Not really.  Not your own, nor anyone else’s.  No matter how hard you work to ward it off or delay the inevitable.  No matter how zealous you are in caring for yourself and trying to protect your children from harm.

Sometimes, death and the grave are all that you can see, and there is no help to be found.

As a Christian, a child of God, you persist and persevere in hope, in the promise and assurance of things not yet seen.  But as a child of Adam in this fallen world, you flirt with despair and court disaster.  You succumb to the dread of death and plunge yourself into faithless unbelief, whether through apathy or apostasy, bitterness or cynicism, or the stubborn denial of God’s Word and promises.  Since you cannot see what He has spoken, you feel as though it were not true, and so you tell yourself to give up on God, to go it alone or give up altogether.  In this way, your hope has perished ahead of you, and you don’t even bother to pray or ask for help.

Sorrow seeps into your heart and fills it up, driving out faith and the Spirit.  Not right away, but inch by inch, the more you dwell upon your own thoughts and feelings, which seem so immediate, so real and so true, instead of on the Word of Christ, which sounds so fanciful, and He so far away.

Without the Word and Spirit of the Lord, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  You feel it in your bones, and the Law of God declares it to be so.  You are dust.  And that is where that old serpent the devil would drive you or entice you, to make you eat the dust that he is forced to eat.

Bear that in mind: The devil does eat dirt.  The would-be ruler of this fallen world has been judged, and he is cast out.  And the Spirit has come — who is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life — because the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son, has returned to the Father who sent Him.

Jesus is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Church, and therefore upon you within His Church, because He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has been anointed by the Spirit in His own human body of flesh and blood.  He received His body from the flesh and blood of St. Mary, a daughter of Adam, and so His body also is one of dust; yet, that very body of Christ has also been filled with the Spirit and anointed by the Holy Spirit for the rescue and salvation of all flesh.

To be sure, it’s not as though the Son of God were ever without the Holy Spirit.  But now also in His flesh as true Man He has received the Spirit, who descended upon Him and remains upon Him, so that in this same Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God abides with Man forever.  You know that to be true from the witness of His Baptism in the Jordan River.  So do St. John the Baptist and all four of the Holy Evangelists testify that, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove.

What began there in the waters of His Baptism culminated in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.  For both the dying and the rising belong to this Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which He underwent on behalf of all sinners, and which He has accomplished in Himself.

Thus was He driven by the Spirit from His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil: as Adam & Eve were tempted in the Garden, as Israel was tempted in its own wilderness, and in every way as you are tempted.  So, then, He is your true Comrade and your Champion.

Having come down from heaven from the Father, and taking human flesh and blood like yours to be His own, He embarks upon His journey back to the Father with you and all of us in hand.  He gathers all people up into Himself, into His Body, in order to return us to faith and life with God, and not only that, but to make us the children of His own God and Father in heaven.

He has taken, not only your temptation, but all of your sin and the sins of the whole world upon Himself.  He has come, not only as true Man with His own body of flesh and blood, but in the likeness of fallen flesh.  That is to say, He has borne and suffered the full curse and consequence of Adam’s sin, the full weight and burden of your mortality, as though every sin were actually His own, committed by Him, and as though death and the grave were His own rightful wages.

So it is that Christ is convicted concerning the sins of the world.  He is condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, but it is God the Father who hands Him over to the Cross, and it is the Spirit who fulfills the judgment of the Law in His punishment, in His bloody passion, in His death upon the Cross.  Thus, when all is finished, He hands over the Spirit He received at His Baptism.  For by the death of Christ, the requirements and condemnation of the Law have been fully satisfied, so that Adam & Eve and all their children may now receive the Spirit, not for death, but for life.

Do not doubt that it is so.  For the truth of it is manifest and openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  Here is what His death has accomplished for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve: It has destroyed death and silenced Satan’s accusations.  The Lord Jesus did not fight to defend Himself, nor did He answer His accusers, but in faith and love He quietly and willingly submitted Himself to suffering and the sacrifice of His Cross.  And see, His Father has exonerated Him and fully vindicated Him by raising Him up from the dust of the earth.

He is not guilty.  He is blameless.  He is set free from sin and death forever.  And so are you.

The whole world is “convicted concerning righteousness” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Death and the devil no longer have any rightful claim against you, nor against anyone else, not in Christ, the Champion and Savior of all men.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Him.

God’s judgment has been given by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  In Him, sin is forgiven; it is no longer counted or considered, nor is it held against anyone, because it is atoned for by His Blood.  And the whole world is justified and reconciled to God in His rising from the dead, in His returning to the Father in our human flesh: crucified and risen, glorified, and now immortal.

Now the Holy Spirit preaches these mighty deeds of God to all the nations of the world, in all the languages of earth, in order to make disciples of Christ Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people, and to gather men and women, boys and girls, the young and old alike, from the four winds into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  For the dried up old bones that are resurrected, re-enfleshed, resuscitated, and restored to new life, are not isolated individuals but the whole house of Israel, that is, the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is precisely in His Body that all are made alive.  And as a member of His Body, you are made alive in Him.

It is by the proclamation of His Word — by the preaching of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen — it is by this proclamation that the Spirit calls you daily to repentance, that is, from unbelief to faith in Christ.  For there is no conviction of any sin except for that of unbelief, which sets you outside of and apart from Christ Jesus and His salvation.  Your unbelief is your rejection of His righteousness in favor of your own, despite the fact that apart from Him you shall not stand.

But the Spirit calls you to repentance, convicting you of sin and of righteousness by the judgment of the Law and of the Gospel.  He speaks the truth in love.  He exposes your sin for the unbelief it is, and He thereby removes every pretense of self-righteousness within you.  That is the truth of the Law, which condemns you.  But the Spirit also speaks the truth of the Gospel, which is Christ, and by this Word He justifies you through faith and raises you from death to newness of life.

This is the Spirit’s testimony and His defense on your behalf against all of your adversaries and accusers: that you are a sinner, yes, but that Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and that you are freely and fully forgiven and justified by Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection.  On the one hand, the punishment of all your sin has already been carried out — in the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross — and on the other hand, the innocence and righteousness of Christ are counted as yours.

That is the truth of the Gospel.  It is not an empty or powerless word, but the very Word of God, which is not only true but Truth Itself, and it establishes the truth concerning you, both now and forever.  It is a living and active Word, by which the Holy Spirit comforts you in sorrow, and grants you peace in place of fear, rest from your weariness, and perfect health and strength and life.

The Spirit brings you through the waters of Baptism with Christ into the wilderness, where you now also bear the Cross as a Christian, as you live by faith in the Word and promise of your Father.  Here you find yourself in a desert of dry bones, and you yourself are crucified, dead, and buried.  That is what daily repentance entails.  And, yes, you are still mortal; for now you get sick, you suffer, and you die.  That should come as no surprise, nor is it a denial of the Resurrection and the Life that are yours in Christ; for you know that He has also experienced and suffered all of this.

So surely are you also raised up in and with Christ, and you are brought into the Land that God has promised you.  Already He has brought you into His Church, which is the Body of Christ, and here you live, just as He lives.  Not only that, but even now under the Cross you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus, which shall be openly revealed in the resurrection of your body at the last.  As Jesus returns to His Father by way of His Cross in His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you brought to the Father as His dear child: as His very own, dearly-beloved, and well-pleasing child.

That shall be so in the final Judgment Day, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the last.  And so is it most certainly true here and now, even in the midst of the wilderness, as you hear and receive the Word of Christ; as your sins are all forgiven; as you are cleansed and refreshed by the waters that flow from the side of Christ; and as you are fed with His Body and His Blood in His Supper.

In giving you Christ Jesus in these means of grace by this Ministry of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you everything that Jesus, the Son of God, receives and has from the Father.  He does so by the proclamation of the Word of Christ.  He guides you into all Truth by speaking what He hears, which is the Truth of the Gospel, namely, your justification and forgiveness.

This new language of the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, and that is neither gibberish nor fantasy but the accomplished fact of His Body put to death and raised again to life eternal.  In His Body you also are redeemed, raised up, reconciled to God, and righteous in His sight.  That is what He says to you, and that is what His Word does for you and gives to you.

Though it seems such a small and simple thing, and it may seem as though it were powerless to change anything, this Word fills your heart and mind, your body and soul, and even your mouth with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who drives out sorrow and replaces it with joy and peace.  For with the Word of Christ, the Spirit refutes the rhetoric of the devil; He defends and protects you against the devil’s accusations; and He comforts you, in order to deliver you from hopeless despair.

With this Word of the Gospel, the Spirit opens your lips to show forth the praise of the Lord, to speak the mighty deeds of God in Christ.  So it is that you, your sons and daughters, your nursing infants and young children, speak and sing this powerful Word to the glory of God and to the comfort of one another.  For this Word of the Gospel of Christ is the Truth, also in your ears and on your lips, by which He breathes His Life-giving Spirit into you and your children, and to your children’s children, that you and they may live forever in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

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

23 May 2015

Receive and Know the Holy Spirit in Christ

Although you are a creature of God, which is to say that you exist and have life by His Word and Spirit, you could not receive or know the Holy Spirit in your sinful unbelief — nor would you even have realized there is such a Person of God as the Holy Spirit — because you cannot see Him or perceive Him with your mortal flesh, nor could you discern His presence or find Him for yourself.

And without the Holy Spirit, you could not love; nor would you be capable of knowing love or even what love is.  For without the Holy Spirit you do not know the Lord your God, who is Love, neither the Father nor His Son, who live and abide in Love in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever you may have called “love,” whatever your feelings and emotions might have told you, even the ecstasy, rapture, and bliss of romance, without the Holy Spirit it was not and could not be the Love of God for which you have been created.  Apart from the Spirit of the Father and the Son, what the world and your flesh call “love” is rather selfishness and lust, which does no good and does not give or sacrifice, but which consumes and destroys both you and your neighbor.

But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has known you and loved you in His Son, and He has poured out His Spirit generously upon you in Christ by the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism.

He has given you a new heart, and a new and right spirit within you, so that you begin to live and to love as you are loved by Him.  He has removed your heart of stone with its idolatry and greed, and He has given you a heart of flesh and blood like that of the incarnate God, Christ Jesus.

You abide in Him, that is, in the Lord Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood; and He abides in you — in your body and your soul — with the Spirit of His Father.  He comes to you, and He reveals and gives Himself to you, because He loves you with the steadfast loving-kindness of the Lord.

You love both God and your neighbor, because this one Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and your Neighbor, has first loved you; and because He continues to love you and serve you forever.

This same Jesus, who was crucified for your sins, who has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, who lives and reigns eternally, He has not orphaned you.  He has not left you alone to make it on your own.  He is with you in the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He has also given you another Helper, that is, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father in His Son.

Whatever those twelve men of Ephesus had heard and received in the name of “John’s baptism,” it was lacking and misguided.  It is certainly not the Baptism of St. John the son of Zacharias.  For St. John the Forerunner preached and practiced a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, by which Christ Jesus Himself was baptized into His death, and entered upon His Passion, and received the Holy Spirit and the blessing of His Father.

To be baptized in the Name of this Lord Jesus, therefore, is to be anointed with His Spirit and adopted as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His Father.  For you are not baptized in the name of John, nor of Paul, nor of Cephas, nor of Apollos, but in the Holy Name of the one true God, the Holy Trinity.  And all that belongs to the Son has thus been given to you and become yours in Him.

You are not an orphan.  You are God’s own child.

Neither are you widowed, divorced, or single, regardless of your station in life and your present circumstances; because the One who has given Himself for you, who has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit, He is your heavenly Bridegroom, your true and faithful Husband, who shall never leave you nor forsake you.

It is by His holy and perfect Love for you that you receive love and know love, and that you receive and know the Holy Spirit.

His hands are laid upon you, and His Spirit comes upon you, by the hands of His Apostles, His sent ones, His ministers of the Gospel.  Through their works of love in His Name, He stretches forth His mighty arm and reaches out His hand, not to hurt you, not to abuse you or molest you, but to help you and to heal you, to absolve you of all your sins, to cleanse you of all your guilt and shame and sorrow, and to feed you in body and soul with peace and joy and grace and every blessing.

This is how God’s Kingdom comes to you, even here and now, as surely as it did by the preaching of Christ and His Apostles from Jerusalem throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, to Ephesus, Rome, and the ends of the earth.

By this preaching of the Gospel, by this Ministry of the Word of Christ, by the waters of Holy Baptism, by Holy Absolution in His Name, and by His Body given, His Blood poured out for you, His Father in heaven gives to you His Holy Spirit here within His Church on earth; so that, by His grace, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you love and trust in Him, and you do keep His commandments: You love as He loves you.

For the Spirit of God is with you by and with the Gospel, and this Gospel is the Truth.  It is the Truth that God the Father loves you, that He forgives you for Jesus’ sake, and that He gives you Life in Himself by His Son.  By this Truth of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart to defend and protect you, to strengthen and sustain you.  The Spirit loves you with the Love of God in Christ, and by the forgiveness of your sins He obtains the faith and love of Christ in you.

Beloved of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is with you, He lives and abides in you, not in some vague, abstract, or generic way, but in all the particulars of your own body and life and place in the world.  He is with you and in you in all of your callings and duties and relationships; in both your joys and your sorrows; in hardship and prosperity; in sickness and in health; in death as in life, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting that are yours, now and forever, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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