31 August 2014

Die to Yourself and Live unto Christ

Forget about the Law of the Jungle.  It’s not the survival of the fittest.  It’s die or be dead.

The key to life is not that you should find yourself, or be yourself, or make a name for yourself.  If you would live, you must die to yourself; whereas, if you live for yourself, you will surely die.

That is the great irony and the profound paradox of Christianity, and that is also your dilemma.  Any sort of life that is taken, instead of being given and received, is no life at all, but sin and death.

Christianity is not simply one lifestyle choice among others.  It is the only way of life.  But it is life in Christ by the way of the Cross.  Everything depends on His Cross.  Your life depends upon it.

Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, is not a means to some other end.  He is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  He and His Word are the only true delight.  But the surprising thing about Him is that He must die (and rise again).  And if you would live, you must die with Him.

Deny yourself, therefore.  Take up the Cross, and follow after Christ.

If you would live, you must be His disciple.  You must be a Christian.  Not in name only, though that name is most precious and significant.  But you must be a Christian in deed and in truth.  For the Son of Man is coming in glory to judge and repay everyone according to his deeds.  Set your mind, therefore, on God’s interests, not your own.  Live as a Christian.  Die and rise with Christ.

Holy Baptism makes all the difference.  Because Baptism, along with catechesis, makes disciples.

It is in Holy Baptism that you have been named with the Name of God, that you have been given the Name and Spirit of Christ Jesus, and that you have thus become a Christian disciple of His.

Children are named by their fathers, and in time, God-willing, a woman may be named again by her husband.  But in Holy Baptism you are named by your God and Father in heaven, and by your heavenly Bridegroom, with His own name, which is alive and life-giving and stronger than death.

It is in Holy Baptism, also, that you have been given to bear and carry the Cross of Christ Jesus.  And as a Christian disciple, you are crucified, dead, and buried with Him by His Cross, in order to rise with Him in His Resurrection unto life.  This is the first way that you take up His Cross, and the means by which you are able to take up the Cross and follow after Christ from day to day.

Taking up the Cross of Christ does not mean suffering for its own sake, like some kind of holy masochism.  As we’ve been learning from the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp in Bible Class these past few weeks, Christians do not go looking for trouble and death.  They do not throw themselves to the lions any more than they would throw themselves down from the pinnacle of the Temple.

Take up the Cross, rather, by exercising faith in God and love for your neighbor.  Receive from God whatever He gives you.  And share with your neighbor what you have received from God.  That’s what the Christian life looks like, and so, that’s where and how you take up the Cross.

Do what you are given to do.  Fulfill your vocations faithfully.  Within your vocations, serve your neighbor for Christ Jesus’ sake, whether you receive thanks or a slap in the face as your payment.

Bear your neighbor’s burdens in love, and bear with your neighbor in forgiveness.  If you suffer in doing so, and for doing so, bear that suffering patiently in faith and love.  In all that you do and suffer, glorify the Name of Christ that you bear, and so glorify your God and Father in heaven.

Trust the Lord, whom you follow, whose disciple you are.  If you lose your life for His sake, you’ve actually lost nothing; for you shall yet live with Him forever in His Kingdom.

But if you turn aside from Him and seek to avoid the Cross, in a futile effort to save yourself, then you really shall be lost.  Then you shall die, and not just once, but forever and ever.

So, then, do not guard and protect yourself, but get back in line behind Jesus.  Deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow after Him.  Repent, and live, so that you not be lost and die eternally.

Return to your Baptism, to the Cross and to the Name that were given to you there by your Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It’s all right there.  Your life is there — in the death of Christ, and in His Resurrection — in your Holy Baptism.  There’s no need to repeat it, for God’s Word and His gift are perfectly sufficient.  Just return to the significance of your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  It remains sure and certain, as steadfast as the Cross and Resurrection are.

Die to yourself.  Die to the world.  Die to sin.  Die to the devil, all his works and all his ways. Die, not to atone for your sins or to redeem yourself, but because Christ, by His death, has atoned for all your sins and has redeemed you.  Live unto righteousness in Him, not to satisfy the Law, but because He has fulfilled the Law, and has risen from the dead, and lives and reigns forever.

The example that He has left for you to follow in His steps is the way of divine and everlasting life, which is by the way of His Cross.  Not that you must (nor that you ever could) save yourself by your own good deeds or by your suffering, but that He has saved you by His suffering and death.  He has taken up the Cross and carried it before you, in order to forgive you, and to give you life.

He who is coming in glory to be your Judge, has already come into His Kingdom in the glory of His Father.  Not to condemn you for what you have done wrong, but in the flesh and by His Cross, in order to reward you with His own righteousness according to His good deeds on your behalf.

He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, from all your sin, and from eternal death, and from the power of the devil.  He has given His life in exchange for your body and soul.  He has tasted death upon the Cross, so that you do not taste death forever, nor at all apart from His Resurrection.

Indeed, His Resurrection on the third day is your righteousness in the presence of God the Father, and therefore also the guarantee and the first fruits of your own resurrection from the dead.

Take and eat, therefore: Not death, but the Body of Christ Jesus, who suffered many things for your salvation.  And drink the Blood of Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried in your stead, who has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Taste and see that He is good, and that, as He lives, so shall you.

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

29 August 2014

St. John the Baptist Is Risen from the Dead

You’re fascinated by St. John the Baptist.  Who’s to wonder?  He’s a fascinating guy.  But you’re also scared to death of him and of his preaching.

Oh, to be sure, you like to hear his fiery preaching well enough, especially when he’s pointing the finger at others.  But you don’t like it at all when he really turns the Law on you and on your sins, when he calls you to repent in heart and life, and to set aside your vices and change your behavior.

The fact is, that St. John does call you to repent, and he’s deadly serious about it.  Not only that, but your life depends on it.  Because it is not lawful for you to think the things you think, to say the things you say, to do the things you do.  Your sins and your sinfulness are not lawful.

It is not lawful for you to compete with your brothers and sisters, nor to take away their stuff.

It is not lawful for you to lust after your neighbor’s wife, to crave her for yourself, to devise ways of enticing her away from your neighbor to yourself.  Nor his children, his friends, his workers.

Likewise, it is not lawful for you to covet the bodies and affections of young dancing girls, or any of the other provocative allurements of this world, which reign as idols in your heart and life.

All of your selfish, prideful kingdom building is wrong, presuming yourself a god and not a man.  Yet, fearing the opinions of man more than the one true God, you commit what amounts to murder in His eyes and in His judgment: By the hatred and enmity in your heart toward those beyond your reach, and by your hurt and hostility against those who are unable to protect or defend themselves.

It is not lawful for you to do any of these things, nor a thousand other similar sins that you commit.

But you add sin upon sin, and you make things far worse, when you shut up the preaching of the Law and presume to keep it on a leash, at arm’s length, or locked up in a cage, demanding that it speak only when spoken to, and only to the limit you permit.  Meanwhile, you suppose yourself to be the master of your own domain, the king of your own castle.  But you are not in control.

Repent!  Or you will lose more than half of your kingdom, and more than your head or your body.

In your confrontation with St. John the Baptist, it’s kill or be killed, at least for the time being.  There’s no two ways around it.  Neither of you can live while the other one survives in this life.

But here is the profound irony and paradox of the Cross: Those who save their life in this world will lose it forever in the dungeon prepared for the devil and his wicked angels, while those who lose their life for the sake of Christ and His Word of the Gospel will save it for eternal life.

To repent and to be baptized is to put your own head on the chopping block, and to bare your neck to the sword — the Sword of the Spirit and, as needs may be, the temporal sword of the king.

This isn’t fun and games.  It is a fearful and deadly encounter.  No one gets out alive.  One way or the other, you are called upon to die, whether for life in Christ, or for the second death forever.

But, now then, see and hear, not only St. John’s fearful preaching of the Law.  By all means, do hear and heed that preaching, and repent.  But, in repentance, see him point and give way to Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins, who submits Himself to death and the grave on your behalf, and who raises you up with Himself, in body and soul, unto newness of life.

St. John’s entire life and ministry, his preaching and baptism of repentance, his suffering, and finally his death are a witness and a proclamation of this one Lord Jesus Christ, of His Cross and Passion, and of His Resurrection from the dead.

Everything about St. John — from his miraculous conception and birth, from the waters of the Jordan River to the depths of Herod’s dungeon and, finally, to the tomb in which he is buried — everything about St. John is wrapped up in Jesus and points to the Lord Jesus.  For he is called by God to be the Forerunner of the Christ, to go before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way.

And, because the Way of the Lord is the way of the Cross, the way of suffering and death, that is where St. John the Baptist goes.

That is also the case for anyone else who preaches and baptizes in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

And it is no less so for those who are baptized into Him, who are given the Cross to bear and are called to follow after Him, even to the point of death and the grave.

The Lord’s people, His saints, are so wrapped up in Him, so identified with Him, and so also named by Him as Christians, that the world sees Christ Jesus in them.

So it is that Herod could not shake the impression that Jesus the Christ was St. John the Baptist risen from the dead.  And in a way, Herod was exactly right!

In the Word and works of Jesus are the first fruits of His Cross and Resurrection.  For His gracious miracles of healing and new life are a blessed foretaste of the neverending Feast that has come to fruition in the Resurrection of His Body, which is manifest around the world in His Holy Gospel.

And for those who die with Christ Jesus, like St. John and all the baptized, His Resurrection is their resurrection and their imperishable life.  His Resurrection is your resurrection and your life.

So, likewise, it is in Christ that St. John and all the baptized are righteous and holy.  It is in Him that you are righteous and holy, blameless, innocent, and pure before God the Father in heaven.

It is in that sure and certain hope, in that confidence of Christ and His Gospel, that the disciples of St. John lay his body to rest in the grave, to await the resurrection of his body on the last day.

And already, the souls of those, including St. John the Baptist, who have been slain for the sake of the Word of God — and all those who have departed from this mortal life in the faith of Christ — now find their Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him, under His Altar in heaven.

But what does this mean?

It means that, baptized into Christ, you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

In life and death, in body and soul, as you carry the Cross in your vocations and stations in life, and as your body shall be laid to rest in the dust of the earth, you are safe and secure in the Body and Blood of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

This true and everlasting King, who is both God and Man, prepares a Table before you in the presence of your enemies, each and all of whom He has defeated for you by His own Cross.  It is a Banquet, not for His own benefit — not that He be served, but that He serves you — to forgive you all your sins, to give you His own life, and to save both your body and soul forever and ever.

As your mortal body is here fed with His life-giving Body and Blood, it is enlivened, honored, and glorified by Christ, in preparation for and anticipation of the resurrection of your body at the last, when it shall be no longer mortal and perishable, but immortal, imperishable, and glorious.

Your soul, as well, both now and forever, has Peace and Sabbath Rest in Christ, who has given Himself for you, and who pours out His holy and precious Blood for you in this Holy Communion.  Whether for the first time, or for the millionth time, it is forever.  For with this Feast He gives you, not simply half His Kingdom, but Himself with all His gifts and benefits, in whom the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Therefore, you are His, and He is yours, forever and ever, world without end.

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

24 August 2014

The House That Jesus Built

He is the Son of a carpenter, after all.  So it’s no surprise that Jesus is a Builder, too.  His father on earth (His guardian), St. Joseph of Nazareth, is described as a carpenter, or, more precisely, a craftsman, a master workman; and this St. Joseph, son of David, is a builder, who makes a house and home for his wife, St. Mary, and for her Son, the Lord Jesus.

His ancestor, the great King David, had wanted to build a house for the Lord, but the Lord did not permit that; for God would be the One to build a house for David, and to establish his throne and his kingdom forever and ever.  David’s son, King Solomon, was permitted to build the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Lord in mercy caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people Israel.  But to St. Joseph was given the privilege of making a house and a home for the incarnate Son of God.  Like father, like son, you could say that being a builder runs in David’s family.

His father on earth is the builder of a house for Jesus, and the true God and Father of this same Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Builder of the universe.  For He is the true and living God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth; the Maker of all things, visible and invisible; the Author and Giver of Life.  Not only did He bring everything that is into existence out of nothing by His Word, but in Wisdom He has crafted His entire Creation as a magnificent work of art, structured and arranged in a beautiful order and perfect harmony.  He makes of it a House of Life, and Light, and Love.

All of this the Father does by and through His Son, and out of Love for His only-begotten Son, the almighty and eternal Word of God who has become Flesh and dwells among us in His own Body.

This incarnate Son of the Living God, great David’s greater Son, conceived and born of St. Mary — He is the One who has come down from heaven to establish and to build His House, His Church on earth, to be a place of safety, peace, and Sabbath rest for you, and for His people of all nations.

In order to do so, He has first of all established the Rock foundation for His Church in Himself, in His own Body, in His human flesh and blood, in which the Name and the Glory of God abide.

But, oddly enough from the perspective of human wisdom, the solid foundation of His Church is found in and with His Cross and Passion.  It is established by His death, by the shedding of His blood, and it is therefore hidden from the eyes of the world in His crucified flesh.  It appears to be foolish and scandalous, and is seemingly not a firm foundation at all, but an absolute catastrophe.

Here stands the Font before your eyes, the hymn has testified, and the Lord’s Altar here recalls the sacrifice of Christ; as we also confess and behold in the crucifix by the Font and above the Altar.  So, yes, you can see these things, but you cannot see the divine Truth that is hidden within them.

The strength and beauty of the Church’s one Foundation is apparent only to the eyes of faith, and only by the revelation of the Father through His Word and Spirit in the Ministry of the Gospel.

It is not unlike the way the same Lord God, Yahweh Sabaoth, once established a household and family and a people for Himself by calling Abraham and Sarah and starting with them, when they  were so very old.  Sarah’s womb and Abraham’s body were “as good as dead,” the Bible says.  And yet, the Lord did as He had sworn to do, even after many years of waiting, when it seemed as though He had forgotten or was failing to keep His promise.  In their old age, a son was born to Abraham and Sarah, and from him a family, a nation, a holy people, and a chosen generation.

In fact, the Son of God has taken His own flesh and blood precisely from that household and family of Abraham and Sarah.  And He has given Himself over to death and the grave, as Abraham was once prepared to sacrifice his own beloved son, Isaac, as the Lord commanded him to do.

So the Glory of God in Christ is deeply hidden and thoroughly foolish in the eyes of the world.  Not only that, but He and His Glory are hidden from your own outward perception, and are foolish to the reason and sensibilities of your fallen flesh.  But that hidden Glory of the Cross of Christ — the foolish preaching and ministry of this one thing, Christ the Crucified, for the forgiveness of sins — that is the firm foundation of the Church, established by God on earth as it is in heaven.

For this Jesus, the Son of Man, truly is the Son of God in the flesh: Begotten of the Father from all eternity, but conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary in time, the Seed of the Woman.

And He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, because He has been anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit, in His own Body of flesh and blood (just like yours), “for us men and our salvation.”  Anointed by the Spirit to go the way of the Cross for each and all of us, poor miserable sinners, the children of Adam, who are fallen, mortal creatures, subject to death and the grave because of our sins.  Anointed to bear all of your sins, and to suffer your death and damnation in your stead.

Thus, from the waters of His Baptism in the Jordan River to His death upon the Cross, He journeys in and out of Hades, into heaven.  In love, He voluntarily subjects Himself to humility, weakness, suffering, and death, and thereby offers Himself as the once-and-for-all Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world.  And then, just as He trusted, He is raised up in Glory by His God and Father.

As He is the One who dies for you, bearing all your sins and death in His own flesh and blood, so it is that, in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, you also are raised from death to life in Him.

This Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the Key to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Key that is given to His Church on earth by the Ministry of the Gospel in His Name and stead, which is to say, by His own all-encompassing authority in heaven and on earth.

In the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name; in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism; in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution; and in the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood in the Holy Communion — one-and-the-same Gospel of the Cross and Resurrection is the Key that opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers in Christ.

For the Lord your God is exceedingly rich in His grace and mercy toward you, and toward the entire household and family of His Church, in that He gives you the Gospel in each and all of these ways.  Each in its own unique way, these means of grace all give to you, and work in you, the life-giving fruits and benefits of the Cross of Christ, and so also raise you from death to life in Him.

This divine life that is yours in Christ Jesus is a hidden life, as surely as the divine Glory of His Cross is a hidden Glory.  You can’t see it or feel it in yourself, in your body and behavior, except by faith in the Word and promise of Christ; like Abraham and Sarah awaiting the promise of a son, while their already old and worn out bodies continued to age.

But as God Himself is true, and His Word is true, your newness of life in Christ Jesus is as sure and certain as your Holy Baptism, which is as sure and certain as His own Cross and Resurrection.  So is Holy Absolution in His Name, by His divine command, as sure and certain as the Lord your God Himself, because Christ your dear Lord thereby speaks to you and deals with you Himself.

And in the Holy Communion, the same Lord Jesus Christ gives to you His Body and His Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith, yes, and so also for the new life of your body and your soul in Him, unto the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

This Holy Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel, which continues to this day and place, even here and now, exceeds that of the holy Prophets, and even that of St. John the Baptist, because Christ the Lord has come in the flesh, and has conquered the gates of Hades by His own Cross and Passion.

He has stormed the gates of Hades by His own death, and they have not prevailed against Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  Neither are they able to prevail against His Church, because it is founded on the Rock foundation of His Gospel.  Nor will the gates of Hades prevail against you, who live and abide within His House upon the Rock.  The box in which your dead body will be buried, the hole in the ground in which you will be laid to rest, will not be able to contain you or keep you from rising in glory on the day of the resurrection of all flesh.  For Christ has blown the gates of Hades off their hinges.  He has undone the grip of the grave from the inside out.

By His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and by the shedding of His holy and precious blood, Christ has atoned for the sins of the world.  Therefore, death is defeated, as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus has openly declared before the whole of creation.  Satan is stripped of his weapons against you, because the Law of sin and death has been fully satisfied by the righteous Son of God.  Indeed, the whole world is reconciled to God in Christ Jesus, and all of creation, the heavens and the earth, are not only restored but gloriously perfected in His crucified and risen Body.

So, death, take that!  You’re done.  You could not hold my Lord Jesus, and you shall not hold me.

In the Body of Christ Jesus, a new and better Garden of Eden has been planted and is cultivated.  His flesh and blood are the Paradise of God, His Cross the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden.

In this Body of Christ, crucified and risen, the Kingdom of Heaven is established and built on earth in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which is the household and family of God.  And now the Ministry of the Gospel — the Ministry of the Confession of Christ Jesus — gives to you a place in His House, in His Church, and in His Kingdom, here in time on earth, and hereafter for eternity in heaven.  From the one Man, Jesus Christ, who was crucified, dead, and buried, see how the Lord has filled the whole earth with His children: Not slaves, but sons of God in Christ!

It is because you are a child of God, a son of God in Christ by virtue of your Baptism, that you are free to give your body and life as a sacrifice of faith and love, as Christ has given Himself for you and for all people by His Sacrifice upon the Cross.

Even as you are poured out for others — and even if you perish from this world — your true and everlasting life and your permanent place remain safe and secure with Christ in God.  You remain “at home” with Him, even on that long, hard journey to the far country of death and the grave.

Hades cannot have you, no more than it could hold onto Christ, your Savior.  Whether you live, or whether you die, your life remains with God in the House that Jesus built.  The rains may fall, the floods may rise, and the winds may blow against that House, but it will not fall, for it is built upon the Rock.  Already here on earth, the forgiveness and life and salvation of Christ Jesus are given and done for you in heaven, and that shall not by any means be taken away from you.

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

17 August 2014

Pray Without Ceasing and Do Not Lose Heart

Do not let go of this fact: Jesus has come to you, and by His Gospel He calls you to Himself.  God the Father speaks to you by His Son, and He promises grace and every blessing to all who call upon Him.  He is not teasing you, nor toying with you.  His Word and promise are sincere.

In Holy Baptism, the Lord has bound Himself to you.  The Father has united you with Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  He has named you with His own Name, and thereby adopted you as His own child.  He has given you His Holy Spirit and, with that, eternal life.  He forgives you all your sins; He justifies and sanctifies you.  He shall not withhold any good thing from you.

All of this is sure and certain; for His call and His gifts are irrevocable.  What He says to you is true, and He is faithful; He will do as He has promised.

Therefore, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

In Christ Jesus, your God and Father has commanded you to pray, He has taught you to pray, and He has promised to hear you.  Therefore, pray at all times, and do not lose heart.  Pray without ceasing.  Pray with confidence, and say “Amen!”  Pray, praise and give thanks.

Pray, not only for yourself, but for your neighbor.

Pray, not only by yourself, but together with your brothers and sisters in Christ, in the company and fellowship of His Church.

Praise and worship the Lord your God: with heart and hand and voice — in prayer and confession — in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs — not only with thanksgiving for His good gifts and benefits, but also praise Him for who He is, for whom He has revealed Himself to be: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God in three divine Persons.

And do give Him thanks for all His gracious gifts and generous benefits, above all for the forgiveness of sins and life and salvation in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks, not only for what you already see and hold in your hand, but in the hope of His mercy, in faith.  For prayer is the voice of faith, which is a confession of the Word of God.

To pray with such faith in the Word of God is the most decisive and definitive characteristic of Christian discipleship and life.  Christians pray.  It is that simple.

It is a matter of trust and confidence, by which you not only look to God in Christ for help, but you rely upon Him alone for all that you need, for both body and soul.

To pray with such faith depends entirely upon the Word of Christ.  Thus, true Christian prayer always begins with and continues to rest upon the hearing of His Word.  You cannot pray without it; but, if you would pray, open your ears before opening your mouth.

If you have not prayed as you should, repent.  Hear the Word of God, and pray.

If you have prayed only out of habit or superstition, without the fear, love and trust of God in your heart, repent.  Do not cease to pray, but pray with a right spirit.

If you have been lazy or distracted, so that you have not given your time and attention to the Word of God and prayer, repent, and pray in Jesus’ name.  Pray because you need Him above all else.

If you have neglected to pray with and for your family and your Church, repent, and fulfill your calling as a Christian.  To pray and intercede for your neighbor, and to offer the morning and evening sacrifice of thanksgiving, that is your royal priesthood as a baptized child of God.  Do it faithfully.  Where you have fallen short, do better.

If you have become discouraged, given up hope, and ceased to pray because the Lord seems neither to be listening or answering, repent, trust Christ, and live.

Do not despair, but continue crying out to the Lord Jesus.  He is not deaf to your pleas, nor blind to your tears.  Nor is He slow about keeping His promises, but patient with you and merciful.

The Lord’s desire is to save you.  If His help tarries for a night, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, yet His joy will come in the morning.  Even if you go down to the grave in death, He shall raise you up to life.  It shall be done for you as you wish.

As often as His Law accuses you of sin, say “yes” to that.  His Word is truth.  You are a sinner.

But do not take that thundering “no” of the Law as the last word or the final answer to your prayer.  For Christ is the Savior of sinners.  He speaks to you another Word that satisfies His Law and rescues you from sin and death and all your demons of body and soul.  It is the Word that has been spoken by His Cross and in His Resurrection, and spoken also to you in Holy Baptism; therefore, the “Yes and Amen” of His Gospel stands fast, even through the long dark night of silence.

Do not despair, but pray.  His Word of mercy shall yet be heard.

If you suffer hardship, loss, pain, or grief, even all of this is for your good, for the strengthening of your faith.  It is a participation in the Cross of Christ, by which you enter into life with Him.  It is also an opportunity and blessed privilege to confess your hope in Christ, for the strengthening of your neighbor’s faith, unto life everlasting.

Trust your dear Father in heaven.  He knows what He is doing, and He does it all for the sake of love, out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

Trust your gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has not only taught you to pray; who not only hears and answers your prayer; but who also prays and intercedes for you.  His Spirit also helps you in your weakness and prays for you, even when you are reduced to groans of anguish.  Thus are you strengthened and sustained in faith and life.

For you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd’s pasture.  You were lost, but He has found you and brought you home, rejoicing.

You are not a dog, but a dear child, seated at your Father’s table.  You are no longer a stranger, an alien, a foreigner or outcast, but you are a beloved member of His own household and family.  This is where you live.  This is where you belong.

When you pray, you are not begging for table scraps, but asking your Father for the food He loves to give you, for the gifts Christ freely gives.  Ask Him, therefore, not as though He would otherwise withhold His generous hand, but in order to confess and give thanks for His mercy.  For here is the Bread of Life, which He bestows from His open hand to satisfy your deepest longing and your heart’s desire.

Open your ears to hear, and speak as you have heard.

Open your mouth to pray, and you have opened your mouth to be fed, to be healed, and to live.

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

10 August 2014

From Out of the Depths He Saves You

They haven’t gone off half-cocked on some impetuous path of their own.  No, they’re in the boat where Jesus put them, making their way across the sea as He commanded them.  They’re doing what they’ve been given to do, in the place where the Lord Jesus has called them to be.  And yet, the way is difficult, exhausting, and stressful.  They’ve been out there and at it for most of the night already, and now, in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning, they’ve still got a long ways to go.

So, then, do not be dismayed that you find it to be so in your own life, too.  Not that you’re always where you ought to be and doing what you ought to do!  But even when you’re hitting your stride in doing what you’re given to do, living in the vocations to which the Lord has called you, it is still the case that life is hard, sometimes all the more so.  Your hand on the tiller, your shoulder to the plow, your nose to the grindstone, and yet, you seem to be doing no good and getting nowhere.

Does it not seem to you and all the world that you are on your own, that Jesus is not with you, though you are following the path on which the Lord Himself has set you?  Your own little boat on the water, and even the Great Boat of the Church, the Holy Ark of Christendom, are tormented by the waves and tossed about by strong, persistent headwinds.  Your progress is slow and hard, your destination remains distant and elusive.  You are tired and worn out, maybe ready to give up.

What’s the point in trying when it doesn’t seem to be working?  How is it even worth the effort?  Why is this life the Lord has given you so difficult?  And where is He, anyway, at this point?

In truth, the Lord has not forgotten you, not once, not ever, not even for a little while.  Nor has He left you on your own.  His Word itself attends you, for one thing, and it remains sure and certain, come hell or high water against you.  He has provided the boat, and He preserves it for you, even as the waves that trouble you uphold the boat, with you in it, through the long dark night.

But there is more than all of this.  It is not that the Lord has left you with supplies for the journey while He Himself has gone away and left you.  I understand that it feels like that, but it is not so.  He has gone up to the Father, whence He came, by the way of His Cross, on which He is lifted up, and in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the Right Hand of God.  But in this He does not leave you or forsake you.  He fills all things and upholds them with His own flesh and blood, even as He contains all things and preserves them by His Word and Holy Spirit.

He has gone to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection, not to abandon you, but to open the way for you, and to bring you to His God and Father in Himself, in His own Body, crucified and risen.

He has gone up the mountain to pray, as the beloved Son who relies upon His Father in all things; and as the true Man, yes, who lives by faith and calls on the Name of the Lord; but also as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, to make intercession for you, and to prepare a place for you as a beloved son or daughter in the household and family of His Father.

As He thus bring you to the Father in His Body and His Blood, He is also with you all the way.  He comes in the flesh and draws near to you in the midst of the chaos and deep darkness of sin and death in this fallen and perishing world.  As the Father spoke His Word to bring forth Light out of the darkness, to bring forth Life in His own Image, and to create all things out of nothing, so does the same Word of the Father come to you in the Ministry of the Gospel, in order to save you.

He comes by ways and means that are in some respects surprising and perhaps even suspicious, unexpected on the basis of your prior knowledge and past experience, and so incomprehensible.  He plants His footsteps on the sea and comes to you upon the water; and not by the water only, but by the water with His Word and Spirit, and with His holy and precious blood, poured out for you.

How is this supposed to help?  And how does this even work?  Yet, He is the Author and Lord of creation, by whom all things are made.  So it is really not surprising or suspicious, after all, that He should take His own creation in hand in order to serve His purposes, to save you and to give you the Life for which He has also created you.  Has He not, Himself, become the fulfillment of His good creation by His Incarnation, by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  Has He not redeemed and rescued His creation in and with His Body, by His innocent suffering and death, by the shedding of His blood?  And has God not raised this same Jesus from the dead?

He is not a ghost, a disembodied spirit, a lost soul wandering the depths in search of peace.  No, He is the Lord, the incarnate God, your Savior, who was crucified for all your sins, who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever as your righteousness and holiness and everlasting life.  He is the Lord your God, but He is also true Man, your Brother of real flesh and blood like yours.

Take courage, and do not be afraid.  He Himself is here with you, a very present help in every kind of trouble.  He is not here to haunt you, but to deliver you from every evil of body and soul.  He can and will do it.  He is the One who has already passed through the gates of death on your behalf, whose bodily Resurrection is the dawning of the beautiful New Morning of the eternal Eighth Day.

Proceed, then, at His Word.  Continue on the way that He has given you to go.  Trust and do what He says, even though your reason and all your senses defy and contradict the Truth of His Word.

Easier said than done.  I know that it is hard.  If you’re like the disciples, your life in this world is a mixed bag of mixed emotions; you’re pushed and pulled this way and that, and torn between doubt and faith, between the fear of death, on the one hand, and the fear of the Lord on the other.  You want to believe, and by God’s grace you do, but God help your unbelief!

Do you not find an example of your own perils and predicaments in Peter?  He tries and tests the Lord, and he begins with such boldness and confidence when he climbs out of the boat onto the wild water, only to sink into doubt and descend into fear.  It’s not the last time, either, that Peter will rush forward only to fail miserably.  Peter the Rock seems more like a tossing wave himself!

But, honestly, are you really any better?  Different, perhaps, in personality and temperament, but no better: Proud when you ought to fear the Lord, and afraid when you ought to be courageous.

The fact remains that you simply will not make it to Jesus on your own, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned you may be, and no matter how hard you try.  Take your eyes off Him, to look to yourself or look elsewhere, and you’re going to sink.  You cannot save yourself.  To whatever extent your faith in Christ falls short and fails, so will you.  But why do you doubt His Word?

Maybe it doesn’t seem fair!  You’ve all heard that before, and you’ve all said it, or thought it.  Why does this life have to be so difficult, especially when you’re trying so hard to do the right thing?

It is the Way of the Cross.  That is both the problem and the solution.  It brings you to repentance and to faith, through death and the grave into the Resurrection of Christ and His Life everlasting.

It is not a game that God is playing with you.  It’s not a sadistic maze that you must navigate and run through.  It is the Cross of Christ, which puts you to death in order to save you.  That is why the relentless wind assaults you, and why the wild waves surround you and overwhelm you.  You drown and you die in the depths of the sea, in order to arise and emerge, a new creature in Christ.

Thus are you returned, by the Way of the Cross, to the watery grave of your Baptism into Christ.  It is not comfortable or pleasant to be confronted by your sins, to realize your shortcomings and failures, to be out on the waves with the wind whipping your face and shoving you back into the chaos of your past and present mistakes, too numerous to count, too embarrassing to name.  Then and there, you know that you must die entirely to yourself, and to your own self-reliance.  If you are going to be saved, then you must have a Savior, and there is only One of those, Christ Jesus.

Do not suppose that you will ascend into the heavens to bring Him down, nor that you will descend into the depths to raise Him up.  You cannot, but neither do you need to do either one.  For this Word of God is near you.  He has drawn near in the flesh.  He stands upon the waves before you.

So it is, that, by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you cry out for mercy, and you call upon the Name of the Lord.  Kyrie, eleison!  O Lord, save me!

In this, St. Peter is a beautiful example.  He is brought to the point of doing what Jesus has already and always been doing for us all, that is, to prayer and petition.  And as he prays to the One who ever lives to pray and intercede for him, to his merciful and great High Priest, so does the same Lord, Jesus Christ, immediately act.  Peter’s prayer is heard and answered, and so is yours.

Jesus stretches out His hands (!) to save you.  He takes hold of you and gathers you to Himself in both body and soul.  He preaches repentance and faith, that you not doubt but trust in Him, and He restores you to the Boat of His Church, in which the wind stops.  The world around you rages, to be sure, but here you are at peace, and here you are safe, because here your sins are all forgiven.

Here, then, in the Boat, you worship Him, the Son of God, in His Word, and in His Body and His Blood.  You hear and you receive His Word; you believe and you confess what He has spoken; you eat and drink His Body and His Blood; you worship and bow down before the Lord, your Maker.  And you are saved.  In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

01 August 2014

Presentation Audio from Liturgy Institute 2014

For those who requested, for others who may also be interested, and as my wife instructed, I recorded and have uploaded the audio of my several presentations at the 2014 LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music.  I did workshops on the responsible use of freedom in worship (twice), a sacramentally-shaped life (twice), and the LSB one-year and three-year lectionaries (once).

Living the Vida Sacramenta (first)

Living the Vida Sacramenta (second)

Freedom and Responsibility (first)

Freedom and Responsibility (second)

One-Year and Three-Year Lectionaries

20 July 2014

Good God, Why Is There Evil?

From the foundation of the world it has been hidden, that is, the goodness of the Cross of Christ. It is a divine Mystery, which, to the world, appears to be the height of evil.  And to be sure, the evil one intends it to be so, as he plants the seeds of greed and jealousy, of blasphemy and cowardice against the Son of Man.  Yet, it is the Father who hands over His beloved Son for the Life of the world, and the same dear Son who lays down His Life willingly, in the hope of the Resurrection.

If God is all good and all powerful, and He is, then why is there evil in this world that He created?  That is the burning question, and it is answered in the Lord’s explanation of this Parable.  It isn’t what you think, nor as it appears on the surface.  For all your eating of forbidden fruit, you do not know the difference between good and evil.  You are not God, nor are you like Him, though you presume to judge your neighbor and to evaluate your place in the world as if you were the Lord.

As soon as you perceive what you determine to be evil in your neighbor and your circumstances, your immediate reaction is to rip it out and be done with it.  That seems logical and good, right?  The longer it remains, the more it will grow, and the more damage it will do.  Especially in the case of clear and obvious sin, which is contrary to the Word of God.  Surely that must be dealt with, and, rest assured, it will be.  There is a Day of Judgment, make no mistake about it.  Even now, there is a need for discipline, for the self-discipline of your flesh, for the discipline that God has entrusted to parents and other governing authorities, and for the exercise of church discipline.

But along with that divine discipline and judgment, there is also this seemingly contrary Word of the Lord, which simply says “No” to your itch and urge to weed the wheat field.  Leave the weeds alone to grow together with the wheat, He says, even as He continues to provide His sunshine and His rain on both the evil and the good, for both the wicked and the righteous in this life on earth.  His tender care extends to the entire field, and this is what is frankly hard for you to understand.

An enemy has sown these weeds among the wheat.  The Lord knows that it is so, and yet, He does nothing about it.  He seems passive, indecisive, and weak in the face of this wickedness.  And you cannot comprehend why He does not remove the weeds that are strangling you and choking the life out of you in this world.  You do not consider the extent to which your own heart and mind, your own body, soul, and spirit have become so thoroughly infested with the devil’s weeds, they could not be removed without killing you in the process.  Damned if you.  Damned if you don’t.

But now, do not suppose that the Lord your God has been caught off guard by His enemy, nor that He is left powerless to do anything about it.  It is, in fact, His almighty power that is made perfect in this apparent weakness.  He exercises long-suffering patience in mercy, compassion, and love.  He waits, not for some inevitable demise, but to accomplish the redemption of His field, to justify the good seed that He has sown, and to sanctify the wheat that He brings forth unto the harvest.

Not only is He Good — His Word good, His Seed good, His whole creation very good — but He is also the Almighty, the Maker and Preserver of all things.  Nothing happens outside of His power.  He remains forever in control of all that He has made, and He governs the whole world and the entire cosmos for the benefit of His Church, for the good of His children.

The devil is not another god, but is himself a creature of the one true God, dependent on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for his very existence and for whatever he is merely permitted to accomplish.  With ego and envy he has set his will against the Lord who made him, but his evil will not prevail.  Despite the devil’s wicked intentions, the Lord accomplishes His own good purposes.  The true and only God, the Holy Trinity, is never backed into a corner nor left scrambling for a “Plan B.”

It is not the Lord but His people whose sleeping affords the devil opportunity to sow his weeds.  So it is in your life, as well, that when you are asleep at the wheel, negligent in your duties, and deaf to the Word and promises of God, that is when the serpent slithers in with his temptations.  The evil one sows seeds of doubt and fear, of lust and greed, of pride and enmity, which take root in your ears, and in your heart and mind, and then they grow and bear the wicked fruits of sin and death among the amber waves of grain: both within and all around the sons of the kingdom.

For all of that, it is the Lord who subjects His creation to the consequences and corruption of man’s sin; not for destruction or damnation, but, again, in the hope and for the purpose of redemption.

He does not eradicate the weeds, because to do so would be to destroy His precious wheat, as well.  Nor does He permit His servants to go on a weeding rampage.  He tempers their emotional outburst and reins in their impetuous flesh; lest they trample the whole field underfoot and set themselves against each other in the process, since they too are part and parcel of this weed-infested world.

Instead, He does allow the weeds and wheat to grow together, as Jesus here makes clear for you, until the harvest of that great and final day.  But to what end or purpose?  Where is the hope to be found?  How will the wheat be saved, and how will the weeds be separated and removed from it?

It is by the Way of the Cross, that hidden Mystery of God’s great goodness; by the repentance and resurrection of the Son of Man for the fulfilment of all righteousness on behalf of sinners; by His own Baptism unto death, and by the labor, delivery, and new birth of Holy Baptism in His Name.

The Seed of the Woman plants Himself in the cursed and corrupted soil, the dust of the earth — from which man is taken, and to which he returns — and this New Man subjects Himself to the futility of the old man’s sin and death.  He sets Himself against the enemy of God and Man, and patiently suffers the devil’s abuse.  He gathers up the weeds and binds them to Himself, to His own flesh and blood, body and soul, in order to burn them up in the fire of His Holy Cross and Passion.  He bears it all, every last thorn and thistle, weed and tare, in order to bury it forever in His tomb.

Then, in His Resurrection from the dead, the Father gathers the good Wheat of His Son’s glorified Body into the barn.  His flesh and blood, crucified and risen, are the First Fruits of a great harvest.

So it is that you are now rescued and redeemed and gathered up into the Body of this same Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins.  And you are taught the way of God, the way of faith and life and righteousness, by the same Spirit through the same Gospel of Christ, which is the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection.

The weeds with which you now contend, within yourself and in the world and in others against you, although they are intended by the enemy to choke the life of God right out of you, are taken up by the Lord in His own Body on the Cross to become a catechesis of repentance and faith, by which you are taught to pray with deep groans of eager longing for the mercies of Christ Jesus.

In thus learning to pray, you learn to fear, love, and trust in God, the Lord, the Maker of all things, who not only has but is the First and Last Word.

In this fear of the Lord, you patiently bear with the weeds that you perceive or suspect in others, and, instead of enmity, you learn to care for your neighbor in long-suffering love and forgiveness.

Meanwhile, the Cross is putting to death the stumbling blocks and lawlessness in you, that is, in your sinful flesh.  Day after day, the Word and Spirit of the Lord return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism, so that you die to yourself and rise to live unto righteousness in Christ.  For you live in the hope and confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, though you can’t see it.

The truth is, that, for now, you are often still beguiled by the devil’s temptations, and you suppose that you already have a judicious knowledge of what is good and what is evil, as though you were God Himself, and as though you were in a position to judge and determine even life and death.

Yet, what the devil, the fallen world, and your mortal flesh call “good” is actually a weed, and what they call “evil” is the good and glorious Cross of the good Lord, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, do not listen to their lies, but learn to know what is good and right and true, and to flee what is evil, in the only way that you can, that is, by giving attention to the Word and Spirit of Christ the Crucified.

Take heart that His Spirit helps you in your weakness, even by way of the very Cross that presses so hard and heavy upon you, which elicits such groans from the depths of your heart and mind, from your body and soul.  Your groans of anguish are heard and answered in the Body of Christ.

Not only that, but, with this preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit plants the Good Seed of the Son in you, in your body and your soul.  He not only implants the Seed of the Word in your ear, and into your heart and mind, unto repentance and faith; He also feeds you with the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, that He might bear the fruits of His righteousness in you, and you shine forth in Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  It is for this that you are baptized.

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