23 October 2016

The Humility of Childlike Faith

Today the Son of Man comes to obtain faith in those who deserve nothing but punishment, who are unable to do anything for themselves.  For the saving faith is not only persistent in prayer; it is also the better part of repentance, humble and childlike in a posture of utter dependancy and complete trust, relying not on personal merit but on the mercies of God in Christ Jesus.

Today He paints a picture of what it looks like to be a Christian, to live and to pray as a Christian, and to be justified by His grace through faith in the forgiveness of His Cross and the righteousness of His Resurrection.  And all of this in direct opposition to the notions of self-righteousness that otherwise reside in the sinful hearts of all the sons and daughters of Adam.

When someone has died; when someone is sick or facing some other great distress; when someone is giving their excuses for not coming to Church; when someone is explaining what they suppose it’s really all about, it is astonishing how often would-be-Christians sound just like the Pharisee.  So-n-so did his best, worked hard, took care of his family, and kept his nose clean.  So-n-so was a Sunday School teacher for umpteen years, or so-no-so was a church officer for so many years.  So-n-so wasn’t just a “Sunday morning Christian,” but a real worker and contributor.

In the face of sin, death, and hell, out come these pedigrees and resumés of good intentions and good works, of pious performances and dues paid.  As if any of this could justify your life before God, who knows your heart, tries your mind, and tests your spirit in search of faith and love.

It’s not that piety, hard work, generosity and charity are any kind of problem in themselves.  Far from it!  Such things are fundamental to your Christian life in the body, in the world.  But the problem lies within your selfish, sinful heart, which presumes upon God, as though your works and efforts and accomplishments were your justification and your righteousness.  Ironically, it is that self-reliance and self-confidence that condemn both you and your works as a farce.

By contrast, the true Christian righteousness of faith is demonstrated in the example of the tax collector.  He is humble to the point of being ashamed of himself.  Yet, he comes in repentance, confessing his sins, and daring to live and to pray before God in the Temple, relying solely on the Lord’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Jesus gives you this tax collector as an example, not because the man tried so hard, far less that he succeeded, but precisely as a sinner confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness.   It is certainly not that you should emulate his sins!  Nor that you should pursue or revel in sins of your own.  God forbid!  Rather, you are called to learn from this man’s repentance, that you should also confess your sins and seek forgiveness from the Lord in His Temple.  Your sins will otherwise condemn you, but the forgiveness of the Lord will save your life, both body and soul, now and forever.

Regrettably, it is at those times when you are least aware of your sins, when you are feeling most safe and secure, and when you are at ease in your own righteousness and piety, that you are most deeply immersed in your sin, and so captured by the falleness of your flesh that you do not even realize the danger you are in.  For the devil, the world, and your own sinful self are masters at making your sin seem like righteousness and life instead of the death and damnation that it is.

Therefore, you simply cannot rely upon yourself, your own thoughts and feelings, your own standards and expectations, or your own best efforts.  None of these do-it-yourself strategies will justify your life or save your body and soul from sin, death, and hell.  Neither your sins nor your good works will obtain the resurrection unto life everlasting with God.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life are found, not in yourself, but in the Word of the Lord, His Law and His Gospel.  Only by His Word and Spirit do you know and believe what is the Will of God.  Only by His Word and Spirit are you turned away from your sins, away from your pursuit of death, and turned toward Him in faith, to His mercy and forgiveness, and to the Life of God in Christ.

The Law of the Lord guides and directs your life by commanding what is good and right and true, and by forbidding and threatening to punish what is evil, wrong, and wicked.  But the Law also reveals and makes clear that it cannot give you life, nor can it raise you from the dead; not because of anything lacking in the Law, but because you are not the Creator but His creature, and you are not created to live by your own works and efforts and accomplishments, but by faith in His Word and by His good works of grace.  Not only that but, as a fallen creature, you are consumed by your own self-interest.  Your self-righteousness is not the good you suppose it to be, but a contradiction of the whole Law, a damnable offense against both faith and love.  Hence, although you are called to live according to the Law of the Lord, your life does not derive from the Law.

But the Law is not the last or final Word of God.  For not only does He humble you and call you to repentance by His Word of the Law; He also forgives you and exalts you by His Word of the Gospel.  That is to say, not that He contradicts or does away with His own holy and righteous Law, but that He has perfectly fulfilled the Law and brought it to completion in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  In holy faith and holy love, the Son of God humbled Himself unto the repentance of His Cross, in order to atone for your sins and reconcile you to the Father by His Blood.  And so has the Father raised this same Lord Jesus from the dead for your justification.  He has vindicated Him and exalted Him to His right hand, and in His crucified and risen Body He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, so that His Righteousness is credited to you, not by works, but by faith in His Word of promise and forgiveness.

Repent, therefore, and rely upon the Lord’s own Word of the Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins and for righteousness.  Do not persist in your sins, but fall upon the mercies of the Lord and lay hold of Him in His means of grace.  Despair of yourself, to be sure, but do not despair of Him who loves you for His own Name’s sake.  In calling you to repentance, He has called you to Himself, not to shame you, but to save you.  In Holy Baptism, He has named you with His Name to be His own dear child, and so it is that even His discipline is an exercise of His love for you.

To clarify the point, the true righteousness of humility and faith, such as Jesus describes in the tax collector, is then also demonstrated in those little babies who are brought to Him.  Of such are the Kingdom of God, because they are the epitome and best example of what it means to live entirely by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.  They are justified with the righteousness of Christ, because He receives them to Himself and blesses them with His Word and the touch of His hand.  They do nothing for themselves, nor can they do so.  But they are brought to Jesus by others, and they receive what He freely bestows upon them in grace, mercy, and peace.

Now, then, as for the Parable, note that both the Pharisee and the tax collector are “in Church.”  They have both “gone up to the Temple,” and rightly so, for the Lord’s House is where He causes His Name and His Glory to dwell with His people.  In the same way, both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord, no doubt according to the instruction and example of their father Adam.

The difference between these men is not in their outward actions but in their hearts, between faith and unbelief, between idolatry and the worship of the Lord in the Spirit and the Truth of His Word.

The same difference between faith and idolatry wars within your own heart and in your flesh.  Which is to say, not that some of you are like the Pharisee and some of you like the tax collector, but that in each one of you there is that proud, self-righteous Pharisee; and yet, by God’s grace, you have been called to share the humble repentance and faith of the tax collector.

The Pharisee in you goes through all the outward motions of worship, just as you should, but in your heart he is thinking that you have a right to be here and to stand in God’s presence; that you deserve to be a member of this congregation; that you have been here longer than others, that you have worked harder than others, and that you have given more.  So, you stand there praying to yourself, as Jesus says, reminding yourself and the Lord what a good person you have been.

But repentance and faith, like that of the tax collector, are a very different attitude and posture.  When the Lord has humbled you with His Law, then you see and feel nothing in yourself but your sins and your sinfulness.  You think not of your accomplishments, but of your failings; not how hard you have worked, but what you have neglected; not how much you have given, but how much you have taken and kept for yourself.  You do not look down on others and despise them, but you bemoan how little you have done to help and be of service to them.

But in calling you to such repentance, the Lord has also called you by His Gospel to believe and trust in Him, in His mercy and His forgiveness of your sins.  The Father calls you by His Word and Spirit to die with Christ in the humility of His Cross and Passion, and to rise with Him by faith in His forgiveness, to be vindicated in His Righteousness, and to be seated with Him in the heavenly places.  Within the Body of Christ, His Church on earth, you are gathered into the true Temple of God, and into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  Thus, although you are sinful and unclean and surely deserve nothing but punishment for your sins, you stand in the presence of God and call upon His Name in peace.  And you are heard and answered in His Love.

So, then, as the Law accuses and condemns you, as it exposes your sin and demonstrates your unrighteousness, do not get angry, and do not go away mad.  Do not go away at all!  But repent.  Master your sin by naming it and looking to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness, especially by way of Confession and Absolution, and thereby return to the Lord your God in faith.  Avail yourself of His Word and His good gifts of the Gospel, by which alone you are justified and saved.

Though both Cain and Abel offered sacrifice, and both the Pharisee and the tax collector were in the Temple to pray, it should not be thought that these activities were irrelevant or incidental even if they did not make the difference between these men.  God’s Word and prayer, His Liturgy of preaching and the Sacrament are fundamental to the Christian faith and life.  Indeed, there is no Christian faith or life apart from these means of grace.  Going through the outward motions will not save you, but departing from the Temple of the Lord will cut you off from His Life altogether.

It is in the Temple that you receive the forgiveness of your sins and the righteousness of Christ through faith in His Gospel.  And so it is, also, both here in the Temple of His Church and in your home and family, in all the occupations of your life, that you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Not that you congratulate yourself and presume to give thanks for what a good boy or girl you have been, but that you acknowledge the mercy of God and give thanks to Him for the utter charity of His forgiveness and the goodness of His Righteousness in Christ Jesus.

As Abel offered to the Lord the fat portions of the firstlings of his flock — not in the false worship of self-righteousness, but in the righteousness of faith, for which he and his offering were received and regarded by the Lord — so are you and your whole body and life offered to God in faith as a sacrifice of praise to His Name.  You pay your vows to the Lord within His House by confessing what you have heard, by praying and interceding for the Church and the world, and by returning to the Lord a significant portion of the time, treasures, and talents He has given you.  That you are justified by His grace and not by your works does not mean that you should live unrighteously, but that you live righteously by faith in Christ Jesus, instead of living in your sins and for yourself.

It is when the Lord has called you away from yourself to fix your eyes on Him alone that you go home justified by His grace through faith in His mercy.  And as your true home is now with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are able to be and live “at home” in peace and righteousness, no matter where you may be located in this old world.  For you and your life are in His hands, and He has done all things well to the glory of His God and Father and to your eternal benefit and blessing.

He has been merciful toward you.  He has sacrificed Himself upon the Cross for the propitiation of all your sins.  He has forgiven you by His Word, and He continues to do so.  He has dressed you in Holy Baptism with His own perfect Righteousness.  And He feeds you here in His House with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  He loves you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He is your Righteousness and Holiness, your Life and your Salvation, and He goes with you all the way, to and from His House and yours, today and tomorrow, even forevermore.

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

15 October 2016

Awhile a Bridesmaid, Forever the Bride

The Kingdom of Heaven is not like this fallen and perishing world with its confused and perverted view of marriage and family, of sexuality and the body, and of human beings, male and female, created by God for life and for love in the Light of His Word.

But for those who are called and invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the Kingdom of Heaven is very much like the Marriage of the Man and the Woman according to God’s holy will, as Holy Scripture has revealed and as the holy Christian Church confesses even in this day and age.  Such sacred things are not subject to personal interpretation, nor even to the personal plans and purposes of loving couples.  They are taught by God, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Holy Marriage is the crowning glory of God’s good creation, as well as the means by which He continues His good work of creation even in the midst of sin and death.  It is the partnership and union of body, heart, and mind by which He intends to guard and guide His creation, to care for it, and to cultivate this world in the fear and faith of His Word, to the glory of His holy Name, and in the eager expectation of the new heavens and new earth in which His righteousness will dwell.

But as profound as all of this gift of holy Marriage is, it does look beyond itself, and it points beyond itself, in anticipation of something far greater and far more permanent.  The virgins and the married alike rejoice and celebrate in the one Bridegroom who calls us, one and all, to follow Him into His Wedding Banquet.  For this great and solemn Mystery of husband and wife, the man and the woman, signifies Christ Jesus and His holy Bride, the Church.

By God’s design, holy Marriage confesses Christ in the world and points all people of all ages and stations in life to Him.  It is for this reason, in particular, that the Church on earth must defend and uphold the integrity and wisdom of holy Marriage in keeping with the Lord’s divine intentions.  Not that everyone must get married in this body and life on earth, but that one and all should be prepared to meet the Bridegroom who is near, to hear and heed His calling in holy faith and love.

For those who are married in this body and life, this “honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise” is the primary training ground in which a man and woman are conformed to the Image and Likeness of God in Christ by the way of His Cross and in His own bodily Resurrection from the dust of the earth to the life that is lived, both body and soul, in the Holy Spirit.

In general, the entire Christian life is to be one of true wisdom, which begins with and continues in the fear, love, and trust of the Lord.  You are called to live in faith toward God in Christ Jesus; and, in His Name and for His sake, you are called to live in love for your neighbor.  Such wisdom is characterized by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving at all times and in all places; by singing and making music to the glory of God and for the edification of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, too, within holy Marriage, husbands and wives are called by the Lord to live by faith in Christ Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and to live in love for Him, for each other, and for all their neighbors in the world, especially for their fellow Christians of the household and family of God.

For those who are married, including Nicholai and Hannah as of this afternoon, your marriage and your relationship to your spouse are your highest and holiest calling in this body and life on earth.  It is within this station, in particular, that you are called to live as a child of God in Christ, which is and remains your first and foremost vocation by virtue of your Holy Baptism.  Thus do you live as a husband or wife in the hope of the Resurrection and in the expectation of the final judgment.

Indeed, whether you are married or not — for the unmarried life is also a high and holy calling of the Lord your God — your entire life in both body and soul is to be lived in the anticipation of the coming Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in view of His righteous Judgment of the living and the dead.

It is the Marriage of the Lamb (to which all of you are called and invited) which puts the Parable of the Ten Virgins into perspective as a picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven shall be like.

It was, I believe, Hannah’s brilliant and modest proposal to use this Holy Gospel for the wedding, for which I must commend her.  It is brilliant, first of all, because everything in this Word of the Lord turns on the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  There is no more important point to bear in mind for marriage and for life.  Everything hinges and depends on the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was also a modest proposal, I should say, in view of what is missing from the Parable.  Did you notice?  The Bride is not mentioned, not even once.  It’s not as though she’s unimportant.  She is indeed the Lord’s own dearly beloved.  But her absence from the Parable is her now-and-not-yet presence by anticipation, and by the watching and waiting to which the Lord Jesus here calls you.

For this fact, too, belongs to the Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, that many are called from all the nations of the earth to become disciples of Christ Jesus, the children of His God and Father, who are all together members of one Holy Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

He is indeed the Husband of one Wife.  But His Bride comprises a great host that none but God could number, whom He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies to be one Body in Christ Jesus: flesh of His Flesh and bone of His Bone.  The Father draws them from the open side of this new and better Adam, from the deep sleep of His death upon the Cross, in the water and the blood.  He recreates them in His Image, and He brings them all to His dear Son as one Woman to one Man.

It is for this one holy Marriage to Christ Jesus that all ten virgins have been created, baptized, and catechized by the Word of the Lord.  Which is to say that all of them, and each and all of you, are called to watch and to wait upon His coming as the Bridegroom.  Each and all of you, regardless of your age or station in life, are called to repent of your sins, to live by faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel, and to let your light so shine to the glory of His holy Name in all that you say and do.

As you are clothed and covered in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus by His Baptism and by His Word of Holy Absolution, so are you called to live righteously in Him by faith.  For it is in this way and by these means that you are well prepared and ready to welcome and receive Him, and to attend and accompany the Bridegroom into His Wedding Feast.

That is what your life in the body is to be about.  That is your duty and delight as a “bridesmaid” within whatever callings and stations the Lord has given you for this little while here on earth.

So, then, Nicholai and Hannah, you are guided and governed by the Word of the Lord; instructed, disciplined, encouraged, and strengthened in the life of faith and love that you are here called and given to live together, with and for each other, to the praise and glory of your Lord Jesus Christ.

There is indeed an irony in this, that in your calling to be husband and wife to each other, you are called to be and to live as bridesmaids — yes, even you, Nicholai — in the Wedding of the Lamb.

In much the same way, your unmarried friends and neighbors here with you today, whatever their role in your wedding, and all of your family and fellow Christians of various stations in life, are likewise called to be and to live as bridesmaids awaiting the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom.

If any of you are baptized in the Name of the Lord, if any of you are a Christian, then you have indeed been called to go out and meet the Bridegroom with lamp in hand.  It is your duty and responsibility, as a bridesmaid for a little while, to watch and to wait for the coming of the Lord.

To that end, each of you bears the lamp that God has provided, that is, your body and life in the flesh, your outward existence in the world.  And with that lamp, it is easy enough to dress the part and look the part, as you’re all decked out today.  But even dressed to the nines, whether a sharp dressed man or a beautiful girl, your own marriage or personal relationships may be in shambles.  You can wear the ballroom mask and party clothes, but what are your life and love really like?

If you are to be a fully functioning member of the Wedding Party, and not just a party crasher, it is by all means most necessary that your lamp be fueled and supplied with the appropriate Oil.  Otherwise, you will be utterly useless.  Sooner than later, you will burn yourself out and go dark.  You will be unprepared, caught off guard, and finally locked out of the Feast forever.

Now, being prepared, ready, and properly waiting for the Bridegroom to appear, is decidedly not a matter of “Do It Yourself Christianity.”  There’s actually no such thing as that, and it would not work in any case.  Relying on yourself, on your works and efforts, and on your good intentions to be worthy of your coming Lord, is still a case of bearing a lamp without any oil to burn in it.

Neither is it possible for you to light your lamp and keep it burning with the oil that your neighbor has obtained for his own body and life in the world.  For you are called to meet the Bridegroom, yourself, and you are accountable to Him for your own life in the body.  So it is that, even now, and every day, you are called to repentance, faith, and life in the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins.

And so it is that you are rightly and wisely sent to the dealers of the Gospel, to the Ministers of the Word of Christ, to the Life of the Church in the Liturgy of preaching and the Holy Sacraments.  Only do not wait until it is too late.  Do not wait for the night to come, when it will no longer be possible for anyone to work.  But seek the blessed Oil of the Lord where it may be found, and keep on going back to that place of grace, mercy, and peace while it is still the great Day of Salvation.

In much the same way that holy Marriage on earth is to be an icon, a confession, and a sacred sign of Christ and His Bride, the Church, so is the liturgical Life of His Church on earth a foretaste of — and a real participation in — the neverending Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.  Watch and wait upon the Lord in faith, hope, and love, as He waits upon you at His Supper Table here in time, on earth even now as it is and ever shall be in heaven forever.

To receive and participate in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament is your training and practice, your wedding rehearsal, for the coming of the Bridegroom and the consummation of all things in the glorious revealing of His crucified and risen Body.  The Life of His Church on earth is not play acting or pretend.  It is the catechesis and confession of Christ and His Word, the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink with thanksgiving.

Not only does the Liturgy teach you how to live; it gives the Life of Christ into your body and your soul, into your heart, mind, and spirit.  Your lamp is filled and sustained by the Oil of His Word and Spirit, by His forgiveness of your sins, by His Life-giving Gospel and His love-abiding Law.

Thus does Christ prepare you by His coming in grace for His coming in glory.  He teaches you and trains you — both by His example and by serving you in peace and love — so that you learn to live and to love as wise and faithful bridesmaids within your own vocations and stations in life.  So that you, Nick, learn how to be a husband to Hannah, as Christ Jesus cares for His Bride, the Church; and you, Hannah, learn to love and serve Nicholai as his wife, as the Church for her Lord Jesus.

And yet, as glorious as this gift of His divine grace truly is, and as profound the Mystery of holy Marriage, ever so much more so is the grace and Mystery of His coming as the Bridegroom of His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church in heaven and on earth.

For so does He come to you in His Holy Supper, week by week, throughout the years of your life in His Church on earth.  And so shall it be in His glorious appearing at the close of the age, when His beloved bridesmaids from all the nations, tribes, tongues, and stations of this life — all who are made wise by His Word and Holy Spirit, who are kept faithful by His forgiveness of their sins — shall enter with Him into the Wedding Feast, no longer as bridesmaids, but forever the Bride, made ready by and for her Husband, beautiful in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

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

09 October 2016

The Lord God Draws Near to You in the Flesh

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, making His way to the Cross on which He will lay down His life as the Propitiation for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the world.  He goes to sacrifice Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement.

He makes His way to the Cross gathering up the sins of everyone He meets, Jews and Gentiles alike, the rich and poor, publicans, prostitutes, and Pharisees.  He comes to them and enters into their various circumstances of sin and death, in order to save them.  So does He also come to you, right where you are in the midst of sin and death, deep darkness, and utter despair.  He comes to share your life under the curse and consequences of sin.  He comes to share your death.

All of your burdens of sin and death have otherwise separated you from God and from His life, and they separate you from each other, as well.  Your sin itself is a rejection of the Lord your God and a running away from Him, further and further into disaster.  So, too, His righteous wrath and judgment against sin, the commands and prohibitions, threats and punishments of His Law, drive you down the road, away from Him and always closer to the death and damnation you deserve.

In fact, there are countless ways in which you are cut off from God by your sin, and countless ways in which you are driven apart from your neighbor.  Perhaps it is famine and hunger, such as Naomi and her family faced, or a lack of money.  Or maybe it is a disease, a contagious disease, which puts you on the outskirts.  If not a deadly illness, then perhaps you wear the symptoms of mortal frailty in the blemishes and flaws, the wrinkles, bulges, and scars of your body and flesh.

There are all manner of things that separate you from God and from each other in this body and life.  Then death confronts you with the ultimate separation.  That is how sin gets its final word.

Sin and death separate you from the true and living God, who is Life Itself, and, consequently, death now invades even the most intimate of human relationships.  It robs a husband of his wife, and a wife of her husband.  It takes away parents from children, and sometimes it takes children from their parents.  It separates siblings and the best of friends.  And you are powerless to stop it.

But the Lord Jesus has come to meet you even there.  He has gone into the depths of Sheol, so that even there you are not apart from Him.  He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death, even to His death on the Cross, so that you are not left alone, and you are not cut off from God.

He has not only come near to you in the Flesh, to share your life on earth, but He has also made your death and your grave His own.  Hence, there is no longer anything that can separate you from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Not even death at its worst can do that.

And so it is that, from wherever you are, your cry to the Lord is heard and answered.

Those ten leprous men are likewise at a distance.  They raise their voices because, by law, they’re not allowed to get close to Jesus.  They’re not allowed to get close to anyone.  They are outcast.  They are ostracized.  They have no part in the community of healthy people.  They cannot even go to church.  It is forbidden.  They are kept at a distance.  And yet, they meet Jesus with their cries for mercy.  And they are heard, as you are heard, because Jesus has drawn near to them in love.

Even the silent groan of your heart is heard by the One who draws near to you.  Your shouts do not have to scale the heights of heaven, because even a whisper is heard in the ears of your dear Father, who has adopted you to be His dear child in this Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to lepers and outcasts and sinners like you.  He comes to them, and He sees them with compassion.

Jesus sees you.  He knows your hurts, because He has made them His own.  And He knows your sins because He has made them His own, not by committing them, but bearing them in His Body.

Have you murdered?  He has made Himself the Murderer.  Have you committed adultery?  He has made Himself the Adulterer.  Have you robbed and stolen?  He has made Himself the Thief, who is numbered and crucified among thieves.  Whatever your sins, He has made them His own sins by taking responsibility for them and suffering all of the consequences and punishment for them.

So it is that He sees you, and He knows you, inside and out.  And yet, He loves you, anyway.  So He draws near to you, and He speaks to you.  Such a wondrous gift this is, that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with you here on earth.

He spoke to those ten leprous men, and He sent them to the priest for the cleansing rites and ceremonies specified in the Law of Moses.  He sent them to the Liturgy.  He sent them to their pastor.  He sent them to pray according to the Word of God, to offer sacrifice according to the Word of God, and to make use of the Means of Grace according to the Word and promises of God.

And in their going, they were healed.  For the Word of God in Christ is living and life-giving.

Now, then, the cleansing was something different than the healing.  The Law of Moses clarifies that point.  If a leper perceived himself to be healed of his leprosy, then he would go to the priest, and there was a whole series of things that would happen.  It could take a couple of weeks.  The priest would first examine him, and then wait, and then examine him again.  If the leprosy was really gone, then the priest would administer the rites and ceremonies by which the former leper was cleansed, that is, readmitted to the communion of Israel, readmitted to the life of the Church.  Not only healed of his disease, but cleansed of his sin and reconciled to God and His people.

As for the Samaritan, no doubt he did go with the other nine lepers to the priest, as Jesus had said, in order to be declared “clean” within the social and political context.  But being a Samaritan, he was still not allowed to participate in the actual communion of Israel.  He was still not allowed to go to Church!  He still had no pastor among the Jews.  He was hated as much for being a Samaritan as he ever was for his leprosy.  He was just as much an outcast and ostracized.

But when he sees that he has been healed, and he’s been given a “clean” bill of health, he does return to Jesus, and he worships God by worshiping this Man, Jesus, in the Flesh.  He prostrates himself on the ground before Jesus.  He gives thanks to God and glorifies God by giving thanks to Jesus.  In Jesus he has found his Priest.  In Jesus he has found his Pastor.  In Jesus he has found his God, and in the Body of Jesus, his Temple.

So he worships Him.  He worships Him as the great and merciful High Priest in whom God and Man are no longer separated, and no longer at odds, and no longer at enmity.  For Christ Jesus is the One who is both true God and true Man, begotten of His Father from all eternity, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary here in time, in whom God and Man are perfectly reconciled.

And so this Samaritan sees and knows his God in this one true God who has drawn near to him.  He sees and knows the Father in the Son.  He knows God in the Flesh.  He has worshiped Him with his prayer, when he cried out with the other nine, “Lord Jesus, have mercy!”  That is the most basic prayer of faith.  But the Samaritan now also worships Jesus with the eucharistic sacrifice, giving thanks to God, the Lord, by giving thanks and praise to this Man who is true God in the Flesh.

And he worships Him with his body, as well.  He fully prostrates himself before Jesus.  For is it not true that God has come to him with a Body of flesh and blood?  And is it not true that this God has healed him in his body?  This poor man who has worn his sin in his very skin now finds that his body also has been healed and cleansed.  So how shall he not worship God with his body?

The Lord has made him well in both body and soul.  He makes you well, too.  In your body and your soul, in your heart, mind, and spirit.  Wherever your sin has entangled itself in your flesh, wherever you know and feel your mortality, wherever the curse and consequences of sin and death have plagued you and tormented you and driven you away and taken others from you, the Lord Jesus steps into the breach.  He draws near to you in love, He embraces you in mercy, and He speaks to you the Gospel.  He sends you also to the priest, to the pastor, to the Temple of His Body, the Church, in order to be cleansed and healed by His Word through the Ministry of His Gospel.

For He is the God who takes water, and with His Word He makes it a full washing away of sins, a cleansing of transgression, a water of life.  He is the God who takes real bread and wine, and with His Word He makes them His own Body and His Blood, and He gives them into your body, that your body and your blood should thus be cleansed and healed for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.  He is the God who speaks to you through mortal men, and by His speaking He forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Meet Him here, where He meets you.  Raise your voice to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving — at all times and in all places, to be sure, and so also here at His Altar.  Call upon His Name in every trouble.  And in the certainty of His Word, praise Him and give Him thanks.  Worship Him as God.  Bend your heart before Him by humbling yourself before the Lord.  And humble your mind before Him, too, that you would hear His Word and not presume to know better than Him.

Then, also, as you are able, as your mortal flesh permits, worship Him with your body.  Whether by folding your hands or making the sign of the cross, bowing your head, kneeling, or prostrating yourself before Him.  For the same God is here who met and healed those ten lepers.  The same God is here, who welcomes you to Himself, because He has drawn near to you with His Gospel.

So, as you are here healed, and as you are cleansed by His Cross and in His Resurrection through His Word of the Gospel and in His Holy Sacrament, now rise, and go.  Proceed on your way within your vocation as a child of God, for that is what you are.  And worship the Lord your God with your body by faithfully doing the work that He has given you to do within your station in life, and by patiently bearing the Cross that He has given you to carry and suffer in love for your neighbor.

Consider, for example, the case of Ruth that we have heard this morning.  She was, to begin with, a foreigner, a pagan, with people of her own that were not God’s people, and gods of her own that were not God.  And yet, you know how much she benefitted in her coming to Israel and binding herself to Naomi and then finding a husband in Boaz of the tribe of Judah.  She was able to do all of these things because the ancestors of Christ our Lord had first of all drawn near to her in Moab.

In much the same way, however, she also became a blessing to Naomi.  For Ruth was also to be an ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So it was that she was given to Naomi when that older woman’s faith had faltered.  For when the Lord provided bread for Israel, Naomi said, “It is more bitter for me than for you.  I shall not have another husband.  What hope is there for me?  The hand of God has gone against me!  Go on back to your own gods, they will serve you better.”  You can relate to that kind of bitterness, that kind of anger, that kind of doubt and despair, I’m sure of it.  And for such sins of heart and mind, repent, and trust the Word and promises of Christ the Lord.

Hear again of Ruth, this foreigner.  She binds herself to Naomi, precisely when Naomi is mired in her grief and mourning, doubts and fears.  She binds herself to Naomi’s God, even when Naomi seems ready to give up on her God.  And so Ruth says, “Where you live, I will live, and where you die, I will die, and that’s where I’ll be buried.  Not even death, then, will separate me from you.”

In that oath and promise, in dear Ruth, it is Christ who binds Himself to His people.  And so does He bind Himself to you.  Where you live, He lives with you.  And where you die, He dies with you.  And where you are buried, He is buried with you.  Not even death shall separate you from Him.

The Son of David, the Great-Great-Grandson many times over of Ruth, has bound Himself to you in your Baptism, by His Word and promise, and nowhere more closely than here at His Altar, where He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood.  He draws near and gives Himself to you in the Flesh, in order to abide with you, and you with Him, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, in and with Him, in the Glory of His Father and the Communion of His Holy Spirit, even now and forevermore.

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

02 October 2016

To Live by Faith in the Word of Christ

The world takes offense when its sin is exposed and condemned for what it is.  It otherwise loves to boast of its depravity and darkness, its rampant excess, and its selfish, self-serving ways of life.  But when the Word of God is brought to bear against it, and the Light of the Lord in the midst of the darkness reveals the promise and pursuit of unbelief and sin to be a path of destruction, a kind of living death, and a road to hell, then the world is up in arms, enraged, and defensive of its sin.

As for the proud, their soul is not right within them; they are not capable of knowing or believing the Truth, nor of living before God in righteousness and purity.  But to be humble and kind does not mean that, for the sake of peace, you should condone what is evil or keep silent concerning sins.  That, too, is a temptation in this dying world: to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs.

Whereas the world is offended when its sins are exposed, it is far more offensive to the Lord our God when sins and unbelief are tolerated, allowed to continue, normalized, and even celebrated.  Yet, that stubborn persistence in sin is everywhere you look, within and without, masquerading as a way of life, though it is in fact the way of death and damnation.  Cutthroat greed calls the shots in almost every sector of society.  Pleasure and possessions are pursued over and above the real riches and treasures of righteousness in the Kingdom of God.  Leisure is prized over the Liturgy, and hardly anyone is willing to confess that such despising of God’s Word and preaching is a sin.

You know what this world is like.  You read and hear it every day, until you’re sick to death of the news and afraid to look at the latest headlines.  Wickedness grows more brazen by the day, as though God were powerless to respond.  Destruction of people and property has become a means to achieving agendas of all kinds, so much so that violence has become the norm; we expect it.  And, as both a consequence and further cause of all this evil, even justice is perverted.  But now, be sure of this, the Lord will judge the world in righteousness and establish justice with equity.

No doubt you can work yourself up into a good bit of self-righteous indignation over politicians on all sides, partisan media coverage, and the ever increasing prevalence of sexual perversity.  Or name your own pet peeves and personal vendettas.  Better yet, examine your own heart and life in the light of God’s Word, and consider your place in the world according to His commandments.

How have you stumbled?  And how have you caused others to stumble and fall?  By your words and actions; by your false teaching and poor example; by what you have done wrong, and by all that you have not done right — or failed to do at all, although it was your duty and responsibility.

You know that these young confirmands are also going to face stumbling blocks in the years ahead.  And there will be times along the way when they, too, stumble and fall, as you and all the sons and daughters of Adam have fallen into sin, into idolatry, despair, and other shameful vices.

It is for this reason that you and they are armed and armored with God’s Word and the preaching of it.  For how else shall these young people guard their eyes and ears, their hearts and minds, their spirits, souls, and bodies against the temptations of the devil, the world, and their own flesh, if not by the preaching and prayer of God’s Word, by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus?

It is not easy to live by faith in this world.  Even with the Word of God, it is difficult to thread the narrow path between complacency and cynicism.  But it is not possible at all apart from His Word.

That is why it is far worse than even fornication and other sexual immoralities, bad as those sins are, when parents fail to catechize their children with the Word of God and prayer in His Name.  Indeed, sexual sins are often the consequence and among the symptoms when young people are neither disciplined nor defended by the preaching and teaching of the Law and the Gospel.  And sins of this kind, in particular, contribute in turn to greater alienation from God’s Word and faith.

Fornicators and adulterers, God will surely judge, just as He has warned.  But no less so those who misuse (or fail to use) His Holy Name.  The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.  Which is what you do when you disregard and disobey His Word and teach others to do the same, whether by your own bad example, by tempting others to sin, or by neglecting your duty to train up your children in the fear and faith of God, in the prayer and confession of His Word.

Repent.  Turn away from evil, and by the grace of God return to the deadly and life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism.  Renounce again, today and every day, the devil, all his works, and all his ways; and remember that Life and Salvation are found in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Not self-defense, not rationalizations, and not excuses, but repentance, confession, and newness of life in God’s Word and faith are the only proper response when you are reproved and your sins are exposed to the Light.  So, then, wherever you have stumbled in the past, and as often as you stumble in the future, be put to death and die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world.  And rise up with Christ Jesus by way of faith in His forgiveness of sins, in His Word of the Gospel, and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, which is the Medicine of Immortality for body and soul.  And as you thus receive the fruits of His Cross, so bear the fruits of His Cross in all that you do.

This Christian way of faith and life is embodied and signified in your Holy Baptism, namely, that it is by drowning and dying with Christ that you are raised up to live with Christ in His Body.

So it is that, instead of offending the little ones who believe in Him and causing them to stumble, you now live as a little one, yourself, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what does this mean, to be and to live as such a little one?  It is daily to repent of your sins, to relinquish all of your selfishness and self-reliance, and to receive and rely upon the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  It is to wait upon the Lord, to rest yourself in His promises, and to open your mouth and be fed from His hand, like a baby bird receiving the worm from its mama.

As you thus live by faith in the Word of the Lord, especially His Word of forgiveness, so also, in turn, relate to your neighbor and deal with your neighbor in accordance with the Lord’s Word.  Let the Law of the Lord govern and guide you in works of genuine love for your neighbor, as per the duties of your office.  And let the Gospel all the while determine the attitude of your heart and the way you think and speak about your neighbor, so that in all things you are always aiming to call your neighbor to repentance and to faith in the forgiveness of sins.  That is, not to place yourself above your neighbor, but to see your neighbor with yourself under the grace of God in Christ.

Forgiveness is fundamental to your life as a little one of Jesus.  It is by faith in the forgiveness of sins that you live as a Christian.  And it is the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins that first of all brings about faith in your heart and thereafter strengthens and increases your faith in Christ your Savior.

It is likewise only by such faith in the forgiveness of your sins, that you forgive your neighbor in love, and serve him just as you are served by Christ Jesus Himself, all for the sake of His Gospel.

That forgiveness of the Gospel is what you need above all else in this body and life — and what your neighbor needs, as well — if either one of you is to live and not die, both now and forever.

Your own works and efforts will not save you, nor could they ever do so.  For one thing, you simply have not done all that you should do; whereas you do sin every day in countless ways that contradict the Word of the Lord.  You think and say and do so many things that you should not.

But even to do everything perfectly (as if you ever could) would not save you from sin and death; for that is nothing more than your duty.  And yet, it is not by God’s design that you should save yourself or live by your own righteousness.  He has rather created you to live by faith in Him, to live as a little one, as a dear child of God in Christ Jesus, and He your own dear Father forever.

To be sure, you are certainly to do whatever He has given you to do.  As a child is given to honor his father and mother, to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them, so are you to honor and obey your Father in heaven.  Therefore, do your job and fulfill your responsibilities because your Lord has given you this work to do.  He has commanded you to do it, and it is good and right for you to do so.  Indeed, it is your duty as a Christian, as a child of God, and as a creature of God.

Fulfill your calling within your own particular stations in life, whether as a parent or a child, as a husband or wife or unmarried, as a brother or sister, as a student, a worker, or retired.  Stand at your guard post.  Be faithful and keep watch wherever you are stationed in the midst of this fallen and perishing world, in the hope and confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Plant and plow the field that you are given to cultivate.  Tend the sheep placed under your care.

Do it all for God’s sake, because of His command.  And do it for your neighbor’s sake, for the love of God, by faith in the Word and promise of the Gospel.  That is to say, love your neighbor as you are now and ever loved by the Lord your God; not for selfish gain or benefit, but for Jesus’ sake.

Do not suppose, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the day, that you will be praised or rewarded with some kind of special bonus for doing your duties.  Realize, instead, that you have such duties because you are God’s own handiwork; that your body and life are a gift of His grace to begin with; and that your calling as a Christian has given you a place within His Kingdom.

There is nothing for you to gain by bargaining with God or presuming to obtain His favor with your labors.  But consider all the ways in which you shirk and short-change your responsibilities.  And examine your sinful heart, which longs to get by with as little as possible, yet aims to work for the righteousness of God, as though it were such a small or simple thing that you could manage.

But, no, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness are no such wages that you could ever earn for yourself.  They are a grace that is given by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  And they are received in the way of a little child, in the humility of need and dependance.

The only wages you have earned are the death and damnation you deserve for your unbelief and sins.  Eternal Life, however, is the utterly free gift of God for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Within His Kingdom — in the Communion of His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church — you do not (and you cannot) work for a living.  You live by the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Live, then, by faith in His Righteousness.  Live unto God in peace and joy, in confidence and hope.  And so live in love for your neighbor, caring for him or her as your dear Lord Jesus cares for you.

For the Lord Jesus Christ, though He is the one true God, and though He is your rightful Master, He indeed girds Himself in order to serve you.  He gets down on His hands and knees, as it were, to wash your dirty feet with pure water and His Word.  As in your Holy Baptism, whether earlier this morning or many years ago, so throughout your life He cleanses your conscience and sanctifies your body and soul by His Word and Holy Spirit, especially in Confession & Holy Absolution.  For as He has given Himself for you on the Cross, so does He give Himself to you in His Church.

He is the One who labors in the fields to harvest you unto Himself by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And having thus called you, He tends you as the sheep of His pasture.  He nurtures and sustains you with the green grass of His Word.  He welcomes you into His House and Home, a child of His own dear God and Father, and He invites you to recline here at His Table, that He might serve you from His own hand.  He is your Host, your Waiter, and your Meal, for He feeds you with His own Body, and He pours out His Blood for you to drink.

Here it is that Life and Immortality are brought to light for you by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Here at His Altar is the heart and center of the Christian faith and life.  For here in His Holy Supper is your true Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him, the Lord who loves you, now and forevermore.

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

25 September 2016

The Rescue and Salvation of the Body in Christ

The Word of our Lord concerning the rich man and Lazarus follows shortly after His Parable of the Unrighteous Manager, as we heard last Sunday.  And with this Word He continues to catechize you in a similar point.  He teaches you how to think about and use the material blessings of this body and life, that is, in faith toward God and with fervent love for your neighbors in the world.

It is for the sake of Christ that you are to live in this way.  For He by whom all things were made has become flesh and makes His dwelling with you here.  He sanctifies your life in the body.

Those who deny the Incarnation of the Son of God — His becoming flesh by the Blessed Virgin Mary and His coming in the flesh of His Holy Word and Sacraments — likewise neglect to love their neighbors in the flesh with any real charity.  Their faith, so to speak, is a matter of the heart and of the head, but not of the body.  Consequently, they forget the significance of their Baptism; they neglect and ignore the preaching of Moses and the Prophets, of Christ and His Apostles; they despise the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and they say to their neighbor, if they speak to him at all, “Be warm and well fed,” without providing any food, clothing, or shelter.

Yet, the body does matter.  In fact, it is indispensable.  There is no salvation apart from the flesh and blood of Christ, the Son of God.  Nor does your soul have any contact with the one true God apart from the body.  You receive His grace, mercy, and peace by bodily ways and means.  The preaching of the Gospel comes to you by way of human words from the mouth of your pastor into the ears of your body.  Your soul is cleansed and forgiven as your body has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And you will rise from the dead to spend eternity in Paradise, both soul and body, because your body is fed with the life-giving Body and Blood of the incarnate Christ.

We sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are bodily creatures of flesh and blood.  Therefore, the Lord took flesh and blood to be His own by His conception and birth of St. Mary, in order to be your Savior.  He lived your life in His Body of flesh and blood like yours.  He suffered and died bearing your sins in His own Body on the Cross.  He offered His flesh and blood as the Sacrifice for your salvation.  He rose again bodily from the grave, and He bodily ascended into heaven.  And to this day, He feeds and nourishes His holy Church with His bodily Means of life and salvation.

So it is that you are called to love and care for your neighbor’s body and life with the good works of your body, with deeds of mercy, and with tangible gifts of charity for those who are in need.

And you should understand that what you receive, suffer, experience, and do with your body in this present world has significance for the life to come.  Because the body does matter.  It is not at all irrelevant or incidental to your Christian faith and life, but integral to the life that you are called to live by faith in Christ, unto the resurrection of all flesh and the life everlasting in Him.

But do bear in mind that your body is rescued and saved by the way of the Cross.  Those who are wealthy and comfortable in their body and life on earth may find themselves tormented forever in the very real flames of hell.  And those who now suffer great anguish and affliction, poverty and hunger in their flesh, may receive the everlasting comfort of God the Father in the age to come.

All things shall be accomplished in accordance with the Word of our Lord: “Blessed are those of you hungering now, for you will be satisfied; but woe to you rich ones, for you have already received in full your consolation.”  It is likewise as we sing week after week throughout the year with St. Mary in the Magnificat: “The rich are sent away empty, but the hungry are filled.”

Let there be no confusion or misunderstanding in these points, however.  The rich man of whom the Lord Jesus speaks was not damned because of his wealth.  Whatever he had in this body and life was a gift and blessing of God.  He was damned because he prioritized those gifts above the Giver of all good things.  He trusted in himself and in his stuff, and he presumed to use what God had given as though it were his own.  His lack of faith was then made obvious in his lack of love.

By contrast, poor Lazarus was saved, not by his poverty and misery and hard life, but rather by his faith in Christ in the midst of his poverty, suffering, and death.  He trusted the Lord to save him, not only from his sorry situation, but from his sins, from the death he deserved, and from all evil.

Such faith and hope in Christ Jesus are the whole difference between the rich man and Lazarus.

The very same criteria are true for you, as well, and nothing else finally matters.  The eternal destiny of your body and your soul is determined by your relationship to Christ Jesus in the flesh.

Even as He speaks the Words of this Holy Gospel, Christ the Lord is on His steadfast journey to the Cross in Jerusalem.  He is on His Way to sacrifice His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, for Lazarus; for the rich man; for scribes and pharisees; for publicans, prostitutes, and pagans; for His disciples, and for those lost sheep still to be found; for all whom He will call to Himself from yon and hither; for you, and for your neighbor, too, including the one whom God has now laid at your gate in need of food and clothing, in need of your love and mercy, in need of the Holy Gospel.

Purchased and cleansed by the Blood of God, living in His flesh as a member of His Body, are you serving that poor neighbor in his or her need?  Or do you step over your neighbor’s body on your way to and fro in your busy life?  Or do you walk around him, refusing to see him or his need?

Are the many gifts that God has entrusted to your stewardship being used to the glory of His Name for the benefit of others?  Or do you scrimp and save and horde whatever you can get for yourself, using and abusing everything of this body and life for your own personal comfort and benefit?

Take heed whose child you are: here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  Are you a child of Abraham, and of your dear Father in heaven, a son of God in Christ?  Or a child of the old Adam, exercising all of his sinful lusts and desires, and awaiting the inheritance of the rich man in Hades?

The fact is that you are no better off than Lazarus: poor and sick with sins, covered with sores, licked by dogs, and dying in the street.  Nor will your poverty and misery save you, for these are the rightful wages of your sins.  Of yourself, you merit nothing better than the rich man.  For you are proud in your sin, greedy and selfish with your possessions, neglectful of God and His grace.

For you, as for Lazarus, the hope of your life and your salvation is found in Christ Jesus alone.

He is the Rich Man clothed in purple.  And though He was so rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor, so that you might receive the riches of God in Him and feast sumptuously from His Table.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered all that poor Lazarus suffered, and all the suffering and pain of the entire world.  He has suffered all that you have suffered, and all that you will suffer yet in this body and life under the Cross.  He has suffered all the pangs and torments of hell itself, so that you might receive the comfort and eternal bliss of the Resurrection to Abraham’s bosom.

The rescue and salvation of your body and soul, and of any and all who shall be saved, are found in Christ Jesus alone, for the sake of His suffering, in the reception of His riches, which are offered in the Gospel to rich and poor alike by His grace alone.  Thus, it is neither your riches, nor the lack of them, nor genealogy, but faith alone in Christ alone which makes of you a child of Abraham.

Even your faith is a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  You do not fear, love, and trust in Him by any choices or decisions on your part, nor by any miraculous demonstrations of divine glory, but rather by the unassuming Ministry of Christ in the flesh and blood of His Word and Sacrament.

Now, then, by such faith in Christ the Crucified, receive whatever riches, wealth, and comforts God may provide you in this body and life as gifts of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  Receive them with thanksgiving.  Sanctify them to yourself by His Word and prayer.  Enjoy them in peace, and use them, to the glory of His holy Name, for the benefit of your neighbor — for the “Lazarus” at your gate, whom God so desires to bless and help through you, His own dear child.

The name “Lazarus” means “the one whom God helps.”  But God desires to help this man, here in time on earth, by the means of His children.  He provides the words and deeds and gifts of love that you and other Christians speak and do and give unto even one of the least of these, especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is for this purpose that the Lord your God has blessed you with all that you need for this body and life — and, really, with more than you need, with more than food and clothing.  Not to please and pamper yourself, nor to lord it over your neighbor, but in the Name of the Lord Jesus to serve and help the poor, who are with you always in this life.

Regrettably, your fallen and perishing flesh is perverted by your sin and death, by your appetites for the wealth of this world, and by your lack of faith and the fear of God.  You hunger and thirst for that which is temporary, so you are never satisfied.  Instead of turning to the Lord for all that you need, you turn away from Him in unbelief, and away from your neighbor, too, in selfishness.

You have heard how it was for that rich man, who was too proud, too wrapped up in his own self-importance, and too busy enjoying himself to be of any help or service to the poor man at his gate.  And yet, when that rich man found himself in hell, and Lazarus in heaven, in his sinful pride he still assumed that, if anything, Lazarus ought to serve him! — with a drop of water for his tongue, or a word of warning for his miserable family.  Even though, on earth, the rich man had not a crumb from his table to spare for poor Lazarus, nor even a kind word of mercy for him.

By contrast, the angels of God are not too great or proud to be of service to Lazarus.  They bear his frail body in their hands and cover his naked flesh with their wings.  They carry and escort him through the gates of heaven into the glorious presence of God, as though this poor man were their lord and master.  For Christ, the Son of God, who is their Lord, has taken this man’s flesh and blood to be His very own; He has borne his sins and carried all his sorrows in His own Body on the Cross; He has suffered poverty, hunger, and thirst, rejection by the powers that be, and death by crucifixion.  So it is that now those legions of angels who serve and attend Him — always eager and ready to do His bidding — they rejoice to guard, protect, and serve His frail, weak, and little ones, for whom He has given His Life and shed His Blood and opened the gates of heaven.

You, no less — but all the more, as you receive the Ministry of Christ and His angels — you must likewise be eager and ready to help and be of service to your neighbor in caring for his body and soul in every physical and spiritual need.  Affirm the goodness of the body that God has given to you and to your neighbor.  Be content with who and what you are in your body, whether as male or female, created, redeemed, and sanctified by the Holy Triune God.  So also be content with what you have, as much as God has entrusted to your stewardship.  Instead of coveting and resenting what God has given to your neighbor, use what you have to love and serve your neighbor in peace.

And wherever you have failed to live and to love in such faith, Repent.  And so also bear the fruits of repentance in Christ.  Return to Him, your Lord, by faith, and turn to your neighbor in love.

Thanks be to God, the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful in showing mercy to and helping those in need, including you.  Though you so often fail to feed the hungry, to dress the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison, He graciously persists in feeding you and clothing you and visiting you with forgiveness and life and salvation for your body and your soul, for now and for ever.  He does not leave you lying in the gutter, dying in your sins.  He provides you with the comfort and consolation of His Gospel, the cleansing of your conscience with the benefits of Holy Baptism, the removal of your sins with His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, and the health and restoration of your flesh and blood in preparation for eternity in heaven by the Body and Blood of His Holy Communion.

So it is that you are saved by His grace and fed from His Table this morning.  And so may the Lord attend you with His holy angels, while you are waking, while you are sleeping, even unto death; here in time at His Altar, and hereafter at home in the bosom of your God and Father forever.

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

18 September 2016

A Steward of the Rich Man's Things

You know your business, don’t you?  I’m sure that you do.  Whatever job you’re given to do, day after day, you are an expert at that task, and let no one tell you otherwise.

So, too, you know how to make your way in this world, or you’re well on your way to learning.  You know how the system works, and how to work the system.  You know how to connect the dots, to make ends meet, and to get what you really want, one way or another.

You’ve also figured out how to make friends.  You know what they expect from you, and what you can reasonably expect from them.  And likewise, notwithstanding all the ups and downs on your learning curve, you know what to expect from this life on earth, and what it takes to survive.

But do you know the business of God?  Do you know how things work in His Kingdom?  Do you know what to expect, and what is expected of you, on the way that leads to the Life everlasting?

The fact of the matter is that, like it or not, you are a steward or manager of a Rich Man’s things.  Your life is not your own, no matter what you may kid yourself into thinking.  Everything that you have is on loan from God.  It is entrusted to you, not for the purpose of feeding the appetites of your fallen flesh, but for the glory of God in the good that He does to you and to others.  You are to use His gifts in faith before Him, and in love for your neighbors.  That’s your job.

And you should take heed and take to heart, there will be an accounting of your stewardship.  There shall be a day of reckoning, when the ledger of your body and life in this world is presented to the Lord your God.  And there will be the facts to speak for themselves.

How have you spent your time?  And, yes, how have you spent your money?  Where have you invested your energies?  To what or whom have you given your affections?  What have you done with God’s things?  And what have you done for those people whom God has placed around you?

In short, who has been your master?  Who has been calling the shots?  Is it you?  Or the Lord?

Do not suppose that setting aside an hour a week, or ten hours a week, or even several hours a day “for the Lord” is adequate or somehow generous on your part.  Who are you kidding?  If there is any portion of your life that you regard as your own, then you are robbing from your true and rightful Lord, who has created you and given you life and everything that you have.

Have a care how you think about tithing, as well, and about almsgiving.  Perhaps you have shied away from any such notions altogether, because they have sometimes been taught and practiced legalistically.  And to be sure, do not at all suppose that tithing will atone for your sins, justify you before God, or purchase your place in His Kingdom.  But having been forgiven freely by Christ Jesus, made righteous by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and named a child of His God and Father in your Baptism, do not at all suppose that you are now to live as a god unto yourself.

As for tithing, ten percent of your income is not a bad guideline, a starting point.  It is surely not too much.  But if you are hard pressed, commit some significant percentage of your income as a regular offering to the Lord, as an exercise of faith and love.  And if you are able, do not hesitate to go well beyond ten percent.  Or, if you do not think so readily in terms of percentages — if your income and expenses are variable through the year — then consider setting apart as much for the Church and Ministry of Christ as you spend on your hobbies, your entertainment, your vacations, and your luxuries in life, whatever goes beyond your food and clothing and safe shelter.

And let your almsgiving likewise be as generous as you pamper yourself.  After all, if you can find the means to pay for your pastimes, for ball games and video games, for going out to eat or going to a show, then you can also find the means to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Only, whatever you do, realize that you are not buying God off, nor are you earning His favor, since you are using and investing His riches, not your own.

Be very clear on this point: God doesn’t need your stuff.  It’s already His stuff in the first place.  But God does require your heart.  All of it.  And because you are His steward or manager, He has entrusted you to live and serve according to His good pleasure, that is, according to His Word.

The Lord looks not only at what you accomplish, but at whatever drives you to accomplish it.  When you proceed in selfishness, it may result in impressive things before men, but the Lord your God is not impressed.  Nor is He pleased by your selfishness and self-serving behavior.

The Lord does not measure things by the law of the jungle.  He does not teach you to look out for yourself first, and for your neighbor only when it appeals to you or suits your plans.  He calls you to live by faith in Him alone, and for His sake to sacrifice your entire life in love for your neighbor.  He charges you to love even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you.  That is how you are to occupy your days and nights, your life, your time, your energy, and all of your stuff.

That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.  And the opposite is true, as well.  That which is highly esteemed before the Lord is detestable in the eyes of men.

Consider the Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God.  Though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He made Himself poor, so that you could inherit the riches of God in Him.

He came down from heaven to become true Man, and not only that, but to bear the sins of the world in His own Body, to hand Himself over to the Cross.  He liquidated Himself.  He spent it all.  He gave Himself away.  Not for those who loved Him, but for you, though you were His enemy.

And the world says in response, “Jesus, you’re a bloody fool! That’s no way to live!”

And yet, it is the way that God lives.  It is how He has lived for you.  He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, in order that you might live with Him in His Resurrection.

You also, then, have this heart, mind, and spirit of Christ in you.  For this is how you are to live.

For God’s sake, be generous to your neighbor, even if you don’t like him.  Use the stuff that God has given you to love and serve those around you who are in need.  And don’t tell me there are no people like that.  There are.  You know there are.  Love them.  Don’t just speak nice words to them.  Do things for them.  Go out of your way.  Give up some of your time.  It isn’t your time, anyway.

Forgive.  Above all, forgive.  Forgive those who have trespassed against you, as your dear Father in heaven forgives you.  That is the coin of the realm in the Kingdom of God, within His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church on earth: Forgiveness of sins.  It is not hoarded and hidden away.  It is spent freely.  And the more forgiveness is given, the more it multiplies and grows.

You are to exercise your stewardship in faith and love.  That is the course that you are given to follow.  So, then, trust in God, who has given you all things to begin with.  Do not be afraid that if you give some of it away, He’s going to deprive you.  He’s not going to stop being generous.  He has no problem with generosity.  This is what characterizes Him.  It flows from His very nature.

If you are generous with what the Lord your God has entrusted to you, do not worry, do not despair.  He knows how to feed you.  He knows how to clothe you.  He knows how to take care of you.  And because you are His very own, He does it all for you with charity and compassion.

Even when you are not grateful; even when you fret and fidget and forget to say thank you; even when you proceed as though you have gotten everything you have for yourself, your dear Father in heaven still has this overflowing abundance of generosity for you in Christ Jesus.  And it is such generosity that you are to have for your neighbor.  Indeed, the Lord’s generosity with you is not for your benefit only, but for the benefit and blessing of your neighbor, as well.

So, what is that going to look like?  What is that kind of faithful stewardship of your life and that kind of godly generosity in your life going to look like?

Well, here’s the thing: It looks like the stewardship of the Mysteries of God.  Which is to say that it looks like the Ministry of the Gospel, like the administration of the Means of Grace.

The right way to use the stuff that God has entrusted to you looks like the way your pastor uses the Means of Grace on your behalf: Who has baptized you and baptizes your children; who feeds both you and them with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus; who speaks the Word of Holy Absolution and forgives you.  Your pastor gives these things of God to you without charge, without cost.

The stewardship of the Mysteries of God, that is the pattern by which you are called to exercise the stewardship of your body and life, and of all that the Lord your God has placed into your care.

It is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who are lovers of money and lovers of praise from men.  It is rather like the Gospel, because it is the life that is lived by and from and in the Holy Gospel.  It is like the Lord Jesus, coming down from heaven and giving Himself for you and to you, and to and for others, also.  That is how the Lord administers His true riches.

And that is how you are to manage and administer the Rich Man’s things.

It may seem foolish in the eyes of the world.  Well, so be it.  You ought to look foolish in the eyes of the world.  Your Lord Jesus did, and so He does.  The world still thinks this is all a bunch of nonsense.  But living by faith, your hope is in Christ.  And your hope shall not be disappointed.

Truth be told, your stewardship is not what it ought to be.

Surprisingly, shockingly, the Lord nevertheless continues to deal with you by the stewardship of His Gospel.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, He is the faithful Steward and Manager of His Father’s things.  For His Name’s sake, He praises you and blesses you, because He has poured out the Spirit generously upon you and adorned you with His perfect righteousness.  He has given Himself for you.  He has reconciled you to His God and Father.  He has been a Friend to you in need.  And having befriended you in love and called you to Himself, He forgives you all of your debts, all of your trespasses and sins, all of your faults and failings.

In His own faithfulness and righteousness, He who gave Himself up for you in love, continues to give Himself to you with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And for His own sake, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, He welcomes you into His House, into His dwelling, both here in time, where He feeds you at His Table in His Church, and hereafter in eternity, where you shall feast upon the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom forever and ever.

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

11 September 2016

To Seek and to Save the Lost

There are lots of different ways in which you can get yourself lost.  If not in the location of your body, then in your heart and mind, in your relationships and undertakings.

For example, you may be listening to a lecture, a presentation, or even a sermon, and yet, although your ears are hearing the words, you don’t understand them.  You are completely lost.

Or you may be in the middle of a game you’ve never played before, a complicated board game or a sport that you’re not familiar with; and despite your best efforts and good intentions, you’re just not sure what’s going on, or what you’re supposed to be doing, how to play, or how to win.

You might also be lost in the middle of a crowd, even within your own home and family, especially if you’re at odds with someone (or with everyone around you).  You might be painfully aware of where you are, and yet feel totally alone and terribly afraid.

Meals, in particular — which ought to be a place and occasion of belonging, of peace and security, of rest and rejoicing in the grace and goodness of God and the company of family and friends — can sadly become a battleground and a tricky terrain to navigate.  If you’re out of sorts in yourself, or with those eating at the same table, you may find that you have no appetite, or that your food is like gravel in your throat and your stomach.  Whether you attempt polite conversation or quietly stare at your plate until the ordeal has passed, you may wind up with indigestion or heartburn.

Location, location, location, yes.  But where your heart is at is more crucial than the little blue arrow on your GPS.  The Lord looks at the heart and not so much at the outward appearance.  Your body can be in the right place at the right time, and yet your heart and mind be far from home.

So, then, is your heart at home here in the Lord’s House, as you recline here at His Table?  Is your heart at home, and are you at peace, as you listen to His preaching and teaching?  Do you know what to do and how to live according to His Word, His Law and His Gospel?

St. Paul has taught you this morning: The Law is not intended to make you righteous.  If you try to use the Law to justify yourself, and to control or condemn your neighbor, then you are lost, and you don’t know what you’re doing.  You do not understand the things about which you make such confident assertions.  Your heart is not in the right place.  Your mind, for all its knowledge and intellect, does not have the wisdom which begins and continues with the fear of the Lord.

The Law is used lawfully when it reveals that you are a sinner.  And in showing you that you are a sinner, God is merciful.  For if you are a sinner, then Christ is your Savior, and in His love He calls you to repentance, that you may be saved by His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

And as for your life in the world, the Law shows you how to love your neighbor.  The Law curbs and guides you.  Not so that you can pick apart your neighbor’s life and show him all his faults and trespasses, but rather so that you know how to love your neighbor.  How to do him good and not harm.  How to care for his body and his possessions, his family, his good name and reputation.

So, if you recognize your sin, repent of your sin, and love your neighbor in the keeping of the Lord’s Commandments, then you are hearing and using His Word lawfully, and you are living in the way of wisdom and righteousness, in the fear and faith of God.  You are at home and at peace with your God and Father.  You are right where you belong.  But, again, if you are using the Law to justify yourself, and if you are trying to control and condemn your neighbor, then you are lost to the Lord and His Love, and you have wandered far and wide from the Kingdom of God.

Yet, there is this one Man, Jesus Christ, who is not like any other man in the way that He acts and in the attitude of His heart, in His faith toward God, and in His love toward all of His neighbors.

There is no shepherd in his right mind who would risk ninety-nine sheep to go and find just one.  But this one Man who is among you does exactly that.  He leaves the ninety-nine behind, in order to go searching for, seeking out, and finding the one that is lost.

He leaves the ninety-nine who appear to be doing just fine, who imagine they are righteous, out in the desert wilderness, where they continue to hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist, calling them day after day to repentance, faith, and love.  Because they, too, are lost, each in his or her own way, until they cross the waters of the Jordan into the promised Land and ascend the hill of Zion to abide in the Temple of the Lord.  In the meantime, in the wilderness, they must live, as you must live, by the Word of His mouth, by the water from His Rock, and by His Bread from heaven.

It is not so different when you have wandered away and gotten yourself into trouble elsewhere.  Wherever you are lost, whether near or far away, the Lord Jesus preaches repentance to you, and by His Law and His Gospel He seeks you out, in order to find you and bring you home to Himself.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  He draws you to Himself, and He leads you as your Shepherd into the Way of Life, which is the Way of His Cross and Resurrection.

So the Pharisees and Scribes have got one thing right: This Man receives sinners, including you.

He calls you to come and receive His forgiveness of all your sins.  Real forgiveness for real sins.  Not to continue in them, but to be set free of your sins, no longer controlled or tyrannized by them.

He calls you from your sham life of sin and death to share His Life, and to live with Him in His own House, both now and forever.  He calls you to eat and drink with Him, at His Table, the Food and Drink that He provides, which He serves Himself.  And not only is He your Waiter, but He is also your Meal.  He feeds you with Himself.  So it is that God is your nutrition.  God is your Food and Drink.  Your soul and body are fed and nourished on Him.

It is for this purpose that He has taken your sin upon Himself, upon His own shoulders, and given Himself even unto death upon His Cross.  So has He become your Scapegoat and your Sacrifice of Atonement.  For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has offered Himself unto God and is received as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them.

So it doesn’t matter where you are — in your body, in your mind, or in your heart — the Son of God has taken your sins upon Himself, and He has died for your sins, atoned for them, and made propitiation for them.  And since God raised this same Jesus from the dead, you know that all of those sins, yours and everyone else’s, are forgiven.  Live no longer in your sins, therefore, but in your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  Die to your sins, and let your sins be dead to you forever.  They are not permitted to have the last word concerning you.  Your life is found in Christ Jesus.

To that end, Jesus also takes you onto His own shoulders and brings you home with Himself by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, by the preaching of His Atonement, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

By this preaching, He exposes your sins in order to extract them from your body and life, from your heart, mind, and flesh, in much the way a surgeon opens up your body to extract whatever may be in there causing you a problem, making you sick, and threatening to kill you.  The Lord Jesus opens you up with His Law, in order to remove your sins, to heal you with His gracious Gospel of forgiveness, and to bring you home with great joy and gladness.

Already here and now, His House is your home.  This is where your heart reclines in safety and peace, along with your body, in order that Christ may feed you in both body and soul with Himself.

In yourself you are lost, but He is not.  And He has taken His stand with you, so that you may also be at home with Him where He is.  No matter where you may end up here on earth, He has risen and ascended and ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of God in heaven.

It is in Him — in His Redemption, in His Righteousness, in the repentance that He has suffered and accomplished in Himself, in His own Person, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, by His Cross and Resurrection — that you are found and rescued, that He rejoices over you, and that He brings you home, a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

What sort of woman is it that lights a lamp and sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds what is missing?  It is this Bride of Christ, who is like her Husband.  It is the Holy Church, of which you are a member by His grace.  So, then, as He rejoices over you, and over all of those whom He has found and carried home, rejoice now with Him.  Rejoice with Him by feasting at His Table on the Food that He has prepared and provides.  And rejoicing with Him in His Holy Supper, so also rejoice with Him by seeking out your neighbors, your brothers and sisters, and bringing them home to Christ, to the Father’s House, to the household and family of God.

How shall you go about seeking the lost?  It’s really nothing more nor less than simply being and living as a Christian, as one whom the Lord has brought home in heart and mind, body and soul.

You live and you love in the freedom of the Gospel.  And you have such freedom because your life does not depend on you.  It is found in Christ.  You live in the freedom of the Gospel and in the joy of faith, because success does not depend on your cleverness or efforts, but it is already yours in Christ.  You will not fail or fall flat on your face, even if you do look like a fool and the whole world laughs at you.  What of it?  Christ does not laugh at you, but in His love He cares for you.

Live in the joy of faith and the freedom of the Gospel.  Then you will be the lamp that is lighted by Christ and His Church.  Most basically, forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  He may not welcome or accept your forgiveness, but forgive him anyway.  Forgive him from a heart set free by Christ the Good Shepherd.  Forgive him because you are safe at home with the Lord.  And in your forgiveness, your neighbor will hear and receive the Gospel.

Confess the Word of Christ that you have heard and received.  And don’t suppose that you have to be too clever about it.  Confess the Word that you have heard, according to the pattern of sound words that you have received from the saints who have gone before you in the faith of Christ.  And trust that His Word is living and active, even when spoken on your trembling and fearful lips.

So also, bring your neighbor with you to Church.  That is most surely the way you bring your neighbor home to Christ, and to your God and Father in Christ.  If you are a parent, bring your children.  If you are married, bring your husband or wife.  If you are a child still at home and your Mom and Dad are reluctant to come, ask them to bring you, anyway; it is surely more important and more precious than the toys and tasty treats you beg them for.  If you have adult siblings, or adult children, urge them and encourage them to go to church, and help to make that possible.

Do what you can, from within your own vocation and stations in life, to bring your neighbor to Church, because it is here, in the gathered congregation of Christ’s people, in the Lord’s House, at the Lord’s Altar, that the Lord’s friends and neighbors are gathered together with His family to eat and drink with Him, to recline at His Table, to be fed from His hand, and to live by His grace.

That is why you are here, yourself: To receive, enjoy, and benefit from His gracious hospitality, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Even more important, it is for this reason, for this purpose, that He Himself is here with you in His Church on earth: That He might love you with His Word and with His Supper.  It is indeed for this great benefit that He, your Good Shepherd, has sought you out and found you, and called you to Himself, and gathered you up into His arms, onto His shoulders, and brought you home, rejoicing.

Have no fear, little lamb, but eat and drink, give thanks to God, and live here with your Lord.

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