22 March 2017

To Pray by the Word and Promise of God in Christ

God has commanded you to pray and has promised to hear you.  Because of His command, prayer is not an option but a fundamental aspect of the Christian life.  It is your duty to pray, not only for yourself, but for the whole Church, and for the entire world for whom God gave His only Son.

Because God has also promised to hear your prayer, and has not only invited you to pray but has taught you the very words with which to pray, and has taught you to come to Him as your dear Father in Christ, you pray not only as a duty, but as a matter of faith: In the joyful confidence that our Father in heaven hears your prayer and answers you in love for Christ Jesus’ sake.

Prayer really is the voice of faith.  As you believe in your heart according to God’s Word, so do you pray with your lips.  You pray, trusting and believing that what you ask in Jesus’ Name, it is God’s desire to grant in His love for you.  Not because you deserve it, but because He is merciful; because He is your Father, and you are His dearly-beloved and well-pleasing child.

Prayer really begins, not with your talking, but with God’s talking.  Your Father speaks to you by His Son.  He speaks to you through the Holy Scriptures and by the preaching of His Word.  Prayer thus begins, not with your mouth, but with your ears: Hearing what God has said to you, receiving His Word into your heart, and then confessing what God has spoken.

Prayer is a confession, first of all, of what God has said, what He has promised, what He has done.  And then prayer also petitions Him; it asks Him for things according to His promise.  You ask Him for those things which He has promised to give and do for you.  Such prayer is sure and certain, and it will be answered, because it is according to His good and gracious will.

In the Our Father, in particular, God has given you exactly the words that you are to say; so that, even though your heart and mind are never exactly right, the words that you speak are.  Exactly right.  They ask God for what you need the most, including especially the forgiveness of your sins.

And your prayer is not all by its lonesome.  It is not your quiet little voice alone that ascends to your Father in heaven.  He cares about you; He does hear your voice.  But He receives your prayer in and with Christ Jesus.  Your prayer of faith is joined to the prayer of Christ Himself, who prays for you.  And it is carried to the throne of grace by the Holy Spirit, who also intercedes for you: with groaning too deep for words, but so also with these words that He has taught by the mouth of Christ.  You pray to God your Father in and with Christ Jesus, in and with His Holy Spirit.

Really, your prayer is lifted to God with Christ on the Cross.  As He is there lifted up for you in love, so does your prayer rise to God in and with the Sacrifice of Christ, by which all of your sins are forgiven and your faith is perfected.  For it is by His Cross that you are reconciled to God and at peace with Him.  It is by the Cross of Christ that God calls you to Himself as His own dear child.

You are united with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection, because you die and rise with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism in His Name.  And so it is that, by your Baptism, you also share His Sonship.  The Father of Jesus is your true Father in Him.  That is how and why you pray to God as your Father, just as dear children ask their dear fathers on earth — only ever so much better.  When you pray to Him, you curl up in your Daddy’s lap and hide yourself entirely in Him.

To be sure, none of us earthly fathers are perfect.  In fact, the Lord cuts us to the quick when He says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit.”  But so does Christ Jesus affirm that His God and Father is indeed the perfect Father, by whom all fatherhood on earth is named.  He does not learn from us how to be a proper Dad, but we all learn from Him who loves us, who hears and answers your prayer and provides for all your needs of body and soul, now and forever.

He does it all for Jesus’ sake.  Like everything else in the Christian life, it all depends on Jesus.  It is by the mouth of Jesus Christ that God has taught you and invited you to pray the Our Father.  And it is in and with Christ Jesus that you pray, that is, by the faith and confession of His Name.

Not only that, but Jesus Himself is also God’s answer to your prayer.  In fact, He is God’s loud “Yes” and “Amen” to all that you ask of Him, to all that you need.  In giving you His only Son, God does not withhold any good thing from you, but rather, for Christ Jesus’ sake, He gives you grace, and life itself, and every blessing, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  Thus do you also say “Yes” and “Amen” to the Word and promises of God in Christ, knowing that, in Him, all things are yours, and you are His forever and ever.

Because everything depends upon Jesus and His forgiveness of your sins, when you pray in Jesus’ Name, you do so as a member of His Body, a member of His Church, from within that communion of saints, which lives in the unity of faith and love.

You are obliged, therefore, to love and forgive your neighbor, as God in Christ loves and forgives you.  It is right there in the middle of the Our Father.  As you pray that God would forgive your sins — and everything depends on that forgiveness — so do you pledge yourself and obligate yourself to forgive your neighbor who trespasses against you.  For Christ Himself forgives both you and your neighbor.  And as you pray through Christ Jesus, so do you forgive your neighbor.

He teaches you to pray like this:  “Our Father.”  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  “Forgive us our trespasses.”  Such prayer is not selfish.  It is not private, isolated, or insulated against others.  It is set within the context of His Church, and it belongs to the entire household and family of God.

Whenever you pray the Our Father — whenever you pray as a Christian, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ — you pray not only for yourself, but for the whole Church; for all of your brothers and sisters in Christ; for all of your Father’s children, wherever they may be in His vast Kingdom.  Not only for those brothers and sisters in Christ whom you know; and not only for those particular needs that you know and mention before God; but for all of your fellow Christians, wherever they are in the world, whatever their needs may be.

By the same token, all around the world, every day, morning and evening, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, your brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for you, even though you may never know each other here on earth.  Your Father knows each and all of you by name, and it is His good and gracious will that His children pray for their whole family in Him.

This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ.  This is what it means to be joined to Christ, our Head, who is our great High Priest.  As by His death He has reconciled you to God, so by His sacrifice has He brought you into the true Holy of Holies with Himself, in His own Body.  And as He has risen and ascended to the right hand of His God and Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you — so are you and His whole Church always praying together with Him.

The Church prays for herself and her needs, especially here on earth under the Cross.  The Church also prays for her neighbors in the world, for all of those people for whom Christ Jesus died, which is of course to say, for everyone without exception.

So that is how you are taught to pray: With love in your heart and forgiveness for your neighbor, as Christ loves you, and has forgiven you, and continues each day to forgive you all your sins.

You pray in confidence that God your Father desires to give you good things, and that He does so, even without your prayer; that He will continue to take care of you in His love and mercy for you.  By such faith and trust in God, whether you see it and feel it at any particular time, you do not begrudge any good thing to your neighbor in the world, but you gladly do what you can to serve and help your neighbor, beginning with forgiveness of his sins against you, but so also with food and clothing, and by whatever other ways or means you may be given opportunity to serve.

Thus do you live as God’s dear child.  As you pray, so do you live.  Really, the Christian life begins in prayer, in hearing God’s Word and confessing His Word.  And as you hear and receive what He speaks and gives to you in Christ, your whole life as a Christian proceeds as a continuous prayer of faith and love, in the way that Christ Jesus never ceases to pray and intercede for you.

Now, when you consider how often your prayer falters; when you think about your life and your days, and you realize how often you fall short; when you realize how often you fail in your faith and in your love — do not for that reason despair, and by all means do not stop praying!  Do not suppose that first you must get your faith right and get your life together before you can start to pray; if that were the case, you never would be able to pray.  Rather, remember that God has commanded you to pray, and so, to begin with, you pray on the basis of that commandment.

Among those things for which He has taught you and commanded you to pray, you ask that His Name would be hallowed in your life, that His Kingdom would come to you also, that His will be done in your life, and that He would forgive your sins.  And all of this He does, by His grace, by His Son, by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Thus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and especially by His forgiveness of all your sins, He brings forth true faith in your heart, He strengthens and nurtures that faith, and He calls from your lips the prayer of faith that characterizes your life as His child.

Therefore, keep on listening to His Word.  And as you hear, so also speak as you are spoken to.  Pray what He has said to you.  Ask Him for what He has promised.  Pray at all times, and do not lose heart, knowing that your Father hears your prayer with divine mercy and tender compassion, and for Jesus’ sake He answers you in love.

Prayer is the voice of faith, that is true.  But prayer does not finally depend upon your faith.  No, your faith and your prayer alike depend upon your God and Father in Christ.  Your prayer is not answered because you have believed well enough.  Your prayer is not answered because your faith is good enough or strong enough.  Your prayer rests entirely on Christ, your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  Though you falter and fail, He never does.  Risen from the dead, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you.

God has spoken through His Prophet Isaiah, that even before you pray, He has already heard and begun to answer your prayer and your every need.  You see that especially in the Cross of Christ; for while you were yet a sinner and God’s enemy, Christ died for you, the Righteous One for the unrighteous and ungodly, that you might be reconciled to God and justified by His grace.  There in His Cross and Passion you behold the love of God, who has become your Father in Christ Jesus; and in His Resurrection from the dead you find that all of your prayers have already been heard and answered with that resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is indeed Christ Jesus Himself.

Not only does the entire Church all over the world pray for you each day; Jesus prays for you each and every day, and all through the night.  He prays for His whole Church; He prays also for you.  And rest assured that God withholds no good thing from His beloved Son, who is your Savior indeed, your own dear Friend, and evermore your great High Priest.  As He prays for you, so does God answer, and so are you sustained and strengthened in the one true faith, unto life everlasting.

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

19 March 2017

To Worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth

Our dear Lord Jesus here gives to you a most beautiful explanation and example of true worship.  He catechizes you to understand that such worship is first of all a matter of hearing, receiving, and trusting what God says and does in Christ, and not what you would do for Him or give to Him.

The Samaritans were convinced that the people of God should worship on Mount Gerizim, where Noah built his altar following the Flood, and where Abraham also offered sacrifice.  The temple which the Samaritans established on Mount Gerizim was a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem — a rival without any Word or Promise of God, and thus devoid of His gracious presence.  It was one of those “alternative worship sites” which the Prophets condemn throughout the Old Testament.  For God had given His Word concerning the Temple in Jerusalem, where He caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in peace, and where He made Himself available and accessible to His people.

That much, at least, the Jews knew and understood — even if many of them had misconstrued worship as though it were their own work, and as though it were a means of bargaining with God.

But now, with the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, His own Body has superceded and replaced the Temple in Jerusalem.  Indeed, His crucified and risen Body is the fulfillment of everything that old Temple was about.  Henceforth, God the Lord is found, and He is worshiped, wherever Christ is present in the flesh with His Word and Spirit.

Wherever Christ is preached, wherever His Body and Blood are administered, there is the true Temple of God: His Holy Church.  There the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells and abides among His baptized people with His Holy Name and with the Glory of His Cross, with forgiveness of sins and the free gift of life.  There He is worshiped in the Spirit and the Truth, as the Father speaks to you by His Incarnate Son and pours out His Spirit upon His Body, the Church.

To worship the Father in this way, as He desires and seeks to be worshiped, is to hear what He says and to receive what He gives to you in Christ Jesus.  When you know this Gift of God in Christ, and by His grace you know the Father in His Son, then you seek Him in the place where His grace and glory are found, and you ask of Him in faith, and He freely gives to you the Water of Life.

To be sure, there are many who interpret the worship of God “in spirit and truth” quite differently.  They have their own Mount Gerizim in place of the Body of Christ.  There are those, for example, who view worship as a private affair of the head and the heart, to be determined and offered to God according to their intellect and emotions.  They equate the work of the Holy Spirit with their own thoughts and intuitions, separated from the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ in His Church.  To worship “in spirit,” they suppose, is to worship “in a way that feels good and right to them.”  To worship “in truth” they interpret “in a way they can understand and agree with.”

The question I would put to you is this: Where are you looking for the Lord your God, and how are you seeking to worship Him?  You are in the right place this morning, but with what intentions and expectations have you come?  And as you go through the days of your week from Sunday to Sunday, in what respect do you render your body and life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God?  Or, instead of giving thanks, do you bargain and barter with God?  Or do you worship Him at all?

To worship the Lord your God “in the Spirit and the Truth” is, again, to worship the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, and through faith in the Gospel by the Holy Spirit.  It means exercising trust in the Word and promises of God in your Baptism, instead of caving in to your doubts and fears and shame.  It means seeking out the Word of Holy Absolution that Christ speaks by the mouth of your pastor, instead of assuaging your guilt and excusing your sins by way of rationalization or comparison with others.  And it means that, in the fear and faith of God, you gladly give attention to the preaching of His Word, and you live according to it in love for Him and for your neighbor.

To worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “in the Spirit and the Truth” means that you hunger and thirst for the Body and Blood of Christ, His Son, the way an infant yearns for and demands his mother’s milk; that you more highly prize the Supper of your Lord than any other food or drink on earth; and that you likewise take to heart and trust the Words with which Christ gives to you His Body and pours out for you His Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

These are the ways and means which God has provided, by which He desires to be worshiped in faith and with thanksgiving.  So simple, yet profound, because they are so full of Jesus, who comes to serve you by His grace and with Himself.  He comes in mercy to love you, to forgive you, to heal and cleanse you, and to give you His own Life with the Father in the Spirit, now and forever.

It is true that God has not spelled out every “jot and tittle” of the Liturgy, as He did for His people in the Old Testament.  The worship of the Father in the Spirit and the Truth is not of the Law, but of the Gospel.  So, there is much that is free; and even your frailties and weaknesses do not undo the blessing of the Lord’s Divine Service, which is and remains His good work and gracious gift.

But freedom does not mean anarchy, nor does it allow for anything goes.  For your sake, there is that which is given by God’s Word, which is to be administered according to His Word.  Because the Lord desires that you receive His Gifts, and not some false alternative devoid of His Word, His Gifts are given for you to receive in His way — through the preaching and Sacraments of Christ.

Everything else we do and say, as Christians and as the Church, bows before these Gifts of God.  For life with God and true worship in His Name depend entirely upon the Ministry of His Gospel.  Whatever would compete with that Gospel, whatever would contradict it or distract from it, must be removed and set aside, as Moses had to remove his sandals in the presence of the Lord God.

There is a time and place for trivial pursuits, light-hearted humor, and good fun in our life on earth, of course.  But the Liturgy of the Gospel is neither the time nor the place for such frivolities.

In the presence of God, everything we do and say must be true, that is to say, according to His Word: His Word is Truth.  It is by His Word that the Spirit calls you and brings you to Christ in His Supper, at His Altar, that you should there know the Gift of God and the One who speaks to you in love; that you should there be fed from His hand and drink freely of His Living Water; and that His Word and Spirit should thus well up in you as a fountain of Living Water for others.

It may well be that, like that Samaritan woman at the well, and like the disciples at that time, you do not always comprehend the Word that Christ the Lord is speaking, nor understand the things that He is doing.  His Word and work of the Cross are daunting and confusing to your mortal mind and fallen flesh, and your fickle emotions are often at odds and out of sync with the Wisdom of the Lord, especially when He brings to light your sins and calls you to repentance.  Nevertheless, He speaks and acts in love for you, that you might know the Father and worship Him in Christ.

Christ be praised that, with or without your understanding, the Liturgy of His Gospel conveys to you His Word and Holy Spirit, His Body and His Blood.  He forgives your sins, strengthens your faith, catechizes your heart and mind, and gives you new life with Himself in both body and soul.

It is in the hearing and receiving of these good Gifts of God in Christ that you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth.  And as you thus live both to and from this Liturgy of the Gospel, so do you also bear those Gifts of God in Christ to your neighbors by the confession of His Name.

As you worship the Lord by faith in the Gospel, so do you bear witness to the Lord and evangelize your neighbors in the world by confessing what Christ has spoken to you and done for you.

Consider, for example, that it is not the disciples, nor Christ Jesus, but the adulterous Samaritan woman who first of all speaks the Gospel to her neighbors and fellow citizens and so brings them to Christ.  It is likewise the case, to this day, that people will typically hear the Gospel for the first time and begin to learn something about Christ, not from a pastor, but from ordinary Christian men, women, and children who simply speak what they have heard and received in the Liturgy.

To be sure, the initiative belongs entirely to the Lord Jesus.  He is the One who makes His way to where the woman is.  He seeks her out, He speaks to her, He engages her in conversation, He preaches the Law and the Gospel, and He addresses her sins with the gift of His forgiveness and the promise of eternal life in Him.  So does He do all of these same things for you, right here in His Church, as He calls you by His Word and Spirit to and from the waters of your Holy Baptism.

In the case of that Samaritan woman, having heard the Word of the Lord, and having tasted His Water of Life, she left her burdens there at the well with Jesus, and she returned to her city and the daily commerce of her life.  It is there, in that familiar context, that she bore witness to what she had heard and received from Jesus.  She confessed all those things that He had spoken to her, and she wondered out loud among her neighbors whether He might be the Christ.  She urged them to come and check it out, to hear Jesus for themselves, and to receive the Gifts of God from Him.

As you, then, go on your way from this Font and from this Altar, where week-by-week you leave your burdens with Jesus, and as you return to the place in life where God has stationed you in love, bear witness to what you have heard and received from the Lord in this place.  Do not be afraid or ashamed to share with your neighbors that Jesus the Christ is here at Emmaus speaking His Word, giving Living Water to those who thirst, and feeding His people with His own Body and Blood.

Do you know the Gift of God and who it is that speaks to you and gives to you that gracious Gift?  If not, then listen up, and hear and heed this Word of Christ.  And if you do know, give thanks to God, and by all means continue to hear and receive what He speaks and gives to you in Christ.  Then speak what you hear, and share what you receive, by His grace and to the glory of His Name.

That is what the Samaritans at Sychar did.  Piqued in their curiosity, moved by the woman’s word, they went to Jesus at the well.  They listened, they heard, they asked of Him, and they received the Living Water of His Word and Holy Spirit.  In Him, they began to worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth.  No longer did they believe because of the woman’s word, but at the Word of Christ they bowed down in the worship of true faith before the Lord, who is the Savior of the world.

So it goes, and so it works.  The Lord serves you here in the preaching of His Gospel and in the Gifts of His Body and Blood.  And as He thus lives in you, and you in Him, so do you now speak and live in love for your neighbors, who hear and see the echoes of His Liturgy in your life.  His fountain of Living Water springs up and overflows in you; and where and when it pleases God, those who thus encounter the Gospel of Christ in you will follow your lead to His Pulpit, His Font, and His Altar, in order to hear the Voice of Jesus from His servants of the Word; to be cleansed and refreshed by the water He gives with His Word and Spirit; to be forgiven all their sins, no matter how many or how great; and, with pastoral care, to be fed with His own flesh and blood.

Because Salvation did come “from the Jews,” and it was in Jerusalem that God caused His Name and His Glory to dwell, where He desired to be worshiped, so it was in Jerusalem upon the Cross — at the sixth hour of another day — when Jesus was again weary from His journey, and again He was thirsty — it was there and then that He finished His work of Salvation, handed over His Spirit, and poured out the water and the blood from His side.  Thus, from His Cross, He fills the Font of Holy Baptism with the Living Water of His Word and Spirit, and He fills the Chalice of Salvation with His Blood of the New Testament, which quenches your thirst unto life everlasting.

These are the Gifts of God in Christ, with which He comes to you today — neither in Jerusalem, nor on Mount Gerizim, but right here at Emmaus in South Bend — where He abides with you in the Truth and Spirit of His gracious and forgiving Word and His Life-giving Body and Blood.

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

15 March 2017

The Lord Who Loves You Gives You Life in Himself

Out of His great heart of love, God the Lord, the one true God, has acted to give you life.

Know this, therefore, that everything He does, He does it for you.  He does it in love.

And everything He does, all that He creates, all that He gives, all that He provides, He does all of it with His Word.  He speaks, and it is so.

And this Word that He speaks to you is no mere empty sound.  It is rather the Person of the only-begotten Son, the only-begotten God, who has now also become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood for your Salvation.  He is true Man, your elder Brother, your dear Lord Jesus Christ.

And with this Word, His own Son, the Father breathes His Holy Spirit upon you; He breathes His Spirit into you, the very Breath of Life, so that you become a living creature in the Lord.

This Word of Christ, the Voice of the Spirit, forgives all of your sins and saves you from death.  It gives you life.  Divine Life with God.

It is by His Word and Holy Spirit that God the Father has created you, that you should have life with Him forever.  And all of creation, the heavens and the earth and everything in them, He uses it all to serve you for the sake of His own Love, that of the Father for His Son in the Spirit.  For the sake of this divine, eternal Love, He gives you Himself, He gives you His own Life.  So does He feed you, and clothe you, and shelter you, and protect you, every day of your life, waking and sleeping.  He lavishes good things upon you, and He delights to do so, because He loves you.

Now, on account of your sin and its curse, its consequences of death and suffering, it may seem to you as though God the Creator and His entire creation were actually set against you, at odds with you, and out to destroy you.  After all, even your own body rebels against you.  And the fact of the matter is, it is true that the Lord, your God and Father, disciplines you as a father disciplines the son that he loves.  He disciplines you, His rebellious creature, and with His Law He has actually become your enemy for a little while, because of your sin.

But the same true God who created you for life, who created you in love, has also dealt with your sin, so as to deal with you in mercy, with forgiveness, in order to give you rest from all of your enemies.  In order to give you peace: Peace in your heart, and, best of all, true peace with Him.

In Christ Jesus, the beloved Son — in His Incarnation, in His flesh and blood, and especially in His Cross and Crucifixion — you see that God’s great heart of love is still opened to you.  That God still loves you with His entire Being, with Himself.

So has He willingly, even gladly, taken your sins upon Himself, and your death upon Himself, and your damnation upon Himself, and borne them all in His own body on the Cross.  For you see, He has a body like yours.  He has become part of His own creation.  And He has given Himself entirely and completely for you.  For your rescue and salvation.

Thus, death itself is made to serve you.  Death has to give you up to life.  And in the Resurrection of this God-Man, Jesus Christ — who is the very Son of God, your Savior, your Brother, and your Friend — in Him, and in His Resurrection from the dead, all of creation is made brand new, and it is made to serve you again and forever.

Thus, by the water, with the Word and Spirit of God, you also have been born again, raised from the dead as a new creation, for new life.  For divine, eternal life with God in Christ.

And He takes simple bread and wine, made from things of His Creation — from grain, and from grapes — He takes these up with His Word and makes them to be His own Body, Food for you, and His own Blood, Drink for you, so that both your body and your soul are fed by Christ for life.

God the Lord has done all this for you in love, and He still does.  By His own arm He has done it.  With His own hand He has done it.  He alone has done it.  Not because of any merit in you, but because of His mercy, because of His Love.

And this same God, this one true God who has done all of this for you, remember that He is the Creator and Preserver of all thing.  He is your Creator and Preserver.  You and all that you need for this body and life, and for the life everlasting, it is all His own to do with as He so chooses.  And He chooses in love to use this Creation for your good.

Do not doubt that He is for you, and that He will indeed move heaven and earth to bring you, once and for all, out of sin and death into life with Himself and eternal salvation.

Even now, He serves you and protects you by His grace and mercy.

Receive His gifts with thanksgiving: Clothing and shoes. Food and drink. House and home. Fields and cattle. Spouse and children. All that you need.  Receive what He gives with thanksgiving, whether it be much or little.  And use whatever He gives according to His Word.  Yes, even enjoy what He gives, for that is what He intends.  And so also serve your neighbor with whatever God gives into your hands, as the Lord so desires and allows you the means and opportunity to do.

Receive His gifts with faith in Him, and with love for Him above everything else, and with love for your neighbor in Christ Jesus, for His sake, for He is the Savior of all people.

Receive His gifts, and use them, and give thanks for them.  But do not worship them.  Do not put your trust in those things that God gives, but in God who gives them.  Do not live for those things, nor suppose that life is found in them, but live unto the Lord your God, who is alone the Author and Giver of Life.  Worship Him with all that you are and have, in all that you do and say.

Worship the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Holy Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fear, love, and trust in Him.  He gives, and He takes away; but He does so according to His good and gracious will, and it is always in love for you.  He disciplines, and He forgives.

He alone gives life and health and every blessing.  And all of this He gives by the ways and means of His Cross.  That’s why it’s often so confusing to you.  For you receive the things of His Cross by faith, and not by sight.  That’s what faith is: the assurance of those things that you cannot see, but which God has spoken to you in love — in Christ.  Trust that.

Put away your false gods, whatever they may be, and fear the Lord your God.  Serve Him alone.

You have life, in both body and soul, both now and forever, only as you are in Christ Jesus, the Lord, the Crucified One.  And you have Christ the Crucified only by His Word and Holy Spirit, as you live within (and to and from) His Church.  His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Here He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you.  Here He preaches His Gospel, with which He gives you His own Life and Health and Strength in place of your mortality, death, and damnation.

Here He calls you back to the waters of your Holy Baptism, through which He brought you out of Egypt into His Church, and through which He will, at the last, bring you into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with Himself in the Promised Land.

Here in His Church He gives you refuge from all of your enemies round about, and peace and rest within the House that He has built — and He has built it well upon the Rock of His Gospel.  Here is the City of God, the City made without hands, eternal in the heavens, but established here on earth for you in the Church and Ministry of His Word and Sacrament.

Here He feeds you with real and true Food, which you did not plant, which you did not tend, which you did not harvest or prepare.  He gives it to you all by grace.  It is His utter Charity.  His Body given for you to eat, His Blood poured out for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  All for the sake of His love.  All for the sake of your life with Him.

All of this He gives to you and does for you with His life-giving Word.  And with His Word, He gives to you His Holy Spirit, who lays Christ upon your heart, and binds you to Him in body and soul, and preserves your faith and life in Him, within His Holy Church, unto the life everlasting.

As He speaks, so do you hear; so do you believe; and so do you confess.

You speak what God has spoken to you by His Son, which is to say, forgiveness and love.

You speak, not only with your lips and with your mouth, but also with your hands, and with good works of mercy, in order to share the life that God has given to you by His grace in Christ Jesus.

You put to work your body with all its members, your eyes and ears, your mind and mouth, your reason and all your senses, to serve your neighbor, as God serves you, with His good creation.

And as you receive and breathe in His life-giving Holy Spirit in His Word of Absolution, His free and full forgiveness of all your many sins, so do you also exhale that same Holy Spirit in speaking and showing forgiveness to your neighbor who trespasses against you.

The Lord who created all things out of nothing; who created you and still takes cares of you, despite your sins; who loves you and takes care of you by and with His Word — He shall also sustain you in this faith and life, especially by His Word of the Gospel.

Let everything else be taken from you, if it comes to that, so long as you still hear and have that Word.  For God the Father preaches His Gospel to you in love, and by that Word everything in heaven and on earth is yours in Jesus Christ, His Son, crucified and risen from the dead.

He stands fast, and He shall not fail you.  Where you fail and fall, as often as you fail and fall, He forgives you, and He raises you back up again.

For you are His own, His dear one, His beloved.  Even when Satan, sin, and death have done their worst, the Lord your God will raise up you from the dust of the earth to live with Him forever in the good Land that He has promised, flowing with milk and honey and every good thing.

As sure as Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever, this is most certainly true.

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

12 March 2017

The Voice of the Spirit in the Word of Christ

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, a teacher of Israel.  But he is in the dark and does not understand.  He tries to come to Jesus by the Law instead of by faith, but it doesn’t work.  He reasonably considers himself an expert in matters of religion; he’s evaluated Jesus on the basis of what he knows, and he’s reached a preliminary conclusion that is flattering and complimentary.  Yet, for all of that, he is ignorant and naive.  Jesus must stop him in his tracks and take him back to school: not for academic information, but to be reborn as a brand new person.

You are likewise in the dark, conceived and born under the Law, and you cannot see the Kingdom of God — you cannot perceive or recognize it — except as you are born again, enlightened by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism.  Otherwise, you would still have the same problem that Nicodemus did on that night when he first came to Jesus.

By your own natural reason and strength, you think you know what God is like, but you are wrong.  You imagine that God must be like you; that He must think like you, and act like you, and deal with you in the way that you would deal with your neighbor.  But that is not so.  You believe that you know what “spirituality” is, and what it should look like, but you really don’t have a clue.

You cannot recognize God when you see Him, and you would never have been able to find your way to get to Him.  You could never have climbed your way into heaven by any strength or skill of yours, although in your sin you presumptuously make the attempt.  But Christ the Lord, your God, has descended from heaven to you, in order to raise you up with Himself in His Ascension.

By your conception and birth of flesh and blood, you have inherited your parents’ sin and death, which blind you to everything pertaining to God.  It is only by the new birth of water and the Spirit that you have entered the Kingdom of God — through the Cross & Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Through Him, the promised Seed of Abraham, you have become a child of Abraham by faith.

All of this is the gracious good work of God, His gift to you.  And yet, you could not recognize it, nor even receive it, by your own perception or insight — not by any ingenuity or understanding of your own.  It is all the more impossible for you, as it was for Nicodemus, to perceive rightly or to understand the Sign that Jesus performs in the Hour of His Glory on the Cross.  That is where He glorifies the Father’s Name, but He surely does not look like a teacher sent from God upon the Cross; far less does He there appear to be God Himself, manifested in the flesh; yet, so He is.

Indeed, it is by His Cross and Crucifixion, first of all, that He is lifted up for you, in order to atone for your sins, to call you to Himself, and to bring you with Himself back to the Father in heaven.

And it is through His death that you are born again, unto life with God.

There is no Resurrection or Ascension for you, except by the way of the Cross of Christ.  For it is only by His Cross and Passion that you are reconciled to God and able to live in peace with Him.

Look to Christ, therefore, as He is hung upon the Cross for your life and salvation.  All who look to Him in faith, all who believe and are baptized into Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.  Look to Him, and live.  He has not come to judge you or condemn you, but to save you.

But how on earth are you even able to know or believe any of this?

Faith and life in Christ are not within your natural grasp.  You could not see or comprehend Him, much less believe in Him, nor could you ever do so by any will or wisdom of your heart or mind.

But the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith, unto the life everlasting.  That is the essential key to everything, by which you enter the Kingdom of God through Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  The Spirit reveals Him to you.

It is the Holy Spirit who, by the Ministry of the Gospel, fixes your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith.  Because He loves you, He lays Christ upon your heart with the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins; and He lays you upon the bosom of the Father in and with Christ Jesus.

So has the Holy Spirit also given you the new birth of Holy Baptism.

The Church, therefore, the Lord’s own beloved Sarah, has thus become your Mother in Christ, having given birth to you from the womb of the font by the Word and Spirit of God; so that, not only Abraham, but God Himself is now your Father, and you are His own dear child and heir.  But you do not have the Father without the Mother.  You do not have the Lord your God apart from His Bride, the Church.  You do not have your Father’s eyes, unless you have your Mother’s ears.

The Holy Spirit is actively present and at work within the Church on earth, and He speaks the Gospel to you by such earthly ways and means.  Here He is breathed upon you from the Cross of Christ in words of forgiveness, in the water and the blood.  Do not suppose that you will lay hold of heavenly things apart from these earthly means.  You will not.  You cannot.  But the Holy Spirit performs His work upon you with earthly things that you can see and touch and handle and taste.

You cannot see the Spirit with your eyes, nor can you predetermine His comings and goings. Do not even try.  But you do hear His Voice, because He calls you by the Gospel out of darkness into light, out of the nighttime of your sin and death and unbelief, into the Day of the Lord.

You have known His Voice in the waters of Holy Baptism, when He came down to rest and remain upon you in the bodily form of that Sacrament, and the heavens were opened to you, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to you by His Son.  So does the Spirit speak to you and concerning you, that you are a beloved and well-pleasing son of God in Christ.

You still hear the same Spirit’s Voice in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution, which is the free and full forgiveness of your sins in Jesus’ name and for His sake.  It is, indeed, the life-giving Holy Spirit who is speaking to you here and now, in this sermon, forgiving you all of your sins, blessing you with life in Christ (the promised Seed of Abraham), and opening your eyes to behold the Kingdom of God by faith in Him.

So do you hear the Spirit’s Voice and behold the Kingdom of God in that precious Word of Christ Jesus with which He gives to you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink.  This is the new and everlasting Covenant that He has established and sealed for you and for the many in Himself, in His own holy flesh and precious blood — which He shares with you by His grace, as He remembers you in love and grants you perfect peace and Sabbath rest in Him.

He speaks, and it is so.  His Word does what He says and gives what He declares.  His Word opens your ears to hear, your heart to believe and trust in Him, and your eyes to perceive His grace and glory in the Cross.  In the Cross that He has borne for you and for all, and in the Cross that you now bear and carry in His Name, in your vocation as a Christian.  So does His Word open your mouth to show forth His praise; to pray and confess, to give thanks and sing; and so also to eat and to drink from His hand, to be fed and nourished by Him, and to be satisfied with His good gifts.

It is by this Word of Christ Jesus, which is indeed the Voice of the Holy Spirit, that God the Father declares you to be righteous.  That is the judgment of the mouth of God concerning you, and His judgment remains, now and forever.  For He who by His Word has called all of creation into being out of nothing — who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them by His speaking, and called forth the light out of the darkness — who raises the dead and makes all things brand new — He also, by the Cross and Resurrection of the Incarnate Son, has reconciled the world to Himself in love, and now by that Gospel He justifies the ungodly.

He forgives sins and saves sinners by His grace; and that free salvation is the very glory of God.

He forgives you, and He saves you.  He does not condemn you for your sins, but He judges you righteous for Christ Jesus’ sake.  So He speaks, and so you are.

And at the last, the same Voice of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise your body also from the grave and bring you, both body and soul, into His Kingdom forever and ever.

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

08 March 2017

The Law of God Is Good and Wise

The Law of God is good and wise; first and foremost, because it is the Word and will of God, which He speaks to you in love.  He reveals His Law to you for your benefit, for your good.  And it is for this reason that He has given us the Ten Commandments, which are a perfect summary of His Law, of His good and gracious will for you and for your neighbor.

Not only that, but He has also written His Law on man’s heart, on his conscience; so that, even those who do not know His Ten Commandments still have a strong sense of right and wrong by nature.  Unless a man has completely hardened his heart and seared his conscience, he knows that he should not kill his neighbor or take his possessions or family.  And governments around the world and throughout history have put into place laws that convey these same things.

In all of these ways, God protects you from your neighbor, who would otherwise hurt you and harm you in your body, your possessions, your family, and your home.  And, let’s be honest, He also protects your neighbor from you and the sinful desires of your fallen flesh.

God’s Law, as it confronts you, exposes your sins.  For God commands you to do things that you really don’t want to do, and that you are not doing.  And as He commands you, He threatens to punish you if you do not do what He commands.  He also forbids you from doing those things which you enjoy doing.  Things that you are doing and want to keep on doing, He tells you to stop doing and not to do.  And here again, He threatens to punish you if you disregard His Law.

So it is that, when the good and wise and holy Law of God confronts you as a sinner, it accuses you.  It condemns you.  It judges you and would damn you.  God knows that it does all of these things, and yet, He speaks His Law to you, not with petty anger, as though He had lost His temper, and not for the sake of vengeance, but in love for you.  In exposing your sins, He begins His good work of repentance in you.  He reveals your faults in order to demonstrate your need for Him, for His forgiveness and salvation.  And in this way He begins to drive you to the Cross of Christ.

In calling you to repentance, He does not seek to drive you further away from Himself, but rather to bring you back to Himself.  His Law points you finally to the Gospel, that is, to Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law.  For everything the Law has required of you, Christ Jesus has done in your stead, on your behalf.  Everything the Law has demanded from you, Christ has done and given for your benefit.  He has fully satisfied the Law in your stead.

It’s not that Christ has simply kept the rules and checked them off God’s big “to do” list, so that now the Lord is off your back about it.  No, the Lord’s desire, from the start and forever, is that you would live in a relationship of love with Him, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And when you did not love Him, He sought you out in love and reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus.

All that the Law requires, Jesus has done, not only in your stead, on your behalf, but also for you.  In perfect faith and love for His Father, He has lived in perfect love for you, His neighbor.  He has not harmed you but has helped you in your body and your soul.  He has not sent you away, but has rather called you to Himself.  He has not taken from you, but He gives you all good things.

This is at the heart of His keeping of the Law.  This is His righteousness, which He has established for you.  And all of this He bestows upon you through His Gospel, beginning with the waters of your Holy Baptism.  He washes you clean with forgiveness of all your sins, and He clothes you with Himself and His righteousness.  Thus are you adorned by Christ, the Fulfiller of the Law.

So it is that you now stand before the judgment seat of God, and you are declared not guilty.  You are innocent.  You are righteous.  You are set free.  There is no condemnation for you before God, but only His judgment of righteousness, which is yours by His grace through faith in Christ.

All of this the Lord has done and given to you freely in love.  And not only that, but He keeps on giving it to you.  Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, Christ all the more forgives your sins.  Within His Body, the Church, in the company of the baptized, He daily and richly forgives your sins and the sins of all believers.

He preaches His Word to you.  He continues to catechize you in both the Law and the Gospel, so that you would know what is the good and acceptable will of God, and by His Holy Spirit you would walk in it.  And for that journey of faith and life in Christ, He feeds you with His own Body, and He gives you to drink of His own holy and precious Blood.  That is the ongoing Ministry of the Gospel, the free gift of Forgiveness and Life and Salvation, which Jesus keeps on giving.

The Gospel, though, has not set you free from the Law.  It has rather set you free from the Law’s accusation.  It has released you from the Law’s condemnation and judgment.  It has freed you from the punishment that you deserved under the Law.  But the Gospel has not set you free from God, nor from His holy will.  It has rather freed you from sin and death to live with God in Christ: To live in faith and love, which are the very things the Law has always commanded and described.

In this way the Ten Commandments continue to serve you, even as a Christian, because they set before your eyes and ears the Life of Christ, to which He calls you by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  That is the life which is yours in Him by faith in His Gospel.

In the first three Commandments God calls you into relationship with Himself.  He calls upon your heart to belong to Him.  Not because He needs it, but He knows that you need Him.  So He calls you to love and trust in Him.  Yes, you are to fear His wrath, because He is God and you are not.  But for that same reason, He invites you and welcomes you to look to Him for every good thing.  Everything you need, He can and does provide in love for you.

He calls upon you to hear His Word, through which He serves you and bestows His Holy Spirit upon you.  And He teaches you to call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, that you should know Him as your God, the One who has brought you out of Egypt by His powerful hand.

For His Name’s sake, He also calls you to love your neighbor, and He puts you into relationship with your neighbor after the Image of Christ.  Therefore, do not hurt or harm your neighbor, but help your neighbor, and love your neighbor as Christ loves you.  Do not take from your neighbor, nor desire your neighbor’s things, but look for ways to serve your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus serves you.  Above all, forgive your neighbor, as you are forgiven by the Lord.

Fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Listen to His Word.  Receive His gifts.  Knowing Him as your God and Father, call upon Him in prayer.  And in this fear and faith of God, do not despise your neighbor, but as you are able do good to all men.  Show love, serve, and forgive.  This is the way of life with God, which His Law reveals and requires.

In doing so — even for you who are a Christian, forgiven by Christ and living in Him by grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit — the Law continues to expose your sins and to accuse you in your conscience.  For you do not love your neighbor as yourself.  You do not do unto your neighbor as you would have him do for you.  You do not treat him as you want to be treated.  You do not love and care for your neighbor as your dear Lord Jesus Christ loves you and cares for you by grace.

You do not love your neighbor as you should because you do not love the Lord, your God and Father, as you should.  You do not call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.  You do not expect good things from Him at all times.  You worry and you fret.  And when things are going poorly, you’re more inclined to blame God than to look to Him for help.  You do not always trust Him when the Cross is heavy upon you.  You sometimes despair because of your sins, or you despair because of your enemies.  And for all of these sins the Law continues to accuse you.

Nor is the accusation of the Law to be taken lightly.  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and He threatens to punish all who break these Commandments.  Therefore the Catechism teaches you to fear His wrath and warns you not to disobey Him.  As the Law thus exposes your sins, you quail before Him.  And then you are tempted to do as our first parents did, to run away and try to hide from God, because you do not want to fall into His hands.

The great irony is that, in trying to flee from God, you fall precisely into His hands of wrath.  And yet, in speaking His Law to you, He still desires, not to drive you away, but to call you back to Himself in repentance.  The very fact that He speaks to you at all, and that He confronts you with His Law to expose your sin, is indicative of His loving care and concern for you, and of His desire that you live with Him in faith and love.  You thus flee His wrath by fleeing to His hands of mercy.  You flee His wrath by fleeing, not away from Him, but to Him in Christ.

His Law instructs you in the way that you should go — in relation to Him and to your neighbor — not that by your behavior you will fix anything, or appease God’s wrath, or make things better, but because it is in Him and in His Church that you find grace to help in time of need.

He places you in relationships with your neighbors, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ, not only that you may serve them, but that your brothers and sisters may speak the Gospel to you.  He admonishes you not to forsake the assembling together because it is in His Church that He serves you with every good and perfect gift through the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.

He commands you to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy — to cherish His Word, to regard it as sacred, and gladly to hear the preaching of it, to receive the gifts He gives by His Word — because He desires to give you rest, and blessed peace, and life with Himself in Christ Jesus.  And all of this He does for you and gives to you within the Body of Christ, His Church, by the ministry of preaching and the Sacraments in His Name and stead.

Christ Jesus is here, and He does not hold your sins against you, but by His Word He graciously and generously forgives you all your sins.  As often as you have disobeyed His Law, failed to do what you should, and done again what you should not, He keeps on calling you back to Himself.  And His arms are open to you in mercy.  For He stands fast as the One who has already fulfilled and satisfied the Law for your salvation, which is to say, for life with God in Him.

The Law does not serve you by telling you how save yourself.  It serves you by pointing you and driving you to Christ, who lives in love for His Father, for you, and for all people.

So, when the Law exposes your sins, do not try to hide them, nor try to hide yourself away, but confess your sins and seek the forgiveness of Christ.  Dr. Luther has taught you to use the Ten Commandments in this way:  To consider your place in life in light of the Ten Commandments, that you might know what sins you should confess before your pastor.  Why?  In order to hear and receive the Word of Absolution from your pastor as from God Himself, in the Name of Christ, and that the good and gracious will of God should thus be done for you with His forgiveness.

Truly, this forgiveness of Christ is the fulfillment of the Law for you and your salvation.  For by this Gospel He loves you and gives you Life in body and soul, both now and forever.  He has become your Savior and your God, and He has not only called you into His own household and family as a beloved child of His God and Father, but He preserves your life within His Christian Church.  He has sanctified you with His Name, as in your Baptism, so also with His Absolution.  And He gives you Sabbath Rest within His own Body and Blood here at His Altar, where He daily and richly forgives you all your sins, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

05 March 2017

That the Wicked Foe May Have No Power Over You

If you take on the devil and try to beat him on your own, going toe to toe against him, you’re fighting a losing battle.  He is crafty and enticing, savvy and subtle, deceptive and dangerous.  Not only that, but he has the sinful world and a host of demons on his side, whereas your own heart and mind are perverted by your native sin and unbelief.  So the odds are utterly stacked against you.

The good news, though, is that Jesus has taken on the devil and defeated him on your behalf; for the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than the devil, and He is on your side as your Champion.   So has He been tempted in every way that you are, yet without sinning in His thoughts, words, or deeds.

He has no sins of His own, but He has willingly borne your sins in His own body, and the sins of the whole world, and all of their deadly and damnable consequences, to His death on the Cross.  So all of your sins have been dealt with and done away with.  The innocence and righteousness of Christ cover you entirely, and Satan has nothing left with which he may legitimately accuse you.

That is why the devil was so desperate to sidetrack Jesus away from His purpose — and why he is now so frantic in his efforts to seduce you away from Christ Jesus and the Gospel of His Cross.

When you hide yourself in Christ by faith in His Gospel — when you find your rest in Him — then you dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in safety under the shadow of the Almighty; and then that old evil serpent, the devil, lies trampled under your feet, along with sin and death.

For in the new and greater Adam, Jesus Christ, conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary, God has provided every good thing for you, and all that you need for faith and life with Him forever.

Only do not reach for the fruit that He has forbidden.  Do not take what God has not given to you but has warned you against.  And do not listen to the voice of the devil, who lies through his teeth and with his forked tongue calls into question the Word that God the Lord has spoken.

Do not listen to the devil, but to every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  For God is the One who feeds you, by His grace, with the Bread of Life, which is the Word-made-Flesh.  Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, He is your Meat and Drink indeed.  But be aware and understand that He feeds you from His Cross, by the ways and means of His Cross, often with adversity and sorrow.

Meanwhile, in contrast and competition with this Food of the Cross, the devil presents you with such delectable and desirable fruits, which appear to be so good and wise and advantageous.

So, then, what are you hungry for?  And what do you pick and choose to eat?  Do you reach for the Tree of the Cross, or for the knowledge of good and evil?

How often don’t you make excuses for yourself, and rationalize your wants, and conspire to make or take bread for yourself which God has not given?  You suppose that you know better than God; or that you can take the heat, and handle it, and come out okay; or that you are the exception to the rules.  So you take and eat what God has forbidden, and with it you lay hold of death and the devil.

Repent of your misplaced appetites and your gluttonous idolatry.  Hunger instead for the Lord your God, for Christ Jesus and His Word.  Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all that you need for life everlasting will be yours in Him, although it is given to you by way of His Cross.

Hunger for the Lord your God.  But receive Him by His grace, through faith in Christ, according to His Word of the Gospel, and not by any efforts of your own to scale the heights of heaven.

Bear in mind that works righteousness and self-righteousness within the church — by way of your personal piety and religious zeal, by all of your activities and efforts, charity and offerings, when you attempt to justify and save yourself in this way — is just as bad or worse than pagan idolatry.

Of course you should be pious and faithful in prayer and devotion.  You should by all means be in church as often as you are able, and you should support the Church and Ministry of the Gospel with a significant portion of your income, in addition to the tangible mercy that you provide for  the benefit of those in need.  You should volunteer, assist, and serve in the life of our congregation, with whatever gifts the Lord has entrusted to the stewardship of your body and life.

You should do all of these good things, as the Lord enables, because they are good and right, but not as though by doing so you will atone for your sins or redeem yourself in the presence of God.

So, too, the way you are to live in the world is not by your own design or choosing.  Live, rather, in the way that God has called you, in the place where He has stationed you, whether glamorous or mundane, tedious or exciting.  As a disciple of Christ Jesus, take up the Cross in faith and bear it in love for the neighbors God has given you.  Honor your father and mother.  Love and cherish your husband or wife, and be faithful in all things.  Serve and support your neighbor’s body and life, his household, home, and family.  Do your job.  And be satisfied with what you are given.

Your life is sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, by faith and prayer in His Name; not by impressing the world with your grand accomplishments.  It is not what you do and achieve, but what you receive from Christ that avails before His God and Father in heaven.  It is the righteousness and faithfulness of Christ Jesus that sustain you, unto the life everlasting.

Don’t trade that gift of God in Christ for anything else in heaven or on earth.  Not for a bowl of porridge, and not for all the kingdoms and the power and the glory of this whole world.

You should know better.  You should know that the wicked devil, the sinful world, and your own covetous flesh are lying to you.  But why, then, do you fall for it?  Why do you buy into the scam?

Why do you keep on reaching for that which God has told you not to touch?  Why do you bend your knee and give your body over to the ruler of this world, while refusing to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God?  Why do you bow down and worship the toys and entertainment, the frivolity and self-gratification of man?  And why do you sell your soul to the devil for treasures on earth, which not only perish and decay but take you along with them?

It is because your heart burns with desire for that which God has not given, and for that which is not God.  It is because you want to be in charge, and call the shots, and make a life for yourself.

It is because, within your sinful heart and prideful mind, you want to be God.

So it is that you set yourself against the one true God, although He is your Maker and Redeemer.  And you harden your heart against your neighbor, as well, because you perceive everyone as your opponent and competitor.  Your stomach twists and turns with envy and jealousy.  You resent what God has given to your neighbors, even to your fellow Christians.  And what is worse, you crave what your neighbors have acquired by their sins.  You love such things more than you love God.

With such a covetous heart, you are no match for Satan.  It really is a losing battle, and you’ve already lost before you’ve begun.  The serpent so easily entices you to sin, and then he stands the first in line to accuse you and press charges.  You are left naked and afraid, guilty and ashamed.

You try to run, but you can’t escape.  You try to hide from God, but there’s nowhere you can go.

Thank God!  Thank God that He searches you out and finds you, that He exposes you to His light and confronts you with His Word.  You would be lost and gone forever if He did not.  You are not better off without Him.  Though His Law judges and condemns you and punishes your sins, His Law is not His last or final Word concerning you.  He crushes the devil’s head, not yours.  And He does so — He beats the devil for you — by taking all your guilt and punishment upon Himself!

He has taken your nakedness and shame upon Himself.  He has suffered your death and damnation in your stead.  All of this upon the Tree of His Cross.  Though He alone is without any sin; though He has not succumbed to any temptation, He suffers and dies in perfect righteousness, innocence, and blessedness: in steadfast faith toward God, and in absolute love for God and for all people.  He willingly goes to the Cross, in humble obedience to His Father, in order to save you and all.

So now it is from His Cross that He washes you with tender care and cleanses you within and without, in body and soul.  It is from His Cross that He clothes you with Himself, so that you are decked out like a beautiful bride, and truly radiant with the glory of this most handsome Prince.

It is from His Cross, which is the Tree of Life, that He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  These good Gifts are the Fruit which God has not forbidden, but which He gives to you freely for the forgiveness of all your sins and for the strengthening of your faith, that you may live forever.

He knows that you are frail, weak, and helpless.  He knows that you are weary and worn, burdened and beleaguered.  He is such a great High Priest who sympathizes with you, because He has been in your shoes, in your wilderness, in your long hot forty days, and in your dark and dreary nights.

He has been there for you, and He is still here with you.  Not simply to help you, though He does, but actually to save you.  He stands beside you on the plain with His good Gifts and Spirit.  It is no angel but the Lord who ministers to you.  He forgives your every sin, every fall into temptation.

He returns you to the waters of your Holy Baptism, and to the Word and promises of God.  For you are a beloved son of God in Christ.  His Father is your Father, and He is well-pleased with you.

Don’t look at your sins and failings, for He does not.  Don’t listen to the devil, but hear the Word of Christ Jesus.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He will not lie to you nor fail you.

In Him you shall not die, but live.

See here how He feeds you.  Take and eat.  Drink from His Cup of Salvation.  It may not look like much, but this is true Wisdom.  It is the best of Foods, the finest of Wines.  It is given and poured out for you, so that the Lord Himself abides in you, and you abide in Him.  Hence, the wicked foe shall have no power over you.  For as great and many as your trespasses have been, these gracious Gifts of God in Christ are greater.  Here the Lord is your refuge, the Most High your habitation, and in all your going out and coming in, henceforth and forever, He is your Mighty Fortress.

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

01 March 2017

God's Heart and His Treasure Are Yours in Christ

The Heart of God the Father is Christ Jesus.  And the heart of Christ is mercy and compassion.  Such is the Treasure of God, which He freely bestows upon His creatures in gentleness and peace; for it is always His nature to be gracious and kind.  The Father treasures His Son, and for His sake He treasures you.  Christ Jesus treasures mercy, and in mercy He forgives your sins and saves you.

This mercy and compassion of God the Father in Christ Jesus are what characterize the Kingdom of God.  This is what life in His Kingdom is like, the way that it is lived in His presence by grace.

The grace and favor of God are a priceless treasure, indeed.  It is a real prize that remains forever, which gives everlasting life to you.  It cannot be earned or purchased, but only received as a gift; not by works, but only through repentant faith in Christ.  And although such repentance and faith are yours, they are not of yourself but of God.  They are His good work in you, by grace alone.

You cannot steal this treasure away from God, but neither can it be stolen from you, to whom He has given it freely as a gift by the Gospel.  In Christ, this treasure is yours, and you are His own.

When you live by such faith — in the sure hope and certain confidence of Christ — your entire life and your whole world are shaped by the grace and favor of God, by His mercy and compassion.

It is a matter of where you have fixed your focus.  That is where your heart and home are.  When you are conscious of your life before God in Christ, and you live unto Him by faith in His mercy, then you have true joy, even in the midst of sorrow, and you rest in peace in the midst of death.

But when you are conscious, not of God, but of yourself — when you are not Christ-conscious, but self-conscious — then your body and life in the world are hounded by relentless demands and constant concerns, by worries and anxieties that never fully go away.  The harder you try to get on top of it all, the less you are able to set your heart and mind at ease, or to let your body rest.

If what you seek are the praises of people, their admiration, appreciation, and applause, then you already have what you’re going to get, and even that much will not last for long.  Fifteen minutes of fame?  Maybe more, maybe less.  But not forever, that’s for sure.  And it will not satisfy you.

Life on earth is fleeting and failing.  So is everything about it, and everything it offers from within.  Neither the entire universe nor any part or portion of creation is self-sufficient or self-sustaining.  Apart from the Word of God, it withers and fades, it dies and decays.

And yet, you hunger insatiably for those precarious and perishing things, as though they could save you and sustain you; as though they could actually give you life and peace and happiness; and as though your appetites and desires gave you a rightful claim to take and keep whatever you want.

Driven by the passions of your fallen flesh (as it is also mortal and perishing), you’re constantly feeding on the world around you, but you are never content, never satisfied.  The more you devour, the more you are consumed by your addictions to that which is not God and cannot give you life.

With yourself at the center, as though you were God, you use and use up whatever you find in self-interest, while you neglect the Lord and your neighbor: without faith, and without love.  There are plenty of outright pagans all around you, and professed atheists, who attempt to live without God in the world.  But do not pride yourself on the trappings of religion and philanthropy in your life.  Even your piety, prayers, and charitable contributions are self-serving, and therefore idolatrous, whenever they are exercised and offered, not in the fear and faith of God, but in order to be noticed and praised by people; whenever your concern is not what you can do to serve others, but what others think of you and say about you, and what you can get them to do for you and give to you.

Repent of your idolatry.  Stop worshiping yourself, and stop using your neighbor.  Return to the Lord your God.  Be reconciled to Him by faith in His Gospel of forgiveness, and live before Him in the righteousness of Christ, your Savior.  For He is the One who calls you daily to repentance, not in wrath, but on account of His mercy and compassion for you.  He has not hardened His heart against you, nor does He cast you away from His presence.  On the contrary, His grace and favor are upon you in the Gospel of His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead.

Therefore, discipline yourself in accordance with His Word, and so bear the fruits of repentance.  Not as though to save yourself, but as you live by grace in the presence of God, in His Kingdom.  It is to this that He has called you, in peace, that His Life might be yours, both now and forever.

Discipline your flesh by fasting, in whatever particular ways will be most helpful to you in curbing and resisting your own particular appetites and addictions.  That may be food and drink, or it may be something else entirely.  Do not despise the good gifts of God, but do not make false gods out of them, either.  Rather, temper your consumption.  Learn to live without those things that are not beneficial or necessary, and with less of those things that do still belong to your daily bread.

Do not fast to impress God or your neighbor, but to loosen the fallen world’s grip on your mortal flesh, and to exercise hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God in Christ.  That is to seek first His Kingdom of heaven, instead of striving to reside in the palaces of earth and reveling in them.  Let your body find its resurrection and its real life in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Likewise, discipline your heart and mind, your lips and mouth, by the prayer and confession of the Word of God.  You will not drive the devil, the world, and your own sinful thoughts and feelings out of your head by your own willpower; you are not equal to that task.  But actively take up the Sword of the Spirit, and wield the shield of faith, by hearing and confessing the Word that God speaks to you in Christ Jesus.  Call upon His Name in the confidence that your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayers, just as He has promised and has taught you to pray by His Son.

Do not worry whether others are listening or notice.  You are not praying to them, but to the Lord.  Fix your eyes on Him, by fixing your faith on His Word of the Cross, in which His mercy and forgiveness are given to you.  Hear the preaching of His Resurrection, in which you are justified, and reconciled to God, and raised up in peace from death and the grave to the life everlasting.

So, too, discipline your hands and feet, your attitude and actions toward others, and the use of your possessions, by having mercy on your neighbor and giving alms to help and support him.  Do so quietly, and in humility before God.  For you know that you deserve nothing but punishment for your sins, and that everything you hold in your hand is nothing but the charity of God.  Therefore, do not boast of your good works, nor embarrass your neighbor by announcing your almsgiving.  You are not above him, nor is he beholden to you, but you and he alike are beholden to the Lord.

Living before God in the secret place of faith, in the hiddenness of the Cross of Christ, does not mean that you ignore your neighbor or turn your back on your brothers and sisters in their need.  It does mean that, instead of viewing other people as an opportunity to achieve your own goals and to advance your own agendas, in Christ you are able to see them as objects of His affection, who are dear to His heart and recipients of His divine compassion.  So then do you also love them, and you serve them for Christ Jesus’ sake, because you have also received the treasure of His mercy.

Indeed, you are able to pray to God, your dear Father in heaven, and you are able to give alms, because the Lord your God has had mercy upon you, and has given His only Son to die for you, and has now also given Him to you — into your ears, into your heart and mind, and into your hands and mouth — by the Ministry of His Gospel.  You are able to return to the Lord your God, because He has sought you out and found you, and He has come to you in Christ Jesus.

Let such tender mercies of God be your dearest treasure, and so also the character and content of your Christian heart.  For this treasure does not decay or turn to dust, and it cannot be taken away from you.  It is given to you freely by the Lord your God in Christ Jesus, your Savior, and it is surely not depleted but multiplied by extending it to others in His Name and for His sake.

The Lord Jesus Christ, who is all in all, is all mercy and compassion.  He is the One who saves you by His grace.  He is the One who fasts in faith before His God and Father, so that, by His hunger and thirst for righteousness, He might establish and obtain the Kingdom of heaven for you and all.  So has He made Himself nothing, and humbled Himself unto death, that you should now be fed with His Body and given to drink of His Blood, in which the Kingdom and the righteousness of God are yours.  For having become sin and suffered death, He who knew no sin has borne the curse and consequences of your sin, in order to bless you with the Spirit of God, unto the life everlasting.

He who died for you has also risen from the dead, and He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before the throne of God, His Father in heaven.  In that Inner Room, which is the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, He prays for you, and He is heard.  Thus are you also brought before God, who is your own Father in Christ, and you now abide in His presence.

And even that is not all.  For not only has Christ given Himself for you, in order to make peace for you with God.  And not only has the Father received you to Himself in Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and seated at His right hand.  But also here and now, in this Sacrament of His Altar, in this Grain Offering and Drink Offering of Bread and Wine, the Father feeds you with His Son and comes to abide with you in Him.  He places His most precious Treasure into your hands.

That is, not only does Christ Jesus give you alms, but He is Himself the Gift of God’s mercy in the Flesh.  He is the Bread from heaven, who has given Himself for the life of the world.  And He is the true Vine, who has shed His holy, precious blood to make Atonement for you and everyone.

In receiving what He gives you and pours out for you, you receive the reward of His mercy, and you are returned to the Lord your God, who loves you with an everlasting Love.  For where His Treasure is, there His heart is also.  And here the Father opens His great heart of mercy to you in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  So does He abide with you, forever and always.

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