16 July 2017

Receiving the Seed of the Sower

Everything depends upon the preaching of God’s Word.

For this reason, throughout the history of the world, He has never failed to raise up preachers and teachers of His Word.  From the holy Prophets and Apostles, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, He causes His Word to be preached in order to accomplish His gracious purposes.

At the heart and center of it all, the Lord Himself, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in mercy and compassion, He has come down from heaven to preach, and by His preaching to gather people to Himself, into His Church, and thereby to His Father in heaven.

So does He still come to you and preach His Word to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Listen to Him.  Hear and receive His preaching, and cling to it for dear life.

So important is the preaching of Christ that the emphasis in this familiar Parable is not on the content of the preaching per se, but rather on the preaching itself, and on the Preacher, the Sower of the Seed.  The focus is on the character and the consequences of His sowing.

For your part, if you are to live and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, it all depends on receiving that Seed from the Sower and hanging onto it.  Not giving it up or letting it go, but continuing to hear it, to consider it, to remember it, to pray and confess it, and to live according to it.

Everything depends on the Seed.  And yet, it is a mysterious and elusive Word, which is attacked and hindered on every hand.  It is hidden by God Himself from the wise and the intelligent, and revealed by His grace alone to babies and infants, and to those who become like little children.  Thus does Jesus speak in Parables, that the Mysteries of God should be hidden from the crowds and explained to His disciples within the household and family of His Church.

You cannot receive, believe, or hang onto the Word of Christ except by faith.  And yet, such faith comes only by the hearing of His Word; it is not something you can choose or decide for yourself.

There is nothing you can do but listen to the preaching, and everything else must flow from that.  But consider how difficult and precarious it is to be a hearer of this Word.  Which is what it means, first and foremost, to become a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian: To hear and learn His Word.

If you wander off the road to the left or to the right — if you neglect the catechesis of His Word in the rhythm of your life at home and here within the Liturgy of His Church — then how quickly and easily the Word is snatched away from you, and you are lost.  And how sad and tragic it is, that the devil’s “birds” should be hungrier for the Word of God than you are!

Therefore, parents, understand how absolutely critical it is that you catechize your children with the Word of God and prayer in your home, and that you bring them to the Lord’s House, as well.  There is nothing more important that you do as a father or mother, than to give your children the Word of God and bring them to the Body of Christ.  To catechize them.  To share the Scriptures with them.  To pray with them.  To teach them what Baptism means.  To emulate the Christian faith and life by your example.  And to bring your children to church, week after week throughout the year, as surely as you feed and clothe them and care for their bodily needs every day.

It is in fact even more important that you care for your children with the Word of God than it is to meet the mundane needs of their bodies in this world.  Their eternal life in body and soul depends on the hearing of the Word of Christ, lest they be devoured by the devil.  If you have seen to it that your children (and grandchildren) have been baptized, it is equally essential that they continue to be catechized in all that Jesus has commanded.  His Baptism and His catechesis necessarily belong together.  And that is the case, not only for the little children, but for every disciple of Christ Jesus.  Whatever your age, you need the catechesis of His Word if you are to be and remain a Christian.

Without the Word of Christ, there is no life, there is no growth, there is no fruit, and there is no harvest.  It doesn’t matter what the soil is like.  If there’s no Seed, nothing happens.

But when the Seed of the Word of Christ is heard and received, it does bear fruit in abundance.  Fruit after its own kind.  Fruits of faith and love, like those of Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, borne upon the branches of His Cross.

So, then, where and what are the fruits of faith and love in your life?  What is the produce in your words and in your actions?  A hundred-fold?  Or sixty-fold?  Or thirty-fold?  Or anything at all?  Are you a Christian in name only, or in deed and in truth?

Perhaps you have been eager to begin with, full of zeal for the preaching of God’s Word.  But where has your enthusiasm gone?  And what has transpired in your faith and life?  When the Word of Christ has brought difficulties and hardships, have you clung to it, or have you given it up?  Or, if you have not suffered for the Word of Christ, why not?  Do you imagine that being a Christian and having faith are about feeling good and having a good time?  That is surely not the Word and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says that discipleship is to bear the Cross after Him.

Is it sometimes the case that even the hearing of the Word of Christ is a heavier burden than you are willing to bear?  To get out of bed and drive or drag yourself to church, or to gather your family back around the table and to pray?  You’re here this morning, Christ be praised!  Hang on to the Word that is preached to you by the gracious providence of God: In your head.  In your heart.  In your life and practice.  It is the most precious thing entrusted to you in this body and life on earth.

Do not be persuaded and driven about by the deceitfulness of riches (of whatever kind), as though worldly wealth were the real secret of success and satisfaction and security.  It’s not.

Chasing after wealth and riches will choke you.  Jesus says so.  It will kill you, and it will rob you of life, now and forever.  It’s all a big lie, anyway.  It’s a trick, nothing but smoke and mirrors, hiding a deadly and damnable deception.  The love of money is the root of all evil; not that it hurts God, but that your lust for wealth and riches hurts you, and it hurts the neighbor you are to love.

So don’t allow the money in your hand or in your pocket to control you, but receive it from the Lord and use it with thanksgiving to care for your family, your neighbors, and the Lord’s Church.

Do not let go of God’s Word for any amount of money. Rather, spare no expense at all to hear it.  And see to it that others are likewise able to hear God’s Word and the preaching of it.  That is the fundamental purpose of your offerings; that the Church on earth and the Ministry of the Gospel be supported, maintained, and extended, all for the preaching and hearing of God’s Word.

Refusing to hear and heed the Word of Christ, in favor of money or whatever else you may prefer, is a rejection of the Kingdom of God.  It is a rejection of His righteousness.  It is to say no to His life and salvation.  For all such idolatry and unbelief in your heart and life, repent.  Repent.

But how?  There is no power in you — there is no ability in you — there is no capacity or wisdom in you — to hear and comprehend the Word of God, which is your only hope and salvation.  You cannot believe it, you cannot keep it, and you cannot do it, not by any reason or strength in you.

The Seed has to be revealed to you, it has to be given to you, it has to produce its fruits in you — or else nothing!  Hear, then, the Parable.  It is not the parable of the soil, but of the Sower and His Sowing.  And in this case, the Sower is the Seed.  He it is, and He alone, who bears much fruit.

For He is the One who has not only come down from heaven and gone out to sow, but has made Himself nothing and willingly gone to the Cross and humbled Himself unto death.  As the Seed of God and the Seed of the Woman, He has planted Himself into the ground, in His death, in order to be raised up and bear abundant fruit — for you and for all.  In order to become the First Fruits of the New Creation, and the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn of many brothers.

All the devil’s temptations He has suffered, and He has overcome them in steadfast faith and love.  He has gone without food rather than forego the Word of God.  In love for His Father, and in love for you and all people, He has gone to the Cross and died.  And in His Resurrection, He has given you new birth and new life through Holy Baptism.  By the means of that Holy Sacrament, and by its ongoing significance, He waters His crops generously with the life-giving Spirit of God.

You flourish and grow — and you do bear fruit, whether you realize it or not — by that Word and Spirit of God.  Because the Lord Jesus, who is both the Sower and the Seed, He has borne the burden of the Cross and the burning heat of the day, and He has endured to the end.

Far from succumbing to the weight and worries of the world, He has carried it all upon His back and shoulders.  He has borne it in His Body to the Cross for you and your salvation.

And rather than selling out to the deceitfulness of riches, He has made Himself poor in order that, by His poverty, you might become rich and inherit all the treasures of the Kingdom of God.

The thorns and thistles of Adam’s fall into sin have not been able to choke this planting of the Lord forever.  They have done their worst and brought Him to shame and death, but by His bloody Cross and Passion He has borne the fruits of the Tree of Life in His Resurrection from the dead.

Here, then, there is a harvest a hundred times over.  His Tree of the Cross thrives and bears life-giving fruit, even in the desert, even in the wilderness.  Here and now He feeds you from that Tree of Life.  And just as He is both the Sower and the Seed, so is He also the Harvest and the Meal.

Eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.  These fruits of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, bear fruit in you after their own kind: Fruits of the Spirit.  Fruits of faith and love.  Fruits of patience under persecution.  Fruits of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness for every wrong.  Thirty-fold.  Sixty-fold.  One-hundred-fold.  Seventy times seven.  Never stopping.

Do not make excuses for yourself.  But neither suppose that you will bear or produce anything on your own apart from Christ.  Apart from Him, you can do nothing.

Rather, as He has given you ears to hear, listen.  For He keeps on preaching to you in love.  And open your hands to receive His good gifts, which He freely pours out for you.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Hear and receive the Seed of the Sower, that is, the Word of Christ your Savior.

He is full of compassion and mercy.  He is slow to anger and full of great kindness.  He does not deal with you as your sins deserve, but He remembers the Covenant of His own flesh and blood.  His merciful goodness endures forever, and by His righteousness He forgives you all your sins.

The grass withers, and its flower fades, but this Word of the Lord abides — for you — and bears much fruit, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

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

09 July 2017

Where and When It Pleases God in Christ

What are you working for?  Think about it.  Seriously.  Some of you are working harder than others.  Probably all of you work harder on some days than on other days.  But all of you work hard at something.  What is it you are working for?

And what is it that you’re worried about?  What is it that weighs heavy on your heart and mind?

What are you looking to find?  What is it that you want?  What is it that you’re trying to achieve and accomplish?  Is it safety and security?  Peace of mind?  Rest and relaxation?  Or, finally, some kind of relief from all of your burdens of body, soul, and spirit?  A chance to live without fear?

But just think, how odd it is that you would drive yourself into the ground and work yourself to death, in hopes of finding rest.  And how often it is that, in your efforts to find peace, you agonize and worry about every step you take, every decision you make, and every potential outcome.

The fact of the matter is that real life, and real peace, and real rest are found only in God, your Creator, in His Word and Holy Spirit.  And all of this is given to you solely by His grace, by His divine charity; not by your works, but by the Word and work of His Gospel.  Thus do you receive His Life and His Salvation, and thus do you have peace and rest, by faith alone in Christ alone.

The Lord your God reveals Himself and His Christ, and He gives Life, not to proud, independent, self-sufficient adults, but to infants and toddlers.  To the little ones, who are so weak and helpless, who do not rely upon themselves because they can’t.  They must depend on others to do and provide everything for them; else they die.

It is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs.  It is to such as these — little children, babes in arms, infants even in the womb — it is to them that God reveals Himself in Christ Jesus.

And the Son reveals the Father to whom He wills.  Not to the man or woman who works and strives, worries and frets, but to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  He does so, where and when it pleases Him, solely by the Gospel of His Cross, by the preaching of forgiveness in His Name.

You do not have God on a chain or a leash.  He’s not at your beck and call.  Nor is He within your grip or in your back pocket.  He gives Himself to you by grace.  You cannot choose Him or take Him for yourself.  You cannot even accept Him by any savvy, strength, or strategy of your own.

It’s not that you’re not trying hard enough.  It’s not that you’re not strong enough or smart enough.  All your trying, all your strength, and all of your smarts get in the way.  Whatever you attempt to do by your own power is not only incapable of achieving life with God; it is counter productive.

Apart from faith (which is itself God’s gracious gift), all of your best efforts, all of your righteous deeds, and all of your good intentions are sinful and unclean.  They drive you that much further from God.  They do not bring you peace but anxiety, even despair.  They do not give you rest but weariness and exhaustion, both mentally and physically.  They do not bring you life but death.

Did you not hear what Jesus said?  The Father hides Himself from all manner of self-righteousness.  He hides Himself from those who try to seek Him by their own wisdom, reason, or strength.  He will not be known except by His own grace.  He does not want you to work your way to Him — as if you even could!  He will not have it.  If you make the attempt, you’ll be playing hide-n-seek with One who cannot be found (though you will not be able to hide from Him in the Judgment).

God hides Himself from every kind of self-righteousness, including your own.  It may seem easy enough to pick on those who teach that man is justified by his good works or that he might earn or even purchase an indulgence for his sins.  But you’ll not save yourself, either, by pointing out the errors in your neighbor’s confession, faith, and life.  Rather be concerned about yourself and your own ways and means of self-righteousness.  Examine your heart, mind, and life; and repent.

Confessing the doctrine of the Apostles and living within the fellowship of the Church are essential to your faith and life with God; for it is among those who hear and receive the Gospel that Christ reveals Himself and His Father and pours out His Holy Spirit.  But are you living by such faith in the Gospel of your Lord?  Or do you imagine that you have done Him a favor by going to church and giving up some of “your time” to let His Word pass over you, in one ear and out the other?

How is it that you live from Sunday to Sunday?  When you get up in the morning, how do you go about your day?  That’s how you know where your faith and trust really are, whether you are living by your own works and your own worries, or by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

How do you spend most of your time?  What is it that occupies your thoughts?  Where and how do you expend your energy?  That tells you where your god is to be found, and what your god is.

Where is it, and how is it, that you invest or spend your money?  Your treasures and your talents?  Your riches of whatever kind?  Where and how do you invest yourself?  And to what end?   Are you striving to make a life for yourself, in which no one tells you what to do, but you make your own rules, you pursue your own desires, and you reign as lord and god of your own kingdom?

Repent.  You will not find what you really need by any of your schemes and selfish machinations.  You will not find the one true God that way.  You will not find life in His Kingdom by following your heart, sticking to your guns, or looking out for yourself, as though you were number one.  And you’ll never find peace or rest like that.  Not by your intelligence, knowledge, or academic achievement.  Not by your hard work, and certainly not by wringing your hands in anxiety.  Nor even by your religious piety.  You won’t get yourself into heaven by going to church or doing what a Christian should do (though you will be in the right place and better off than those who don’t).

None of your own efforts will do the trick.  The harder that you try to make it work that way, the further away and the more elusive the Lord and His Life and the Kingdom of heaven will be.  Because the problem is not that you’re not trying hard enough.  The problem is that you’re trying at all.  You’re trying to do and accomplish what you are not called or able to do.  Stop.  Repent.

Everything that you need for life with God — for which you were created by God in love — it is all given to you freely.  It is entirely by grace.  It is the gift of God, to the glory of His holy Name.

It is all given to you in the Cross of Christ.  And there’s the real irony.  There’s the conundrum.  “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says.  And then, “If you would be My disciple, take up the Cross and follow Me.”  Get nailed to the Cross, and die.  But is that easy?  Is that light?

It is only by the Cross that you have Life and Peace and Rest.  But the Cross does not feel like an easy burden or a light yoke.  The Cross feels hard, and heavy, and burdensome, and as though it were going to crush and destroy you utterly.  The Cross confronts your old man as far harder than all of your hard work and best efforts.  Which is why you deceive yourself, and the devil delights to deceive you, so that you despise the Cross of Christ and pursue your own passions instead.

The fact is, you cannot bear His yoke unless you learn from Christ to bear it by faith in His Word and promises.  It is by faith alone, and not by works at all, because the Cross puts to death and buries all that you are, your ego and your pride, your savvy and your strength, your wisdom and intelligence, and all of your achievements and self-righteousness.  The Cross puts all that to death, so that you might be reborn as a little child of God, and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.

So, then, learn from Him.  Disciple of Jesus, follow Him.  Watch how He lives.  Listen to what He says.  He teaches you because He loves you.  Learn from Him to bear the Cross in faith and love, in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.  Learn humility before God, as Christ humbled Himself and became obedient unto death; and learn to be humble and kind toward your neighbor.

And learn to love your neighbor in the way that Christ loves you, who had nothing to gain for Himself, but He gave up everything for your sake.  He bore the Cross for you, and He bore all of your burdens, all your griefs and sorrows, all your iniquities and sins, and all the sins of others against you, in His own Body on the Cross, in order to save you for life with His God and Father.

So does He also come to you now; and it is by His coming to you, that He enables you to come to Him in faith.  That is the point in the Word He speaks to you this morning, His gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  That is not a command, a word of the law to burden and accuse you.  It is a precious promise of the Gospel to strengthen and sustain your faith against the lies of the devil, and against all the doubts and despair of your own sinful heart.  You come at His Word, not as though you are worthy, nor as though to earn and achieve something from Him, but because He has called you and welcomed you to Himself.

It is His good and gracious will that you should have peace and rest and life in Him.  That’s what He wants!  His desire is that you have life with God in body and soul; that you know His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him.  He has reconciled you to God by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  And He has made you His beloved child by your Baptism.

Come to Him, then, and take His yoke upon you.  Not by working, but by receiving what He gives.

Are you weary?  He gives you rest, because He has worked for you.  Are you anxious?  Are you afraid?  He gives you peace, because He has borne your burdens, all your fears and frustrations, all your anxieties and stress.  And He has done all things well.  He has made everything right.

Don’t quit your job.  Don’t stop working.  Don’t abandon your stations in life.  The rest that is yours in Christ is not a permanent vacation or a neverending party.  It does not mean that you’re now free to stay in bed all day, or that you’re at liberty to fritter away your time and energy in pursuit of false gods and idolatry.  It rather means that you now go about your work and do your job as one who lives in Christ.  You rest in Him by faith in His Gospel.  You have peace with God in Him, even as you labor and sweat to love and serve your family, friends, and neighbors.  You do not work to save yourself, as though your life depended on it, but because life and salvation and all good things are yours in Christ.  Thus are you free to live your life in love for God and man.

If you are a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, then you have such peace and rest, and you are able to love as you are loved.  For right here and now, by the Ministry of His Gospel, He gives Himself to you.  He not only reveals Himself, but He gives Himself to you.  Into your ears, and into your mouth, into your heart, and into your body and life.  He gathers you to Himself, in much the way that Kelvin, Nicholai, and Nathaniel will take their newborn infants into their arms, and hold them with tender love, and protect them with the strength that God provides, in the months ahead.

Your dear Lord Jesus welcomes and receives you as a little child, a babe in arms.  And He gently schools you in the way of life.  He teaches you to live, and how to live, by giving you Himself and His Life.  He saves you from yourself and from all your good intentions.  He saves you from your wretched thoughts, your divided heart, and your body of death, by revealing His Father to you, by pouring out His Spirit upon you, and by giving you His own holy Body and precious Blood.

He washes you with His Word of the Gospel; He clothes you with His own Righteousness and Holiness, His Innocence and Blessedness; and He feeds you like a baby at your mother’s breast.

Don’t try harder to work for any of this.  But do come and rest yourself here in the Liturgy of the Lord.  Taste and see that He is good.  For all things in heaven and on earth have been handed over to Christ Jesus by the Father, and here He hands them over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Eat, drink, and be at Peace, and find your Sabbath Rest here in the Body of Christ, given for you.

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

02 July 2017

Not Peaceful Coexistence, But a Sword that Divides

Over the past few weeks, you have heard how the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles to make disciples of all nations, beginning from Jerusalem and Judea, and proceeding, through the ages, to the ends of the earth.  He sent them to preach repentance and forgiveness in His Name, to catechize and baptize with His Word, and to bear His Holy Cross as those who follow Him are also called to do.  To be a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is to hear and heed His Word, to learn from His teaching and example, to live by faith in His promises, and to live in love according to His Commandments.

He is certainly not unaware of the challenges and difficulties confronting His servants on earth, His ministers and His disciples.  Nor is it simply that He has known and warned you ahead of time.  But He Himself has borne the Cross and suffered hardship, grief, and pain on your behalf.

It is simply a fact that, if you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, then you will have tribulation in the world, and you will bear His Cross:  Not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.

It is a hard Word that Jesus speaks, by way of example, concerning your household and family; that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin.  Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents, spouse, or children; but as I said last week, you are to love them according to the Word of Christ, in deference to Him.  That can be painful at times, as you navigate prickly feelings; as you admonish adult children to repent and to be faithful; and as you deal with the anxiety of relatives who belong to different churches, or with the anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether.  Then there are those thorny issues, such as living together outside of marriage (fornication), various re-definitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (the murder of the unborn).

It is so tempting and so easy to compromise, to capitulate or to keep silent, instead of standing up and speaking up for what is good and right and true.  It is hard to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to love your neighbors as yourself; and to forgive those who sin against you, especially when you are at odds over these matters of faith and life with the members of your own family.

But it gets worse.  While the Cross that is laid upon your family and your relationships is difficult and often painful, there is an even deeper and more demanding challenge that confronts you.  For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword, which cuts you to the quick within yourself, even between your bones and your marrow.  It divides you from your fallen flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul, and spirit.  It is really more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarian’s broadsword.  For Jesus does not just hack away at you; He goes for the jugular, and He addresses the heart of the matter.  His Word is piercing, cutting you to the core.

So what the Lord Jesus is doing in this Gospel is preaching the first and greatest  Commandment, the number one Law, namely, that you are to have no other gods before Him.  None whatsoever.

It is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus thus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father.  And it is all the more pointed and poignant in view of His Incarnation, His Humiliation, His Holy Cross and Passion.  For all of your fear, love, and trust, your total allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, and your entire life, all belong to this Crucified God.  You are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find yourself in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own.

This Commandment brings the entire Law into focus, and it thus exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and rubs it in to makes it that much worse.  It makes your sin utterly sinful.  For it brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ, but also your covetous lust, greed, and selfishness for all manner of false gods and idols, by which you are trying to find your life on earth.

The Commandment of the Lord thus puts you to death; and to be clear, it cannot bring you to life.  Not because it is bad.  Far from it!  The Law of God is good and wise, holy and just.  But it cannot give you life, because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul, and spirit.  It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery.  For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true and rightful Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the only true God.

By your idolatry and unbelief, by your neglect of what you are called and commanded to do, and by your disobedience and outright rebellion, you have forsaken your marriage to the Lord Jesus, and you have married yourself to sin and death.  And for all of this, the Law condemn you to die.

It is at that painful point that you begin to realize the purpose for that Sword which Jesus brings.  For in cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from all of your adulterous idols, beginning with your self.  In this way He engages an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, whereby you lose your life and everything else in this perishing world.

But of course that is not yet the end of the story.  Your true and heavenly Bridegroom is not after vengeance; He seeks reconciliation.  He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true, divine, eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.

He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He desires that you have life in Him.  To that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death within Himself, within His Body of flesh and blood.

Ironically, His suffering of this judgment and condemnation of the Law against your sins is also His fulfillment and perfection of the entire Law.  That is to say, He suffers and dies with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father, for you, and for all of His neighbors from the beginning to the end of the world.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Love of the one true God, who bears your sins to atone for you by His blood; who dies your death to set you free from death.

The Law is thus wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  And to be sure, His faith and love are not for nothing.  His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted.  For the One who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.

And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, in order to redeem you from the bondage of your idolatry and unbelief, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.

So the Life of Christ is truly yours, now and forever.  Even now, in the midst of death, it is yours.

To be sure, He does not bring or promise peace on earth, not as the world understands peace and tries to find it via compromise.  The Lord’s bumper sticker is not “coexist” or “live and let live.”  But what He has done, at the cost of His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood, is to reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father.  Which is to say that God is at peace with you for Christ Jesus’ sake.  And you have peace with God in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is that peace with God — which the world neither knows nor could it ever give — it is that peace with God in Christ which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies.  Not by way of compromise, but with the courage of Christ and His forgiveness of sins.  Not in the fear of man, but in the fear of God, with which you also love and trust in Him.

The fact is, there will always be those who hate you in this body and life on earth.  Actually, most of the world will hate you for Christ Jesus’ sake, and it will do its best in countless ways to hurt you, even to kill you.  If it can manage nothing else, it will shame you and discredit you.  If that is not the case, then examine yourself and your life, and ask yourself whether you are living as a Christian, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether anyone would even be able to guess.

Repent of your unfaithfulness.  Be strong and courageous, and confess your Lord Jesus with your words and with your life, with your choices and decisions, with your priorities and activities.

Are you worried that, if you take your faith and confession of Christ seriously and allow His Word to shape your life, then the world will think poorly of you, and your neighbors will respond with animosity or ridicule?  Well, don’t worry.  They surely will.  You have the Lord’s Word on it!

But no one in the world can rob you of your life in Christ.  The world cannot destroy your peace with God.  Nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God.  For you are His beloved little one, and He shall preserve you and save you in Christ Jesus.  Has He not given you His Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism?  Yes, He has.

It is in His Name that He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word.  And if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus.

In the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself.  And in Him you hear and receive His own God and Father as your own.  And in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness; which is really to say that His Resurrection is also now yours, along with His Life Everlasting in body and soul.

It may seem strange to you (and to others) that your faith and life as a Christian disciple begins, not with your doing, but with the receiving of those whom He sends to you, and with the hearing of what they preach to you in His Name.  But so it does.  That is where your life in Christ begins.  And so does it continue to depend upon the hearing and receiving of the Gospel in His Name.

And from there, as you have received, so also give.  As you have heard, so also confess.  As you are a child of God in Christ Jesus, so live to the glory of His Name as a member of His family.

In particular, consider what this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.

Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you.  This is the household and family of your God and Father.  This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom.  These people around you, who are catechized and baptized in the Name of the same Lord, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are children of the same Father.  Some of them are your fathers and mothers in the faith; others are your sons and daughters in Christ.  Together, they are your family, not for this life only, but for the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting, forever and ever, amen.

Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another.  Care for one another.  Forgive each other.  And serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides.  If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty.  And if you have more, do more with it.

Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus.  For His Word does not divide His Church but unites her with Himself, as one Body and Bride in Him, in that Peace which surpasses human understanding, which the world cannot give, but which is yours by His forgiveness of sins.  For He was divided in His sacrificial death, His blood from His flesh, His soul from His body, that you should be made whole in His Resurrection.

Here then, by His grace within His Church, whatever has been broken is repaired.  Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love.  Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection.  He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world attempts to fabricate, but perfect Peace with God in heaven, true Peace with Himself in the newness of the Holy Spirit, and authentic peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.

And for you, His beloved disciple, He pours out His Cup of Salvation, the New Testament in His Blood; so that you do not lose His Reward, but by His Cross you enter into heaven with Him.

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

28 June 2017

Built on This Rock, The Church Doth Stand

Lutherans have sadly sometimes erred in robbing St. Peter in order to give St. Paul his due.  But the Church, in her God-given wisdom, has chosen to remember and give thanks for these two great Apostles on the same festival day.  And if St. Paul shall be the champion of Justification by grace alone through faith alone, then St. Peter shall be the principle example that “such faith” is not the one thing left that you must do for yourself.  To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not of yourself, but God has instituted the apostolic Office of Preaching and the Sacraments, by which He obtains faith where and when He pleases in those who receive this Ministry of His Gospel.

And in all of this, at all times and in all places, it is all about Jesus.  Everything, everything, everything depends on Him.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no Church; there is no Gospel; there is no faith, no forgiveness of sins, no life or salvation.  Apart from this only Son of the Living God, there is no Father and no Holy Spirit; no heaven, no earth, nor anything else.

So, what you need — in the deepest, most profound and significant way — is Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.  This your song must ever be, the faith in your heart, and the confession on your lips: That He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who became flesh and bore your sins in His own Body to the Cross.  That He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  That there is salvation in no one else, in no other Name in heaven or on earth.

There are those who thus conclude that celebrating the memory of the saints and Apostles detracts from this faith and confession of Jesus the Christ.  And some have likewise gone so far as to suggest or imply that even the institution of the Church on earth and the pastoral office are somehow a distraction from the one and only thing that really matters.  As though the Lord Jesus Christ were accessible to you apart from the preaching of His Word and His Holy Sacraments.

Perhaps you have adopted the same false thinking and fallen into your own version of the same error, by supposing that you can live and get along just fine without God’s Word and the preaching of it, without returning every day to the significance of your Holy Baptism, without confessing your sins and seeking Holy Absolution from your pastor as from Christ Himself, and without the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus on any given Sunday.  After all, you may say, at least you “love” Jesus, and you “believe” in Him, and that’s all that really matters.  Right?

But how could it be that you claim to love Jesus, and yet not long to hear what He says to you?  And what does it mean to say that you believe in Him, if you are not clinging for dear life to His Word of forgiveness, and if you are not living in the way that He has called you and commanded you to live in the confidence of His promises?  Just who is this “Jesus,” whom you claim to love and trust, if you imagine that you are able to have the Son of God apart from His flesh and blood?

It should come as no surprise, in such a case, that you do not speak the Gospel to others; that you do not serve your neighbor as you should with deeds of love and real charity; that you do not forgive those who trespass against you; and that you rarely bring anyone to Church.  Not when you have fabricated for yourself a disembodied “Jesus,” neither God nor man, who never says or does anything, but who is simply tucked away as a warm fuzzy in your own self-centered heart.

Repent of your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Lord.  For the Son of Man, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, He is not as you imagine.  Even the guesses of the people then, that He was John the Baptist or one of the Prophets, were closer to the truth than your fairy tales.  But none of these are sufficient, either.  If you would be saved, you will need a far different Jesus than that.

Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ, conceived and born of St. Mary, is the personal Word of God the Father from all eternity, who has become Flesh for you and your salvation.  The Word of God, who is the Word-made-Flesh, that is Who and What your Savior is.  And so it is that He is near you, in your ears and in your heart, in your mouth, and in your life, by the preaching of His Word, and by the administration of His Body and His Blood, crucified and risen, given and poured out.

It is for this purpose, that you should thus be rescued from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and saved for eternal life with God in body and soul, that the one Lord, Jesus Christ, called, ordained, and sent St. Peter and the other Apostles, including St. Paul, to preach repentance in His Name unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, to catechize and baptize disciples across the nations, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, and to administer His Holy Supper in remembrance of Him.  For it is by these ways and means of His Gospel that the Son of God is with you and saves you.

There is no Church, because there is no Gospel, because there is no Jesus Christ — not for you at least — except by this preaching and administration of His Word and Flesh.  As St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Church at Rome: How shall they believe in One whom they have not heard, since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, unless they are sent?

It is in this sense that St. Peter is the Rock, as the Lord Jesus declares in this familiar Holy Gospel.  Not by any merit or virtue of his own person or his personal faith, which was wobbly at times.  But specifically as a Confessor of Christ, which is to say, as a Minister of His Word, and as the first of those twelve holy Apostles who were called and sent to preach the Gospel in His Name.

So long as we bear in mind that Christ Himself, and He alone, is the Builder of His Church; and so long as we do not forget that the Church which He builds is His Church — it does not belong to Peter, to the pastors, or to the people, but to Christ — then we shall not take offense that Christ has chosen St. Peter and the other Apostles to be the Rock-foundation of His Church on earth.  As St. Paul writes, Christ Himself is the Cornerstone.  He gives strength and shape and stability to the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets; and through them, that is, through their Ministry of the Word, Christ Jesus Himself is at work to establish, to build, and to uphold His Church.

The most central and characteristic aspect of this Holy Ministry is the preaching and practice of the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  Thus, when Jesus the Christ addresses Simon Peter as a Minister of His Gospel, and when He describes the Rock-Foundation of this apostolic Ministry for His Church on earth, He focuses upon the Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution.  Everything in His Church is so arranged for the forgiveness of sins.

Those who attempt to define and describe the Church apart from this Ministry of the Gospel and the Office of the Keys — who move the forgiveness of sins from the center to the periphery — invariably return to the legalism of the Pharisees, misunderstanding the Christian faith and life primarily in terms of the Law instead of the Gospel.  When the Word and work of Christ Jesus, His Body and His Blood, His free and full forgiveness of sins, His Life and Salvation, are set aside or marginalized, then the house is built upon the sand, and it cannot help but fall into great ruin.

Such were the false confessions that St. Paul, in particular, had to preach and teach against.  So, as I have said, where St. Peter is the Apostle who embodies especially the Ministry of the Holy Gospel as the Word and work of Christ Jesus, St. Paul is the Apostle who exemplifies the Life that is lived by grace through faith in the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, it is not a lazy or lethargic life, not in the home, nor in the world, nor in the church.  It is a busy and active life that never ceases to praise God and care for the neighbor, to bear the Cross and sacrifice in faith, hope, and love, in prayer and thanksgiving.  But it is all of that, and you also live that life in Christ, because it does not rely upon your own reason or strength, but it returns daily to Holy Baptism, depends upon the Word of Holy Absolution, and feasts upon the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.

It is a robust and vigorous life that you live in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in His free and full forgiveness.  For by His death, He has destroyed death; and by His rising again, He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized in His Name.  His holy and precious Blood cleanses you of all your sins, within and without, and His own Flesh strengthens and preserves your body and soul in His Life and Salvation.  So it is that, safe within His Body, within His Holy Apostolic Church, the gates of hades shall never prevail against you.  Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally, so shall you rise and live in Him.

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

25 June 2017

That You May Be His Own

If you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that He bore your sins in His Body to the Cross, and that He was put to death for your transgressions; and if you believe that God the Father raised Him from the dead for your justification, then confess with your mouth and with your life that this same Jesus is your Savior and your God.

In all that you say and all that you do, let it be known before men that you belong to Him who paid for you with His holy and precious blood.  Hear and heed His holy Word, and live by that Word.

For you are called to be and to live as His disciple.  Which means that you follow Him and listen to His teaching, and that you also learn from His example and His life.  You are His apprentice, and from Him you learn how to live, and how to die, to the glory of His holy Name.

So also, find your true home and your true family in His Church.  Understand that your identity, and your entire place and purpose in life, are found within the Body of Christ, His holy Church.

When Jesus speaks of the divisions that will come within families, He certainly does not advocate animosity for its own sake.  You should not seek to be at odds with your spouse, your children, or your parents.  But neither should you serve and accommodate any of them at the cost of your faith, at the expense of your confession, or in any way that would compromise the Word of Christ.

Your allegiance belongs to Him.  And anyone who loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Christ, is not worthy to be His disciple, and will not enter the Kingdom of God.  You are to love and serve your family, of course, in accordance with the Word of God, and so also in the fear of the Lord, in the faith and worship of Christ above everything else.  But it is blasphemous idolatry to put your parents, spouse, or children ahead of Him.  Wherever you are doing so, repent.

Do not love anyone more than you love Jesus.  I’m not talking about your feelings and emotions, but about your words and actions, your commitments and priorities.  Do not be afraid to count the cost and bear the consequences of following the Lord.  Do not be afraid of what others may think or say or do to you.  And do not fear what may become of you.  But fear, love, and trust in God.  And finding your life in Christ Jesus, so live as a slave unto righteousness in Him.

Now, St. Paul carefully explains that, when he speaks of this slavery to righteousness, this slavery to Christ, he is speaking with human terms.  It means that you belong to Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you for Himself.  Not with gold or silver, as you know, but with His own Body and Life, with His own Flesh and Blood; that you should be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Thus it is that your true value and worth are indicated by what the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for you.

But, in fact, you are a slave to whatever you obey.  You are a slave to whatever master you follow, whether the Lord or your own fallen flesh.  And if you are a slave to sin, then you do the works of unrighteousness, which lead to death.  But if you are a slave to Christ, that is to say, by His grace, through faith in Him, you do the works of righteousness and life to the glory of His Name.

So, then, do not live as a slave to sin and death.  Nor suppose that your sins are harmless or okay.  If you live as a slave to sin, then you belong to sin, and you are subject to death, both now and forever.  For the wages of sin is death, as Holy Scripture plainly says.

Live instead as one who has died and risen with Christ, as dead to the world and alive to God.  For if you are a Christian, that is precisely who and what you are.  That is what God has accomplished in you by His Word and in your Holy Baptism.  You have been crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus.  So are you also raised to newness of life in and with Him.  Live, therefore, according to His Word, in the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, as a member of His Body.

It is a matter of confessing what you have heard and received from the Lord Jesus Christ.  As you have been called and brought to faith and life by His Word of the Gospel, so confess that Word of His Gospel with your words and actions.  In that way you glorify God and serve your neighbor.

As it is not only your soul but also your body that has been redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, and cleansed in the waters of His Holy Baptism, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and saved for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting, confess your Lord in and with your body.

Day in and day out — week by week throughout the year, throughout your life, from childhood into old age — work not for your own benefit, but work to serve your neighbor within the office and station in life to which the Lord has called you.  That is where He wills you to work in love for your neighbor, to live and serve according to His Word, as Christ also lives in love for you.

You need not wonder where or how you are to live.  Your job and duties may be tedious and boring.  They may be difficult and thankless.  They may get no attention or acknowledgment, even from those whom you serve.  Nevertheless, it is to such work that your own dear Father in heaven has called you in His Son.  He is well aware of you and your labor.  He sees and knows what you are about.  And He is pleased by your faithfulness.  Your faith and love in Christ are not in vain.

It is certain that you will not atone for your sins or justify yourself before God by your good works.  That is not the point or purpose of His Commandments or the duties He has given you to do.  But by your labors of faith and love, according to the Word of the Lord, within your office and station in life, you do confess your Lord Jesus Christ and glorify your Father in heaven.  That is the point.

Therefore, do not be lazy, slack, or cavalier in regards to the life that you are called to live as a Christian in the righteousness which is by faith in Christ.  Take that calling as seriously as the Cross and Passion of your Lord, and live it boldly in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

By the same token, flee immorality.  That’s not just advice.  That, too, is the Word of the Lord.  Do not give your body over to lust of any kind, whether for your neighbor’s wife, or for pictures in a magazine or on your computer, or for money, or food, or position and prestige.  Covetousness is the root of all temptation, which conceives and gives birth to sin, which matures fully into death.

Therefore, do not live according to the lusts of your flesh, but turn around and run the other way.  And pray without ceasing that God would strengthen and sustain you in the faith, to do not what is deadly but what is good and right and acceptable according to His Word.

Do not live as though you were still dead in your trespasses and sin.  Do not continue in your evil deeds as though you still belonged to them, as though sin and death were your lord and master.  Do not go about your days and your deeds in this body and life on earth as though you were nothing more than a mass of decaying flesh, instead of the very temple of the Holy Spirit, a living being of body and soul, in whom Christ Jesus lives and abides by His grace.  Do not deny His Resurrection, nor disavow the Kingdom of your God and Father, as though it were a fantasy.

Remember that you are the Lord’s, His own precious possession, His child and heir.  Not only are you His creature, but all that you are, and all that you have, has been bought and paid for by Christ Himself, at the cost of His own Body and Life, by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  You belong to Him in life, in death, and in the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting.

For now, your life in Christ is hidden under His Cross.  You cannot see it, except through a glass darkly.  For He lives and dwells in thick darkness, in the midst of sin and death.  So you do not see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life with your mortal eyes or in your mortal flesh.  It is revealed to you only in His Word.  But even that can sound like such a soft and subtle whisper in your ear, which the wild world threatens to drown out with all its noisy chaos and confusion.

What, then, do you experience?  Fightings and fears within and without, and the war that rages in your members, in your body of death.  You find yourself returning to the slavery of sin, day after day, over and over again, even when you know better and desire to do better.

You are too easily persuaded by the sinful world around you, by the devil, and by your own sinful flesh.  And you are too sluggish to follow Christ, to live as He lives, to do as He has called you.

But now, do not despair, and do not be afraid.  Rather, repent of your sins each day, and bear the fruits of repentance.  Trust Christ, and live according to His Word, by faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  For you are called to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus, your Teacher.  Which is to say that you must continue to be instructed by Him, to be catechized by His Word and the preaching of it.

To be a disciple, which is to be a Christian, is to be a lifelong student of Christ Jesus.  It is to be a slave of this one Master.  For you are not above Him, but you are called to be like Him.  Listen to what He says.  Let His Word have its way with you, instead of insisting on your own way.

Hear and heed His Word of the Law, which reveals His good and acceptable Will.  For it is neither safe, nor godly, nor okay, to ignore or disobey the Lord’s Commandments.

But together with His Law, hear also His Word of the Gospel.  For what He teaches and reveals in His Law, He has accomplished and fulfilled for you and for all in His own Body and Life, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, in holy faith and perfect love.

God’s Law accuses and condemns you because you are a sinner.  But God’s Law also sets before you a picture of Christ, who has lived as the true Man in perfect faith toward His God and Father and in perfect love for His Father and for all of His neighbors, including you.

He does not rob you.  He does not take your life.  He is not unfaithful in His promises to you, nor does He cast you aside for your unfaithfulness.  He does not speak against you.  He testifies on your behalf.  He declares you righteous for His own sake, with His own perfect Righteousness.  He gives you His own life, at His own expense, and with that He gives you all good things.

When He preaches His Law to you, it’s not because He’s already done His part and now it’s your turn to carry the weight for awhile.  He preaches His Law, as He does all things, that He might call you to Himself in peace.  That He might turn you away from sin and death and back to Himself.  That He might gather you to Himself and embrace you with His love, and bring you to the Father.

So it is that His Word of the Gospel does not command you but forgives you.  It rescues you from death.  And it brings you to life with God.  Because Christ has become your Righteousness, and Christ has become your Holiness.  His Cross and  Resurrection have reconciled you to God the Father.  His Word of the Gospel thus lays hold of you in love and brings you into safety forever.

Whatever sins have dwelt in your heart and mind, and whatever sins you have committed with your body, Christ forgives you by and with His Word of the Gospel.  And by this same Word He brings you into the presence of God, cleansed and holy, pleasing and acceptable to your Father in heaven.

Hear also how He confesses you before both God and man.  Hear how Jesus confesses you in the presence of heaven and earth.  He proclaims you to be His own.  He forgives you all of your sins.  And He feeds you with His own Body and Blood, the Ransom with which He has redeemed you.

The Son of Man comes to you here and now.  He comes to you in love, who has given Himself for you on the Cross, and who has been raised for your justification.  He has opened heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  For Christ endures to the end.  And Lo, He is with you always, even to the close of the age, and unto the life everlasting.

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

18 June 2017

The Compassion of the Good Shepherd

The Lord Jesus comes to you with divine compassion.  It is that which moves Him toward you, in order to help you, to heal you, and to give you life.  And all of this He does and accomplishes for you by the way and means of His Word, especially by the preaching of His Gospel.

Without this preaching of Christ Jesus, you remain lost and helpless, troubled and tossed about, a sheep without a shepherd, subject to every predator that comes along seeking to destroy you.

It is the case, therefore, that you do need the preaching of the Gospel above and beyond everything else in this body and life, irrespective of your health or wealth or position.

Your Father in heaven can and surely will take care of your temporal bodily needs.  He daily and richly provides you with a place to live, with clothes to wear, and with food and drink.  The fact that you worry and fret, and work and agonize over these earthly concerns, as though it were up to you or within your power to provide them for yourself, goes to show just how deeply your sinful heart is ensnared by idolatry and unbelief.  You do not trust the Lord your God to do for you as He has promised, but you trust and rely upon yourself and the powers that be in this dying world.

But what you really need, if you are going to live — if you would abide as a child of God and have a home with Him forever in His Kingdom; if you would not be found naked and ashamed, but clothed and righteous and holy — what you need is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

So it is, then, because He loves you with divine and holy love, that with divine compassion Jesus calls and sends some of His disciples to be the ministers of His Gospel.  He sends them with His own authority, as you heard Him indicate last Sunday, in order to deal with you in His Name and bestow His Spirit upon you, by speaking to you as He speaks, and by doing for you as He does.

And those men whom Jesus sends, even to the close of the age, they preach and teach, they cast out demons, they heal diseases, and they raise the dead.  Not for this body and life, but for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of body and soul in the Kingdom of His Father.

The authority with which Christ Jesus sends His servants is the authority of His Gospel — that of His Cross and Resurrection.  It is the authority to forgive sins and thus to bestow life.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation; but without forgiveness, there is only death.

In and with the preaching of this Gospel of forgiveness, the Kingdom is at hand.  Indeed, it is here for you, right here, right now, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is freely given to be freely received in repentant faith, which is the only way that you or anyone receives it worthily.  That person is truly worthy who believes the Word of Christ, which does not depend on you at all, but only on Him.

Those who receive the preaching of His Gospel in faith, receive the blessing of His divine Peace, such as the world can never give and you could never have apart from His Cross and Resurrection.

This preaching of the Gospel is your best and only hope.  Apart from it, you will die forever.  To reject it is more dangerous and damnable than the perverse wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You are right to be concerned about the sexual immorality that is increasingly rampant throughout our country and modern culture.  And you should be even more concerned to repent and to flee from your own lustful thoughts, words, and actions.  Resist and avoid such temptations, and seek help for your addictions. But for all of that, do not underestimate the even greater danger to be found in the despising of God’s Word and in the refusal to hear and heed the preaching of Christ.  Rather, recognize the connection between such hardness of heart and the perversity of your sins.

The more you are invested in your own desires of the flesh, in your own passions and pursuits, and in the spending or stockpiling of what you regard as your own wealth, the less time, attention, and space you allow for the Word and works of God, by which alone you will ever and forever live.

But now, seek out, prioritize, and give your attention to the preaching and teaching of your pastors, whom your Lord Jesus Christ, the great Good Shepherd of the sheep, sends to you in His mercy.

When the called and ordained servants of His Word come to you and speak to you in His Name and stead, by His divine command and with His divine authority, you are presented with the most decisive choice you could ever be given.  Not just a matter of life and death, but of heaven or hell.

Nor does turning your back, neglecting, or ignoring this preaching of Christ get you off the hook; for that is simply the most passive aggressive and typical way of despising the Word of the Lord.

But when a preacher of the Gospel is rejected, and his preaching of the Word of Christ is refused, it is the Lord Christ Himself, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of heaven, which are thus rejected and refused.  Not to the detriment of God, who needs nothing from you and is not out to get something from you, but to the tragic loss of all who will not hear Him.

When the preacher of the Gospel is driven out and shakes the dust of that place from his feet, it is entered as evidence for the final judgment.  What that place deserves is eternal fire and brimstone.

Even so, what the preachers of the Gospel suffer for the sake of Christ and in His Name, is itself a confession, a witness, and a proclamation of the Gospel of His Cross.

Whereas without the Word you are a sheep without a shepherd, the shepherds who are sent to care for you, to feed and protect you, are sent to become sheep in the midst of wolves.  Just as the great Good Shepherd of the entire flock has become the Sheep led to the slaughter, the Passover Lamb of God who lays down His body and life and sacrifices Himself; who sheds His holy and precious blood for the atonement of His people and for the propitiation of the sins of the whole world.

He is the first One to be handed over and scourged.  He is also hauled before governors and kings.  He is mocked and scorned and put to death upon the Cross.  And all this pain and grief that Jesus endures — His holy Cross and Passion — that is the source and substance of the Holy Gospel, to the ends of the earth and even to the close of the age.  All so that the lost sheep of every tribe and tongue and nation might be restored, through the preaching of this Gospel, to the true House of Israel, which is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Body and His Bride — which is indeed the very Kingdom of heaven, even here and now in the midst of suffering, sorrow, sin, and death.

It is to and for this great salvation that divine compassion moves Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God: unto death for you and all people.  For those who reject or receive Him, He does it, that one and all may be redeemed and justified, and reconciled and sanctified.  Not by gold or silver, but by and with His own blood, shed for you and all upon the Cross, and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, here at His Altar in the Holy Communion.

Bear in mind and take to heart, therefore, that as this precious Blood of Christ is far more precious than gold or silver, cash or credit, or anything that money can buy, so ought you prioritize and prize the New Testament in His Blood, the Cup of His Salvation, and the priceless Gift of His Holy Body, far and away beyond the wealth of this perishing world.

Not that you should despise the good gifts of God’s creation in this body and life, which He showers upon you in grace, mercy, and peace.  But do understand that these are His gifts and not your due; they are given to be received in thanksgiving, to be sanctified by His Word and prayer.

Whatever your occupation, and whatever treasures of this earth the Lord may entrust for a time to your stewardship, it is all to be turned toward the purpose of receiving, supporting, and extending His Kingdom through the Ministry of His Gospel.  By your contributions to His Church on earth, and by compassion and tangible charity to your neighbors, including those who sin against you.

Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, celibate, married, or widowed, parent or child, you are as responsible for the gifts of God entrusted to you within your office and station in life, as were the Holy Apostles for the Ministry of the Gospel to which they were called, ordained, and sent.

But whether you do your part or not, whether you live and remain within His Kingdom or wander far and wide from His pastures, the Good Shepherd continues to send His preachers to preach in His Name and stead to all the nations of the earth.  So long as it is day, until that night comes when no man can work — until that great and terrible day of judgment comes — the Lord Jesus sends shepherds to His sheep.  To give freely what cannot be bought.  To bestow the gracious blessing of His Peace and rest.  To announce that His Kingdom is at hand in this preaching of His Word.

It is by this Ministry of the Gospel that Christ Jesus loves you, and cares for you, and provides for your eternal well-being.  Do not despise His compassion by closing your ears, turning your back, and hardening your heart against this preaching of His Gospel.  Where you have done so, repent.

His Gospel is true, whether you believe it or not; whether you receive it or reject it.  It is true, either way, without any contingencies.  It is what it is, with or without you.  But the Lord in His mercy, with deep, divine compassion, would have you receive it in faith.  His Gospel is for you.

Be certain of this: There will come a day of reckoning, also for you, as it once did for Sodom and Gomorrah.  So hasten while you can to be found in Christ Jesus, and be at peace with God in Him.  Hear and heed His Word of the Gospel while it is spoken to you.  Receive it worthily, and do not despise it, lest it be taken away.  Behold, now is the acceptable time.  Now is the day of salvation.

Jesus’ little lamb, beloved sheep, do not despair.  Your Shepherd sees you, and He loves you.  He does not leave you distressed and dispirited.  Here He is at hand to shelter you with His Cross and to nourish you with His own flesh and blood.  He has not cast you away nor taken His Spirit from you, but by His grace He counts you worthy to receive His Peace.  All of your sins are forgiven.

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

11 June 2017

Knowing the Holy Trinity in Holy Baptism

Throughout the Holy Scriptures, mountains are often the place where God comes to His people and reveals Himself to them.  In the Old Testament, God first came to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Horeb, “the Mountain of God.”  Later, He gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  And on Mount Zion He established His Temple.  In the New Testament, Jesus is frequently on a mountain, whether it be for prayer to His Father or preaching the Word of life to the people.  The Sermon on the Mount is one obvious example, and a few months ago we heard again about the Mountain of Transfiguration.  In each case, the mountain is the place where God reveals Himself to man.  And in every case, the God who reveals Himself on the mountain is the Holy Trinity.

Certainly, the Word of our Lord Jesus on the mountain this morning is the clearest revelation of the Holy Trinity, as He commissions the Apostles to baptize “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  But this one true God, who changes not — YHWH, the Creator of the heavens and the earth — He has always been the Holy Trinity.  And while this great Mystery cannot be comprehended with your intellect, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been the Object of all true faith and worship, from the foundation of the world, even to the close of the age.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is not simply a dogmatic fact; it is the essential reality of who God is and of all that He has done to give life and to love His good creation.  The Persons of the Trinity are not a matter of divine trivia, as though God might just as well have been some other way.  No, the Triune God — the one true God in three divine Persons — is the Fountain and Source of all life and salvation.  And each Person of the Holy Trinity is actively involved in this divine work.

The Father — who with fatherly, divine goodness and mercy made all things and still preserves them — loves the world, has had mercy upon us, and has given His only Son to die for us.

The Son, out of love for His Father, and out of His great love for you and for all people, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man; He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried, and has risen again.

And as you could not by your own reason or strength believe in this Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, the Holy Spirit unites you with the Son, makes you a child of the Father, and bestows on you the blessings of the Cross and Resurrection: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  This He does through the Church, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts of faith and love in the Liturgy, sanctifying you in the divine Life, and preserving you within the Body of Christ.

But the Mystery of the Holy Triune God is not an easy thing to understand or talk about.  If you try to make logical sense of it, you’ll likely end up with a headache.  It’s much easier to talk about Jesus.  And so it should be; for you do not know the Triune God except through Jesus Christ.

The Holy Triune God and His great salvation are revealed in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  And in Him, the smallest child understands the Trinity as well or better than the greatest theologian.

Of course, the Incarnation of the Son of God is a great Mystery, as well, on par with that of the Holy Trinity.  But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come to tabernacle with you in flesh and blood like yours, in such a way that you are able to receive Him and to rest yourself in Him.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He has bridged the gap between God and man within His own Body, in His perfect life, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  His own Body, crucified and risen, is the Mountain of God, that is, the Place where God and Man have come together perfectly and forever.

The question, then, is where shall you go to find Jesus.  And the answer is given in this Gospel.  For just as Jesus designated the mountain where He would meet the disciples then, so has He indicated the ways and means by which He comes to you and reveals and gives Himself to you.  He has given you His Word in the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles.  And He has attached His Gospel–Word and promises to the waters of Holy Baptism and to the bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  And as the Father has sent Him, so does Christ send His ministers of the Gospel to speak His Word and work His works with His authority in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this Ministry of the Word, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Holy Sacraments, you hear and receive Christ Himself, according to His promise to those whom He sends: “He who hears you, hears Me; and he who receives you, receives Me.”  By the Word of Christ Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, who is actively present and at work in the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, you are reconciled to God the Father and united with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  In Him, the Word-made-Flesh, in the fellowship of His Body, you abide in communion with the Holy Triune God.

That has been the case from your Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the Mountain where you meet the Lord and abide in fellowship with Him, unto life everlasting.

The link between Baptism and the Holy Triune God is evident already at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.  For it was no joke when the heavens were there opened, and the voice of God the Father declared Christ to be His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit came down to rest upon Him in bodily form as a Dove.  God has thus declared that He is manifest and made known in Baptism.

As always, this Self-revelation of the Holy Trinity is given in and with the Body of Christ Jesus.  You encounter the Holy Triune God in the waters of your Holy Baptism, therefore, because you are united with Christ in the washing of those waters with His Word and Holy Spirit.

In Baptism, God became your Father, and you became His child, a joint heir with Christ.  You were anointed with His Spirit, who brought Christ and all His benefits into your heart and soul, body and life.  All of this because Christ Himself was baptized for your salvation, and His Baptism has become your Baptism.  He entered the water for you, and you have entered the water with Him.

Holy Baptism is thus a place of a great exchange.  Christ goes into the water holy and righteous, but He comes out saturated with all of your sins and the sins of the whole world, and bearing all your griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross.  Whereas you go into the water utterly corrupted by your sins, inside and out, but you arise and emerge from the washing of the water with the Word cleansed and forgiven and adorned with the beautiful righteousness of Christ Jesus.  You know some of the baggage you have carried into that water, but Christ has taken it all away.

In this “Great Exchange,” it is also the case that, just as Christ participated in your sin by taking it upon Himself, so through your Baptism do you participate in His Cross and Resurrection.

Holy Baptism is thus your personal Good Friday and Easter.  You are crucified with Christ and die with Him, so that you also rise with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  And as you are buried and raised with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in your Holy Baptism, so are you also given the Name of God Himself, because you are there adopted as His own beloved child.  You not only learn to know the Holy Trinity, but you are taken into the arms of God as a member of His family.

Just think of what that means: You bear the Name of the Holy Triune God!  You are His child!  As you go about all your days and deeds in peace — at work, at home, at school, wherever — you are and you live as someone who shares the divine life and eternal blessings of the one true God.

The Lord Jesus has therefore taught you and tenderly invited you to pray to His God and Father as your own dear God and Father.  For in Christ you bear His Name and are His child.  So do you pray that His Name would be hallowed in your body and life, in all your words and actions, as you gladly give attention to His Word and the preaching of it, and as you live according to His Word.  Just as Christ has instructed His servants: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

You hallow God’s Name and use it rightly when you call upon His Name in every trouble with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; when you worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth.  Indeed, the only proper response to the Holy Triune God is worship.  And all true and right worship begins and continues, not with your works and sacrifices, far less with your promises and pledges, but with the Word and works of God in Christ, and with the gifts Christ freely gives you in His Name.

To worship the Lord your God is to acknowledge and confess Him as the true and only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, the Redeemer of all mankind by the blood of Christ, and the Sanctifier of the Church by the Word and Sacraments of Christ.  To worship the Lord your God is to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  To look to Him and rely on Him for life itself and all that you need.  Such worship is rooted in His Holy Baptism, and it lives in the hearing of His Word and in the eating and drinking of His Supper.

But instead of such worship of the Lord your God, who in love has given you life in body and soul, how often do you worship yourself instead?  How often do you fear people more than God, and love the praises of people more than God?  And how often do you doubt His Word and promises?

In fact, doubt may be the most frustrating thing you face as a Christian, because it is the opposite of faith and worship.  It is the lingering well-spring of the sin that remains within your fallen flesh.  Remember how Satan tricked Eve with seeds of doubt?  The devil attacks you in that way, too.

But now repent of your sins, of your doubts and fears and unbelief, and of all your selfishness and self-idolatry.  Return, instead, to the significance and reality of your Holy Baptism, and to your life with God in Christ.  Rejoice and give thanks that, although you have been disobedient, unfaithful, and lazy, and although you have wandered far and wide from the Lord your God, He is and remains your faithful God and Father in Christ Jesus, who is your merciful and great High Priest; and that the Holy Spirit also helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you in peace.

Remember that you are baptized into Christ Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried for your transgressions, and that God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification.  All that He has accomplished and obtained on your behalf from His own Baptism to His Cross and Resurrection, He has given to you in your Baptism.  Indeed, He has given Himself to you, and He has bound you to Him, that you should be with Him where He is, just as He is always with you.  In the preaching of His Word, in His forgiveness of your sins, and in His Body and His Blood, He is a very present Help in trouble; He is closer to you than a brother, than a mother or a spouse.

As often as you confess your sins according to His Word, you return to the waters of your Baptism into Christ.  The Law of the Lord drowns and destroys the Old Adam in you with all your sinful thoughts and desires, and the Gospel of the new and better Adam, Jesus Christ, raises you from death to life in Him by His Holy Absolution of all your sins in His Name.  And as often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, you are returned to the ongoing reality of your Holy Baptism, and to the life that is yours in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Like a little fish you were born in the water, and as a little fish you live your whole life in the water of your Baptism.  As Dr. Luther would respond to his own doubts and fears and the frequent assaults of the devil in his life, you also may confess: “I am baptized.”  The Holy Triune God has named you with His Name and bound Himself to you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  You are buried with Christ in His death, and you are raised with Him in His Resurrection.  You are adorned with His own precious blood and beautiful righteousness.  You are pleasing to God.

God’s own child, I gladly say it, you are baptized into Christ.  So has your God and Father set His Table and invited you to recline here at His Feast within His House, to rest yourself in the Body and Blood of His Son.  As He was given into death for the atonement of the world, so is He given and poured out for you here, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for life and salvation in Him.  By the Holy Spirit, receive these gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and so rejoice in the Lord.

By His grace, acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of this true faith; and worship Him in peace and joy, since He has had mercy upon you in this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

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