28 September 2014

The Author and Giver of Life

It is by and through, and in and with the Word of God that all things are made, and you cannot separate the true divine Authority of God from His Word.  The Father speaks His Son, and so breathes His Spirit, and so does the Holy Triune God create and give life.  All Authority is His, because He is the Author of all things and the Giver of Life to all of His Creation.  To man, in particular, He gives Himself in Christ Jesus.  He shares His Life and His Love by His Word.

To live according to the Word of God, therefore, is Life.  And to disregard and disobey His Word, to depart from it, is death.  At its heart, that is what all sin is: a departure from the Word of God.  The outcome is death: not so much as punishment as the inevitable consequence of sin, because departing from the Word of God is a departure from His Life.

Repent, therefore, and live.

Why should you pursue death, and die, when the Lord who created you in love still speaks to you in mercy, to give you life with Himself, and health and strength and every good?

In one respect, it is so simple and so obvious: Turn away from evil, and do good.  Turn away from sin and death, and live unto God in faith, unto righteousness.  Stop doing what He has forbidden, and do what He has commanded.  Use your freedom to pursue a greater knowledge, love, and understanding of His holy and precious, life-giving Word, and in all things live according to it.

Not only is this good and right: It is good for you.

It is the way of life, whereas the soul that sins shall die.

But of course, it isn’t obvious or simple at all.  Because your sin is more deeply rooted than even your thoughts and feelings.  It is deeper than your words and actions — deeper even than your intentions.  It is rooted in your ego and your will.  It permeates your heart and darkens your mind.  It’s got your tongue, your ears and eyes, your hands and feet, because it’s got you.  You’re not simply a person who sins, but you sin because you are a sinner.

You do not see things clearly.  You do not understand them.  Your perceptions, opinions, and conclusions are off; they are fallen, along with the rest of you.  Even your efforts to please God, to keep His Word and live according to it, are muddled and misguided.  The problem is not with His Word, but with your heart, mind and spirit.

Thus, instead of the righteousness of faith and the life of love, there reigns in you — apart from Christ and His Spirit — the selfishness of lust and the self-righteousness of pride (or else the despair of unbelief, which is nothing else but the flipside of pride).

It is for this reason that tax collectors and prostitutes enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the religious elite.  Not because their sins are acceptable or harmless — far less commendable — but because they are exposed for what they are, and broken and contrite, and called to repentance.

Ironically, their rescue is found and received, first of all, in the recognition of their helplessness and hopelessness.  Their life of selfishness and sin is laid bare for the foolishness and futility it really is — self-destructive, deadly, and damnable.  In this respect, the Word of God has not simply informed or educated them, but has convicted them and hastened their death: that is to say, it has put them to death to themselves, to their sins, to their idolatrous pursuits, and to the fallen world.

But the Word of God speaks more than condemnation.  It speaks life and light and love.  It shows not only sin, but salvation.

To those whom it convicts and crucifies, it grants the peace of forgiveness.  It pardons and spares.  It justifies the ungodly with a righteousness not of themselves.  It does not simply drive to despair, but raises from death and reconciles to God.  It not only speaks about life, but actually bestows life.  It enlightens the heart and mind with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.

The Lord, the Author and Giver of Life, takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner, be it publican or pharisee, but He desires all people to be saved.  That’s not just wishful thinking on His part, but He becomes the Author of Salvation: your Savior!  He not only calls you to repentance, but He Himself comes to save you, to bring you out of death and the grave into life in and with Himself.

The Lord Jesus Christ has divine Authority as the Son of God from all eternity, and as the Word by whom all things are made.  But now He has obtained and received a New Authority — in the flesh, “for us men and our salvation” — by authoring repentance, resurrection, reconciliation, and righteousness on behalf of the fallen and far off — for lost and condemned sinners like you.

He has done so by living as true Man, in your place, by faith and love.  From His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, He does so.  From His holy Nativity, He does so.  From His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River, He does so.  He takes upon Himself, not only human nature, flesh and blood just like yours, but also the fallen condition of all Adam’s children, and thus mortality like yours, the full curse and consequences of sin.

He humbles Himself, and submits Himself to the will of His God and Father (for the salvation of His creatures), and He becomes obedient, even unto death upon the Cross.  He does it voluntarily, in love for His Father and for you, with divine compassion and tender mercy.

It is not easy for Him, nor at all pleasant, but this is how He uses His strength, His almighty power, His divine Authority.  He subjects Himself to the judgment, condemnation and punishment of the Law for all your sins (for the sins of the whole world), in the confidence and hope, the trust and the prayer, that God His Father will raise Him up again, vindicate Him, exalt Him and glorify Him.

All of this He does so that you, also, in Him, should be raised up, justified, exalted and glorified; so that you should not perish, but be saved and have eternal life in Him.

By His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection, He has become the Author of Salvation, and, as such, He has been given Authority to forgive sins, to save sinners, to rescue from death and the grave, to make disciples out of men and women from all nations, and to give them life with God.

Repent, therefore; trust Christ, and live.

As He has entered upon His story of salvation by the way of His Baptism, so then, you also be baptized, or return to your one Holy Baptism for the remission of sins.  That is to say, remember your Baptism, what it signifies and indicates.  Return to its cleansing, refreshing and life-giving waters by contrition for your sins, and by repentance.

Follow Christ Jesus to the Cross in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead.

What does this mean but to renounce the devil, all his works and all his ways, and to seek and find your life in the Holy Triune God.  Stop trying to make a life for yourself, and receive the life that only He can give.  Turn away from your sin — from your lust, your pride, your selfishness, your false gods of whatever kind — away from your false belief, despair, and shame, and vice — and trust the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus.

Flee to His forgiveness, lay hold of His Life, and seek His salvation where it may be found.

As the Gospel begins with the Baptism of St. John, the Forerunner of the Christ, so does the Gospel continue to the end of the age with Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, by the Authority of Christ the Crucified.

“All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” He says to the Apostles.  “Therefore, go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them all of My Words.”

You come to that same Lord Jesus Christ, and you enter the Kingdom of God through Him — like tax collectors, prostitutes, and countless other sinners before you — by your Baptism into Him; by the preaching and teaching of His Word; and by the gathering of His disciples to His Table, to eat and drink His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

By these ways and means, the Author of Salvation sets you free to live.

Now, then, use your freedom to love and to serve, to give life to your neighbor.

That is what the way of righteousness and the life of God in the flesh looks like: faith toward God in Christ, and love for one another (also in and through Christ Jesus).

That is what the scribes and pharisees, the chief priests and the elders of the people, by and large, did not get, despite their valiant and zealous efforts to keep the Law of God and to live according to it.  Lacking faith and love, they missed the heart of the matter, and the whole point eluded them.  They sought a righteousness of their own before God, and so they looked with contempt upon their neighbor.  They did not recognize their sin, and so they could not recognize their Savior.

But now the Author and Giver of Life and Salvation has written His story and revealed Himself to you, in the flesh, in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  For as that Sacrament is the fountain and source of your discipleship, so is it also the shape and pattern of your faith and life in Christ.  In it you have been recreated and reborn with a new heart of faith and love, endowed with the mind and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God.

Your Holy Baptism has brought you into the Temple of God — into His Church, the Body of Christ, on earth as it is in heaven — and so into the Kingdom of God.  Here He is still preaching and teaching, and by this Word of Christ, the Father speaks to you by His Son, in order to give you life with Himself.  He enfolds you in His Love, and He enlightens you with the Holy Spirit.

Here you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, and your life is hidden with Him in the bosom of the Father, as surely as He is here with you in this place, at this Altar.

Here you are fed with His Body and His Blood, which are your Meat and Drink indeed.  Do not doubt that He has the Authority to feed you in this way, but rejoice and delight in His grace, and give thanks and sing for what He says and does and gives to you here.

For He has tasted the sour grapes of your sin and death, with His own teeth, in His own Body of flesh and blood, so that you might drink freely the Choicest of Wines from His Chalice, from the Cup of Blessing which we bless, which is the Cup of Salvation.  It is for you, now and forever.

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

21 September 2014

A Denarius for the Eternal Eighth Day of Christ

By what reckoning do you suppose that God owes you a salary?

The only wage that you have earned is death, now and forever, on account of your sin.

Thankfully, the Lord does not pay you the wage that you deserve.  Instead, according to the grace of God, solely because He is good and He desires to be generous, He grants to you the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And with forgiveness, He also gives you life and salvation.

The Lord reckons you righteous by His kind generosity for Jesus’ sake, and He provides for you a place in His Kingdom, before you have even begun to do any good work at all!

He surely does not “owe” you anything.  The Lord your God is not obliged to you, nor is He in your debt.  But He gives you everything by grace.

You live in His Vineyard by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

Here, then, is the fruitful life to which He brings you in peace: He calls you to share in His Life and His Love, and He sends you to live in love within your own place.  Not because He needs your help, but because He loves you, and He delights to perfect the good work He has begun in you.

You thus share His life by way of discipleship and your Christian vocation.  Which is to say that you follow after Christ Jesus, and, in His Name and at His Word, you serve your neighbor in the place where the Lord has positioned you.  There you pursue the labor of faith and love, and in this way you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, which is the only thing you can give to God.

Before you ever begin to work or serve on behalf of others, you are first of all served by the Ministry and work of the Gospel, which is the Lord’s ongoing care of His own blessed Vineyard.  For He has hired others before you to work and serve on your behalf, that you might live with Him in His Kingdom in the righteousness of faith.

And then it also happens, within your own particular office and station in life, wherever you are called to be, that you care for that portion of the Vineyard, be it big or little.  Not for any wages earned, but in thanksgiving and at the Lord’s Word.  For love’s sake, you bear the Cross of Christ, the true Vine, for your neighbor; and you do so in the confidence of the Lord’s promise to you, for He is faithful and just, and He will do what He has spoken.

Although you exercise whatever wisdom, reason, strength, and talents the Lord has given you, and whatever resources He entrusts to your stewardship, you are not on your own to fend for yourself, to sink or swim by your own ingenuity and effort.

You are called to work and sweat, to bear the Cross, and to serve your neighbor in this world.  But you are sustained in that labor, in holy faith and Christian love, by what the Lord has done for you, and by what He continues to do and say and give to you by His grace and mercy.

It’s not “cheap grace,” as they say.  Not at all!  For Christ the Lord has borne the whole burden and the full heat of the day on your behalf.  Through the long dark night of His Passion; in the early morning hours at the rooster’s crow; at the third hour before Pilate, at the sixth hour on the Cross, and at the ninth hour when He cried out with a loud voice to bestow His Spirit; even to the final hour of the day, when He was laid to rest in the tomb — He has worked for you, in order to grant you His Peace and Rest.  As one of our shut-ins said it so well this past week, Jesus did the job!

He suffered the wages of your sin by His death, and He bore the good fruits of faith and love by His own hard labor, by His dreadful agony and bloody sweat.  All of this He does for the purpose of granting to you His own inheritance as the Son of God, as well as the righteousness, life, and salvation of His steadfast faith and perfect love.

Thus has He done and accomplished, for you and for all, throughout the long brutal day and the harsh punishing hours of His Passion, even unto death upon the Cross.

But that is not the end of the story.  For He continues to care for His vineyard, to give it life and sustain it, by those whom He sends in His Name to preach and administer the Gospel of His Cross.

According to His tender mercy, by His good and gracious will for you and your salvation, He provides for all your needs, and far more than you need in this body and life, and all the more so for your resurrection from the dead and your life everlasting in Him, in both body and soul.

It is for this reason, in Christ and for His sake, that your life, also, in the body, has meaning and purpose, significance, and value.

Do not suppose that the finished work of Christ has made the work He gives you to do pointless.  The fact that your forgiveness and salvation are by grace and not according to your merit does not cheapen but sanctifies your calling to cultivate and care for the Lord’s Vineyard.

The Kingdom of Heaven, which is the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, is not like the politics or economics of this world.

What you do in the Lord’s Name, according to His Word, is valuable and precious; not because you are earning a wage or making a profit; and whether or not you are productive and successful in the eyes of the world; but because you are the Lord’s and the Vineyard is His.

Consider the price that Christ has paid for you, in order to atone for all your sins, and to redeem you in body and soul from sin, death, the devil, and hell, for life with Himself.  So, too, rejoice in the good work and fruitful labor that Christ performs and accomplishes in you, and through you, as well, for the blessing and benefit of your neighbor, and for the care of His Church on earth, that is, for His royal Vineyard.  You already know that your labors are not in vain, because Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Go about your work, therefore, whatever it may be — big or small, much or little, for many years, or only for a short while — in the confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Resist the temptation to compare and contrast, and to compete with others.  You and your place and your “pay” are not measured by your neighbor, but by your Lord.  Focus on His Word to you, and on the promise that He spoke to you when He called you by His Name to be His own.

According to His Word, do your job and perform your duties faithfully.  Not as though to “earn” what has already been given and promised, but in thanksgiving, peace, and hope, in faith and love.

Your labors will be rewarded, have no fear, for they are pleasing to the Lord, as you are pleasing to Him in the righteousness of Christ.  Not the death you deserve, but the life and wages that He has promised in His goodness and generosity, these shall be yours at the end of the day and always.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ has pledged Himself to you, with all His gifts and benefits.  By His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection, He has made you equal — not only to the Prophets and Apostles, who labored long and hard before you — but equal to Himself: He has named you with His Name, anointed you with His Spirit, and made you a child of His own God and Father.

By virtue of your Baptism, you are a son of God in Christ, and, as such, you are an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Beloved of the Lord, He does you no wrong, but He gives you every good thing.  Don’t worry.  You shall not be short-changed.  See here, how He presses into your hand the sovereign Coin of His Realm — a Denarius for the neverending Eighth Day — His own holy Body, given for you, and His holy, precious Blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

With such treasures, freely given to you by the Lord, you lack nothing at all.  For life and salvation with the true and only God are yours in Christ Jesus, that you may live with Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

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

14 September 2014

This Voice Has Come for Your Sake

You did not choose Him, but Christ the Lord has chosen you; and He has called you to Himself by the preaching of His Holy Cross, that you should follow Him through death into life, in order to be with Him where He is, and that you should bear much fruit to the Glory of His Holy Name.

It is in Christ Jesus that you come up to worship at this Feast, that is, the Feast of His Holy Cross, the celebration of His servant Pastor Loughran’s anniversary, and the Eucharist of His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many.  You come up to worship the Lord in this Feast by the way and the means of Christ the Crucified, as He, the incarnate Son of God, is glorified in His flesh and goes to the Father on your behalf by the way and means of His Cross.

Now is the Hour of His Glory, which here unfolds for you against the backdrop of this Feast in the Holy Gospel from St. John.  As per the Word of the Lord in Leviticus, the crowds have come up to Jerusalem for the Passover, and for the Feast of Unleavened Bread that follows immediately afterwards for a full week.  It is one of several pilgrim festivals, in which the people are gathered together in the place where the Lord has caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among them.

It is also during these celebrations, on the day following the Sabbath in the week of Unleavened Bread, that the first fruits of the year are offered and consecrated to the Lord on behalf of Israel.  If you do the math, you’ll realize that these first fruits are offered on that Easter Sunday when our Lord Jesus rises from the dead.  It involves the waving of a sheaf of grain before the Lord in His Temple, the sacrifice of a one-year-old male lamb without defect as a whole burnt offering, as well as a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and a quantity of wine as a drink offering. Until then, the people are not to eat anything made from the grain of the new year’s harvest; but after the harvest is dedicated to the Lord with this offering of the first fruits, then they are able to enjoy the produce of the good Land, which the Lord gives to His people according to His promise.

So, I want you to think about this Old Testament Feast with its God-given rites and ceremonies in light of the Word that Jesus speaks to you this morning: The grain that was buried in the ground has now, by the grace of God, brought forth a great harvest; and with the returning of the first fruits back to Him, He opens up His hand to satisfy His people with the bounty of the Land, flowing with its milk and honey, abundant with its bread and wine; so also to provide for the poor and needy, for the widows and orphans in distress, and for the strangers, as well, in order that all might feast.

Now, then, is the Hour when the Son of Man is to be glorified, when the Christ is to be lifted up as the Sacrifice of the Lord in fulfillment of the entire Feast.  He is the Passover Lamb, and He is the Whole Burnt Offering, the Grain and Drink Offering, and the First Fruits of the New Creation.  He is the Grain which is buried in the dust of the earth, who by the Tree of His Cross now bears much fruit after His own kind — fruits including you and your life, in, with, and under His Cross.

It is in and with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in His death upon the Cross, in His Body crucified and risen, that you are buried to this world and born again from death to a new life, and that you now bring forth the good fruits of His Cross within your own vocation and stations in life.

That Holy Cross of Christ, which you now bear and carry after Him as a disciple, is such a foolish and offensive scandal in the eyes of the world, and no less so in your own fallen and perishing flesh, in your native way of thinking, and in your feelings and emotions.  Even so, that scandalous Cross is the very power and wisdom of God for the reconciliation, resurrection, and righteousness of the whole world; and for your salvation, too; all because of the crucifixion of Christ.  It is His Body that sanctifies the Tree with its hard branches; His Blood that stains it a royal purple.

Pastor Loughran may recall from our days together in Fort Wayne, some twenty-four years ago now, that the children of the seminary students were given little ceramic crosses that a women’s group had made for them.  My daughter DoRena, who was three at the time, received one of those crosses, which featured spring flowers in the center, no doubt in celebration of the Resurrection.  Well, it was shortly after she received that gift, that she was with me shopping for a crucifix for our home.  As I was looking at the variety of crosses, she got my attention and pointed to one of them, telling me that she wanted one for herself.  When I pointed out that she had just gotten a new cross, she immediately answered, “That cross has flowers on it, Daddy.  But flowers didn’t die for me!  Jesus died for me!  I want a cross with Jesus on it.”  Needless to say, I got her one that day.

My three-year-old DoRena had it exactly right: It is the Body of Jesus, nothing else and nothing less, that makes the Cross holy.  Not suffering and death for its own sake, but the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, His Cross and Passion, for your sake!  That is what sanctifies, not only His Cross then, but the Cross and suffering that you bear in His Name.

His Cross is the power and wisdom of God, and the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, because His death upon the Cross is the defeat of death and the devil, and the judgment of God for the salvation of sinners.  Because sin is condemned in the Body of Christ, and atonement is made by His Blood, so that man is reconciled to God and justified in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ.

The Father is thus glorified in Christ, His beloved and well-pleasing Son, by the way and means of His Cross, by His obedience even unto death.  And the Father glorifies and honors His Son by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.  As the Son of God thus returns to the Father by the way of the Cross, so do all those who follow after Him.

The Father honors those disciples from all nations, whatever their genealogy may be, who follow Christ and serve Him in life and death, in faith and love.  The same is true for you, who have been called to repentance and faith, to take up the Cross and follow Jesus through the waters of your Holy Baptism, through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the Life.  Whereas clinging to your life in this world can only end in death, because the whole world is perishing, yet, dying with Christ Jesus brings you into life everlasting with Him in both body and soul.

This dying and rising of repentant faith in Christ is what it means to have the Lord as your God, and to worship Him above all other gods: Namely, that you look to Him and trust Him for all that you need and for every good thing; that you entrust yourself entirely to Him, to the point of death; and that you gladly receive all things from His hand, both the Cross and the Resurrection.

Dying to yourself and to all of your selfish ambitions, you live unto God and unto righteousness in Christ, and you bear much fruit for the benefit of others, to the Glory of His Holy Name.  Or, to say it better, it is Christ who bears the good fruits of His Cross in your body and life on earth.

They are the fruits of His Cross, because it is by His Cross, by the proclamation of His Cross, that Christ calls you to Himself, and draws you to Himself, and brings you to the Father in Himself.

There is this attractive power to His Cross.  Certainly not for those who are perishing in unbelief, but for all those who are being saved by grace through faith in Christ.  I’ve noticed this especially in the case of very small children, such as the Lord Jesus described in last Sunday’s Holy Gospel.

If you’ll indulge me another example from our bygone seminary days: I remember my eldest son, Zachary — he’s in his mid-twenties now, but he was just a little guy then, barely a toddler at the time I’m thinking of — whenever I’d have him with me on campus, each time we’d go in and out of the Seminary library, there was this large crucifix right by the door, and he’d make me stop and get close to it, so that he could lean forward in my arms to kiss Jesus’ ouchies.  Like his big sister, he recognized the power and significance of the Body of Jesus on the wood.  He was so drawn to that crucifix, so captivated by it, and so moved with love for his dear Lord Jesus on the Cross.

Thankfully, it is not only little children who have been taught to love the Lord Jesus.  You also, by the grace of God, have become like a little child and are drawn to Christ the Crucified by the preaching of His Cross.  As He was lifted up and His Father was glorified in that Hour, so is He now lifted up and glorified through the Ministry of the Gospel of His Cross.  It is by that Ministry that He draws all people to Himself, even from the ends of the earth, and even you.  Which is how that one Grain which died and was buried now brings forth a great harvest from all the nations.

The Cross bears good fruits after its own kind, both for you and in you, in this life and in death, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Christ Jesus.

That is true for every Christian within his own vocation and stations in life.  All the more so for those servants of the Word who follow in the footsteps of Christ and His Apostles, so that you may see Christ portrayed before your eyes as the Crucified One in the preaching of His Gospel.

The preaching of the Cross is not only news and information about the Cross.  It is itself the fruit of the Cross, and it bears the Cross in the world.  The preaching and the preacher alike suffer the ridicule and rejection of the world, even as the Word of the Cross calls the whole world of sinners to die the death of repentance.  The same preaching must put the preacher himself to death, as well.

So it is that your Pastor Loughran is a fruit of the Cross, in whom the Lord bears good fruits for your benefit, and through whom the Lord brings forth good fruits in you for the benefit of others.

He was and could have been a salesman.  Or a professional musician, perhaps, playing his trumpet in a metropolitan symphony somewhere.  Maybe even a golfer on the pro circuit.  The fact that you can’t  picture Pastor Loughran actually doing any of those things for a living is not due to a lack of ability or aptitude on his part; not really.  It is because you have learned to know the calling and compassion of his heart, which has been conformed to the Image of God by the Cross of Christ.

The truth is that Pastor Loughran has been called and ordained by God to preach and administer the Gospel of the Cross.  And that calling of the Lord, that ordering of this man’s life in the world, crucifies and puts to death the frailties of his flesh, and whatever other ambitions and aspirations would compete with the Ministry of the Gospel.  He is put to death and raised up to preach.

The Lord your God is thus glorified in the Ministry of your Pastor.  And the same Lord glorifies you by your Pastor’s preaching of the Gospel in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.

This Voice is for your sake!  The rolling thunder of the Law and the sweet message of the Gospel are the ways and means of the Cross by which the Lord calls you to repentance and faith, that is, to die and to rise with Christ Jesus.  As Pastor Loughran preaches the crucified and risen Christ; as he serves the Lord by serving you with Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ, by hearing your confession and absolving you in Jesus’ Name; and as he celebrates the Sacrament of the Altar with praise and thanksgiving, for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ and the proclamation of His death until He comes — by each and all of these fruits and benefits of the Cross (for that is what they are), sin and death are defeated; the devil with his assaults and accusations is cast out of your conscience; and you are drawn to Christ in faith, and to the Father in Him, in the Peace and reconciliation of His Spirit and the righteousness of His Resurrection.

For as surely as the Son of Man is now lifted up in the Ministry of His Gospel, so are you lifted up and exalted in Him, in His Body crucified and risen, by the life-giving fruits of His Holy Cross.

So does the Father glorify His Name in you.  And He glorifies you in Christ Jesus, wherever He has called you to be.  He does not promise to protect you from pain and suffering, nor to preserve your body and life in this perishing world.  But He does protect your faith and life in Christ, in order to preserve your body and soul for the Life everlasting with Him.  He draws you to His Son, and He brings you to Himself in Him, in the Body and the Blood that were given into death upon the Holy Cross for your atonement, which are also given and poured out for you here in this Feast for the forgiveness of all your sins, that you may see Jesus face to face, now and forevermore.

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

08 September 2014

My Favorite Series of Juvenile Literature

I shared this on facebook earlier this year, but apparently didn't post it here.  Slightly updated since then, having now added the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan.  The list includes series of three or more books of juvenile literature: These are my favorites, based especially on my experience in reading them aloud to my children over the years.  I expect that the list will continue to be modified and to grow in the months and years ahead, but here is where it stands so far.  Enjoy, y'all.

Harry Potter, by J. K. Rowling

Gregor (Underland), by Suzanne Collins

Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald

Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

Beyonders, by Brandon Mull

Ranger's Apprentice, by John Flanagan

Mr. Benedict, by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Missing, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tales of Magic, by Edward Eager

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull

Percy Jackson, by Rick Riordan

Jimmy Coates, by Joe Craig

Jack Blank, by Matt Myklusch

Michael Vey, by Richard Paul Evans

Five Children and It (Psammead), by E. Nesbit

Shadow Children, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Ordinary Boy, by William Boniface

Peter & the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Keys to the Kingdom, by Garth Nix

Edge Chronicles, by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell

WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi

Redwall, by Brian Jacques

07 September 2014

The Greatness of Forgiveness

Jesus calls the little child to Himself, and sets him in the midst of His disciples.  And He calls you, as well, to become like such a child in the humility of repentance, in the discipline of faith.

It is by the Cross of Christ that you are thus born again as a child of God the Father, as a little one of the Lord: By your Baptism into His death, which is not simply a one-shot deal that you outgrow, but a decisive beginning with an ongoing, lifelong, daily significance.  As the Son of God Himself became a little Child, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and the same Lord Jesus humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, and became obedient, even to the point of death.

The greatness of the little child in the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is the greatness of humility before God, like that of Christ the Crucified.  Not just modesty, but genuine dependence and need, as well as confident trust in the Father’s gracious providence.

In point of fact, everyone alike has such dependence and need, but the humility of repentant faith recognizes and acknowledges that need.  And where there is such humility before God, which fears the Lord and also loves and trusts in Him, there is also love for the neighbor.

Outwardly speaking, insofar as life on earth is concerned, little children in particular have an utter dependency and need that adults generally do not have.  Not only for their bodily well-being, food and clothing, shelter and protection, but also for discipline, instruction, and training; for correction and guidance in the way they should go; and for mercy and forgiveness wherever they go wrong.

To live as a child of God in Christ, in His Kingdom, is to live by faith in His gracious forgiveness of sins, and so also to learn from Him, from His paternal correction and loving discipline: All of which flows from and with and in His love, and aims at your life and salvation in Christ forever.

Within the Kingdom of God, within His household and family, you and your brothers and sisters in Christ are all alike in your need for His mercy, and in His grace toward you in Christ Jesus.  For there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all Christians, one Holy Spirit poured out upon you in Christ, and one divine Name with which you are named; and so do one and all depend upon one and the same forgiveness of sins, obtained by one and the same Cross.

Therefore, love and care for each other.  Not only as you love and care for yourselves, and as you all desire to be loved and cared for, but as your dear Father in heaven loves you and cares for you.

Fundamental to the loving care of God the Father, and of His children for each other, is the free and full forgiveness of sins; which belongs to the way He has taught you to pray, and to live.

To be sure, such forgiveness does not excuse, ignore, or make light of sin.  It rather confronts sin head on, and removes it by the Cross of Christ, by the repentance of His atoning sacrifice: As a father disciplines his son in love; as the governing authorities punish crimes for the protection of all the citizens; and as a doctor cuts out a cancer, or amputates a gangrenous limb, to save the body.

So the humility of repentance is both a contrite turning away from sin and every evil, because these are deadly and damnable, and a turning to the forgiveness of sins by faith in the Gospel of Christ.

In this life on earth — even for the Church, living under the cross — and for each and every Christian in the frailty of mortal flesh — there is inevitable stumbling, falling, and going astray.  Love does not excuse or rationalize such errors and sins.  But neither does love grow weary of seeking out, raising up, bringing back, and reconciling the lost, by calling to repentance and forgiving sins.  Just as a parent does not tire to the point of giving up in the training of the toddler, the two-year-old, or even the teenager, but continues to love and serve and care for the child.

You discipline your own heart and mind and flesh, or you certainly should, with self-examination, repentance, and confession, in order to lay hold of life and love in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

In the same Spirit, and with similar care, call your brother or sister to repentance, in order that your brother or sister may live by the same grace as yourself, in the same Body of Christ, as a member of the same household and family, as a beloved child of the same God and Father.

Learn to see the face of your God and Father in your brother or sister; which is really to see Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son, the Image and Likeness of the Father, in your brother or sister: As our Father in heaven sees Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, in you and in all your fellow Christians.

Because Christ has taken His stand with sinners, especially by His Baptism in the Jordan River, and He has united Himself and bound Himself to His Bride, the Church; not because she was so pure and holy and faultless, but so that she by grace receives and shares His purity and holiness, His righteousness and innocence and blessedness, in the outpouring of His love for her.

Thus the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, eats with gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all manner of sinners, and in His mercy and forgiveness He calls them to become His disciples — to be the children of His own God and Father — and to eat with Him at His Table in Peace.

And here is the true divine greatness with which He has done all of this, also for you, and for all:

He has, in fact, become the little Child; and from infancy to adulthood, He has lived as the one true Man in perfect faith and holy love.

As a Child, He depended on His Mother Mary and His stepfather Joseph.  He also honored them, served and obeyed them, loved and cherished them.  He submitted Himself to His parents in all things.  And He received good things from them, as well; He learned from them!

And as true Man, in real flesh and blood like yours, He experienced hunger and thirst, tiredness, heat and cold, hurt and pain, and finally death upon the Cross under the judgment of the Law.

Though He had no sins of His own, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, and He bore the consequences, the guilt and shame, and the responsibility for all of them.  He bowed His head to wear around His neck the heavy millstone of the entire curse of all sins, and He submitted Himself to be drowned and die in the depths of the sea.  He thus made Himself dependent on His Father’s forgiveness of all those sins, trusting in the promise of His Baptism.

To such an extent did the Lord Jesus humble Himself like a child, unto His death on the Cross, in the confidence that His Father would justify Him and raise Him from the dead in righteousness.

So it is that His Cross and Passion are the way of repentance by which you are born again as a child of God and raised to newness of life in His Resurrection from the dead.

And so it is that real greatness is found in the Cross.  Not only by the humility and repentance that it works in you, but chiefly by way of the forgiveness of sins that it freely grants to you and to all.

For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, are the patience and persistence of your Father in heaven: These are the ways and means by which He recalls you, and reconciles you to Himself, and forgives you all your sins through the Gospel.

His good and gracious will for you is that you should not perish but live.  And it is for this reason that He rejoices over your forgiveness, your recovery and salvation, even more than He would rejoice over a hypothetical ninety-nine sheep who never strayed.  For in raising you from the dead, from the depths and damnation of your sin, He beholds in you His own dear Son, crucified and risen from the dead, and He calls you His dearly-beloved child and heir.

In His forgiveness of all your sins, in Jesus’ Name, His good and gracious Will is done: on earth, as it is in heaven.  And all the angels and archangels rejoice, give thanks, and sing with all of us.

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

31 August 2014

Die to Yourself and Live unto Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 August 2014

St. John the Baptist Is Risen from the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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