07 December 2016

Singing the Priestly Song of Christ with St. Ambrose

It was 1,642 years ago that St. Ambrose was ordained and consecrated as the Bishop of Milan, one week after he was baptized.  That is not according to the usual good order of the Church, nor is it advised by the Apostle St. Paul, but in the case of this man God worked it all out for the good.

Normally the saints are commemorated on the date of their heavenly birthday, the day of their death, and we do know when Ambrose died.  It was on Good Friday in the Year of Our Lord 397, April the 4th.  But it is on this day that the Church remembers and gives thanks for him.

Prior to being baptized and becoming a bishop, Ambrose had been the Governor of Milan, and he had a promising future in politics like his father before him.

Milan in those days was deeply divided between catholics, that is to say, the orthodox Christians, and Arians, who considered themselves to be Christians but who denied the deity of the Son of God.  The Arians insisted that the Son of God was not true God from all eternity, that He was not of one Substance with the Father, but was instead the first and greatest of all God’s creatures, a sort of middle being through whom God dealt with the world.  It was a blatant and dangerous heresy, but it appealed to many who thought that it protected the dignity and unity of God.

It so happened that the Bishop of Milan, an Arian, died, and a fierce conflict developed between the catholics and the Arians, as to who would get to choose the next Bishop.  So they were all gathered in the cathedral, everybody yelling and shouting.  Typical politics.  Then Ambrose the Governor came in to the cathedral in the hopes of bringing peace to the assembly.

As you might imagine, when the Governor came into the room, things settled down and got quiet.  And a voice rang out, “Ambrose is Bishop!”  Tradition says it was a child who said it.  Whoever it was, Ambrose had brought peace where there was no peace, so the prospect of making him Bishop resonated with the people.  Everybody started chanting, “Ambrose is Bishop! Ambrose is Bishop!”  And the Emperor liked the idea when he got word of it.

As for Ambrose, he did not want the job, and he resisted.  He was, after all, still a catchumen; he had not even been baptized.  He was a politician, not a pastor.  He had studied law and rhetoric, not theology, not the Scriptures, and he knew it.  But after about a month, he consented.  He was quickly baptized, and a week later ordained as a priest and consecrated as the Bishop of Milan.

Whatever he may have lacked prior to that point, he applied himself to the duties of his office with earnestness and zeal and tireless service.  He sold off his possessions.  He gave most of the money to the poor, keeping only enough to provide for his mother and his sister.  He entrusted his home to the Church.  And he set about studying theology, the earlier church fathers, and the Holy Scriptures, so that he might be a faithful teacher in Christ’s Church.  And that indeed he was.

What he had learned in his study of law and rhetoric, he put to use in the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, and he became known as a powerful, eloquent preacher.  He was also attentive to the people and was a real pastor to them.  His parishioners, any one of them, had access to him.  He prayed and interceded for the people.  And though he was a peace loving man, he was also a strong and courageous man.  On several occasions, he called powerful men to repentance.

When the Emperor Theodosius, who had been a strong supporter of Ambrose, slaughtered an entire town of people, indiscriminately killing thousands of men, women, and children, without regard to innocence or guilt, Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor until he would repent of this sin.  St. Ambrose would not relent.  When Theodosius argued that David also had sinned, Ambrose replied, “So be it.  As you have sinned like David, now repent like David.”  And the Emperor did.

Such was the respect that people had for the great Ambrose.  Perhaps no one more so than the great Augustine, who, after all those years of his mother Monica’s praying, had been converted by the preaching of St. Ambrose.  Augustine first went to hear Ambrose because of his reputation as an eloquent speaker, but he was there confronted by the preaching of the Word of God and was converted by that preaching.  He was baptized by St. Ambrose shortly before St. Monica’s death.

One tradition concerning that occasion says that, when Augustine came up out of the water of his Baptism, he and St. Ambrose together burst into song and for the first time sang in the Church the great Canticle that we know as Te Deum Laudamus.

The reason a fantastic story like that would emerge is because Ambrose was indeed a hymnwriter.  In fact, there’s a whole body of Latin hymns that are named after him, because of his influence.  We know of about fourteen hymns that we can say with some confidence that Ambrose wrote, himself, including the two that we have sung this evening.  But he also left his mark on the history of Christian hymnody, such that he is regarded as the father of Western hymnody.

Hymns were already involved in the conflict between the catholics and the Arians, and Ambrose then also entered the fray with his hymns.  He recognized that hymnody could serve as a powerful teacher of the Word of God and of the faith.  When the Word of God is pleasingly set to music, and is sung, it is carried into the heart and mind, and it sticks.

Music is so powerful that Augustine was actually torn between his love for hymnody and his fear that he enjoyed the singing too much.  And as it was, the Arians were using music to advance their heresy among the people.  Yet, in response, the hymns of Ambrose and others were truly sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.  They taught and confessed the Word of God, and by the Spirit they carried the prayer and praise of the Church and of Christ’s people to the Father in heaven.

When you sing concerning God and His Self-revelation, when you say concerning Him what He has said, and when you sing what He has said and done, then you praise and give thanks to Him, even as you confess His holy Name.  Thus do you make good use of your time in the midst of this evil world, and all of your days and your deeds are sanctified by the singing of the Word of God.

Ambrose in particular wrote hymns for evening and morning, for the seasons of the Church Year, and for different times of day that are rooted in the Holy Scriptures.  So these hymns, many of them evening hymns and morning hymns, such as the evening hymn we sang tonight, mark the passage of time and sanctify it with God’s Word.  And of course, what the Word of God does in any case, so also as it is sung, such hymns comfort in affliction and strengthen faith in Christ Jesus.

Ambrose in his hymnwriting is in many ways like another David.  David did not become a priest or a bishop, but as the King of Israel, as the Lord’s Anointed, he did have priestly functions, and he made a significant contribution to the priestly life of Israel in his plans and preparations for the Temple, which he did not build, but his son Solomon would build.  As we have heard in part from First Chronicles this evening, David also organized the Levitical choir according to the authority of God, following the instructions that God provided through the Prophets Nathan and Gad.

The service of the Levites was fundamental to the liturgical life of Israel.  The Levites would proclaim in song the Divine Name, the Name of the Lord, Yahweh, specifically in connection with the burnt offerings and around the Ark of the Lord.  By this singing, by this sung proclamation of His Name, the Lord came to His people.  It was a means of grace, a preaching of the Gospel.

Through the singing of the Levites, the singing of God’s Name, the Lord came to His people.  He made His Advent among them.  In turn, the Levitical singing also served a priestly role, bringing prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to the Lord on behalf of the King and all the people of Israel.

From First Chronicles this evening, we have heard how the Levites accompanied the Ark as it was brought from the home of the priest, Obed-edom, into Jerusalem.  Later, after Solomon had built the Temple, when it was dedicated with sacrifice and prayer, the Glory of the Lord filled the Temple in direct connection with the musical service and singing of the Levites.

But now the One greater than Solomon and greater than the Temple has come in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Already as a Fetus in the womb of His Mother, He is the Lord God in the Flesh.  God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, but now also true Man of flesh and blood like your own.  Within the body of His Mother, God comes to visit the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth.

You know this story.  What’s very interesting is that St. Luke tells this story almost as a repetition of the story when David first tried to move the Ark of the Covenant and only got as far as Obed-edom’s house because he did not have the Levites carry the Ark; he didn’t do things according to the Word of the Lord.  Later, as we have heard, with the Levites and their singing, the Ark is taken to Jerusalem.  But the point is that St. Luke here paints St. Mary’s rushing off to the hill country of Judah and coming to the home of another priest, another son of Aaron, as a movement of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.  Indeed, St. Mary is herself a new and better Ark, because she carries within her body the Lord Himself, Christ Jesus, flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood.

She comes to the priestly home of Zacharias.  And what do Mary and Elizabeth do?  They sing.

St. Mary sings her Magnificat, of course, as we shall sing it with her this evening.  It is very much like the song of Hannah back at the beginning of First Samuel, when Hannah brought her little boy to the House of the Lord, and dressed him in a little ephod, and gave him to Eli, and left him there, dedicated to serve before the Ark of the Lord all his days.  Mary sings a song much like Hannah’s song, and much like the Psalms of her ancestor David.  And with her Magnificat she proclaims the Name of the Lord, who is indeed present within her womb.  She praises Him, and she gives thanks to Him in remembrance of His mercy, just as He has remembered her and all His people.

St. Elizabeth also sings in response to Mary’s greeting.  She cries out with a liturgical chant, in the same way as the Levites would sing around the Ark of the Covenant.  The word that St. Luke uses here is a word that is used in the Greek Old Testament only for the special singing of the Levites around the Ark of the Covenant.  That’s how Elizabeth sings in response to Mary’s visitation and greeting, because she recognizes, by the Spirit of God, that her Lord is here present in the Flesh.

To this day, the Church’s singing and her song still accompany the coming of the Lord.  We sing in celebration of His coming in Word and Sacrament.  But so too, the singing of His Word, the singing of His Gospel, is itself a means of grace.  For when you sing the Name of the Lord, when you sing His Word, His Gospel, Christ and His Spirit are actively present and at work in that Word and in that singing to sanctify and bless both the singer and the hearer.

The Church catechizes her dear children, and she with her children confesses the Lord Jesus with her song.  She comforts in affliction, and she strengthens faith in the Gospel.  She eases sorrow.  She serves and supports a right mourning, not as those who have no hope, but as those who hope in the Resurrection of Christ.  She rejoices in the Lord her God.  She gives Him thanks and praise.

This singing belongs to the royal priesthood of all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus, just as the singing belonged to the Levites appointed to the task in the Old Testament.  It is a priestly service.  It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  It is an offering to the Lord our God.  Not to make Atonement, but to acknowledge and rejoice in the Atonement of Christ, to confess and praise His Gospel, to give thanks for His forgiveness and salvation, and so also to intercede in His Name.

Whether you are a pastor or a parishioner, a priest or a bishop, a deacon or an acolyte, or a member of our choir; whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, married or unmarried, you also sing the Church’s song.  With King David and the Levites, with St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, with St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Dr. Luther, and all the faithful who have gone before us in the Word and faith of the Holy Trinity, you also sing and confess the Lord Jesus in His Holy Church.

So by such Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are you filled with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And as His Word is taken upon your lips, into your heart, and into your mind, you comprehend what the Will of the Lord is — to the praise and glory of His grace and great Salvation in Christ.

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

04 December 2016

Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Return to the waters of the Jordan, to the significance of your Baptism.  Die, and be raised up.

The coming of the Kingdom of Heaven is not to be taken lightly or for granted, nor should it be approached with relaxed ease like an annual Christmas party.  This is no lark.  God’s Kingdom comes upon you with both threat and promise.  How will you enter and live within that Kingdom?

Do not boast of your own works or pedigree, nor rely on your accomplishments or contributions.  Do not rest easy in your Lutheran heritage, nor rely even on your Baptism, far less the fact that you were confirmed, if you are not returning daily to the dying and rising of contrition and repentance, to confession, and to faith in the forgiveness of your sins, which is what you need in order to live.

Examine yourself.  Consider where God has placed you in life, in light of His Ten Commandments.  Remember that your entire life is from God, and that all your days and hours are lived before Him.

Hear what He has said.  He is a jealous God; He punishes the sins of the fathers and their children.

Fear the Lord your God, therefore.  Fear His wrath, and do not disobey Him.

Repent of your sins.  Stop doing what you should not do, and start doing what you should.  Stop making excuses for yourself.  Do not mock and despise the Lord by persisting in your sins.

If you would live by faith, if you would live at all, confess your sins and seek the grace of God.

Seek the Lord where He is found.  Neither in your heart nor in your head, and not in your closet, but in the preaching of His Word.  Don’t hide yourself away.  Go out to the Jordan, that is, to the Church, to the gathering of the baptized, that you may hear and heed the Voice of the Lord.

And at His Word, confess your sins, that you may hear and receive His Absolution of your sins.

If you knew the wrath of God against sin — against your sins of thought, word, and deed — and if you knew the wrath that is to come in the Day of Judgment — then you would delay no longer.  You would not stay so far away or be so proud, or so shy, or whatever it is that hinders you.

Take to heart the preaching of St. John.  Repent of your sins, and bear the fruits of repentance.

The confession of your sins, and the faith that actively seeks out the Lord’s forgiveness, these are the first fruits of repentance.  And having then confessed your sins, do better.  Go and sin no more.

God is indeed able to raise up children for Himself from the stones, but the stones do not presume upon Him.  The stones are not so proud as those people who rest easy in their self-conceit, who do not fear the Lord their God.  The stones fear God and honor His commands.

What, then?  Do you not fear Him?  If so, obey His Voice.

The trees likewise do not presume upon the Lord, but they produce their fruits in due season and after their own kind, according to the Word that God has spoken and the place that He has given.

Every tree that does not bear its proper fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire to be destroyed.

What about you?  Are you bearing the fruits of repentance within your station in life?  Are you living in faith toward God, in constant prayer, always hearing His Word as the very breath of life, and eagerly pursuing every opportunity to receive His gifts?

Are you living and abiding in love toward your neighbor, with peace in your heart and grace upon your lips and tangible charity in your hands?  Are you supporting the Church and Ministry with sacrificial giving and serving, that you and your neighbors might rest in the work of the Gospel?

Are you keeping the Commandments of the Lord your God?  Not only superficially, in such a way that people can see what you’re doing and praise you, but inwardly and outwardly, from a heart of faith and love, abounding in all good works to the praise and glory of God in Christ Jesus?

The Lord has brought you out of Egypt by His mighty hand. Yet, you grumble against Him in the wilderness, as though He had wronged you, and you despise the Bread with which He feeds you.

See here now, the Lord is coming, your King, the Judge of all the earth, of the living and the dead.  His axe is already laid to the root of the tree.  Shall you bear fruit and live, or be cut down and die?  He is harvesting His fields; He is sifting His crops.  He gathers His fruit, but the chaff He destroys.

Repent.  For His Word and Spirit leave no one unscathed and no one standing.

Repent.  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  It is here among you in the Person of Christ.

Behold, your King is coming.  He is righteous, and He judges the world in His righteousness.

But know this: His ways are not your ways, and His thoughts are not your thoughts, nor could you ever manage to prepare yourself for Him.  Not even St. John the Baptist, the Voice of the Lord in the wilderness, realizes or fully comprehends the Wisdom and the Righteousness of Christ Jesus.

Your tree has been utterly barren.  But He comes to hang Himself upon it.  It is cut down by the Axe of His Law, and He is thereby stricken and slain by the judgment of His own mouth.  He bears the verdict, the wrath, the punishment and death, in order to bear the fruit of repentance for you.

His Tree is the burning bush, engulfed with flames in a blazing, fiery furnace, but not consumed.  In this the Glory of the Lord is manifested, in that He comes to save His people from their sins.

Here then is the Tree of the Cross, raised up by the Lord and standing as a signal for the nations, even to the ends of the earth.  So it is according to His promises, according to His mercy.

Here is the one Tree that remains, bearing the fruits of Christ for you and your salvation.

His death is the pathway of repentance for you: through the wilderness, across the Jordan, into life.

When you are crucified and put to death with Him — as in your Baptism, so also in repentance — you are not destroyed but delivered.  For He, by His death, has been death’s undoing.

What is more, His Resurrection from the dead is the gathering of the first fruits into His barn, into His heaven.  Thus are you gathered together with Him in that harvest; not scattered to the winds, nor burned up with unquenchable fire, but raised up to live with Christ in His Kingdom forever.

That is why the preaching and Baptism of repentance are for the forgiveness of your sins.

This Voice of the Lord and these waters of His, they turn you away from your sin and death, that you may receive the King who comes to you, not for condemnation, but for mercy, peace, and joy.

You have not borne good fruits for Him, but He has borne the fruit of repentance for you; and with His Word and Spirit, with His Gospel of forgiveness, He bears the fruits of faith and love in you.

He bears this fruit in you after His own kind — after His great kindness, with which He also now and ever feeds you — in the wilderness unto life, and in His Kingdom, here and hereafter forever.

Receive and eat the good Fruit of His Tree, that is, His holy Body, which is given for you.

And drink the Fruit of this true Vine, that is, His precious Blood, which is poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for everlasting life and salvation in Him.

Eat, drink, and be merry, abounding in the hope of His mercy.  For here at the Table of the Lord, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

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

03 December 2016

The Lord Has Heard and Answered Robert's Prayer in Christ Jesus

It was six or seven years ago, as I recall, when Bob & Herta portrayed Zacharias & Elizabeth in the Christmas Pageant at Emmaus.  Bob wore an alb for the part of Zacharias, who was a priest; and he used the incense thurible that Pastor Grobien had brought back from Indonesia, because it was at the altar of incense, as we have heard this morning, that Zacharias received the Word and promise of the Lord concerning the son who would be born to him and Elizabeth, although they had previously been unable to have children, and now they were seemingly too old.

It is especially appropriate that we should remember this occasion and the conception of St. John the Baptist at this time, as we have now entered the sacred Season of Advent and wait upon the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For it is the special office and vocation of St. John to go before the face of the Lord, to prepare His Way, and to prepare the people for His coming in the flesh.

In this Holy Gospel, then, St. Zacharias is found going about the duties of his priestly office, offering the incense within the Jerusalem Temple at the time of the morning or evening sacrifice.  Those daily sacrifices were important and significant, but they were preliminary and preparatory to the incense, which ascended to the Lord as the tangible prayer and petition of Israel for the restoration of God’s Word and the preaching of it, and for the Redemption of His people.

It is this petition, which St. Zacharias offers on behalf of Israel, which has been heard and is here answered by the Lord in the message of the great Archangel Gabriel.  Not that Zacharias and his wife have been holding out hope for a family at their age, but that their hope in the Lord will be fulfilled in the sending of God’s own Son within the house and lineage of David, and that their son, St. John, conceived and born by the grace of God, will come first to usher in the Christ.

By the sending of His Son in human flesh and blood like yours, conceived and born of St. Mary, God the Father turns toward His lost and wayward children, and He opens His heart to them in love.  And by the sending of St. John the Forerunner, He calls them back to Himself, turning their hearts away from sin and death to forgiveness and life in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.

St. John prepares the Way of the Lord, and he prepares the people for the coming of the Lord, by the preaching and baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  In the waters of the Jordan, the people are put to death to themselves, to their sins, and to the world with all of its idolatry, and they are raised up out of the water, cleansed and made brand new within and without, to live before the Lord in the righteousness of faith and love.

The surprising thing, of course, even to St. John at the time, is that the Lord Jesus comes and submits Himself to that same preaching and baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, although He has no sins of His own.  He is baptized by St. John for the sins of the whole world.

So it is that St. John the Baptist, as the priestly son of a priestly father, prepares the Lamb of God for sacrifice and offers Him up to the Lord.  In entering the Jordan River, Jesus enters into the sin and death of all the people and makes it all His own, even unto His death upon the Cross.  And in His coming up out of the water to the Voice of His Father, to the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and to an open heaven, He receives the promise of the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting, which He has accomplished for you and for all people in His own Body of flesh and blood, and to which He called our brother Robert all those years ago, in 1936, in the waters of Holy Baptism.

As surely as the Archangel Gabriel spoke the Word of the Lord to St. Zacharias at the altar of incense, so surely did the same Lord speak His Word to Bob when he was baptized into Christ Jesus by Pastor Weber at Ridgedale Presbyterian Church in South Bend.  There he was rescued from sin, death, the devil, and hell; and there he was given the sure and certain promise of the Resurrection and the divine gift of eternal Life and Light and Love for both his body and his soul.

That Word of the Lord has been the absolute Truth from the very start, as the Lord Himself remains ever and always faithful.  He does not lie or deceive, nor is He unable to keep His promises.  It is, for now, by faith and not by sight.  But it has already been accomplished and established in the Body of Christ Jesus, that is, the same Body with which He has fed Bob at this very Altar for all these many years.  Faith thus clings to Christ in His Word and in His good gifts of the Gospel.

You know, as Bob did, that it’s often not easy.  To be sure, it is impossible for sinful man, except by the Word and Spirit of the Lord.  Even righteous Zacharias doubted and disbelieved the Word of the Lord to begin with.  And Bob also had his days of doubts and fears, of anxiety and stress. Nowhere is sin more prevalent and persistent than in the hearts of mortal men, who do not trust the Word and promises of God but worry and fret about tomorrow and fear death more than God.

This year was a particularly tough and challenging one for Bob.  Not only with all the troubles and violence across the country and throughout the world, but especially as he watched some of his good friends grow weaker and die, and as he faced the frailties of his own flesh.  His heart attack this past week also brought back memories of the attack he suffered some seven years ago, which was another stressful time.  But I don’t suppose that anything challenged Bob’s confidence more than the death of his twin great grandsons, Levi and Owen, which weighed so heavily upon him.

Our Father disciplines his children in love, just as He disciplined St. Zacharias with ten months of silence, that we might learn to quiet our troubled hearts and minds and to listen to the mouth of the Lord.  The office and vocation of St. John the Baptist continues to this day in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which is the daily and ongoing significance of Baptism, calling you back to the confidence and certainty of Christ and His Cross, by which you are saved.

Even now, the Father turns toward you and opens His heart to you in the Word of Christ and in His Word made Flesh.  So, then, having tasted the kindness of the Lord in the Gospel, keep on thirsting for the pure spiritual milk of His Word.  Regardless of your age or experience, even on the cusp of ninety years, like Bob, you are called to be and to live like a little child, like a newborn infant, fed and cared for by the Father in His Son and by His Spirit within His Holy Christian Church.

It was by that steadfast grace of God that Bob lived his life and finally faced his death with faith in Jesus Christ.  Not only in the good times, but also in the bad, in both happiness and sadness.  Not by his own wisdom, reason, or strength, but by the mercies of the Lord.  He bore the Cross that he was given to bear and carry, following after Jesus in the promise and hope of the Resurrection.

Indeed, it is by the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord that Bob’s whole body and life were being conformed to the image of Christ, his Savior; in much the same way that you (and all Christians) are called to offer up your body and life as a sacrifice of praise to the glory of your God and Father, so that the world, in the midst of its deep darkness, should see the Life and Light of Christ in you.

That priestly sacrifice of Christian faith and life was beautifully exemplified in Robert Johnston, and not only when he was portraying St. Zacharias in our children’s Christmas pageant.  The good fruits of the Cross of Christ and of His Resurrection from the dead, such as Bob received in the Ministry of the Gospel, were abundant in his own callings and stations in life.

Faithful in bearing the Cross in the service of his country back in the mid-40s, Bob was also then a faithful and devoted husband to his dear wife for almost seven decades.  What a testimony Bob thus gave to the faithfulness of our heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  He was likewise a man after God’s own heart, as a father turned in love to the children.  First of all to his own daughters, and then as a father to many other descendants, so to speak; not by genealogy, but by faith and love in Christ, not unlike old father Abraham.  Five years of foster care for a total of twenty one babies.  And then, in his retirement, nine years of rocking newborn babies at the hospital, some eight or nine hundred of them he told me this past Monday.

He wondered out loud whether it was weird for a man to love babies so much.  But it was not.  It was a demonstration of the true strength of a real man who showed genuine care and compassion for the weak and little ones.  As God the Father turned His heart toward Bob in Christ Jesus, so did Bob turn his heart in love toward all those children for the sake of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

By the same token, at the other end of the spectrum, Bob and Herta have also been demonstrating the love of God in Christ by visiting so many of our homebound members over the years.  I cannot even tell you how often I have gone to see those dear folks and have had them say, “Oh, Bob and Herta called or stopped by to see me.”  What I can tell you is that it has meant the world to them.

Now, in my experience and estimation, Bob was generally a quiet and gentle man, but he did have things to say, and he said them as much with his life as with his lips.  When he was confirmed here at Emmaus, Pastor Kleinhans gave him the verse that the choir has sung for us this morning:

Whosoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father who is in heaven.

That is what it was: Not Bob earning his salvation by his good works, but Bob confessing his Savior, Christ Jesus, by loving his neighbor as he was loved.  For the Spirit bears the fruits of the Gospel in those who hear and receive it, as Bob was given to do by the grace of God up until this past Sunday.  To “confess” is to say the same thing, so Bob spoke to others as he was spoken to.

And according to His promise, Christ also confesses Bob before the Father in heaven, just as He has brought Bob to the Father in Himself.  For Christ Jesus is our merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is the Sacrifice of Atonement for all of our sins, and He is the Whole Burnt Offering who has given Himself entirely for our salvation, so that we might belong entirely to God.  He is also the sweet smelling Incense that arises and ascends unto the Father, so that Bob and all who are in Christ are well pleasing to Him.  The Lord Jesus Christ is our Prayer and Petition to the Father, even as He has risen from the dead and ever lives to make intercession for us before the Throne of God.  But so is He also the Answer to your every prayer and your every need, as He is given and poured out for His Christians to eat and to drink in the Holy Communion.

The Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, is the true and everlasting Temple of God, whereby the Lord abides with you, here on earth as it is in heaven, and wherein you abide with Him, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.  Whereas St. Zacharias entered the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem, probably only on that one occasion, you are called to enter the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, as a member of His royal priesthood in Christ Jesus, and to live and abide there with Him forever and ever.  His Body is your true home, now and always, here at His Altar, and in the Resurrection of your body unto eternal life.

When I saw Bob at the hospital, what turned out to be the last time, this past Monday, he was sitting up and actually looked pretty good for a guy who had just suffered a severe heart attack.  He told me then that he expected to go home the next day.  I was surprised by that prospect, but I didn’t question him.  And as it turned out, he was more right than he could possibly have known.

Like you, Bob was but a stranger here, a sojourner, an alien in a foreign country, as it were.  His true home is with the Lord, in the better Country of the heavenly Promised Land, in the true City with lasting foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God — the Holy City, New Jerusalem, of which Bob sang together with the congregation here at Emmaus less than one week ago.

See how the Lord has shown His favor to His dear child, Robert.  The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has called Bob to Himself.  He has answered all of his prayers by His Word and by the Redemption of His Son.  Now his soul and spirit are at peace.  All of his labors are ended.  And at the last, his body also shall be raised from the dust of the earth and glorified forever, like unto the glorious Body of Christ.  And so shall he live, both body and soul, forever and ever in Christ.

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

30 November 2016

Prepared By and For the Coming of Christ

For the culture around you, what passes for “Advent” begins the day after Thanksgiving with Black Friday and the shopping season frenzy.  But for the Church, the Season of Advent begins with the Sunday closest to this day, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  And there could hardly be a more appropriate starting point to your preparations for the Coming of Christ Jesus.

To begin with, St. Andrew was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament Prophets and the Forerunner of the Christ.  St. John is a particularly significant Advent figure, and we’ll be hearing more about him (and from him) in the weeks before us.  For he is the Voice of God, crying out in the wilderness to prepare the Way of the Lord.  And it is by his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that St. Andrew was brought to Christ Jesus.

In much the same way, you also are prepared for the coming of Christ, you are brought to Him and given to follow Him as a disciple, by the office and ministry of St. John the Baptist, that is, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins in the Name of the Lord.

You could not prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But, with Andrew and the other disciples, you are prepared for Christ and brought to Him by His Word and Sacrament.

The preaching of the Law calls you to repentance by exposing your sin and your desperate need for a Savior.  Do not grow weary of hearing that Word, for it remains true throughout your life, until you shall return to the dust from which you are taken.  As you examine your life according to the Law of the Lord and His Ten Commandments, you discover nothing in you but sin and death.  You do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You do not call upon His Name at all times and in all places.  You do not give your full attention to His Word and preaching.  And for all of this, for all your lack of faith and love, it is true that what you deserve is nothing else but punishment, the righteous wrath and eternal punishment of God.

Confronted by this condemnation of the Law, your only proper and appropriate response is sorrow at your sin, humble contrition, and true repentance.

And already the Lord’s response is to meet your sin with His Word and preaching of the Gospel, His gracious Word of Holy Absolution, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, which is given to you in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God,” who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the whole world.

This simple description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” as St. John describes Him to Andrew and the other disciples, is an extraordinarily rich and significant proclamation of the Gospel.  It first of all recalls the sacrifices that Yahweh provided for the atonement and forgiveness of His people.  But it also signifies that Jesus is the Lamb whom God has provided for Himself, in the place of young Isaac, and in the place of all the sons and daughters of man.  And as such, it points to Jesus as the true and everlasting Passover Lamb, whose Blood now covers His people forever from death and judgment, and whose Body feeds them as the Meal of Salvation and fellowship with the Lord.

Hearing this Word of the Lord on a regular basis, the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, is the way and the means by which you remember and live within the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism, to which His Word called you from the outset.  Day by day, His Law crucifies your flesh and calls you to repentance, and His Gospel raises you up with Christ Jesus in His Resurrection, adorning you with His perfect righteousness and holiness, so that you are ready for His Coming.

Thus do you live the Christian life, the daily discipline of repentance and forgiveness.  And thus are you prepared throughout Advent, along with St. Andrew, as a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  But then also, with St. Andrew, you are catechized to follow Christ Jesus as one of His disciples.

That is one of the main points to this Holy Gospel.  St. Andrew did not remain with St. John the Baptist.  The Forerunner’s task (and the task of preachers to this day) is to prepare the people for the Christ, to lead the people to the Christ, and to entrust them to Christ Jesus alone.  So it was that St. John’s Baptism became the Baptism of Christ and His Spirit, and St. John’s preaching of repentance was for the forgiveness of sins because it pointed the people to the Lamb of God.

It may not have been easy for St. John to let go of his own disciples and to send them after Christ.  He likely struggled with his pride and the temptation of his own self-importance.  But the Word and Spirit of the Lord gave St. John the strength to carry out faithfully the duties of his office, as we have heard, for example, in this case of St. Andrew.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. John declared.  And that was all it took.  From that point, St. Andrew would follow the Lord Jesus.

It’s not just a case of chasing after Him to get His autograph.  St. Andrew addresses the Lord as “Rabbi” (teacher), and thereby acknowledges that he will learn all things from Jesus.  Being a “disciple” in this way is more than going to classes, reading books, doing your homework, and taking exams, as though the Christian faith and life were some kind of academic pursuit or a terminal degree program.  Being a disciple certainly does involve the learning of facts and the acquisition of knowledge, but that is really only one small part of discipleship.

As a disciple of Jesus, St. Andrew would learn how to live his entire life from his new Rabbi.  He would be learning life itself.  He would “eat, sleep, and breathe” the Way of Christ, like a new recruit in boot camp.  That is what it means to be a disciple: For you now, as for Andrew then.

That is the significance of finding out where Jesus is staying, and then coming to abide with Him there.  The disciples of Jesus live their entire life with Him, both day and night, 24/7.  For He is the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with us, and as the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins and raised from the dead, He is Himself the Temple wherein we live and abide with God.

Along with St. Andrew, you are called to find your entire life in Christ Jesus, to follow Him and learn all things from Him as a disciple.  From the waters of your Baptism into Christ, you live and walk in the Way of the Lord in daily repentance and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And you also come and see where He is staying, and you stay with Him in the House of the Lord; which is to say that you live and abide with Him within His Body, the Church.

It is within His Church that you “eat, sleep, and breathe” Christ Jesus, learning from Him, from His Cross and Resurrection, how to live and how to die by faith in His Word as a Christian.  Here it is that you recall the significance of your Baptism, the door by which you first entered into His House.   And here you participate in the “Household Meal” of His New Testament Passover.

As in the case of St. Andrew, following Christ Jesus and living with Him in His House is not a selfish or solitary pursuit.  There is no such thing as a private Christian.  Rather, as St. Andrew first sought and found his brother, Simon, seek out your family and friends; urge them to come and see and join with you in receiving the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the Christ who has come.

Do it by confessing the Word that you have heard, and by the example of your life in accordance with that Word.  As you learn to live your entire life by faith in Christ, as a Christian disciple, show forth His Gospel in dealing with your neighbors.  Demonstrate the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you receive from Christ.  This most natural evangelism isn’t any sort of program; it is a way of life in the Way of Christ, just as He teaches you to live in Him.  So, like St. Andrew, bring others to Jesus by bringing them to His Church, to the House where He is found in the flesh.

To be sure, in bringing his brother, Simon Peter, to Christ Jesus, St. Andrew also foreshadowed the additional way in which he and his brother would be called to serve the Lord.  For these men were not only called to follow Jesus as disciples — as you and all Christians are called to follow Jesus and to learn from Him — but they were also called and sent as Apostles of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is quite another matter altogether, for which we give thanks and celebrate.

As an Apostle, St. Andrew was sent in the Name and stead of Christ, as a personal representative of the Good Shepherd.  In that office and vocation, he continued the Ministry of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself.  He baptized others into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, he preached the Word unto repentance and faith, and he fed the sheep with the very Lamb of God.

In all of these ways and means, the Ministry of the Gospel is more than just a word or message about Jesus.  It is the real presence and proclamation of Christ Himself, who comes to you here and now by these very Means of Grace to prepare you for His coming in glory for the final judgment.

Although we have not received any written record of St. Andrew’s preaching and teaching as part of the New Testament Scriptures, he remains (along with St. Peter and the other Apostles) an important and integral part of that “foundation of the Apostles and Prophets,” upon which the Christian Church on earth has been established by the Lord Jesus Christ, even to this day.

Our blessed Lord, in His own divine wisdom and great mercy, chose to call St. Andrew to that Apostolic Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of His Church and to the glory of His holy Name.  And as St. John writes in his Book of the Revelation, we know that St. Andrew’s name, as one of the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb,” adorns the foundation of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, the very city of heaven itself, for which we wait and hope and daily pray, especially during Advent.

In a very real sense, that Apostolic Ministry began when St. Andrew left St. John the Baptist and took his brother with him to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  From that day, the very same Apostolic Ministry has continued by the grace of the same Lord Jesus throughout the centuries, also here and now to you, by which you are prepared for the Salvation ready to be revealed on the Last Day.

By this Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, and by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, given and poured out for you to eat and drink, you are prepared to face your death and your own “judgment day,” as St. Andrew was prepared by the same Word and Sacraments of Christ for his own courageous death as a Christian martyr.

Having been baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ, and having been fed by His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, St. Andrew knew by faith that he had been made ready by Christ Jesus Himself, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.  So also for you and all who are baptized into Christ.  Even your death from this mortal life is not able to separate you from Him.

That is what the Feast of St. Andrew and the penitential Season of Advent are really all about.

No matter how much Advent and the shopping season might coincide on the calendar, they are as different as night and day.  In the one case, you prepare yourself for a frenzy of fun by spending lots of money, time, and energy, and by working hard to do and do and do a million things.  But in the other case, in the Season of Advent, you do nothing for yourself.  You spend nothing, and you do no work at all, but you receive by grace the free forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ.

Here within His Church you are prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus, for that day when He shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, by the coming of the same Lord Jesus Christ right here and now in the Ministry of His Gospel.  For He is here with you in the flesh, the very Lamb of God who takes away, not only the sins of the world, but all of your sins.

And so it is that, with St. Andrew, and with all the saints who have gone before us in the faith of the Lord Jesus, you are baptized in His Name as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His God and Father in heaven.  You are forgiven by the grace of His Gospel.  You are fed from His Table and served by His love.  And by this Apostolic Ministry of Christ, you are given His Life Everlasting.

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

27 November 2016

Your King Comes to Reign from His Cross

This morning we have approached the destination of our dear Lord’s steadfast journey, from the womb of the Blessed Virgin and the Bethlehem manger, to Golgatha and the grave.  For having taken upon Himself all your sickness, suffering, sin, and death, He prepares to hand Himself over to the Cross, to offer Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

It is to this end and for this sacred purpose that Christ the King has come.  Not by might, not by power, but by His Spirt He comes to take up the Cross and die in your stead.  And strange as it might seem by the standards of the world, and by the sinful standards of your own heart and mind, it is by His sacrificial death that He is crowned, and from His Cross that He reigns as your King.

Heretofore, you have had no true Lord nor real King, but you have been held captive in the devil’s power, a citizen of his hellish kingdom, condemned to die, and blinded by your own sinfulness.

But now draws near this King, who comes to you with righteousness and salvation, yet all meek and humble on the back of a donkey.  He comes to raise the standard of His Cross over you in love, to claim you as His own, that you might live henceforth with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness and purity forever, even as He has conquered death and lives and reigns to all eternity.

So, if it seems strange that Advent now begins with Palm Sunday, with the entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem on the brink of His Passion, the wisdom of the Church has for centuries done so, that she might remember the purpose for which the Christ-Child comes.  He is born of the Woman, He is born under the Law, so that by His Cross He might redeem those who are under the Law.

St. Matthew likewise recalls the Nativity of our Lord in this Holy Gospel.  For the people greet Jesus as the “Son of David,” just as the genealogy of Christ and the visit of the angel to St. Joseph have testified.  The whole city is “shaken” today by the coming of King Jesus, just it was disturbed by the visit of the Magi at the time of His birth.  And He is here described by the multitudes as the Prophet from Nazareth, thus recalling His earthly heritage and His childhood home.

Approaching the Nativity of Christ from the perspective of His much-later entry into Jerusalem helps to clarify that Advent is far more than simply a season of Christmas preparations.  You might easily remember that it is certainly more than decorations and baking, parties and presents; and many will remind you, as you will remind others, to keep Christ in Christmas.  But the point is that Advent is more than Christmas-preparation-tide, spiritual or otherwise.

“Advent,” as you may know, is Latin for the “coming.”  But there is a three-fold coming of Christ Jesus to which the Church gives attention during Advent Tide.  It is a three-fold coming of the Lord Jesus, which sets the stage for the entire Church Year, and really for your entire Christian life.

Although it typically receives the most attention, the coming of Christ on that first Christmas is the least significant focus of Advent.  Not that Christmas is unimportant.  It is quite right  that you remember and give thanks for the Nativity of our Lord Jesus, not only during Advent and at Christmas, but all year long.  Indeed, His coming in the flesh, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is necessary for everything else, for your salvation, and for all of the ways that He comes to you.

But neither Advent nor Christmas is simply a nostalgic recollection of history.  These seasons are not a visit from the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” calling you to shame for your forgetfulness.  They are a celebration of the present grace of God in Christ, and of His promise for the future.  And all of this hinges on the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh, not only once upon a time, but here and now in His Church, and again when He shall come to bring you from this mortal life into Paradise.

The first and most significant Advent, therefore, is the coming of Christ right here and now in this time and place.  He does so in much the same way as He retrieves that donkey in this Holy Gospel.  He sends some of His disciples as the Ministers of His Word to speak and act on His behalf.  And so it is that His men now come to you in His Name to deal with you by His authority as your Lord.

He sends them to find those who are bound, to loose them from their sins, and to bring them to Himself.  For this task He gives to them His Word of command and of promise, and so also the washing of the water with His Word, and the giving of His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.  It is by this Ministry of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments that He comes to you today in preparation for His coming again.  And these Gifts of Christ are the special focus of Advent.

As your true King thus comes to you in these several ways — at Christmas, by His Holy Ministry, and at your Last Day — He comes to reign over you by and from His Cross.  As you remember His sacred Nativity, as you receive Him to yourself in His Gospel, and as you rejoice in the promise of His glorious coming, your hope and your confidence are found in His Cross and Passion.

It is to that Cross that He approaches, as He draws near to Jerusalem.  And by His Word to you this morning, He draws near to reveal both how and why He comes to reign as your King from His Cross.  He comes in humility and meekness.  He comes to help you and to save you from your sin.

His humility and meekness are foretold by the Prophet Zechariah, stressed by St. Matthew, and demonstrated especially by the humble donkey and her colt.  For Jesus comes, not on a warhorse, but on a beast of burden, which is what He Himself becomes in bearing the burden of your sin.  All of this He does and bears, unto the perfection of His humility and meekness on the Cross.

He humbles Himself unto death, even the death of His Cross, and there He meekly bears the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all of your sins, in order to rescue and redeem you from the damnation that would otherwise await you and all people on the final Judgment Day.  For in your pompous pride and sinful arrogance, thinking of yourself more highly than you should, you have rejected the Lord your God and followed your own willful pursuits.

If you examine yourself honestly according to the Ten Commandments, as the Lord has taught you to do, then you shall sadly find that there is nothing else in you but sin and death, from which you could never by any means set yourself free.  That was and is your predicament apart from Christ Jesus, as St. Paul has made clear in his Epistle to the Romans.

Thus, for example, when St. Paul writes that Love is the fulfillment of the Law, you should rightly hear and understand that God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself, and that you are not permitted to do any harm of any kind to anyone — not in your thoughts, not with your words, and not by your behavior.  To love and not to hurt is not a matter of personal opinion or free choice.  It is the Law of God, which condemns your lack of love and threatens to punish your sins.

The truth is that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  You have lusted after the flesh.  You have gotten angry and kindled hatred in your heart.  You have wasted the gifts of God and withheld them from your neighbor in his need, loving money and stuff more than other people.  You have gossiped and complained against even your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You have burned with envy and jealousy for the blessings that God has chosen to give to others.  In all of these ways and many more, you live in the darkness of sin and are deserving of death and hell.

But the words of St. Paul become the Words of sweetest comfort when they are heard in the light of the Holy Gospel.  For all that Jesus did and suffered took place in accordance with the Word of the Prophets.   His Love for you and for all people is the fulfillment of His Law.  For God is Love, and He has loved you with an everlasting Love and given Himself for you in the flesh of Christ.

He has been faithful to His adulterous Bride.  He has given life to His murderous children.  He has given all things to those who have greedily wasted His gifts of creation.  He has defended you, spoken well of you, and registered His own good works to your credit and account.  He has not desired to deprive you of any good thing, but has coveted your sin and death and taken these upon Himself, that He might give you His forgiveness in their place, His righteousness and eternal life.

It is divine Love, incarnate in Christ Jesus, that has fulfilled the Law of God, both for you and on your behalf.  He does you no harm, but draws near to bring you His salvation.  And so He does by giving you nothing less than Himself.  He has dressed you with Himself and His righteousness in your Holy Baptism, so that you are now able to clothe yourself in Christ by recalling the daily and lifelong significance of your Baptism.  He feeds you with Himself, with His own Body and Blood, so that your mortal flesh and blood might be made brand new and perfected in His divine image.

As your dear King comes to you and reigns over you with His Cross, so does He draw near to your neighbor in you.  By your words and deeds of charity, He loves your neighbor as He loves you.

So does your King come to reign from His Cross.  He comes to rescue and deliver you from the threatening perils of your sin, from death and the devil, and to save you by His mighty deliverance.  But His “mighty deliverance” is accomplished for you in the humblest of ways and means.

Born for you in a stable on the outskirts of a tiny little no-place town.  Living homeless on earth with no place to lay His head.  Ridiculed, tormented, and convicted to die by His own citizens, the very people He has come to save.  Crucified, dead, and buried.  Even following His Resurrection, in the ongoing life of His Church on earth, He sends the most humble of men to be His apostolic ministers, the pastors of His lambs and sheep; and He equips them with such humble, ordinary means — with human words, with water, bread, and wine — nothing much to see on the surface.

Even so, in all these ways, by all these means, He is your King who comes to reign from His Cross.  To be your Savior from sin by the forgiveness of His Blood.  To slay death forever, to conquer hell, to trample Satan underfoot and crush his serpent-head.  All of this He has done for you by His Cross.  And now He shares His “mighty deliverance” with you by uniting you with Himself in His Cross and Resurrection, by cleansing you in the waters of His Baptism, by speaking to you His Spirit-filled Word of Absolution, and by feeding you with His own sacrificial Body and Blood.

Words and water, bread and wine.  Holy Absolution, Body and Blood.  These are the ways and means that He has given to His Church and to His Christian people.  It is by these good gifts of His Gospel that your King comes to reign over you with all the treasures of His Cross, in order to save you from sin, to deliver you from death and the devil, and to help you in every trouble.

The means of grace are no more impressive than a manger, than a donkey, than a Cross.  But being the means of Christ, they are no less real, no less divine, and no less powerful to give you His Life.

Therefore, do not neglect His grace and mercy toward you.  And do not be ashamed to receive this Crucified One as your King, who comes to reign among you from His Cross.  His humility and His meekness are the very power and wisdom of God.  They are your righteousness and salvation.

Rejoice, therefore, O daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you here and now!  Greet Him with your glad “hosannas” of faith, and with the palms of piety and holy living.  And together with the Church of His disciples — those who have gone before, and those who shall follow after — receive Him as the Christ, your Lord and Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the crucified and living King of all creation, of the heavens and the earth and of all that is in them, both now and forever.

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

23 November 2016

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving in Christ

It truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should at all times, and in all places, and for all things, give thanks to your God and Father in heaven through your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to Him, first of all, for His most precious gift, that is, for the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and then also for every other good thing that you have.  For all of the blessings in your life are bestowed upon you for the sake of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

In love for you, He has gone out of His way to seek you out and save you.  In making His way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world, He deliberately goes out of His way to tread upon the ground of Gentiles, pagans, Samaritans, strangers and aliens.  He goes out of His way to seek and to save the lost.  He goes looking for you, who once were nobody at all, but now, because He has found you and called you to Himself, you are a child of God and one of His dear people.

He has come for this purpose, in order to have mercy upon you.  When you pray, “Lord, have mercy,” you discover that He is already answering that petition.  For He is Mercy in the Flesh, in Person.  He has come to have mercy upon you, and in His mercy to save you from sin and from death, and from all that troubles and attacks you, from your great enemy, the devil, from your own old Adam, and from the sinful world around you.  He has come to set you free.

He’s come to do it by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death in the flesh, bearing your sins in His Body.  And all good things He has granted to you in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  His salvation is not a disembodied “spiritual” existence, but a resurrection of your body and life in Him, that you should live forever in both body and soul with your God and Father in heaven.

Everything that you need for both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting, all of it is from Jesus, and through Jesus, and in Jesus, in His crucified and risen Body.  And it all depends on His forgiveness of sins.  You are worthy of none of those things that you need and for which you pray.  He gives them to you solely by His grace, or you do not receive them at all.  His grace must necessarily forgive your sins, if you are to have life at all instead of the death you deserve.

Upon that forgiveness of God, which is in Christ Jesus your Lord, everything else depends.

It is for this reason that Christ has come, and by His death He has achieved the forgiveness of all your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He’s reconciled the world to God.  And so it is that, even though the world does not know Him or recognize Him or want anything to do with Him, it carries on for now by His grace, eating and drinking, living and breathing, all on account of His Cross, because of the atoning sacrifice of His death in the place of sinners everywhere.  It is likewise for the sake of His Cross that all things are yours in Him.

Whatever it is you need, look to God in Christ to receive it.  Pray to your Father in Jesus’ Name, that is to say, trusting Him who is your Savior, who has given Himself for you.  Do not suppose that any aspect of your life is removed from His gracious care.  Do not suppose that any petition is too small or too great.  For you are precious to the Lord your God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Are you afraid for your job or for your income?  For your savings or your pension?  Pray that God would be merciful to you and provide for all of your needs.  Are you worried about your health, or about the health of your family?  Pray to your Father in heaven in Jesus’ Name, and trust that He will give healing according to His good and gracious will for your salvation.

Are you worried about your children, as to what they will do and what will become of them?  Are you worried about your friends, whether they love you, or whether they will turn their backs on you and leave?  Are you worried about the government or the country and where it’s all headed?

Whatever your worries and concerns, Pray.  That is what Christians do.  That is what faith does.  It cries out, “Lord, have mercy! Kyrie, eleison!”  That is the prayer of the lepers.  And hear how Jesus responds.  He looks upon them.  He sees them in mercy.  And He answers their prayer.  He sends them on their way, and as they go, according to His Word, they are cleansed.

So also for you.  By the Word of Christ you are cleansed, inside and out, for now and forever.  For He is the Good Physician of both soul and body.  Therefore, trust in Him.  Pray to Him in the hope of His mercy, and wait upon Him in peace.  Rely upon Him for all that you need.

It is unto that fear, love, and trust in Christ Jesus that your Father in heaven disciplines you in love.  Not to discourage or destroy you, nor to cause you pain, but rather to increase your faith and trust in Christ.  He would thus teach you how to live, because He would not have you die.

He teaches you to call upon His Name, to petition Him for mercy.  And so also to intercede for others.  For your own family and your friends.  For your neighbors, even for your enemies and those who hurt you.  And especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You pray and intercede for the world and for all people in the confidence that God desires every one of them to be saved.  And you do so in the certainty of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

And with that prayer and petition, because His grace and mercy are so certain, and because God gave His Son to save the world and raised Him from the dead, it is indeed meet, right, and salutary that you should also give Him thanks and praise.  Not only when times are good, but at all times, both good and bad.  At the end of every day, no matter what calamity has struck, Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And He will not desert you.  He is faithful, and His Word and promises are true.  Your prayers are surely heard and answered in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, the answer to all that you ask of Him has already been granted by the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection from the dead.

You hear and receive God’s resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” to your every need and your every petition in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  By His Cross all is finished.  In His Resurrection from the dead, all is fulfilled.

His Body of flesh and blood like yours, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  It is in His Body that we look forward to a New Heavens and New Earth, the Home where righteousness dwells.  For in His Resurrection from the dead, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified and is set free from the bondage of sin and death.  Everything is made brand new, beautiful, gracious, and lovely in the Body of Christ.

It is in His Body and with His holy and precious Blood that He lives and reigns forever as your merciful and great High Priest according to the power of His indestructible Life.  There’s nothing that can destroy Him.  And as you are in Him by His grace, there is nothing that can destroy you.

You receive everything that you need in your dear Lord, Jesus Christ.  In His Word to you.  And in His Body and His Blood, which are your sure and certain Anchor behind the Veil, within the true Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, yet also given and poured out for you here at His Altar in His Church on earth, that you might eat and drink and abide in Him, as He thus abides in you.

And though you may wonder how this may help, or if it even matters, it helps in every way.  For God has taken a body like your own.  He has allowed Himself to be subjected to suffering and death and every evil, and to the righteous judgment of His own Law.  He has been tempted in every way that you are.  He has endured the infirmities of mortal flesh and blood.  He has gotten tired.  He knows what a hard day’s work is like, and then some!  He knows what it feels like to hunger and to thirst, and to have nowhere to lay His head.  He knows what it is like to be abandoned by His friends, to be rejected by His own, to be spit upon and mocked and ridiculed and scorned.  He has taken all of this sorrow and has borne it in His flesh, and He has dealt with it all by His death.

And from death He has been vindicated.  He has overcome.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  And with that very flesh and blood by which He has overcome sin, death, the devil, and hell, He feeds you in your own flesh.  How could He love you more clearly and dearly than that?  And how could He grant you His Salvation more profoundly and intimately than that?  For your body He has died and risen, and to your body He gives His own Life.

Get you then to that good Priest in His Sacrament of the Altar!  For His Holy Supper is the heart and center of God’s Kingdom among you.  Do you want to know where to find God?  He is here.  Do you want to know where and how to worship Him and give Him thanks?  It is especially here.

That is, in many ways, the main point to this beautiful story that St. Luke has recorded.  And the Samaritan gets it.  But note that all ten men went at the Word of Jesus, and they were all healed.  Do not suppose the other nine were faithless and unbelieving.  They did what Jesus said and went to the priest.  They were cleansed by the rites and ceremonies that God had given through Moses.

The Samaritan, however, by the grace of God, recognized and understood something deeper, something even more profound.  By the Word and Spirit of the Lord, He perceived that the Temple of God was now to be found in the Body of Christ Jesus; that he would praise and glorify God by prostrating himself at the feet of Jesus; and that, in giving thanks to Jesus, he was thanking God.  For God is in the Flesh of Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, dwelling among you bodily.

He is not far away and far removed from you.  He has drawn near.  In His Holy Supper is where God is in your midst as your merciful High Priest, as the true Temple, and as the Sacrifice once offered for the sins of the world, now distributed to His people as their real Food and real Drink.

Here is where He gives you salvation.  Here is where He gives you His indestructible Life.  So that, even if cancer eats away at your flesh, and even if Alzheimer’s takes your mind, and whatever other ailments may destroy your body, they still cannot win.  For you shall rise, since God has put His own Flesh into yours.  The One who has risen from the dead shall raise you up with Himself.

The Altar from which Christ gives you His Body and Blood is thus also the place of thanksgiving.  That is why the Church from the earliest days has described the Holy Communion as the Eucharist, which is simply the Greek word for thanksgiving, the very thing that Samaritan offered to Jesus.

In receiving His good gifts, you give Him thanks especially in this place.  But not only here.  You live your whole life to and from this Altar, to and from the Body and Blood of Jesus.  As He feeds you, give Him thanks, and then also go your way — stand up and go — in thanksgiving to Him.

Nothing really characterizes the entire Christian life better than to give thanks to God in Christ for all His gifts and benefits.  To give thanks under all circumstances, at all times, and in all places.  To give thanks even when everything is falling apart.  To give thanks, even in the face of sin and death, is to confess and rejoice that Christ is risen indeed, and that you shall not die but live.

Go about your life in that thanksgiving, in that confidence of faith, in that hope of Christ which shall not disappoint you.  Do what you are given to do.  Do it not to receive thanks from God or man, but do it in thanksgiving to Him who is your Savior and your God by His grace alone.  Do it in thanksgiving to Him who forgives you all your sins and heals all of your diseases and gives you life everlasting.  For He is with you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Your whole life can be one of thanksgiving because of Him.  And take heart that He remains sure and steadfast for you, even when your gratitude falters and your lips and tongue grow silent.  He remains faithful.  He remains forever the One who has been sacrificed to God on your behalf, so that, by His grace, you might be raised up with Him in His Resurrection and live forever in Him.

Here, then, receive His good gifts.  Be cleansed and healed by His Word and Holy Spirit, by His Body and His Blood.  For He is your all-merciful Savior, and to Him belongs all glory, honor, thanks, and praise, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

20 November 2016

Today You Shall Be with Me in Paradise

Do you not fear God?  For you also will die, whether today, or tomorrow, or later.  And then will come the final judgment when you should rightly be condemned and punished for all of your sins of thought, word, and deed.

Of course it is true, by the grace of God, that you do not despise and mock your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, you love Him, and you follow Him, and you pray to Him who is your Savior.  But is your devotion to Him ordered by His Word and Holy Spirit in repentant faith?  Or do you weep over Him in all the wrong ways, for all the wrong reasons?

It is entirely possible, and altogether too common, to be all worked up and emotional about Jesus, and yet to be all mixed up and wrong headed about Him.  In fact, notwithstanding your prideful self-confidence, getting it right is beyond your ability.  What you imagine or feel about Jesus in your head or in your heart will mislead you and deceive you apart from His Word.

True religion is neither esoteric nor impractical.  It’s not about mushy good feelings, nor is it an opiate for the masses.  Rather, it informs and gives significant meaning to your entire life, to who you are and what you do, like nothing else can.  But true religion depends upon the one true God, on knowing Him rightly and living before Him in faith and love.  And none of this is within your power, wisdom, reason, or strength.  You can neither do it, nor can you even understand it.

The one true God is entirely present and fully revealed in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus.  In this humble and humiliated Man on His way to die.  In this convicted Criminal being executed by the governing authorities.  You do not have the Lord your God anywhere else than Him.  Nor can you find Him anywhere else, but only by way of His Cross and Passion.

It is by and from His Cross that the true and only God reigns over you in love as your King.

But look around you.  Look at the world around you.  Look at your home and family.  Examine your own heart and life.  And consider how often it is, that there is no king in Israel!  Not that He’s not around.  He’s there alright, the true King, hanging on the Tree in shame and bitter woe.  But who recognizes Him or reverences Him there?  Who acknowledges the King upon His Throne?

See what they do to Him.  See what you and your sins do to this King, and to His Tree, so green and full of life with His Body upon it.  What then shall become of a tree that is dry and lifeless?

And what sort of tree are you?  Are you living and fruitful?  Or are you dried up and dead?

When you recognize that it is God who hangs naked on the Tree of the Cross for you; that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him, as He is nailed through His hands and feet, crowned with thorns, pierced and wounded, beaten, bruised, and bleeding.  That He dies in love for you.  That God is there, hungering and thirsty.  That God is despised and afflicted, mocked and scorned.  That God is accursed by and because of your sins, for your idolatry and unbelief.  That God suffers the judgment and condemnation that you rightly deserve. . . .

When you realize and consider that, not only is God here crucified for you, but it is only by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, that He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you — and you have God nowhere else than there — then you will also see Him and serve Him in His poor and lowly and despised children and disciples.  You will recognize that God your Savior has identified Himself with the homeless and the hungry, with the persecuted and the imprisoned, with the bedraggled and beleaguered, and with those who are thirsty and in need of all kinds of help.

Do not weep for Jesus, nor presume to shed any tears for Him, while you turn a cold shoulder and a deaf ear to your neighbors, even to the least of them who are your Lord’s brothers and sisters.

Weep rather for yourself, and for your sins, and for your unbelief.  Weep also for your neighbor in loving compassion, and then, what is more, do what you can to be of help and service to him.

Repent of your sins, and so bear the fruits of true repentance, which are the fruits of the Cross.

Invest yourself, your time, your treasures, and your talents, your wisdom, reason, and strength — invest all of it, everything that you are and all that you have, in bearing and confessing the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ.  Speak the Word of His Cross as the very Truth of God, which puts to shame the supposed truth and wisdom of the world, and which also crucifies and puts to shame your own supposed wisdom, cleverness, and skills.  And as you speak, so also take up the Cross and carry it in love for your Lord and for those He has placed around you in this body and life.

By faith in Christ, by your Baptism into Him, you are a daughter of Jerusalem, a son of Abraham, indeed, a child of God.  And you are called to live a holy life according to His Word, which is to say, by the divine wisdom of His Cross and Passion.  What that is going to mean, and what that is going to look like in your life, will differ from the Cross that your neighbor is given to carry.  But each and every Christian is governed and guided by the Cross of Christ.  You are called to follow Him on the Way of the Cross within your own context and in all of your relationships, using whatever talents the Lord has provided to fulfill your duties to the glory of His holy Name.

The real meaning and the true purpose of your life are found in Christ the Crucified.  Not in what you do and accomplish for yourself, as though to advance your own agenda, but in what you receive from Him by the Ministry of His grace and so hand over to your neighbor in love.  In this way you honor Christ and His Sacrifice.  You love as He loves.  As His Kingdom comes to you in the mercy of His Gospel, so does His Kingdom come in mercy to your neighbor through you.

Do not dream that it is up to you to pick and choose where and how, or even if and when, you will live by such faith and serve your neighbor in love.  You are called to do so wherever the Lord has placed you, by whatever ways and means He has entrusted to your stewardship.

You are a servant of the King and a citizen of His Kingdom.  You are not a free agent, a neutral country, an independent nation, or an island unto yourself.  His Word is your Law, no less so than His Word is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  Hear it and heed it, believe it, and obey it.

Live in the confidence that He is the true King who reigns over you in love, with mercy upon you, and with forgiveness for all your sins.  By His Cross, He has redeemed you, purchased and won you for His very own, that you should live with Him in His Kingdom forever and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He has become your King, not to enslave or burden you, but to set you free from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you peace and rest.

Unlike the rulers of this world, He is the Lord and King whose glory it is to give you life and to bestow His generous gifts upon you.  His almighty power is manifest in showing mercy and pity — perfected in His own voluntary weakness, in His innocent suffering and death on your behalf.

You rightly call Him your Master, and you reverence Him as your Sovereign.  But consider and take to heart that He is here among you according to His good and gracious will, according to His mercy, and has become your Servant.  He has not come to be served, but to serve you with His own Body and Life: in His death upon the Cross, once for all, and now in the Ministry of His Gospel, for the forgiveness of your sins, for your righteousness and salvation.  And the fact that He chooses freely to do so in love for you, that is His greatness, that is His glory.  It is the manifestation of His divinity as the one true God in His own true Flesh and Blood, and of His divine Royalty.

The great green Tree of Christ the King, which sinful man has presumed to destroy, has borne all the more abundant fruit in His death.  The leaves of His Tree are forgiveness for the healing of the nations, and the Body and Blood that it bears are given and poured out for you and for the many for life and salvation with Him, both now and forever.

It is by this Tree of the Cross — planted among you by the Lord Himself, by the preaching of His Gospel — it is by this Tree from which He reigns over you and over His New Israel, the Church — it is by this Tree of the Cross that Paradise has truly been restored and fulfilled forevermore.

Today, He is with you, and you are with Him in that Paradise, in the Kingdom of His grace, on earth as it is in heaven.  Take, eat.  Drink.  Your King here feeds you at His royal Table and pours out for you His royal Cup.  Do not weep, daughter of Jerusalem.  Do not weep, son of Abraham.  Rather, rejoice, give thanks, and sing!  For Christ your King remembers you, and He saves you.

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