25 June 2017

That You May Be His Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 June 2017

The Compassion of the Good Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 June 2017

Knowing the Holy Trinity in Holy Baptism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 June 2017

The Water of Life from the Body of Christ

The high and holy Feast of Pentecost is of course a day of the Holy Spirit, as we confess and give thanks for His presence among us, and for His creation and preservation of our faith.  Today is therefore also a day of the Church; for whenever we confess the Holy Spirit, we also confess the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit and the Church go together, hand-in-glove, in such a way that you neither have nor confess either one without the other.

But the Feast of Pentecost Day, like every day in the life of the Church, is above all a day of Christ.  For the faith that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Holy Spirit is the Body & Bride of Christ Jesus.

The singular aim and purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ as the Son of the Father, as the Word-made-Flesh, and as your Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  That is what the Spirit does —  by the preaching of the Gospel, in the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism, and around the Table of our Lord in His Body and His Blood.  That is what the Holy Spirit does on this great and glorious Day of Pentecost, and that is what the Church now celebrates in the Spirit.

Pentecost is arguably the most ancient liturgical feast of the Church, since it was a Jewish Feast already prior to the coming of Christ.  Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover — just as we celebrate today on the fiftieth day of Easter — the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was one of three major pilgrim festivals observed each year in Jerusalem, as per the Word of God.  The other two were the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, the latter of which is central to this Holy Gospel.

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost was primarily a festival of the harvest.  On this day the Jews would offer the first-fruits of their wheat harvest to the Lord, and thus acknowledge Him as the Source of all creation, life, and growth.  And along with that confession of the Lord’s ongoing providence, the Jewish Pentecost also commemorated the covenants of the Lord — from His Covenant with Noah and the whole creation following the Flood, to His Covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai.

For the Church today, the new and greater Feast of Pentecost celebrates the life of the Church in the new and greater Covenant, that is, the New Testament of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, given and shed for the life of the world.  So also do the Holy Apostles, by the Spirit of Christ, harvest and offer, not wheat, but three-thousand people as the first-fruits of His Holy Gospel.

To understand this fulfillment of the Old Testament Pentecost in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, it is helpful to consider the Feast of Tabernacles, which is actually the context and the setting of this morning’s Holy Gospel from Saint John.  Knowing what’s going on with that occasion reveals a great deal about Christ, His Salvation, and the gift of His Holy Spirit.

The last, great day of the feast, mentioned by St. John, was the eighth day, the “Day of Rejoicing.”  But on each of the preceding seven days of the feast, the priests marched in procession from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple and poured out water at the base of the Altar.  This daily water-ritual was the central and most important activity in the week-long Feast of Tabernacles.

The public reading of the Scriptures at this feast included Prophecies from Zechariah and Ezekiel, which taught that rivers of living water would flow from the Temple and bring life to all the earth.  Hence the significance of the water-ritual, and the even greater significance of our Lord’s Word.  He stands up in the middle of the feast, and He cries out a sermon on those Prophecies of living water, identifying Himself as the true Temple of God, and His own Body the Altar of Sacrifice.  Out of Him flow the living waters of the Holy Spirit.  Whoever is thirsty must drink from Him.

Immediately following this Word of Jesus, St. John clarifies that the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified on the Cross.  But in due time we hear the fulfillment of His Word.  For in the perfection of His Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus hands over the Spirit from the Cross.  It is not that He simply breaths His last, but that He bestows the Holy Spirit as a gift to all those who believe in Him and look to His Cross for life.  And it is also in that same Hour, as He is glorified in death, that blood and water flow from out of His wounded side, comprising the very River of Life that He prophecies this morning at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

With the water from His side He has washed you in your Holy Baptism and poured out His Holy Spirit upon you.  And the blood from His side He pours out for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for life and salvation.  As St. John also writes in his first Epistle:

“This is He who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ.  Not only by water, but by the water and the blood.  And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is Truth.  For there are three which bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.  And these three agree as one.”

Now, keep these words in mind as we consider three things that happened at once in that Jewish water-ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles.  One priest would enter the Temple with a golden pitcher full of water from the Pool of Siloam; another priest would enter with a pitcher of wine for the drink-offering; and both of these men would come to the Altar for the burnt-offering sacrifice.  The water was poured into a funnel on the east end of the Altar, the wine into a funnel on the west, and both emptied out at the base of the Altar.

There can be no mistaking the fulfillment of this entire water-ritual and its significance in Christ.  For He is both the Temple and the Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who gives Himself entirely to the Father in death for the sins of the world and for your salvation.  His Cross is the Altar.  The water flows out of His side, and with it is poured out the Holy Spirit.  The wine is likewise poured out for you as His Blood, which flows as a River of Life from His crucified Body into all the scattered nations of the earth.  Thus are all of the Prophecies and Promises of God fulfilled in Christ alone.

So it is that St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon focuses on Christ.  For everything begins and ends with the Person and work of the incarnate Son of God, crucified, risen, and ascended in the flesh.

St. Peter pulls no punches in his preaching of the Law.  For the crucifixion of this Man of God, Christ Jesus, he calls the people of Jerusalem to repentance.  And by the Cross of Christ you are also called to repent, to confess your sins and believe the Gospel, since it was for your atonement and salvation that the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death.

But that is not the end of the story, nor the end of St. Peter’s sermon.  He moves from judgment and the Law to the sweetest Gospel of forgiveness.  For God raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification.  It was impossible for death and the grave to hold Him.  By His death, He has destroyed the power of sin and death; and so it is that you shall be raised in His Resurrection.

As Adam was first given life by the Breath or Spirit of God, so did Christ Jesus receive the Breath or Spirit of God in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours — at His Baptism in the Jordan River, and in His Resurrection from the dead — in order to bestow the same Spirit upon you and all who are baptized into Him.  Thus does He pour out the Spirit upon you, and breathe the Spirit into your body and soul, through His Word of the Gospel, His Holy Absolution of all your sins.  Thus are you a new creation in Christ Jesus, and thus do you live a new life by the Spirit of God.

Repent, therefore.  Confess your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Gospel.  Return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  Or, if you have not yet been baptized, submit yourself to be baptized by the washing of the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And according to His Word, as sure and certain as His Cross and Resurrection, you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is for you and for your children, and for all whom the Lord calls to Himself.

That is the significance of Pentecost for you.  It begins with Christ Himself, with His Baptism in the Jordan River, when He received the anointing of the Spirit in the form of a Dove; and with His Sacrifice on the Cross, when He poured out the Spirit for His Church in the water and the blood.

But this true Pentecost continues, even to the close of the age, in the Holy Baptism of each new Christian in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ, and in the New Testament of His Blood.  By these fruits of His Cross, you receive the living and life-giving Spirit of God in both body and soul.

That great River of water and blood, from the crucified Body of Jesus, continues flowing in the Church at all times and in all places, wherever the Ministry of the Gospel is carried out in the Name of this same Jesus.  It became an overwhelming Flood on Pentecost, a cascading waterfall of Spirit and Life, a raging rapids of forgiveness and salvation, and, most important for you and for your children, a gracious washing of regeneration and renewal in the waters of Baptism.

Nor does it stop there, but it springs up in you and overflows for others.  The Spirit of Christ is alive and breathing in you, in such a way that you have also become a part of His River of Life.

To begin with, your Baptism is not a private or family affair; it ushers you into the Church as a member of the Body of Christ, just as it did for those several thousand Christians who were baptized on that first Christian Pentecost.  St. Luke goes on to describe their ongoing life within the Church in this way:  “They devoted themselves continually to the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship, to the Holy Communion, and to the prayers of the Church.”

So, too, in your life as a disciple of Christ Jesus, baptized in His Name and catechized by His Word, you continue to live as you continue to devote yourself to the Life of His Church in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  And it is the same Spirit of Christ Jesus who unites you with the Apostles, with the Christians of all times and places, and with your brothers and sisters in Christ to this day.

Outside of the Church, apart from the Body of Christ, there is no Holy Spirit, and there is no life, but only sin and death and hopeless despair.  Breathing your own air, stewing in your own juices, you are consumed by your sins; you cut yourself off from God and suffocate without His Spirit.

But as you drink from the spiritual fountains of Christ in His Church, and as you breathe the Spirit of God in the hearing and confession of His Gospel, you are given an indestructible life in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  You are filled with the Spirit of hope and confidence in Him, who strengthens and sustains you through faith in the Gospel.  And by your words and deeds of faith and love, you confess the Lord your God and His great Salvation.  You inhale and exhale the Spirit of the Living God, and you give the spiritual drink of the Gospel to those who thirst.

As you live through all the ups and downs of your pilgrimage on earth — as you suffer through the hardships and frustrations of so many different kinds of trouble, through infirmity and sickness, your own mortality, and the death of your loved ones — you do so in the confidence of Christ, your crucified and risen Lord, who has ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty, where He ever lives to intercede for you in love.  This Lord of lords and King of kings, He has made His enemies a footstool for His feet, including that last great enemy, death, which has already been defeated by His Cross and in His Resurrection, and which is soon to be swallowed up forever!

Here, then, is a pure River, the Water of Life, as clean and clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God and from the Body of the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  Thus do the Spirit and the Church say, ‘Come!’  And so let him who hears this Word say, ‘Come.’  And let everyone who thirsts, whoever desires, come and drink freely, without cost, this Water of Life.

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

31 May 2017

Hidden Under the Cross with Christ

In His tender mercy and great compassion, the Lord your God has come to visit you, in order to be with you always, to save you, and to give you life with Himself forever.

But He does all of this — He comes to you, He visits you, and He is with you — in hidden ways that you cannot see with your eyes.  It is under the Cross, under the weight and burden and pain of the Cross.  And it is by the humble means of grace, which to the naked eye look like nothing.

The water of your Baptism.  The bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  That is all that you can see and taste and feel and smell.  Yet, it is in these means of grace that Christ your Lord, your Savior, comes and gives Himself to you.  He comes to dwell with you, within your mortal flesh.

So it is not so different than it is in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But consider what her case is like.  She has only the Word of God to go on concerning her miraculous Child, conceived in her womb by the Word and Spirit of God.  For nine months she cannot even see Him, though she can surely feel Him growing inside of her, kicking and squirming and stretching about.

Elizabeth cannot see the Child, either, but she does see her young cousin from Nazareth.  Unwed.  Coming to visit her out of the blue.  Even so, Elizabeth believes and trusts the Word of God, for she also, in her great age, after years and years of barrenness, has conceived a child in her womb, with her husband Zacharias, according to the Word and promise of the Lord.

The outward situation looks no different to St. Mary’s other neighbors.  After her joyous visit to Elizabeth, after she witnesses the birth of young John the Baptist, she goes back to Nazareth, to what?  To a fiancé who assumes that she’s been sleeping around with some other guy.  He will not stone her, as the Law would permit, but he will divorce her quietly.  That is his plan.  And though St. Joseph is brought to faith in the Word of God to take St. Mary as his wife, that does not shut up their nosy and gossipy neighbors, the people of Nazareth, who naturally assume the worst.

This is to be her lot.  For bearing the Son of God, St. Mary suffers reproach and worse.  She flees, then, to Egypt after her Son is born.  And where is it that He is born?  In a stable, in a strange little town not her own.  She trudges the distance, at nine months, and gives birth to her Son in a shelter for animals; and then her king seeks to take His life, to kill Him in cold blood.  So she must run away to Egypt with her little family, where she lives in exile for a couple of years.

And when at last the Holy Family is able to return from Egypt, there are then the years of waiting, and wondering, and watching for some sign, for some indication that this Son of hers is everything that God has promised.  There is that incident in Jerusalem when He’s twelve, but that occasion is confusing and distressing in its own right, and as perplexing as it is promising.

When her Son finally does begin to manifest Himself to Israel, then what?  He brings hatred and hostility upon His head.  People turn against Him.  They conspire and plot against Him.  They finally have Him arrested.  They manufacture charges against Him.  They hand Him over to the governor.  They hand Him over to death.  And then there is the cruelest agony of all.  The Mother stands at the foot of the Cross, and she watches her Son, her own dear Son, Jesus, whom she loves, put to death.  She sees her Savior executed as a criminal, suffering and dying before her eyes.

That is what St. Mary sees and experiences.  That is what she feels and perceives with her senses.  Which, for all the world, appears to be a crushing blow, a catastrophic disaster, an utter loss of all her hopes and dreams.  But for all of that, it is not in spite of this Cross, but precisely by the Cross of Christ, that the Lord accomplishes His purposes, His great salvation of the world.

It is likewise by the Cross that God the Lord accomplishes His purposes for you, also.  It is His great reversal of sin and death, whereby the curse becomes the blessing.  Thus are the haughty brought down, the rich are made poor, and the gluttons are sent away empty.  For the Lord kills, in order to make alive.  He humbles, in order to exalt.  He brings low, in order to raise you up.

He does it all, first and foremost, in His own dear Son, conceived and born of St. Mary; for He is crucified for your transgressions in order to be raised for your justification.  And what the Lord your God has thus accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son, He now works and accomplishes in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, by the preaching of His Word.

He puts you to death by the letter of the Law, in order to resurrect you to new life by the Spirit through the Gospel.  He exposes your sin and humbles you, in order to bring you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins, by which you now live in Christ Jesus, both body and soul, sanctified, strengthened, and sustained by His Holy Spirit, as you now sojourn under the Cross.

For now it is only by the Word and Spirit of God.  It is not by sight or sense, nor by any reason or strength of your own.  Indeed, what you experience in your body and life in this world appears to be an utter contradiction of everything that God has said and promised.  He tells you that you are His child.  And yet, your life does not go so well.  He tells you that all of your sins are forgiven.  And yet, you still suffer many of the consequences of your sins in this world.  He tells you that He loves you.  And yet, there are so many times when His apparent absence makes you wonder if He even exists, or if He cares about you at all, or if He is in fact angry with you because of your sins.

What you feel and experience is a curse instead of the blessing.  You feel the sting of the Law, not only in your ears, in your heart, and in your head, but also in your flesh and blood.  But, whereas you hear the Word and promise of the Gospel, you sure don’t otherwise feel it.  Everything just continues as it has before.  You keep on sinning, and you keep on dying, as does everyone else.

But in spite of your experience, in spite of what your reason and all your senses tell you, the truth of the matter is not only made known by the Word of God; it is determined by the Word of God.  Whatever He speaks, that is so.  “Let there be Light,” and there is Light.  So, too, whatever He says to you is true, while the whole wide world is one big liar, and one big lie, apart from His Word.

That is how it is for St. Elizabeth, and for St. Mary, and for their boys.  Blessed are they, who believe the Word that the Lord has spoken.  For every Word He speaks is accomplished, and every one of His promises is fulfilled.  Not only for those saints of old, and for the Son of God, Christ Jesus, but so also for His Church and all her children.  So also for you, and for your children.

Your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son — crucified, risen, and ascended — He is your great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He does not look down upon you from afar, but He has drawn near to visit you in peace; He has borne your burdens, and He sympathizes with you in your weaknesses.  He also has become small, and lowly, and weak.  He also, who was rich, has become poor, in order that you would become rich and inherit the Kingdom of God.  He has borne your sins and all of their consequences.  He has become the curse itself upon the Cross.  He has been damned in your stead under the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all sin.

He has been hated by the world and His own people.  He has been forsaken by His friends.  He has been persecuted.  He has been hurt.  He has been falsely accused, unfairly condemned, ridiculed, spit upon, and shamed.  He has been put to death.  He has suffered it all.  And He has been tempted in every way that you are.  But He has remained faithful and innocent, obedient and righteous, even in His death.  And so it is that, despite appearances, His Cross is His great Victory for you.

His Cross has turned the curse inside out.  His death has conquered death and the devil.  By His death He has atoned for all of your sins, so there is nothing left to be held against you.  He has reconciled you to God, in order to give you life with God, even now in the midst of sin and death.

His own bodily Resurrection from the dead is the guarantee of your resurrection and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  And His Body and His Blood are the surety, the down payment, the Foretaste of the Feast to Come.  His Word and Spirit are His Bond.  As He has spoken, He will do.  The One who promises is faithful.  He does not lie to you.  He does all that He has said.

Dear little one of Jesus, do not be lonely and forlorn.  He forgives you all yours sins, and He raises you from death to life.  He feeds you with good things, His Body and His Blood.  He remembers you in mercy, and He remembers all His promises to you by keeping them.  So does He also sustain your faith in His Word by His good Spirit, so that the devil, the world, and your flesh do not get the better of you and drag you down into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, is your Champion.  He is your Savior and Redeemer.  So does He open up your mouth to feed you.  And He opens up your mouth to sing His praise, who has done such great things for you.  Holy is His Name!  And marvelous are all His works.

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

28 May 2017

The Glory of the Father in the Son

The Words of our Lord in the Gospel this morning are profound, but they may seem confusing to you and difficult to understand.  They go round and round in a circle of sorts, so that it’s hard to know where they begin or where they end exactly.

Of course, our Lord Himself has no beginning and no end.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the One by whom all creation exists.  For He is the Word, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God.  And the Words that you have heard from His lips in this Gospel were first spoken in His prayer to the Father as your merciful and great High Priest.  So it is no surprise that such divine speech is difficult to comprehend!  For here the Lord your God speaks within Himself, the Son within the bosom of His Father, concerning divine Mysteries and the divine Glory of His Cross and Passion.

It is nevertheless these very Mysteries and this divine Glory that Christ proclaims to you and shares with you by the Ministry of His Gospel, that you might receive His Spirit and live by His grace.  That is what it’s all about.  Jesus prays that you would have eternal Life with God.  And by His Word and Spirit, He reveals the nature and source of this Life, which is yours in His Gospel.

It all originates with God Himself, and it remains forever in Him, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Word of our Lord Jesus returns again and again to His relationship with the Father — to His equality with the Father, and to His faithful dependance on the Father.  It is the same divine Glory that He shares with the Father from all eternity, which He reveals in His Flesh, fulfills for the salvation of all people by His Cross, and shares with His disciples through His Word and Spirit.  It is the same divine Glory that is bound up with the Name of the Lord your God, which Christ has also received as true Man in your stead, and with which He has named you in your Holy Baptism.

Both His Glory and His Name are the Self-revelation of God Himself.  They are not something else other than God Himself, nor can they be separated from Him.  It is nothing else and nothing less than the Holy Triune God who is actively present to reveal Himself in His Glory and His Name.

In the Old Testament, the Glory of Yahweh was manifest for His people in the Tabernacle, first of all, and then the Temple in Jerusalem.  That is where He caused His Name to dwell with them, which is to say, where He Himself abided with them.  In the New Testament, the same Glory of the same Lord God, Yahweh, is manifest for you and all His people in the Body of Christ Jesus. His Body is the Temple of God.  His Name and His Glory abide with you in His Flesh and Blood.

All of this He does and gives to you by His grace alone.  It is His divine Charity, which emerges entirely from within the inner Life and Being of the Holy Triune God.  His Charity is not prompted by any compulsion or necessity, nor by anything laid upon Him from the outside.  But prior to and apart from all things, God the Lord is gracious because He is Grace within Himself.

When you give charity to your neighbor in need, you may be prompted by a great many factors, including the grace of God toward you.  But His grace toward you — His divine Charity toward all people — derives solely from the relationship of the Father with His Son in the Holy Spirit.

The Father loves the Son from all eternity, and it is for His sake that He loves you.  It is His very nature and identity to love, because God is Love.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the personal Bond of Love between the Father and the Son.  It is that divine Love, which constitutes the Holy Trinity, which moves the Lord to do all that He does.

It is because the Father loves the Son from within His very nature and essence as God, that He desires and chooses to manifest, multiply, and share that same divine Love with others outside of Himself.  He thus creates the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, and He still protects, provides for, and preserves all that He has created, all for the sake of sharing His own Love with His creatures.  No selfishness here, but divine Self-giving.  That is also why God has created you and given you life: So that He may love you!  You exist to be loved by God in and with Christ.

From before the foundation of the world, this divine Love depends on nothing else than God the Lord Himself.  It therefore has no end, nor can it ever end.  God so loves the world, not because the world is loveable, but because He is Love.  So does God love you, not because of who you are, nor because of anything that you do or have done, but because of who He is and what He does.

That is why, even after the Fall into sin, God continues to love the world that He has made, the man and the woman and their children.  Though He cursed the creation because of man’s sin, He preserves the creation for this present time for the sake of His promise to the man and all his kin, the promise realized and fulfilled in the true Man, Jesus Christ, the Father’s own beloved Son.

In Love the Father sends His Son to become flesh, to bear the sins of the world, and to suffer death upon the Cross for the salvation of all the children of man.  In Love the Son comes down from the Father in heaven, descends into the depths of all your sin and death, and returns to His Father from death and the grave with you and all of His disciples embraced within His crucified and risen Body.  Although you are such a poor, miserable sinner, the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel to enter into this divine Love of the Father and the Son by faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  For in His Love, the Lord your God does not hold your sins against you but continues to forgive you.

All of this great work of salvation flows directly out of the heart and soul of God Himself, from the innermost Being of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is the very Glory of God, therefore, to manifest and reveal His Name and to give Himself in love for His creatures, entirely by His grace.

And the pinnacle of this divine Glory is the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  It is there that the divine Love which is God Himself is manifest to such utter heights and depths that nothing greater nor more glorious could ever be imagined, much less achieved.  It is there, especially, that God loves absolutely for His own sake those who are so absolutely un-loveable.

The Body of Christ on the Cross, given into death for the salvation of sinners, is divine Grace in the flesh.  There the one true God opens up His great heart of Love to those who pierce His sacred heart and run Him through with the swords and daggers, darts and spears of unbelief, idolatry, and all manner of sins.  He takes it all — and He dishes out love and mercy and forgiveness in return.  He continues to open up His Heart to you, for whom He shed His blood and died.  In Love He gives into your mortal body the very Body and Blood that He sacrificed for you upon the Cross.

What love could ever be more profound or more intimate than this, that your Creator and Lord should feed you with His own sacrificial flesh and blood; that He should give Himself to you so completely, and that you should receive Him into yourself for the forgiveness of all your sin, and for life and salvation in Him.  There is no other love that even comes close.  Not the passion of young lovers, nor the unwavering faithfulness of couples growing old together; not the amazing bond of a mother with her child, nor the patriotism of men who lay down their lives for their country.  None of these even come close.  They all pale and fade away in comparison to this divine Love in the Body of Christ Jesus, which is given for you.  Such Love is the great Glory of God.

Consider, then, the divine Life that is now yours, by the grace of God, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

That divine, eternal Life, like the divine Love in which it is bestowed upon you, is not something separate from God Himself.  It is indeed the Life of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His Life is given to you, and it becomes yours by His grace, through the Ministry of God the Son, who is sent by the Father, in the flesh, to reveal the Father and to make the Father known to you.  Not academically, intellectually, or emotionally, but personally and intimately, as children know their own father.  He makes God the Father known to you as your own God and Father in Him.

This knowledge of God, which is eternal Life, is conveyed to you by more than ordinary Words.  The Word of Christ Jesus is Spirit, Truth, and Life.  His Word of the Gospel, His forgiveness of your sins, is the very Power of God unto salvation.  And in the waters of your Holy Baptism, His Word named you with His own Name, the Name above all names, which is the Glory of God.  He anointed you with the Holy Spirit and bound you to Himself as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God.  And so it is that the Word of God continues to become Flesh, and to give Himself to you in His Body and His Blood, to eat and to drink, that you may live in Him and He in you forever.

It is by and with and in this Word – made Flesh – that you know the true and only God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.  And it is by this Word, by faith in this Word, that you are taken up into the divine, eternal Life and Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Thus, both the Grace by which you are saved and the Life to which you are saved are as sure and certain and steadfast as the Living God, whose Grace and Life they are.  You may be absolutely confident and certain of the Word and promises of God in Christ, and rejoice in His salvation, and call upon His Name in peace, and so live here and now by His Grace, unto the Life everlasting.

Of course, such faith and life are easier said than done so long as you remain in your mortal flesh.

It is most certainly true that everything has been accomplished by the Cross of Christ and made manifest in His Resurrection.  And all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection are given to you here in time, within His Church on earth, through the Ministry of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments.  Especially in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, you are given the highest and best Treasures of heaven itself.  For the Body of the Lamb who was slain, and yet who lives, is the central focus of all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Without His Body, crucified and risen, and without His holy and precious Blood, heaven itself were void and bare.  But here Christ freely gives those Gifts into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body.

Even so, for now it is also the case that you must live by faith alone and not by sight.  For now you live under the Cross, and you struggle day after day with your sinful life in this sinful world.  Your fallen flesh remains stubborn and persistent, so that you must continue drowning and dying by returning to the significance of your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance.  You feel the ravages of sin and death slowing you down and always adding new aches and pains in this body and life.  You feel the Cross putting you into the grave, but you do not feel the Resurrection and Ascension of your body.  Round about you on all sides, one by one, your nearest and dearest get sick and die, while tragedies and accidents and terrorist attacks permeate the daily news.

Beloved of the Lord, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  In the world you do have tribulation.  But now take courage, for Christ has overcome the world.  His death is death’s undoing, because it is the Atonement for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world.  And God the Father has raised this same Jesus from the dead.  He has crowned Him with glory and honor.  He has placed all things under His feet, including all the sin and death that you experience now.

The Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead has opened up His own divine Life to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him, that you should live with God in Christ forevermore.  You are His Body and His Bride; so you are with Him where He is, your Husband and your Head who loves you with a neverending Love.  Here at His Table is the foretaste of that glorious Feast of Life.  And even as you carry His Cross as a Christian disciple, it is already your participation in the Glory of the Lord, who by His Cross has obtained the Victory over sin, death, and hell.

It is still a time of waiting, a time between the now and the not yet.  You wait upon the Lord and for that Day when the trumpet shall sound, and the voice of the archangel shall call out, and the dead in Christ shall rise; and you shall be gathered together with all the saints into the bosom of your Father; and you shall see your dear Lord Jesus face to face with your own eyes in the flesh.

Until that Day, humble yourself under the hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.  Cast all of your anxiety on Him, because He loves you.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all Grace, who has named you with His Name, will glorify you with His Glory.

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

25 May 2017

Partakers of His Divine Nature

Among the early church fathers — especially the eastern fathers of the fourth century — it was understood, as basic to the Christian faith and life, that “God became Man, so that man might become divine.”  It sounds provocative at first, perhaps even shocking to your modern ears and sensibilities.  Or maybe you imagine the sort of new age mysticism that has twisted and perverted spirituality and detached it from Christ in exchange for personal self-realization.  But none of that.  The fathers were confessing what St. Peter has written concerning Christ in his Second Epistle:

“His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence, by which He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, that through these you might be partakers of the divine nature.”

So let us also consider this ancient confession of the faith, that God became Man, so that man might become divine.  The almighty and eternal Son of God became true Man, so that frail human beings — mortal men and women such as you — might become partakers of His divine nature.

Throughout Christmas and Epiphany, the Church focuses especially on the first point, that “God became Man.”  For the Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, has become one with us and with our children, taking human flesh and blood to be His own from the womb of the Virgin Mary; and in that flesh and blood He has lived your life and suffered all that you must suffer in your place.

But this festival day, one of the most important occasions of the Church Year, focuses attention on the second point, “that man might become divine.”  For on this day, in the Ascension of our Lord, the Church confesses and proclaims from the Holy Scriptures that our human nature has been raised from death to life and ushered into paradise, elevated to the heights of divine life, and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places.  The One who became like you has raised you up to be like Him.  For He is your own Brother in the flesh, who ascends to the Father in His Glory.  And as He was crucified and is raised for your salvation, His Ascension is your life with God.

Right now, I am well aware, that can really sound like nothing more than “pie in the sky.”  It is easy enough to feel trapped and confined by your mortal life here on earth.  And when you try to escape it, with drugs or alcohol or sex, you’ll only end up crashing all the harder on the other side.  When people speak of “heaven on earth,” surely you know that is not actually so.  More often than not, your life on earth can seem like a “living hell.”  So desperate have people become, that too many look for a tragic solution — which is no solution at all — in taking steps to end their lives.

Thank God, that isn’t the whole story, nor the real story.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, God has become your Father, and He has cleansed and restored your human nature in Christ Jesus.  In the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, you partake of the divine nature; you live with Him in God.

It is from within your Baptism into Christ that you participate in the divine nature and eternal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In those life-giving waters, sanctified by the Word and Spirit of Christ, you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  So are you also raised with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  And today, in particular, we also confess with great joy and thanksgiving, that by your Baptism into Christ you ascend with Him into the heavenly places.

No matter how bogged down you may be in the muck and the mire of this mortal life, in Christ you find that you are destined for higher things.  It’s not just pie in the sky.  It is the true reality, just as real, and just as much yours, as the waters of your Baptism.  In Christ you find that your entire life as a Christian is a heavenly life, which Christ lives in you, and you in Him, even here on earth.

As this heavenly life is yours in Christ, not only someday, but here and now by faith in His Gospel, so do you actually live the life of Christ in your dealings with those whom God has positioned around you and placed in relationship to you.  As the incarnate God, your Savior, Jesus Christ, lives forever in His own Body of flesh and blood, so do you live the divine life that you share with Him in and with your body, and not only in your heart or in your head.

In Christ, by His grace, through faith in Him, by the Spirit of His Father, you are like Him, and you live like Him.  You sacrifice your time, your treasures, and your talents for the sake of others.  Not that you squander these good gifts of God, but that you exercise a faithful stewardship of His gifts in the service of His Church and for the benefit of your neighbors, instead of serving yourself.

You likewise demonstrate mercy and compassion for your neighbors.  Your forgive those who sin against you, and you pray for those who set themselves against you.  You love your own family and friends, to be sure, but so also those who deal unkindly with you, speak ill of you, or think nothing of you at all.  To live the divine life is to live as Christ Jesus has lived for you in the flesh, taking up the Cross and bearing it in love, in the confidence of the Father’s Word and promises.

The simple fact of the matter is, that the life of Christ Jesus — His active faith and love, His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension — His life in the flesh is the Life of God in Man.

At all times and in all place, then, follow the example of your Lord Jesus Christ.  But of course, He is far more than just a good example.  He gives you Himself.  He gives you His life.  He pours out His Spirit upon you with His forgiveness of your sins.  And He makes you a partaker of the divine nature, as He has named you with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in your Baptism.  So are you a member of His family, a divine child of His own God and Father forever.

It’s certainly not as though you now live the divine life by your own power or initiative.  It’s not a matter of trying hard, of girding up your loins, or of pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.  Left to yourself, you remain down here on earth, with your chin and your heels dragging in the dirt.  But the divine life that you do now live is ever and only in Christ, as He lives in you, and with you, and through you, by His grace.  Indeed, you live as a Christian only as Christ Jesus lives in you.

That is why, when Christ appears to His Apostles, He includes along with His suffering, death, and Resurrection, the necessity that repentance and forgiveness be preached in His Name.  For you need the preaching of His Gospel as much as you needed His Cross and Resurrection.  The one would do you no good without the other.  You live by His Word and the preaching of it, and not at all apart from it.  It is by His Word that He takes your flesh and blood, your body and life, to be His own, to live with Him in His Kingdom, with His Father and His Holy Spirit, now and forever.

And as the Word of Christ brings you into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, so does the preaching of His Word also bring you to His Holy Supper, whereby He feeds your life in the flesh with His own divine flesh.

It is in the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ Jesus that you live and abide with God in both body and soul, both here and hereafter.  It may be that we have sometimes focused too narrowly on the Sacrament as a means of forgiveness.  And to be sure, let us rejoice and give thanks that the Body and Blood of Christ are given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins, without which you would have no life with God but only death and damnation.

But let us also revel in the divine life and salvation that are yours in the Holy Communion.  For in this Holy Sacrament, you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the true and only God.  And as you thus partake of God in the flesh, so do you also partake of the divine nature in Him, not only in your head or in your heart, but with your mouth, and with your body, unto the life everlasting.

God knows that you need forgiveness on a daily basis — as He has taught you to pray — for you sin every day and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  But in saving you from your sins, which would otherwise bring you death, He saves you for life with Himself in both body and soul.  It is to that end that He became true Man, and bore your sins in His own Body to the Cross, and died in your place; that in His Resurrection and Ascension you might become divine and live in Him.

Friend of God, “you are what you eat.”  And as you eat the divine Body and Blood of Christ, the Son of God, your own flesh and blood are raised to new heights, to partake of the divine nature in Him.  Thus are you prepared for your own Ascension into heaven.  And even now, the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ, in your hands and on your lips, sanctify your hands and lips, your body and life, for service to others; that you should live the divine life in faith and love on earth.

“God became Man, so that man might become divine.”  Not only has the Son of God become in every way like you, but He has also raised your human flesh and blood to be divine through Him.  By your Holy Baptism, He has shared His Cross and Resurrection with you.  In His Holy Supper, He feeds you with Himself, so that His Body and His Blood become a part of you, enlivening your flesh with His.  And on the Last Day, He will raise you up to be like Him forever.  Indeed, He will transform your lowly body of humiliation to be like unto His own glorious body forevermore

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