12 August 2018

The Living and Life-Giving Bread from Heaven

The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary, has come down from the Father in heaven to be your Savior; and He is the One who promises and says: “I Am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

You have come to Him, today as in the past, because the Father has called you and given you to Christ, His Son.  And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, even as He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.  None of this by your own knowledge, insight, or understanding, but by the Self-revelation and calling of the Lord, the one true God, in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.

The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do all that He has spoken.  You shall by no means be cast out.  The Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise is not barred to you.  The Fruits of that Tree are given and poured out for you to eat and drink, that you should not hunger or thirst, nor lack any good thing.  You shall not perish but live.  For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you in love, as a Bride to her Bridegroom, will surely raise you up on the Last Day.

But for now, from the waters of your Holy Baptism you have come to Him in the wilderness.  And here, it would seem, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst.  Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but also in your heart and mind.  So many wants and needs, so many hurts and sorrows, in yourself and in your neighbors, all of them gnawing away at your confidence.

There are ways in which you suffer precisely because of your faithfulness.  You suffer hardship and contempt on account of the Name of Christ which you bear.  You suffer because you are a Christian.  And in the face of that kind of treatment, because your flesh is so weary and so weak, there are those times in this body and life when you would just as soon give up, give in, and die.

At those times, to be sure, but even at the best of times, you are not so faithful as you ought to be.  Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and disappointments, discouragements, and threats of dark despair.  Against those who have failed you or hurt you in various ways, you harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Instead of speaking with grace, forgiveness, and peace, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words.  You harden your heart against your neighbors in the world, though you are called and taught to love them for the sake of Christ Jesus; and you thereby harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of all mercies and God of all comfort.

You do not yet see, therefore, what your eyes long to see, neither in yourself nor in your life, nor in the world around you.  And it is so very hard to wait patiently and peacefully upon the Lord.

Your belly may be momentarily filled and satisfied from time to time, or painfully stuffed to the point that you can’t imagine another bite.  But it isn’t long before it starts growling and rumbling once again.  And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

Why should you not just give up and die?  That is the question of your old Adam, at least at those times when you are not striving to make a god out of yourself.  From towering pride to the pits of despair in barely a heartbeat.  But what is the use, after all?  What point is there in trying?

Your fathers ate their daily bread.  Whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father in heaven, the Creator and Preserver of all things, opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life.  Yes, indeed.  Your fathers ate their daily bread — and they still died, just as you are in the process of dying, fast or slow, no matter what you do, regardless of your diet, exercise, or health plan.

How in the world are you supposed to survive and live?  Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die.  Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death.  What difference does it make?

Even though Jesus says and promises that those who come to Him and eat this Bread, which is His Flesh, shall not die but live forever, you know that Christians also suffer and die, they get sick and return to the dust of the earth.  So, it seems on the surface to make no difference at all, what you think or say or do, what you believe or receive.

But now, come and take your rest under the Tree of the Cross.  For that is where you live, and that is where you die, and by that Tree you shall rise again.  Even now, it shelters you and shades you, even when you are at your lowest and your worst, ready to give up and die in disgust.

By its abundant Fruit, by the Bread of this Tree, by the Blood of this true Vine, you are nourished in body and soul, not only for the here and now, but unto the resurrection and life everlasting.  For the Son of God shall raise you up on the Last Day, even forevermore.  So, even though you die, yet shall you live.  Death will not have the last word concerning you.  Christ is God’s Word to you and concerning you, and His Flesh and Blood are the surety and down payment on that Word and promise.  He is your daily Bread, your Meat and Drink indeed, by which you have life with God.

Consider that this same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died for you in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope.  These were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to His God and Father.  You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  This same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place — He has risen from the dead.  Therefore, you also rise from the death of your sin to live with God in Him.

As you are baptized into Christ Jesus, into His Cross and Resurrection, lay aside what is past and perishing.  Die to yourself, to the desires of your fallen flesh, to your sins, and to the habits and vices of this world.  And live unto God in Christ, in the righteousness of faith, in self-sacrificing love, in accordance with your calling as a Christian, as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  Bear the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, and be at peace with your neighbors.  Do not give yourself over to anger or despair, but speak the Word that gives life in the holiness of the Truth.

Your life is not your own (thank God!), but you are the Lord’s.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.  And He has called you to live in peace, in faith, hope, and love, in Christ Jesus.  To suffer and even to die, in and with Him, that you might be glorified in Him and live in Him, not only some day, faraway in the sweet by and by, but here and now, under the Cross, by faith in Him.

The truth is that you are not cast aside or left alone in what you suffer.  You are not abandoned.  You are not forgotten.  What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and for the good of your neighbor.

In any event, you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone.  As you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ by your Baptism in His Name, so is your life now hidden with Christ in God forever.  It is not death but life that endures for you in Christ.

He who for your sake died and was raised strengthens and sustains you here under the Tree of His Cross, even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Lord Jesus loves you.  He is kind and merciful.  He does forgive you all your sins.  He is and does all the things for you that you have failed to be and do for your family, friends, and neighbors.  And as He suffered and died for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, in His faithfulness and righteousness, so has He risen from the dead for your justification in the presence of God.

The Father has given Him from heaven for you, in the flesh, in order to save you.  To give you life.  For that is His good and gracious will!  That is the very thing that God most desires to do.  And He does it, at the cost of His own dear Son, His most priceless Treasure.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love.  To raise you up.  To strengthen you in both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.

And see here, Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood, which He has given once for all upon the Cross, and which He still gives within His Church on earth, that all might live in Him.

Arise, therefore, and eat!  And drink from His hand, from His overflowing Chalice of Salvation.  Take your rest here at His Altar, under the Tree of His Cross, that He should give you His own life and sustain you on the way that He has set before you within your callings and stations on earth.

The journey through the wilderness is too much for you to travel by yourself.  But with this Food and Drink, the Lord Jesus travels with you every step of the way.  He bestows His Spirit upon you by His Word and with His Flesh, and He thereby keeps you steadfast and upholds you in the one true faith.  He will not let go of you, but He shall raise you up in glory like unto His own.

On the way, then, be imitators of God, as the Lord has admonished you this morning through His servant, St. Paul.  Not by your own wisdom, reason, and strength, which cannot help but fail you, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ — nourished and sustained by His Word of the Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins, by His Life-giving Holy Spirit, and by His Flesh and Blood.

Live in your body, here and now, as the Son of God lives in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, that is, by faith in the Father, and in love for the Father and for all His children in the world, and for all those whom He would yet call to be His own.

Live as Christ has lived for you, has died for you, and has risen from the dead to live in love for you forevermore.  And as you live in Him, know that even death shall never be able to separate you from God’s Love for you in Him.  That is your perfect peace and confidence, throughout your life, and even in the face of death.  For though you die, yet shall you live.  In Christ you shall not die.

Awake and arise, eat and drink, rejoice, give thanks, and sing.  And live in the way of the Lord, according to His Word and Promise.  For with this Living and Life-giving Bread of Christ Jesus, with which the Father feeds you from heaven, you come to the Mountain of God, to share in the great Feast that He has prepared for you and all the nations in the Body and Blood of His Son.

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

05 August 2018

Living on the Bread of Life Alone

Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.  For the Lord your God provides you with the daily bread that you need for this body and life, solely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  He is the Author and Giver of Life, and He is the One who created your body, so He knows what you need, and in love He opens His gracious hand to feed and clothe you every day.  For all that, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him, to the glory of His Name.

Unfortunately, it is an ever-present danger that you are tempted to receive and regard the good gifts of the Lord without acknowledging Him as the Giver.  How easily you “fear, love, and trust” in things and creature comforts, in other people, and in your own wisdom, reason, and strength, instead of worshiping the one true God.  When you have what you want, you are smug and secure in your world, the skies are blue and sunny in your eyes, and sailing is smooth.  You easily forget about God and hardly care whether He even exists.  In apathetic ease, you take Him for granted.

But let those things all be gone, your possessions, your position in the world, your parents, spouse, and children, and then you are convinced that all hope is lost.  The skies are dark and stormy.  The deep waves roll over your head.  And in the depths of your despair, you curse the Lord your God as though He had deserted you.  Forgetting all His benefits, you long for the fleshpots of Egypt.

When your car starts making not-so-funny noises; when your plumbing backs up; when termites are eating your house and home; when the cupboard is bare, the bread basket is empty, and your Sugar Daddy “Bread King” hasn’t come through in the way that you expected, then you find that you are no different and no better than those crowds in this morning’s Holy Gospel.

When you do go looking for Jesus, it is too often in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of perceiving His miraculous “Signs” as revelations of the divine Glory of His Cross, and as the promise of His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and the free gift of Life and Salvation, you follow your senses and feelings in pursuit of the perishing goods and services of this world.

So the people then were “satisfied,” initially, with the bread and fish that Jesus had provided in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  But they were already hungry for more of the same, in the hopes of keeping their bellies fed and filled and happy.  That is the hunger that drove their interest.

But that is not the purpose of the Lord Jesus.  He has not come to cater to the god of your belly.  He has not come to feed you with bread alone, but with the Word of God and His own Flesh.

He thus directs you away from the perishable things of this body and life to the eternal Life that God the Father grants to you and all the world in the Body of the incarnate Son.  The Lord Jesus teaches you to hunger and thirst for the Food that endures unto Life everlasting in body and soul.

He preaches to you this morning, that you should be turned away from your illusions and your selfish desires, from the lusts of your flesh and the growling of your stomach, to the good gifts of the Spirit of God.  That you should recognize the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and hunger and thirst for His Righteousness and Holiness, rather than investing yourself, your time, your energy, and your money, in the pursuit of things that will not last and cannot save you.  This body and life and the good gifts of God that sustain this body and life are not to be despised or demonized, to be sure.  But neither are they to be idolized and worshiped.  The Gospel bestows something better, something divine and eternal.  The Gospel is nothing less than the Gift of God Himself in Christ.

But as soon as you recognize that there is something more and better to be sought than miraculous bread and fish for your belly, you also begin to ask the question: “What must I do to be saved?” “What must I do to work the works of God?”  You’re always picturing yourself at the center of the equation, and you think in terms of bargains and deals, contracts and negotiations, by which you would trade what you have for whatever it is that you want and need, both temporal and eternal.

It is true, of course, that in this life you do have work to do.  Even before the fall into sin, the Lord gave the man and the woman the blessed task of caring for and cultivating the Garden of Eden.  And after the fall, the Lord declared that man would eat by the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow.  In the New Testament St. Paul indicates that those who lazily refuse to work should not be given to eat.  The birds of the air do not have barns or granaries, true, but they do go out to find and gather the food that God provides.  So you do have work that you are given to do in this life.

And yet, for all of that, you would end up with nothing for your efforts, if not for the gracious gifts of God.  He provides seed for the sower and bread for the eater.  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread to all people by His grace.

Not to recognize that He is the One who daily and richly provides for all that you need, and not to give thanks for all His benefits in this body and life, is bad enough.  But it is far more grievous when you close your eyes to the gracious presence of the Holy Triune God and His eternal gifts to you in Holy Baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion.

When you regard those precious Means of Grace as something you must do for yourself, or as some kind of favor that you do for God, then you turn the Gospel inside-out and upside-down.  Likewise, when you think of going to church as a tedious burden you must bear and carry, or as though it were an impressive work and sacrifice on your part; if you go to earn brownie points from God, to impress others, or simply out of habit, then you have missed the point entirely.

The Lord commands you to sanctify His holy day, to hold His Word sacred, and gladly to give attention to the preaching of His Gospel, but not as though He needed anything from you.  It is not for His benefit but yours, for the sake of your salvation, that He calls you to Himself, gathers you in His Name, sanctifies you by the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, and thereby enlightens you with His Holy Spirit.  Not that you should serve Him, but that He should serve you by His grace.

That is one of the most difficult things for anyone to understand.  It clings so stubbornly to your sinful flesh that you must “do” and “work” something for God.  And you do not even realize that you are dead in your trespasses and sins, that you are lost without the forgiveness of Christ and His free gift of Life, and that you are utterly incapable of saving yourself or satisfying God’s Law.

So the Lord Jesus teaches you by His Word and Spirit that Life with God, now and forevermore, is given and received by His grace alone through faith alone; and that faith itself is not something you can “do” or “decide” for yourself, but a gracious gift of God that He works within you, where and when it pleases Him, by the preaching and ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  No one comes to Him or believes in Him, except by the Word and Spirit of God the Father.

Apart from that divine gift of faith in the Gospel, you will never be able to understand the Lord Jesus, nor recognize Him for who and what He is, even as He comes to you here in His Liturgy.

It’s easy enough to criticize those who failed to receive Him as their Savior then.  But you are no different and no better.  You have the Word of God more readily available than ever before.  You have the preaching of the Holy Gospel, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper, the Word of Holy Absolution.  Yet, for all of that, you still long for the things of this dying world.

It is in His tender mercy, then, that Jesus patiently continues to come, to reveal Himself by His Word and Spirit, and to catechize you with His Law and His Gospel, unto repentance and faith in Him.  For the Holy Scriptures are all perfectly realized in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  That is the testimony of God the Father and of the Holy Spirit, from the Baptism of the Lord Jesus to His Resurrection from the dead.  Thus do His Signs reveal.

So it is, for example, that the Old Testament Manna — as miraculous and beneficial as it was for Old Testament Israel — pointed beyond itself to the Christ who was to come in the Flesh, the Seed of the Woman.  For He alone is the true Bread of Life, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.

His Feeding of the Five Thousand was likewise far more than a single meal for all those bellies.  It, too, was a Sign that pointed beyond itself to that Living and Life-giving Bread from heaven, the Spiritual Meat and Drink indeed, which is nothing else and nothing less than Christ Jesus Himself.

He is the Word of God in the Flesh, who has sacrificed His Body and Life upon the Cross for you and poured out His Blood for your atonement; who now gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink in the Holy Communion, that you might live in Him, and He in you.

And yet, how blind you are, striving for the bread that perishes at the expense of your life in Christ, and seeking a supposedly “spiritual” banquet and paradise of your own devising apart from Christ Jesus, even while He is standing right in front of you, spreading His Table with His Feast, given and poured out for you and your salvation.  You stand and stare, and dare to ask, “What is it?”

“Is that all there is to it?”  This “Manna” on the ground, which no one had ever known before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh?  This little piece of what is supposed to be bread but tastes more like cardboard, and a single swallow of wine?  Where are the flesh-pots of Egypt, the choice cuts of real meat?  Where is the beef?  Where is the golden calf?  Where is the real party?  And where is your “Bread King” with the food and prosperity that you demand from your gods?

But Christ Jesus declares that He is right here with you, granting you Himself and all His benefits, His forgiveness, His Life, and His Salvation, despite the fact that you are so sinful and stubborn.

Do not go looking anywhere else.  You will not find salvation from your sin and death, and you will not find the Food and the Life that endure forever, because you will not find the only true God, “out there” somewhere; neither will you find any of that hidden away in your heart.  But the Lord is here with you and for you in the preaching of His Gospel, in the waters of His Baptism, in His spoken Word of Absolution, and in the Supper of His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus does He invite you to feast upon this Meal He provides, that you might live forever in Him.

The Word and Promises of Christ in the Liturgy of His Gospel do require faith to be received and understood for what they really are.  They are what they are in any event, whether you believe it or not, but you are not able to recognize them or benefit from them apart from faith in Christ.  For the whole world and your own fallen flesh are not able to comprehend these holy things.  But faith comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ, as He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind, to receive the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  Give attention to His Word, therefore.  Hear and heed His preaching.  Rest yourself in His forgiveness, and eat the Food with which He feeds you.

Christ here invites you to a Meal which delivers you from death and gives to you eternal Life.  Anyone who eats of it will live by faith in Him; so that, even if all deaths were combined into one and they all attacked you at will, you would still have nothing to fear.  Death cannot harm you, not when you have received this Cup and eaten this Bread.  Though death and hell combine to do their worst, attacking you most fiercely — with cancer and strokes and heart disease, arthritis, infection, or what have you — they are not able to consume you or devour you.  For Christ will resurrect you on the Last Day.  Even if you are buried miles underground, torn apart and eaten by wolves, or burned and scattered to the winds, yet shall you live in Him, both body and soul, forever and ever.

Therefore, take and eat this Food that Christ now sets before you; drink this Cup that He pours out for you here.  It is not a work that you must do, but a Meal you are given to eat and drink in peace. For you there is nothing else but to give thanks, since everything here at His Table is a Gift freely given by the grace of God in Christ.  Here there is the free and full forgiveness of your sins, so that nothing is counted or held against you.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Though your own body may betray you, and your blood may run slow and thin within your veins, His Body and Blood will never fail or fall short, but shall bestow upon you the Life that endures forever.

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

29 July 2018

Through the Water Out of Death into Life

From the waters of the great cosmic deep when God created the heavens and the earth, to the worldwide flood by which He cleansed creation; from the crossing of the Red Sea to the crossing of the Jordan River; from the cleansing of Naaman the leper to the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ — so also in your own Holy Baptism — God really likes water, and He chooses to use it to accomplish His purposes.  According to His good and gracious will, He uses water to save you from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and to give you life with Himself in Christ Jesus.

He makes all His disciples, yourself included, to get on board His boat, His Holy Christian Church, as the vessel and the means by which (and within which) you pass through the water to the other side.  His goal for you, and your destination as His disciple, is life with God forever in both body and soul, in that good land that He has promised you, the land of health and strength, flowing with milk and honey and every good thing.  That is where you’re going in the boat with Jesus.

So, then, here you are now, out in the boat in the middle of the sea, with water to your left, and water to your right, and water all around you.  And how is that going for you?

Truth be told, you’re frequently tormented, you’re tossed about by massive and violent waves of water, and you’re straining at the oars because the wind is against you.  For the Law is always accusing you, and, try as you might, your own works cannot make any headway against it.

So there are these turbulent winds and waves which are constantly buffeting you, inside and out.  For the frantic pounding of your heart and the surging of the blood in your veins is not unlike the howling winds and towering waves that rage around you in the world, actually and metaphorically.

On top of all of those troubles, in the midst of all that you are struggling with, it appears that Jesus has abandoned you.  As He went up the mountain to pray, so has He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you.  But where is He now when you need Him?  It seems, on the surface, that He is far away and gone, and that you are left on your own.

Will you then drown and die in these waters forever?  Will the Flood really end in newness of life for you and all of creation, or in the permanent destruction of your body and your soul in death?

Be sure of this, that Jesus has not forgotten you, and He has not forsaken you, either.  He keeps His eye on you, He sees you in your distress, and He cares for you.  So does He move in love to save you.  He passes through the water ahead of you, by way of His Baptism, even unto His death upon the Cross.  And He surely does go up the Mountain of God, by the way of that very same Cross, in order to pray and intercede for you.  Even more than that, He becomes your Prayer.  He becomes the sweet-smelling Incense that ascends before your Father in heaven and is pleasing to Him.

All the while, He is also the new Moses who is bringing you out of Egypt; and He is the new and greater Joshua who crosses the Jordan, and blazes the trail, and brings you with Himself into the heavenly Promised Land.  He brings you through the waters of Holy Baptism, through death and the grave, into His Resurrection and His divine, eternal Life.  Your dear Lord Jesus does not leave you all alone!  He comes to you, He journeys with you, and He brings you safely to the Father.

Why then do you harden your heart against Him?  Why are you so incredulous and frightened by His presence?  Why do you act as though death will have the last word?  Repent of that.

There is but one Flood that does put you to death.  There is that one Baptism for the forgiveness of your sins, which crucifies and buries you with Christ Jesus.  But it does so in order to raise you up with the same Lord Jesus Christ, to grant to you His Life, in both body and soul, as part of His New Creation.  And never again shall any other flood destroy you.  Not now, and not forever.

In the cloud of His Glory — which is the Gospel of His forgiveness and salvation — in that cloud you see that He has set His sign, that of His Holy Cross, and the crimson-colored rainbow of His holy and precious Blood, which He has shed for you.  His Cross and His Blood are the seal and the sign of His gracious Word and all His promises to you.  You shall not die, but you shall live.

The sign and seal of His Cross, with which He has marked your forehead and your heart in Holy Baptism, is not simply a reminder to you, though it is and ought to be that.  But, no, God sees that sign of the Cross, and He remembers His holy Covenant.  That is to say, He acts in love to keep His promises to you.  He does not forget you, nor will He ever leave you alone or forsake you.

Consider the incident of the Loaves, or we might even say, the Covenant of the Loaves, in which He takes the bread, He blesses and gives thanks, He breaks the bread and gives it to you to eat.  And with that Holy Food, He likewise pours out the New Covenant in His Blood for you to drink.

Does that incident not make plain, without a doubt, that the Lord Jesus is with you and for you?  Thus does He abide with you in love, with His Body and His Blood, that you might live and abide in Him, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

Therefore, listen to His Voice!  Do you not hear how He calls out to you and speaks to you?  He come to you here and now, within His Boat, and He will not pass you by or leave you alone to die.

Take courage!  Do not be afraid.  He is calling out to you in love.  He is speaking to you in mercy.  And He is all compassion.  His atoning sacrificial death has quieted the wrath and judgment of the Law, and from His Cross He grants a peaceful calm to your troubled heart and mind, and genuine peace to your whole body and life, already now by His forgiveness, and hereafter forevermore.

He is here in the Boat of His Church along with you.  And do not doubt that He shall be here with you until He brings you safely to the other side in and with Himself.  His Baptism avails for you.  His Baptism has become your Baptism.  His death is your atonement and your reconciliation with God.  His Resurrection and Ascension are your prayer to the Father who loves you, who has given you His own Name in this same Son, Jesus Christ.  So are you a son of God in Christ, and so does your dear Father care for you, provide for you, and protect you at all times and in all places.

Rooted and grounded in God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, you are strengthened by the power of His Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of all of your sins — day after day, week after week, by the Word and promise of His Gospel.  Not because you’re getting it right; and not because you’re trying so hard; and not because you sincerely want to do better.  He strengthens you by His Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of His Gospel for the sake of Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, who keeps on coming to you with His Word and in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  All the fullness of God dwells with you in the Body and Blood of Christ.

The preaching of His Word to you — His Word of the Gospel, His forgiveness of all your sins — and His Holy Sacraments — these are the hem of His garments, these are the fringe of His cloak, by which you lay hold of Him, and you are healed of all of your iniquities.  And at the last, when He shall raise your body from the dust of the earth, and He shall glorify your body with the Glory of His own crucified and risen Body, then you shall be cured of all your infirmities forevermore.  Whatever it is that now wracks your body with pain, whatever assails your heart and mind, all of that is healed by the touch of Christ, who comes to you, calls out to you, and heals you in peace.

And as surely as you lay hold of Him by faith in the garments of His Gospel, all the more so does He clothe you with the garments of His own righteousness, holiness, innocence, and blessedness.

With Him, in Him, and through Him, signed with His Cross, named with His Name, and anointed with His Holy Spirit, you pass through the waters out of death into everlasting life.  And out of the depths you also ascend the Mountain of God to worship the Father in His Son and by His Spirit.

Even though it often looks and seems and feels as though Jesus has left you all alone, He has not.  And even though it can seem as though He were going to pass you by and leave you behind, let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  The Lord is with you.  He is here to save you.

The waters of your Baptism will not destroy you forever, though they do put sin and death to death in you.  The wind of the Spirit now breathes forgiveness into your body and soul, and that brings with it a peace and quietness such as this world could never give, but Christ gives, and it is yours.

Look, and listen.  The incident of the Loaves has not ceased.  The incident of the Loaves continues for you here in the Boat.  Take, and eat, not a ghost, but the Body of Christ, His sacred flesh; and drink His holy and precious Blood of the Covenant, which He does pour out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

25 July 2018

The Glory of Christ in His Baptism and His Cup

The Blessed and Holy Apostle, St. James the Elder, was among the first to be called as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and then to be sent as an apostolic Minister of His Gospel.  Along with his brother John and Simon Peter, St. James is one of the “inner three” who witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration of our Lord, and the prayer of Christ Jesus in the Garden.

But as the Lord would have it, the special distinction for which St. James is best remembered and honored on this day, is that he was the first of the Twelve to be martyred for the Name of Christ; whereas his brother John lived to be an old man and was the only one of the Twelve not martyred.

From the perspective of the world, according to human wisdom, St. James’ life and Ministry were cut short, so that he had no chance to achieve anything or make a name for himself.  Yet, that is precisely the point: St. James desired no other name than that of his Lord Jesus Christ, who, by His Cross and Passion, obtained for St. James all that he would ever need in body and soul.

Not only that, but, by his own suffering and death for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, St. James was given a share in the Glory of Christ Jesus that he and his brother had desired and requested.

It was not St. James, but his brother, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, who has made it so clear in his Holy Gospel, that the Glory of Christ Jesus is the Hour of His Cross.  But neither of the Sons of Zebedee understood that, yet, when they made their bold request in the Holy Gospel appointed to this festival day.  Nor did they understand it when Jesus prayed concerning His bitter Cup in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Afterwards, however, by His Word and Holy Spirit, they would learn to understand that sharing the Glory of Christ Jesus means sharing His Cross and Passion.

To live and to die in such faith is possible only by the grace of God, and only by the means of His Word and Holy Spirit.  It is surely not something that any of your senses or feelings could discern or understand; nor is it anything that you would ever want or be able to choose for yourself.  The Cross of Christ, which is His Glory, contradicts everything you think you know and understand.  Thus, He must put you to death by His Word of the Cross, in order to raise you up in His Glory.

All your senses, all your instincts and experience, insist that the Cross is bad, and that you must follow your own heart and your own feelings in order to find happiness and glory in your life.  Thus do you go crashing into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, often without even realizing the danger.  The Word of the Lord sounds all wrong, foolish, and probably fatal.

Your fallen and perishing flesh supposes that you know better than God what is good and right and safe and true.  But it is to your own peril and detriment that you disregard what He says to you.  For His Word is Spirit, Truth, and Life, whereas your heart and mind are subject to sin and death.

What, then, does He say?  To what does the Lord call you?  If you would share His Glory and His Life, if you would sit with Him in His Kingdom, then you must be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  But how so?  And what does this mean for you?

You have heard what Jesus says in His response to James and John: “Can you drink the Cup that I must drink?  Can you be baptized with My Baptism?”  You can.  You must.  “You will,” He says!  But how?  The answer is there in the way that He describes the Glory of His Life and Ministry in the terms of His Holy Sacraments.  And to be sure, His Baptism and His Cup really are the heart and center of everything — of all that Jesus does for you, and gives to you, and shares with you.

His Baptism and His Cup are the Means whereby His Cross and Resurrection become yours, and your sins are all forgiven, and you receive His Life and sit with Him in the Glory of His Kingdom.

Now, the Cup was used by the Prophets as an image of God’s wrath and judgment against sin.  And that is also the first sense in which Christ speaks of His Cup in this Gospel, as again in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prays, “Father, if possible, take this Cup from Me.”

The bodily pain of crucifixion would already be enough to cause even the bravest and toughest hearts among us to faint.  But the “Cup” that Christ our Lord received and consumed was much worse.  It was the everlasting wrath and judgment of hell and damnation, leveled against the sins of the whole world, of all times and places, all of your sins included, carried in the sinless Body of the holy Son of God, and judged forever in His flesh upon the Cross.  That is the Cup which He has drained down to the dregs for you and for the many by His bloody Passion unto death.

How, then, are James and John and even you able to drink the Cup of Christ?  It is certain that you could not handle, nor would you survive, the Cup of wrath and judgment against even your own sins, far less the sins of others.  And yet, you are able to drink the Cup of Christ Jesus, because He has already drained that Cup for you.  He shed His Blood of the New Testament for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And what was wrath and judgment for Him upon the Cross, has become mercy and everlasting life for you and for the many.  In receiving the Cup of Christ, which He pours out for you in the Holy Communion, you drink to the dregs the fullness of His Life and Salvation.

The same thing holds true in the case of His Baptism, with which you also are baptized, as were St. James and his brother.  From the moment that Christ Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan River and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, our dear Lord took upon Himself the sins and iniquities and frailties and burdens of the entire world, and He bore them in His own Body of flesh and blood all the Way to the Cross.

Jesus thus describes His Life — not only here, but elsewhere in the Holy Gospels — as one long, continuous Baptism unto death.  It is a Baptism whereby He drowns and dies in the Flood of God’s wrath and judgment against the sins of the world, in order to fulfill all righteousness; that He might bring you through the Red Sea out of Egypt, and through the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

So, then, as also in the case of the Cup which He drained in your place, the waters of His Baptism are one thing for Christ and quite another for you and all who are baptized into Him.  In each case, it is a Baptism into His Cross.  But whereas it is for Him a drowning of judgment and wrath, it has become for you and others a rich and full washing away of sins and a gracious water of Salvation.

This Holy Baptism of Christ Jesus, and the Cup of Christ, as well, have a double significance for St. James.  For he was among the first to receive these things from Christ Himself as a disciple, but he was also then sent as an Apostle and a Minister of Christ Jesus, that he should hand over what he had received; that he should baptize and commune disciples from all nations in Jesus’ Name.

It is through these gracious Means of Baptism and the Cup of Christ that St. James did receive exactly what he and his brother requested, though not in the way or in the sense they were hoping.  And the same is true for you, as well, by the grace of God, in the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ.

In the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion, you are granted to sit with Christ Jesus in the Glory of His Kingdom, because you are united with Him in His Cross and Passion, and you receive the fruits and benefits of His Sacrifice.  To be baptized with His Baptism and to drink from His Cup is to be crucified and die with Him, and so to share His Resurrection and His Life.

For St. James, being baptized with Christ and sharing His Cup meant that his life as a disciple and his apostolic ministry were shaped by the Cross.  Indeed, he was defined completely by that Cross.

The same thing is true for you, as well, as a Christian — as one who has been baptized into Christ, as one who drinks from His Cup and eats from His hand.  In these Gifts Christ freely gives, you are glorified with the greatness of His Holy Cross.  Which means that your entire life — everything you are, and all that you do — is now shaped and defined by that same Cross.  Not that you will necessarily be martyred in the way that St. James was, but that, whatever you are, whatever you are called to be and do, you live your life and offer up yourself in self-sacrificing love and service, even to the point of death, as needs may be, all for the sake of Christ and in His holy Name.

That all begins with and centers in your own vocations and stations in life, as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, as a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a worker or student, a citizen or whatever, as well as a member of this congregation.  Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments, and you will know how you are to bear the Cross in love for your neighbors.

In broad and general terms, look for every possible way and means by which you can lay down your life in service to others.  That’s usually not through heroic and extraordinary deeds of valor, but in the countless details and little things of life, which afford opportunity to love your neighbor.  Thus do you become and show yourself to be a servant of the Lord who loves you, Jesus Christ.

Of course, the harder you try, and the more conscientious you become, the more you find just how far you fall short of the Glory of the Cross of Christ.  You do not live and love as you ought to do. But Christ be praised that forgiveness and life and salvation do not depend on you, nor on any of the saints in themselves, but entirely on Christ and His Righteousness and the Glory of His Cross.

So it is that, for St. James and St. John, St. Peter and St. Paul, and all the Apostles, their vocation was the Ministry of Jesus’ Word and His Baptism and His Cup.  Their lives were given over to the preaching and administration of these Holy Things, in the Name and stead of Christ, unto others.  And with that, their very lives were likewise a display of the Gospel and the Glory of His Cross, as those who spoke the Word and worked the works of Christ Jesus; who suffered and died for it.

We may be especially grateful, therefore, and it is most appropriate that we should give thanks on this day, for the Blessed and Holy Apostle, St. James, through whom the Glory of Christ Jesus has been revealed and made manifest in the Scriptures and in the Church.  For in the life and ministry of St. James, so also in his death, it is Christ the Crucified whom you see and hear and receive; just as you also receive the same Christ Jesus to this day in the Ministry of His Baptism and His Cup.

Indeed, the one Lord Jesus Christ has continued to call and send, among His disciples, those men who will serve His people with His Word and with His Holy Sacraments.  So has He called me and ordained me to serve you at His Font and at His Table, here within His House on earth.  So does the Son of Man continue to come, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His Life for the Many.

And so does He call you and gather you to Himself, in order to lift you up in the forgiveness of His Cross, as often as you have fallen down.  By the waters of your Holy Baptism, He continues to cleanse you of your sins, and to usher you into His Kingdom through His Cross and Resurrection.  And here within His Church, He invites you to recline here at His Table, where He girds Himself to serve you, presenting you with His Cup and speaking to you His Words of mercy and grace.

“Take, drink. This Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the life everlasting.”

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

22 July 2018

Jesus the Good Shepherd Feeds His Flock

What is it that you’re looking for?  Why are you here this morning, and why do you go about doing what you do throughout the week, at work or on vacation?  What is it that you need?

The fact is that you don’t know what you really need unless you are taught.   A child doesn’t just automatically know what is good and necessary, as opposed to what is dangerous and unhealthy.  An infant has an instinct for his mother’s milk, but toddlers are famous for putting all sorts of non foods into their mouths.  Moms and Dads teach their children what is good and appropriate to eat, and how much to eat, and when to eat.  Otherwise a child doesn’t know.  And you don’t know your genuine needs, either, unless your Father in heaven teaches you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

You do know, instinctively, that you need something, because you hunger and thirst.  Your belly lets you know that you need to eat.  And as you have been taught, whether by your parents or by trial and error, you know what to eat, not only to fill the empty space, but to nourish your body.

You hunger and thirst for the food and drink that your body needs in order to keep going.  And you hunger for other things, as well, some of them beneficial, even necessary to this body and life, and others not so much.  You hunger for shelter and protection, for safety and peace, and for clothing, so that you will not be found naked or ashamed.  And you hunger for affection and appreciation.  You long to be admired, and for people to like you and look up to you.  You are hungry for love.

Indeed, God has created you to live in a relationship of love with Him and with your neighbors.  There is built into you a desire, a hunger and thirst, and a need, for love.  To be loved, and to love in return.  So you do know this hunger, too, not only for food and drink, and shelter and clothing, but also for companionship, for colleagues, comrades, and cohorts, for family and friends.

But what does it take for you to be satisfied?  What do you need, not just for survival, but in order to live in peace, and for your heart and mind to rest from all your anxious worries?  Your hungers appear to be insatiable, and satisfaction seems elusive, impossibly out of your reach, no matter how much money you have, and no matter how much you glut yourself on occasions when you can.  If one day ends with a certain sense of contentment, the next day begins with renewed hungers.

You keep searching and striving for something that will truly satisfy your hungers, but you can’t find it or feed yourself sufficiently.  Not only your belly, but your heart and soul keep on growling.

It goes back to the fact that God the Lord has created you for life with Himself, to live in love with Him, and so also to live in loving communion with the neighbors He has placed alongside you in the world.  Your life in the world and all of your relationships depend on your relationship with Him.  So you will never be satisfied until you feed on Him and rest in Him, in both body and soul.

Sounds easy in theory, but of course it’s not.  It’s impossibly hard for you.  Not that He’s playing hard to get; and not as though He were unwilling or unable to feed you and to give you rest.  It is because of your own sin, which is, at its heart, idolatry and unbelief.  You fear, love, and trust all the wrong gods, beginning with yourself, and you refuse to believe the Word and promises of the one true God, the Holy Trinity, though He is the Creator of all things, the Author and Giver of life.

Your sin is an insatiable hunger for that which is not God, and for that which God has not given.  It cannot ever be satisfied, because it craves and consumes what is perishing and does not last.  And the more you consume in your covetous passions and the lusts of your flesh, the more you are consumed by your own hungers, until you are finally eaten up by your addiction to death.

You make false gods and idols out of the good gifts that your Father in heaven well provides you, which you do need for this body and life on earth, but you treat them as your highest good and as self-sufficient.  You worship your food and drink, your house and home, your family and friends, your work, and your entertainment, with the worship that rightly belongs to the Lord alone.  Not only that, but you worship what God has not given, and even that which He has forbidden to you.

And as often as you go hungering and thirsting for whatever is not God — and all the more so, all the faster, as you covet and consume what is not yours and is not good for you — the further you turn away from the only One who can truly satisfy your every need and give you peace and rest.

It is already quite late in the day, and you are in serious trouble if you do not eat something that will fill you up and satisfy you.  Not the addictions that give you, at best, only brief, momentary pleasure, and then leave you craving for more, but the Food that endures unto eternal life.  Yet, you are in a desolate place, and you cannot feed yourself.  You cannot find or afford what you need.

But now your Lord Jesus has come ashore, and He has come to find you.  He sees you, just as you are, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows your hungers and your hurts.  He knows the emptiness inside of you.  He knows what you need, and He has come to feed you.

He has not come to chastise you.  He has come with mercy and compassion for you, in order to be your Shepherd, to guard and keep and take care of you.  He enters in and graciously opens His generous hand to provide for all that you need in both body and soul.  That is why He is here.

He does care about your body and life here in this world, and He does provide for those needs.  He feeds and clothes you here, He shelters and protects you.  He has given you a father and mother to teach you and take care of you.  And He gives you a world of neighbors, who, whether they like it or know it or not, are compelled to serve you, so that you don’t get broken and die in the street.

As surely as He adorns the lilies, and as surely as He feeds the sparrows, the young ravens, and the lions, so much more does He clothe and feed you.  You are more precious to Him than flowers, birds, and animals.  He will not do less for you than He does for them.  Indeed, He does far more.

The divine compassion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ is not simply an emotion of pity.  He does not simply look at you and bemoan the mess that you’re in.  His compassion is an act of divine love, an active care and concern for you that springs from the very heart of Him, yes, from the very entrails of His being.  He moves from heaven to help you.  He suffers here with you and for you.

He comes to find you where you are, and He brings you home rejoicing, because He loves you.  He calls you to Himself, He gathers you to His bosom, and He takes your sins upon Himself.  All of your hurts, and all of your weaknesses, and all of the hurt that you have caused, all of the ways that you have used your strength wrongly — your iniquities and your sorrows, your pride and your despair — He takes it all into His own flesh.  He knows your hunger, your thirst, and your pain.

He knows all of these things, because He has made your sin and its deadly consequences His own.  He has borne the full burden and curse of the Law, and He has suffered the punishment of your sin, even the death of His Cross.  In His own Body, He has set things right and made all things new.

The great Good Shepherd of the sheep has made Himself the Passover Lamb, the Sheep who was led to the slaughter, not against His will, but voluntarily in love.  He laid down His own body and life, as the Sacrifice of Propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and He has risen from the dead for your justification, that you might have life with God in Him, in His crucified and risen Body.

Not only that, but having removed your burdens from you, He now feeds you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood.  For the Lamb is not only sacrificed, but He is eaten.  And His Blood is not only shed, but it now also covers you, within and without.  It not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with the very Life and Spirit of the Living God.  For the Lord feeds you with Himself, with His flesh and blood for your body and soul.  He is the One who satisfies you truly.  The God-sized hole in you, the emptiness that is there until you rest in God, He fills with Himself.

He does it, first of all, by the preaching and teaching of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  Everything begins with that, centers in that, and flows from that preaching of Christ, which bears and bestows His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching of the Word of Christ, that He gives nothing less than Himself to you, and breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul, and brings you in peace to His God and Father in heaven, as a beloved and well-pleasing child.

And with that preaching and ministry, He then does even more, as you have heard this morning from St. Mark, and as all four of the holy Evangelists record.  He takes the bread, He blesses and gives thanks, He breaks it and distributes it by the hand of His servants.  So also now for you.

He feeds you with this living Bread from heaven, which is His own holy Body, that you might be truly filled and satisfied, and that you might find your peace and rest in Him, here and now by faith in His Word, and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body to life everlasting in body and soul.

That is the Food with which I feed you in His Name and stead, in remembrance of Him.  Not that I could ever do so of myself, of course, no more than the Apostles could feed those huge crowds of people by any power or sufficiency of their own.  But for the sake of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus says to me, as He said to them: “You give them something to eat.”  So that is what I do, by and with His Word.  I preach and teach, and I forgive your sins, and I feed you with this Food of Jesus.

Here, then, is your Good Shepherd.  Here in His Church are the green pastures of His Word.  Here are the peaceful, quiet waters of forgiveness and life, flowing from your Baptism throughout all your days on earth.  And here is the banqueting Table with His overflowing Chalice of salvation.  Here you are fed and filled with all that you need, so that you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.

What, then, shall you say or do?  How many loaves do you have in your lunch box or your larder?  Is it not enough to do whatever the Lord has given you to do?

It is certain that you would never be able to make ends meet on your own.  You could not do or accomplish what God has given you to do by your own wisdom, reason, or strength.  You could not love and serve your husband or wife.  You could not feed, clothe, shelter, and protect your children.  You could not provide for your family, nor support the Church and Ministry of Christ.

But do not be dismayed, do not grow weary, and do not lose heart.  The Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, is still moved with compassion for you.  And He still acts in love to help you.  Better than that, He acts in love to save you, to forgive your sins, to give you His life in place of death, to sustain you by His own strength, and to make up everything that is lacking.  And along with all of that, for whatever it is that He has called you to do in His Name, He provides what is needed.

“How many loaves do you have?”  Go and see.  Whether it be five of fifty, 500 or 5000, entrust whatever you have to Him, and see what He will do with it.  He knows what He has given to you.  So He would also teach you to be thankful for His gifts, and to rely on Him for all that you need.

Do the work to which He has called you in the confidence of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Do not worry or be anxious that you will come up short if you are doing what He has commanded you.  Let each day be sufficient of itself for your concern, and let that be governed by His Word.  Let it be to you as He has spoken.  Not only in your working, but also in your resting.

Come here, then, to the place that Jesus has provided, and rest yourself in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament.  Remain on board this boat with Jesus and His disciples, and He will bring you safely to the other side.  Eat, drink, and be satisfied.  For the Lord, your Good Shepherd, here feeds you with Himself.  He is your Meat and Drink indeed.  Whoever eats this Bread shall never die, and whoever drinks from this Cup, the New Testament in His Blood, shall never thirst again.  But as you are fed by the Lord your God, so shall you live in and with Him forever and ever.

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

14 July 2018

Called to the Wedding Feast of Christ and His Bride

The Lord has built His House, and He does watch over His City.  Indeed, the whole of creation is His good work and His gracious good gift to the Man and the Woman and all their children.  It is beautiful in its design and delightful in its good order, so that all things in heaven and on earth praise Him and point to Him, according to His purpose and His Word.

With all of that, holy marriage is the culmination and the crowning glory of God’s good creation, the Man and the Woman made for each other in His own divine Image and Likeness, to love and to cherish each other in His Name, to the praise of His glorious grace.

It is a relationship of mutual love.  And that is not a matter of fickle feelings and emotions, but of solid commitment, steadfast integrity, faithfulness, and self-sacrificing care, each one for the other.  It is a partnership in doing the good work that God has given, in cultivating and keeping the garden He has planted, in the particular place where He locates the man and his wife.  And holy marriage is the means by which the Lord creates, brings forth, and cares for new life in body and soul.

By fatherly divine goodness and mercy, for the sake of His own divine and holy love, the Creator of the heavens and the earth exalts man from nothing, from the dust and the dirt of the earth, to be a living being.  And in holy marriage He gives the woman to the man, and He gives them both to have dominion over the earth in His Name.  To exercise, not a power play, but providential care for His creation, while yet living always by His grace, by faith in His Word and promises.

They are given to eat the Food that God provides, to drink freely His water of life, and to worship Him by the obedience of faith, by the keeping of His good commandments.

It is to and for these high and holy purposes that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and it is for these high and holy purposes that a father gives his daughter to another man in holy marriage.  And so it is that, today, Matt and Oly, you are bound together in a life-long union of heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, in a divine vocation that redefines your entire identity in the world and in relation to all of your neighbors, until death parts you from this body and life.

Be sure and certain of this: No matter how old, sophisticated, experienced, intelligent, or savvy anyone may be, it is impossible to comprehend, much less to practice, the true importance and genuine significance of holy marriage, except by the Word and Wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is obvious enough, now more than ever, that the world and fallen flesh assail holy marriage on all sides with all manner of perversity, confusion, and falsehood.  But there is also the more crafty temptation, all the more so among well meaning Christians, to make an idol out of marriage and family, that is, to worship these good things as false gods and saviors.  Not because of any fault in marriage and family, which are the Lord’s own creation and His good work, but on account of the sinfulness of our fallen hearts and minds and our perishing flesh and blood.

Leave it to the Lord, therefore, to clarify priorities and to put all things into their own proper place.  For here we are instructed by His Word concerning holy marriage, which points beyond itself to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

The holy Matrimony of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is the true fulfillment of the first creation and the crowning glory of the New Creation, of the new heavens and the new earth, where God and man abide together in righteousness and peace.  For all of creation is redeemed, made brand new, and sanctified in the Body of Christ Jesus, which is the Tabernacle of God among men.

He is the Light of the World, the Love of God, and the Life of all the living, who has become true Man, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, conceived and born of St. Mary by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He is the Stronger Man who has come and bound the strong man, Satan, that He might rescue all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve from the bondage of sin and death.  And He is the Bridegroom, who has come down from the Father in heaven to seek you out, to woo you and betroth you to Himself, and to make of you a member of His own holy Bride.

So it is that you are called to fear, love, and trust in Him, to hope in His Resurrection, and to live by faith in His Word.  To be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, by way of repentance, in order to be raised up with Him to newness of life, and to live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  To live forever in His House, within His City, as a member of His Household and Family, as a beloved son or daughter of His own God and Father.

To live within holy marriage as a Christian, to live as a Christian husband or wife, is no different (broadly speaking) than it is to live as a Christian at all, whether married or unmarried.  It is to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, with which He has adorned in you in Holy Baptism, and so also to clothe yourself in the righteous deeds of His saints, that is, by holy faith and holy love.

Do not seek or strive to seat yourself above and beyond your own proper station in life, but serve faithfully and be content wherever you are, and wait upon the Lord to exalt you in due season.

Work together in faith and love as husband and wife, as partners yoked together in the keeping of the garden where God stations you, exercising the stewardship of His world in your own place and time.  Work together in common cause: not your own, but the Lord’s, which He shares with you.

Matt, care for Oly and give yourself for her, as Christ does for His Bride, the Church.  Oly, love and serve Matthew as a helpmate perfectly suited for him, in the confidence of Christ, who is your Savior and his.  And together serve your neighbors and provide hospitality, even to the least of them, as the Lord so enables you to do, knowing that you also are poor and needy, crippled, lame, and blind, according to your fallen flesh; and yet, you are fed and clothed by the Lord your God.

It is by grace alone, by the charity of God, that you are invited to share the Master’s Feast, though you are unworthy of yourself to enter His House or to be seated at His Table.  It is in Love that Christ has given Himself for you, in order to exalt you, and to feed you with Himself, with His own Flesh and Blood: Here within His Church on earth, and hereafter in His holy City, New Jerusalem.

“Come, eat and drink freely,” He calls.  His Dinner is prepared, and everything is ready.  For Christ has died, and He is risen indeed, never to die again.  Here, then, at His Table, from the dust and the dirt of sin, death, and the grave, the humbled are exalted and fed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Altar is the center of creation.  For the Tabernacle of God is here with you in the Flesh and Blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  He dwells with you, and by His Gospel He calls you to be His own, to be and to live as a member of His Body and Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  He comes in flesh and blood like yours to save you, and He abides here with you in love, in order to serve you in grace, mercy, and peace.

In the eyes of the world, and in your own fallen flesh, in your fickle heart and foolish mind, the Lord’s Supper, His Big Dinner, may seem pointless, an intrusion and a nuisance, which you would just as soon skip and not bother with.  But do not trade His Feast for a bowl of porridge.  To reject the Lord’s great Feast in favor of your own pursuits is to choose death over life, and to cut yourself off from the Kingdom of God.  Even to prioritize your own marriage and family over the Marriage of the Lamb and the Household and Family of God — however pious that (pretense) may seem — is to forego and renounce what matters most and is eternal for what is perishing and passing away.

Beloved of the Lord, the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  For He has come as the true Man and atoned for the sins of the world by His own Blood; and by His Resurrection from the dead He has reconciled the world to His God and Father in Himself, in His own Body of real flesh and bones.

He has given Himself for you and for all people in divine and holy love.  Not because you were so beautiful or lovely, but in order to make you beautiful by His love for you, and by His sacrifice on your behalf; that He might cleanse you by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and adorn you with His Righteousness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.

Thus has He done for you in your Holy Baptism, and so does He love you, and serve you, and care for you in all things, not only for this body and life, but for the Life everlasting.

He who did not spare Himself, but gave Himself for you, even unto death, He will not withhold any good thing from you.  Rather, with Himself, He freely gives you all things by and from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  That is the sure and certain hope in which you live, in which you love and serve each other, and in which you sacrifice yourself and give generously with grace and mercy for your neighbors, even the least of them in the eyes of the world.

You live, now, by faith and not by sight, bearing the Cross in the confidence of the Resurrection.  For Christ, your Bridegroom, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, has gone before you through death into life.  He was crucified, died, and was buried, but God has raised this same Christ Jesus from the dust of the ground, and has exalted Him at His own right hand.

The challenges and difficulties of married life in this fallen and perishing world, at every age and stage of life, though they may seem to be crushing you, defeating you, and utterly overwhelming you, are yet an opportunity to be catechized and trained in the faith and love of Christ Jesus.

Like your parents and older siblings before you, the two of you do have lots to learn, and lots of growing up to do together in the years and decades ahead of you.  Do not doubt that is true.  I pray to God that you never stop growing and learning in this body and life on earth.

Above all, your holy marriage under the Cross is an opportunity to be trained in daily repentance and forgiveness, to live by grace through faith in Christ, and to love each other as He loves you.

You are in love today, no doubt, as all of your family and friends are well able to see.  But you will learn to love each other more deeply and profoundly as you bear and suffer the Cross together as husband and wife.  And in learning to love each other in the way of Christ and His Church, you will also learn to love and serve your many other neighbors in the world, as well.

The Cross of Christ will teach you that holy marriage is not about selfishness or self-advancement.  It’s not about power or prestige, competition, or the accumulation of wealth.  It is about love.  Not the world’s fictitious fairy tale of fickle feelings and fleeting romance, but the Love of God in Christ, which stands fast and remains steady at all times and in all places, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health; divine Love, from which even death shall not part you.

You will vow your faithfulness to one another on this day, and God grant you by His Word and Holy Spirit to remain faithful in those promises and commitments, for He is the One who binds you together.  Do not betray that sacred trust.  But whatever frailties and weaknesses you shall discover in yourselves and in each other, know that your Lord remains faithful in all things and forever.  He cannot deny Himself, and He will not renege on any of His promises to you.

As He is with you here and now, today, so shall He be with you always.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Rather, day by day, by His Cross and Resurrection, by repentance and faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, by His Holy Baptism and His Holy Supper, He shall ever be making you and your marriage and all things new, according to His tender mercies and His steadfast loving-kindness.  For He kills and makes alive by His Word of the Cross.  He wounds in order to heal by the medicine of His Gospel.  He humbles you in yourself, but He exalts you in Himself, in His own Body, in the presence of His God and Father.

And having fed you here at His Altar, faithfully throughout your days on earth, at the last He shall seat you at His Table in His Kingdom, in His own House forever and ever.  “Friends, come up higher,” He shall say.  And He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and there will no longer be any death, nor sickness, nor sorrow, nor pain, but only the everlasting joy and delight of the Lamb with His Bride in the neverending Feast of His great Salvation.

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

08 July 2018

The Ministry of the Word of Christ for Body and Soul

You have recently heard that Jesus raised a little girl from the dead and healed a woman who had for twelve years suffered an incurable hemorrhage.  You know, as well, from the Holy Gospels, that He opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf; that He enabled the paralyzed and lame to get up and walk; that He cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and calmed the wind and waves.

You’ve been hearing these stories of Jesus for most of your life.  You believe and confess that they are true.  And more often than not, you long for Him to work such miracles in your body and life.  You call upon His Name and pray, and yet, you wonder if and when you will ever be answered.

Beloved of the Lord, do not doubt that you are heard and answered.  But do bear in mind that it is by His Word of the Cross that He responds and deals with you, and that your life with God in Christ Jesus is, for now, by faith and not by sight.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Those who look to Him for health and strength, who listen to His Word and trust in Him, they lack nothing at all.  Everything in heaven and on earth is theirs in Christ Jesus, by the grace of God, by faith in His Word.  All by the way of His Cross.

He comes to give you all good things by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  That is what He does in His hometown, and in those other villages.  And that is what He sends His men to do for you: To preach and teach His Word.  To this day, and in this place, He is thereby in the synagogue, according to His custom, preaching and teaching the Word of God unto repentance and faith.

He preaches the Law — what God commands and forbids — because God’s Law declares to you the way of life.  It is His good and acceptable will, and it is good for you.  He preaches the Law, however, not that you would get your act together, fix yourself, and make everything right, but that you should repent of your sins, rely upon His mercy, and believe in His Gospel of salvation.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And that is what His ministers preach in His Name and stead: Repentance and Forgiveness.  That is the Word of His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you are put to death and die with Him, and by which you are raised with Him to newness of life in body and soul, already here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  For it is by His Word that He forgives your sins, heals your diseases, rescues you from every evil, and gives you eternal life.

And yet, that surely is not what you see and feel and experience in this vale of tears, in this poor life of labor.  Which is why the Word of Jesus seems so utterly absurd.  He keeps preaching these good things, but everything in your life contradicts it.  You and your loved ones still get sick, and you know that you and they are going to die.  You feel it in your body and your bones long before it happens.  Meanwhile, your house and home, your job, and your whole life are all so precarious.

And to all those dangers and fears, Jesus just keeps saying: “Your sins are forgiven!”  Great.

Remember the paralytic they brought to Jesus?  He couldn’t walk, so his friends carried him to the place where Jesus was, and went to the trouble of cutting a hole in the roof and lowering him down to Jesus.  They laid him right there at His feet.  And the man was paralyzed, lying on a stretcher.  It seemed obvious what he needed.  But what did Jesus do?  “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Okay.  That seems odd, if you stop and think about it.  But you also know how that story continues, when the Pharisees and Scribes question this apparent blasphemy on the part of this Man who presumes to forgive sins.  Yeah, right!  Who can tell if He did it or not?  So Jesus heals the man, who gets up and walks.  Now, be honest.  Does your heart not long for that kind of healing, too?

Of course, you’re very grateful for the forgiveness of your sins.  But you would also like to get up and walk, and to go home rejoicing.  To be set free from your burdens, from all the frailties of your flesh, all the sorrows of your heart, the confusion in your head, and the turmoil in your life.  For all of that, the Word that you hear and receive from the Lord Jesus seems very weak and downright wearisome.  Especially when Jesus keeps on saying it, but nothing ever changes for the better.

So you are tempted to hold Jesus in contempt, because His Word seems so helpless and irritating.  Instead of making your life better, He calls you to repentance, and He speaks of your forgiveness.  Where you perceive yourself to be a poor victim, He addresses you as a poor, miserable sinner.  Which might seem worse than nothing and make you angry.  And yet, it is the Word of His own Cross and Resurrection that He preaches into your ears, which is, in fact, the remedy that you need.

His Word confronts you with a crisis and a crossroads.  It’s not what your flesh wants to hear, and, on the surface, it does not seem to be doing any good.  But to deny and reject the Word of Christ is to reject Christ Jesus Himself; and to reject the Lord Jesus Christ is to reject His God and Father and the Holy Spirit and the only real life there is.  To deny and reject His preaching, therefore, is to consign yourself to death and damnation in body and soul, now and forever.  The same thing is true in the case of the preaching of Christ by those men whom He sends to preach in His Name.

You have heard His Word to those men in this Holy Gospel: “If any place will not receive you, then, as you leave that place. . . .” And that is already a sobering prospect.  It can happen that God removes His Word from you.  And while that may seem like a relief at first, it is the most terrifying discipline of all.  As Dr. Luther has put it, God sends such a famine of His Word, that your heart cries out for even a single syllable of what the Lord would say to you, and yet you hear nothing.

“When you go out from that place,” He says, “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  And that is serious business.  It is to give evidence and testimony for the final judgment.  For the fact is that, whether they listen or not, a Prophet has been among them.  And the Word of the Prophet is the Word of the Lord.  To refuse the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles, to deny and reject them, to harden your heart against them, is to refuse and reject the Lord to your peril.

There is a prophet in your midst.  Not a teller of the future, but a preacher of the Word of Christ.  And that Word is your help and your hope in the face of sickness, sorrow, sin, and death.  It’s not just grasping at straws.  It’s not a pious pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.  It is the Truth of Christ Jesus.

You should repent.  Turn away from your sins, and listen to God.  Do not continue to pursue those things which claw at your heart and seize your mind.  Rather, give your ears to what God speaks, and open your mouth to be fed by His Word.  Listen to what He says, and trust what He promises.

The Lord your God comes in the flesh and with His Word to save you.  It is not to burden you that He comes.  It is not to irritate you that He preaches.  He hasn’t come to trick you, either.  It’s not a game that He’s playing.  It is rather from the depths of His great heart of love that He comes to save you from your sins, from death and the devil, and to give you life with God as a member of His own Body and Bride.  His almighty power is made known chiefly in His mercy toward you.

He comes and calls you to repent.  To turn away from unbelief.  To turn away from your idolatry, from your adultery, and from your lust for the things of this world; from fornication and addiction; from your foul mouth and your wicked gossip; from your yearning for money more than Him; from your pride, and from your despair; from your love for the praises of men more than God.  He calls you away from all of that, not to shame you, not to hurt you, not to rob you of life, but to save you.  Because there is life in none of those things, but only in Him.  And He wants to give you His life.

That is why He sends His men to preach His Word, to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  That is why, wherever they come in with the preaching of Christ and His Gospel, it is still as it was in your Baptism: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”  Because God pours out His Spirit generously upon you, and into your heart, through this Gospel of Christ Jesus.  And He does not hold any of your sins against you.  Even as He calls you to account for them, it is to remove them, as in Christ He has already removed them from His sight.

With His Word of the Cross, He removes your unclean spirit.  He takes away your sin and death.  And in the place of all that, He gives you Himself and all His gifts and benefits, unto eternal Life.  Not only for your soul, but also for your body, even now while it is dying.  That is what He does.

He did it already in your Baptism, when He crucified you with Himself.  For He does not put you to death all by yourself, alone and lonesome, but He has gone ahead of you through the valley of the shadow of death.  He has first of all been crucified for you.  His almighty power is made perfect in His voluntary weakness, all for the sake of your salvation.  So that, now, as you are crucified by His Word, it is with Him, your great Champion.  And not only are you put to death, but you are also raised to life with Him.  For the Lord kills and makes alive.  He wounds, but He also heals.

So also, here at His Altar, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Lord who was crucified and raised for your salvation lays hold of you in love and binds Himself to you most intimately.  And all that He has done and accomplished for you, in His Body, is now given into your body.

Now, He does not force Himself upon you.  He will not violate you in heart, mind, body, or soul.  He does not take liberties with you, but rather uses His liberty as the Son of God to serve you and to save you at His own expense.  He takes nothing from you, except your burdens of sin and death.  And in return He gives to you the treasures of His Kingdom.  He woos you in love with His grace, mercy, and peace.  He pours Himself out for you entirely, and He pours out His Spirit generously upon you, that you might have life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by the preaching of the Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness.

That Word of the Cross, which puts you to death and raises you to life with Christ Jesus, that is the true and only wisdom upon which you can rely.  It is utterly foolish to the world, and yet, it is the Wisdom of the Lord your God, who is all mercy and compassion.  Indeed, His Cross is your only boast in heaven and on earth.  The Cross that He bore and suffered for you.  The Cross He laid upon you in your Baptism, which He preaches to you still, and which you bear and carry in His Name within your vocations and stations in life.  That Cross is not your defeat but your true glory.

The same Lord Jesus Christ who has borne the Cross for you, who has been crucified for all your sins and raised for your justification, He is your Sabbath Rest.  In Him you have Peace with God.  In Him there is a real liberty, a true freedom and independence, such as the world cannot give or achieve or even begin to understand.  Whatever cease fire this world ever achieves is temporary, just like your day off, your three-day weekends, and your vacations, all of which come to an end.

Not so with the Peace that surpasses human understanding.  That true Peace is yours with God in Christ.  And that Peace is no mere temporary cease fire.  It is a place of real safety, a permanent home with God who loves you, with whom you have been reconciled by the death of His own Son.

That Peace and Rest with God in Christ shall never be taken from you, not even if your body is crucified, burned, and scattered to the winds.  All things are still yours in the Body of Christ.

His crucified and risen Body is your true home and your shelter.  And within His Body on earth, His holy Christian Church, He gives to you His life and health and strength, and yes, all the wealth and riches of heaven itself, even in the face of all the afflictions and hardships that you now bear.

With the Food and Clothing of Christ and His Cross, be content.  For the Lord does not fail to feed you with His Word, and with His Body and Blood.  What firmer guarantee could you be given?  Nor does He fail to clothe you.  You are not found naked, unclothed, or abandoned in the streets.  For He has dressed you in His own righteousness, like a Bride made ready for her Bridegroom.

With this Food and Clothing, be content.  Taste and see that your Lord is good.  As you receive Him into your ears, into your mouth, and into your body and soul, you lack nothing that is good.  Here on earth as it is in heaven, this one true God is your God, and you are His own, His own dear child and a sheep of His pasture.  Eat and drink from His hand, and live with Him in His Kingdom.

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