25 November 2020

The Sacrifice and Sacrament of Thanksgiving in Christ Jesus

In the Creeds of the Church, day after day and week after week throughout the year, we confess that God the Father Almighty, with His Son and Holy Spirit, is the Maker and Preserver of all things; that everything comes from Him and depends upon His ongoing providential care; and that each and every one of us, all that we are and have, all of our vocations and relationships, all are gifts of grace from His wide open hand.  Thus, it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.

Regrettably and tragically, God’s good Creation has been subjected to the curse and consequences of our sin — from Old Man Adam to the present day.  Our sin has separated us from God, turned us and driven us away from Him, and so cut us off from the only real Source of life and health.

Consequently, our sin has brought sickness, suffering, and death upon all of us and our children, and upon the whole of Creation.  The leprosy of those ten men in this familiar Holy Gospel from St. Luke is simply one outward symptom and example of the curse and consequences of sin.

It is only by the fatherly, divine goodness and mercy of God — with which He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them to begin with, and for which He created Adam & Eve as the King and the Queen of His Creation (in anticipation of Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Church) — it is solely for the sake of His goodness and mercy that He continues to provide for you and all His creatures, to guard and keep you and your children in body and soul, to defend and protect you from all harm and danger, and to keep you in life.  Above all else, it is by His grace alone that God the Father gives His own dear Son to save you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  Indeed, it is for the sake of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, that the Father loves you and gives you all good things.

Sadly, among the many consequences of your sin, one of the most tragic is your native inability to recognize the grace and providence of God, so that you add sin upon sin with your ingratitude.

But into all this mess comes the incarnate Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  He takes every initiative in coming to you — and coming for you — in order to save you.  He enters into His own Creation, becoming the true Man, in order to carry all the sins and sorrows of the world in His own Body to the Cross, to sacrifice Himself on behalf of all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  He bears the entire curse and consequences of your sins, in order to make Atonement for you, to redeem you, and to give you His own divine, eternal Life in place of your death and damnation.  He does it all by way of His Cross, and now He delivers the goods through His Means of Grace.

Consider the example of His dealings with these ten lepers.  They have been separated from God and from His people by their leprosy — an outward manifestation of sin’s curse and consequence.  But Jesus draws near to them, as He draws near to you.  And when they cry out to Him for mercy, He hears their prayer of faith, and He graciously responds to their need with His powerful Word.

At that point, to begin with, they have nothing but His Word to rely on and to go by, as He sends them to the priest in accordance with the Law of Moses before their bodies have even been healed.  Just as you have, for now, the Word and promise of the Resurrection, but you sure don’t see it yet.

It is in their going at His Word — in their proceeding by faith to do what He has given them to do — that their bodies are cleansed and healed by Christ Jesus, who is Life Itself in His own Flesh.

And so it is that you also are cleansed and healed, in both body and soul, by the powerful Word of the same Lord Jesus Christ — by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, and by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in your Baptism.  For He is your merciful and great High Priest, the fulfillment of the whole Law of Moses, and the one great Sacrifice-for-sin to end all sacrifices for sin.  Indeed, His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, supercedes and replaces the Temple, so that you find peace and rest with God in Him.

Now, in this familiar story, as you well know, even though all ten of those lepers were healed, only the one returned to glorify God by worshiping the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to Him.  No doubt the other nine gave thanks to God in connection with the requisite sacrifices, but there is no indication that they returned to praise and give thanks to God in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  Although it was His Word that healed them, they evidently did not perceive that He is God in the Flesh, that He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and that His Body is the Temple of God.

Unfortunately, their actions also offer an example of the ways that all of us poor sinners too often fail and fall short in returning thanks and praise unto our gracious Lord.

When it comes to the temporal Providence of God for this present body and life, it is far too easy to focus on His creatures and His gifts of creation, while losing sight of Him as the Creator of all things and the Author and Giver of life.  You fear not having enough or losing what you do have, whereas you love and trust the things that you possess more than you fear, love, and trust in God.

And when it comes to the spiritual gifts and blessings of God — the forgiveness of your sins, your faith and life in Christ Jesus, your righteousness and holiness in the presence of your God and Father, and the hope and promise of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting — you are prone to rely upon yourself, upon your own intellect, knowledge, and understanding, your gut feelings and personal intuitions, and your own self-styled efforts to be “pious and faithful and good,” thereby treating your life, your “Christianity,” and your salvation as one big “do-it-yourself” project.

Like those “other nine” men who did not come back to worship and give thanks to the Lord Jesus, you presume to worship God, to “pray, praise, and give thanks,” apart from His Word and Flesh, away from the Temple of His Body, without the Ministry of His Gospel and His Means of Grace.

But now, recognize and take to heart, in repentance and faith, the way that God the Lord, the Creator, deals with you and provides for your body and soul by the means of His good Creation:

In the first place, His fallen Creation has been redeemed, restored, sanctified, and perfected by the Incarnation of the very Son of God, by His life in the Flesh as true Man, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and by His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father in heaven.  For in His Body, crucified and risen, exalted and glorified, all things are made brand new — and are taken up by God to serve the purposes He intended from the start.

As such, His good Creation has been redeemed and sanctified for you, for your present and eternal benefit — just as you yourself are redeemed and sanctified, recreated, healed and cleansed in both body and soul, in the Body of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, by His creaturely Means of Grace.

The Lord your God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, deals with you graciously, and He gives Himself, His Life, and His Salvation to you, by and with the waters of Holy Baptism, by the spoken Word of the Gospel from the mouth of His servants into your ears, and by the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, given and poured out for you in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  He thereby lays hold of you in both body and soul, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Christ Jesus, that you might live with Him in righteousness and purity forever.

It is by the same Means of Grace that the Holy Spirit is actively present and at work to call you and bring you, again and again, to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, to acknowledge His gifts and His merciful goodness, to return thanksgiving to God the Father through Him, and to live in Him.

It is by and with and in these Means of Grace, therefore, that your God and Father not only bestows His best and greatest gifts upon you, but also enables you to receive His gifts with thanksgiving.

So, too, the first and foremost way by which you thank, praise, serve, and obey Him, is simply by receiving His good and gracious gifts of the Gospel in His Word and Sacraments.  As you then live from His Font, His Pulpit, and His Altar, into your callings and stations throughout the week, and as you return, again and again, to His Means of Grace each Sunday, your entire body and life and all of your callings and stations in life are embraced by thanksgiving at all times and in all places.

In serving your neighbors, for example — in faith and with thanksgiving toward God the Father in Christ Jesus — you offer the meet, right, and salutary eucharistic sacrifice for Jesus’ sake, just as He has sacrificed Himself for you.  Not as though to redeem yourself, but as redeemed by Him!

And by the ongoing grace of God in Christ, as often as you fail and fall short — as indeed you do — rejoice, give thanks, and sing, that your dear Lord Jesus Christ has not failed you or fallen short, nor does He ever do so.  No, as He has given Himself for you, so does He continue to give Himself to you by and with His Word and Spirit, forgiving your sins, restoring your faith, cleansing you inside and out, and preparing you for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting in and with Him.

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

22 November 2020

The Judgment of God in the Cross and Gospel of Christ Jesus

Your salvation hinges entirely on the Cross & Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  For He has atoned for all of your sins and gotten victory over death and the grave by His death upon the Cross, and He has opened the way of righteousness and everlasting Life to you in His Resurrection from the dead.  So, where and how you stand in the final Judgment depends on where you stand in relation to Him.

Are you on His right or His left?  A sheep or a goat?  Will you live with the Lord in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?  Or will you be forever cursed and die eternally with the devil and his wicked angels?

The judgment has already been determined by the Cross of Christ Jesus, and the verdict has been openly declared in His Resurrection from the dead.  And that has been accomplished for you and for all people, for the world, and for all the nations.  In Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, there is no more condemnation, there is no more punishment.  But, so too, apart from Him there is no life or salvation.  Either you are righteous and alive in and with Him, or wicked and dead without Him.

That is what it means for Jesus the Christ to be “the Son of Man,” to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to judge the living and the dead.

As He has come into the glory of His Kingdom and His Righteousness by the way of His Cross, His vicarious self-sacrifice of Atonement for all of your sins and for the sins of the whole world, so is His bodily Resurrection from the dead God’s open declaration of His Righteousness, and the justification of all those who belong to Him — of all who believe and are baptized in His Name.

So, then, because He desires all people to be saved, He calls all people to Himself by the Ministry of the Gospel.  He sends His messengers — not only His Holy Apostles to begin with, but the pastors of His Church in every time and place, even to the ends of the earth and the close of the age — He sends His messengers to make disciples from all nations by the way and means of Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of His Word.  It is by this Apostolic Ministry that He gathers the lost and wandering sheep to Himself — unto Life everlasting with God in both body and soul.

The preaching of His Word is the Truth.  It is the sure and certain verdict of the Lord your God, now and forever.  By it you are crucified and put to death with Him, but so are you also raised up in and with Him to a brand new life.  In Him, the old has passed away, and you are a new creation.

Repent of your sins, therefore.  Repent of your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love.  Turn away from sin and death, and live unto righteousness in Christ Jesus.  Receive and trust His Gospel, and live by that grace of God in Him.  Fear Him as the Lord, your King.  But so also trust in Him as your great Good Shepherd, as your merciful and great High Priest, as your Savior and Redeemer.

Love Him with all your heart, because He is your Savior and your God, your best and highest good.  But love Him so, not as though to get something from Him in return, but because you are already receiving every good and perfect gift from Him freely by His grace, by His Love for you.  Love Him, not to curry His favor, but because His favor and His righteousness are yours in His Holy Gospel.  Love Him righteously by faith in His Word, because you are justified by His grace.

It is entirely by His grace, that is, by the charity of God, by His utter charity in Christ Jesus.  It is entirely by His divine grace, because the truth is that He does not need anything at all from you.  He doesn’t need your stuff, all of which came from Him in the first place.  He does not need your work for His benefit.  He does not need anything from you.  But He gives you everything by grace.

So, too, there is nothing at all that you need which is not already yours in Him, freely given to be freely received, with no strings attached, no conditions or contingencies upon His tender mercy.

Love Him, therefore, because of who He is, and because He loves you faithfully and forever.

And in the confidence and courage of His Love for you, love Him by loving His Christians and all your neighbors in His Name and for His sake.  Such love is the evidence of your faith and life in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, that is how faith lives, without keeping score, and not at all self-conscious.  It is the good fruit that your dear Lord Jesus bears in you by the tree of His Cross in your life.  For by His Cross He brings you through repentance into the faith and life of His own Resurrection.  He brings you to God the Father in and with Himself, and He gives to you His own relationship — His own Sonship — with the Father.  So does He likewise give to you His own relationship of love with your neighbors.  For as you live and abide in Him by faith, He lives and abides in you.

So it is that you live in love toward your neighbors, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, who also bear His Name as you do, who are sons and daughters of the same God and Father.  You live in love toward your neighbors because this is the life of Christ, which He also lives in love toward you.  He feeds and quenches your hunger and thirst; He shelters you from the cold, from darkness, and from death; He covers your nakedness and shame; He cares for you in every adversity; He heals your diseases, and He releases you from the prison house of all your sins.

Thus do you know, in turn, what you should do for others.  Feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned.  Do it for Jesus’ sake.  Do it in His Name, as He does it all for you.  Do it all as unto Him.  Not only the occasional extraordinary act of kindness, charity, and mercy toward someone you barely know or rarely encounter — someone to whom you can allot a certain portion of time and a certain percentage of stuff; and then after you have done your good deed, you can go your merry way, feeling good about yourself, and get on with your own life.  But so also exercise a steady and consistent, persistent and patient love and care for the neighbors whom the Lord has set right alongside of you and all around you in your daily and ongoing life — for those neighbors it is hard to continue loving and hard to keep forgiving, over and over again, even seventy times seven, for the same hurts, the same insults, the same neglect, the same apathy.

Learn to see Christ Jesus in your neighbor, in the stranger you’ve never met, in the acquaintance you barely know, in your own wife or husband, and in your parents, children, and siblings — your brothers and sisters here on earth, and all the more so the brothers and sisters who sit with you here in church.  Behold the Lord Jesus in them, and take it to heart that you love and serve Him in each and all of these people.  For the Lord your God, the One who needs nothing from you, has given you this opportunity to return thanks to Him, to love and serve and care for Him — and thereby to demonstrate your faith and exercise your fear, love, and trust in Him — by caring for each other.

When your spouse is grumpy and nags at you; and your children disobey and disregard you; and your parents don’t understand, and they don’t listen, and they don’t keep their promises; and your siblings fight and argue with you — look at them the way your Father in heaven looks at you, and see Jesus in them.  Don’t see their bad behavior, which He has covered with His righteousness.  Don’t hold their sins against them, because He forgives them all their sins, as He forgives you.  And don’t withhold your love from them, because He does not withhold His love from you.

It is precisely in His poor and needy ones, in those who are the most work — in those who have the biggest and seemingly never-ending needs — it is in the weak and lowly and despised — in those who smell funny, in those who look odd, in those who act strangely, in those whom nobody wants to be around — in the little ones of every age and kind — that is where you find your Lord Jesus, in order to love and serve Him, because that is how He has come to love and serve us all.

He has made Himself hungry, and He has thirsted.  He has been the stranger and the outcast, the One whom even His own family thought weird, perhaps even sick in the head.  And He has been abandoned by friends, left alone to bear the staggering burden of the Cross and Passion by Himself.  He has been imprisoned, stripped naked, tortured, mocked, and cruelly punished — not for any sins of His own (He has none!), but for your sins.  All the dirt, all the grime, all the crud in your life — He made it all His own, He bore that shame, and He suffered all its punishment.  Indeed, He has been sick with the sickness of this whole dying world, unto His death upon the Cross.

Consequently, it is not only in your neighbor’s weakness and poverty and need that you find the Lord your God, your great Shepherd King.  But He is also with you in your weakness and shame; He is with you in your nakedness and pain; He is with you in your hunger and fear; He is with you in your sickness and at the hour of your death.  And He is with you as your Savior and Redeemer in the Judgment.  It is as we sing in the Te Deum: “Lord, we believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge; therefore, we pray Thee, help Thy servants, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious Blood.”  And assuredly He does.  He does help you.  He does have mercy upon you.

What is more, not only has He taken your place — in the midst of all your poverty, sickness, sin, and death — not only has He taken your place in His death upon the Cross — but so does He also give to you His place and His Righteousness in His Resurrection from the dead.  He gave it to you in your Holy Baptism.  For you know that in the waters of your Baptism, in and with His Word and Holy Spirit, you died with Him, and so have you also been raised up with Him to newness of life.

And here is what that means for you: His Righteousness is yours.  His works of love are yours.  Whereas all the sins that you have done He has made His own, all the works of love that He has done He has made yours.  He credits them to you.  He counts them as your works.

His whole Life, His Resurrection, His Salvation — all of that is yours.  All because the Atonement, the forgiveness, the reconciliation, and the peace of His Cross are yours — given and bestowed upon you by His Word and Ministry of the Gospel.  That is what the Gospel is and does.

It is the judgment of God that you are in Christ, that you are a Christian, by faith in His Gospel.  And everything that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God who has become your Brother in the Flesh, who is your Strength and your Song because He has become your Salvation, who has died for you and risen again — everything that belongs to Him is yours.

Hear this Word of Christ and take it to heart, because it is already in this preaching of the Gospel that you truly hear and receive God’s verdict concerning you:  You are forgiven all your sins.  You are holy and righteous.  You are beloved and well-pleasing to your God and Father in heaven.  You are not guilty, but innocent in Christ Jesus.  And so it is that you are set free from the prison house of sin and death.  You are healed of every disease in both body and soul.  You are not found naked, but you are fully clothed in Christ and His perfect righteousness.  And you are fed, not only with meat and potatoes, vegetables, and even dessert, with turkey and gravy and stuffing and cranberries — because the Lord is generous to all of us poor sinners, even in this body and life — but you are fed with a far greater Feast than any of us will otherwise eat this week; because here you are fed with the very Body and the holy and precious Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God.  And as He gives you Himself to eat and to drink, you know the very heart of God toward you.  You are blessed, and you are beloved of the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ — and you are welcomed into His Father’s Kingdom, because His God and Father is now also your God and your dear Father.

That is the purpose, reality, and significance of the Church on earth, and of this congregation.  It is why the Lord has called and gathered us here this morning.  For eternal judgments are declared and delivered here and now.  Here the Son of Man exercises His authority to forgive sins, and with that forgiveness He gives to you His Life and His Salvation.  Here at His Altar He sits upon His glorious throne and, just as we sing, all of the angels are round about Him.  Here He gathers you to Himself, He enfolds you to His embrace, and He holds you in His strong arms.  He calls you and draws you here to Himself, in order to feed you, to clothe you, to heal you, and to give you Life.

Come, then, blessed of the Lord!  Enter into His Peace, and rest yourself in Him.

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

15 November 2020

Enter into the Joy of Your Lord by Faith in His Gospel

Whatever you have, whatever your talents, whatever your possessions and abilities, none of these are your own; they are the Lord’s good gifts, which He has entrusted to you as a stewardship.  And as the Scriptures testify, it is required of a steward that he or she be found faithful.

Whatever money you have, it is the Lord’s.  And whatever you are especially good at, those talents, too, are from the Lord — and for the Lord — just as you yourself are His own workmanship.  If you are smart, it is from the Lord.  If you are fast or strong, it is from the Lord.  If you are good at math or music or languages or art, any and all of those skills are a stewardship from your Lord.

Likewise, your callings and stations in life are the positions and responsibilities within which the Lord would have you serve His purposes in faith toward Him and in love toward your neighbors.  And whatever you may hold within your hands, that is not only God’s good gift, but it is His own “stuff,” just as you also are His.  Your whole body and life are a sacred stewardship from the Lord.

Be faithful, therefore, in the use of your talents.  In the fear and faith of God, use them according to His Word.  Use whatever you have to the glory of His Name.  Use it for the benefit of His Kingdom.

Don’t look around at your neighbor to see what he or she has been given to do.  Don’t be counting, comparing, and competing.  Do not harbor pride or envy in your heart.  Do not consider whether you or your neighbor has more or less, because it all remains the Lord’s in any case.  Do not be down in the mouth if you have less, and do not be arrogant if you have been entrusted with more.  Rather, use faithfully however much or little you may have, however many or few your talents.

When you covet what the Lord has entrusted to your neighbor — when you despise or resent your Lord for the ways that He has distributed and managed His own things — then you presume that His things are really yours (or should be), as though by right or merit.  But that is not the case.

Use what God has given you in faith and love — not selfishly, for your own profit.  Be responsible, and take care of yourself and your family, to be sure, but not as though your life and future were in your own hands.  Remember that all you are and all that you have is from the Lord and ever in His hands.  And so use what He has given you in the ways that He intends — in order to return thanks to the praise and glory of His Name, especially by serving and caring for your neighbors.

Don’t be afraid to use the talents God the Lord has entrusted to you.  Don’t be afraid to exercise your stewardship.  Do not be frozen by indecision, as though success or failure depended on you making all the exactly right choices and decisions, doing and saying all the right things.  But rather trust the Lord, and so be faithful in using His good gifts according to His good and gracious Will.

You know His Will from His Word.  He has not left you in the dark.  He has told you what to do.  He has given you guidance in using what He has placed into your hands.

He distributes His gifts according to each man’s ability — and of course, each man’s ability is also from the Lord your God.  So your stewardship is not too hard for you.  Have confidence in your Lord, who has created you and called you in Wisdom, and who continues to care for you in Love.

Do not hoard His gifts, but use them as He intends.  Do not misuse them, but do use them rightly.  Use His Name, which He has given to you in Holy Baptism, by calling upon Him in every trouble, by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving under every circumstance.  Do not despise the good gift of His Word and the preaching of it, but gladly hear and learn it.  Do not despise your parents and the other authorities whom the Lord has placed over you in love for your good, but honor them with obedience, love and serve them, pray for them, and submit to them for God’s sake.  Do not hurt your neighbor, but help him as you can, and provide for his needs of both body and soul.  Do not take your neighbor’s stuff, but help him to guard and keep whatever God has entrusted to him.

Do not covet or jealously desire the position and possessions that God has given to your neighbor according to His divine Wisdom and His good and gracious Will for the repentance and salvation of all people.  Rather, use wisely and well whatever God has entrusted to you.  Serve faithfully within your place, within your position in life.  It is for that that you will be judged and rewarded.

Just as a pastor is a steward of the Mysteries of God, and it is required of him to be found faithful in that stewardship, so is it also required that you be faithful in your stewardship, whatever it may be, whether it is big or small, and whether or not it involves lots of money or people or things.  “Be thou faithful unto death,” trusting and believing that the Lord will give to you the Crown of Life.

If you are a husband, use your gifts — use God’s gifts — to love and serve your wife, to protect her and provide for her, to care for her.  And if you are a wife, use the gifts that God has given you to love and serve your husband, to do what is good and right, and to care for your own family.

If you are a father or a mother, use the gifts of God to love and care for your children, to teach them what they need to know, not least of all the Word of God.  Bring them to church and teach them how to pray.  Teach them by your words and by your example.  That is your stewardship.

If you are a child, use the gifts that God has given you to love and serve your parents and siblings, your playmates and your peers.  If you are a student, use the gifts of God to study faithfully, to learn, to grow in knowledge and wisdom.  And if you are a teacher, use the gifts of God to teach.

Whatever your occupation, work to benefit your employer and to serve your customers and clients.

And whatever your calling and station in life, enter into the joy of your Master.  That is to enter into the joy of repentance and faith, of life and love, of righteousness and peace, justice and truth.

Do not use your talents for wickedness, certainly.  Do not squander God’s possessions on foolish things or wicked things.  But do not be lazy, either.  The lazy and wicked slave who is condemned in our Lord’s Parable is not a man who has squandered his Master’s money on fast living, but one who has simply not used it at all.  So, then, do not neglect the talents with which the Lord your God has blessed you, by failing to do what is good and right according to your abilities and the position in life that He has given you.  For it is to this that you are called.  It is a sacred trust.  Your entire life is lived before the Lord, to whom you are accountable for all that you do with His gifts.

What shall be the settling of accounts when your Lord returns from His long journey?  When the books are opened, what will the ledger show?  What will you have to say?

Where you have not used the talents that God has given you to glorify His Name and to serve your neighbor in love, Repent.  Turn away from evil and begin to do what is good and right.

Do not devise excuses for yourself.  Do not claim fear or ignorance, as though this would get you off the hook.  But invest yourself and your talents in bringing forth the praise and glory of God, in bearing fruits worthy of repentance, in bearing fruits worthy of your Lord and Master.

Indeed, let us consider what sort of Man the Lord is.  What is He like?  Is He a “hard man”?  Is He a harsh taskmaster?  Does He care only about what He can get from you, this One who has given you everything you are and have?  Is that what He is like?  Is He a “hard man” because He reaps where He has not sown and gathers where He has not planted?  Or is it not, rather, that He is gracious and merciful, that He is generous and kind in calling all men to Himself?  Why?  Because He needs something from them?  Not at all.  It is rather because He desires all men to be saved.

What sort of Man is He when He causes His Seed to be sown and His Word to be preached even to the ends of the earth?  In point of fact, He does not take anything away, but He freely gives everything to His own creatures.  If you listen carefully, He’s not at all the sort of master that third slave claims Him to be.  He takes the one talent back from him, but He doesn’t take it for Himself; He gives it to another servant.  He clings to nothing for Himself.  He is gracious.  He is generous.  He is kind.  He is not harsh but bounteous in bestowing His gifts upon His people.  Upon you.

This Rich Man has actually made Himself poor to the point of death, in order to make you rich with all the wealth and riches of His Kingdom.  He has liquidated everything, His whole Body and Life upon the Cross, in order that you should have divine, eternal Life with God forevermore.

That is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  The King has gotten a Sacrifice for Himself.  He has gotten a Lamb for Himself to offer.  The King has buried His singular, greatest Treasure, His own beloved Son, in the ground of the earth.  He has put Him in the dark.  He has buried Him.  That is the journey on which your Lord Jesus has embarked — by the way of the Cross, through death and the grave, through the valley of the shadow of death — in order to atone for your sins by His own holy and precious Blood, and to justify you in righteousness before His Father in His Resurrection.

He has borne your sin and shame.  He has borne your failure to use the talents He has given you.  He has borne your falsehood.  He has borne your arrogance and fear, your pride, and your despair.  He has borne it all, and He has suffered for it.  He has been cast out into the outer darkness of death and the grave.  You know that He has done it.  And He has done it all for you.

But He has not returned from His journey void or empty-handed.  He has not come back looking for you to help Him.  But in His own crucified and risen Body He has become the Firstfruits of an abundant harvest.  He does indeed reap where He has not sown, and He gathers where He has not planted, in this respect: He reaps life from out of death, from the curse of your sins.  He gathers victory from out of the grave — which was not His own, but He made it His, that it should not be yours forever.  He has compounded interest on His investment, far more than you could ever count.

And here is the currency of His Kingdom.  This is the coin of His realm, as I’ve often said.  Not gold or silver, not dollars and cents, but the free and full forgiveness of all your debts and all your trespasses.  Not the money in your bank account, but His own holy Body and His precious Blood, given and poured out into your mouth — into your body — for the forgiveness of all your sins.

That forgiveness is the foremost talent with which He blesses you.  That is the treasure that He places into your hands — the forgiveness of all your sins.  And with that forgiveness, He gives you Himself, His Life and Salvation, and all good things.  That is what He gives you here and now.

He has been faithful in much.  He has been faithful in everything, in order that He should freely bestow upon you all the treasures of His divine and heavenly Kingdom.

Therefore, as you are forgiven much — as you are forgiven everything — so also love much.  Trust the Lord your God, your Savior and King.  Love Him, and so also love your neighbor in the Name and for the sake of this dear Lord Jesus Christ.  As you are forgiven much, love much, and forgive those who trespass against you.  Multiply the talents of Christ by forgiving as you are forgiven.

That is the marvelous divine paradox of your Lord’s Kingdom.  His talents bear interest as they are given away.  His Gospel increases as it is spoken.  His forgiveness is multiplied as it is shared.

So, then, forgive as you are forgiven.  And by His forgiveness, enter into the Joy of your Master.

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

01 November 2020

Glorifying Christ Jesus in the Lives of All His Saints

When the Reverend Wilhelm Löhe sent his first colony of Lutherans from Germany to settle in this country, having prepared them to establish the church and community of Frankenmuth (Michigan), he was hopeful that those faithful Lutherans would be able to evangelize the Native Americans: “You are my ‘epistle’ to the heathen,” he told them.  “For by your Christian way of life, and by your piety, the heathen will come to recognize how pleasant it is to have fellowship with Jesus.”

Pastor Löhe correctly understood that the Gospel is proclaimed — not only from the pulpit to the people of God already assembled around it — but also in the lives of His people out in the world.  For hearing and receiving the Gospel of Christ Jesus in the Liturgy, His dear people then also live that same Holy Gospel to the glory of His Holy Name in the midst of their neighbors on earth.

Throughout the history of the Church on earth, that is the most fundamental and important way in which Missions and Evangelism happen.  And so it was that a good number of American Indians were baptized as a direct result of the Frankenmuth colony.  But even apart from any such outward and observable “success,” the fact is that the Gospel of Christ Jesus is lived and confessed in the lives of His people.  And so do their bodies and lives continue to be His “epistle” to the world.

Thus are those 19th-century Lutherans of Frankenmuth part of the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded, along with Dr. Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and all the Lutheran Reformers of the 16th-century, and the faithful Christians of all times and places, including those we remember with thanksgiving at the Lord’s Altar here at Emmaus this morning, who with us are members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.

So reads the Letter to the Hebrews, concluding its commemoration of the Old Testament Saints who lived and died by faith in the promise of Christ Jesus.  They are set before us as examples, that we might find in them — and in all the faithful departed — a living demonstration of the Christian faith; that you should be encouraged in the race you still run, looking with them unto Christ Jesus.

The Feast of All Saints and the commemoration of those who have gone before us in the faith are not only appropriate and salutary observances, but they are very much in keeping with the Word of God.  As the people of God, belonging to the Body and Bride of Christ our Lord — as members of His Holy Church — we do not forget our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, who have fought the good fight and finished their race on earth; we remember and give thanks for them.

We do not worship the saints who have gone before, nor do we have any command or promise of God concerning any sort of prayer to or for the faithful departed.  We put no faith or trust in them, but fear, love, and trust in the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and find our hope in the one Lord, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer — just as all the saints have ever done.

But we do remember the faithful departed to the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, and in the ways that our Lutheran Confessions attest and affirm.  Though we do not pray to the Saints for their assistance, we look to their faithful example for encouragement in our Christian faith and life.  We give thanks and praise to God for His grace and mercy toward them, and for all that He has granted to His Church on earth by way of their words and actions in this body and life.  And we rejoice in the living fellowship we have with them in Christ Jesus.

In all these ways, it is a given that our focus is fixed on Christ Jesus, who alone is All in All.  The saints are rightly honored when we look on them as living “stained-glass windows,” through whom the Light of Christ now shines upon us.  For their steadfast faith and good works are not a product of their own reason or strength, but the presence of Christ and the work of His Holy Spirit in them.

That is precisely to the point of the Beatitudes (or Blessings) of this morning’s Holy Gospel, those beautiful Words of our Lord from His Sermon on the Mount.  For they are first of all a description of Christ Jesus.  He is the One who, though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that He might obtain for you the Kingdom of Heaven.  He is the One who is truly gentle, meek, and mild, who by His death redeemed the entire earth.  He is the Merciful One, who is Mercy itself; He is the Peacemaker, who has accomplished a true and lasting Peace between God and man.  He is the only-begotten Son of God, who was reviled and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, that He might earn for you a very great reward and freely bestow all the blessings of heaven upon you.

By the same token, the Beatitudes are also a description, not only of Christ Jesus, but of those who find their life and hope in Him.  He speaks in the plural throughout, thereby revealing that all of His blessings are given to His people, as well.  And so, for example, in the faithful departed we see that blessed reflection of Christ Jesus Himself, because He lives His divine and holy life in them and through them.  We follow and draw strength from their example, because it is His.

What is more, and most wondrous of all, as you are thus encouraged and strengthened in your faith and life in Christ, you also now find in the Beatitudes a description of the life that Christ Jesus lives in and through you.  For by grace through faith in Him, you also are a living reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ for others, that He might bless your neighbors through your example.  As Jesus clearly says, “Blessed are you when you suffer for My sake.”  For His Life has become yours.

For the time being, of course, the blessed life that you have in Christ Jesus includes His Cross and Suffering, just as it has for those who have gone before us in the faith and confession of His Name.  But you may greatly rejoice even in this, because it is a participation in the Cross of Christ Jesus.  And if you suffer and die with Him, you know that you shall also rise and live with Him, as well.

As you struggle though this life under the Cross on your pilgrimage to heaven, you do well to find comfort and strength in the witness and example of the faithful departed of all times and places.  Not only are their lives and good works a confession of the Christian faith, but their victory in Christ Jesus over death and the grave is a powerful witness, even as you struggle feebly on.

Not only that, but you already share in the heavenly fellowship of that great cloud of witnesses, especially as you are gathered together here at the Lord’s Altar for the Holy Communion.  For here in this place, week after week, year after year, the Lord Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, tabernacles with you in the Flesh.  He is here to feed you with Himself, to join Himself to you and bind you to Himself — not only in some sort of abstract “spiritual” sense, but in the truly Spiritual fact of His own Body given for you and His Blood poured out for you.

Christ Jesus is here present with you and for you; and wherever Christ is, there is the greatest glory and blessing of heaven itself.  Indeed, in the words of one beautiful hymn, heaven itself would be void and bare if not for the presence of Christ Jesus.  But He is present here in the Sacrament of His Altar, granting you the forgiveness of all your sins, and so also His Life and Salvation in body and soul.  And because all those who have departed in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus are with Him forever, you can rejoice in their presence here with you, as well, closer than ever in Him.

As Pastor Löhe expressed it so beautifully: “To me it is such a joyous thought that I am not alone, that I do not travel by myself, but that I am accompanied on my pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow by a communion of believers.  Right in the midst of this life’s barren wilderness, this thought can dissolve all sorrow in forgetfulness.  Yet, this communion of saints is no mere thought but an unshakable certainty.  I know from the mouth of God that I am not alone.  I rejoice over this from the bottom of my heart.  Unfortunately, though, my joy is not unmixed with sorrow, for death takes away many whom I love.  Like candles, one after another in the bright circle of my friends goes out, the empty places turn dark, and seldom does another star fill the dark void.  This brings pain and longing.  But I do not forget that these brethren of whom I speak are just hidden from my sight and have been placed in higher positions in the Kingdom of God.  Those who live in the Lord and those who, while out of the body, abide in Him; those who are still pilgrims and those who are already home; those who walk by faith and those who walk by sight — these are not two separated flocks, but one: one before God, and one according to their own consciousness” in Christ Jesus.

It truly is meet, right, and salutary, therefore, that the Liturgy of Christ here on earth unites us with all the company of heaven, as we are also gathered around the Lamb upon His Throne.  Indeed, He feeds you here at His Altar with a gracious Foretaste of that same Wedding Feast which they eat and drink in His Kingdom without end.  Thus do we rightly sing with All Saints and Angels the majestic hymn that is chanted forever in heaven: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, who was and is and is to come.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.  Blessed is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!

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

26 October 2020

25 October 2020

Sons of God the Father in Great David's Greater Son

What do you think about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?

You know and you confess from the Holy Scriptures that He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, because He is the one true God, begotten of God the Father from all eternity, but He is also the true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the house and lineage of David.

But now, then, let us also ask, Whose son are you?  Who is your father?

On the one hand, according to your flesh and blood, by nature, you are a child of Adam.  But on the other hand, as you are baptized into Christ Jesus, born again in the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit, you are a child of God by grace.  So, whose son are you?  Who is your father?

Fathers train and teach their children to embrace their values and to follow their way of life.  They train and teach their sons, in particular, to become men like themselves.  And sons, indeed, both resemble and emulate their fathers — whether biological or adopted — whether for good or ill.

So, too, as you have heard from the Lord this morning, you are to be holy, as the Lord your God and Father is holy.  You are to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.  As He has redeemed you, taken you to be His own, named you with His Name, and made you His child and heir, you are to live according to His Word, to love Him above all, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The Ten Commandments, summarized in the two great commandments of love — the first and second tables of the Law — describe the life that God desires for you, the life that He would have you live with Him forever.  To live that life is to fear, love, and trust in Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, above everything else.  And to live that life by faith in Him is to love your neighbor as the Lord loves you — to do no harm, but to serve and care for others in Christ Jesus.

Everything depends upon these two great commandments of God.  All the Law and the Prophets hinge on these Words of the Lord, which reveal His good and acceptable Will for life and love.

That Will of God is first of all a matter of the heart.  If the heart is not right, then nothing else will be right, nor can it be.  So it is first of all a matter of the heart, which is then also manifested in the flesh.  For as you believe and as you love in your heart, so do you speak and act and live by faith.

Where, then, do you see such perfect faith and holy love enfleshed?  Where are all the Law and all the Prophets fulfilled, completed, and perfected to the glory of our God and Father in heaven?  Where is the Man who is perfect and holy, as the Father is perfect and holy?

You do not see it or feel it or experience it in your own heart and life, nor in your flesh and blood.  In yourself, in your thoughts, words, and actions, you perceive nothing but sin and death, from which you can by no means set yourself free.  You do not live as God the Lord has commanded.

So, then, whose son are you?  Who is your father?  Is it the one true God or the devil himself?  What do your words and actions confess?  How do you live in relation to God and your neighbor?

But what about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?  He is, indeed, both David’s Son and David’s Lord, because He is both God and Man.  He is the Man after God’s own heart, because He has a heart of perfect faith and holy love.  And that holy and righteous heart of His beats for you within His own Body of human flesh and blood.  So does He also live and die for you and your salvation.

All of God’s commandments, from the greatest to the least, from the first to the last, the Lord Jesus Christ has kept perfectly.  Not only that, but He is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, accomplishing all things in faith toward His God Father, and in love for God and for all people.

He has kept and fulfilled the first and second table of the Law in both His heart and in His flesh.  He has done so on your behalf, in your place, and for your benefit.  In His perfect faith and faithfulness, in love for you and for His Father, He has gone even to His death upon the Cross.

That is where you behold the open heart of God the Father.  For it is there on the Cross that God has put all His enemies beneath the feet of Christ, His Son.  Sin, death, the devil, and hell are all crushed beneath the heel of the Woman’s Seed, who is bruised and dies that you might live.

But you are not His enemy, and He does not crush and destroy you.  You are the object of His love, the object of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy, the recipient of His peace and perfect rest.  You are Christ’s brother in the flesh, His neighbor, and, by His grace, a son of the Father in Him.  That is what His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection, and your Holy Baptism openly declare.

In His Resurrection from the dead, the Life and Holiness of God are forever established for you, and for all who are in Christ Jesus.  For whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, having died and risen with the same Lord Jesus Christ, who is enthroned at the right hand of the Father.

In His bodily Resurrection from the dead you see the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, the Love of God enfleshed, and the forgiveness of all your sins and the sins of the whole world.  You behold the death of death in His dying, and the Life everlasting of body and soul in His rising.

In the Resurrection, you see God the Father’s open declaration that here is the Son of His heart, the beloved and well-pleasing One.  What is more, this only-begotten Son of the Father has also become the first-begotten from the dead, and the first-born of many brethren.  For in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own, you see the Father’s gracious adoption of sons.

This is your faith and life, now and forever.  Not merely in theory, not simply as an ideal, and not only as some future “pie-in-the sky-by-and-by,” but as a sure and certain reality, a bodily Truth in the Person of Christ the Crucified, who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

It is to the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son, that the Ten Commandments and all the Law and the Prophets point you.  He is the one true God you are given to love and trust.  He is the neighbor you are to love, who has first loved you with His whole Self.

Whose Son is He?  Whose son are you?  By the grace of God, the answer is the same.  His God and Father is your God and Father.  For He gives Himself and His life to you, to have and to hold by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And He gives Himself and His life into your flesh with His own holy Body and precious Blood.  With that, you are given everything, and so shall you live.

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

18 October 2020

Rendering the Image and Likeness of God to Our Father

You have been created by the Holy Triune God — you are made in His Image and Likeness — to live in His Way, by His Word, according to His Will, in Spirit and in Truth.  You have been given life in order to live in harmony and peace with Him, by His grace, through faith in His Word.  And you are called to be like Him in relation to His creation — to live in love toward your neighbors, and to grant life to others, within the particular place where the Lord your God has stationed you.

As you thus live by His creative Word, by His divine grace and in His holy love, you are confident and content with who you are and what you have; you are compassionate and charitable toward those who live around you; and, because you are well cared for, you likewise care for others.

By such faith and love — for that is what your confidence and charity as a Christian are — you render your whole body and life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You glorify His Holy Name — the very Name which He has given to you in your Baptism, inscribed upon your forehead and your heart, your body and soul, along with the Cross of Christ.

In offering such a sacrifice — not of propitiation for your sins, but a sacrifice of thanksgiving for God’s grace — you do not lose your life, but you find your entire life in the Lord your God.

As your life is in Him, so do you fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  You listen to His Word, and you call upon His Name in peace and hope and joy.  You love your neighbor as yourself — cherishing your own spouse, and not coveting your neighbor’s wife or husband — not hurting your neighbor, not robbing him or bad-mouthing him, but helping and protecting him, speaking well of him, and serving him as you are able.  And you honor your parents and other authorities, all the way up to governors, kings, and Caesar himself.  You obey the laws of the land, you pay your taxes, and you pray for the powers that be, who are God’s ministers appointed for your good.

In this way, also — that is to say, in rendering to Caesar what God has given and assigned to Caesar — you render yourself, your body and life, to God the Lord, your Creator and Redeemer.  For all things are His, and it is by Him, and from Him, and for Him, and to Him, that you live.

There is no either-or between God and Caesar: You honor Caesar under God, until such a time when Caesar demands that you sin against God, and then you must obey God rather than Caesar at that point.  There is no dividing of your allegiance between God and man, but your obedience belongs entirely to God — also in submitting to those authorities whom He has placed over you.

Likewise, where He has given you authority over others, you are to use that authority in the fear, love, and trust of Him who is the Author of all things.  Therefore, children, obey your parents in the Lord.  And, parents, love and serve and care for your children, as the Lord so loves and serves and cares for you.  Feed and clothe and shelter them, sure, but, above all, teach them His Word.

Truth be told, all of this requires the crucifixion of the old Adam in you, who would rather have you live as a god unto yourself, not receiving all things and living by the grace of the one true God, but grasping and taking and striving and contesting for whatever you would call your own.

The Lord shows no partiality, but, speaking the truth in love, He puts to death all that sin and selfishness in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  He does so, not with any malice or hypocrisy, nor to trap and destroy you, but that you might know the Way of God, the way of life instead of death.

He brings you under His authority — instead of leaving you to your own self-governing autonomy — not to boss you around, but to bestow His Life upon you, and to glorify His Name in you.

You resent and rebel against this Word and Work and Authority of the Lord, the one true God, because you fear that you are being robbed.  It seems as though you are losing yourself, and your freedom, and everything that you consider yours and hold so dear and precious.  In the Cross you perceive only punishment and death, instead of forgiveness and life.  In repentance you feel only humility and grief, embarrassment and shame, instead of rescue, redemption, and righteousness.

It is not possible for you to see or understand the Cross and the authority of God, the Lord, until He has put you to death by that Cross and raised you to newness of life by the authority of Christ Jesus.  That is precisely what He has done for you in Holy Baptism; and that is what He continues to do for you, so faithfully and patiently throughout your life on earth, by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins in His Name.

He crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you with Christ, in order to give you new birth and make you His own dear child.  He calls for your allegiance in all things, that you should live under Him in His Kingdom, and that He Himself and all that He has should be yours by His grace.

Thus, you have and you live your life before God as a little child.  And “becoming an adult” is not about getting an independent life for yourself, but it is properly an exercise of wisdom, reason, and strength for others — to love and serve and give life to your neighbor in the Name of the Lord.

You have been — and you are — brought into this Way of Life with God, in Spirit and Truth, by the Way of Christ, by His Incarnation, by His Body and Life, His Flesh and Blood, His Faith and Love, His Cross and Resurrection.  For He is the Image and Likeness of God: True God and true Man, united in His one Person; the Son of the Father from all eternity, now conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Word of God made Flesh; the Bearer of the Spirit in His Body.

And as God the Father has glorified this incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, at His Baptism in the Jordan River, so has this same Son glorified His Father’s Name by His voluntary suffering — even unto death upon His Cross, whereon was written the Inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

He there submitted Himself to the authority of Caesar — and to Caesar’s governor, Pontius Pilate — in order to render Himself, in holy faith and holy love, unto His God and Father in heaven.

In this way, by His sacrifice on the Cross, the one true God is perfectly revealed in this true Man, and harmony and peace between God and man are perfectly realized.  Faith and love are perfectly united, and real life is accomplished and established, for you and all people, in the midst of death.

Indeed, as Christ Jesus your Savior rendered Himself to God for you, so did God the Father raise this same Jesus from the dead for your justification, and reconcile the world to Himself in Him.

Therefore, not only Pontius Pilate, but God the Father Almighty has named this Jesus of Nazareth to be the King, not only of the Jews, but of the heavens and the earth and all of Creation.

As the true Man of God, the Lord Jesus uses His authority to love and to serve, to care for you, and to give you life.  As He has already paid the poll-tax for you and all people with His own Body and Life, the “denarius” He grants to you, the coin of His realm, is forgiveness.  Such forgiveness you receive freely from Him, and with such forgiveness you love and serve each other in peace.

That’s an economic policy that you and everyone can live with!

Do not be amazed by this great Salvation of your Lord, and do not turn away and leave Him.  For this dear Lord Jesus Christ speaks the Truth to you in Love.  He shows no favoritism; He has given Himself for all people, and so has the whole world been redeemed and reconciled to God in Him.

He is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  In Him you are safe and sound in body and soul.  In Him you are rendered to God in peace; not for death, but for life, both now and forevermore.

It is in that confidence and certainty that He tells you to give Caesar his due, that is, to honor your father and mother and other authorities, to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them.

And it is in the same confidence and certainty of Christ and His Gospel that the Lord your God calls you to live by faith — which is really to entrust your whole body and life unto God, your own dear Father in Christ Jesus — to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

So is it also by the sure compassion and certain charity of His own Cross — in the accomplished fact of His Resurrection from the dead — that He grants you this very faith and life, this love and trust in Him, by way of His free forgiveness of all your sins, and with His own Body and Blood.

Come here and see.  Consider whose likeness and inscription this bread and wine shall bear — not outwardly, but inwardly, hidden from your sight but not from your ears.  Listen to His Voice, as He has given me to speak in His Name, and so let me show you.  For the Son of God declares, and His Word makes it so:  “This is My Body, given for you.  This is My Blood, poured out for you.  Take, eat.  Drink of it, all of you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

These good Gifts Christ freely gives for you, because you are indeed God’s own dear child in Him.

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