15 September 2019

The Love of the Good Shepherd

It is a trustworthy saying, that Christ Jesus has come down from heaven to seek and to save the lost, that He might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who believe in Him, by grace, unto eternal life.  He has come, and He still comes, to call not the righteous but sinners — to repentance, to faith, and to Life with God the Father in Him.  That is why He is here today.

He has come to save you.  To save you from your sins, to save you from death and the grave, to save you from the devil who hates you, and to save you from the hell and damnation you deserve by your sins.  He has come, and He still comes, to save you by His perfect life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death in your stead, and by and with His holy and precious Blood, shed for your redemption on the Cross and poured out for you to drink here at His Altar.

He comes to save you by the preaching of the Gospel, which begins and continues throughout this life with His forgiving of all your sins, that you should have Life in and with Him forevermore.

Draw near to Him, and listen to the preaching of His Word and promise.  Draw near to hear and receive this Gospel, this forgiveness of all your sins, because your life really does depend on it.

Do not approach Him with any presumption of any righteousness or worthiness in you.  There is no righteousness of yours that avails before God in heaven.  There is no righteousness in you by which you can approach your Lord and Savior.  In you there is only sin and death, until Christ calls you and gathers you to Himself in love.  Draw near to Him in humility, therefore.  But do draw near to Him — in the confidence of His grace — that He may exalt you in mercy, in due season, by His Cross and in His Resurrection and Ascension, as a member of His Body, the Church.

And as you draw near to Him in such faith, do not despise any of your neighbors whom the Lord Jesus likewise calls and draws near to Himself with His Word of mercy.  Rejoice, rather, in the recovery of the lost — even as you yourself are rescued by the grace of this Good Shepherd.

Do not simply “tolerate” your fellow sinners, whom Christ Jesus has called and receives unto Himself.  Rather, rejoice with all of heaven, rejoice with the Lord God Almighty and with all the holy angels, in these fellow sinners of yours who are likewise called and brought to the great Good Shepherd of the flock, who restores them in His mercy, even as He restores you in His mercy.

He loves them, truly and sincerely, according to His divine grace and compassion.  He loves those very people whom you find so hard to tolerate, no less than He loves you.  He loves all of His lambs and sheep, wherever they may be, whatever they are up to.  He continues to love and care for them when they wander away, and so it is that He goes out to find them.  He loves them, and He seeks them out to save them at the cost of His own life, because they are precious to Him.

As a sheep of the Good Shepherd, yourself, you also are to love your neighbors in the world, even the least, the last, and the lost.  You are to love them as the Lord Jesus loves them, to seek them out and call them back when they wander away, and to rejoice over them with glad thanksgiving when they are brought home to be here with you in the household and family of God.

Love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves your neighbor.  And to think and speak of it concretely and practically, love your neighbor as you love your own dear family, and desire life for each and all of them.  For your Lord would have them be your family, the children of one God and Father.

Trust and believe that the Lord God Almighty loves your neighbors.  That is more than enough reason for you to love them.  Take it to heart that He loves them, one and all, with His divine love, your family and your friends, your foes, and every last one of your neighbors, both near and far.

He loves your enemies; not because of their enmity and sins against you, but solely for the sake of His divine grace and mercy toward all the sons and daughters of Adam, created in His Image for Life with Him.  He loves your enemies, even though you often fail to love them.  He loves your enemies — even as He loves you and forgives you all of your sins by His grace, by His Gospel.

He also loves your children.  He really does.  He loves and cares for them, even when they wander astray and get themselves lost and in trouble.  Indeed, He loves your children more and better than even you do.  More faithfully, more consistently, more profoundly, more deeply, more purely and unselfishly.  He loves them with His own Self, which is more than you could ever ask or imagine.

He has this love for them.  And He has this love for you, as well.  Not because you are trying so hard and doing so well, but in spite of the fact that you are falling short of all that you should be and do.  He loves you because you are His own, created to live by His grace through faith in His Word, to receive His good gifts with thanksgiving, and to abide with Him in body and soul forever.

Repent of your despair and desperation (as though there were no hope, as though the Lord were not your Savior).  Repent of your anger and accusations against Him (as though He did not care).

Repent, too, of your favoritism and your divided heart, by which you love some of your neighbors and despise others, and by which you resent some of those whom the Lord calls near to Himself.

And repent of your prideful self-righteousness, by which you presume to know better than God.

Trust Him, and not yourself.  Fear, love, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and do not rely on your own understanding.  Honor and rely upon His Word.  For heaven and earth will pass away, but His Word will not; it stands fast and remains forever.  It alone is true, even when everyone else is lying, and even when your own heart, mind, and spirit are lying to you.

Trust and rely upon the Word of Christ, your Lord.  He is your Good Shepherd, and He loves you.

It is for the sake of His own divine and holy love that He is always seeking you out and calling you back to Himself.  It is thus for the sake of His Love that He preaches His Law to you, in order to expose your sins and call you on them.  And it is for the sake of His love that He calls you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  All for the sake of His grace and mercy.

He has such solicitous love for all of His lambs and sheep, for each and every one of them, even though there is not one of them who is righteous.  No, not even one.

He is the Savior of sinners.  And so He seeks them out, and He calls them and receives them to Himself.  It is in fact true that this Man eats with sinners.  Indeed, He feeds them with Himself, with His own Body and Blood.  Not only does He welcome them into Table fellowship with Him, but He enters into a divine and holy fellowship with them.  For He has become like them, and He has borne their sins in His Body to the Cross, that He should redeem them in body and soul, and that all the sons and daughters of Adam should become the sons and daughters of God in Him.

You see, not only has He given His Body and Life for you and all He sheep, to atone for all your sins; but He has also taken it up again, that He would raise you with Himself through forgiveness.  That is how He deigns to deal with you: through forgiveness.  Not according to any righteousness of your own, but according to His own righteousness of mercy.

That is how He saves you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He forgives you all your sins.  He does not count your sins against you, He does not hold them against you, but He saves you from your sins.  He sets you free from their bondage and from their deadly consequences by His grace.

And as He has died for you and risen from the dead, and as He lives and reigns to all eternity, He is not far away from any one of you.  For He is the Good Shepherd.  He truly is the Shepherd of His sheep, and so it is that He actively shepherds them.  He is their own Pastor.  He is your Pastor.

He guides you and guards you by His Word.  And He is thereby always leading you back to those clear and quiet waters of your Baptism — where He put His Name on you and made you His own, and whereby He continues to serve and sustain you as His own through His forgiveness of sins.

He eats with you.  Yes, He feeds you here at His own Table in His own House, with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood, because He loves you.  He forgives your sins, and He gives you His divine, eternal Life.  He rejoices over you in His divine and holy Love, forever and ever!

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

08 September 2019

The Way of Life Is Set Before You in Christ

Jesus has this large crowd of people following Him.  Which seems like a good thing, right?  Yet, He turns around and confronts them and lays it on the line.  He puts it in their face.  He tells them what it means to be His disciple, what it will cost and require.  Not just to follow Him and learn from Him, but to live with Him as He lives — and to die with Him as He dies — in faith and love.

To be His disciple means that you must give up all of your own “possessions.”  They aren’t really yours to begin with, but the Lord’s, in any case, and He would have you relinquish any claim to them in order to put them to use to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of your neighbors.  Whatever you hold in your hand, you possess only by the grace or charity of God, and only so long as He determines.  You “give those things up” by not relying on them, but by using them rightly according to His Word.  That’s not the wisdom of politics or economics but of the Lord Jesus.

To be His disciple, He asserts, means that you must “hate” your family, your father and mother, your husband or wife, your children and your siblings, all in deference to Him.  Yes, indeed, you must hate even your own life — not in the way of depression or despair, but in deference to Him.  It’s not a matter of emotions or feelings, but of priorities and commitments, choices and decisions, and your actual behavior.  All that you think and say and do is subject to one Lord, Jesus Christ.

And He calls you to carry your own cross.  That is the one thing you may possess.  In fact, if you would be His disciple, you must take up the Cross and follow after Christ Jesus, to be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, bearing His reproach, and bereft of everything else on earth.

So, then, count the cost.  Consider what it requires of you to be a disciple of Christ Jesus.  Consider what it means to be a Christian, to be anointed with the Spirit of Christ and bound to Him in life and death.  Consider what it will mean for you and your family, and what will happen to you, and what will become of you and all your stuff, if you hold fast to Him who suffers and dies for you.

Are you strong enough to be His disciple?  To give up everything?  To suffer all, even death, rather than give up your allegiance to and your reliance on this one Lord, the incarnate Son of God?

He sets before you these two ways — more different than night and day — as different as heaven and hell.  He sets before you the way of life and every blessing and the way of death and all evil.

The way of life is to fear, love, and trust in God by faith in the Word of Christ.  That is not simply a means to some end.  Far less is it a work of yours to achieve or accomplish your own salvation.  To fear, love, and trust in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your life, your length of days, and your salvation, now and forever.  Whereas to worship any others gods than Him is the way of death.  Not only because they are nothing, but because turning away from God the Lord is death.

So the choice seems pretty obvious and easy, doesn’t it?  It really is a matter of life and death, and why should you die, when the Lord has created you for Life with Himself in both body and soul?

But confronted by the choice at hand, you find that your fallen and perishing flesh is unable to follow the Way of Life.  Your rebellious heart, mind, spirit, and will are too set upon your false gods and dumb idols, despite the raw fact that none of them are able to give you life or save you.  You pursue them with an insatiable hunger that consumes you from the inside-out and kills you.

It is for you as it was for the Sons of Israel, when the Lord had brought them out of Egypt by His mighty arm and outstretched hand, and yet they wandered forty years in the wilderness because of their disobedience and disbelief, their idolatry, and their constant complaining and grumbling.

It was such a clear and simple choice set before them, as well.  Fear the Lord your God, and live by faith in His Word and promise.  Obey His Commandments.  Walk according to His ways.  Hold fast to Him, who brought you out of bondage, who became your God by grace, who has fed and clothed you all these years.  Just stick with Him, and life and health and every good will be yours.

The Lord thus laid His blessing upon them and set His blessing before them unto life.  And yet, time and time again, they chose the curse instead of the blessing, sin instead of righteousness, and death instead of life.  Throughout the Book of Judges, and really throughout the history of Israel, they disobeyed the Lord their God.  They despised His Word and worshiped the Baals and Asherim of Canaan.  They wanted to be like the nations around them — and so they were in many ways — although the Lord, the One true God, had called them to be His own uniquely special people.

In the Name of the Lord, Joshua (that great Old Testament Jesus) brought them through the Jordan River into the Land that God had promised, a good land flowing with milk and honey and all good things, where everything was handed to them by the grace of God.  He fought and won their battles for them, He established them in their own place, and He caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in their midst, not for judgment, but for mercy and for life.  But they would not heed His Word.

And it is the same with you.  The Lord Jesus Himself (the new and greater Joshua) has brought you through the waters of the Jordan into this good Land of His Church, in which forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours by His grace. In mercy He clothes you and feeds you in both body and soul.  But you do not live and walk according to His Word.  You do not worship Him alone, but you give your heart to other people and to things, and you actively pursue the way of death instead of life.

It is by and because of your sin that you are subject to death and pursue it to your own detriment and disadvantage.  That is the heritage and legacy of Adam, your father.  You are conceived and born in sin, and in your native sinfulness you are not able to choose life over death.

There is only one Man who is righteous, the Son of God who was also conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who for your sake became flesh and blood, and bore your sins in His own Body on the Cross, and sacrificed Himself for your salvation.  He alone is righteous.  He alone has built and completed the tower, according to the divine plan and foreknowledge of God.  And He alone has likewise fought the war and won the victory — against seemingly impossible odds.

He entrusted Himself entirely to His God and Father, and He gave Himself completely for you and all His neighbors.  He gave up all of His possessions and laid down His own Body and Life.  In holy faith and holy love for God and Man, He perfectly fulfilled the Law.  And so does He pour out His grace for you and all people, all the sons and daughters of Adam, subject to sin and death.

So there is this great irony and paradox about discipleship and the Way of Life.  It is the way of the Cross.  The Tree of Death is the Tree of Life.  So it is by the death of the Cross that you live with God, now and forever.  Not by any strength, abilities, or efforts of your own, but by dying to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, and rising from death to life in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not by your peeps or your possessions, but by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

And it is by the daily death and resurrection of repentance, the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism.  For having already crossed the Jordan with Christ Jesus, you now live with Him in the good Land that God has given you, right here, within His Church (on earth as it is in heaven).

And, yes, what that looks like, and what that feels like, is “hating” your own family and even your own life in the world, in deference to your one Lord, Jesus Christ, and relinquishing all of your “possessions,” all your false gods and idols, whatever they may be, to live by faith in Him alone.

It is true, that discipleship of Christ and His Cross can very well put you at odds with your family and friends.  It really can.  It can be far worse than awkward and uncomfortable.  It can estrange parents from their children, put siblings at odds with each other, and divide even husband and wife at the very heart and center of life.  For no one and nothing may take precedence over Christ.

But this same discipleship that divides families also makes a brand new family and a fellowship of faith out of strangers, subordinates, and slaves.  So it is that Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus, were brothers, not only with each other, but with St. Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That discipleship also makes you a member of God’s family and a participant in the fellowship of the Holy Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Lord has made you part of His family by the grace of His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins.  The Father has only one begotten Son, but you, by your Baptism, are an adopted son of God in Christ Jesus.  And all the children of God are your own brothers and sisters, your family, because you have one God and Father in Christ.

Your Father invites you into this family and this fellowship of His Church, and He sets this blessing of faith and life before you.  It is a “choice,” and not by compulsion, because He does not (and He will not) force you or coerce you to fear, love, and trust in Him.  He does not rape or rob you, or bind you, or drug you.  He does not kidnap you.  He does not take you against your will.  He does not force Himself upon you.  He calls you and invites you, and He woos you, by the Word of His Gospel.  And He sets before you this choice of life or death, the blessing or the curse, good or evil.  And this, too, is by His mercy and His patient, steadfast loving-kindness.

Of course, the fact remains that, of yourself, you could not make the right choice.  You could not make the right choice — to live the life of God — because that choice means the crucifixion of your sinful self, and it means the death of yourself to the sinful world, in which you find yourself so very much at home for the time being.  And even the perfect example of your dear Lord Jesus Christ would not enable you to follow His lead and make it on your own.  You would continue on a downward cycle of disobedience and self-destruction, just like Israel in the days of the Judges.

Christ be praised that He has built the tower for you, and He has won the battle for you.  You are not asked to foot the bill.  You are not asked to build the tower.  You are not asked to win the war.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, He has done it for you.  His Cross and Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection are given to you as your repentance, your faith, and your life.

It is all given to you, and it is wrought in you, by His Word and by His work, by the preaching and catechesis of Christ, and by the Jordan waters of your Holy Baptism — waters you have already crossed with Him, but to which you are daily returned by repentance and faith in His Word.

The Lord thus crushes your self-righteousness with His Law, with His commands and prohibitions, His threats and punishments.  To whatever extent you supposes that you are doing fine, and getting along okay, and managing on your own, He crushes you, and pulverizes you, and scatters you as dust in the wind.  He crucifies and buries your old Adam by the preaching of repentance.

But with that same preaching of repentance — by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection — like the greatest of Lovers, He woos you backs you to Himself with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and He gently, persistently, patiently, and kindly calls you to His Way of Life.

Your dear Lord Jesus Christ raises you up with Himself, from the dust of the ground where He also made His own bed.  He raises you up with Himself in His Victory, and He bears you in His Body into the Resurrection and eternal Life.  For He has already paid the cost of discipleship for you.

So, if you would count the cost, you can do it with one hand, on one finger.  It is hung before your eyes in His sacrificial death upon the Cross, in the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood for your Atonement and Redemption, for your Righteousness and Salvation.

And it is from that tower of His Holy Cross that He calls you to feast upon the spoils of His battle.  For it is to His disciples that He gives His Body to eat and pours out His Blood to drink.  And so it is to you that He gives His Body and His Blood, that you should not die but live forever.

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

01 September 2019

Faith & Love in the Sabbath Rest of Christ

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

It was not lawful for King Herod to have his brother’s wife, as we have heard from St. John the Baptist this past week.  Nor is it lawful for you to pursue your own ambitions to the neglect of God and at your neighbor’s expense.  But, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

With this question the Lord Jesus aims at something deeper than whether it is against the rules or defensible by way of some loophole or legal technicality.  It’s not about what He may excuse or get away with.  He is rather concerned with what the Sabbath actually means and signifies.

What is “lawful” is what the Lord intends: His good and acceptable will, which centers in divine grace and His desire to give Life to those whom He has created and calls to Himself.  Behind and beyond what He commands and prohibits is the saving work of God Himself, who calls you out of slavery into freedom; who declares that He is your God, and that you are His own dear child.

The fulfillment of the Law — and of the Sabbath Commandment in particular — is realized in the Life that God gives to you through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, which you receive by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and which you then live in love for your neighbors round about.  That is the true worship of the Lord, the one true God, as Dr. Luther describes and discusses in one of his sermons on this Holy Gospel: To hear and heed the preaching of God’s Word in faith and with thanksgiving, and to live according to His Word within your own office and station.

So, then, to heal and give life, to rescue from a well, to feed the hungry, or to welcome the stranger and the outcast (as we have been hearing recently in Bible class, concerning Abraham and Lot) — to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked, and to forgive sins — that is more than simply “okay” on the Sabbath.  It is the Sabbath that remains for the people of God in Christ, our Savior.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lawful One, who not only keeps the Sabbath Day perfectly but brings it to completion for you and for all people.  By His labor of love, He gives you peace and rest.  And this He does by faith in His Father.  For He receives all things from God, and He gives it all to His neighbor.  That is how the Sabbath is rightly kept, and in Him it has been established eternally.

He humbles Himself in the confidence that His Father will exalt Him.  For He knows Himself to be the beloved Son, according to the Word and promise of His Baptism; and He knows Himself, also, to be the Ox that pulls the plow, who will become the whole burnt offering for the people.  So He trusts that His God and Father will pull Him up out of the well and give Him Sabbath Rest.

It is this righteousness of faith in His Father which He exercises and manifests in love for you and all His neighbors.  He takes the last place for Himself, in order to exalt and serve His companions.

Not for His own advantage or benefit does Jesus do any of this, but in order to honor you, to give you life and peace and rest.  He needs nothing, anyway, since all that belongs to His Father is His.  Nor could anyone give anything to Him.  But He gives everything He has to care for everyone else.

He’s not attempting to curry favor from God or man.  Rather, it is with faith in His Father that He favors you with loving kindness.  His coming in the flesh, His compassion for sinners, His going to the Cross, His suffering, and His sacrificial death — none of these are a pretense or a strategy for Self-advancement.  There is no hidden agenda here, no false humility, and no charade.  It is no act of passive aggression.  It is divine Love and the Self-sacrifice of pure divine mercy for you.

But that is difficult to comprehend, and it is hard for you to understand and take to heart, because it is so very different from the way your sinful heart and mind are wired.  Your words and actions are so often a case of promoting and protecting yourself.  Much of what you do is not lawful, even when you follow the rules to the letter, and even at your best, because you are driven by pride and a desire for praise, or you are paralyzed by despair and a fear of criticism, instead of being guided and governed by the fear of the Lord, by faith in His Word, and by love for God and your neighbor.

Repent of your sins, and do better.  When you are invited to a feast, enter and receive whatever you are given in humility and with gratitude, and leave it to your host to provide for your needs and to honor you according to the charity and generosity of his heart, mind, and will.  And when you are the host, invite the poor and needy, the crippled, lame, and blind, who are not able to repay you.  Not that you should lord it over your guests or treat them with contempt, as though you were superior, but knowing that whatever you have is from the Lord, and trusting that He will reward you according to His mercy and His grace in the resurrection of the righteous to life everlasting.  That is to live in the fear and faith of God, in genuine love for God and man, and not for yourself.

Although you have not lived in such faith and love, and although you have not humbled yourself, trusted the Lord, or cared for your neighbor as you ought, the Lord Jesus Christ has not come to condemn you, but to save you from yourself and all your demons and diseases, from all of your enemies, and from the death and destruction your sins deserve.  To that end, He comes and takes hold of you and treats you with tender affection.  He heals you and frees you from your infirmities of body and soul.  He pulls you out of the hole you’ve fallen into, and He raises you up on high in the presence of His God and Father, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Whereas the crippled, the lame, and the blind were not permitted to enter the Temple in the Old Testament, Christ Jesus calls them in mercy and draws them to Himself in love, to live and abide as members of His Body.  He welcomes and embraces them to Himself.  Not only that, but He also bears all their infirmities and weaknesses, their poverty and sorrows, their sickness, sin, and death, within His own Body of flesh and blood, in order to cleanse them, to heal them, and to release them from those burdens, and to bring them, in and with Himself, to His God and Father in heaven.

In order to rescue the ill-treated, He has suffered Himself to be ill-treated in a Body just like yours.  In order to release the prisoners from the bondage of sin, death, and the power of the devil, He has allowed Himself to be arrested, falsely accused, convicted and condemned, punished, and even put to death.  So has He empathized with you and with all the children of man, in order to exercise His great compassion for you, to sacrifice Himself and shed His Blood for your salvation.  Nor does He neglect to show hospitality to you, although you have been estranged and at enmity with Him.

Behold, this is what He has done for you.  He has come to share your place and your predicament, in order to give you His place of honor at the Table.  From His Baptism to His Crucifixion, He has humbled Himself unto death, in order to exalt you in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension.

He has become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood — and He tabernacles with you here in the midst of this mortal coil on earth, under the curse and consequences of sin — in order to establish and obtain for you a permanent place and a home in the City of God, forever and ever.

So it is that your own place in the household and family of God the Father — your place of peace and perfect rest — is nothing else and nothing less than the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many here at His Altar.  His Feast is freely given to be freely received, with no strings attached, no contingencies, and no expectation of favors to be returned.  You have nothing to give but thanks and praise to the glory of His Name.  For He is your gracious Host, your Butler, Chef, and Waiter, and your Meat and Drink indeed.  He feeds you from His own hand, with His own Body and Blood, all for the sake of His own Love.

You cannot repay Him.  You are not able to do so, and He needs nothing from you.  But that is to the point.  He receives everything from His Father, and He gives it all to you by His grace alone.

Even the reward that He receives in His Resurrection and Ascension is, for Christ Jesus, already and forever His own rightful place at the Right Hand of the Father.  But for us it is the exalting of our human nature — flesh and blood — in His risen and glorified Body.  And that is your true Sabbath Rest, your rescue from sin, your resurrection from death, and your righteousness forever.  Thus do you have peace and rest, even while you are working hard to do your job, to carry out your duties and responsibilities, and to serve your neighbors in the world.  More than that, it is because you truly rest and reside in the Body of Christ Jesus that you are able to labor in love for others.

It is the Glory of God to conceal this great Salvation under the Cross of Christ; and it is the Glory of your King, the same Lord Jesus Christ, to reveal this great Mystery by the Word of His Gospel.

He is the beloved Son, to whom the Father has given the place of honor at the Feast; and now He honors you with that very same honor, inviting you to join Him, to take your place beside Him, to recline at His Table, and to be fed by His hand.  Here He sanctifies you with His sacrificial Blood and feeds you from His Altar with His own sacrificial Flesh.  In the presence of God and all of creation, He says to you: “Dear Friend, come up higher.  Here is the place I have prepared for you, the reward of the Righteous, which I give to you.  Come, enter into My Rest, and be at Peace.”

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

28 August 2019

Put to Death, Buried, and Risen with Christ Jesus

St. John the Baptist has risen from the dead in Christ Jesus, in His Word and miraculous works.  For both the baptizer and all the baptized have died and risen with Him who is our Head.

So it is that the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Word and His works, testify to your resurrection.  And your life, in turn, now testifies to His fulfillment of the Law in faith and love, and to His completion of Holy Baptism by His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.

St. John’s preaching and his baptizing, his life and his death, all confess and point ahead to Christ the Crucified.  His beheading is not simply an injustice on the part of Herod; nor is it an accident of fate, a punishment of God, or a failure of the divine will.  It is the culmination of St. John’s holy and righteous work, according to the plan and foreknowledge of the Lord.  As the Forerunner of the Christ, his suffering and his death precede and point to the Cross and Passion of the Lamb.

And as the baptizer is maligned and put to death, so are all those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.  But such a death is one of repentance, unto the Resurrection and the Life that are in Him.

To that end, St. John the Baptist — in the spirit and power of Elijah — still goes before the Lord to prepare His way by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, whatever is not lawful in your life, put that sin to death, and die to that idolatry in you.  Repent of all your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and begin to bear the fruits of repentance.

Where you are harboring grudges, whether against the Lord, His servants, or your neighbors in the world, repent of your hardness of heart, humble yourself under the Lord your God, and forgive as you are forgiven.  Be reconciled to God and man in Christ Jesus, lest the sin that is crouching at the door of your heart devour your body and soul in death and damnation.

If you are sorry for what you have said or done, do not be afraid to apologize, to make amends, and to do better.  Submit to the Word of the Lord, and trust Him to preserve your life, and even to raise you up from death and the grave.  Whether you suffer the consequences of your own sins, or suffer the sins of others against you, do not doubt the faithfulness of the Lord who loves you and who saves you by His grace, by His own innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, and by His catechesis and His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Do not simply listen to His Word as though to some kind of passing entertainment or amusement, but hear it and heed it as divine and certain Truth, and live by it in faith and love, patiently bearing the Cross in life and death.  To be sure, the Cross of Christ is perplexing.  But do not be afraid.

Is it not amazing that Herod was afraid of John, though he was held in Herod’s prison and subject to his whims?  Whereas St. John, however fearful or discouraged his mortal flesh may have been, had the courage, peace, and confidence to continue preaching, even in prison, even unto death.

St. John sets a good and faithful example for you, as well, even if it does end in a gruesome death.

“But, how long, O Lord?  How long?”  Is that not the cry and prayer of your heart?

And are you not also sorely tried and tested in your own place — whether in a prison or a palace?

Yet, the Lord has given you a white robe in Holy Baptism, as He has done for Fredrick, Violet, Ruth, Benedict, and Philippa already this year.  So has your Father clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  And He invites you to rest yourself here, to find your perfect peace and joy under the Holy Altar of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

This is where your heart and soul recline in safety, even while your body labors in love, and suffers for the sake of love, for the sake of the truth, for the sake of the Gospel.  For here your body also finds its Sabbath Rest, reclines, and eats and drinks in peace, in the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ Jesus, your Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.

It is to and from His Altar that you live — by the grace of God through faith in His Word.

Your life in Christ is truly a Sacramental and Eucharistic life.  It is rooted in your Holy Baptism.  It rests and resides at the Lord’s Table in the Holy Communion.  It abounds in gratitude and gives thanks for the grace of God in the Liturgy of the Gospel.  And all of this is eminently practical.

Just think of it!  You have already died and risen with Christ Jesus by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  So, then, what could Herod or anyone else really do to you?

And as your life is hidden with Christ in God under His Altar, your whole body and life are freely offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds you with His Body and His Blood.

These gifts of God in Christ are your confidence and courage in the face of all harm and danger.

And know this, that your life, your death, and your resurrection are precious to the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.  You are precious and pleasing to Him, because you are robed in Christ, and you are in Christ, and Christ Himself is in you, and with you, and for you.

He is your Head, truly, as He is the Head of His Body the Church.  And as your Head has gone before you — through death and the grave into Life everlasting — you can even “lose your head” for Him and for His Gospel.  That is no pun, it is the Truth.  And so shall you rise in your body to live forever in glory with Him, immortal and imperishable, like unto Christ’s own glorious body.

In that same confidence, and with that same courage, love and serve and care for your neighbor’s body — in both life and death — in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body!  Just as the disciples of St. John lovingly buried his body in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.

Bear in mind that, when you love and serve your neighbor in his or her body, you are loving and serving the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead for your salvation.

In such faith and love, the life that you live from your Baptism to and from the Altar is a proper and beautiful dance for the one true King.  And He is pleased with you, not by sensual seduction, but because He regards you by His grace, according to the mercy and forgiveness of His Gospel.

Living your life as a long, slow, beautiful dance for your King, the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus Christ, take to heart His solemn oath and gracious promise, that He gives to you His Father’s Kingdom.

Even now, as a gift, guarantee, and pledge of that promised Kingdom, He who is the Head of St. John the Baptist gives to you His Body on a silver platter and pours out for you His Blood from a silver chalice, that you might live and abide in Him, even as He thus lives and abides in you.

Dear baptized child of God, not only St. John but you also are risen from the dead in and with Christ the Crucified.  And as He lives and reigns forever, so shall you live in both body and soul.

Even now, find your rest and be at peace here under His Altar, until you are vindicated in the final judgment when the full number of the baptized shall be completed, openly declared before all of creation, and glorified in the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness abides forever.

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

25 August 2019

Through the Narrow Door of Baptism and the Cross of Christ

He’s making His way to Jerusalem.  St. Luke has made that plain already, and here the steadfast journey continues.  The Lord Jesus has set His face toward His Holy City and the Sacrifice that He will offer there.  He has fixed His eyes upon His Cross and Passion, upon His Passover and His Exodus, by which He will bring His people out of death into life.  For by the offering of Himself once for all, He returns to His Father and opens the Kingdom of God to all who follow after Him.

It is a narrow door through which He passes, blazing the trail for you and Philippa and whoever believes and is baptized into Him.  It is like being born from your mother’s womb, in which the curse of sin and death contends with the promise and gift of new life.  And it is like a camel being drawn through the eye of a needle.  It seems impossibly small, and it is ludicrous to suppose that anyone could do it.  But what man could not do, the Lord Jesus Christ does for you and for all.

He first entered that narrow door when He entered the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by St. John; and from those waters He passes through His crucifixion, death, and burial, into His Resurrection and His Ascension to the Right Hand of His Father.  It is all about sonship and what it means to be and to live as a child of God, even and especially in the midst of sin and death.  He bears and suffers the curse of the fall into sin, by taking His place at the head of a long line of sinners, in order to open the door and lead them through it, to bear His Bride over the threshold.

He gives Himself to be squeezed by the pressure, the tightness, the weight of the world, and the entire burden of the Law, and through it all He remains faithful.  He relies upon His Father, come hell or high water against Him.  When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but He simply keeps on entrusting Himself to the One who will rescue Him from out of death, and raise Him up from out of the tomb, and bring Him finally through the narrow door into the breadth, and height, and depth of divine Glory.  He thus receives the inheritance of the Father’s Son, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven into our flesh, and bore our sin, and was disciplined in our place, in order to make a place for all the sons and daughters of Adam in the Household of His God and Father.  That is what He has done for you, and that is what He gives to you by His Word.

He calls you to follow Him to Jerusalem, to His Cross and Passion, and to enter with Him through that narrow door of His death into His Resurrection and the Life everlasting in His Kingdom.

Because He has already done it, now is the acceptable and opportune time, now is the day of salvation.  He has opened the door by the sacrifice of His own Body and by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood; and now by the preaching of His Word He brings you safely through that door, albeit putting you to death and raising you to life again in Himself.  It is by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which both kills and makes alive.  It is by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, as it is for Philippa henceforth.  That is your Exodus, your going out and your coming in, which brings you to the Passover of the Lamb within His Father’s Kingdom.

You “strive to enter” through that narrow door, as Jesus urges you to do, not by the futile striving of self-righteousness, but by the striving of contrition and repentance.  That is the very opposite of relying on yourself and trying to enter by your own effort.  It is, rather, to be crucified and put to death and buried to yourself, and to find your righteousness, life, and salvation in Christ alone.

Apart from Christ Jesus — which is to say, apart from the Ministry of His Gospel and faith in His Gospel — all of your works, from the inside-out, and all of your thoughts, words, and actions, even at your very best, are all works of unrighteousness.  Indeed, the harder you try to impress the Lord your God with such behavior, the further you wander from His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  But if you want to be saved, if you want to live, abandon all that sort of striving and fix your hope on the Cross of Christ.  His Cross is the Sign that He has raised up in the midst of His people, to which He calls you, and by which He crucifies you, in order to raise you up to a brand new life.

So, He is not talking about simple proximity, simply being in His presence, in the right place at the right time.  Sitting in the pew for the sermon, and even kneeling at the rail for the Sacrament, that will not get you through the narrow door.  Don’t congratulate yourself that you are here, and do not presume that Christ must let you in because you’ve done your bit and paid your dues.  If you imagine that you are doing the Lord a favor by coming to His House and hearing His Word, eating His Food and drinking from His Cup, then you are still too full of yourself, and you surely do not have the fear of God in your heart and mind.  Name dropping isn’t going to work with the Head of the House, and if all you’ve got is your personal pedigree and good attendance card, then you’re not getting in.  But why would you even want to enter, if it seems like such a chore to you?

Now, to be sure, it is exactly right that you should want to enter through the door into the Lord’s House, for your Salvation is here.  Simply coming to church, in itself, is certainly no guarantee of righteousness and salvation, that is true.  But not coming to church at all is even worse, and is absolutely not the remedy or solution to sin, death, and hell.  Instead, you are called to the Cross at the center of the Church’s life in Christ.  Not to be a passive observer or a listener only, but to worship the Lord Jesus Christ by repentant faith in His Word; to hear and heed His preaching, and to eat and drink His Supper in the holiness and righteousness of faith in His forgiveness of sins.

To worship the one Lord, Jesus Christ, is to stop worshiping yourself and all your false gods in the world.  It is to deny yourself, to take up His Cross and follow Him; to drown and destroy the old Adam in you, and to live as the New Man lives, in faith toward God, in fervent love for Him above all else, and in genuine love for your neighbor as yourself.  It is to be at peace with God, and in so far as it depends on you to be at peace with all people, in the confidence that God is at peace with you in Christ Jesus.  And in such peace, hope, and love, you worship Christ in righteousness by pouring yourself out in service to your neighbor, strengthening the weak and healing the sick, and pursuing harmony with everyone, rather than harboring bitterness toward anyone.

That is the life of repentance, faith, and love to which your Baptism has called you, into which it has ushered you by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  It is the ongoing life of righteousness and holiness to which the Lord has called Philippa by His Word and in her Holy Baptism this morning.

But the hard and solid fact is that you can’t achieve any of this by your own power or volition.  The door is too narrow, and your ego will not fit through it.  That is why your ego must be sacrificed upon the Altar of the Cross, upon the Whole Burnt Offering of Christ Jesus, if you are to enter in.

But that is not your work.  It is the Service of your merciful and great High Priest, that is, the same Lord Jesus Christ.  You begin to worship Him, in other words, as He comes to you and gathers you to Himself, in order to bear you to the Father in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He is the Clean Vessel in which you are borne, who offers you up to His God and Father as a grain offering, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight, and as a sweet-smelling aroma in His nostrils.

You are consecrated to the Lord your God by Christ Jesus and by His Sacrifice.  Not that you must offer Him, but that He offers you to the Father in Himself; and the Father reconciles you to Himself and receives you to Himself in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.

And so it is that Philippa has been consecrated to the Lord, the one true God, justified by His grace and sanctified by His Spirit.  Not by any work of hers, but by His sacred work for her, as for you.

As Christ passed through the cities, towns, and villages on His way to the Cross in Jerusalem, so has He come here to your town, in order to gather you to Himself and take your sins upon Himself.  He calls you by the preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness, and He bears you in His Body through death into life.  Following after Him through Holy Baptism, you have entered the narrow door that He has opened by His Cross and Resurrection.  And what that means for the rest of your life is the daily dying and rising of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution, until your Baptism culminates and comes to rest in the death and resurrection of your body, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Kingdom of God.

This daily dying and rising of repentant faith is the way of the Cross by which you live.  But again, your striving and suffering, and even your sacrifices, are not meritorious works by which you save yourself and your own skin.  No, this is the discipline of your God and Father, who teaches you and trains you to live as His dear child and heir.  He does not leave you alone to be a passive observer or a listener only, but by His Word and Holy Spirit He lays the Cross of Christ upon your heart and mind, your body and soul, in order to conform you to the Image of His Son.  He does so in love, in order to give you life, lest you perish forever in your works of unrighteousness.  And so it is that He brings you through the narrow door to Himself.

Even now, by His grace, you live by faith in His Word and promise, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did in their pilgrimage on earth, in the midst of frailty and weakness.  And here you are seated with them, with Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, with the holy martyrs and all saints, at the Table of Christ Jesus in the Kingdom of God.  Not simply “in His presence,” nor eating and drinking His Body and Blood unto condemnation, but receiving the Food and Drink with which He feeds you in repentance and faith, with gratitude in your heart and thanksgiving on your lips.  Here the Lord your God receives you to Himself in peace, even as He gives Himself to you in love, with mercy and forgiveness for all your sins.  If you would enter His Kingdom and be saved at the last, then here receive these gifts Christ freely gives to you, the Fruits of His Sacrifice for you.

Beloved, you are not a spectator or an “innocent bystander,” but a recipient of these good things and a participant in the very Life of God in Christ.  It’s a matter of your death and life in Him.  And this is your Father’s House, where you belong, where you now live as His own dear child.  He knows your name, for He has named you with His own.  And He knows where you are from, for He has called you from the ends of the earth, from the four corners of the compass, to Himself.

As you have heard His call and come at the sound of His Voice, rejoice and be glad, for that is the gracious gift and good work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and preaching of Christ Jesus.

As your Holy Baptism is the narrow door by which you have entered the Kingdom of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, so is the Altar His Table, at which you are invited to recline within His house and home.  For the Holy Supper of Christ’s true Body and true Blood is the heart and center of the Church’s life and salvation, already here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Here you have come, not to the fire and brimstone of Mount Sinai, but to the beauty and grace of Mount Zion, to the holy City of the living God, to the true Jerusalem, on earth as it is in heaven; to myriads of angels and archangels, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect; because here you have come to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to His sprinkled Blood, with which He cleanses you and sanctifies you, and by which you see God and live.

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

18 August 2019

Baptized with the Spirit and with Fire

As our dear Lord Jesus Christ continues on His Way to Jerusalem — on His Way to the Cross — He reveals the significance of His Holy Baptism — for Himself, first of all, and so also for you.

It’s not what you might think or expect from your compassionate and loving Savior.  Popular images of Jesus envision Him as tender to the point of being soft and weak; easy-going and good-natured enough to wink and nod at sin; by all means friendly, tolerant, and above all, nice.  But those who insist on “peace and unity” at all costs are missing the mark where Jesus is concerned.

The Baptism of our Lord is a matter of deadly seriousness.  It does not deal gently with sin.  It does not look the other way or tolerate the contradiction of God’s will or disobedience to His Word.  It is clearly black and white and leaves no room for shades of grey.  Thus, Baptism means death and destruction for the sinner.  It is both fire and flood.  It is crucifixion and burial.  And it requires the division of all people, no matter how closely related, on the sole criterion of the Holy Cross.

From the moment our Lord first entered the Jordan River to be baptized by St. John, His Life and His Ministry were one, long, continuous Baptism into His death, even His death on the Cross.

And so it is that your entire life, as well, as a Christian disciple of Jesus — from the font to your grave — is one, long, continuous Baptism into His death.  As you have been taught to confess, it signifies that your old Adam should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all your sins and evil lusts; and again, that a New Man should daily emerge and arise in you, in and with Christ Jesus, to live before His God and Father in righteousness and purity forever.

Thus, in either case, for you as for Christ Jesus, it is a Baptism into His Cross.  Only what is Law and sin and death and judgment for Him is for you the Gospel of forgiveness and life and salvation.

In the first place, you know that Baptism gives or profits the forgiveness of your sins.  But you receive that forgiveness in your Baptism because Christ has received your sins in His Baptism.  It is the place of that great exchange, whereby Christ Jesus goes into the water holy and sinless and perfect, but He comes out drenched in your sins, burdened by your death and damnation; whereas you go into the water saturated with your sins and dressed in filthy rags, but you come out dressed in the beautiful white robes of Christ and His perfect righteousness.  Your sin, death, and hell in exchange for His heaven, His life, and His great salvation.

Remember, when Jesus came to St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River, how St. John confessed that he was not worthy of the Lord; yet, Jesus humbled Himself before John and submitted to his Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  But how could that be?  And what could it possibly mean?  Does the Lord Jesus have sins to be forgiven, for which He must repent?

Yes!  That is the very point.  He has no sins of His own, to be sure; for He is holy and righteous, the perfect Son of God.  But as the Lamb of God, He takes upon Himself the sins of all the world, including yours.  So it is for those sins that He repents, for those sins that He suffers and dies, for those sins that He receives forgiveness — not for His own sake, but for you and your salvation.

You see, therefore, that everything Christ Jesus does and suffers from the waters of His Baptism to His death upon the Cross is all for your sake; and He receives all things in heaven and on earth on your behalf. The Word of Blessing from the Father, “You are My beloved Child, with whom I am well pleased,” and the anointing of His Holy Spirit, are both given to you in Holy Baptism.

It is in His Baptism that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was anointed by the Word and Spirit of the Father to be the Christ, your Savior.  And it is by and from His bloody Cross and Passion that He bestows the same Word and Spirit of God upon you by the way and means of your Baptism.

This Word and Spirit of God are the “fire” that Christ casts upon the earth, which He first of all calls down upon Himself — from His Baptism to His Cross — and which He now pours out, for you and for all — from His crucified and risen Body, in and with His holy and precious Blood.

He baptizes you with the Spirit and with fire, having been baptized with the Spirit and with fire, Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He bears and suffers the Cross for the sins of the world, but so is He risen from the dead for your justification, for the sanctification of your body and soul unto life with God forever.  So you are put to death through contrition and repentance, but you are raised up to newness of life through faith in the forgiveness of all your sins.

As the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has given Himself for you and for all upon the Cross, so do you follow after Him as a disciple in the Way of His Cross, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  That is the life which He now gives to you in the Holy Sacraments, as you are baptized in His Name and continue to live the daily and lifelong significance of that Baptism, and as you receive the very Body and Blood that He sacrificed for you upon the Altar of His Cross.

It is by these Means of Grace, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion, that you are purified by the “fire” of God’s Word and Holy Spirit.  That “fire” has a two-fold purpose and effect, corresponding to the work of the Law and the Gospel.  It is the wrath and judgment of God against sin, on the one hand, convicting hearts, crushing the old Adam, and calling to repentance; and on the other hand, the merciful cleansing of forgiveness, which gives rise to Life and Salvation with God in Christ.

Such is the decisive work of that sharp, two-edged Sword, the Word of God.  It divides between even the soul and the spirit, between your joints and marrow.  It cuts you to the quick and exposes your sins to the righteous judgment of the Lord.  But so does it also call you to repentance, which is to say, not only away from your sins in contrition, but to the Lord in faith, to the new life that is yours in the mercy and forgiveness of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  It is Cross and Resurrection.

That you should be well-prepared for this confrontation with His Word, God makes it clear that He will not tolerate false prophets, nor any false teaching or preaching in His Name.  That is most reprehensible to Him.  But the true Prophets of God (like Jeremiah) preach His Word faithfully, even though it brings them grief and pain, suffering and persecution (as it did for Jeremiah).  It brings the Cross, because the Word of God — specifically the hard Word of His Law — is not a coddling, permissive, and gentle word, but a consuming fire and a fierce hammer that smashes rocky hearts into pieces, in order that the Gospel might recreate those hearts in the Image of Christ.

Like any loving father — only perfectly, without any sinful anger or impatience, always fair and always consistent, always striving for your good — the Lord chastises you and disciplines you through His Word of the Law and through the temporal consequences of your sin.  He does so that you should be healed and strengthened in body and soul, and trained to find your life in the Cross of Christ instead of in the pleasant enticements of sin, death, the devil, and your flesh.  Thus are you returned to the death-dealing, life-giving waters of your Baptism and its daily significance.

Of course, this ongoing and continuous work of the Law and the Gospel, day-by-day throughout your Christian life, brings about a constant division within you — within your heart, mind, body, and soul.  It is a struggle and a battle which those outside of Christ do not undergo, because they remain naive and content (for now) in their sinfulness and spiritual death.  But St. Paul describes that war which rages like a fire in the flesh of those who live by faith in the Body of Christ Jesus:

You know by the Word and Spirit of God what is good and right and true and best, and by the grace of God you sincerely desire to live accordingly.  But time and again you fail and fall short!  By the Spirit of God you know and despise your sins, and you struggle against them.  And yet, they so often gain the upper hand in your words and actions.  So are you divided throughout this life.

And as there is such division within yourself, so is there a similar division between you and the sinful world — sometimes even within your own family and among your friends and coworkers.

I am well aware how greatly some of you struggle with those divisions of family over matters of religious faith and commitment, for all sorts of different reasons, in all sorts of different ways.  And I sympathize, as well, because of similar situations within my own extended family.  But I’m sorry to say, there is no easy solution for any of us.  We rather teach and confess by the example of our Christian lives, and by speaking the Word of God as we are given the opportunity. And we pray for reconciliation and unity in Christ — but only in Christ, and not by way of compromise.

Over against the increasing wickedness and falsehood of this fallen world, Christians rightly insist that the God-given bonds of marriage and family are sacred and significant.  How doubly-blessed are those families who are united in their Christian faith and life.  Even so, the household and family of God, the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church, far and away surpass and must take precedence over any and all ties of merely human flesh and blood.  Not that you disdain or despise your family, but that you always defer to Christ and His Word and live by faith in Him.

From the standpoint of eternity, the waters of Baptism are “thicker” than the blood of family ties.  Whereas the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses you from sin, is likewise thicker and more permanent than all other bonds.  So, then, where a family is divided by religious faith, confession, and practice, as a Christian you are bound to give precedence, priority, and preference to Christ and His Church — over and above, and even in opposition to, your parents and children.

Even so, in spite of such painful divisions (inevitably brought about by the entrance of Christ Jesus into this sinful world and into your sinful heart), there is nevertheless a true and lasting Peace for you in Christ Jesus, and a new and more permanent family — created in Holy Baptism, where you were born again as a child of God — and strengthened and sustained, now and forever, in the Holy Communion.  This is where the division of your soul and spirit, the destruction of your old Adam, and the enmity of the world against you, are replaced with the Love and Unity of Christ in His Spirit, the steadfast confession of His Word and faith in the face of all opposition, and the joyful confidence that He is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister, a child of His own Father.

Because you are a member of this household and family of God — the Lord’s own son or daughter — united with Christ Jesus in the unity of His Holy Spirit as a beloved and well-pleasing child and heir of the Father in heaven, you do find peace and strength in Him, even here and now on earth.

For the joy that was set before Him, for the sake of your salvation, He endured the Cross, despising its shame; wherefore He has been exalted in His Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father.  In considering Him and all that He has suffered on your behalf, you are able to endure by His grace and bear His Cross without becoming weary or discouraged.  Not only by way of His good example, but especially because the Baptism of His bloody Cross and Passion has been poured out upon you — by and with His Word and Spirit — as a Baptism of forgiveness, a rich and full washing away of sins, and a gracious water of life and salvation; and because the Cup of God’s wrath against your sins, which Christ Jesus drained to the dregs for you, is now given to you as the Cup of Blessing and Salvation, the New Testament in His Blood, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for life and salvation in Him.

Come, therefore, and be kindled by the fire of His love for you.  Cling to Him by the grace and power of His Holy Spirit, even (and especially) when all hell breaks loose around you and you are cut to the quick within.  Hear again His gracious Word, as you are called to feast on Him in the righteousness and holiness of your Holy Baptism: “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you.  Take, drink, this is My Blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”  So shall you abide in Him, and He in you; and nothing shall ever divide you from His one Body forever.

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

14 August 2019

The Remembrance of His Mercy

Here, then, is how the Lord comes to you and deals with you: In grace, mercy, and peace. In humility and meekness.  By His Word and Holy Spirit, He greets you and embraces you in love.  The Father gives to you His own beloved Son, in flesh and blood like yours, for the forgiveness of your sins, for the resurrection of your body, and for the life everlasting of your body and soul.

He sends His messenger to you, to go before His face, to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  To point to Him who is the Lamb of God, and to give you that Lamb in the flesh.  He preaches Christ into your ears, into your mouth, and into your body.

Believe the Word that He speaks to you and the promises He gives to you.  For all these things are fulfilled for you in Christ.  And they shall be fulfilled and accomplished in you, forever and ever.

In St. Elizabeth and St. Mary you are given beautiful examples of such faith in Christ, the Lord.  They hear His Word, and they trust it.  They rejoice in it gladly, with both humility and confidence, even though it remains hidden under frailty and weakness.

But there is more to these two women than example.  St. Elizabeth is a new Sarah, who conceives a promised son in her barren old age, as the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  Better still, St. Mary is the new and greater Eve, the Mother of all the living, because she conceives and bears the very Son of God in her womb, the Seed of the Woman who crushes Satan under His wounded heel.

St. Mary is a daughter of the first Eve.  So, too, she is a true and twofold daughter of Abraham; for he is the father of all who believe and trust the Lord, and she does.  She is also a faithful daughter of the Patriarch Judah and of King David; and now, in her, all the promises of God the Lord to those men and their children have come to pass.  For as her father David once brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, where the Lord caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, so now has St. Mary herself become a new and better Ark of the New Covenant in the flesh and blood of her Son.  She carries in herself, not signs or types of good things to come, nor simply shadows and promises, but the Reality, the one true God Himself, in His own flesh and blood.

It is in this way — by the means of this dear woman, who is blessed above all others — that the Lord not only comes to you, to visit you in peace, but He has become like you in every way, save only without sin.  Conceived and born of St. Mary, He is the true Man, the new and better Adam.

He comes in this way, in human flesh and blood, in order to save you from your sin, to redeem you from death and from the tyranny of the devil, to reconcile you to God and bring you to Him as a dear child to your dear Father in heaven forever.  Thus, by His Spirit, you pray: “Abba, Father.”

Has Jesus not taught you to pray in precisely this way?  “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  With these words He tenderly invites you to believe that God is your true Father, and you are His true child, so that you may come to Him and pray to Him as a little child asks her dear father on earth.

It is for this purpose that the incarnate Son of God, the blessed Son of St. Mary, Jesus Christ, has taken all your sins upon Himself — indeed, He has taken the sins of the whole world upon Himself — and has borne those sins in His Body to the Cross.  There, by the shedding of His holy, precious Blood, He has made propitiation and atoned for all those sins of the world, including yours.

And having thus atoned for sin, His death is surely not His defeat but His great victory.  So it is that He is raised from the dead.  And in His Resurrection, those who have been burdened and put to death by sin are raised up to newness of life.  For just as He became like you, even to the point of death, so do you become like Him in His Resurrection through His forgiveness of all your sins.

This forgiveness and new life He grants to you, and to His whole Church on earth, by the Ministry of the Gospel.  He does it by the preaching of His messengers — as Gabriel announced the Word of the Lord to St. Mary — and as St. John the Baptist, while yet in the womb, proclaimed the Lord Jesus Christ.  Likewise, by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, which is the new birth of Holy Baptism, you are brought to life in the household and family of God.  Indeed, as St. Mary once conceived and gave birth to the Son of God by His grace and power, so does the Church give birth to the sons of God in Christ by the same Word and the same Holy Spirit.

And He gives to you, also — into your body — the same Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, which were conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; which were crucified under Pontius Pilate; which were dead and buried; which are now risen and ascended, alive forevermore.

As He unites His flesh to yours in this Holy Sacrament, so are you bound up with Him and united with Him, both body and soul, in His Cross and Resurrection and in His Life everlasting.

This is most certainly true.  But it is also true that, for now, it is hidden in the dark and secret place, in the womb of the Church, in the theology of the Cross.

Your life and salvation as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God are perceived only by faith in the Word and promises of Christ, in the midst of much hardship and sorrow, gossip and slander, persecution and death.  But you live in the hope of the Resurrection, which is not yet seen.

St. Elizabeth did not see it.  When she greeted her young cousin as the Mother of her Lord, and she praised that same Lord God concealed in the womb of St. Mary, that girl was barely in her first trimester, not even showing.  Nor do we have any indication or reason to believe that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child, as Simeon and Anna would see Him in the Temple.  She did not live to see her own son, St. John the Baptist, grow up to fulfill his calling as the Forerunner of the Lord. Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias were already well advanced in years when St. John was conceived.  But had she lived, she would have seen her son imprisoned and beheaded by Herod.

St. Mary did live to see her own dear Son, Christ Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate.  There, at the foot of His Cross, she saw Him suffer and die, and the great sword of sorrow pierced her soul, as Simeon foretold.  She was a witness of His Resurrection and of His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; but so did she also see the Church on earth suffer persecution, as she herself suffered in her life under the Cross.  As she was taken into the home of St. John the Apostle, she would have seen the martyrdom of his elder brother, St. James, who was put to death by Herod.

Already long before, St. Mary had suffered for her faith and because of her great blessedness.  When she returned from visiting St. Elizabeth, she was at first suspected by St. Joseph, who would have divorced her quietly for her presumed unfaithfulness; and though he took her to be his wife by faith in the Word of the Lord, one can well imagine what the rest of Nazareth would have thought and said about her and her condition.  She had to flee the murderous threats and violence of Herod, who would have destroyed her Son from the start.  She had to live in a foreign land, a stranger and alien on earth, although she was highly favored by God and blessed among women.

The great reversal of which St. Mary sings in her Magnificat — the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the poor and lowly and despised — is accomplished by God through the Cross and Passion of His Son and hers.  And it is fully realized only in the Resurrection of the dead, which you do not yet see.  For now, what you see and experience are persecution, suffering, and death.

For now you live under the Cross.  But of course, it is and remains the very Cross of Christ which saves you.  Live, therefore, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection, in the faith and confidence of His mercy.  That hope will not disappoint you, nor will His mercy ever fail you.

Even now, there is the remembrance of His mercy.  Not simply your remembering of His mercy in the past, your remembering of His Word and promises, but His remembrance of you and His promises to you, and His remembrance of His holy Covenant in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Here, indeed, is where and how He remembers you in mercy, not just in His head but in His flesh.  Here is the Body of Christ, born of St. Mary, given to you.  Here is the Blood of Christ, shed for you upon the Cross, now poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Where there is such forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation.  As you hear and believe His Word, and as you receive Him into yourself in faith, it is for you as He has spoken: Your sins are forgiven, and so are you raised up from death to the Life everlasting in your body and soul.

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