22 May 2016

Worship the Holy Trinity in the Body of Christ

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, despite what many are inclined to think, is not simply a matter of trivial pursuit, as though we sat back in our leisure to ponder this whole mental concept of one God in three Persons, and three Persons in one God.  It is not abstract speculation.  And it’s not nit-picky, fine-tooth-combing of minor details that ultimately don’t matter.

The Holy Triune God, as such — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is the Fountain and Source of all things, of Life and Light and Love and all that exists.  To know Him, to believe and trust in Him, to worship Him, the one true God, is to live, really to live forever, in His Light and Love.

And otherwise, apart from Him, you do not live at all forever.  Apart from this one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are damned and die forever in despair and utter darkness.  You need Him.  You need to know Him.  You live only in Him.  You live to worship only Him.

But how on earth does that happen?  How do you know this God?  How shall you believe and trust in Him?  How shall you ever be able to find everlasting life in Him?

How is it that you know God the Father and have Him as your own dear God and Father?  How do you become and live as His dear child?  And how is it that you receive the Life-giving Holy Spirit and breathe Him into your body and life, so that you truly and eternally live?

It is always and only in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you do any of this.  You do not know God at all apart from Him.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, but by Him.  It is in Him, and through Him, that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you generously.  And apart from the Christ, the Anointed One, you receive no anointing of the Holy Spirit.

It is Jesus, or it is nothing.

Dr. Luther has it right in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, when he sings of this Lord Jesus Christ, that there is no other god.  Do not think to yourself, Well, there’s the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father and the Holy Spirit are no other god than this one true God who is Jesus Christ, the Man from Nazareth.  That is the point.  And that is the great Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Each Person is one and the same only true God.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, you do not know the true God.  But if you know Jesus Christ, then you know also the Father and the Holy Spirit.

This is what was so scandalous to the Jews in this Holy Gospel and elsewhere.  This Man from Nazareth, the Son of Mary, He is the true and only God.  Not only does He live forever in Himself with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but He gives eternal life to the children of men.  He is indeed greater than Father Abraham and the Prophets.  You do not know God at all apart from this Man.

Therefore, when Philip later says to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough,” Jesus replies, “Philip, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”

Jesus is the true and only God.  He’s not simply one option among others.  There is no other Way: no other Way to God, and no other Way to Life.  And that is true, not only for us now in the New Testament, but so has it always been from the very beginning, throughout the Holy Scriptures, in the Old Testament and the New.  The people of God in the Old Testament were saved through faith in the Christ who was to come.  And in the Word and promises of God, Christ was there.

Abraham rejoiced to see the Day of Christ.  He saw it in the birth of his son, Isaac, who was born according to the Word and promise of the Lord.  And he saw it especially when he looked up, and he saw that Ram caught in a thicket, whom God provided in place of Abraham’s beloved son.

In all the Words and promises of God, Jesus was there.  Not simply as information, but as the very God who was with His people, powerful to save them from sin, death, and the devil.

Abraham believed in Him, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  He believed the promise of the Christ who would come in the flesh among his descendants.  And now you are justified and saved by faith in the Christ who has come, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen and ascended, now given and poured out at His Altar in His Church on earth, even to the close of the age.  For the Word has become Flesh, and He tabernacles among us.  All the fulness of God dwells with us in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Your faith in Him is faith in the true and only God.  Your life in Him is life with God.  It is by Him that you are saved.  It is by and with Him that you know and worship the Father in the Spirit.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God by whom all things were made, and apart from whom nothing was made that has been made.  Whenever God works, He works through this Son, this Word.  It was Christ whom the Father spoke in the beginning, and it was so.  It was by this Word that all things were brought into existence, and that you also have been brought into existence, the object of the Holy Trinity’s divine, eternal Love and affection.

One and the same Word and Wisdom of God has become Flesh and dwells among us, because He took our flesh and blood from the womb of His Mother Mary and became true Man.  And having taken flesh like yours to be His own, He also took your sin and death upon Himself and bore it in His Body to the Cross.  And there God, the Creator, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father — there on the Cross He suffered, bled, and died.  It is correct and necessary to confess that God died when Christ Jesus died, for He is the true God.

The Son of God laid down His life for you.  And it is by the death of this true and only God that death is defeated.  It laid hold of One it could not contain.  It bit off far more than it could chew.  It was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

In His innocent suffering and death, and by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood, is the Atonement for your sin, and for all the consequences of your sin.  In His death, Satan has been trampled underfoot, and the tyranny of death and the grave has been ended.  And this great Victory of Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, is manifested in His Resurrection from the dead.  For His crucified and risen Body is the First Fruits of the New Creation, in which Life and Light and Love now reign forever and ever.  In His Body, there is no longer any death or darkness or despair.

All good things have been accomplished in Christ Jesus.  In His Person, in His works, in His death, in His Resurrection and Ascension, and in the preaching of His Word, God is actively present and at work to save you in love.  To save you for Himself forevermore.

This is how you know God.  In Jesus.  In the Gospel.  In the stories of the Bible.  Especially in the stories of Jesus in the Holy Gospels of the New Testament, but so also in the stories of the Old Testament, all of which were always about Him and have been fulfilled for you in Him.

Apart from Jesus you have no life, but in Jesus you have life everlasting.  And that really is what it’s all about.  God desires that you would live with Him, and He brings that about in Christ Jesus.

So, then, how do you know this Jesus of Nazareth?  How do you have Him as your Savior and your God?  That is the most urgent and important question that now faces you, and the answer is just as challenging and scandalous in our own day as the Word of Jesus was for the Jews in His day.

You do not know Jesus apart from His Word of the Gospel.  You do not know Jesus apart from His external means of grace.  You do not find Him in your head or in your heart, not apart from His Word.  To measure God, to measure Jesus, according to your feelings and emotions, is only to make a god out of yourself and out of your own selfish conceits and desires.

You have the Lord Jesus only as He gives Himself to you through His Word.  For He is Himself the Word of God.  And as such, the Word of Christ is not simply information about Jesus.  It is the Word of Jesus Himself speaking to you, in which He is personally present and gives Himself to you.  What is more, He still becomes Flesh to dwell with you, to be your Strength and your Song, your Savior and Salvation, to shelter and protect you, to forgive your sins and give you life.

In the waters of your Baptism, that is where you have Jesus.  And in Jesus, that is where you have the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Look for Him there in the waters of your Baptism.  By repentance and faith, by His Word and Spirit, be returned each day to the waters of your Baptism, to where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have actually given you His own Name and His own divine Life.

Where is Jesus?  He is on the Altar in the Holy Communion, given and poured out for you and for the many.  He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  You don’t get any closer to God anywhere else in the world than there.  This is the Body of God, given for you to eat.  This is the Blood of God, poured out for you to drink.  It is God who thus gives Himself to you, and in this eating and drinking of Him in the flesh and blood of Christ, you have His Life forever in your body and soul.

When Jesus puts Himself in you, He binds Himself to you, and you to Him.  And He declares to Satan, and to death, and to the whole sinful world, that none of them can have you, because you are His.  You are His very own.  You are His forever.  You are His for Life.

You do not have Jesus apart from these means of grace — His Word and Sacraments.  And apart from Jesus, you do not have the true God, no matter what you may think or feel or experience.  But in these means of grace — in this Word and Sacrament of the Gospel — you do have Jesus.  Or, better to say, He has you; and in Him, you are a child of His Father, anointed by His Holy Spirit.

If people took this to heart, they would be beating down the doors of the Church every day of the week to hear the Gospel preached, to receive the Holy Absolution, and to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  So would they seek and find His Kingdom and His Righteousness.

As it is, the pursuits of this world — and we Christians fall into those same pursuits far too often and too easily — they are temporal things that come and go without giving life.  At their best, they are perishing.  At their worst, they are false gods that cause you to perish in both body and soul, both now and forever.  But here in His Church, hidden under the humility of His Cross, the very God of very God gives you Himself, and with Himself He gives you divine, eternal Life and Light and Love, which no one and nothing in all of creation shall ever be able to take away from you.

The Life that the Lord Jesus gives to you by the Ministry of His Gospel is not only for your spirit, nor only for your soul, but also for your body.  Though it gets sick, and gets hurt, and gets weak, and has to sleep, and some day will die, your mortal body of frail flesh and blood, fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, will rise and live forever, immortal, imperishable, and glorious in Him.

Raised in the Resurrection of Christ, ascended into heaven to the Right Hand of the Father in and with Him, you live with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.  That is the pledge and the promise of which you partake, already here and now, in the Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

That is what you are here to receive.  And receiving these gifts, you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth, and you live by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

This is what it is and what it means to be a Christian.  Not only to confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but to worship the Holy Trinity — the Father in His Son and by His Spirit — in and with your spirit, soul, and body, within the one Body of Christ, His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is what it is to live — here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

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

16 May 2016

God So Loved Robert by Saving Him in Christ

What you think of Jesus, and your relationship with Him, determines where you stand with God.

For whoever believes in Him, the only-begotten Son, has eternal life with His God and Father in heaven.  And so it is by faith in Jesus Christ that Bob is not dead and gone, but alive with God, now and forever.  His soul abides in the perfect peace of Christ, even as his body now rests from its labors and awaits the Resurrection of all flesh in the final judgment.  Indeed, though his mortal flesh has worn out, failed, and died, Bob shall not perish forever because he lives, even now, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ, his Savior.

But whoever does not believe in this Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remains in the darkness and is condemned by and for his unbelief, and will surely perish.

For life and light and love are found only in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith alone that you abide in that true and only God, the Holy Trinity.  Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation, from which you could never escape or save yourself.

But of course, that is where you and all of us were conceived and born — in the darkness of sin — subject to death, deserving of damnation.  And that is where you would remain eternally, if not for the fact that God has sent His Son into the world and given Him for you; and He, Christ Jesus, the Light of the world, has come in the flesh to shine Himself into your darkness and to manifest the works of God in you for life.

Praise God, that is what He did for Bob in tender mercy and loving-kindness.  He made Himself known by the preaching and confession of His Word, and by His grace He called Bob to fear, love, and trust in Him, and to live in the Light of His Word.  Even as the same Lord Jesus Christ here causes His Word to be preached into your ears, in the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He causes His Word of Life to shine for you in the presence of your enemies, so that you should be rescued from all evil and live with Him in His Kingdom.

And yet, you are afraid, and you are made nervous by this Word of God.  For your deeds are evil, and you do not want them revealed.  You do not want yourself to be exposed and found naked and ashamed in the light of judgment.  You prefer to pretend that you’ve got it covered, that you’re doing fine, and that your life is safe and sound — all the while you’re wearing out and dying.

Thus, you cannot bring yourself to come to Christ.  You would instead retreat even further into the darkness of pride and ego, or into the darkness of doubt and despair, even to the point of death, rather than facing the truth.  In ignorance and fear, you would hide yourself away from Him who is alone your life and light and salvation.

Apart from Christ, you do not know the Love of God the Father, and you do not partake of the Holy Spirit — and you neither know nor can you believe the Gospel.

But without such faith, you cannot know Christ Jesus or come to Him.  You are terrified of Him and flee from Him in fear.  Even the bravest of hearts, the boldest of soldiers, who would put themselves in harm’s way, rush into the breach, and face down the enemy unflinchingly, are no match for the terrifying judgment of God’s Holy Word.

Yet, even now, take heart.  For the Lord pursues you with His Word, and He puts you to death by His Spirit, not to destroy you or drive you away, but to resurrect you from death to life, and to bring you of your darkness into His own marvelous Light.

Everything else finally pales by comparison to these mercies of God, though they are hidden in this fallen world under the Cross.  All of the Lord’s other blessings in this body and life, even those of wife and children, aim at the blessing of His Word and the preaching of it.

So it was that Elaine and her pastor and her congregation brought Bob to faith in the Word of Christ, and to the confession of His Word, and to the new birth of water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  So, too, even after Elaine’s death, Bob returned again and again to the household and family of God, to the Divine Service of His Word and Sacrament.  He was indeed faithful, even unto death, having fixed his hope on the Gospel of Christ and the promise of His Resurrection.

I can tell you that Bob and I spoke frankly about these very things over the past several months, in particular.  He lived his life and faced his death in the confidence of Christ.  And his prayer, as he shared with me in his final weeks, was that his children would likewise find their hope, their peace, and their life in the House of the Lord.

The very fact that you are here today, not to mourn as those who have no hope, but to mourn in the joyous hope of the Resurrection, is testimony to the grace of God.  For as He acted in love and mercy to call Bob to Himself, to gather him into His Church, to enlighten him with His gifts, to sanctify and keep him in the one true faith, so does the same Lord call you to Himself, to know Him, to love Him, and to live with Him by faith in His Gospel of forgiveness.

It is in love that He has acted, for Bob in his lifetime, and no less so for you.  And it is in love that He comes to serve you here and now by the preaching of His Word.

The Father sends the Son, not to condemn and punish you for your evil deeds, but to forgive your sins and judge you righteous by His grace, to save you by His Gospel.

For Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has borne your sin and suffered your punishment; He has been naked in your place upon the Cross, and He has taken your shame to be His own, so that you might be clothed in His righteousness and covered with His honor.  He was crucified, dead, and buried on your behalf, and He is risen from the dead for your justification, vindicated by His Father.

This same Christ Jesus shines His Light in the darkness, in the midst of sin and death, and He brings life and immortality to light through the Gospel of His Cross — for the forgiveness of all your sins and reconciliation with God.

So do the rivers of living water flow from His side, from His innermost being, to cleanse and refresh you in Holy Baptism.  And so are His Body and Blood prepared as a great Feast within His House, on earth as it is in heaven: The choicest Wine and finest Meat, given and poured out for His children to eat and drink, that they should thus abide with God and rejoice in His presence.

Thus do we give thanks for all His gifts and benefits, and we sustain one another with the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of His Word.  We rejoice, give thanks, and sing the Gospel, which God the Father sings to you by the Holy Spirit in the Flesh of His only-begotten Son.

By that Word of the Gospel, He causes the Light to shine within the darkness of your heart, and He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you unto life and salvation.  So do you believe in Him who is your Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is your Strength and your Song, and He has become your Salvation.  And as you believe in Him, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, so shall you not perish but have eternal life — with Bob and with all who abide in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.

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

15 May 2016

The Language of Love

What is the language that you speak?  What are the words on your tongue?  How do you talk to and about God, your Father in heaven, your Lord Jesus Christ, and His precious Holy Spirit.

What is the language, and what are the words with which you speak to your neighbor?  To your spouse and your children.  To your parents.  To the people you work and live with in the world.

You might say, English.  Maybe you know some other language.  But that’s not really the point.

Do you speak the language of God?  That is to say, do you speak the language of love?  Are the words on your tongue words of faith, and of love for your neighbor and your God?

Or is the language that you speak rather that of the sinful world?  Words of selfishness and of self-righteousness; of pride and conceit; of envy and bitter resentment.  Hurtful words.  Unkind words.

Jesus says, if anyone loves Me, He will keep My Words.

You learn to speak as you hear, and as you listen.  So it is that you do love Jesus, and you do speak His Word.  For you pray and you confess as He has taught you, as the Holy Spirit has taught you.  As you remember your Catechism (though maybe not as well as you should).  As you daily give attention to the Word of God (though perhaps you sometimes forget).  As you pray the Our Father day by day, and as you confess the Creed each morning and each night.  As you sing the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of the Church, which proclaim Christ and praise His Name.

But what about the other words that you speak in the course of your days?  What other language proceeds from out of your heart and out of your mouth?  What is the sort of babble that you listen to and then allow to come rolling off your own lips and tongue?

“Sticks and stones may break my bones.”  That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it?  “But words can never hurt me.”  What a load of bologna!  That could not be more wrong, and you know it.

Words are the most powerful thing of all, whether for evil or for good.  Cuts and bruises heal, but there are words that you have spoken that you cannot take back.  And words that have been spoken to you that have cut more deeply than any sticks or stones could ever reach.

And this is not by accident, that words are so powerful and bear such consequences.

The Lord God Almighty created all things by His Word.  And apart from His Word there is nothing at all.  His Word created and still upholds all things in heaven and on earth.

And as you are made in His Image and Likeness, you are a rational and logical creature.  Which means, in large part, that you’re designed to listen to words, to speak words, and to think in words.  You are created to hear and receive the Word of the Lord, and to live by faith in His Word.  So it is that words teach you the faith: For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

But words are also used to tempt you, and to lead you astray.  And the words that you speak are not always the Word of God, but words that proceed from out of your own sinful heart and mind, echoing the lies of the devil, hurting and harming your neighbor instead of giving him life.  For it is with your tongue and with your words that you curse and swear, attack and accuse.

Think of it.  The same mouth that prays and confesses the holy Word of God, the same mouth that receives the very Body and Blood of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh — it is with that same mouth that you take the Lord’s Name in vain.  With that same mouth that you bear false witness against your neighbor.  That you utter harsh and hurtful words; that you gossip and pervert the truth; that you criticize and complain, though your words should be holy and set apart from sin and all evil.

Repent of your blasphemous and sacrilegious words and language.  Repent of the idle and useless chatter that comes rolling off your tongue.  Repent of everything that you take upon your lips that is not put there by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus!

It is the Word and Spirit of Christ — which always come and go together — for where the Word of Christ is, there is the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit does not deal with you apart from that Word of Christ — it is that Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus that call you to repentance, and bring you to repentance; that shut your mouth to evil, in order to open your mouth and fill it with God, to fill it with His language of life and love.  It is the Word and Spirit of Christ that save you from sin and all evil, from death and damnation, and from the terrible power of the devil and his lies.

It is the Word and Spirit of Christ that scatter you like dust, in order to gather you together into the one Body of Christ, His holy Church.  Not simply as news and information, but as the very work of Christ Himself, the Son of God, the Word by whom all things are made, who is now made flesh and blood for you and all the children of men; and blessed by the Spirit of God in His own Body; and crucified for you, for your transgressions; who is also risen again, and ascended to the Father, making the way for you, and opening the way.  He is the Word of God, and He is your Savior.

For by this Word, by this Christ, God the Father speaks to you in holy love and reconciles you to Himself in peace.  He recreates you for the life that He intended from before the foundation of the world, and He reunites you with Himself in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  And every bit of this He does by the Word of Christ, His only-begotten Son, also in His very flesh and blood.

Think back to the beginning, when God first created man out of dust from the ground, and He formed him from that earth.  Beyond that, He did something else, by which He made the man into a living being.  The Lord breathed His Breath or Spirit into man.  That is what gave him life.  Apart from that Breath, apart from that Spirit of God, there is no life or health or any other blessing.

But what has your sin done?  It has exhaled the Holy Spirit and driven Him out of your lungs, out of your body, and out of your life, so that you suffocate and die; for you cannot live without Him.

Your sin is like a spiritual asthma.  It chokes you and suffocates you, so that you can’t catch your breath.  It’s like putting a plastic bag over your head, cutting off your air and killing you.  It’s like those old sitcoms where people get locked in bank vaults, and the air is running out, and they cannot save themselves.  That is your predicament, as well.  But it’s far worse than suffocating.

It is eternal death when the Spirit of God is driven out of your heart and life.  For the Spirit is God Himself.  He is the perfect and personal Bond of Unity between the Father and the Son.  And He is the very Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father.

To receive the Holy Spirit, therefore, is to receive the Life of God.  The Spirit is the “Glue,” so to speak — if it is not irreverent to say so — He is the Glue that unites you to God, that binds you to the Father in the Son, within that same divine Love forever and ever.  That is your sanctification.  That is your holiness.  That alone is your true, divine, eternal Life, in and with the one true God.

But you cannot receive this Life-giving Holy Spirit; you cannot breathe this Air; you cannot speak this Language; and you cannot live this Life, except by the redemption of your Savior, Jesus Christ, which is the forgiveness of your sins and your reconciliation with His God and Father.

Apart from the atoning sacrifice of His Cross, you cannot receive the Holy Spirit.  You are closed and shut to Him.  But that is the dire situation that Christ Jesus has undone and rectified by His own voluntary suffering and death.  And the faith and life and love of the New Creation, of Man made new by the Holy Spirit of God, Christ has manifested in His Resurrection and Ascension, and now He pours out generously from heaven through the Gospel in His Church on earth.

It is indeed this great salvation of your dear Lord, Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit bestows upon you from the Father through the preaching and Ministry of the Gospel.  It is the Gospel above all else that is the language of God, the language of divine Love, the language that saves you.  For it is by that Word that He forgives you, fully and freely, all of your sins.

As His Word brought all things into existence, what He speaks is so.  “Let there be,” and there is.  When He says you are forgiven, you are forgiven.  And by that Word of forgiveness, He creates and sustains faith in your heart, and love in your heart for the Father, and for the Son, and for the Holy Spirit — and love also for your neighbors in the world, for your fellow sinners, and for your fellow redeemed children of God — like the love of God for you, though you do not deserve it.

It is by the Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and through faith in this Gospel, that God the Holy Spirit reconciles you to the Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and grants you that Peace which surpasses all human understanding.  It is a Peace the world does not know and cannot give.  A Peace that is more than the end of war, more than the end of an argument.  It is the genuine Peace of reconciliation with God, so that you can now call Him your own dear Father.

It is by this Word of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit is your Advocate and Defender, your Defense Attorney, your Counselor, and your Comforter.  And He stands with you and for you.  He speaks on your behalf.  He pleads Christ in the face of the devil’s accusation and the Law’s accusation.  He pleads Christ for you, and that is a better defense than any lawyer in the world could provide.

Sin, death, the devil, and hell can no longer accuse you.  God Himself no longer accuses you, but defends you and speaks well of you.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit, by the Word of the Gospel, puts you in Jesus, even as He lays the same Lord Jesus on your heart.  In and with Him, you are safe from everything that would hurt you.

It is by this Word of the Gospel, this Word of Christ and His Spirit, that you are taught to confess — to say the same thing that God has spoken to you in Christ, and thereby to speak His language.  Because, as the Psalmist prays, and as we pray with the Psalmist, the Lord thereby opens your lips to show forth His praise, to pray, and to confess, and to call upon His Holy Name.

This is what He has done, and what He continues to do, for all of our catechumens, young and old, whether they be seven, or seventy, or a hundred and seventy.  Even as He feeds your mouth and theirs with the same Word made Flesh, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.

That Word of Christ and His Holy Spirit — that Word of the Gospel — that Word is the Love with which the Father loves you.  The Word of God does not simply teach you about His love.  His  Word loves you.  It embraces you.  It holds you fast and will not let you go.

That Word of the Gospel is the true and essential unity of the Church in heaven and on earth.

Apart from that Word, apart from that Gospel, there is no life, there is no love.  Then there is only babble.  Then there is only confusion and separation, and ultimately death and eternal damnation.

But let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.  For here and now, the Lord Jesus Christ is still speaking His Word to you.  And He’s going to keep on speaking His Word to you, and breathing His Spirit upon you and into you.  Hear what He says, and be at Peace in Him:

Take, eat; this is My Body.  It is for you.  It is for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Drink from this Cup.  It is the New Testament in My Blood.  It is poured out for you, and for My whole Church, for all of My disciples from every nation.  It forgives your sins, and with that forgiveness it gives you life and salvation.

This is the “remembrance” of Christ Jesus to which the Spirit brings you by and with His Word.  It is a remembrance not only of the heart and of the head, but one that He gives into your mouth and into your body, both now and forever, in the Peace that passes all human understanding.

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

08 May 2016

The Prayer of Your Great High Priest

Today’s Holy Gospel is from the High Priestly Prayer of Christ Jesus on the evening of Maundy Thursday, on the eve of His Passion.  As He prepares to hand Himself over to death on the Cross for the life of the world, so does He also give Himself to prayer on behalf of His Apostles and His disciples.  And not only them, back then, but for all who believe in Him through their word.  For His whole Church on earth.  For each and every one of you.  The Lord Jesus prays for you.

The Words that He uses are simple enough; straightforward, clear, and easy words, on their own.  But the Mysteries of which He speaks with those simple words are profound Mysteries indeed, impossible for you to grasp or comprehend by your own wisdom, reason, or intelligence.  They plumb the very depths of the Holy Trinity.

To know the one true God is eternal life.  But the world has not known God.  And that is your predicament, as well, apart from Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ you are in the dark.  You are dead and dying.  You are doomed to damnation.  For you do not know God apart from Christ.  And you do not know Christ apart from His Word.

Here He speaks of divine Unity.  But what have you known, and what have you experienced in your life?  Often it is not unity at all, but division and separation, friction and hard feelings with the people around you, and enmity, ultimately with God.  That is at the heart of your sinfulness.

You do not know the divine Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And you do not have unity in your own life.  Often even families are torn apart at their very core.  Husbands and wives at odds with each other.  Parents and children at odds with each other.  One time friends alienated from each other.  So, what is the division and separation that you find in your own life?

Jesus also speaks of divine Love.  But what you have known and experienced is often a very different sort of “love” altogether.  Not divine Love, not Agape, but selfish and self-serving love, the sort of love that looks out only for itself.  That is the sort of love that you have often had yourself, and that is the sort of love you have encountered in others.  A love that is coupled with envy and jealousy, with hatred and hostility.  That is not the divine Love of God, who gives Himself for those who hate Him; who has created all things and still preserves them, not because there is something in it for Him, but because He chooses in love to give Himself to others.

Jesus speaks of divine Glory, too, and perhaps that is the hardest thing of all to understand.  For the sort of glory that you relate to is that of man’s worldly power and achievement.  The glory that comes from winning a contest, a football game or a foot race.  The glory that comes from making lots of money, being better and more powerful than those around you.  But that is not the divine Glory of which Jesus speaks.  That is not the Glory that Jesus shares with His Church.

Your predicament is like that of the world, because in your sin you do not know God.  It is your predicament, not only because the sinful world around you picks on you, and fails you, promising things that it does not fulfill, but because you also are all out of sorts, you are sinful and unclean.

In your sins of thought, word, and deed, you are separated and cut off from God and from His life.  You are at odds with both God and your neighbor.  And you are ignorant of the true divine Glory of the Cross, apart from which you have no life and no salvation.

But you cannot even recognize any of this on your own.  And even after the Law of the Lord has brought you to an awareness of your predicament, you still cannot rectify the situation for yourself.

You cannot make things better by any powers or knowledge of your own.  You cannot get to know God by research and investigation.  You won’t learn to know Him by searching the internet or reading encyclopedias.  You don’t truly get to know Him by sitting in a closet and meditating on whatever happens to come to mind.  You know God only as He reveals Himself to you.

Take to heart, therefore, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, He prays and intercedes for you.  Just think of that.  The Son of God is praying for you.  And among other things, His prayer teaches you, by way of example, the life of faith and prayer that you are also called to live.  For if the Son of God prays to His Father, then you also ought to pray.

You have heard from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest Christians devoted themselves to prayer.  And St. Paul admonishes you to pray without ceasing.  Not the sort of prayer that supposes that you can climb your way into heaven, that you can twist God’s arm or force His hand.  But the voice of faith that lives by the grace of God, that recognizes your own weakness and inadequacy.

Yet, even more important than this good example of prayer, is the fact that Christ Jesus Himself is your great High Priest.  He reveals the Father to you.  He reconciles you to God.  He redeems you from sin and death.  And He restores you to the Father in Himself, in divine and holy Love.

What Jesus prays is not just wishful thinking.  It is the good and gracious Will of God, which the Father accomplishes for you in Christ Jesus.  Everything that He prays, the Father answers, and He fulfills.  All of this He does for you in Christ, by the way and means of His Cross.

And what this means, and what this amounts to, is that everything Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has with and from His Father — from all eternity, but also in His Incarnation, in His Flesh — all of that, He reveals and gives to you, and He shares with you, by His Word of the Cross.

The Unity of God, that is the Unity He gives to you.  The Love of God, that is the Love He shares with you.  The Glory of God, that is the Glory that He bestows upon you and His whole Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ has been sent by the Father.  He repeats that point in particular three times over just in this short Holy Gospel, and more than that in the course of His High Priestly Prayer.  He has been sent by the Father.  Not simply as a messenger, not simply as an errand boy, but as the One in whom the Father is known.  And in knowing the Father in Christ, you have divine, eternal Life in Him.  For He is the very Word of God, now spoken in the Flesh to and for you.

He breathes the Life-giving Spirit of God upon you, and into you, by His Word of Absolution, so that you become a living being.  So that, in Christ Jesus, by His forgiveness of sins, you are given to share and participate in the Love and Unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

It is with that Love that you are loved in Christ: The Love that God the Father has for His dear Son from all eternity, that is the Love that He has for you.  And it is in that Unity of the Holy Trinity that you are united, bound to God Himself in Christ, and bound to each other in Him.

This is a Unity that cannot be broken.  It is not a unity of feelings or emotions.  It is the very Unity of the Holy Triune God, which is eternal and unbreakable.  That is the Unity with which you are now united with one and the same God in Christ Jesus.

Now, all of this is by and from and through and with the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the place of true divine Glory.  There you see and find the loving Self-sacrifice of God the Creator for His creatures; and not just for His creatures, but for His sinful and rebellious creatures.  And that is the Glory of God, which you cannot know; nor can you comprehend it, much less can you believe and trust in it, except by the grace of God, by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

You need His Word and Spirit in order to know God and to live.  Which is why, just as He has been sent by the Father, so does He send His Ministers of the Word to preach.  To preach the Gospel, to administer His gifts of the Gospel, and to forgive your sins in His Name and stead.  That is what He does for you.  That is what He is doing for you right now, here in this place, in His Church, in this “Upper Room,” in the House of the Lord forever.

You do not know God apart from Christ, the incarnate Son.  And you do not know Christ, nor can you believe in Him, apart from the Ministry of His Gospel, His Word and Sacraments.  But here in His Church, you do know Christ in His Gospel, and knowing Him, you know the Father in Him.

For here is the one whom God has sent to you.  Here is the one who speaks, not his own words, but the Word of Christ.  Who works not his own works, but the works of Christ, your Savior.

Here is the Font set before your eyes, from which the River of Living Water flows freely for you from the very Throne of God and of the Lamb, indeed, from the riven side of Christ the Crucified.  Having cleansed you in Holy Baptism, the River of Christ washes your feet in Holy Absolution, so that you are clothed and made ready for the Feast.

You are adorned as a Bride for her Husband.  You are worthy to kneel before Him and to receive into yourself the Fruits of the Tree of Life, the very Body and Blood of Christ Himself, given and poured out for you, from His Cross into your body, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

And Dr. Luther is quite right: Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Here you are returned to the Paradise of God.  You’re back in the Garden.  Only it is even better than it was, on account of the Lamb who was slain for you and for all, and yet, behold, He lives.

Having been united with God the Father in Christ here at His Altar, in divine Love, by the Glory of His Holy Cross, you shall abide with Him forever in heaven, where you shall behold Him with your own eyes, face to face, from your own resurrected flesh.  And He Himself shall be your Light, your Life, and your Salvation, evermore and evermore.

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

05 May 2016

Living with Christ in God

By His Incarnation, our Lord has graciously come down from heaven to make His dwelling here on earth with men.  He has come to visit us in peace and to bestow His Spirit and His Life upon us.  He has come to be with us here, in order to take us with Himself to His Father in heaven.  That is the special grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate with great joy on this festival day.

It is a kind of homecoming.  A homecoming for Jesus, but so also a homecoming for you.  As He returns to the Father in heaven, whence He came, He takes you with Him.  And you ascend into heaven with your Lord Jesus, not simply as a visitor or a guest, but as a beloved child of God at home with your Father.  That is why Jesus has come.  He has become like you in all things, so that you may be like Him; so that everything which belongs to Him should be yours by His grace.

He has taken not only your flesh and blood, but also your sin and death upon Himself.  He has borne your sin, and He has suffered your death, so that, by His sacrifice, and by His Resurrection from the dead, you should be set free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, and raised up with Him to life everlasting.  For indeed, His Life is now your life.  You are a son of God in Christ.

He lives and abides with God the Father, also now in and with His human nature, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  For that which He took from the Blessed Virgin Mary in His Incarnation, He retains to all eternity.  When He ascends to heaven and returns to the Father, it is not simply as the Son of God, but as true Man, your Brother in the flesh.  For God’s purpose was that Christ should be the Firstborn of many brothers.  And so He is.  The Son of God has become like you forever.

It is therefore One like you who ascends to the Father in heaven.  It is flesh and blood like yours that now abides in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the true Inner Sanctum of God; that resides forever in the bosom of the Father.  It is your Savior, your Redeemer, your great and merciful High Priest, who ascends to the Father — and you with Him.

His whole body and life, His flesh and His blood, are a priestly intercession for you, and a constant prayer for you.  In fact, He Himself is your Prayer, your Incense, and your Intercession, as I also said this past Sunday.  He is the Church’s morning and evening Sacrifice of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and He is heard and received, acceptable and pleasing to the Father on your behalf.

In His own Body, with His own holy and precious Blood, as the One who has made Atonement for the sins of the world, who has redeemed the world for God by His sacrificial death upon the Cross, and who has reconciled the world to God in His perfect faith and love — He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Father in heaven.  Day and night, while you go about your day, and as you sleep in your bed, the Son of God, your great and merciful High Priest, is praying and interceding for you. And for His sake, in His Name, the Father gives you all good things.

Make no mistake, the fact that Christ now lives in the presence of His Father forever, that He is your Anchor behind the Veil, as the Letter to the Hebrews so beautifully puts it, does not mean that He has gone away and left you here by yourself.  The Lord Jesus has not abandoned His Church.  He has finished His work of Atonement, that is true.  But having finished that good work, once and for all, His priestly work continues in His constant intercession, and so also in His Ministry of the Gospel, in His preaching of forgiveness even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.

As surely as Atonement, Redemption, and Reconciliation have been accomplished once for all by His Cross and in His Resurrection, so surely does Absolution continue every day in His Church.  For He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.  And He whose human lungs were suffocated on the Cross as He died that slow and painful death, now breathes the Spirit of God into His people, into His Church on earth, by the preaching of His Word.

For you are still hindered by your sin, you are still hampered by your mortality.  You are still in the midst of tribulation and trial within and without.  So the Lord in His love for you continues faithfully to serve you with the Fruits of His Cross, with those Gifts of His Redemption, with all that He has accomplished for you by His Sacrifice.

He has not abandoned you.  Far from it!  Rather, in His Ascension, He has filled all things with His glorious Body and Life.  For He is the Fulness of all things, and He binds together both God and Man, both heaven and earth, in Himself.  He is the Head of His Body, the Church, and He ever lives to serve His Body in love, in grace, mercy, and peace.

The Gospel that He preaches, which forgives you all your sins — the Gospel which He preaches and administers, as in your Baptism, so at His Altar — gives you life and salvation.  It gives you life with God.  It gives you eternal salvation with God, because the Gospel gives you Jesus.  It is constantly binding you to Jesus, sewing you together with Him, lashing you to Him, the way a sailor might lash Himself to the mast on a boat in the midst of a great storm.

So it is that, as the storms of the world rage around you, you are not thrown overboard, and you are not lost, but you remain with Christ, who binds you to Himself, to His Cross and Resurrection.  He did it in your Baptism, in which you were crucified, dead, and buried with Him, and then raised with Him, united with Him, tied together with Him, bearing His Name, anointed with His Spirit, a son of His Father, a daughter or son of God in Christ.

And He does it so profoundly, so intimately, so graciously and tenderly, in His Holy Supper.  For He takes His Body and His Blood — the very Body and Blood that were sacrificed for you upon the Cross, the Body and Blood that rested in the tomb for you, the Body and Blood that have risen and ascended — and with that priestly Meat and Drink He feeds and nourishes you in both body and soul.  How much more closely could He possibly bind Himself to you?  And how more tightly could He bind you to Him?

And as the Gospel thus binds you to Christ, He also binds you to His God and Father in heaven.  So that, where He is, you are also.  As He lives in the glorious presence of God, seated at the Right Hand of His Father, and as He lives and abides in that Holy of Holies made without hands, your Anchor behind the Veil, you also live there with Him.  Doesn’t St. Paul say that very thing, that you have died with Christ in your Holy Baptism, and that your life is hidden with Christ in God?

Consider that, and take it to heart.  You are bound together with Christ as a member of His Body.  And you are a son of His Father, in whose home you dwell forever.  That is how sure and certain your life is.  Even in the midst of frailty and weakness.  Even though you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds, and for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment.  And though you are mortal and your body grows weak and weary and old and sick and dies.  And though you are in the midst of tribulation, just as Jesus forewarned.  Though you bear the Cross, yet your life with God is sure and certain, firmly and forever established in Christ.  Absolutely.  Unshakably.  Because it is in Christ.  And all the weakness, all the sin and all the death, all the hurt and sadness that you find in yourself, does not undo what is true for you in Christ.

You know that it is true in Him, and you know that it is for you, by the Gospel that is preached to you.  You know it from the Words of Christ Himself, especially as He gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink.  This, He says, is for you.  And with these Words He tenderly invites your heart to believe, to trust, to know for certain, that in Him your life is permanently established and shall not be shaken nor taken from you.

In that confidence and faith, your life in Christ moves in two different directions.  Just like His.

Here’s what I mean.  On the one hand, the Lord Jesus Christ has gone up to His God and Father.  By His lifting up in death upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has made Atonement, accomplished Redemption, and reconciled the world to God.  And now He lives to intercede for you before the Father in heaven.  So there is this upward movement of Christ, His homecoming, in which He takes you with Him.  And yet, there is also the movement of Christ to His Church and into all the world, whereby He goes out with the Gospel into all of creation, and gives good gifts, and gives Himself, and preaches forgiveness.  But this isn’t about geography or space travel.  It is about the One who fills the heavens and the earth, who is always interceding as your Priest before God, and always preaching to you as the great Apostle of the faith.

And in much the same way, your life also moves in two different directions.  As you are in Christ Jesus, by faith, and through the Holy Spirit, you also ascend to the Father in heaven.  Your prayers rise to Him as incense.  You worship Him.  Your heart, mind, and spirit, your head and your hands are lifted up to Him in Christ Jesus.  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  So there is also this upward movement in you, in your body and soul, in your thoughts, words, and actions.

At the same time, there is an outward and downward movement to your life, as you go out to your neighbor, and as you kneel down in humility to serve your neighbor, to serve the little ones, to serve the weak, the helpless, and the despised.

So, then, as you are ascending with Christ before God, so are you also descending with Christ in love.  And you have the courage to do that, and the strength and the confidence to do that; and you have the freedom to do that, come what may, because your life is hidden with Christ in God.

He has rescued you in Himself, and He has brought you to God in Himself, not in order to take you away from your spouse and your children, your parents and family and friends; not to take you away from your neighbor, but so that, in Him, you are now able to serve the neighbors that He has put around you with the very life and love of Christ.  To forgive, as you are forgiven.  To care for your neighbor in humility and peace.  You have the confidence to live and love like that, because it doesn’t matter how people receive you.  It doesn’t matter if people even notice, whether they say thank you, or whether in fact they actually despise you for your faith and love.  Even if the whole world hates you, just as it hates Christ, nevertheless, your life remains secure and steadfast in Him.

You have this wonderful freedom of faith in the Gospel, this wonderful strength of your life in Christ, so that you can dare to do great things.  Great big things, or great little things.  You can dare to do important good works for your neighbor.  You can apply yourself to the jobs and to the tasks that God has given.  You can do your work with confidence that it actually means something.  For you go about your job as one who lives before the Father in heaven in Christ Jesus.

And not only are you able to work and to serve in love, to forgive, and to receive persecution, and to turn the other cheek, to forgive those who trespass against you.  But you are also free to receive and to use, to enjoy, and to savor the good things that God gives you in Christ even here on earth.  For all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified by the Cross and Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.  All things are made brand new in Him.  And your Father gives you good gifts because He loves you.  You can use those good gifts to serve your neighbor, to care for your neighbor, to bring joy and gladness to your neighbor.  But you also are given joy and gladness in those good things that your Father gives you in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  As you receive them and use them, as you do your job, as you suffer patiently the Cross, so do you also abide with Christ in God.

You abide in the gracious and glorious presence of your God and Father.  As you live by faith in the Body of Christ, in His Church and in His Sacrament, you are continually in the Temple praising God.  Because you are in Christ.  Whether you are near or far, whether you are home or away, whether you are working or playing, sleeping, or reading, or whatever you may be doing, you are in Christ.  And Christ resides in the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

He is the Temple and the Light of that great City, in heaven and on earth, even as His flesh and blood are the Tabernacle of God among men.  He’s not up there, somewhere, over the rainbow, in the sky by and by, but right here, right now, for you, and for the many.

He is here with you in His Church on earth, breathing His life-giving Holy Spirit into you by the preaching of His Gospel, and feeding your body and soul with His Body and Blood.  And the Father is with you in Him, in Christ His Son.  And you are with the Father.

Indeed, you are a fragrant aroma, a sweet-smelling incense to your Father.  You arise and ascend into His nostrils, and He is pleased and delighted with you because you smell like Jesus.

Your God and Father in heaven loves you and rejoices over you.  And you know how dear you are to Him by the Resurrection that we continue to celebrate throughout these great Fifty Days of Easter.  You know His heart and mind toward you, His gracious good pleasure in you, and the life that is yours in Him, in the Ascension of His Son.  Because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus and the Ascension of Christ Jesus are your Resurrection and Ascension in Him.  They are yours by your Baptism into Him.  They are yours by His Body and Blood, which He puts into you, into your body as a down payment on your resurrection.  For He who binds together heaven and earth and God and Man, also binds you to Himself, and in Himself He binds you to your God and Father.

You are beloved of God.  You are in and with Christ.  You are anointed by the Holy Spirit.  And here you stand in the presence of God.  Not for death, but for life everlasting in body and soul.

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

01 May 2016

Praying to the Father in the Name of Jesus

The promise of God, your Father in heaven, is that before you call, He will answer, and while you are yet speaking, He will act.  He has indeed taught you to pray and has promised to hear you.  But even before you have begun to do so, He is already providing for your every need.

Prayer does not begin with your choice or decision or effort.  It does not begin in your heart or with your voice.  It begins with God speaking His Word of the Gospel, by which He opens your ears, your body and life to receive His gifts, and opens your heart, mind, and voice to respond in faith.

He speaks, and He calls you to Himself.  And as He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself by the Cross of Christ, His Son, so does He welcome you into His arms.  He calls you by name, for you are His.  And He speaks such beautiful words:  That your sins are forgiven.  That you are in Christ.  That His Spirit dwells in you.  That you are beloved and well-pleasing to Him.

Such are the words that God the Father speaks when He opens His mouth and speaks forth His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  And Jesus shows you the Father plainly.  He speaks to you with words that reveal the Father’s heart:  Words of mercy.  Words of kindness, gentleness, and peace.

He shows you the Father by laying down His life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the shedding of His own Blood to atone for all your sins.  That is how you know what God is like.  That is how you know Him and love Him as your own dear Father in Christ.

And so do the faith and prayer of Christ become yours.  Though you are weak and weary and afraid, when you open your mouth in prayer it is Christ who speaks in you.  When you call upon your God and Father in heaven, it is Christ Jesus who is heard, and you are answered for His sake.

He teaches you to pray in this way, in this confidence, by the Word that He speaks to you.  His Word of the Gospel opens up your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to show forth the praises of God.  Thus do you learn to call upon Him for everything that you need, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.

And as you have heard, so it is the Word of Christ that you speak in such prayer and confession.  In the same way that Christ has come down from the Father in heaven, so does He return to the Father on your behalf, with you in tow.  And in Him, you and your prayer ascend to the Father.

That is the truth.  But that is not yet your experience.  For here on earth you are scattered like the disciples were when Jesus was taken away to His Passion, to His innocent suffering and death.

You are scattered by the tribulations of the world.  Scattered by the sins that you commit, with which the devil accuses you.  Scattered by your fear of death.  Scattered by the alienation that exists between you and God because of sin, and between you and your neighbor because of sin.

You are scattered not only by the consequences of your own sins, by your guilt and shame, but also by the sins of others against you:  By those who mock you, those who hurt you, and those who take from you; by those who speak poorly of you, and by those who refuse to speak to you at all.

And you are scattered by the Cross, as well.  For your suffering in this life does not end with your Baptism, and it does not end with your faith in Christ.  To become a Christian is not to live a tranquil and untroubled life here on earth.

The peace that you have is not as the world gives.  It is the Peace of Christ, the reconciliation with God that is yours by His grace.  But in the world, He says, you do have tribulation.  There’s plenty of trouble in the world, of course.  And it gets worse when you are called to be a disciple, when you are called to take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him; when you are plunged into the waters of His Baptism, and you renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways.  Do not underestimate how much the devil hates you, how vicious he is, and how savvy and clever his attacks.

In the world you have tribulation, and by that tribulation you are scattered.

But just so, the depth of your need and hurt compels you to cry out.  And even in your misery, you are not alone.  The Spirit helps you in your weakness.  And Jesus teaches you how to pray.  In fact, He does more than teach you how.  He also prays for you.  He Himself has become your Prayer.  He is your Incense and your Intercession.  As He goes to the Father, He takes you with Him.

Yes, for Christ is with you here, so that you may be with Him where He is.  The Tabernacle of God is among men, that is, the very flesh and blood of Christ, your merciful and great High Priest.  His Life-giving Holy Spirit is breathed into your body and soul by His Word of the Gospel.  And though you are scattered by your sins, scattered by the Cross, and scattered by the assaults and accusations of the devil, the Lord who is in you and with you is greater than he who is in the world.

In order to save you from death and the devil, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  He has atoned for your sins.  He has defeated the devil and crushed his head.  And this same Lord Jesus has gathered you to Himself.  He has called you by name, and you are His.  So it is that you are here in this place of prayer on this Lord’s Day: You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.

You are here because Christ has brought you here; because He has bound you to Himself in His own Body; and because He strengthens and sustains you by His Holy Spirit, even in tribulation, even in great weakness, even in deep sorrow, and even in the valley of the shadow of death.

He gathers you into His Church, and into the peace and joy of His Resurrection, by the speaking of His Word.  For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ that is preached to you.  And as you hear and believe, so do you pray and confess the Name of Christ.

This is the rhythm of the Christian life.  This is how you breathe.  You inhale and you exhale the Holy Spirit as you hear and confess the Word of Christ.  You inhale and exhale the forgiveness of sins by faith in His Gospel, forgiving those who sin against you, as you are forgiven by God.

As He has thus called you and gathered you into His Church, let me now describe that holy Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.  Let me tell you what she is like.  Let me tell you that in her midst there are those who have been lame, and those who have been sick, and those who have been afraid, and those who have been hurt.  Into her stream people of all kinds, from all nations, because the Lord has sent His disciples to make disciples, to baptize, to teach, and to forgive sins in His Name.

This Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, stands upon the twelve foundation stones, which are His Holy Apostles who preached His Word, published Peace, and proclaimed the Gospel of salvation.  So, for example, are St. Philip and St. James the Younger remembered on this day.

The Church stands upon that Word, which seems so weak and wobbly and yet stands fast against the gates of hell.  The Church stands upon the foundation of the Word of the Apostles of the Lamb: His Word and promise of forgiveness.  For so has He spoken:  He who hears you, hears Me.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.  Do this in remembrance of Me.  Go into all creation and preach the Gospel and baptize, for all who believe and are baptized shall be saved.

That is the Rock upon which the City of God is built and established on earth as it is in heaven.  And you have entered that City by His Word and Spirit, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  For in that River of Life you have been cleansed and sanctified, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and clothed in the white garments of His innocence and blessedness.

To be sure, there is no unclean thing in the City of God.  And you are not unclean.  You are not unholy.  There is no sin or fault or blemish in you.  You are cleansed, and you are holy, because you are in Christ, and He has brought you into His City by the righteousness of His Gospel.

This is a place of prayer, where you also pray, because this is a place where the Word of Christ is heard.  And as you hear, so do you believe.  And as you believe, so do you pray.  And as you pray, so does Christ answer.  And when you cannot speak, the Body of Christ prays for you.  And when you can hardly dare to believe what Christ says to you, the Body of Christ supports you in Him.

Now, if it so happens that you are strong in the faith, that you already know the Word, that you stride through your week in joyful confidence, in the peace and joy of the Gospel, and that you need not be here for your own strength (though I wonder about that!), be here for your neighbor.  For in the pews alongside of you, in front and in back of you, there are those who are struggling, those who are sad, and those who are afraid to pray because they do not think they will be heard.

There are those who wonder if they belong here.  And yet, by the mercies of God, they are here.  And they are part of the Body of Christ, or they are called to become members of His Body by repentance and faith in His Gospel.  The truth is that your prayers strengthen them, your presence encourages them.  And your words of peace and love in Jesus’ Name are living and active words, which spite the devil, and crush his head, and cast him away from your neighbor’s heart and mind.

That you might have such a Word to speak, to pray and confess, cling to Christ in the preaching of His Gospel.  Cling to Him for yourself.  Cling to Him for your family.  Cling to Him for your neighbor.  Cling to Him for the stranger, the widow and orphan, and the foreigner in your midst.

Cling to Him, and call upon His Name, and know that you are heard.  For you are not simply a guest in the household and family of God.  You are not only an acquaintance of the Bride of Christ, but you belong to her.  You are part of her.  So precious are you to Jesus, so beautiful by His grace, so glorious through His forgiveness, so much His very own in His Resurrection from the dead.

That is what He has given you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  More has been accomplished there and still avails for you, than your entire life on earth should ever be sufficient to consider.  You cannot exhaust this treasure.  You cannot think of it too much.  You cannot rely on it too strongly.

In Holy Baptism Christ has forgiven you all your sins, and by your Holy Baptism He is constantly washing your sins away.  Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, the waters of your Baptism wash over you, day after day, as you hear and receive the Gospel.

Like a little fish you are born in the water, and like a little fish you live your whole life in the water of your Baptism.  For by that water, with His Word, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you and made you His own dear child.  He has named you with His Name and made you a member of His family.

He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Author and Giver of Life, by whom you live.  He has given you the Spirit, not because you are strong, but because you are His.  Not because you are without sin, but that you may be cleansed.  Not because you were holy, but that you should become holy in Christ Jesus.

In your Baptism Christ has bound Himself to you.  He has taken His stand with you.  He has made all of your sins and all of your hurts, and all of your griefs and sorrows, His own.  The wounds that He bears in His Body are your wounds.  And by His wounds you are healed.

He has bound Himself to you, and He binds you to Himself, so that, where He is, you shall be also.  Thus are you crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  But His Cross does not destroy you; it makes you brand new.  And as you are crucified with Him, so are you also raised with Him: daily through the forgiveness of your sins, and at the last when your body shall be raised from the dead, immortal and glorious, perfected and imperishable, set free from every weakness, every sadness, every sin.

As He binds Himself to you, and you to Him, so also do you share His Ascension.  So also are you seated with Him at the Right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God.  As He has ascended, so do you ascend in His Body and in His prayer.

And so it is that here, at His Altar, in His House, is your place of prayer.  Here you are gathered by the riverside of Holy Baptism.  Here the Word of Christ is preached to you.  Here your sins are freely and fully forgiven.  Here you are set free.  Here you live and abide as a beloved child of God.  Here nothing at all shall harm you.  Death and the devil cannot have you.  Christ has you.

So this is your place of prayer, and in the Name of Christ you are heard.  In Jesus’ Name you pray, and you are answered with a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in His crucified and risen Body.  For in Him all things are yours in heaven and on earth, and there is nothing lacking.

Take courage, and be at peace.  Christ has overcome the world, and you are safe and sound in Him.

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

25 April 2016

The Publication of the Gospel to the Nations

As we heard from the Evangelist St. John a few weeks ago, from the closing chapters of his Holy Gospel, “These things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in His Name.”

That likewise sums up the point and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel, too, and the salutary reason for which we remember and give thanks for St. Mark the Evangelist on this appointed festival day.

The written Holy Gospels — of which St. Mark’s may well have been the first — became most necessary as it became clear that the Holy Apostles would not always be around and available in person.  So, for example, St. Peter wrote in his second Epistle that he would make provisions for his proclamation of the Gospel to continue even after his departure.  And that provision was then made available in the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, written under the authority of St. Peter.  All for the sake of the forgiveness, faith, and life of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Irrespective of the specific details of when and where he wrote it, St. Mark’s Gospel provides for, serves, and supports the continuation of the Holy Apostolic Ministry, the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the Apostles’ preaching of the Gospel throughout the world to all of creation.

Thus, along with the other Holy Gospels, the inspired writing of St. Mark is the authority, the foundation, and the content of the pastoral ministry to this day, even to the close of the age.  All that I do as your pastor rests upon this Word that was written for the sake of your faith and life.

The substance and power of this Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel is Christ Jesus Himself, the Son of God in the flesh, crucified and risen from the dead.  Nowhere is that more clear than it is in the Gospel According to St. Mark, which focuses so tightly on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus with relatively little of His preaching and teaching.

What you hear and receive from St. Mark is Jesus in action.  The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain.  For He is the Lion of Judah, who comes to tread the serpent and bitter death beneath His heel into the dust.  So it is that St. Mark preaches the Lord of Life hard at it, always moving, always doing.  A little less talk and a lot more action.  And all His active doing culminates in His voluntary suffering and death.  That is laid upon Him and done to Him, but He is no passive victim.  He knows where He is headed and what He is about.  He takes up His Cross willingly and lays down His life of His own accord.  So does He take it up again by strong faith in His Father.

St. Mark’s Gospel is especially devoted to the Cross.  It has been described as a Passion account with an introduction, and that is just about right.  The Evangelist offers ringside commentary on that great fight of which we sing with Dr. Luther: “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended.  The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.”

But again, these things are written for the purpose that you also should believe and live in Christ Jesus; that you should be crucified and raised with Him through repentance and faith in His Word.  And St. Mark has done a masterful job of portraying that significance with reference to himself.

By long-standing tradition, at least, and I am quite inclined to agree, St. Mark was that rich young man who once came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  As you will recall, he went away sorrowful following that first encounter because he had many possessions and was reluctant to give them up in order to follow Jesus.  Yet, the Lord looked on him and loved him, and what was impossible for that young man or any other, was not impossible for the One who alone is good, who is true God and perfect Man.  Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.  He liquidated everything, including His Body and Life, in order to give you the Kingdom of God.

For St. Mark the Gospel is the Cross and Passion of the Christ, and so too for those who would be His disciples.  To live with Him in His Kingdom is to share His Cross and follow Him.  It is to be baptized with His Baptism, to be buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order to share His Resurrection and His Life.  It is likewise to drink the Cup that He drinks, although for Him it is the Cup of God's wrath and bitter woe, whereas for us it is the Cup of Blessing and Salvation.  He drinks it down to the dregs for us, in order to fill it to the brim and overflowing with His Blood of the New Testament, which He pours out for you and for the many for the forgiveness of sins.  So is He stripped naked on the Cross, that you should be clothed with His robes of righteousness.

This is what He has done in love for you and for St. Mark.  Consider that interesting side note in his Gospel, which the children find amusing, about that young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who slips out of his linen sheet and runs away naked at the onset of the Passion.  If this is the same young man who once declined to give up his riches, he has followed Jesus to the point of giving up everything now!  Yet, the Lord would not have His disciples found naked, but clothed with immortality.  As He once clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of sacrifice, so does the once-for-all sacrifice of His own flesh and blood clothe all who are baptized into Him.  His garments are removed and distributed to you, so that His nakedness and shame should fully cover yours.

And surely He has done it!  For the next time we hear of that “young man” in St. Mark's Holy Gospel, he is sitting in the empty tomb from which the crucified Jesus has risen, “wearing a white robe.”  Yes, of course, it was an angel — one of the two, actually — but St. Mark has recorded the historical facts with theological intent, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he catechizes you in the significance of Holy Baptism.  The rich young man has been called to repentance, turned away from the idolatry of his many possessions to follow Christ Jesus to the Cross.  He has been stripped naked of all his own prideful self-righteousness, in order to be crucified, put to death, and buried with his Lord.  But now, behold, he emerges from the tomb in the Resurrection of that same Lord Jesus Christ, and he has been cleansed and clothed in the purity of that New Man.

With all of this in mind, and especially in view of the Holy Gospel for this festival day, it is clear that these things have been written for the proclamation and the hearing of the Word of Christ; that sinners be called to repentance, faith, and life in the Cross and Resurrection of the Son of God.

In particular, the publication of the Holy Gospel — the written record of Christ Jesus — aims to serve the administration of Holy Baptism in His Name.  As St. John the Baptist came preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and as St. Peter preached on Pentecost that the people should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name, so has St. Mark written that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  This promise is for you and for your children, for your body and your soul, and for your faith and life in Christ, both now and forever.

So does the Holy Gospel likewise serve the Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution, by preserving and declaring this special authority for the forgiving of repentant sinners in the Name and stead of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Though perhaps not as obvious as the gift of the Keys in St. John chapter twenty, it is no less certain in what St. Mark has written here: “In My Name,” Jesus says, “demons will be cast out, and upon the sick you will lay your hands, and they will be made well.”  For the healing of body and soul is bestowed, unto the life everlasting, by the Holy Absolution of Christ.

With all of this, the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, like that of the other holy Evangelists, is to serve the handing over — from one generation of the Church to the next; from pastor to people; from the Lord Himself to His disciples of all nations — the true Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, for us Christians to eat and to drink in remembrance of Him.  Just as He “appeared to the Eleven as they were reclining to eat at the table,” and He was there made known to them in “the Breaking of the Bread.”  His Word and Supper, His Body and Life always belong together, and they are given and received within His Church on earth as one holy Tradition of the Gospel.

So it is, on the basis of the Word of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, especially as it has been recorded by the holy Evangelist Mark, that I preach to you on this day the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the Name and stead of Christ; and here at His Table I give to you His Body to eat and pour out for you His Blood to drink, that you should be strengthened and sustained in the one true faith, and that you should have eternal Life in Him.

In this Ministry of the Gospel, the Lord Himself is actively present and at work, confirming His Word with the sacred signs of water, bread, and wine, and giving you nothing less than Himself.

Who has believed this report?  To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  With man it is impossible, but not with God.  All things are possible with God.  He does it by His Gospel.  So has He done it by the Gospel of that beloved young man, St. Mark, by whose poverty many have now been made rich.  For his voice has gone out into all the earth, his words to the ends of the world.  How beautiful, indeed, the feet of him who was sent with such tidings of good things.

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