07 July 2019

Receiving Christ and His Salvation in the Way of His Cross

The Kingdom of God has come near to you.  It is here, because Christ is here with you in His Word of the Gospel and in His flesh and blood, that you should have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  He is here with you in His Church on earth, that you should be with Him where He is forever, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, seated with Him in the heavenly places.

He and His Kingdom draw near to you by the way of the Cross.  For it is by His Cross that Christ has conquered Satan and defeated death.  He has not come with the fierce power of almighty God, judging and condemning and destroying the world, but rather, He has come in peace to reconcile the world to God by taking the righteous wrath and judgment of the Law upon Himself, bearing it in His own Body, willingly suffering death, and shedding His holy and precious Blood, the very Blood of God Himself, in order to make Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

All this He has done by His Cross.  And so it is by and from and through and with His Cross that God’s Kingdom comes to you.  So do His messengers come bearing the Cross, even as He sends them in His Name before His face to every place where He Himself will go.  His Cross is what they preach, and His Cross is what they bear and suffer in both body and soul for His Name’s sake.

They are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves.  They are sent as living sacrifices, like unto the One who sends them, who is sent by the Father to lay down His body and life in Sacrifice on the Cross.  They suffer because the preach His Word and catechize His people, they baptize and absolve in His Name and stead, and they administer His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.

They are supported and sustained by nothing but the grace of God and the love of His people.  They are not to bring any supplies at all, but to rely on those who receive them in the Name of the Lord, trusting that He will sustain them through His Church.  They are to focus on the one task they are given, that of speaking the Gospel and bestowing peace through the forgiveness of sins.

They come in such poverty and meekness, preaching what the world perceives to be such a sad and meager message, that of the Cross and suffering.  And yet, for all that, the messengers of Christ are given to tread the serpents and scorpions of Satan under foot with the preaching of His Cross.

They heal diseases and cast out demons with the Word of the Lord.  For all things are made new by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; and Satan is utterly defeated by the forgiveness of sins, which is what the servants of Christ Jesus preach in His Name and with His own authority.

With that Word of forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  Where sins are forgiven, death has no more claim on you.  Rather, as Christ has died for you and risen from the dust of the earth, His Spirit breathes in you through His Word of forgiveness, so that you are now truly alive in Him.

Because your sins are forgiven, the devil has no more power over you.  He cannot hang the fear of death over your head, not when you have already died with Christ and find your life now hidden with Christ in God.  And the devil cannot accuse you of anything.  Not to say that he doesn’t try!  You know that he does.  But all of his accusations are lies.  It is true that you have sinned in many and various ways, but all your sins have been removed, and God does not count them against you.

God raised Jesus from the dead, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them, but establishing in Christ Jesus the righteousness that is yours by faith in Him.  Thus does He grant you His true peace, comfort, and real joy, such as this world is unable to provide.

The world cannot give you peace, because the world cannot forgive your sins.  The world itself is fallen and subject to death, enmeshed and mired in its own sins.  In its false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, the world conspires with Satan to lead you into temptation, on the one hand, and then to accuse you and destroy you on the other hand.

It is not in the world that you have peace and rest, confidence and hope, but in the Church of the Gospel, in the preaching of the Word of Christ, and in His Body and Blood.  It is in the Church, in the House of God where you are welcome, in the household and family of faith into which you have been baptized. That is where the Lord provides for both His preachers and His hearers, for those who are sent in His Name and for those who receive them in holy faith and holy love.

That is why and how it is that His Church, His true Jerusalem and free, is the glorious Mother of His children; that she nurses them at her bosom and feeds them with the pure Milk of God’s Word; that she is full to overflowing with the bountiful goodness of Christ Jesus; that streams of peace like rivers flow from the Lord through His Church to His children, who have peace and comfort and safety in His Holy Gospel like little babies in the arms of their dear, sweet mothers.

It is to establish His Church on earth, to provide and care for you in these ways, that Christ Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, toward His Cross and Passion; and that He sends messengers before His face, in the way of His Cross, to every city and every place where He Himself goes.  He sends them to preach and proclaim, with His own Word and His own voice, the forgiveness of your sins.

And so do they come to you in His Name, even to this day and to this place, delivering the fruits of His Cross, whereby you are born again as a new creation in Christ Jesus, as He Himself is the Firstborn from the dead.  For His crucified and risen Body is the First fruits of the New Creation.  He has offered Himself on the Cross as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice; and He has risen and ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father, where He ever lives as your merciful and great High Priest.

All that He has accomplished and obtained for you is given to you in the preaching of this meager message by this servant of Christ Jesus, this meager messenger who has no authority or greatness but that of Christ and His Cross.  God forbid that any of us should boast in anything but that!  But here there is that Cross, by which you receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Even if you are dying; even if you are hurt; even if you are ashamed; even if you are terrified; even if no one else loves you; even if you are losing everything — your sins are forgiven; and you have life with God; and you are safe in Christ Jesus, here within His Church, because He is your Savior.

Here within His Church, within His House (which He has made your home), there is grace and every blessing.  Here is the Kingdom of God on earth; and it is here for you and your salvation.

It does come by the way of the Cross.  And those who receive these fruits and benefits of the Cross also bear that Cross and the Passion of Christ Jesus in their bodies and in their lives on earth.

So it is that you bear the Cross.  You received it in your Baptism, when the sign of the Cross was made upon your forehead and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  You thus belong to a crucified God, and you have life by His Cross.  So do not be ashamed of the Gospel of His Cross, and do not be ashamed of the Cross that you bear and carry as His disciple.

You bear it, not as a curse, but as a blessing.  Not as a dead weight, but as that which raises you up with Christ Jesus.  Yes, it crucifies you.  Yes, it puts you to death.  Yes, it destroys the old Adam in you with all your lusts and desires of the flesh.  But no less so, the Cross also saves you, because the Cross of Christ has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection you are made brand new.

The Cross that crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you, also grants you the forgiveness and life and salvation of Jesus, who by His Cross has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled the whole world to God; who has crushed the devil’s head under His own bruised heal.

Because that Cross of Christ is yours by your Baptism in His Name, you also have the authority to tread Satan, his serpents and scorpions under your feet, to drive out demons and heal diseases, even in the midst of great affliction.  In the face of the devil’s accusations, in the face of the Law’s threats, and in the face of your experience in this perishing world, you can boldly say, “I am God’s own child.  I am forgiven.  My life is hidden with Christ in God.  There is nothing that anyone can do to me, for God is my Rescuer.  God is my Strength and my Shield, my Song, and my Salvation.”

When you boldly pray and confess that Word and promise of the Lord your God, the devil does not stand a chance.  Oh, he can rage at you, and God may even allow him to rob you of everything in this body and life on earth.  But God will not allow the devil to rob you of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Nor will He allow the devil to snatch you out of His hands.

Not only that, but when you are too scared to confess what is true, when you are too fearful and ashamed to pray, when you are too weak and helpless even to cry out, “Kyrie, eleison!” — even then, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words.  And the Lord Jesus stands before your God and Father in heaven, pleading for you with His Blood, interceding for you with His own life; and He sets Himself between you and the devil.  Thus are you protected and preserved under the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.

The Cross of Christ, which has been laid upon you by His grace — the Cross that you bear in His Name by His grace; not by your own reason or strength, but by His grace through faith in His Word — that very Cross, though it is hard and heavy to bear and carry, though it puts you to death to yourself and your desires, to the world, and to your sins — it is the Cross that grants you peace, day by day throughout your life, with the forgiveness of your sins and the righteousness of Christ.  So it is that you do not perish and die forever, but you live and abide in Christ, body and soul.

That same peace and life which are yours in the Cross of Christ are for your neighbor, as well.  So are you able to tread down Satan, his serpents and scorpions, for the benefit of your neighbor: By forgiving your neighbor his trespasses against you in the faith and forgiveness of Christ Jesus, and by loving your neighbor, even when he or she does not love you and is not being very loveable.

Whether that peace is received or rejected, do not lose heart, do not grow weary of doing good, and do not give up the hope of Christ.  It is in Him that you have joy and gladness at all times and in all places, whatever your circumstances.  For His Love is stronger than even death and the grave.  And by the power of His own indestructible Life, He saves you from sin, Satan, death, and hell.

In the meantime, take to heart that your labor in the Gospel of Christ is never in vain.  Though you may succeed in nothing in your own perception or according to the standards of this perishing world, even so, to speak the truth of Christ, to bear His Cross in love, to live by faith, that is the very life of God which He has given to you, and it is yours.  Though you are nothing, the Cross of Christ and His Name which you bear are and do everything pertaining to life and godliness.

Be sure and certain of this: The Kingdom of God has drawn near to you.  Indeed, it is here for you now, in this Liturgy.  And your name has been written in the Kingdom of God with the very Blood of Christ, your Savior, by the stylus of His Cross, by the preaching of His Gospel — in the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Resurrection of the same Christ Jesus from the dead.

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

30 June 2019

The Character and Content of the Christian Life

What we have here is a series of people who just don’t get it.  They don’t understand Christ Jesus or His Cross, why He has come, where He’s going, or what in the world He is doing.

The Samaritans, first of all, resent the fact that Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and not on Mount Gerezim; because one of the biggest contentions between the Jews and the Samaritans was where and how to worship Yahweh.  And the truth is, the Jews were correct that Jerusalem was the place where God had caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, Israel.

But Jesus is on His way to offer Himself in Jerusalem as the final, perfect Sacrifice, fulfilling the entire Old Testament in His own Body of flesh and blood.  By His death upon the Cross He atones for the sins of the world, and in His Resurrection from the dead His Body is established as the new and permanent Temple of God.  So God is now worshiped by faith in His crucified and risen Body.

The Samaritans do not recognize or understand what Jesus is all about, and so they want nothing to do with Him.  So it is that, sadly, to their own spiritual detriment, they refuse to receive Him.

Yet, James and John, those “sons of thunder,” they don’t get it, either.  They are right in supposing that Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, should be received and treated with honor and respect, reverence and worship.  But He has come to accomplish and reveal an even greater Glory of God in His Self-sacrifice on the Cross for the sake of the salvation of all people.

On His Way of the Cross, the Lord Jesus comes preaching and bestowing the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, in and with His Word and His flesh-and-blood presence on earth.  Where and when He is not received, He does not seek retribution or revenge; He simply moves on to preach and bestow the forgiveness of sins to those who do receive Him in faith and humble gratitude.

Even to the close of the age, the dear Lord Jesus preaches and bestows the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, through the Ministry of His Holy Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  Week after week, there are those who refuse to hear and receive Him, because they don’t like what He has to say, and they don’t want anything to do with Him or His Cross.  But the time for Judgment is not yet.  Nor is it your prerogative.  Vengeance belongs to the Lord alone, He says.  And yet, for now, until that Day arrives, the Son of Man comes with grace and mercy, to save and not to destroy men’s lives.

Where and when He is not received, He goes elsewhere with His free and gracious gifts of life — to bestow the fruits and benefits of His Cross by the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, with His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, and in His Body given and His Blood poured out at His Table.  Take it, or leave it, these means of grace are what He is all about — whereby He grants forgiveness of sins, life with God, and eternal salvation — all centered in His Cross and Resurrection.

Those who are called to follow Christ Jesus, to be His disciples, are called to an apprenticeship of the Cross, that is, to a life defined and shaped by His Cross, which no one is able to comprehend or carry by sinful nature.  But, by God’s grace, you have been signed and sealed by and with the Cross of Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And so it is that you carry His Cross as a Christian within whatever place the Lord your God has called and stationed you to be in this body and life.

That is where and how you are called to live, to bear the Cross in faith and love, to the glory of God and for the benefit of your neighbors in the Church and in the world.  But, oh, how easy it is to look back and yearn for an easier way of life, to put down the Cross and withdraw from Christ.

How easy it is to put down the Cross of the Law and the Gospel, when the world around you offers such a different set of standards and priorities; when your family and friends compete for your time and attention, your allegiance and affection; and when your own flesh, your heart and soul, your reason and strength, your thoughts and feelings drag you away from Christ Jesus and His Word.

In fact, there are days when you do look back, and times when you have turned back: When you knew the right thing, but you would not do it; and when you knew that such-and-such was wrong, but you plowed ahead and did it anyway.  There are those times when you have set aside the Cross.

Thus, today, you are confronted and called to repentance by the Word of the Lord, which starkly reveals that of yourself you are not fit for the Kingdom of God.  You do not deserve it, you are not worthy of it, and you are not able to enter into it by any wisdom, reason, or strength of your own.

But you are not your own.  You are bought with a price, the precious Blood of Christ, and you belong to Him.  So, too, the Cross that you are given is the Cross of Christ, which He has borne and carried for you.  It puts you to death and buries you with Him, so that you might live with Him.

All that you have failed to do according to God’s Law, including your reluctance to bear the Cross appointed for you, Christ has taken upon Himself and carried in His own Body to His Cross and Passion in Jerusalem (the city that stones the Prophets and kills those who are sent to her).

As the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself the entire weight and burden of your mortality and the deadly consequences of your sins.  What is more, in the footsteps of the Old Testament Prophets — Moses and Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest — in steadfast faith and holy love, in perfect obedience to His own God and Father, He has preached the Word of the Lord unflinchingly.  With all that He says and does — to and from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — the Kingdom of God has drawn near in His Body and Life.

Having set His hand upon the plowshare of His Cross, He does not look back — no, not even once — because, not only is He fit for the Kingdom of God, but it is by and from His Cross that God establishes His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  It is for that throne of His Cross and for His crown of thorns that He has been anointed by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all people.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that those who would be His disciples — who would share in His salvation and live in His Kingdom — must take up His Cross and follow after Him.

Nor is it surprising that those who perceive the destiny of His Cross want no part in it.  After all, foxes have their holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but Christ the Son of God has only the hard wood of His Cross and the cold stone of His borrowed Tomb on which to rest His head.

Of course, to reject this Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, finally will bring judgment and fire down from heaven.  But for the time being, that is not His purpose in coming down from the Father in heaven into this world.  He comes by way of His Cross in order to bear and suffer the judgment and wrath and damnation of God against the sins of the entire world — on behalf of Samaritans, Jews, and Gentiles alike.  And having come to bear that judgment in Himself, in His own Body on the Tree, He does not inflict it on others.  He offers them, instead, His presence and His peace; and when those gifts are denied and rejected, He perseveres and continues on His way to His Cross.

Today, by His Word and the preaching of it, He calls you to follow Him on that road to Jerusalem, to walk after Him in the Way of His Cross, with your face set resolutely on Him and His Passion.  Such things are your inheritance as a Christian in this world; they are your life and your salvation, your hope and comfort in Christ Jesus.  Such is your journey with Him through death into life.

His Word to you this morning, and to anyone who would be His disciple, is a matter of priorities.  What comes first in your life?  Where do you invest your time, attention, energy, and resources?  And what is it that you prize and value more than everything else?  If you would live with God in Christ Jesus, you must fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, and have no other gods before Him — no other gods before Christ, in whom the Holy Triune God is revealed and given to you.

So it is that Christ Jesus says elsewhere that anyone who does not hate his father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, and yes, even his own life — in deference to Christ — is not worthy to be His disciple and is not fit for the Kingdom of God.  True discipleship involves the adoption and practice of entirely new and radical priorities, according to which the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus takes precedence over your family and friends, your country, and yourself.

It is by your Baptism into Christ that you have been signed and sealed with His Cross and set upon that new way of life in body and soul.  For thus you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him — dead to yourself and to the world — and so also raised to newness of life with Him.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, you also are anointed with the Spirit of God, and so are you granted the life that God intends for His children, that is, the divine, eternal life of the Holy Triune God Himself, given to you in Christ as your salvation.  But in this world, because it is the very life that Christ has lived for you, it is a life lived under His Cross.  Your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation are all rooted in His Cross and defined by it, in such a way that the Cross — with all its bitter pain and agonizing sorrow — is nevertheless your glory and your hope.

And as this divine life that is yours by virtue of your Holy Baptism is a living, dynamic, ongoing reality, so does your Baptism have a daily and lifelong significance — as the Catechism teaches.

It is the daily crucifixion of your fallen flesh by way of contrition, repentance, and the confession of your sins — being put to death by the judgment of God’s Law, which declares that no one who practices the works of sinful flesh will inherit the Kingdom of God; and that you are not fit for that Kingdom.  In this way, all of your pride, all your self-reliance and self-confidence are crushed and destroyed under the weight of the Law; and the very heart of you is drowned and put to death, each and every day, in the waters of your Baptism — even seventy or eighty years after the fact — until the significance of your Holy Baptism is finally consummated in your earthly death and burial.

All of this is painful, it is difficult, and it hurts.  But in spite of the pain, because the Cross that you bear is the Cross of Christ — which He has already carried for you — it is a salutary, blessed, and life-giving death by crucifixion that you undergo: in Baptism and throughout your Christian life.

What is more, because it is the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus that you share, you are also given a share and a portion in His Resurrection and Ascension to the heavenly, eternal life of God.  For the same waters of Baptism that drown and destroy your old Adam have been sanctified by Christ to be a rich and full washing away of all your sins.  Therefore, Baptism not only crucifies and buries you, but, as St. Peter writes, Baptism also now saves you.  Uplifted by the Word and water of this salutary Flood, you are preserved, dry and secure, in the Holy Ark of the Church.

It is in that sure and certain confidence and hope that you daily bear the Cross you have received.

Of course it is true that, in your sinfulness and weakness, you fall short and fail on a regular basis.  You do not bear and carry the Cross in all your thoughts, words, and actions, as you are called and commanded to do.  All the more do you need the daily forgiveness and the blessed mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, who continues to carry the Cross both with you and for you.  In grace, mercy, and peace, He saves you from your sin, from death, and from the power of the devil; He sustains you by the Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel; and He raises you up, again and again, to the newness of life in both body and soul that He has established in His Resurrection.

And as often as He calls you to repentance, as often as you hear and receive His Holy Absolution of all your sins, and as often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood according to His Word and promise, He returns you to the life and salvation that are yours in Holy Baptism.  So does He unite you with Himself in both His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.  And just as surely does He bring you with Himself to the Father in heaven — even now by faith, and hereafter in both body and soul forever.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.

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

23 June 2019

God's Own Child, Baptized into Christ

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you to be His own dear child by way of water, Word, and Spirit.  So it is that He has taught you to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  And so it is that you receive all good things from His hand, all that you need to support this body and life, and even more, the forgiveness of all your sins and the gift of eternal life and salvation.

Your God and Father in Christ Jesus gives you this life in both body and soul.  He has named you with His own Name, and He has made you a member of His own household and family, the Holy Christian Church.  He has come to you in Christ, that you might live and abide with Him forever.

Christ the Lord has come to you in the midst of this foreign territory, in order to bring you home to His Father.  By way of the water — in the Boat of His Church — He has drawn near.  He has found you in Gentile territory, among the pagans.  Even among the tombs, He has come to you.

You did not ask for Him, but He has sought you out.  You did not seek Him, but He has allowed you to find Him, and He has found you.  All day long, from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, He spreads out His hands to you.  He comes to you, and He beckons you to Himself.

He forgives you all your sins with the authority of His Gospel.  For He has died, and He is risen.  He has atoned for all your sins.  And as He was baptized, so has He baptized you, and all your sins and death are washed away.  Not just once upon a time, but so long as you live and abide in the waters of your Baptism, you live and abide in Christ, and day by day your sins are washed away.

Why, then, do you go about like a wild man?  Why are you so frantic?  Why are you driven into madness — by things that are forgiven, by things that people do to you, and by things outside of your control but not outside of your Father’s keeping?  Why is it that you are so out of your mind, even though you have been given the mind and Spirit of Christ Jesus?  Why do you remove the garments with which your Father has dressed you and go about naked and unclothed?  Why is it that you live among the dead, and dwell among the tombs, and make your residence in graveyards, instead of dwelling in the House of the Lord where He has made a place for you?

It’s easy to tell that the man in this Gospel is crazy.  Insane.  Stark raving mad, and stark raving naked.  He hasn’t worn clothes for a very long time.  He doesn’t live in a home.  He makes his bed in the tombs.  A walking dead man.  A crazy man, possessed by many demons, and afraid of Jesus.

But he is not so different than you are.  For you have your own demons, visible and invisible.  You do wear clothes, but how often do you feel yourself naked and exposed before God and before your neighbors?  How often has it seemed as though a scarlet letter were written on your forehead, as though people could just look at you and see those things that you are so ashamed of?

You may not live in a graveyard.  Indeed, you probably have a very nice home.  It may even be paid for, remodeled and decorated, safe and secure with adequate locks and a security system, and a manicured lawn, and a place for your children or grandchildren to play, on a nice street in a good neighborhood.  But if you put your trust in those things — all of which are perishing — then you also live among the tombs, and you reside in the vain monuments of this dead and dying world.

Such good things on earth are the good gifts of your God and Father.  But they are His gifts, and they cannot take His place.  You dare not worship them as gods.  They are part of the life that God your Father gives you, but they are not your life.  Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.  And your true home is not of this world.  It is the Church, on earth as in heaven.  The Lord’s House, that is your place — where you belong — where your Father keeps you safe.

You may not be possessed.  If the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in your heart by the Gospel and laid Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, then you are not possessed by demons.  But do not suppose that the devil has given up and left you alone.  He’s foolish enough, and ferocious enough, and hateful enough, and murderous enough, to continue attacking you throughout your life on earth.  He speaks sometimes with fury, at other times with sweetness.  He tempts you to sin, and then stands first in line to accuse you.  And as the devil with his demons did with that poor man in this Gospel, he would drive you into the desert — away from the water, and away from Jesus.

Now, the Law would do its good work in you, as God so wills.  It would serve as a tutor leading you to Christ, as St. Paul has written.  And understand that a tutor is not simply someone who helps you with your homework, and goes over the lesson with you, and helps you to prepare for a test.  A tutor in the ancient world was much more involved than that.  The tutor would take you from your father’s house to the school where your father enrolled you.  He would make sure you sat at your desk and stayed for the lesson, and then bring you home at night.  He would discipline you as necessary with the authority of your father, in order to keep you on task.  He would not so much teach you himself, but he would make sure that you went to school and listened to your teacher.

God’s Law is such a tutor.  It curbs you, and it guides you in the direction you should go.  It threatens you with a big stick, in order to force and compel you to that which you need, which your Father would have you hear and receive.  It commands you to love your neighbor, in order to love and protect your neighbor; and it commands your neighbor to love and protect you.  But the Law also commands you to look to God, to look to Him for all good things, to listen to His Word, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to rest from your labors, and to be served by Christ.  The Law cannot achieve any of these things for you, but it points you to the One who does.  The Law cannot forgive your sins, but it drives you to the One who does forgive your sins.

The Law cannot bring you home, though it aims to restrain you from running further and further away.  For this reason, it has bound you, and yet you have broken its bonds.  It would chain you to the Lord and His Word for your own safety and well being, but you have broken the shackles.

So it is that Christ the Lord has come to set things right.  And He is ferocious against your enemies.  He is your dread Champion in fighting the devil.  The Lord Himself has entered the fray, not only to stand at your side and assist you, but to take the lead, to bring down Goliath, to slay the dragon.  By the cleansing Word of His Gospel, He sets you free from the unclean spirits that haunt you.

The Lord Jesus speaks, and it is so, for all authority is His.  The demons hate Him, but they must listen to Him.  They beg Him to go away, but they know they cannot force Him.  They would go into the pigs, but they need His permission to do so.  They are not in charge.  And they are not the boss of you, either.  Not anymore.  For this stronger Man has come, and He binds the strong man who has held you captive.  And those chains with which He binds the devil will not be broken.

So, then, the Lord Jesus comes in love to save you.  But what if you are still afraid of Him?

What if you are terrified, because you do not want to be found out?  You do not want everyone to look at you and see that you are so naked.  You would rather crawl back into the tombs and hide yourself away, and welcome even death, than to meet the One who comes to save you from death.

What if you are trapped by your addictions?  What if you are driven by temptations that constantly lead you back into the same old sins over and over again?  What hope is there for you, if instead of swimming like a little fish in the waters of your Baptism, you wallow around like a swine in the muck and the mud and the mire?  Immoral.  Trashy.  Living for money.  Neglecting your vocations while chasing your passions.  Cursing your neighbors.  At enmity with your bothers and sisters, refusing to forgive them, and refusing to acknowledge or apologize for your own wrongdoing.

What if you are so driven by your desire for things which God has not given you, that you do not even attend to those things which He has entrusted to your care and stewardship?

What if your demons drive you away from the waters of your Baptism, so that you willingly wander into the territory of the devil and the night of sin and death?  Be warned that such a path and such pursuits will eventually drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and soul, out of your body and life, and lead you finally into the abyss with the devil and his demons.

The Lord Jesus has come to save you.  But what if you run away from Him?  What if, instead of praying, you simply beg Him to leave and go away, because you are so afraid and so ashamed?

Even then, He would use the Law as your tutor, to bring you to the school of His Church, to the lesson of His Gospel, to the Life-giving Breath of His Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins.

Consider what it means that He permits the demons to go into those pigs.  Why does He do that?  Why does He give the demons permission to do anything?  Why does He not send them straight to the abyss right away?

Beloved of the Lord, it is for the sake of His mercy and for your salvation that He does this strange thing.  For even the demons, death, and the devil must serve His purpose.  He permits the demons to afflict even you, whom He loves, so that by this means He would drive you back to the water.

If you live an unclean life, then do not be surprised that demons haunt you, and that the Law of the Lord pursues you.  But even then, understand that the Lord is at work, that He would drive you to the font: to be baptized, if you have not been, or to remember and return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  He would drown and destroy the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires.  He would put you to death.  To that extent, you are right in fearing that He has come to kill you.  For His Word is fierce, and among your enemies are your own sinful nature, your fallen flesh and idolatrous heart, your unclean spirit, and your own dark thoughts and feelings, which lie to you and deceive you.  He would put all of that to death, drowned in the water like those pigs.

But remember that He has made Himself unclean with your sins and death.  Remember that He also has gone into the pigsty to rescue the Prodigal Son.  Remember that He has become sin, and the curse, and guilt, and death, all in order to redeem you, and to justify you with His Righteousness.  Remember that He also has been baptized, and by His Baptism into death He has made of those waters, not only a death-dealing flood, but a gracious water of Life.  For out of that tomb He has risen, and out of that tomb He raises you up with Himself to the Life everlasting in body and soul.

The Lord kills in order to make alive.  The devil promises life in order to kill, but Jesus comes to kill and make alive.  And He has been the first in line to die and rise again — for you and for all!

When He would permit even demons to torment you, He has not lost control, nor has He given up on you.  He does not turn His face from you in anger.  All day long He stretches out His hand to a rebellious people: All. Day. Long.  And at night He does not sleep, so that you may rest in peace.

Return, therefore, to the waters of your Baptism.  Find again that right mind which is yours in Christ Jesus, so that you may think the things of God and not of sinful man.  Dwell upon such good things as these: Though your sins are many, they are forgiven.  Though you have sinned and gone astray, your Good Shepherd has brought you home, and He rejoices over you in love.  Though you have not loved the Lord as you should, and you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, your Father loves you still.  And though you have not prayed as you ought, He speaks to you in peace.  He clothes and covers you in Christ, His Son, so that you are not found naked and unclothed.

Your sins are all forgiven.  Though you have been sinful and unclean, you are not a pig.  You are a child of God.  You are God’s own child, I gladly say it.  You are baptized into Christ.  And He who has named you — the Father who loves you — He shelters and protects you.  Though you have made your home among the dead, and dug your own grave, and made your bed in the dirt, your Father brings you into His House and Home, and here He feeds you at the Table of His Son.

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

15 June 2019

The Glory of God in the Marriage of Christ and His Church

The estate of holy matrimony is the crowning glory of God’s good Creation.  For Man is created in the Image and Likeness of God.  Not a single man, but a man and a woman, male and female, that the two should be united with each other, in love, as one flesh.  To that purpose, the Lord God created the woman from the man and for the man, to be a helpmate comparable to him; and He also brought her to the man, gave her to the man, and joined her to the man.  Marriage is thus God’s own creation, gracious gift, and holy institution, established and sanctified by and with His Word.

So also, to this day, marriage is no mere legal formality nor simply a human custom and tradition.  It is not a man-made thing.  The rites and ceremonies of holy matrimony are, in fact, the Word and work of God, which actually make this man and this woman to be, henceforth, husband and wife.  Here the Lord God joins them together as one and sanctifies them by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is God’s good and gracious will, therefore, Aaron and Annalise, that you look upon each other, love and serve each other, and cleave to each other, according to His Word — that you recognize and respect the glory and adornment of His Word with which the two of you are clothed by Him.

You are to be comrades, first of all, that is, partners in life, friends together on a common road.  And within that companionship, you are placed not only alongside each other on the same journey, but also given to each other, face to face and heart to heart, bound together in the intimacy of spirit, soul, and body, to find comfort, compassion, and passion uniquely in each other.  And from that union, as the Lord so wills and provides, your love for each other may bear fruit after its own kind and be multiplied in the bearing of children, that you might care for them as the Lord cares for you.

Of course, this all sounds terrific and ideal, especially on a day like today.  And it is most certainly true!  But what we experience in the world seems quite different.  To some extent we are all aware of the hurts and fears, the burdens, challenges, and difficulties that marriage faces in this fallen and perishing world.  Everything on earth is falling apart, winding down, and running out.

Trace it back to the start.  Adam and Eve were the perfect couple, with every possible advantage, and yet they fell into sin and death.  They did not go riding off into the sunset, into some happily-ever-after.  They were driven out of Paradise on account of their sin.  The curse lay heavy upon them, and it still rests upon their children’s children to the present generation.  The marriage rite, therefore, realistically expresses, not only the godly purposes of marriage, but also its inevitable termination: “Til death parts us.”  That is the limit of what you can promise to each other.

Nevertheless, we stand here today in the presence of God and His Church, in the face of the whole wide world, to rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of marriage, and to stare down sin, death, the devil, and hell with the Word and promises of the Lord.  For while it is true that all the sons and daughters of Adam die, it is also true that Christ has died — and He has risen from the dead.

The fact is that human marriage was never intended to be an end unto itself.  It was always about Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, the perfect Image of the Father — who came down from His Father in heaven, conceived and born of the Woman, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and blood of our blood, in order to redeem and rescue all the children of man for real life with God.  He left His Father and His Mother to claim His Bride and cleave to her.  He gave Himself for her, atoning for her sins by His sacrificial death on the Cross.  And by the Water and Blood from His riven side He cleanses her of all iniquity and clothes her in His own holiness and righteousness.

It is for this reason that Aaron leaves his father and mother and cleaves now to Annalise; that he should manifest the divine Love and true divine Glory of Christ by loving and serving his bride with his own body and life, even unto death.  And Annalise, in turn, is here given to honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by submitting herself to Aaron in Christian faith and love.

You should not suppose that such things are true only of those “ideal” marriages that everyone admires and envies.  For it is by the Cross that Christ Jesus wins and weds His Bride, the Church.  It is by His gracious self-sacrifice that He makes her beautiful through His forgiveness of all her sins.  And it is by her dying and rising with Him in Holy Baptism that she is made ready as a Bride for her Husband, covered and clothed in the cloak of His redemption and His righteousness.

In contrast to all the so-called “wisdom” of this world, it is precisely in the crosses and sacrifices of marriage and family that the Glory of God is most fully manifested in this present body and life.  For the Cross and Passion of our Lord is the Hour of His Glory, by which He gives life to us all.

The world never will be able to recognize or understand this sign; and so the world’s counsel and advice for you will always be wrong.  But it does not matter.  Christ shall work His work in you, and He shall manifest His Glory in your marriage.  So then, for your part, do whatever He tells you.

Aaron, love Annalise, even when she’s not so lovely and loveable as she is on this day.  Make her beautiful with your loving devotion to her and with your faithful delight in her.  Forgive her sins, overlook her faults, and bear with her in love, even as you bear her burdens in patience and peace.  Set aside your own desires in order to comfort and care for her.  When Satan would beguile her with his sly temptations and his brutal accusations, take up the Sword of the Spirit to defend and protect her.  Do not stand by silently while she is slain, but breathe Life into her by the Word of the Gospel.  Love Annalise in the way that Christ loves her and you and His whole Church.  Cover her as Boaz covers Ruth and cares for her, in anticipation of the Son of David who will come in the fullness of time from their union — the Seed of the Woman, conceived and born of St. Mary.

Annalise, entrust yourself to Aaron, and learn to follow his lead and rely upon him.  I don’t mean that you should not think for yourself or speak your own mind, but let Aaron be your husband and your head, as Christ is the Head of His Church.  When the devil would show you his weaknesses, his faults and failings, remember that Aaron is clothed and covered with the majesty of Christ’s Word.  He is the one man to whom the Lord Himself now gives you, to protect you and provide for you.  In submitting to Aaron in love, you confess your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, it is for the sake of Christ and His Word that Aaron is called to love and serve his bride, to lay down his life and sacrifice himself for her in all sorts of big and little ways.  Not because she deserves it, but because that is what Jesus does  — for him, for her, and for all of us.  Aaron is to see Annalise as Christ Jesus sees her, that is, with His eyes of mercy.  He is to treat her as Jesus does, that is, with gentleness and tender, loving care.  He is to cherish her, because Jesus cherishes her.  So, too, his love for her will overlook and cover a multitude of sins, not because they are a mere trifle, but because the righteousness of Christ is greater and His grace abounds all the more.

And so it is that Annalise is likewise taught by the Word and Spirit of God to see and serve Christ in her husband.  Though this human groom beside her is not perfect, she knows and confesses that she is not perfect, either.  Yet, there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.  As Annalise has been dressed with Christ and His righteousness (in and with His Church), she confesses that Aaron, too, is hidden with Christ in God; and so she lives by grace through faith.

Is this not what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus?  To walk by faith and not by sight.  To love and forgive your neighbors as you are loved and forgiven by the Lord your God.  To bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things, all for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who first loves you.  It is ever and always to Him and to His Love that holy marriage points you.

Christ is not simply a guest at this wedding today.  He is the very heart of the occasion, for He is the true and heavenly Bridegroom of His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is for His sake that each and every one of you are here — not only that you are in attendance, but that you exist at all and are alive to this day.  And it is also for His sake that Annalise and Aaron have been created, and for His sake that they are here bound together to be one flesh by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is Christ alone who is all and all.  For it is by and from His Cross, from the innermost being of His sacred Body, that the living waters of the Holy Spirit and the holy, precious, life-giving Blood of Christ Himself are poured out generously upon His Body and His Bride, His Holy Church.

And He who did not spare Himself, but gave Himself into death for your redemption — who daily and richly forgives you all your sins — will He not also freely give you all good things in love?

According to His sure and certain promise, He provides for all your needs of body and soul, for now and forever: Seed for the sower, Bread for the eater, and Wine for the wedding — even as He gives His own Body for you to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink already in His Supper, which is your Meat and Drink, indeed, a Foretaste of the Lord’s own neverending Marriage Feast.

So does He also give you marriage itself — both in general and in each particular case — along with all its crosses, all its joys, all its hard burdens, and all its grand adventures — to be a blessing, a pleasure, and a true delight here in time, and a sign of the true Glory of Christ and His Bride.

In all things, at all times, and in all places, He supplies whatever is lacking.  He provides all your needs.  His Cup of Salvation runneth over for you, in His House, unto Peace and Rest in Him.

Whenever the well runs dry and the wine runs out — for Aaron and Annalise, and for all of you — it is Christ whose overflowing Chalice restores the joy and celebration in marriage and family, as in all of life.  It is Christ who makes Annalise beautiful and worthy of Aaron’s self-sacrificing love; and it is Christ who enables Aaron to serve her, and who restores Aaron as often as he falls short.  It is Christ who enables Annalise to submit to Aaron, because she lives in the faith and love of her Lord and heavenly Bridegroom; and it is Christ who both strengthens and sustains her, for better and for worse, in good times and bad, who sanctifies and cleanses her whenever she fails.

In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, He has grafted this bride and groom into Himself, into His riven side, from which the Blood and Water of His Passion have been poured out for them and for all.  And in the Holy Communion, the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, He feeds them and all the members of His Church with His own Body and Blood, the pledge and promise of His Resurrection, that He should thus abide in and with His Bride with His own indestructible Life.  As He thus gives them Himself and His Life, He is fruitful in them, and He brings forth good fruits of life and love for others.  For the Tree of His Cross bears such fruits after His own kind.

This is what the Lord Jesus does for His whole Church, and for each and all of her members; and this is what He does for you, Aaron and Annalise, within the Communion of His Church on earth.  Do not doubt that, by these ways and means of His grace, within the sacred fellowship of His own Body and Bride, He bestows these very good gifts and benefits upon your marriage in His Name.

And just as He is risen from the dust of the earth to live and reign forever as your true Redeemer, and as you are now flesh of His flesh and blood of His blood, so shall your body be raised up from death to life in His Glory.  As it shall be at the last, so also is it now in your life and marriage here — even though it is still hidden under the Cross, and for now it is visible only to the eyes of faith.

His Glory shall be manifested in your life together, Aaron and Annalise, as husband and wife: As you love each other in Christ, and as He loves both of you.  As you live by His forgiveness of your sins, and as you forgive each other.  And as you also serve your neighbors within your stations.

Take heart, and have no fear of anything.  Your heavenly Bridegroom is faithful, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He has joined the two of you to Himself, as members of His Body and His Bride, and so shall He cleave to you forever.  He shall not allow your sin, Satan, or even death, to separate you from Him.  He has pledged Himself to you, and He has vowed to have and to hold you as His own.  He has sworn this oath by His own honor, and His Word cannot be broken.

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

09 June 2019

Speaking Peace and Love by the Spirit of Christ Jesus

If anyone loves the Lord Jesus, he (or she) will keep and cherish His Word.

Do you love Christ Jesus?  Know that His Word speaks Love to you.  And Peace.  And comfort.  And the forgiveness of all your sins.  It is by and with the preaching of His Word that He draws near to you, and God the Father draws near to you in Him.  And it is through His Word that He pours out His Spirit upon you.  So does the Holy Triune God come and make His abode with you.

Keep and cherish His Word, therefore.  Be gathered together in the House where His disciples are, in the City of God, established on His holy Mountain.  Listen to what He says, and remember what He has spoken to you.  Call upon His Name.  Pray, confess, and sing His Word.  And speak peace to one another, in love for one another, counting your brothers and sisters in Christ better than yourself.  Speak forgiveness to those who sin against you, as your Father in heaven forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.  Comfort those who are troubled in heart, mind, body, soul, or spirit.

Speak the Gospel.  Speak Christ Jesus.  That is the language of the one true God, which sanctifies all the tongues of men, Hebrew and Greek, Latin and German, French and Italian and Spanish, English and Swahili, Russian and Chinese.  All the languages of earth are sanctified by the Word of the Gospel, by the Word of Christ, as it is spoken and confessed, prayed and sung in all of those languages under heaven.  That is the universal language of the Holy Triune God, with which He establishes His City here on earth, as it is in heaven, to the Glory of His holy Name.  For so does He save sinners by His grace, and so does He call men and women, young and old, slave and free, Jews and Gentiles from all around the globe, into His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

That Word of Christ, that Word of the Gospel, that is the Word that breathes and bestows the Spirit of God and gives life to you and all people, indeed, to all of creation, and makes all things new.

It is not your native tongue or the language of your heart to begin with.  It is a divine language that is taught by the Spirit through the preaching of Christ.  It is the language of your new Father, who has spoken to you by His Son, and who has granted you His Spirit through the adoption of sons.

But you have known a different language before this, the tongue that is native to all men because all men sin, a common way of speaking which knows no borders or boundaries.  You have known the language of selfish pride, of covetous lust, of towering ego, of envy and jealousy, of gossip and greed — the language and law of the jungle, which teaches you to look out for yourself above all.

That is the language that all people share in common by their inheritance from Adam.  And yet, it separates and scatters them.  It sets them at odds with each other.  It is the kill-or-be-killed language of the city of man, with which you strive to name yourself.  With it you contend and compete.  You speak with cunning self-interest.  Nothing bridles your tongue or stays your hand.

There is no genuine or real love in that language of man, but only selfishness and self-interest.  There is no peace, but constant war and strife.  There is no comfort, but endless grief and torment.  There is no forgiveness of sins, but debts that can’t be paid, grudges that are never let go, bitter resentments, angry and hurtful revenge.  Thus are you poisoned by your own venomous tongue.

You know how the words of others can sting and hurt you, but you do not take to heart that your words likewise sting and hurt your neighbor (and then rebound in consequences upon yourself).  You know how powerful ways of speaking are — whether to calm things down or stir things up — and you still speak in ways that tear the house down, that tear your brother or sister down.

When the whole world speaks that language of man, then all efforts fail, towers crumble, and cities fall; nations are divided, and families are scattered.  There is no house or home that provides any lasting safety.  There is no dwelling place of peace, but persistent anxiety and amorphous fears.

But now the Lord has come down to see this travesty which the sons of men have spoken and have made for themselves.  He punishes their sin with their own sin.  He scatters them to the four winds, dividing them by their own common language of selfish pride.

He does so in mercy — that is what moves Him — that He might gather all the sons and daughters of man to Himself by His own divine language of the Gospel.  In all the tongues of all the nations, He speaks the one Word of His Son; and through that Word He breathes the Spirit who gives life.

Consider, then, how near that Word of the Lord is to you — it is in your ears even now — and in your heart — and in your mouth, as well, to confess and pray and sing, and even to eat and drink.

For this Word that God the Father speaks — His own dearly-beloved Son from all eternity — has become Flesh and dwells here with you.  So does the Lord your God abide with you, sharing in your flesh and blood.  More than that, He has also taken your sin and death upon Himself, into His Body.  He has borne the whole curse of the Law for you.  He has suffered the righteous wrath and judgment of God, and the assaults and accusations of men, their cruel mockery and bitter conceit.

But in the midst of all that He has borne and suffered in your place, He has not blasphemed or cursed God.  He has not reviled in return, nor has He shouted in anger.  Nor has He grown surly and silent.  Neither has He spit venomous ire at His enemies.  But in prayer and confession, He has remained faithful.  He has spoken the Word of His Father and called upon the Name of the Lord.

And to you He speaks forgiveness and peace, such as this world does not know and cannot give.  The Lord Jesus comforts you in His compassion for you.  He loves you with His language of the Gospel, and He has mercy on His lips.  That is what proceeds from His mouth into your ears.

That is the language of love which you learn from your new Father in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, who is your own Brother in the Flesh and in the Spirit.  For this language is spoken to you in bodily form, but it is alive and life-giving with the Holy Spirit.

The Word of Holy Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of your sins — like the water and the Word of Holy Baptism and the Word-made-Flesh in the Holy Communion — that Word breathes the Spirit of God into your very body, into your flesh, into your blood, into your heart, mind, and soul.  That Word of God breathes the Spirit into you, so that you are filled with the very Life and Light and Love of God.  Thus do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to make Their abode with you.

This is the true divine Peace of which Christ Jesus speaks, which He grants to you by His speaking.  It is reconciliation with God through the free and full forgiveness of all of your sins.  He sets you free from your sin and death, and He grants you that Peace of harmony and unity in the love of God Himself; for not only does God make His abode with you, but He grants you to abide with Him.

Not only does Christ come near to you, and not only does He bring you into the presence of His God and Father in heaven, but more than that, in His own Body — and with His own Holy Spirit breathed into your body through the Gospel — He shares with you the Life of the Holy Trinity.

So then, speak that same language of divine love to your neighbors in the world.  Forgive those who trespass against you.  Say it out loud: “I forgive you.”  And ask forgiveness for your sins.

Serve your neighbor with your hands and with your feet.  Run to him, run to her, and stretch forth your hands in love.  But in all of that, do not fail to speak.  Say, “I love you.”  Say, “I care.”  Speak forgiveness, and so be reconciled and at peace with those who have been at odds with you, whether you have hurt them or they’re just being difficult.  Be reconciled with them.  Take the first step, and speak the first word.  And let your word be a word of love, such as Christ Jesus speaks to you.

As He comes to you in meekness and gentle kindness and loving compassion for you, so speak with gentle kindness and tender compassion for your neighbors.  Speak peace to them, as Christ Jesus speaks peace to you.  And you fathers and you mothers, in particular, teach your children to speak in this way, to confess and to pray the Word of the Lord, and to rejoice, give thanks, and sing to the praise and glory of God.  For so does God the Father speak to you by His Son, and so does He give the Holy Spirit into your ears, into your heart and life, and upon your lips and tongue.

So it is that, with that Word of Christ, which is the language of God, you bestow the Holy Spirit upon your neighbors in peace.  For the Words of Christ that you speak are Spirit, Truth, and Life, and they convey the grace of God.  Therefore, do not ever suppose that you have nothing with which to serve your neighbor, even if your hands and your pockets and your cupboards are bare.  When you speak of Christ Jesus, you bestow the Holy Spirit on your neighbor.  You build a house and a city of love with such Words.  You raise the tower of the Cross of Christ, by which all men are drawn to Him.  You confess the Name of the Lord, by which you and your neighbor are saved.

For not only does the Holy Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, draw near to you by the speaking of the Word of Christ.  But as the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your hearth through the Gospel, and as Christ Jesus breathes His Spirit into your body and soul, so does the same Lord Jesus Christ bring you in and with Himself to the Father in heaven, to the very bosom of the Father.

It isn’t a matter of traveling some great distance by planes, trains, or automobiles.  It isn’t a matter of geography, or aeronautics, or space travel.  It is, rather, the true Spiritual Life in communion with God, which is given to you in the Word and in the Flesh of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

As you abide in Him and His Spirit abides in you, so do you abide in and with the Father, hidden with Christ in God.  That is where your life is: Safely and securely hidden with Christ in God, seated with Him in the heavenly places, even while you sojourn here on earth under His Cross.

It is for that life with God the Father, for the sake of His own divine love and mercy, that Christ Jesus keeps on speaking Peace to you, forgiving you all of your sins and granting you His Spirit.

Do not be afraid.  For these Words in your ears are not my own, but those of Him who sent me.  As He has given Himself for you on the Cross, and as He has been raised for your justification, so does He give Himself to you here, together with His Spirit and with all His gifts and benefits.

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

08 June 2019

The Spirit of Christ Jesus in the Ministry of His Gospel

We pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit in the confidence that our Father in heaven pours out His living and Life-giving Spirit generously upon His Church through Jesus Christ, His Son — as on that first Christian Pentecost Day, so also on His beloved children in this place on this day, and upon His servant, the Reverend Samuel Steven Wirgau.  For the Lord our God is awesome in His Sanctuary, and He gives power and strength to His people through the Ministry of His Gospel.

In the footsteps of Moses and the Holy Apostles, Pastor Wirgau has been called and ordained by the Lord to be a prophet and a priest of God Most High for the benefit of the Lord’s own people.  As of today he is entrusted with that office here in Ossian, as for the past seven years in Texas, not by his own reason or strength, piety or wisdom, but by the Word and Spirit of God in Christ Jesus.

The Spirit of God does rest and remain upon this man, not only as a Christian disciple of the Lord Jesus, but also as a minister of the Gospel, as an instrument of the Holy Spirit for others.  Indeed, it is for this purpose — that the Holy Spirit should be given to you from the Father in Christ Jesus — that Pastor Wirgau has been ordained to this Ministry, and that he is being installed here today.

Such good work — in such a Holy Office — is possible only by the Word and Spirit of the Lord.

Although you are a creature of God, which is to say that you exist and have life by His Word and Spirit, you could not receive or know the Holy Spirit in your sinful unbelief — nor could you even realize there is such a Person of God as the Holy Spirit — because you cannot see Him or perceive Him with your mortal flesh, and you are not able to discern His presence or find Him for yourself.

What is more, you are not able to love without the Holy Spirit; you are incapable of knowing love or even what it is.  For without the Holy Spirit you do not know the Lord your God, who is Love, neither the Father nor His Son who live and abide in Love in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

But the mutual love of Christians for each other, and of pastors and people for each other within the fellowship of the Church, is established and rooted in the divine Love of the Holy Triune God.  For the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has known you and loved you in His Son; and He has poured out His Spirit generously upon you in Christ by the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism.

The Lord has given you a new heart and a new and right spirit within you, so that you begin to live and to love as you are loved by Him.  He has removed your heart of stone with its idolatry and greed, and He has given you a heart of flesh and blood like that of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

You abide in Him, that is, in the Lord Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood; and He abides in you, in your body and your soul, along with the Spirit of His Father.  He comes to you, and He reveals and gives Himself to you, because He loves you with divine, holy, and steadfast loving-kindness.

You love both God and your neighbor because this one Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and your Neighbor, has first loved you, and because He continues to love you and serve you forever.

This same Jesus, who was crucified for your sins, who has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, who lives and reigns eternally, He has not orphaned you.  He has not left you alone to make it on your own.  He is with you in the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He has also given you another Helper, that is, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father in the Son.

Under the shadow of the Cross, in the hope and promise of the Resurrection (though not yet seen), the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit constitute the dark and glorious Cloud with which the Lord God accompanies and confirms the preaching and works of His ministers in His Name and with His own authority.  Beginning with Christ and His Apostles, that Ministry continues to the close of the age throughout His Church on earth, and no less so here and now in Ossian, Indiana.

It is therefore not by sight, but by faith in Christ, by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, that you know and love His God and Father as your own dear God and Father, because He has given you the Spirit of adoption.  You are a beloved and well-pleasing son of God in Christ Jesus by virtue of your Baptism in His Name, whereby you share His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.  So have you also been anointed as a Christian with the Spirit of Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism.  For all that belongs to the Son of God has thus been given to you and is now yours by His grace.

Assuredly, you are not an orphan.  You are God’s own child, an heir of all good things in Christ.  You belong to the Household and Family of God, living and abiding with Christ in the Bosom of His Father, partaking of His Spirit and participating in the Life and Light and Love of His divine nature.  For God the Lord has called you out of Egypt in His Son.  He has brought you through the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River out of death into life, out of darkness into light.  He has established His holy Covenant with you, and He feeds you at His Table with His own Lamb.

With all of that, He has likewise taught you and invited you to pray to Him with all boldness and confidence, as a dear child to your own dear God and Father in heaven, and as a beloved member of the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus.  So it is that we call upon the Name of the Lord for Pastor Wirgau and for Bethlehem Lutheran Church, trusting that He hears and answers all our prayers.

In particular, the Lord lays His hand upon you, and He pours out His Holy Spirit upon your heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, by the agency of His sent ones, His ministers of the Gospel.  Through their words and works of love in His Name, He stretches forth His mighty arm and reaches out His strong but gentle hand, not to hurt you but to help you and to heal you, to absolve you of all your sins, to cleanse you of all your guilt and shame and sorrow, and to feed you in body and soul with peace and joy and grace and every blessing in Christ Jesus.

Pastor Wirgau shall now begin to administer and carry out these works in this place.  But they are not his own doing.  They are the works of God the Father in His Son and by His Holy Spirit, as you and your pastor are taught and reminded, that you should fear, love, and trust in the Lord alone.

Sam, as you continue to work and serve in the Name of the Lord, in the same Holy Office to which you were ordained seven years ago, take to heart the Words and promises of God which undergird, uphold, and prosper that work which He has given you to do.

Such labors are not without their difficulties, hardships, and frustrations, as you and all of your brothers in office are well aware.  Much of your work is confidential or otherwise carried out in quiet solitude behind the scenes, and the fruits of your labors are generally hidden from sight and human sense (including your own).  To be and to work as a minister of the Gospel, as a pastor of the Lord’s Church, is every bit as much by faith alone as it is to be and to live as a Christian at all.

Even so, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is with you — in love for you and for all people — to sustain you and keep you in peace, and to accomplish His purposes to the glory of His Name.

The Lord who has been with you for so long — who knew you before you were conceived in your mother’s womb; who created you in divine and holy love; who called you by His Name to be His very own in the waters of your Holy Baptism — the same true God and Lord shall continue to be with you, even at those times when you do not recognize, remember, or know Him as you should.

And by the Spirit of Truth, who dwells in you and with you by the Word of God in Christ — by the Holy Spirit who rests and remains upon you within the Holy Office to which He has called and ordained you — God shall strengthen and sustain you in all things, at all times, and in all places.

Because He lives — not only as true and eternal God in His own divine nature, but as true God and true Man in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended far above all heavens — so shall you also live, here on earth in this body and life, and hereafter in the Resurrection to the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

So it is that God’s Kingdom comes in and with His Church, even here and now, on earth as it is in heaven.  As surely as the Lord Jesus has reigned in His Church by the preaching of His Apostles from Jerusalem throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth, so does He reign in love from His Cross through the preaching and ministry of His Gospel in this place.

Indeed, according to His astonishing promise, even greater works are done within His Holy Church than those which He once did in the Holy Gospels, because He has returned to the Father in human flesh and blood by the way and means of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.  For God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ.  He has made Atonement by His holy and precious Blood, and He has perfected His Creation and made all things new in His Resurrection.

Therefore, by the preaching of the Gospel, by the ministry of the Word of Christ, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, by Holy Absolution in His Name and stead, and by His Body given, His Blood poured out for you, His God and Father in heaven gives to you His Holy Spirit here within His Church on earth.  And so, by His grace, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you love and trust in Him, and you do keep His commandments: You love as He loves you.

Together, then, as pastor and people in the Lord, you are given to know the Father and to receive the Holy Spirit in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.  Baptized into His Cross and Resurrection, bearing His Spirit in both body and soul, you are a priestly people in Him.

Pastor Wirgau’s priesthood is carried out in faith and love within the Office of the Holy Ministry, according to His own vocation and station in life.  He is given to care for you and serve you in the Name and stead of Christ, according to the Lord’s divine command.

In much the same way, for all of you members of Christ’s Church, your priestly service is carried out within your own proper callings and stations in life, whatever and wherever those might be.  Not least of all, as beloved children of God in Christ, you are given to love and care for your pastor and his family, remembering him in your prayers, and providing for his bodily needs, as surely as he is given to serve you in body and soul with the priceless gifts and treasures of the Lord Jesus.  So do you pledge and promise on this day, and so shall you carry out by the grace of God.

For the Spirit of God is with you by and with the Gospel — and this Gospel is the Truth.  It is the Truth that God the Father loves you, that He forgives you for Jesus’ sake, and that He gives you Life in Himself by His Son.  By this Truth of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart to defend and protect you, to strengthen and sustain you.  The Spirit loves you with the Love of God in Christ, and by the forgiveness of your sins He obtains the faith and love of Christ in you.

Beloved of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is with you.  He lives and abides in you, not in some vague, abstract, or generic way, but in all the particulars of your own body and life and place in the world.  He is with you and in you in all of your callings and duties and relationships; in both your joys and your sorrows; in hardship and prosperity; in sickness and in health; in death as in life, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting that are yours, now and forever, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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

02 June 2019

The Comfort of the Holy Spirit in the Church and Ministry of Christ

This Sunday is unique within the Church Year, coming as it does between the Ascension of Our Lord (this past Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost Day (one week from now).  The joy of the Resurrection remains and prevails on this Seventh Sunday of Easter, yet there is also the sense of sorrow in this world of tribulations under the shadow of the Cross.

In the history of the Church, this Sunday (Exaudi) was sometimes called the Sunday of Roses, due to the custom of strewing the pavement of the churches with roses in homage to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Resurrection and Ascension coincide with the blooming of spring flowers.  And to be sure, the Ascension of Our Lord is a feast of victory and a celebration of joy and gladness, as He has raised up our human nature in and with Himself to the Right Hand of His God and Father.

But every rose has its thorns, and this day is not without its pain and anguish.  It belongs to a time of watching and waiting on the Lord in the midst of sin and death, not only in the world around you but in your own mortal flesh and blood.  As it was for the disciples then, so it is for you now.

Thus, by the Cross, you are taught to pray, to call upon the Name of the Lord in the hope of His Resurrection: “O Lord, hear my voice,” let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.  As the Liturgy calls you to lift up your heart, your mind, and your spirit to dwell upon your risen and ascended Lord, so do you call upon Him to come and abide with you here and now on earth.

Above all, your desire is (or ought to be) to seek and to see His face.  But for now, the truth is that you cannot see Him — not with your eyes — not yet.  Lifted up in glory, He has vanished and is hidden from your sight.  It is rather in the preaching and catechesis of the Holy Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table that you must learn to seek Him and to see Him by faith.

As it is by faith and not by sight that you seek His face, so it is not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength but by the Holy Spirit that your ears, your heart, and your mind are opened to hear and believe the Holy Scriptures and to recognize and receive the risen Lord Jesus in His Holy Supper.  For it is only by the Holy Spirit that you behold and know the Lord, God the Father in His Son.

As we pray and confess in the Collect this morning, the Lord Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and the Consolation of His Church on earth.  And so He does.  According to His Word and promise in this Holy Gospel from St. John, Christ Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father to the chosen Apostles — and so also to all of His Christian disciples within His Church.

The Holy Spirit is not some vague feeling of optimism, nor is He an impersonal divine power.  He is the Spirit of Truth, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and rests upon the Son — who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as the one true God.

The Spirit testifies concerning Christ Jesus, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  That is what the Spirit does.  So do the Apostles also testify to the one Lord, Jesus Christ, as they have been with Him from the beginning, from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His Ascension into heaven.  They are the witnesses of His Life and Ministry, and of His Cross and Resurrection.

Indeed, it is through the preaching and the Scriptures of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit testifies to you and to all the people of God — even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.

And so it is that you also, in due season, by the Holy Spirit, testify of Christ within your own office and station in life, especially with love and forgiveness, charity, and compassion for your neighbor.  For the forgiveness of sins is both the primary means and the premier fruit of the Spirit.  As you receive the Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins, so do you forgive the sins of others against you.

It is the Word of Christ that bestows the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit, by the preaching of that Word, testifies concerning Christ.  He lays Christ upon your heart through that preaching; and He thereby calls you and brings you to repentance, to faith in the forgiveness of sins, and to newness of life.

In the preaching and ministry of His Word, therefore, both Christ and His Spirit are with you.  Though hidden from your eyes, they are actively present and at work to comfort and console you under the Cross, unto the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul.

Meanwhile, Christ Jesus has returned to His God and Father by the way of His Cross and Passion.  And His departure causes grief and sorrow, anguish, and pain to fill your heart and mind, because it appears and feels as though He were gone away, and as though He has left you on your own.

What is more, His disciples on earth experience the Cross in their own bodies and lives.  Indeed, to receive and share His Spirit is to bear and carry His Cross, to share in His suffering and death.

Throughout history and around the world, to this very day, in many and various ways, His Church and His Christians are subjected to hatred and persecution, both bodily and spiritually.  Even now, your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering loss and being put to death for the sake of the fair Name with which they and you have been named by the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism.

But for all of that, do not be discouraged, and do not despair, but bear the Cross in holy faith and holy love, to the glory of God and the good of your neighbor, in the hope and confidence of Christ.

Bear in mind and take it to heart that the Cross of Christ and His departure to the Father have been necessary for your life and salvation.  It is to your great benefit that He returns to the Father who sent Him, and that He does so by the way and means of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.

In particular, were it not for the departure of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete) could not be given to you: the One who is your Comforter, your Consolation, and your Defense Attorney.

Now, to clarify, this is not some kind of tag-team wrestling maneuver on the part of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit!  But the divine Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, could not be given apart from the Atonement of the Cross, nor apart from the righteousness of the Resurrection of Christ.

The Holy Spirit could not be poured out in fulfillment of the New Creation (in Christ Jesus) until the curse of sin and death upon the first creation is overcome.  Neither could the Spirit comfort and defend you, except by the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the Cross, with which He testifies of Christ on your behalf against the accusations of Satan and the condemnation of God’s own Law.

The Spirit does not coddle you.  He does not pat you on the head and tell you that it’s all okay.  He does not wink at your sin and look the other way.  And He does not get you off the hook through legal trickery, loop holes, or technicalities.  It is rather by and for the sake of His holiness that He rescues and redeems you and all His people, His own creation, from the bondage of sin and death.

He is the Spirit of Truth, and so He testifies only what is True.  He speaks in and with the Word of God, and not at all apart from it.  He speaks the divine Truth of both the Law and the Gospel.

Thus, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, the Spirit convicts the world (He convicts you) of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.  He condemns sin by the Word of the Law, which condemns you apart from faith in Christ.  But He declares you to be righteous by the Word of the Gospel, by the Holy Absolution of your sins, which is the Lord’s own verdict upon you, in accordance with the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  So are you judged on the sole criterion of where and how you stand in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of this the Spirit does and accomplishes — in you, throughout the Church, and all around the world — by and with the Word of Christ the Crucified: As by the preaching and ministry of the Apostles in their day, so now by the preaching and ministry of the called and ordained servants of Christ Jesus who speak and act in His Name and stead to this very day and in this very place.

Anointed by the Holy Spirit, the ministers of Christ speak as the oracles of God, and they carry out the Lord’s own works by His divine authority, according to the gifts of His grace.  In this way and by these means the Holy Spirit carries out His work of laying Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, and laying you upon Christ Jesus through faith.

So it is, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, the Spirit puts you to death and raises you to newness of life.  In Holy Baptism He has anointed you, once and forever, as a Christian, as a beloved child of God the Father.  In the Holy Communion, the Spirit feeds your body and soul with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  And in Holy Absolution, the Spirit bestows upon you the very Life of God in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

None of this is set before you as anything that you must do or accomplish for yourself.  Nor could you do so, in any case.  It is the Lord who does it all for you, for the sake of His own Holy Name.

It has been and is accomplished for you, and it is given to you now, by the grace of God alone, by and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, who is your Savior and Redeemer, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, ascended as your merciful great High Priest.

Therefore, it is Christ whom the Spirit conveys to you through the Ministry of the Gospel, along with all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.  And it is to the same Lord Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit leads you and guides you, by His Word and the preaching of it, through faith in His Word.  So does the Spirit call you by the Gospel and gather you into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: out of death into Life; out of darkness into His marvelous Light.

This is the great help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, His precious and prevailing work at all times and in all places: To bring the Son of God, Christ Jesus, from the Father in heaven to you here on earth, and to raise you up in the same Lord Jesus Christ.  So does the Spirit replace your heart of stone with a brand new heart of flesh and blood; and He breathes Himself into your body and soul through the Word of Christ, so that you should not perish but truly live with God in faith and love.

Thus do you walk in His statutes, according to His Word within your own place in life, as a living testimony to Christ Jesus, to the glory of His Holy Name.  And thus do you pray by the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus, calling on His Name.  And your prayer is heard and answered, as surely as the Father has raised Christ Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His Right Hand.  So shall you see His face with your own two eyes, from your own resurrected and glorified body of flesh and blood.

Already here and now, by the Ministry of the Gospel, the Spirit calls and brings you to the Father in Christ Jesus, to live with Him in the good Land that God has prepared for you and promised to give you.  That is the Paradise which is pledged and given to you in the Word of Absolution, which declares God’s judgment concerning you, that you are forgiven, righteous, holy, and pleasing in His sight.  And that Paradise is yours in the Body of Christ, in His Church and in His Sacrament.

Indeed, the Lord Himself is here with you in His Church on earth, that you should be and live with Him where He is, seated at the Father’s Right Hand in the heavenly places, forever and ever.

As the disciples gathered daily in the Temple of the Lord to pray, praise, and give thanks to the Father in Christ Jesus following His Ascension into heaven, and as they were gathered all together in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, just as the Lord had spoken, so then, you also, follow their example in this body and life on earth in the face of sin and death.

If you would seek His face and gaze upon the beauty of your Lord, then seek Him where He is to be found, here in the Temple of His Church, in the preaching of His Word, and at His Altar in the celebration of His Sacrament, in the Breaking of the Bread in remembrance of Him.  For His Word to you is Spirit, Truth, and Life, and His Holy Supper is your Spiritual Meat and Drink indeed.

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