20 July 2014

Good God, Why Is There Evil?

From the foundation of the world it has been hidden, that is, the goodness of the Cross of Christ. It is a divine Mystery, which, to the world, appears to be the height of evil.  And to be sure, the evil one intends it to be so, as he plants the seeds of greed and jealousy, of blasphemy and cowardice against the Son of Man.  Yet, it is the Father who hands over His beloved Son for the Life of the world, and the same dear Son who lays down His Life willingly, in the hope of the Resurrection.

If God is all good and all powerful, and He is, then why is there evil in this world that He created?  That is the burning question, and it is answered in the Lord’s explanation of this Parable.  It isn’t what you think, nor as it appears on the surface.  For all your eating of forbidden fruit, you do not know the difference between good and evil.  You are not God, nor are you like Him, though you presume to judge your neighbor and to evaluate your place in the world as if you were the Lord.

As soon as you perceive what you determine to be evil in your neighbor and your circumstances, your immediate reaction is to rip it out and be done with it.  That seems logical and good, right?  The longer it remains, the more it will grow, and the more damage it will do.  Especially in the case of clear and obvious sin, which is contrary to the Word of God.  Surely that must be dealt with, and, rest assured, it will be.  There is a Day of Judgment, make no mistake about it.  Even now, there is a need for discipline, for the self-discipline of your flesh, for the discipline that God has entrusted to parents and other governing authorities, and for the exercise of church discipline.

But along with that divine discipline and judgment, there is also this seemingly contrary Word of the Lord, which simply says “No” to your itch and urge to weed the wheat field.  Leave the weeds alone to grow together with the wheat, He says, even as He continues to provide His sunshine and His rain on both the evil and the good, for both the wicked and the righteous in this life on earth.  His tender care extends to the entire field, and this is what is frankly hard for you to understand.

An enemy has sown these weeds among the wheat.  The Lord knows that it is so, and yet, He does nothing about it.  He seems passive, indecisive, and weak in the face of this wickedness.  And you cannot comprehend why He does not remove the weeds that are strangling you and choking the life out of you in this world.  You do not consider the extent to which your own heart and mind, your own body, soul, and spirit have become so thoroughly infested with the devil’s weeds, they could not be removed without killing you in the process.  Damned if you.  Damned if you don’t.

But now, do not suppose that the Lord your God has been caught off guard by His enemy, nor that He is left powerless to do anything about it.  It is, in fact, His almighty power that is made perfect in this apparent weakness.  He exercises long-suffering patience in mercy, compassion, and love.  He waits, not for some inevitable demise, but to accomplish the redemption of His field, to justify the good seed that He has sown, and to sanctify the wheat that He brings forth unto the harvest.

Not only is He Good — His Word good, His Seed good, His whole creation very good — but He is also the Almighty, the Maker and Preserver of all things.  Nothing happens outside of His power.  He remains forever in control of all that He has made, and He governs the whole world and the entire cosmos for the benefit of His Church, for the good of His children.

The devil is not another god, but is himself a creature of the one true God, dependent on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for his very existence and for whatever he is merely permitted to accomplish.  With ego and envy he has set his will against the Lord who made him, but his evil will not prevail.  Despite the devil’s wicked intentions, the Lord accomplishes His own good purposes.  The true and only God, the Holy Trinity, is never backed into a corner nor left scrambling for a “Plan B.”

It is not the Lord but His people whose sleeping affords the devil opportunity to sow his weeds.  So it is in your life, as well, that when you are asleep at the wheel, negligent in your duties, and deaf to the Word and promises of God, that is when the serpent slithers in with his temptations.  The evil one sows seeds of doubt and fear, of lust and greed, of pride and enmity, which take root in your ears, and in your heart and mind, and then they grow and bear the wicked fruits of sin and death among the amber waves of grain: both within and all around the sons of the kingdom.

For all of that, it is the Lord who subjects His creation to the consequences and corruption of man’s sin; not for destruction or damnation, but, again, in the hope and for the purpose of redemption.

He does not eradicate the weeds, because to do so would be to destroy His precious wheat, as well.  Nor does He permit His servants to go on a weeding rampage.  He tempers their emotional outburst and reins in their impetuous flesh; lest they trample the whole field underfoot and set themselves against each other in the process, since they too are part and parcel of this weed-infested world.

Instead, He does allow the weeds and wheat to grow together, as Jesus here makes clear for you, until the harvest of that great and final day.  But to what end or purpose?  Where is the hope to be found?  How will the wheat be saved, and how will the weeds be separated and removed from it?

It is by the Way of the Cross, that hidden Mystery of God’s great goodness; by the repentance and resurrection of the Son of Man for the fulfilment of all righteousness on behalf of sinners; by His own Baptism unto death, and by the labor, delivery, and new birth of Holy Baptism in His Name.

The Seed of the Woman plants Himself in the cursed and corrupted soil, the dust of the earth — from which man is taken, and to which he returns — and this New Man subjects Himself to the futility of the old man’s sin and death.  He sets Himself against the enemy of God and Man, and patiently suffers the devil’s abuse.  He gathers up the weeds and binds them to Himself, to His own flesh and blood, body and soul, in order to burn them up in the fire of His Holy Cross and Passion.  He bears it all, every last thorn and thistle, weed and tare, in order to bury it forever in His tomb.

Then, in His Resurrection from the dead, the Father gathers the good Wheat of His Son’s glorified Body into the barn.  His flesh and blood, crucified and risen, are the First Fruits of a great harvest.

So it is that you are now rescued and redeemed and gathered up into the Body of this same Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins.  And you are taught the way of God, the way of faith and life and righteousness, by the same Spirit through the same Gospel of Christ, which is the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection.

The weeds with which you now contend, within yourself and in the world and in others against you, although they are intended by the enemy to choke the life of God right out of you, are taken up by the Lord in His own Body on the Cross to become a catechesis of repentance and faith, by which you are taught to pray with deep groans of eager longing for the mercies of Christ Jesus.

In thus learning to pray, you learn to fear, love, and trust in God, the Lord, the Maker of all things, who not only has but is the First and Last Word.

In this fear of the Lord, you patiently bear with the weeds that you perceive or suspect in others, and, instead of enmity, you learn to care for your neighbor in long-suffering love and forgiveness.

Meanwhile, the Cross is putting to death the stumbling blocks and lawlessness in you, that is, in your sinful flesh.  Day after day, the Word and Spirit of the Lord return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism, so that you die to yourself and rise to live unto righteousness in Christ.  For you live in the hope and confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, though you can’t see it.

The truth is, that, for now, you are often still beguiled by the devil’s temptations, and you suppose that you already have a judicious knowledge of what is good and what is evil, as though you were God Himself, and as though you were in a position to judge and determine even life and death.

Yet, what the devil, the fallen world, and your mortal flesh call “good” is actually a weed, and what they call “evil” is the good and glorious Cross of the good Lord, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, do not listen to their lies, but learn to know what is good and right and true, and to flee what is evil, in the only way that you can, that is, by giving attention to the Word and Spirit of Christ the Crucified.

Take heart that His Spirit helps you in your weakness, even by way of the very Cross that presses so hard and heavy upon you, which elicits such groans from the depths of your heart and mind, from your body and soul.  Your groans of anguish are heard and answered in the Body of Christ.

Not only that, but, with this preaching of the Gospel, the Spirit plants the Good Seed of the Son in you, in your body and your soul.  He not only implants the Seed of the Word in your ear, and into your heart and mind, unto repentance and faith; He also feeds you with the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, that He might bear the fruits of His righteousness in you, and you shine forth in Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  It is for this that you are baptized.

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

29 June 2014

Finders, Weepers. Losers, Keepers

If there is a more difficult Word of Jesus than this one, I’m hard pressed to know what it would be.  In this case, what He says is not hard to understand, but it is devastatingly difficult to accept and take to heart.  A flash of steel, a cut and thrust, and He has pierced your heart and separated the very marrow from your bones.  But he who dies by this Sword, lives by this Sword; and, actually, there is no other life than this one.

You may already know the answers and the score, but, even so, this Word of Jesus confronts you with a constant challenge, a daily crucifixion of your body and life, and of your flesh and blood in this world.  For, quite apart from your knowing, it is how you live and die that matters here.  Theoretical affirmations and the best of intentions won’t save you.

But who is your God?  That is the question.  Not the means that you enlist to achieve some other end, but the Life itself for which you live and die, and apart from which nothing else matters.

How do you measure and evaluate your life?  And if you think of yourself and your life as some kind of independent, self-existing entity, that is already the problem that puts you at odds with the Lord Jesus.  But what do you reckon as life?  A long and happy marriage?  Healthy and successful children?  Or your own good health and well being?  Property, savings, and investments?  Good times, good friends, and a good reputation?  A solid job with a significant title and description?

If you’re looking to find your life in any of these things, then you’ve already forfeited your life, whether you achieve your goals or not; because your heart is in the wrong place, longing for and clinging to the wrong gods.  In countless big and little ways, your idolatry will show itself in the choices that you make between this and that, in the priorities you exercise from day to day.

If the decisive, definitive criteria of your “life” are anything other than Christ and His Word, then you are worshiping a false god, and, except the Lord cut you to the quick with His mighty Sword, you shall die in your sin, in your false belief, shame, and despair.

But as this dear Lord Jesus, the true and only God in the flesh, in mercy calls you to repentance and puts you to death by His Word and Spirit, so does He bring you to life in and with Himself, both now and forever in body and soul.  You find your life in Him, already here and now by faith, and hereafter in eternity, in the Resurrection, by losing the life you’ve been striving to find for yourself in the things of this earth.  Finders, weepers.  Losers, keepers!

It sounds and seems all wrong, because the way you think is also being crucified and put to death, in order that all things be made new for you with the mind of Christ.

Until you learn to think rightly about God in Christ — which is not simply knowledge in your head, but faith in your heart, fear, love, and trust in Jesus above all else, and the discipline of your flesh by His Word — until you thus learn to think rightly about God in Christ Jesus, you won’t be able to get anything else right, either.  It is impossible.  Then God’s good gifts will be demons or idols in your life, and you’ll bounce from one extreme to the other until they’ve destroyed you.

The better the gifts, the more dangerous the temptation.  Not as though the gifts were the problem; for they are from God, and they are good.  But, again, they are problematic for you because your heart and head are all wrong.  At the heart of your sin, you fear, love, and trust the wrong gods, which are really no gods at all; they do not give you life; they cannot save you.

It’s not only when you compromise Christ and your confession of Christ for the sake of your family and your place in the world.  It’s also when you attempt to “balance” Christ, His Word and faith, alongside your other priorities, as though He were merely one god within your pantheon.  There is to be no equal distribution of your affection, allegiance, and attentions.  You shall have no other gods before Him; no other gods beside the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Repent of your idolatry, and redefine your family values.  Whether married or unmarried, with or without children; widowed, orphaned, and distressed; or overwhelmed with too many people who depend on you — bow your head and bend your knee to no other name but that of Christ Jesus.  Whatever gifts He gives to you in this body and life, be they few or many, receive them in His Name, in faith and with thanksgiving, and use them under His authority, sanctified by His Word.

Practically speaking, you are neither to despise nor to depend upon your peeps and possessions, but simply to love your neighbors for Jesus’ sake; to exercise His good gifts to the glory of His Name, to the praise of His glorious grace; to watch and pray, as you wait upon the Lord and look to Him alone for Life; and to suffer all, even death, rather than deny, disregard, or disobey Him.

Die to the world, therefore, and to your own self-righteous pretense of life in this world, in order to be wed to Christ Jesus and live in Him.  Is this not what the Lord your God has spoken?  That He should be your Bridegroom, your Husband and your Head, and that you should be a member of His Holy Bride?  That you should be named by His Name and adorned with His righteousness; and, forsaking all others, that you should be joined to His Body: of one flesh and blood with Him.

Put yourself to death, and so live unto Christ, by taking up His Cross and following after Him.  That is repentance and faith, to be turned away from sinful unbelief to the mercies of the Lord in His Gospel of forgiveness.  It is to trust the promise of His Resurrection in the face of the grave.

It is to fear the wrath and displeasure of God, so that you flee from temptation and tremble at the very thought of breaking His Commandments; and that you refuse to be swayed or persuaded by the disapproval, frowns, raised eyebrows, cold shoulders, or threats of peers and princes.  It is to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, to delight in His Word and the preaching of it, and so to value His Gospel, His mercy & forgiveness, above and beyond all the praise and flattery of men.

This new Life, which is by faith in Christ, begins with and continues from your Holy Baptism in His Name; though it is already the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name which brings you to such faith, and to the waters of His Baptism, that you should thus die and rise with Him, and so live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

This dying and rising of repentance and faith, which is both accomplished in and signified by the water and the Word of your Baptism, is the labor and delivery of your new birth into a new family.  Therein you are named by the true God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ, adopted by grace as a beloved son or daughter; for His own dear Son is your true Husband and Head.  Henceforth, your heart and mind, your body and soul, are animated by His living and life-giving Spirt, by His Word.

This family and fellowship of the Holy Triune God is your permanent vocation and identity, which already now and ever after redefines and determines your entire place and life in this world and the next.  Not what you do determines what you are, but who and what you are in Christ Jesus determines what you do; so that you do care for your neighbors in His Name and for His sake.

There is a readiness and willingness in you to lose all things and to let go of everyone else on earth, lest you let go of Christ and lose Him.  It is not your human family, nor your friends, far less your property and possessions, for which you “risk it all” and dedicate yourself “at all costs.”  But if you are called upon to put yourself in harm’s way, to defend and protect, and to lay down your body and life in self-sacrificing love for your neighbor, this, too, is in the faith and love of Christ Jesus.  And by the same faith, you are ready, willing, and able to risk losing your place in the world and your neighbor’s friendship, for the sake of the friendship of Christ and your place in His family.

Do you begin to see how everything in your life, your day to day decisions and activities, and your long term commitments and priorities, are all now governed by this entirely new set of criteria?  Not the ties of human flesh and blood, nor the aspirations and affections of this body and life, but the Flesh and Blood of Christ, His Body and His Life, His Name, His Calling, and His affection for you and for all of the children of God.

You live within a new household and family, which is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the one God and Father of one Lord, Jesus Christ.  It is established here on earth, even here in this place, as it is in heaven, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ.  He has told you where and how this gift is given and accomplished, and He has attached His Word and promise to this Ministry of His Gospel: To the men who are sent in His Name and stead, He says, “Whoever receives you, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives Him who sent Me.”

Thus do you receive and welcome His prophets and His righteous saints in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ; and you care for His “little ones,” for His dear disciples of all ages and abilities, in all sorts of big and little ways, as you are so enabled by His grace, all of this for His Name’s sake.

In these servants of His, you receive Christ Jesus Himself and the gracious reward of His Gospel: Not a righteousness of the Law, but the righteousness of faith, which is busy and active in love.

Not that you are worthy of this Lord Jesus in yourself, but rather because He is worthy of your faith and love, of your reverence and trust, and because He has called you to Himself by His Name.

In tender mercy and compassion, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He bestows on you His worthiness, His righteousness and holiness.  For His sake, you shall live and by no means lose your reward.

Here now, in the gracious hospitality of Christ your Savior, at His Table in His Father’s House, He presses into your hand and places on your lips the pledge and promise of His grace, mercy, and peace toward you, and the surety of your place in the household and family of God.

If there is a more beautiful Word of Jesus than this one, I am hard pressed to know what it would be: “Take, and eat,” He says, “this is My Body, which is given for you.”  And again, He invites, “Drink of it, all of you,” as He pours out His Cup, the New Testament in His own Blood, for you, His little one, “for the forgiveness of all your sins,” for life and salvation in Him.

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

22 June 2014

To Fear, Love, and Trust the Father in Christ

Here the Lord Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve Apostles, as He sends them out with authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.  They are sent in His Name and stead to preach as He preaches, and to do as He does, to give life.

These instructions pertain especially, then, to the ministers of the Word of Christ who are called, ordained, and sent to preach and administer His Gospel, even to the ends of the earth, to the close of the age.  They are cautioned and warned of the dangers and difficulties that will beset them on account of His Name, but also encouraged and comforted by the promise of His grace and mercy.

By extension, the same warnings, cautions, encouragements, and comforts are here given to you, as well, and to all who hear and receive the messengers of Christ in His Name.  For it is the case that all the disciples of Christ Jesus are called to follow Him, to learn from Him, to believe in Him, and by such faith in His Word, by the grace of His Gospel, to become like their Lord and Master.

For those who are sent to preach the Cross, to preach Christ and Him crucified, they are given to bear that Cross in their lives and ministry, in their very bodies.  They are persecuted and rejected, in many and various ways, because they are given to share in the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus Himself.  So do they also share His great victory, His vindication, and His Resurrection; but it is precisely in and through their suffering for His Name’s sake that God accomplishes His purposes.

In much the same way, again, those disciples of Christ Jesus who hear and receive the preaching of His Cross — who are baptized into His death, and who partake of His sacrificial body and blood — they have that same Cross of Christ laid upon their own vocations, upon their offices and stations in life, and upon their bodies and souls.  So does the Lord lay His Cross upon you.

There are as many different crosses as there are different people and places, seasons and situations, and I can’t even begin to identify them all.  I do know some of the crosses that many of you bear, but I surely don’t know all of them; for which reason I simply entrust you to our dear Father in heaven in my prayers and intercessions for you.

But there is such beautiful encouragement for each and every one of you in the preaching and promise of what the Lord, your God and Father, has accomplished by the Cross and Crucifixion of His dearly-beloved Son.  Do not lose heart, therefore, but consider what great good He may accomplish for you and for others by the Cross that He has laid upon you in His love and mercy.

In our day and age, in this country of ours, it is perhaps not yet likely that you will be confronted with the cross of bodily persecution and the threat of martyrdom.  Not yet.  But the assaults and attacks of the devil, of the world, and of your own sinful flesh are no less real and difficult.

I dare say, though it saddens me, that among the most painful and difficult crosses to bear are those that are laid upon marriage and family: between husbands and wives, between fathers and their children, between brothers and sisters, not only in youth but in adulthood.  Not simply the large challenges confronting the institution of marriage and the sanctify of human life, but the crosses of difficult relationships within your own household and family, and the equally painful cross of living without a spouse, without your parents anymore, or without any children of your own.

Jesus will have more specific things to say about the crosses that are laid upon families as He continues His preaching and catechesis in next Sunday’s Holy Gospel, but here it is already set before us in His Word to you this morning.

How terribly difficult it is when those you love most dearly in this world reject the faith and life of Christ in some fashion or another; whether by outright denial and blasphemy, or by apathy and atrophy, or by the conduct of their lives, by which they confess another lord and god altogether and show themselves to be the slaves of sin and death instead of serving righteousness and holiness.

And yet, how tempted you are to compromise your own faith and life on account of your loved ones, to make excuses for them, or to dismiss the seriousness of such rejection of the faith, because of the ties and attachments of flesh and blood.  It is too painful to consider and confront the consequences of apostasy, unbelief, and sin.  So you choose to ignore it, or you begin to condone it, and in this way you also fail to confess the Lord Jesus Christ before your closest kin.

Beloved, are you ashamed of the Gospel of Christ?  Or do you suppose that the Gospel is a license to sin without consequence, as though to make grace abound by the mess to be cleaned up?  May it never be so!  Repent of that damnable lie, which brings not life in Christ but death and hell.

Of course, I realize that there are also many other ways in which all our families on earth, and our earthly fathers, too, fall short of God’s righteousness in Christ and fail us.  Too often it happens, that there is coldness where there ought to be compassion and care.  Anger or despair overcomes the husband or father, the wife or mother, the child or sibling, who may then leave instead of love.

Or perhaps it is the case that personality, infirmity, or weakness cause your closest neighbors to become a cross that you are called to bear in the faith, hope, and love of Christ Jesus.

God grant you the strength to do so in the grace, mercy, and peace of His Holy Gospel.  For it is the truth, that, as often as you fail and fall short, He calls you to repentance and to faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  He returns you to your Baptism, to raise you up by His Cross.

Not only do the crosses that are laid upon you work repentance and strengthen faith within you, but rest assured that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has accomplished His great salvation of the world by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son, is also at work to accomplish His good and gracious purposes in you and for others by the Cross and Resurrection in your life.

By those family crosses that you bear, the Lord teaches you to set your hope on Him alone, your true Father in heaven, and to find your permanent home and family in the Church of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, with those who are your true brothers and sisters in Him, in heaven and on earth.  For Christ is your heavenly Bridegroom, faithful and true, who shall never leave you nor forsake you.

Now, I would ask you to consider, in that light, the cross that your pastor — your spiritual father in Christ Jesus — bears in his responsibility for you, and for the household and family of God.

Consider how painful it is, for a father, when his children do not listen to him or heed his words.  And then consider, all the more so, that Christ our Lord has chosen to speak His Word to you and to His Church on earth through the mouth of His called and ordained servants, His sent ones.

That is why it is so serious, and of such concern to both parents and pastors, when children turn their backs on the Church, and thereby turn their ears and hearts and minds away from God’s Word and the preaching of it.

The reality is that anything — whether it be work, sleep, recreation, or laziness — anything that keeps you from the hearing of the Word of Christ is nothing less than a false god, a damnable idol, for which you would forfeit your soul and body to hell.  Of course, I am not talking about those who are homebound by illness or incapacity, to whom the Word of God is taken from this place.  But I am speaking of the countless gods that compete for your allegiance on any given Sunday.

This threatening Word of the Law is intended to put the fear of God into you.  For you are to fear His wrath and neither disregard nor disobey Him.  But you are also called, at the same time, not only to fear the Lord your God, but to love and trust in Him above and beyond everything else.

The crosses that are laid upon you in this life are intended to bring you always back to the Father, in and through Christ Jesus, in repentance and faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  And so it is that every cross points you, above all else, to the Cross and Passion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrated and fulfilled the Love of God for you by His sacrificial death.

This sacrifice of Christ — His innocent suffering and death, His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you and for the many — this is your great value before your God and Father in heaven.

And, as we have so recently heard from the Lord by the preaching of His Apostle, St. Peter, this promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord shall call to Himself from even the farthest reaches of the globe.

There is not anyone for whom the Lord Christ has not died and shed His lifeblood.   So you may be sure that His Father’s love for your children is even greater than your own; far, far greater, as hard as that may be for you to wrap your heart and head around.  And He is not only willing but more than able to do far more abundantly than you could ever ask or imagine to bring them back to Himself, and to keep them close to Himself; though it is by the way and means of the Cross.

But more directly to the point at hand, the Cross of Christ is the Father’s love for you.  There is no greater love!  And it is for you by His grace.

The crosses that you are given to bear and carry within your vocation and stations in life are not a pointless or meaningless exercise of futility, no matter how desperate your situation may seem.  Nor are those crosses an indictment of His love for you; they are yet a part of His fatherly love, by which He glorifies His Name in you, and by which He shall glorify you in His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, too, that you may be strengthened in this faith and life by His Spirit, and drawn ever closer to His fatherly embrace within the arms of Christ your Savior, He gathers you around His Table here, and He feeds you, His own dear child, with all the fruits and benefits of that saving Cross of Christ.

Here the greatest treasure of heaven is set before you, and given and poured out for you to eat and to drink; not for condemnation, but for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto life and salvation.

Have no ungodly fear or trepidation, but in the fear of the Lord, in the wisdom of repentant faith, rest here and rejoice in His forgiving love, and gladly share in this great Feast of His own Son.

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

21 June 2014

Christ Be Praised for His Holy Angels

Witnessed an accident, or at least the very immediate consequences of an accident on the toll road coming home from CCA, which, only by the grace and providence of Christ, was not the tragic catastrophe it should otherwise have been.

A little car with a family of four, including two little girls, traveling west toward Chicago, was sideswiped by a van and sent careening at high speed across the entire median into the oncoming east bound traffic, which at that point included our fifteen passenger van, along with several cars and a semi truck.

I didn't see the holy angel on duty, but I did watch, as events unfolded in front of me, the little car threaded like a camel through the eye of a needle to the right hand shoulder without any further mishap.

Surreal.  As though a giant unseen toddler was simply weaving a little play car through an elaborate highway setup on the living room floor, and as though everything else was simply stopped in its tracks and held for that very long moment.  As it was, it still took hard and fast braking and evasive maneuvers for me to avoid the jeep between us and the oncoming westbound car.

We stopped, of course, as did one other vehicle, to ascertain that the family was unharmed, and to make sure that emergency help was contacted and on its way.  The other vehicle remained on the scene, so there was no need for us to stay, but we did see the police coming quickly within minutes of proceeding on our way.  The van that caused the accident was pulled over and waiting on the opposite shoulder, across the four lanes of busy, four-lane toll road traffic.  Kyrie, eleison!

Not every day that one sees such a miracle, but Christ be praised for His holy angels!

19 June 2014

Catechesis on the First and Second Petitions

Jesus teaches you to pray: By His example, by His instruction, by making it possible for you to pray (by making Atonement and Reconciliation with God for you), by making His God and Father to be your God and Father, and by returning to the Father in the flesh by way of His Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.  In His own Body, with His own Blood, He is the One who prays and intercedes for you, and He is Himself your Prayer to the Father.

As the Lord gave the heavenly Pattern of the Tabernacle/Temple (to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and then to King David), so has He given the Pattern of Prayer: and Christ Jesus is both of these.

He teaches you to pray, and in doing so, He teaches you to know and love and trust the true and only God, who has called you out of darkness into the marvelous Light of Christ Jesus, so that you might be His own; that you should be His own dear child, His beloved son (in Christ) by grace and by adoption; and that He should thus be your God and Father.

He tenderly invites you to believe this, and to call upon God with bold confidence, as a beloved child, within the household and family of the Church: He is "Our Father."

"Father" is not His Name, but the identity of the First Person of the Holy Trinity in His eternal relationship with the Son.  This identity and relationship belongs to the distinction of the Persons, whereas the divine Name above all names (YHWH) belongs to the Unity of the one undivided Godhead.  The Name of the Father is also that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and this Name of the true and only God, once made known to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3), has been fully revealed and made known to us in the Person of the incarnate Son, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, in His Word and Work of the Gospel, in His crucified and risen Body, and in His outpouring of the Spirit upon His Church (by whom we confess that Jesus is the Lord, YHWH).

As He teaches us to know the Name of God, He also bestows that Name upon us by the blessing of His Word, and by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and so teaches us to know God as "Our Father," to call upon Him as our Father, and in doing so, to call upon the Name of the Lord.  You "invoke His Name" (and in doing so, you hallow His Name) by appealing to the Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the Holy Spirit, which is to say, as a child beseeching your own dear Father; for you now share the sonship of Christ Jesus.

It may seem a bit odd, though, the way He starts by teaching you to pray, first of all, for God's Name to be made holy; but note that Christ Himself prays this way in John 12, and in a similar way in John 17.  But why should you pray in this way, and what does it mean?

God's Name is already holy in itself, as He Himself is the Holy, Holy, Holy One; so there is nothing lacking in Him, nor in His Name.  There is nothing needed in this regard, in so far as the Lord Himself is concerned; for, in fact, all holiness derives from Him and depends upon Him, and whatever else is Holy is holy by the sanctification of His Name, by His Word and Spirit.

The holiness of God is absolute freedom and perfect Love.  He is utterly self-subsisting and self-sufficient, utterly complete within Himself, in the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: He is the "I Am," the One who was and is and is to come, and the One who is alone the Creator and Preserver of all things.  He is the One who makes things happen.  He is Life and Light and Love in Himself, in His own Being, and so also the Source of all life and light and love in His creation.  All things are created by Him, to be received in faith and used with thanksgiving, sanctified by His Word and prayer.  So are you also created to be consecrated by His Name for the life and love of God within the fellowship of the Holy Trinity.

As God's people were called by His Name — out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea, to the covenant at Mt. Sinai — so are you called by His Name from out of the slavery of sin and death, through the waters of Holy Baptism, to the New Covenant of Christ's Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many in the Holy Communion.  So it is, that the Our Father is the prayer of the baptized.  You call upon God as your Father because you are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You are His child because you bear His Name.

So, what is Jesus actually teaching you to ask and to pray in the First Petition?

You pray that God the Father would sanctify you by His Name, by the Atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life of Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit; that He would establish and maintain this living relationship with you in Christ, the Son, and so enable you to use His Name rightly, and to call upon His Name (as per the Second Commandment).

It is not unlike the prayer of Solomon at Gibeon, that the Lord would grant (by His Spirit) the wisdom of a listening heart, in order to know His Word and to live and work according to it.

Thus, it is a prayer or petition that you would sanctify God's Name in your life, words, and actions: by the catechesis, confession, and prayer of His Holy Word, and by doing what He has called you to do, to the glory of His Holy Name, by performing your duties within your vocation according to His commandments.

In much the same way, Moses and the Priests were to sanctify God and His Name before the people (though they did not always do so; e.g. Lev. 10).  In particular, on the Day of Atonement, Aaron and his sons were to sanctify the Name of God by performing their duties according to His command, and by coming into His presence on behalf of His people, bearing His Name by His grace (Ex. 28:36), and atoning for the sins of the people with His means of grace.

So does Christ Jesus sanctify the Name of God by His atoning sacrifice, bearing the Name of the Lord in His Body into the Holy of Holies eternal in the heavens (St. John 17; Hebrews).

You are not able to do or accomplish any of this on your own; for you are sinful and unclean in body and soul, in your thoughts, words, and deeds.  It is not simply that you have failed or fallen short; it is already true from the outset that you are not capable of sanctifying God's Name, until He has first of all sanctified you by and with His Name.

This is what Christ Jesus does for you, on your behalf, as your High Priest in all things pertaining to God; and this is what He also now does in you and with you, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He does it by the way of His own Cross and Resurrection, and by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name (St. Luke 24).

The Father has given the Name above all names to Christ Jesus, to the incarnate Son of God, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead (Phil. 2).  And Christ Jesus has revealed and bestowed this divine Name upon you (St. John 17): In Holy Baptism, in the Absolution of your sins, and really in the whole Ministry of the Gospel; in much the way that the Old Testament priests put the Name of the Lord upon the people with the Aaronic Benediction.

So, then, the Name of the Lord is hallowed in you, in your life, and in His Church, by the way of the Cross: By the preaching of repentance, unto faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

In the Invocation, and in the Absolution, you pray for and receive the blessed Cross of Christ upon your body and soul, upon your heart, mind, and spirit, in order that you be crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, as in your Baptism into His death, and so be raised with Him, also, unto newness of life in thoughts, words, and actions.

Certainly, among the foremost ways that you now sanctify the Name of God in your Christian life, is by calling upon the Name of the Lord in prayer.  You are able to do so in Christ Jesus, because He has been lifted up in death as the fulfillment of all sacrifice, and because He has been received by the Father in His Resurrection and Ascension.  He is the pleasing aroma and sweet-smelling Incense by which you are received by God in heaven and are pleasing to Him.  And, as you pray to God in Christ Jesus, so do you also live.

The Body of Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, and of the Temple in particular.  His Body of flesh and blood is the House of Prayer for disciples, whom He calls to Himself by His Name from all the nations; for His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God, wherein the Name and Glory of God dwell among His people, and from which the Lord reigns over His people in Peace and Love with the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection.

Thus, you see that it is also in this same way that God's Kingdom comes, as Jesus teaches you to pray in the Second Petition.  He teaches you to pray, not for things that are in doubt or uncertain, but for that which He promises and does by grace alone before you or anyone else would ever have known or thought to ask for them.  He teaches you to pray in this way, so that you would thereby learn to look to Him, to trust in Him, and to live by faith in His Word and promise; that you would seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and, receiving these by faith in His Gospel, you would receive all His good and perfect gifts by grace.

The connections between God's Name and His Kingdom are implicit in every case, but are especially clear in a few key places: It is there in the Lord's promise to David that his son would build a house for the Lord's Name, and that the Lord would establish his kingdom forever; and in the fulfillment of that promise in the Annunciation of Gabriel to St. Mary (see 1 Chronicles 22; St. Luke 1; St. Matthew 1; 2 Samuel 7; and Isaiah 7).

God's Kingdom comes by the Incarnation of the Son: As David prays, “the Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand!”  It comes by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension (Philippians 2).

Therefore, in Christ Jesus, God's Kingdom is established forever, and it will come, regardless of what man does or says or believes: Every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  But, again, we pray that the Kingdom of God would come to us in the grace, mercy, and peace of the Gospel, and that it would thus be established among us through repentance and faith in the forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

We pray that our Savior, our God and Father, would also be our own King; that the Lord would reign over us in righteousness and peace, with His wisdom and justice.  Therefore, the coming of Christ Jesus and the preaching of His Gospel necessarily begin with the preaching of repentance, because the Kingdom of God is at hand in His flesh and blood.

We pray, then, that our life would be governed by His Word and Will (which is already to anticipate the Third Petition, as well); that we should fear, love, and trust in Him as our King.

And we pray in this Petition, as well, that He would also exercise His rule over creation in our words and actions as His people, each of us within our own proper vocation.  The way that Adam and Eve cared for the Garden prior to the fall, and exercised dominion over all the works of God's hand: in His Name and stead.  So also pastors in the Ministry of Christ.  And it is so for you, too, as you care for your neighbor according to your calling, for example, as parents for your own children.  In all these ways, the Kingdom of God comes.

The Kingdom of God is a matter of living by faith and love in Christ Jesus, the King, "great David's greater Son."  The peace and prosperity, unity and strength of the Kingdom is located in the indestructible life and eternal reign of this one King, whom God the Father raised from the dead and exalted over all things at His right hand.

To pray for this coming of the Kingdom of God is to pray for the coming and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Small Catechism; St. Luke 11; Epiclesis): It is the Spirit who works faith by the Word of Christ, where and when it pleases Him, in those who hear the Gospel; and the Spirit teaches us to pray, as He also prays with us and for us, crying out in us, "Abba! Father!"  It is the Spirit who grants peace and Sabbath Rest in the Kingdom of God, in the Body of Christ Jesus.  It is the Spirit who sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith unto the life everlasting.

As the Lord Jesus is anointed by the Spirit as the Christ, the King (at His Baptism and in His Resurrection), so is the Church consecrated by the Spirit to be His Kingdom.  As it the Spirit who comes upon St. Mary to conceive the Son of God in her womb, who bears the Name of God and reigns upon the throne of His father David.  It is the same Spirit who is also poured out upon the Church with the apostolic preaching and ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus (as at Pentecost).

Notice that Jesus receives both the Name and the Spirit of His Father in His own human Body of flesh and blood, in order to bestow the Name and Spirit upon us.  And the Spirit who is given to us by the Father in Christ, then also brings us to the Father in the Body of the same Lord Jesus Christ, by way of His Cross and Resurrection.

The Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the Church on earth with the Gospel of Christ; and it is also then within the life of the Church in the Gospel that the Holy Spirit establishes the Kingdom of God among us through the Ministry of the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus.  So it is the Church that prays the "Our Father," because the Church is the Body of Christ, upon whom the Spirit rests and remains from Holy Baptism unto the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting (St. John 1; Acts 2; Romans 8).

The Father, by the Holy Spirit, brings us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son; and the Son hands over the Kingdom to the Father at the last, in order to live with Him forever.  This is the goal, in fact, for which the Lord names us with His Name and establishes His Kingdom among us, on earth as it is in heaven — that we might live with Him.

We see this foreshadowed and typified in the building and dedication of the Temple by King Solomon in the Old Testament, according to the Word and promise of God: The establishment of what one author has aptly called a "Liturgical Empire," dependent not on military might or economic prosperity, but established by and for the blessing of the Liturgy, and governed by the divine wisdom of the King.  In all of which we see a picture of Christ and His Church.  This is where God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell with and among His people, that they might live and abide with Him.  He’s not “homeless,” but He makes His home with them, for them.

Solomon's prayer of dedication and his offering of sacrifice on that occasion recall the promise of God to his father David, and focus on the Temple as a house of prayer and forgiveness.

In the fire and glory that come from heaven to receive the sacrifice and fill the Temple, and in the feast with which Solomon feeds the people of Israel in joy, the Lord proclaims the outpouring of the Spirit and the "apostolic doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of the Bread and the Prayers," which will constitute and consecrate the Church of Christ as God's Kingdom on earth.

Solomon's prayer of dedication (comparable to the seven petitions) also looks to the Lord for repentance and the fruits of repentance, for rescue from enemies, from sin and death and every evil, and for a life with God characterized by thanksgiving and praise.  For David and Solomon, this thanksgiving and praise is given voice in the singing of the Psalms: by the Levites, et al.

If one does not care for the "Liturgical Empire" language, the Kingdom of God is, in any case, a priestly kingdom, and, as we Lutherans like to say, it is a “royal priesthood.”  So it is a liturgical kingdom, defined by sacrifice, prayer, and praise in accordance with the Word and promises of God, for the sake of bringing the people into His presence.

Therefore, both David and Solomon, in particular, like Moses and Samuel before, exercise both priestly and royal duties.  There is also Melchizedek, who is both priest and king of Salem; and in the Prophet Zechariah (esp. chs. 3, 6, and 14), one sees the coming together of the Offices of Priest and King, in anticipation of the coming of the Christ Jesus.

In Christ Jesus, YHWH is the King of Israel, and of all those whom He calls to Himself through His true Israel, the Christian Church, upon whom He pours out His Spirit, and whom He names with His own Name, in order to sanctify them for life everlasting with Himself.  God comes to us in Christ, in order that we might come to God in Him.  He is thus the one Mediator between God and Man by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension, and by His Ministry of the Gospel of forgiveness.

The Lamb upon His Throne in the midst of His people — who has been slain, and yet, behold, He lives — He reveals the Name and bestows the Spirit of His Father, and He feeds His people with the Spiritual Food and Drink of His Body and His Blood.

He is thus both Priest and King, the Temple, the Altar, and the Sacrifice (including the Meal — the Host, the Waiter, and the Feast); He is both Prophet and Apostle, Bridegroom and Shepherd, Redeemer and Lord; and it really is in Him that all of your prayers are both asked and answered.

He is the Lord who rescues you from the devil's kingdom, as demonstrated especially by His casting out of demons throughout His ministry on earth (St. Luke 11:20; St. Matthew 12:28), and so also by the ministry of His sent ones in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in the whole Ministry of the Gospel (St. Luke 10).  And He brings you into the Kingdom of His God and Father, already now within His Church on earth (which is His Body).

He liberates you from slavery to sin and death, and He provides for all your needs of body and soul.  He prepares a Feast for you at His Table in His House, where you belong to the one family of one Father (to the one Kingdom of this one King Jesus).  And in His Body and His Blood you do have a genuine foretaste of the neverending Feast to come.

As the Name of God is hallowed among us especially in Holy Baptism, so does the Kingdom of God come to us especially in the Holy Communion.

And, because He sets you free and provides for all your needs — because He, not sin and death, but He is your Lord and King — you live a godly life in, with, and under Him in His Kingdom, both now, by grace through faith in His Gospel, and forevermore in the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul in His heaven.

It is by the gracious gift and work of the Holy Spirit through His Word that you believe and live in this way; because God sanctifies His Name in you, and He sanctifies you in His Name, and He thereby gathers you into His Kingdom, now and forever.  All of this the Spirit does in, with, and through Christ Jesus, your merciful and great High Priest, your Good Shepherd and your King, crucified for your sins, raised for your righteousness, and ascended to the right hand of the Father as your acceptable Sacrifice, your sweet-smelling Incense, and your answered Prayer.  Amen!

15 June 2014

Created for the Life and Love of the Holy Trinity

The Lord, Yahweh, the true and only God, has created you to live in a relationship with Him and with your neighbor: to live by His grace alone, by faith in His Word and promises, by the active presence and work of His Holy Spirit, with love for Him and for one another in His beloved Son.

This Holy Triune God has made you in His own Image and Likeness, so that, by faith and love, you should thus bear fruits after His own kind, that is, like those of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead in His own Body of flesh and blood.  Good fruits like those of His good Tree.

Trust in Him, therefore, and rely on Him for all that you need in both body and soul, for every good and perfect gift, for life and health and daily bread, unto the resurrection and life everlasting.  Be content with whatever He provides, and be at peace with Him who loves you.

And as He does love you perfectly in Christ, your Savior, so also love your neighbor: your spouse, your children, your parents and siblings, your fellow Christians, and your neighbors in the world.

It is not good that you should live for yourself, nor that you should attempt to go it alone in some kind of private isolation.  You are created to love, and to be loved, as God Himself is Love, the Father for His Son, the Son for His Father, in the Communion of the Holy Spirit.  To live like the Lord, you need your neighbor, and your neighbor needs you, to live as companions in Christ.

Where do you find that kind of life, and how do you live such a life in faith toward God and in love for your neighbor?  It is only in Christ Jesus.  For He is both your Neighbor and your God, your Savior and your Friend, your Pastor and Teacher, and your Companion through death into Life.

It is only in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead, that you know God the Father and receive the Holy Spirit.  It is only in Christ Jesus that you not only know the one true God as He truly is, but that you also live in and with Him, both now and forever.

So, then, the real question is: Where and how do you find Jesus?  It is on the Mountain where He has directed you to meet Him; which is not a matter of geography or topography, nor of location, location, location in the usual sense, but of Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, and of ongoing catechesis in all that Jesus has taught and commanded by way of His Apostles.

It is by these means of grace, His Word and Sacraments, that you become a Christian, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ; and it is by these same means of Baptism and Catechesis, to and from the Lord’s Table in the Name and remembrance of Jesus, that you continue to live as a disciple of His.

Consider and learn from the tragic example of Judas Iscariot, who did not continue in the Word and faith of Christ Jesus, but departed and went to his own place, as we heard two weeks ago.  On the Mountain in this morning’s Holy Gospel, that wretched man is conspicuous by his absence; for it is “the Eleven,” not “the Twelve,” who are there gathered following the Resurrection.

But quite apart from Judas Iscariot, consider the example of those remaining eleven disciples; for they worshiped Jesus, St. Matthew says, but “some doubted.”  Considering the other accounts of the Lord’s Resurrection appearances, it is best to understand that all of them were torn between faith and joy on the one hand, fear and doubt on the other.  They were all confused and conflicted.

And isn’t that the same conflict of faith and unbelief that you find in yourself?  From one day to the next, and at any given time.  Like the father at the foot of another mountain: “I believe! Lord, help my unbelief!”  Tossed about and torn apart by the war that rages in your members between the old man, born of Adam, and the New Man, born of Christ and His Holy Spirit.

You are taught to observe all that Jesus has commanded; as a Christian disciple, you are called to take up His Cross and follow after Him in steadfast faith and love.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and sanctified you in this one true faith, so that you do believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, and come to Him.  You are here this morning, after all, to worship Him with heart and soul, with your mind, your body, and your spirit.  And yet, to what extent, and in how many ways, are you still doubtful and afraid?

The fact is, that, even knowing the truth, you are not able to approach the Lord Jesus in peace; not on your own.  You cannot abide with Him in faith and love; nor can you live as the disciple you are called to be — except by His grace and His forgiveness of all your sins.

That gracious forgiveness is precisely the authority that He has been given by the Father in His Resurrection from the dead, and by which He now and ever calls you to Himself, away from sin and death to faith and life with God in Christ.  It is the special authority of His Cross & Passion, and of His Resurrection & Ascension, by which He daily and richly forgives you all your sins, and reconciles you to His God and Father in righteousness and peace, and anoints you with His Holy Spirit, so that you actually receive and share and live the divine Life of the Holy Triune God.

For Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of the Father, is the One who has died in your place, in your flesh and blood, bearing all your sins in His own Body; it was for you and for your sins that He was crucified, dead, and buried.

And it is this very One who bore your sin and died your death, whom God the Father has raised up again, and upon whom He has poured out His Spirit, in His Resurrection as also at His Baptism.  Thus, in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you also are absolved and raised from the dead; you are sanctified by the Holy Spirit; and you are declared to be a beloved and well-pleasing son of God.

This is the Great Exchange that Christ Jesus has accomplished by His Incarnation, His Baptism, His Cross and Resurrection: He became like you, in order to recreate you in His own Image and Likeness, to raise you from the dust of the earth, to breathe divine Life into your body and soul.

So it is that you become like Him; first of all in your Holy Baptism, whereby you share His Cross and Resurrection, and receive His Name, and enter into a living fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

And what you have been given in your Baptism, once and forever, you also continue to receive, and you retain it, by the daily catechesis of the Word of Christ; that is, not only the teaching and learning of facts and information, but the catechesis of contrition and repentance, of confession and Absolution, the preaching and teaching of the Law and the Gospel in the Name of Jesus.

It is by and with and in that Word of Christ, and specifically by His Word of the Gospel, that your sins are daily and richly forgiven, that your faith is renewed and strengthened, and that you live in love with God and Man by the Spirit of this same Lord Jesus Christ.

It is by that Word of His Gospel that you know and worship the Holy Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not as an exercise of dogmatic trivia, but as your Light and Life and Salvation.

As He has taken you to be His own, and as He shall never leave you nor forsake you, so it is that sin and death have no more power and dominion over you.  For Christ is your King, who reigns over you in love from His Cross and at the Right Hand of His God and Father; who has redeemed you for Himself; and by whose Blood and Righteousness you live, both now and forever and ever.

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

08 June 2014

The Times and Epochs Ordained by the Father

It is no wonder that you are thirsty.  For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Your lips are parched, and your throat as dry as dirt, until God waters your soil with the living Waters of Christ Jesus, and so fills your body of flesh and bone with His life-giving Holy Spirit.

Here, then, is your Eden, your Paradise on earth, your Oasis in a desert wilderness.  For here, from the wounded side of Christ, from His innermost being, by the divine Glory of His Cross and Passion, the Lord pours forth the Holy Spirit like water into your thirsty soul.  This Spirit is the Water of Life from the Rock of Ages, cleft for you.  It is for this Drink that you have been created, and nothing else but this Gift of God Himself will quench or satisfy your thirst.

It is for this very purpose that God has not only created you in His own Image, but has come in the flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be your Savior.  The Son receives the Spirit from His Father in His own Body of human flesh and blood, in the waters of His Baptism, and in His Resurrection from the dead, in order to pour out the same Spirit of God upon all flesh: To raise you up from the dust of the earth, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul with Him.  He receives and breathes the Spirit as true Man, that you might drink of the same Spirit and live forever with the Father in His Son.

So has the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ caused His Church to be planted and to prosper in this place, in order to pour out the living and life-giving Waters of His Holy Spirit upon the people of Maple Grove, and upon all whom He calls to Himself at St. John.  That was true when it was a little country church out in the middle of nowhere, and it is no less the case, now, as a thriving congregation in the heart of suburbia.  Here there is real Water in the wilderness of whatever kind.

But now, it seems, there are lots of nearby alternatives, many of them attractive and enticing with promises of life and health and success.  And the truth is, that you are tempted and prone to sample whatever is on tap, to belly up to the bar and have a round.  As often as you try to quench your thirst with other waters, other beverages of choice, with other spirits.  Maybe it’s too much of God’s good gift of alcohol.  But I’m not speaking only of drunkenness or alcoholic addiction.  It could just as easily be bottled water and a health food diet that you make into your personal well spring, in hopes of saving yourself and securing your body and life in the world.  It is whatever you turn to, to satisfy your thirst, to wet your lips and whet your appetites, to fill the empty hollow in your belly.  Even though any other water than the Spirit of Christ Jesus will not enliven your flesh, but will leave you dying of thirst.  Like trying to live on salty sea water.

Repent of such foolish idolatry.  It is both sinful and deadly.  Rather, come to Christ, and drink freely and fully of the Holy Spirit, whom He pours out generously, without measure and without cost, for all who believe in Him.  For when you drink of Him, not only do you have abundant life with God in body and soul, but you are also then able to receive, to use rightly, and to enjoy the good gifts of His whole creation.  When your thirst is quenched and you are filled with the living Waters of the Holy Spirit, then, whatever your own beverage may be, and whatever your diet is like, you eat and drink in faith and with thanksgiving to the glory of God.

For the Spirit who proceeds from the Father in the Son is the Author and Perfecter of Life.  He is worshiped and adored with the Father and the Son, because the Spirit is one and the same true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  He brings all things into being out of nothing, breathes life into them by His grace, and bestows the true beauty of divine wisdom upon them.  He gives growth and good order to all of creation, and by the Word of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, He establishes the Church, the Kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.

Come to Christ, therefore, and drink of this living and life-giving Spirit of God.

Does He not call you to Himself and bid you to drink this Water of Life?

But here is the most necessary question, which Pr. Briel taught me to ask and to answer in every sermon, when I was a vicar under his oversight some twenty-plus years ago: Where, and when, and how do you “come to Christ”?  For you shall not find Him randomly or on your own, but where and when and how it pleases God, by the ways and means, and in the place, where the Lord reveals and gives Himself to you; that is where He pours out the Spirit upon you.

It is by faith in His Word that you come to Christ.  For the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, and by the preaching of the Gospel He brings you to Christ Jesus, even as He lays this same Lord Jesus Christ upon your heart, mind, and conscience, upon your body and your soul, with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Listen.  Come to Christ by hearing and heeding His Word, which is preached to you by His Spirit in His Church.  For the Church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all things; and the Spirit of His God and Father rests and remains upon His Body. His Church on earth is the Mountain of God, which succeeds and surpasses both Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion.  Here is the Tabernacle of God among men.  Yes, even here at St. John in Maple Grove.  Here is the Temple of the Holy Spirit in the one Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, in His Means of grace.

In your Holy Baptism, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are united with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection, and you receive the Holy Spirit in the external bodily means of water and the Word, as Christ received the Spirit in bodily form as a dove at His Baptism.  So, too, you come to Christ and drink as often as the Lord returns you to the remembrance and significance of your Holy Baptism by way of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, and, in particular, by the confession and Holy Absolution of your sins.

Furthermore, the Body of Christ given for you, and the Blood of Christ poured out for you, in the Holy Communion, from the Lord’s Altar in His Church, is your Spiritual Food and Drink, your Meat and Drink indeed.  Here, again, and most especially, you come to Christ as He comes to you through the Ministry of His Gospel.  You receive Him here, because here and now is where and when and how He gives Himself to you for Life.

And as you are thus taught, by the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to know and love the Lord your God, to believe in Jesus Christ and come to Him, and to receive and drink deeply of His Holy Spirit, so do you also pray, praise, and give thanks in the Name of Jesus.  You confess His Word and call upon His Name, and you are saved.  For the Lord is merciful to all who call on Him, even as He has, in mercy, taught you and invited you to pray to Him in Peace.  He has taught you to look to Him and to wait upon Him in the hope and confidence of the Resurrection.

The teaching of this Word of Christ is not random or haphazard, but is beautifully arranged and laid before you, as all of creation is ordered according to God’s glorious grace and wisdom, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is unfolded for you in the story of Christ Jesus in the flesh, in the pattern and progress of the Church Year: from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, into the ongoing Life and work of Christ in the Time of the Church.  Not only the stuff of creation, but also time – the hours, days, weeks, and years of your life, with all the seasons of time – all of this is sanctified by the Gospel of Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit with the Word of the Lord.

Thereby, within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the prayer of Moses is answered in the Body of Christ.  That is to say, the Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon all flesh, and He rests upon all the people of God, because the Christ has been glorified by the Father in His Cross and Resurrection.  So it is that you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus are taught by God, by the Gift of His Spirit.  So do you also speak as He has spoken, by confessing the Word of the Lord that you hear and receive from Him.

Still, there is an ordering of the Church’s life in Christ.  All are one, and all are equal before God in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus; for there is one Lord, one Spirit, and one God and Father of all; one faith, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.  Yet, the unity, equality, and harmony of this Body, the Church, is not that of undifferentiated sameness, like some kind of bland, colorless blob, formless and void of character.  But, no, the Kingdom of God is ordered and arranged, like the artistry of the human body, like the genius of God’s good creation, with a great variety of different gifts, a wondrous panoply of sizes, shapes, and colors, of sights and sounds, and of beautiful contours and textures.

Not all are Moses.  Not all are ordained elders in the Church.  Not all are pastors and teachers, bishops, or deacons.  But there is a diversity and distribution of the many gifts of the one Holy Spirit.  There are different offices within the life of the Church, each of which bears the necessary graces of the Spirit for the fulfillment of God’s holy will and purpose.  With such a variety of “voices,” and such a multiplicity of “languages,” the one Gospel is confessed and is heard in all the world, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  So also here.

It is for this faithful confession of the Word of Christ Jesus, that all Christians, with all their vast array of differences in personality, ability, interests, and skills, are each and all anointed and filled with one and the same Holy Spirit.  So are they united to one another within the Holy Communion of the Church; not to erase or eradicate all differences between them, but to give life to the entire household and family of Christ, to the praise and glory of His God and Father.

Those who are thus given to drink of the Spirit of Christ, who are filled with such living Waters of the Lord, become springs of living water and fountains of the Spirit for others: each of them within his own callings, in his own particular office and station in life.  So, also, each of you, in his or her own place, is a fountain of living water for your neighbor.  St. John is part of that, too: Not a mirage, but a true oasis in the desert, despite any appearance or experience to the contrary.  For the Word and Spirit of the Lord flow out from this place.

It is in, with, and under the Cross that such Waters spring up in you and water the earth; for it is by the Cross that Christ Himself is glorified, and by and from His Cross that the Spirit is given.  Your place in life, your words and works, are consequently despised by the world – and by the old man in yourself and others, too.  Taunts of drunkenness are leveled at you.  Even the New Wine of Christ, His holy and precious Blood, is blasphemed and disregarded in this way.

But do not be dismayed, and do not give up hope, nor grow weary of doing good.  The Lord is with you.  As you are thirsty, come to Him and drink.  You belong to the Kingdom of God, and the Spirit of God rests and remains upon you in Christ Jesus.

Blood and Fire and Vapor of Smoke, the Pillar and Cloud by night as by day, and all the signs of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus – these are not a denial or contradiction of God’s Kingdom among you, but are signs of His Power and His Glory, and of His gracious Presence.

For the Kingdom of God has been established in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.  Not only here and now, but also forever and ever.  For all the years yet to come, as in the years that have already come and gone.  Even to the close of the age, to infinity and beyond.

Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, anointed by the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, is the fulfillment and perfection of the Lord’s Old Testament Liturgy of grace, and of God’s ordering of time and space.  He is the true Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for you; whose blood has redeemed you, and marks your door to guard and protect you from death, and is poured out upon your lips and tongue and down your throat to quench your deepest thirst; whose flesh is fed to you for the freedom of forgiveness and faith.  And He is the true Pentecost, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of the New Creation.  His Body and His Blood are the Atonement by which you are reconciled to God, received by the Father, and able to rejoice in Him who is your Lord and Savior.  For He is the Tabernacle of God, who abides with you, and you with Him, from the wilderness into Canaan.  He breathes the Spirit of Life into your body by His Word of the Gospel, and He pours out the same Spirit from His side in the Water and the Blood, to cleanse and refresh you within and without, in body and in soul.

All of this that He has done, for you and for all people, was promised and prepared for by the times and epochs ordained by the Father in the Old Covenant, in the pilgrim festivals that He instituted through Moses.  But now they have been accomplished in Christ Jesus, and they are bestowed upon you in the Sundays and Seasons of the Church Year.  Not as Law, but as Gospel, from Jubilee unto Jubilee, in the gladness, joy, and righteousness of the Resurrection.  Today, and every day of grace, is shaped, defined, determined, and filled by the Word of Christ, and thereby sanctified by the Spirit as your true Sabbath Rest in Him.

Therefore, though you do not know when the great and final Day of Judgment will come upon all flesh, the fullness of the time has come and is here for you in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Here, then, is the last, great Day of the Feast: The eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection, and of the Life everlasting.  Thus far the Lord has brought you by His grace, by His Word and Spirit, to believe His holy Word and to live a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity.  These are the times and epochs the Father has ordained for you, in order to feed you with His Spiritual Food and Drink.

Are you hungry?  Take, and eat, the Body of Christ.  And you who are thirsty, come and drink the Blood of Christ, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.


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