12 February 2016

The Lord Has Come Down to Raise You Up

Jesus has come down from heaven, and He has come down from the mountain, in order to set you free and deliver you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Although you are attacked by all of these things, it is also the case that you are a willing victim.  Indeed, you are your own worst enemy, for you are sinful and unclean, perverse and unbelieving.

And yet, in love, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has come down to save you — to cleanse and heal you, and to give you new life in and with Himself, with the Father and the Holy Spirit — through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

He has become true Man, born of Mary, flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.  Not only that, but He has subjected Himself to all the trials, tribulations, and temptations that you are faced with, only without any sins of His own.  But He has borne all of your sins, and the sins of the whole world, in His own Body to the Cross; and there He has suffered all the curse and consequences of your sin, including the righteous wrath and judgment of God, so that by His innocent suffering and death in your place, He has destroyed the power that death and the devil held over you.

Here, then, in the Cross and Passion of the Christ, is the greatest Glory of God.  It is nothing you could ever do or accomplish for yourself; nor could you even begin to comprehend it by your own reason or strength.  Indeed, it is the Cross, above all else, that amazes you — and scares you!

But it is by the Cross of Christ that God has redeemed you and rescued you from your enemies and from every evil of body and soul, in order to make you His own and bring you into life with Him.

And to that end, it is from the Cross that Christ Jesus speaks His Word of forgiveness to you and feeds you with His own holy Body and precious Blood.

Thus, He who has come down from heaven, who has come down from the mountain and entered the valley of the shadow of death, who has been lifted up on the Cross for your salvation, now draws you to Himself by His Gospel; He raises you up in His own Resurrection from the dead; He lifts you up from the earth, and He brings you in Himself to your true God and Father in heaven.

Therefore, let these Words sink into your ears and into your heart: That the Lord Jesus Christ was delivered into the hands of sinful men, and handed over as a willing Victim to the Cross, in order to deliver you into the loving hands of God the Father.  And so does He hand Himself over to you now, and He places Himself into your hands and mouth and body in this Sacrament, so that He should thus abide in and with you, and you abide with Him in the bosom of the Father forever.

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

10 February 2016

From Ashes to Ashes in Christ

The ashes for which this holy day is named, with which your countenance is marked, are a sign of repentance because they signify and point to your death.  There is nothing heroic in making this confession; it is simply the truth.  You are mortal.  You are dying, as you must, because you are a sinner.  So much for your ambitions, your accomplishments, and your accumulated wealth.

Your mortality and death are the necessary consequence and punishment of your sin, which goes far deeper than your behavior to the very heart and soul of you.  Conceived and born in sin, you are unholy and unclean, not only at odds with God but unable and unwilling to seek Him out or draw near to Him.  And yet, because you cannot escape His presence, His holiness consumes you.

But, above all, the holiness of the Lord your God is mercy.  So He does not allow death to be or to have the last word, but He takes death itself into His hands to become the remedy and solution to your sin.  For one thing, your dying brings an end to your sinfulness and sinning.  As St. Paul says, the one who has died is freed from sin.  But that would hardly be a happy ending, if that were it.  Your death would not make things right, put things back together, or bring you to God in peace.  However, what your death could not achieve, the death of Christ has done for you and for all.

The Lord your God does not desire your death, nor the death of any sinner, but that you would be set free from sin and death, and that you would live without sin, holy and righteous before Him.  Therefore, the Father has given His own dear Son, and the beloved Son has given Himself, even unto death, in order to atone for your sin by His Sacrifice upon the Cross, by the shedding of His sacred Blood on your behalf.  And having done so in holy faith and holy love, His Resurrection from the dead is now your Righteousness, in which you are raised up to newness of life in Him.

As you have been taught by the Word and Spirit of God, you share in the death and resurrection of Christ by your Holy Baptism.  That is why the ashes are signed upon your forehead in the shape of His Cross, recalling His Sacrifice for you and your Baptism into Him, that you have died with Him, and that your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Although you are still sinful, and your mortal body is still dying, returning to the dust from which you have been taken, yet, you are set free from the power of sin and death.  You are alive, and you are righteous in Christ Jesus, by faith in Him.

When you know that your righteousness is by this faith in Christ, and not by your own works or efforts, then you also know how to practice your righteousness rightly.  It is to live by faith under the Cross of Christ in the hope of His Resurrection from the dead.  It is a righteousness that cannot be seen by men; neither can you see it in yourself.  But it is exercised in faith as you bear the Cross of repentance for your sin, and as you bear the Cross in love for your neighbor.  Dying to yourself, you live unto God, and you live for those around you, not to impress them, but to care for them.

This baptismal life is your whole burnt offering, the sacrifice of your whole body and life, which you render upon the atoning Sacrifice of Christ Jesus.  By repentance and faith in His Cross and Resurrection, you are offered up, given up, and given over entirely to God.  You are consumed by the fire of His Spirit, but so also purged of your idolatries and purified by the holiness of Christ.  And the smoke that rises from this sacrifice is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord your God, as surely as the Father has received His Son back from the dead and seated Him at His right hand.

Of particular interest on this day are the ashes of the whole burnt offering, which are removed by the priest from the Lord’s Altar to a clean place outside the camp of Israel.  For so do your body and life remain in this world, but no longer of it; no longer unclean because of your sins, which are removed, but cleansed and forgiven by the Blood of Christ and by His acceptable Sacrifice.  Even now, in your still mortal flesh, you live and abide outside the camp with the Crucified One.

And this burnt offering of your body and life as a Christian, this living sacrifice of repentance, faith, and love, is characterized and typified by those three basic practices to which Christ Jesus refers in the Holy Gospel for this day: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  Indeed, He does not teach you to avoid this fundamental piety of the Christian life, but to avoid all pretense and presumption, and to undertake these several aspects of discipleship in the fear and faith of the one true God.

To fast, to give alms, and to pray are not to be practiced as means of gaining righteousness before God or man.  There is to be no bargaining with God, nor any boasting in His presence.  But you are to fast, to give alms, and to pray by the righteousness of faith in Christ Jesus, because you are reconciled to God in Him; you are justified by His grace; you are cleansed and sanctified by His forgiveness; and, by your Baptism into Him, you are dead to sin and alive to God forevermore.

To fast is to reduce your consumption, to give up for awhile what you otherwise rely upon, and to deny yourself the very things you crave the most.  Whatever form it takes in your life, such fasting belongs to the daily dying of repentance.  For to curb your appetites in this way is to curb and put to death your flesh with its covetous idolatry, to take up the Cross, and to follow Christ by faith.

Almsgiving goes hand in hand with fasting, as you deny yourself and give what you have to others.  It is, indeed, the sacrifice of yourself and the gift of yourself to your neighbor in his or her need.  Not for praise and recognition, but for the sake of love, in thanksgiving to Christ, the Lord, who has given Himself entirely for you.  In quiet humility, therefore, exercise mercy, and be generous in charity as you have the opportunity; so, too, forgive and do good to those who sin against you.

But neither fast nor give alms without also calling on the Name of the Lord in prayer, which is the very voice of faith.  By it you lay hold of Christ in the promise of His Gospel, and you store up treasures for yourself in heaven; not by scaling the heights, but by confessing the Word He has placed upon your lips, by receiving the gifts He places in your hands, and by relying on His grace.  In praying to the Father in His Name, you rise and ascend with Him who has come down from heaven to you, who has given Himself into death, who has risen and returned to the Father in glory.

Everything begins with and continues to depend upon the Sacrifice of Christ.  He is the One who knew no sin, who yet became the Sin Offering for you and for the world.  In flesh and blood like yours, He has offered Himself entirely to His God and Father on your behalf, in order to atone for your sins, to reconcile you to God in perfect peace, and to bring you into fellowship with Him.

Sin has been put to death, once and for all, in His crucified Body.  All its impurity, perversion, and stain have been removed by His Blood.  And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has entered into the presence of God as your merciful and great High Priest.  Thus do you have access in Him to the Father in heaven.  Indeed, you enter the inner room of the Lord’s own House and Home, into the Holy of Holies, not made with hands but eternal in the heavens.  And, like Christ Himself — because you are in Him and He in you by the Gospel — your sacrifice of repentance is a pleasing aroma and your prayer of faith is sweet-smelling incense in the nostrils of the Lord your God.

He hears and answers your prayers in mercy, with compassion and generous charity.  His gives you His alms in abundance for both your body and your soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.

He restores you day by day, throughout Lent and evermore, to all the blessings and benefits of your Holy Baptism, which are indeed the fruits and benefits of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you, anointing you with the true Oil of gladness.  He washes you, cleanses you, and sanctifies you with the forgiveness of all your sins.  He clothes you with the priestly garments of Christ, that is, with His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

And He feeds you at His Table with the priestly Food and Drink of Christ, which are His Body and His Blood.  These Gifts are hidden from your sight, and from the sight of every man, being given as they are in the grain offering and drink offering of bread and wine.  But the Body and Blood of the Lamb are truly present, given and poured out for you here at His Altar on earth, while never ceasing to appear and avail for you before your God and Father in the Most Holy Place in heaven.

Thus do we have fellowship with God in Christ, and with each other in His one Body.  And thus do we give thanks to God and bless His Holy Name as we feast upon His Son in this sacrificial Meal.  And our thanksgiving, too, is sanctified, acceptable, and pleasing to Him in Christ Jesus.

You are able to approach the Lord’s Altar with such confidence and joy, because you are clothed in Christ and covered by His righteousness.  And by the same mercies of God in Christ, you are able to live in the world in love for your neighbor, purified within and without by the Holy Spirit.  For the ashes of your perishing mortal flesh reside, even now, in a clean place with Christ Jesus; while yet, in Him, your body, soul, and spirit always live and abide in the presence of the Father.

Therefore, even now, on this day of grace, in this time of salvation, return to the Lord your God.  For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  And here in His Holy Communion is the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, which are for you and for the many.  Here is your Meat and Drink indeed.  Here is not death, but your life and salvation in Christ Jesus.

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

07 February 2016

Entering into Glory by the Cross of Christ

This is what such baptizing with water indicates, what it means, and what it does for you.  It bears the Glory of God and bestows it upon you in the Body of Christ Jesus.  It opens heaven to you and brings you into the presence of the Holy Trinity.  It makes of you a beloved child of God.

All of this is yours by your Baptism into Christ.  And it is all by the way of His Cross.  It is through suffering and death that you enter into His Glory.  And to that end, your Baptism has set you on a journey, on a pilgrimage through the wilderness into the Paradise which the Lord has sworn by His own Name to give you.  It is a pilgrimage of repentance, a journey through death into life.

As you make your way on this trek between the Red Sea and the Jordan River, bearing the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, upon your body and your soul, hold fast the hope that is set before you in the Body of Christ Jesus, and do not lose heart.

Consider this Lord Jesus, who has called you by Name to be His own, to bear the Cross and follow Him both up and down the Mountain.  He is the Christ, as St. Peter has so recently confessed by the revelation of the Father and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  But what does this mean?

He is anointed by the Father with the Spirit for the Cross.  For it is necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things and thereby enter into His Glory as the Savior and Redeemer of Israel and as the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God to all the nations.  It is by His Cross and Passion that He will accomplish and fulfill His Exodus in Jerusalem and liberate all of the people of God.

Make no mistake about it, He is greater even than Moses and Elijah and all of the Prophets, for He is the One of whom they preached, to whom they pointed.  He is the One who fulfills their words.

Moses performed great signs and mighty wonders against Pharaoh and in the presence of Israel, all in the Name of the Lord.  So do the Holy Scriptures testify.  He led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, across the desert, unto the Mountain of God.  And he was the minister of the Lord’s Covenant with Israel.  That is no small thing.  Indeed, he alone in days of old spoke with the Lord face to face and taught the people the Word that he heard from the very mouth of God.  By his hand, God gave to the people His holy Ten Commands.  And of supreme significance, it was Moses who constructed the Tabernacle in the wilderness according to the pattern revealed to him on Mt. Sinai, by which the Gospel and Glory of the Lord dwelt in the midst of His people.

Yes, Moses was faithful in all God’s House as a servant, and he served that way for many, many years.  But in his frailty and weakness, and by the judgment of the Law that he himself taught, he was not permitted to enter the Land that God had promised, nor would he lead the people into it.

It is Jesus, the new and greater Joshua, who brings the people out of the wilderness through the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  No other creature in heaven or on earth could do this thing, no other prophet, priest, or king, but the Lord Jesus Christ and He alone has done so.

By His Baptism He brings you and all His people out of slavery into freedom, through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the life everlasting.  For He is the true Passover Lamb, who not only takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the world but also feeds you with His own flesh and pours out His Blood for you as the New Testament.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection, His Body has become the true and permanent Temple of God, the Tabernacle of God among men.  He bears the Name of God in His own flesh and blood; the Holy Spirit rests and remains upon His Body; and the Glory of God abides forever in and with Him, that is, the divine Glory that you receive and share with Him in His crucified and risen Body.

The Lord Jesus has accomplished this great Exodus, for you and for the many, by bearing all your sins, your death and damnation in His own Body to the Cross — in order to atone for your sins, to release you from death and the grave, and to bring you in and with Himself, in His Resurrection and Ascension, up the Mountain to His God and Father in heaven.

In this He is greater and more glorious than Elijah, also, who precedes Him and points to Him but is not able to achieve or accomplish what only Christ, the Son of God, could ever do.  For that holy Prophet did not pass through death into the life everlasting, but in the righteousness of faith he was taken instead by a whirlwind into the presence of God.  But the Lord Jesus, by His Sacrifice for you upon the Cross, entered into that darkness of death in order to bring you out, to save you by His grace alone.  This, indeed, is the great Glory of God, that He lays down His life in love for you.

He is the Apostle and High Priest of the faith.  He is the One who goes before and follows after, your Pillar of Cloud by day and your Pillar of Fire by night.  He is the One who does it all.  He is your hope and your salvation, your strength and your song, upon whom the Father has set His seal.

He is sent by the Father to preach to and from the Cross, to and from the Resurrection.  He is sent by the Father to be baptized; to be tempted in every way that you are tempted, save only without sin; to live by faith as the true Man; to fast and pray in the Spirit, in the confidence of the Father’s pledge and promise; to suffer, die, and rise again for your forgiveness and justification.  So has He done.  And so does He ever live to intercede for you before the throne of His Father in heaven.

By His Sacrifice of Atonement, and by His prayer and intercession as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, you also pray and come to His God and Father through Him — by virtue of your Baptism into Him, and as a disciple who follows after Christ in holy faith.

Beloved of the Lord, listen to Him.  Trust His Word, and live according to it — in faith and love.

Take up the Cross that you have received in Baptism, and follow Christ Jesus through suffering and death, through the wilderness, into the Glory of His Resurrection and His Righteousness.

Do not be overcome by the weariness of the journey you are set upon, though it is long and hard and you are tempted to give up.  Wake up from your sleepiness.  Watch and wait upon the Lord.

Do not speak in your own ignorance and confusion, for your reason is fallen, your senses are befuddled, and your opinions are not the will or wisdom of God.  Rather, hear and heed the Word of Christ, the Son of God.  For by His Word alone are you given the mind and Spirit of the Lord.  And then speak the Truth of God by speaking as you are spoken to.  That is to say, confess and pray the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, by the preaching of His Gospel.

Find your house and home and family in Him, in His Body, and hold fast the confidence of your hope in Him.  That Hope shall not disappoint you, and you shall not be put to shame in Him.

Christ Himself is your Tabernacle in the wilderness, and His Body, the Church, is your place of Peace and Rest, in anticipation of the Paradise He has prepared for you in the Resurrection of all flesh.  For He has come down from heaven, and He has come down from the Mountain, in order to be and abide with you here, that you should thus abide with God the Father in Christ the Son.

He has become like you, and He has borne your sin and death in His own human flesh and blood, that you should become like Him; that you should bear His Cross and so also share His Glory.  As He was transfigured by His Cross and Passion into the Glory of His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you also conformed to His Image by your Baptism into Him.  And as you are a member of the Body of Christ, a son or daughter of His Father, so do you also partake of His Holy Spirit and share in the fellowship of His Holy Altar, in which you are given a foretaste of the Feast to come.

Listen to Him, and hold fast the confidence of your sure and certain hope in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel.  It is sure and certain, because He has fulfilled His Exodus for you in Jerusalem.

Behold the Glory of His Kingdom by faith in His Word, in the Fruits of His Cross, in the pledge and promise of His Resurrection from the dead.  Hear and receive the Glory of His Kingdom in His preaching of forgiveness, in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and in His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for you to eat and to drink with thanksgiving.

Bear His Cross in peace and joy, knowing that you enter into His Glory through suffering; you pass through the long, hard wilderness into Canaan.  For heaven has been opened to you in Christ Jesus by His Baptism, even unto death, and by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  It has been opened to you in Him, and as surely as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall it never be closed again.  You cannot see it from here, but you enter it by faith.

It is the Word of God, in and with the water, which does these things.  And that Word remains.

Even now, within His Church on earth, the Father speaks to you and pours out His Spirit upon you in the Body of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  And here by His Gospel He clothes you — neither in fig leaves nor with animal skins, but with the Glory of the holiness and righteousness of Christ.  For He has chosen you in Him, and He loves you in Him with an everlasting Love that never dies.

For now, it is not yet visible to your eyes.  Indeed, it is hidden under the trial and tribulation of the Cross, and all that you can see in this valley of sorrow is the shadow of death.  But the salvation that Christ has accomplished is already yours, and it is ready to be revealed at the proper time.

In that Day which has no end — in that eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection — in the dwelling place of Yahweh Sabaoth, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens — there shall you see the Lord who loves you face to face, and you shall know Him as you are known, and you shall be glorious with His own Glory in both your body and your soul, forever and ever.

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

01 February 2016

The Christ Is For You and For Your Children

You and your whole body and life, all that you are and have belong to the Lord your God, your Creator and Preserver.  You cannot live without Him.  But neither can you live with Him in your sin, which separates you from God and from His Life, and drives you to death and damnation.

The Lord who created you in love must redeem you and reclaim you for Himself, if you are to live and not die.  And this He has accomplished in the Person of the Incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  He has fulfilled the Law for you, which always was concerning Him, His Redemption and Salvation.

For He is the promised Seed of the Woman, who has come and crushed the devil’s head by His own sacrificial death upon the Cross.

He is the Firstborn Son of God, given as the Passover Lamb for the redemption of the firstborn sons of Israel, and for all the children of man.

And He is the great High Priest, whose entire body and life, flesh and blood have been dedicated to your salvation; who has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to God in Himself.

Everything depends upon this dear Lord Jesus Christ.  It all hinges on His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection.  And so also do all of God’s purposes and promises continue in the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel, in the Temple of His Church on earth.

To be righteous and devout, therefore, like Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna — which is to say, to live by grace through faith in the Word and promises of God — is to look for and wait upon the Consolation of Israel within the courts of the Lord’s House.  It is to watch and pray, and to wait for the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom you do not see death forever, but you rise and live with Him.

To be in His Temple, to Hear His Word and call upon His Name, to give attention to the rites and ceremonies of His Gospel, and to receive His gifts — these are the most essential activities of all.

To be about these holy things of Christ, your Lord, is the most important thing in your whole life, and so also the most important thing for your children, who likewise belong by right to the Lord, their Creator and Redeemer.  It is therefore your responsibility, if you are a father or mother, to bring your children to the Lord’s House, as Joseph and Mary presented the Lord Jesus Himself.

It is the Lord alone who releases you and your children from the bondage of sin and death, and He alone who grants to you and to your children the true and lasting Peace of His Life and Salvation.  And this He does, for you and for them, by the revelation of His Holy Gospel and by the blessing of His Body and His Blood.

Bear in mind that neither you nor your children are able to receive these gifts rightly, that is, in faith and with thanksgiving, except by the Holy Spirit, who is actively present and at work in the Word of the Law and the Gospel.  By that Word and the preaching of it, He calls you and brings you to repentance.  He puts you to death and raises you up to newness of life.

Indeed, He has done so for you and for your children in the waters of Holy Baptism, whereby you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, and whereby you are daily made alive with Him through the forgiveness of your sins.  That is what your Baptism continues to mean — and what it continues to do — throughout your life on earth.

So do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continue to deal with you within His Holy Christian Church.  For having called you by His Name and made you His own dear child in Holy Baptism, He does not let you go or let you get away from Him.  He would have you live with Him in His Kingdom, here in time by faith in His Word, and hereafter in eternity in your own risen and glorified body.

That is why the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and brought you here into the Church, the Body of Christ.  And it is why you have brought your children here with you, that they also may have life in His Name, both now and forever.

Here, in the Ministry of the Gospel, you are purified of your sins by the forgiveness of Christ, by His holy and precious Blood.  And here you eat and drink the Feast of the true Passover Lamb, who was sacrificed for you, that you should live and not die.  Here you abide in the House of the Lord all the days of your life, and so shall you abide in His House forevermore.

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

31 January 2016

He Comes with Authority to Love You

You are accustomed to thinking that the reason Jesus came, the purpose for which He came, was to die on the Cross and rise again.  And, to be sure, you are not wrong in confessing His Cross and Resurrection!  But, right along with that, Jesus says today that the purpose for which He has come is to preach the Kingdom of God in every city.  Indeed, He is still doing that very thing, even to this day and place.  He preaches the Kingdom of God in and with His Cross and Resurrection.

He is the Son of God, the Holy One, the Christ, anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan River.  He has come down from heaven to earth, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the life and salvation of the world.  And as He enters in with His Word, God in the Flesh, the Kingdom of God is at hand in His preaching and in His works of mercy.

His preaching has authority.  Even then the people recognized that and marveled at His authority over demons, high fevers, diseases of all kinds, and over all of creation.  Of course, He is the very Word of God by whom all things are made, so in that respect it is no wonder that all things must submit to His authority.  But in particular He comes with the authority that He obtains and receives from His Father by His fulfillment of the Law, by His innocent suffering and death for all of us.

He comes with this authority of His Cross and Resurrection to give Sabbath Rest to His people by the preaching of His Gospel, by the forgiveness of all their sins.  That is why it is His custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  And He is here today to give His peace and rest to you.

Now, the demons are quite right, on the surface of it, when they declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  They cannot help but recognize Him, for He is indeed the Lord before whom every knee must finally bow.  In that sense, they do know who He is.  And yet, they do not know Him.

They are afraid of Him, and they recoil at His presence because He preaches the Kingdom of God.  And when He comes in with that preaching, demons are cast out, Satan is thrown down.  The devil cannot stand in the presence of Christ.  Demonic unclean spirits cannot speak when He says no.

The Lord Jesus sets Himself, His whole Body and Life, and His holy Word against sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He is the Enemy of the evil one.  For Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the Holy One of God.  He must oppose all unrighteousness and every wickedness of thought, word, and deed.

But more powerful and more important than what He is against, is what He is for, and what He is.  In preaching the Kingdom of God in Himself, in His own flesh and blood, He preaches the Love of God.  Such love is the standard and the fulfillment of the entire Law, which He fulfills in love for you and for all people.  But such love as that is unknown to the devil and his minions.

Christ Jesus preaches the true divine Love, which is patient, and kind, and gentle.  Which does not think of itself but of others.  Which does no hurt nor harm to the neighbor, but helps and heals in whatever way it can.  He preaches not the infatuation, lust, and selfish, self-consuming hunger of sinful desire, which the world calls “love,” but the self-giving and self-sacrificing Love that does not get envious, jealous, or covetous, but concerns itself with caring for the neighbor in his need.

He does come, here and now, preaching this Love of God to you.  And the whole Law is summed up in this preaching.  Thus, in faith and love for God, you also are to love your neighbor as the Lord your God loves you in Christ.  For it is not only what He preaches, but also what He does.

So, then, what are you afraid of?  Why are you so threatened by this preaching of Christ Jesus?  What are the voices  whispering in your head that would make you want the Lord Jesus to go away and leave you alone?  Why are you so convinced that He has come to destroy you?

The pastor comes preaching the Kingdom of God, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ.  He preaches Holy Baptism, and so also the benefits and ongoing significance of your Baptism into Christ, that is, the daily dying and rising of repentance and faith in the Word of the Gospel.  To that end, he preaches Individual Confession & Absolution, and he teaches you this salutary practice from the Holy Scriptures and from the Small Catechism.

And you say, “Have you come to destroy us!?  What business do you have with us?  By what right do you say these things?  Would you weigh us down with this Confession?  Would you terrify us?  Would you have us expose our sins, and tell our secrets, and make ourselves weak?”

Why is it that you are so afraid of Jesus?  Why is it that you cower at His preaching and try to hide yourself away from Him and from His Word?  Why is it that you flee from the Kingdom of God?

The demons have it right when they say that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God.  And they are quite right when they express their fear that He has come to destroy them.  For He has come to cast away the works of darkness, and He does preach against the devil, all his works, and all his ways.  He comes to defeat all the enemies of man, who would devour His dear children.

But the demons are wrong to place their terrible fears and vile accusations upon the lips of men.  And they are utterly wrong when they would have you utter such words, as though the Lord Jesus had come to destroy you.  Such unclean spirits of the devil would have you share their despair and drown in their deep darkness.  They would have you suffer their punishment and their judgment.

But Christ Jesus has not come to destroy men’s lives.  He has come to save them.  To save you.

It is hard for you to believe, because He does send His servants to preach His Law.  He sends men like Jeremiah to speak His Word with power.  He does not wink at your sins or call them cute.  He does not overlook your sins, and He will not permit you to continue in them, for they would in fact destroy you in body and soul.  He calls you away from your sins to live according to His Word.

You cannot get away from this preaching of the Law.  It is like a bronze wall, which towers over you with its strength.  You cannot get past it, go around it, or escape out from under its shadow.

Jesus preaches Love, as I have said, which is what the Law requires.  And you might well say and affirm that Love is good.  You certainly want to be loved.  But how often are you impatient and unkind?  And how often does your heart burn with jealousy and envy?  You do not rejoice with your neighbor when he prospers.  You covet what he has; you want it for yourself; and if you cannot have it, then you do not want your neighbor to have it, either.  You are easily provoked.  You take offense, and you give offense.  You use your words artfully to cut and to hurt, while guarding and protecting yourself.  You do not lift you hand to help, but to wound your neighbor.

Which is why, when Jesus preaches love — that you should love the Lord your God above all else, and, loving God, that you should love your neighbor — when He preaches that you should think not of yourself, but of others — when He calls you to believe and trust in Him, and to be content with what you have — you hear the accusation of the Law, and you know that you have failed.

You are afraid and become defensive when the Kingdom of God draws near in the preaching of
Christ Jesus, because your own little kingdom is threatened by His Word.  When He calls you to give up your sin, to give up your fornication of body and mind, to give up your drunkenness, to give up your filthy talk, and to give up the anger in your heart against your neighbor — when He calls you to give these things up, you are terrified that He would destroy you.  That He would hurt you.  That He would take away these sins that are so precious to you, to which you cling so firmly.

In this way, the Law of God and His preaching of repentance have their way with you and do put you to death — to yourself, to your sins, and to the world with its idols.  And yet, Christ performs this work, by His Word, for the sake of raising you up in His righteousness, sharing with you His own Life and Liberty, and sanctifying you with His own Holiness by His Gospel and His Spirit.

You see, He loves you.  It is in love that He beholds your trouble and misery.  It is in love that He beholds your sin.  And it is in love that He calls you to repentance, that you should live and not die.

Recall that man in the synagogue with the demonic unclean spirit.  Remember how he cried out, “Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?”  Jesus commanded that demon to shut up and come out of the man, and as it came out the man was thrown to the ground, as you also may be thrown and brought to your knees when you are called to give up your sins.  It  was likely scary for the people around him, perhaps members of his family, fellow members of his congregation.  It was probably scary for him, as well, to be stripped of the spirit that had taken hold of him and driven him.  And yet, the demon came out at the Word of Jesus, and the man was left unharmed.

You, also, when you come and you confess your sins; when you expose them in the bright light of the Word of God; when you are honest with yourself and with the Lord, and you reveal your secrets and your shame to the servant of Christ Jesus — you are not destroyed but you are healed.  You are not simply crucified, dead, and buried, but you are also then raised up to newness of life.

It is in love that Christ Jesus comes.  It is in love that He preaches.  It is with love that He speaks.

And He is patient.  He is kind.  He is not jealous or boastful.  He is not arrogant or unbecoming.  He is gentle.  He does not think of Himself, but has emptied Himself and made Himself nothing.  In humble obedience He has gone to His death, so that you should have life in His Name.

It is in such love, therefore, that He comes preaching, not to destroy you, but to destroy the demons that possess you, and to shut up the accusations and the condemnation of the Law.  He comes and He preaches to give you peace, to give you rest, and to give you healing in your body and soul.

It is for this purpose that He has established His Church on earth, against which even the gates of death and hell cannot prevail.  You have heard that already in this Holy Gospel.  For Jesus got up and went out of the synagogue, and He entered the home of Simon Peter in Capernaum, where He preached His Word, where sinners heard Him and were healed, and they ate and drank with Him and shared His fellowship and life.  He entered in and healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  He rebuked her fever, as He rebuked the demons, and the fever left her; and she was raised up, no longer close to death, but alive and well and active in service to the Lord Jesus Christ and to her household.

So has He also entered in and made this house His Church, the home of forgiveness and healing in His Name.  For He Himself has borne away your sins.  He has kept the Law in every way, in love for His God and Father, and in love for you and all His neighbors.  And in such love for you, He has already suffered the consequences of your failure to love.  His Cross has atoned for your sins, and in His Resurrection He now raises you up — righteous and holy and reconciled to God.

As Christ lays hold of you in love, as He preaches repentance and forgiveness of sins, and as He calls you to and from the waters of your Baptism, to and from the Altar of His Body and Blood, He delivers you from the fear and bondage of death and the devil.  He sets you free to live and to love in peace, in confidence and hope, to serve His Church and your neighbor with a glad heart.

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour you, do not be afraid.  Do not tremble in fear of them, but fear God and trust in Him, with whom there is forgiveness.  The bronze wall no longer towers over you as a fierce judgment of the Law.  It now surrounds you as a mighty fortress, within which you are safe.  Herein is your Peace with God and Sabbath Rest in Christ.  For here is the preaching of His Gospel, with which He loves you and gives you His own Life.

He does not simply preach and teach about Love, but He actually loves you by His preaching.  So take heart, and take comfort in the Word that you have heard this morning.  For He has said that He must keep preaching.  And He does keep preaching in every city, in every place, and also here.  It is for this purpose that He comes to you, that you should live with Him in the Kingdom of God, here at His Altar, and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body unto life everlasting.

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

24 January 2016

Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Ears

It is an audacious claim that Jesus makes, not only for the people of Nazareth way back then, but also for you, right here and now.  It is a claim concerning Himself, His Person and His work as the Messiah, and a bold assertion concerning the preaching of His Word, that is, the Voice of the Lord which proceeds from His gracious lips and from the mouth of His servants.

By this Word of Christ — not simply a Word about Him, but the Word that He continues to speak to and for His Church — by this Word the most amazing things are done for you and given to you.  But apart from this Word, there is neither life nor light, nor any hope or help for you.

Consider, for example, what great things and what tremendous benefits the washing of water with the Word of Christ does for you and gives to you and to your children in Holy Baptism.  It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this — all of this by the power and authority of His Word.  Without His Word, it would be water only and not the life-giving Baptism that it is.  But by and with the Word of Christ, your Holy Baptism makes of you a living member of His Body, the Church, as the same Holy Sacrament shall do for Genevieve, Robert, and Beks in these coming weeks.

It is a pleasant and agreeable thing to hear and receive such lovely Gospel Words and promises, which are most certainly true.  But there is a problem.  Your sinful heart does not believe and trust this Holy Gospel, for one thing.  And in any case, you are not satisfied by these gracious Words that enter your ears and fall upon your body and life from the lips of Christ Jesus.

His promises sound too good to be true as He speaks of deliverance, freedom, safety, and security in the Land of God.  So you are skeptical and cynical to begin with.  But patient you are not.  For you covet and crave more tangible benefits than you have yet seen or held in your hands, and you would much prefer to have the promises of the Lord in your body and life right now, instead of waiting for the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting on the other side of death.

Meanwhile, your fallen flesh, your sinful heart and mind delude you to suppose that, in contrast to others, you actually deserve to have what you want by some right or rationality of “fairness,” despite the fact that for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment.  The Lord does not owe you anything.  But in defensiveness and desperation, you get angry, and build up a big old head of steam, and become hostile toward the Lord and everyone around you when others appear to be receiving what you want for yourself.  Such covetous desire is the root of all temptation and sin.

Certainly the same thing happens when it comes to the Church on earth.  How common it is to hear comments and complaints about what the Church ought to be like, what it should be and do, and how it should make you feel.  Comparison and competition with the world are the ruling standard.

How many other such questions and criticisms go unspoken, perhaps within your own thoughts and feelings when you’re not hearing what you want to hear or getting what you want to get?  It’s not for me to get inside your head or your heart, but ask yourself whether you are content with the Word of Christ and the gift and promise of His Gospel.  Or do you covet what He does not give and resent the neighbor who appears to have what you do not?  Are you jealous of Capernaum?  Or of the congregation with more people, more money, more of this, or maybe less of that?  Such envy and jealousy will poison your heart and mind against the Lord Jesus and His gracious Gospel.

The truth of the matter is, there are as many differing opinions as to how the Church on earth should be as there are people in the world shopping around for the savior and the sort of salvation that suits them.  No real safety or security in that.  No divine Wisdom or divine Life in it, either.

But the dear Lord Jesus bestows what only He can give, according to His good and gracious will, where and when and how it pleases Him, solely by the way and the means of His Word and the preaching of it.  He does His mighty works and establishes the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, not by any might or cleverness of man — far less by any greed or grasping of man — but by the Cross that He first of all bears and then lays upon His disciples, and by the promise of His Resurrection, the surety of your own resurrection, which you cannot see but can only believe.

So, how shall you respond to this preaching of Jesus?  Will you receive Him and embrace Him as your Savior on His terms, and rejoice in His divine Life and eternal salvation, although He comes to you and deals with you by and with the Cross?  Or will you insist on your own way, on your own expectations, on your own pride and selfishness and greed, and drive the Lord Jesus away?

Oh, to be sure — and make no mistake about it — your unbelief, your sinful rejection, and your rebellion against Jesus will not thwart Him or prevent Him from accomplishing His great salvation.  As surely as He has become Man, has sacrificed Himself once for all upon the Cross, has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so surely will His Name be hallowed, His Kingdom come, and His Will be done.  The only real question is, what will become of you?

How often shall you throw Him out — if not bodily, then by your attitude, and by your words and actions — before He simply passes through your midst like water through your hands and moves on to others, leaving you with nothing but your bitter resentment, to languish and die in your sins?

Take care, then, how you hear and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He comes to you and speaks to you.  Repent of your sinful unbelief, your covetous lust, and your angry rejection of His Word.  Do not insist on your own wants and your own way, but rejoice in His gracious Voice and give thanks that He comes to you in Peace to atone for your sins and to reconcile you to God forever.  Repent of all your sins, and find your help and hope and life in the preaching of His Gospel.

It is instructive to contrast the response of Nazareth to the preaching of Jesus with the response of the people in Nehemiah’s day when Ezra the priest read and preached the Law of God to them.

Take your cues from those who heard and repented, who were comforted with the mercies of the Lord and given to feast upon the gifts of His grace.  Instead of hardening your heart and mind against the Lord and adding sin upon sin by rejecting and refusing to hear and heed His Word, humble yourself before Him, live by faith in His Word under His Cross, and worship Him with reverence and awe in your body, soul, and spirit.  Fear, love, and trust in Him above all else.

It is the great irony and paradox of the Christian faith, that when the Law of God exposes you and condemns you as a sinner, just so does He open you up to His grace and mercy and declare you to be the object of His Gospel of forgiveness.  For if you are a sinner, the Lord Jesus is your Savior.  But if you refuse to be a sinner, then you refuse and reject the One who is the Savior of sinners.

It is indeed for this very purpose that He has come to you, and for which He has been anointed by the Spirit of God in His Baptism.  He is here in the flesh to bear and carry the Cross, in order to save you from your sins, to redeem you from death and the devil, and to bring you to God as a member of His own crucified and risen Body.  He comes to cleanse and heal you; to set you free from the bondage of guilt and fear; to fill up your poverty with His heavenly riches; and to feed your desperate hunger and deepest thirst with nothing less than Himself, His Body and His Blood.

None of this according to any merit or worthiness in you, nor by any pedigree or power in you.  That is precisely the point!  It is all by His grace, by His divine charity, to meet your real need.

If He does not relieve you of your loneliness and isolation; if He does not provide you with the spouse, the family, or the friends that you would so much like to have; if He does not cure all your aches and pains and hurts and anxieties, nor heal all your temporal, bodily ailments; if He does not make you rich and famous or give you whatever else it is that you have demanded and expected in your sinful thoughts and desires — it is not because He has not come to be your Savior.

To the contrary, the Lord Jesus would have you recognize your real need for Him and so receive Him as your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And He would have you live by faith in His preaching, rather than living for earthly comforts and worldly achievements, which can be so delightful but are deceptive in their appearances, because they do not last and cannot save you.

Indeed, if you are blessed by the Lord your God with many and great things here on earth, pray all the more fervently that He would “lead you not into temptation,” but that He would guide you by His Word and Spirit to use whatever He has put into your hands in godly faith and in holy love for Him and for your neighbor.  Do not put your trust in such things which whither and fade like grass.

The harsh reality is that, whether you have much or little, your covetous and sinful heart will lead you astray to the left or the right, sometimes into sinful pride, and elsewise into faithless despair.

In your idolatrous fear, love, and trust in yourself and in other false gods, you will get frustrated, angry, and rebellious with Jesus, and you would just as soon cast Him out of your life altogether.

But for all of that, He has come to be the Savior of sinners.  He comes to be your Savior, to speak to you the gracious Word of His Gospel; to absolve you of all your sins; to release you from the oppression of your old Adam; and to set you free from false belief, from pride, and from despair.

It is all right here for you — in this preaching of His Word — sounding in your ears, even now — this Word of Christ that lifts you up and gives you His Life in place of your death and damnation.

Do not let it go right by you, in one ear and out the other.  But give careful attention to His Word.  Consider it, and cling to it, and take it to heart, irrespective of your fickle feelings and emotions.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here preached to you, which makes of your Holy Baptism a cleansing from transgression, from the vile leprosy of sin, and from the stink of death.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here spoken to you with such tenderness and peace, which feeds you from the never empty Bread Box and the overflowing Chalice of His everlasting Marriage Feast; for He is your immortal Bridegroom, who lives and does not die forevermore.

As you now hear His voice in your ears, so eat of the Fat Portions which He gives into your mouth, and drink of the Sweet Wine which He pours out upon your lips and tongue for the forgiveness of all your sins.  As He has spoken, so does He freely distribute these sacred Portions to you, and to the many who have nothing, because He has prepared this great Feast for His own Name’s sake.

Neither mourn nor weep, but rejoice in the Lord your God.  For He rejoices over you in holy Love.  As He forgives you all your sins and justifies you in His sight by the preaching of His Gospel, so by His Word does He delight in you with great joy, and by His Word you are strengthened in Him.

It is His Word of the Gospel which sanctifies this day and makes of it the day of salvation for you, and His Word of the New Testament which makes of this building His own House and Home, His dwelling place of peace, that you might live with Him in His Kingdom both now and for eternity.

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

17 January 2016

Pray and Confess the Word of Christ

You know that person who is really good at planning, preparing, and pulling off the big event?  Whether it be the perfect hostess who makes it look so easy and effortless, the wedding planner, or the backstage production manager.  You know the one I’m talking about.  Or maybe you are that person.  Not everyone has that kind of knack, but there are those talented few who just know how.  The rest of us muddle forward, accepting that we’re going to make mistakes, hoping that they’re not too devastating and that we’ll learn from them in any case.

Truth be told, even for the best of us, all the most careful plans and preparations can still fall short and go awry.  There’s too many people, too many variables, and the bottom line is that none of us is flawless or infallible.  It’s often hit or miss, so you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

If that’s the case when it comes to planning a wedding — and you know it often is — it’s all the more so in the case of marriage itself.  Put two imperfect people together, and it would be silly to expect flawless perfection.  To maintain all the moving parts involved in everyday life, to keep all the plates spinning, and to pull it off week after week, year after year — it doesn’t happen easily; it doesn’t manage itself without effort; and it doesn’t unfold without its spilt milk and spent wine.

And that’s just to speak of weddings and marriage, to say nothing yet of all the other occupations and undertakings in this poor life of labor.  What else are you attempting?  To what do you aspire?  What sorts of plans and preparations are you pursuing?  And where is your wine running out?

You know, both from the Word of God and from your own experience, that life on earth and all of creation is under the curse of sin.  The consequence of death is present in your perishing flesh and everywhere you look, long before the funeral, really from the womb.  It’s not just the wine at the wedding reception, but everything is exhausted and spent, falling far short of expectations.

And yet, this finitude, this frailty of fallen flesh, this futility of mortal life under the curse of sin is not left without hope.  It rather calls you to a different perspective and a new set of priorities.  For the Creator remains and abides in love over all things.  He does not abandon the work of His own hands, but in mercy He upholds all that He has made, and He governs the heights and depths, the breadth and width of His entire creation for the benefit and blessing of His Christian Church.

Not only that, but He provides for you, as well, for each one of you, whose very hairs are numbered and accounted for in His holy wisdom.  Has He not created you and given you breath, a heart and mind, your body and soul, your reason and all your senses, in order to give you life with Himself?  And as the Father has not spared His only-begotten Son, but has given Him over to the Cross for your Atonement, and has raised Him from the dead for your justification, shall He not also, with Him, freely give you all that you need and raise you up at last, even from death, unto eternal life?

Here, then, you are catechized by the Son of God.  And, by faith in His Word, you recognize the Signs of His divine Glory in, with, and under His Cross.  He teaches you not to despair of His providence, nor to despise His good gifts of body and soul, which He gives to you generously by grace.  At the same time, He teaches you not to make idols of His creation but to fix your hope on Him alone, on His Word and promise, on His Cross and Resurrection, and on His means of grace.

Look to Him, therefore, the Word-made-Flesh by whom all things are made, without whom there is nothing but death and destruction.  Look to Him who is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, who is also your Maker and Redeemer and the Preserver of your life both now and forever.

In whatever it is you struggle, in whatever you are attempting to accomplish, in whatever life you are trying to live, ask yourself, seriously: Have you invited the Lord Jesus to your “party,” and have you presented Him with your need?  Have you asked for His help and trusted Him to act?

If not, know that He has come down from heaven in the flesh, in love for you and for all people, and that He is at hand to hear and heed your prayer.  He is not far away from you, but He is near you in the Word that He speaks, in the Gospel that is preached to you, in His promise of mercy.

So, then, pray as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  Pray to Him, and call upon His Name, because He has commanded you to do so, because He has promised to hear and answer your prayer, and because you really do need Him for everything that matters.

Pray for your Daily Bread, and for the New Wine of the New Creation.  And pray each day for the forgiveness of your trespasses, which is the first and foremost thing that you need above all else.  Pray for His grace to help in time of need, and for the Gift of His Holy Spirit, that you may believe His Holy Word and live according to it here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Pray at all times and in all places — without ceasing — and do not lose heart.  Do not keep silent.

Pray in view of the Lord’s Hour of Glory, that is, in the Light of His Cross and Passion.  For that is where and how He has answered all of your prayers before you have even begun to ask.  And do so in the sure and certain confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, which is the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all your prayers and all your needs in Jesus Christ, His Son.

In His suffering and death, from His Cross to His borrowed Tomb, He has been planted as the true Vine; He produces good grapes and the best wine to the praise and glory of His God and Father, and for the joy and gladness of His people.  Whatever has been lacking, He has thus provided.

When you pray, therefore, look to His Cross and do not lose sight of it.  Behold His answer there in His Passion, in His body crucified but now risen.  And whatever He says to you, do it.  Even if it seems strange and pointless and utterly unlikely to do any good, do it anyway.  And if it’s hard, and if you suffer as a consequence, remember again what He has accomplished by His own Cross.

Whatever He has given you to work with in this life on earth, use it according to His Word in the hope of the Resurrection.  It will be sufficient, no matter how much or how meager it may be, and no matter how it looks to you or anyone else — whether it be great wealth or simple water only.

In your marriage, or without husband or wife.  In your family, or without any parents or children.  In your job, or out of work; whether you are still in school, unemployed, retired, or just plain tired.  In your own house and home, or out on the street with no place to lay your poor head.  Whatever He says to you within your station in life, do it, and rest assured that He will work it out for you.

If you lack anything, look to the Lord for all that you need.  And if you lack nothing, use what you have for the good of your neighbor, whomever the Lord has set along side of you or laid at your gate in need of your help.  For whatever you may have, be it much or little, it is the Lord’s gift of grace and a stewardship of His mercy for the common good.

You need not worry about yourself, what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear.  The Lord knows your needs and well provides them.  But you are His servant to care for your neighbor, for your family and friends, for your fellow Christians, and for your fellow man, even when it seems that you have nothing to offer.  Even if it is only a cup of water for one of His thirsty little ones.

Even the crosses that you bear are for the common good.  So do not feel sorry for yourself, but rejoice and be patient in your suffering, and call on the Name of the Lord in peace, hope, and love.

So, too, if you are an officer of this congregation, exercise that office for the common good.  But if you are not an officer, do not suppose that you have no responsibility for the Body of Christ or that you have nothing to contribute.  Whatever gifts you have been given are for the mutual help and edification of all.  As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you should know that from the Word of His Apostles, and from the example of His early Christians who had all things in common.

The Church is not a competition but a family.  You are given to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ, who is your true Husband and Head.  And your brothers and sisters are given to serve you.

First and foremost among the good gifts that you are given is the Word of Christ, His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins, for which He has taught you to pray, and which He freely gives you by grace.  That is yours, in Him, no matter how young or old you are, no matter how rich or poor.  Whether you have anything else, or nothing else at all, speak that Word of the Gospel as you also hear it.

Forgive those who trespass against you, as you are forgiven by the Lord.  Confess the Word of Christ to comfort and encourage your neighbor, and to strengthen your own faith by speaking it.

Pray, too, according to His Word and promise: for yourself and your family; for your friends, and for your enemies; for your neighbors near and far; for the Church, and for the whole wide world.

Do not keep silent, and do not speak what is false or foolish, but pray and confess the Word of Christ.  Encourage and exhort according to His Word.  Testify to what He has said and done.  Such words are not empty or useless.  They are powerful, living, and active, because they are of Christ.

Consider what His Word says and gives to you: He delights in you and rejoices over you in love.  He calls you by His own Name, for He is your Bridegroom and His Father is your God and Father.

Along with that, by the washing of the water with His Word He has forgiven you all your sins, poured out His Holy Spirit generously upon you, rescued you from death and the devil, opened heaven to you, and bestowed the divine gifts of eternal life and salvation upon your body and soul.

He speaks, and it is so: Let there be! And by water, Word, and Spirit, you are His New Creation.

And now, then, from the waters of your Holy Baptism, see here the Wedding Feast to which He invites you and brings you.  Not all of your parties on earth will be brilliant or smashing, that is for sure, but this Wedding Feast of Christ, the Lamb of God, has no end nor lacks any good thing.

What is more, at this Banquet you are not only His dear guest, but you belong to the Bridal Party.  In the deep Mystery of the Body of Christ, you too are His beloved and beautiful Bride, for with His Word He has betrothed you and wed you to Himself, to have and to hold forever and ever.

Here is the Abundance of His House and the River of His Delights, given and poured out for you.  From His Cross, from His own innermost being, His holy Flesh and precious Blood are given as your Daily Bread and poured out for you and for the many as your true Spiritual Drink indeed.

This New Wine of the New Creation, which is His own Blood of the New Testament, is the best Wine, the choicest Vintage.  It is His Holy Covenant with you, which no man shall put asunder.  It cleanses you from sin and clothes you with His Righteousness and Holiness within and without.

It is the First Fruit and Pledge of the Good Land the Lord has sworn to you, to give you according to His loving-kindness and tender mercies.  The One who promises is faithful, and He shall do it.  His banner over you is Love, and His steadfast Love endures forever.  That is most certainly true.  His Love is stronger than death and larger than any other sort of life you have otherwise known.

You see here, He has brought you to His Banquet Hall.  His left hand is under your head, and His right hand embraces you.  Dearly beloved, whatever He says to you, do it.  And what, then, does He say?  “Come, eat and drink without money and without cost.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Drink freely from the Rivers of Life.  It is all for you.  It is for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

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