24 July 2016

Pray with Confidence in Christ

Dear Christian, dear child of God, you are to pray without ceasing.  Your entire life is to be one of prayer to your dear Father in heaven.

It is not an optional choice, whether or not you pray.  For you pray to honor the Lord, your God.  You pray to worship Him alone, who is the true and only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You pray because He has commanded you to pray, and because He has promised to hear you.  Do not despise His command or His promise, but pray because you need Him above all.  Your need for Him is greater than life itself, for He is your highest good, and without Him you have nothing.  Therefore, seek His face always.  Look to Him, and wait upon Him.  Call upon His Name.

Pray with and according to His Word, in faith and hope and confidence.  If you were simply to invent the words to say in your own heart, with which to approach Him, you could have no confidence or certainty that He would hear or answer you.  But as you are armed with His Word, with His commandment and His promise, and with the Words that He has placed upon your lips, so sure and certain is your prayer that you say, “Amen,” knowing that it shall be so.

Do not waver, and do not doubt.  Do not pray as though it were a gamble, as though it were some kind of last ditch resort.  Pray knowing that you pray to your Father, that He loves you, that He hears your prayer, and that He answers.

Pray to Him for everything that you need, both great or small.  Pray for all that you need in body and soul, and for all good things.  But, above all, pray for the forgiveness of your sins, on which everything depends.  Without His forgiveness, you receive nothing.  For you are worthy of none of those things for which you pray, nor have you deserved them.  He gives them all to you by grace

Pray for yourself, for your family and friends.  But pray also for your neighbor, for your friend and for your foe.  Pray for the entire Church of God on earth, and for the entire world.  Pray for all those for whom Christ your Savior died, who died for all the people of all times and places.

Pray that the work of God would be done in you and in your life.  And pray that His work be done through you, as well, for your neighbor.  Pray that His good and gracious will be done throughout the world, to the glory of His holy Name.

Such prayer is nothing else than the voice of faith, which calls upon God in confidence and hope.

But you do not believe as you should.  And because you do not believe, you do not pray as you should.  Think of how often your worship and your prayers have faltered.  How often you forget to call upon God, until some tragedy strikes, or until there is some thing that you want, and you turn to God as though He were your lackey, your gopher.

Prayer depends upon the forgiveness of sins, for you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  But you do not trust God’s forgiveness.  You do not come to Him confidently, knowing that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  But neither do you recognize your need for His forgiveness, and so you do not seek His forgiveness diligently for yourself.  Nor do you forgive and love your neighbor in his need, although you are commanded to do so; and if you do not forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, neither will God forgive your trespasses.

Apart from faith and the forgiveness of sins, you do not know how to pray, and you cannot pray.  Left to yourself, you are left with nothing.  Fatherless and destitute.  Pathetic.  “Being evil,” as Jesus says, with no love for God or man, unable even to pray, you receive nothing because of your doubt and your disbelief.  And you have nothing to give, nothing to offer.  There is nothing with which you can bargain before God to get what you want as though by some kind of payment.

But hear this Word of the Lord, which says to you that Jesus prays.  The almighty and eternal Son of God, He prays.  He prays constantly throughout the Gospel.  He prays without ceasing.

And the Lord Jesus prays, not only as a good example for you; He prays for you.  He prays and intercedes for you, on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest.  Indeed, His prayer for you is the culmination and confession and ongoing exercise of all that He has done for you: His Incarnation, His Life, His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension.  All for you.

His prayer has become your prayer, as His God and Father has become your God and Father.  For He, the Son of God, has first of all taken your place under the Law, under the burden of your sin, under the judgment of God, in His own flesh, even unto death upon the Cross.  And now by His Gospel, especially in your Holy Baptism, He has given you His place, so that you are a son of God in Him, by grace and by adoption, beloved and well-pleasing to our Father in heaven.

Think of it.  In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells bodily; yet, He has not only given Himself for you, He has also given Himself to you in Love.  And He has taken you to Himself and wrapped you in His embrace, and united you to Himself forever.  Therefore, all that you are, and all that you say, as you stand before God, is hidden in Christ Jesus.  And for His sake you are heard.

Before you have called — before you were even able to call upon Him or come to Him — He has already answered your prayer in Love, and has provided you with all good things in Himself.

For the sake of His divine and holy love, by His grace alone, the Father has given His Son for you, and given His Son to you.  And in and with His Son, He bestows upon you the Holy Spirit, so that He is your own dear “Abba! Father,” your true and permanent Father; and you are His dear child.

You can come to Him and pray to Him, just as little children go to their fathers; indeed, far better, far more confidently.  For here is a Father who never loses His temper, who never forgets His promises, who never goes away and leaves you alone.  Here is a Father who is always faithful, who always hears, who always answers, who always loves, all for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.

He has obtained for you and for the world the forgiveness of sins, for each and every sin.  And He has bestowed that forgiveness upon you by and with His sweet Word of the Gospel, by His means of grace, by His holy Word and Sacraments.

By the preaching of His Word and by His Holy Spirit, He has called you to repentance — not for the purpose of shaming you for your sins, but to call you away from your sins and the death to which they lead, back to Himself in faith and love.  And with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, day after day, He strengthens and sustains your faith and hope and confidence in Him.

It is in such faith that He opens your mouth to pray.  And it is by and with His Word that He teaches you to pray.  In fact, as you know, He gives you the very Words with which to call on Him.  When you pray, say this: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name. . . .”

Of yourself, you are small and weak and helpless.  What is more, and what is worse, you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds.  Of yourself, you could not pray; it would do no good.  For all that you deserve is nothing else but punishment, both for now and for ever.

But Christ Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father in your stead, on your behalf, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours.  He who was crucified for your transgressions, who has been raised for your justification, never to die again, He ever lives to make intercession for you at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.

The very Son of God, your Savior, is always praying for you.  And the Father hears His prayer in love, and He answers for Jesus’ sake.  So, too, the Holy Spirit intercedes for you, groaning within you the “Kyrie, eleison!” of faith.  Day and night, evening and morning, waking and sleeping.

Thus, God Himself is on your side.  He contends with you and for you against all your foes.  He who forgives your sins also prays on your behalf.  And His every prayer for you is answered.

Thus do you come before God in peace and joy, and you live in His presence in Christ Jesus, your Savior, who is your Brother in the flesh and your dearest Friend, as He was Abraham’s Friend.

It was for Jesus’ sake that Abraham was counted righteous.  For Jesus’ sake that Abraham was beloved of God.  For Jesus’ sake that Abraham’s prayer was heard, even when he had the nerve to ask again and again that Sodom be spared.

Ultimately it is for the sake of Abraham’s Holy Seed, the one Righteous Man, Christ Jesus, that God’s righteous wrath and judgment against the entire world of sinners has been removed: poured out upon Christ Himself to atone for your sins, to make restitution, and to reconcile you to God.

You pray, then, to Almighty God, in the sure and certain confidence of the forgiveness of your sins.  Your debt has been fully paid and cancelled.  There is nothing that you owe.  The accusation against you has been silenced.  There is no longer any condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.

And it is most certainly true that He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you, will also freely give you all good things in and with Him, in His Body and His Blood.  Even as He has taught you to pray, and has given you the very Words of Christ with which to pray, and has promised to hear your prayer and to answer you.  Amen. Amen. It shall be so.

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

17 July 2016

Living with Jesus in the House of Faith and Love

Is Martha not doing like the Good Samaritan in serving her neighbor, the Lord Jesus?

And is Mary not keeping the first and greatest commandment in loving the same Lord above all else and listening to His Word?

The home of Mary and Martha is the house of faith and love, the holy Christian Church — to which the Lord Jesus comes with His beautiful feet, shod with the Gospel of Peace.  There it is that He is given and received by mouth and ears, with hands and heart.

Martha labors while Mary listens.  There is a time and a place, a reason and a purpose for both activities.  These two sisters dwell together in one house and have one Lord whom they worship and serve by faith and love.  But dear Mary, here in this case, has the better part.  For she listens and receives in faith.  And, for all of that, she also loves much, because she is forgiven much, and because she lives by the Lord’s gracious Word and loving Service.

All of Martha’s labors depend upon the same Divine Service as Mary’s listening, and her labors serve the same Divine Service for the sake of faith, both her own and her sister’s.  That is the true point and purpose of all Christian service, which hangs upon and returns to the Service of Christ.

Martha’s labors of love depend upon the Lord’s.  Her service depends upon His Service.  Her words and works depend upon His Word of grace and His works of mercy and peace.  Her faith depends upon His faith and faithfulness, upon His preaching of forgiveness and free gift of life.

The same is true for you — as it was for Mary, too, who gladly listened to the Lord Jesus and so received the gifts He freely gave her.

If you strive to labor for your own life, as though your life depended on your own works and accomplishments, then you will never cease being worried and burdened by so many things, which you cannot bear and never will be able to bear.

Therefore, do not labor as though to achieve life for yourself, nor as though to gain your Lord and keep Him by your efforts.  But, as He has come to you in love, and as He comes to you still — as you have received Him, and as you do and shall receive Him, by His grace through faith in His Word — so, then, labor to extend His grace, mercy, and peace to your sisters and your brothers.

Do not suppose that you should not work, but do the work that God has given you to do.  Do not imagine that being justified by faith means that a Christian does nothing at all or has no job to do.

To be sure, the Lord has not called you to labor for your righteousness, life, and salvation.  But neither has He called you to laziness or negligence.  Neither idolatry nor idleness belongs to your Christian vocation.  Rather, six days shall you work, and the Seventh is your Sabbath Rest in Christ, sanctified for you by the Word of God and prayer.  Then leisure serves listening, and rest serves receiving, as the Lord your God speaks to you and provides for you all that is needed.

That is the purpose unto which you labor throughout the week, whatever your particular job and responsibilities may be, that you, your family, and your neighbors may rest in the Peace of Christ, in the preaching of His Gospel, in the eating of the Lord’s Supper at the Lord’s Table in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day.  That is to say, all your energy and effort derive from the strength and service you receive from that Holy Supper.  And then, by the same strength and service, you return again, in faith and love — along with your neighbor and your kin — to that Table of Christ Jesus.

Whether you cook or clean, sew or sell, teach or toil, write or read, or whatever you are given to do within your particular stations in life, it is all for the provision and support of that one thing which is truly needed, and a sacrifice of thanksgiving for that same free gift of God in Christ Jesus.  Everything aims at the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness and at the administration of His life and His salvation in His Liturgy.  Consider that each day, no matter what your job may be.

That is how Father Abraham’s household and family live, and so also his daughters and his sons.  Like Mary and Martha, you receive the Lord Jesus, and you welcome Him into your home.  And then your house becomes an Emmaus, where the Lord is your Host, your Waiter, and your Meal.

It is here at His Altar that you are at home with Him.  As you sit here at His feet and recline here at His Table, you are the Lord’s Body and His Bride, because you receive the Lord’s Body and drink His Blood.  And you, in turn, serve the Lord in His Body — no less so than the ministers of Christ serve His Church — by loving and serving your neighbor in body and soul; by providing shelter and clothing, food and drink, medicine and care, and a place of safety, comfort, and rest.

So, then, faith does not labor, but love does not rest.  Faith receives and trusts what Jesus says and gives by grace.  And love is always working so that faith may have peace and rest in that gracious Sabbath of the Lord Jesus, even in the midst of hardship.  Which is to say that love is always working for the neighbor, so that the neighbor may rest in Christ Jesus by faith in His Gospel.

And it is one and the same Lord Jesus Christ who is actively present and at work in both faith and love, both for you and for your neighbor.

Father Abraham and Sister Martha welcome Him, receive Him, and serve Him with their loving hospitality.  But faithful Mary and even incredulous Sarah receive Him, as well, and they are served by His Word and His promise of salvation.

To each and all of them, and so also to and for you, whom the Lord has called and gathered to Himself by the preaching of His Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Son of promise has indeed been given, who is the One Thing truly needed, which shall not be taken away from you.

Father Abraham washes His feet, and Sister Mary sits at His feet to listen to His preaching and teaching; and there she also anoints His feet with oil — for, yes, this is that very same Mary.

You also may wash the feet of Jesus and anoint them with oil, by loving His servants, His sisters and brothers, who serve you.  And there at His feet, beloved of the Lord, hear and heed His Word.  Listen to His preaching, and learn from His teaching.  Receive His hospitality.  Rest in His sure and certain promises.  Be at peace, and live in His love.  For here, with Him, you are at home.

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

03 July 2016

Before the Face of Christ Wherever He Goes

In the Old Testament, seventy-some persons of the family of Jacob entered the land of Egypt in the days of Joseph, thus bringing the people and presence of Yahweh into a new place.

Several centuries later, when Moses led the Children of Israel in the Exodus out of Egypt, he appointed seventy-some elders and ordained them with the Spirit of God to assist him in caring for the people.  For the Israelites were now the people of God on their way to the Land of Promise.

In later generations, it was commonly understood that seventy-some nations constituted all the tribes and languages of people in the entire world.  And so, for example, in popular tradition, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was known as the “Septuagint,” because it was said that seventy-some scholars — representing Jews from all the nations of the world — had come together to produce it.  In this way, the Word of God was rendered accessible to those around the globe.

Now, as Jesus makes a bee-line for Jerusalem, His face set resolutely on His Cross and Passion, His hand upon the plow with no thought of looking back, He makes provision for His Church on earth: He establishes His people and His presence in every time and place.  He causes His Word to be preached to all the nations, that those of every tribe and language might be re-constituted as members of His Body and as citizens of His Kingdom through Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And He shares His Table fellowship with sinners all over the world.

He has already called and sent His Twelve Apostles — the new Patriarchs of a new Israel, unique in their office and authority, superceding even the Prophets of the Old Testament because they see and hear what all the Prophets waited for.  But now He also provides for the continuation of the Apostolic Ministry by appointing and ordaining seventy-some others: seventy-some members of a new family, who go before the face of Christ into new places and territories; seventy-some shepherds of this growing flock, who lead the lambs and sheep of God into the Promised Land; seventy-some preachers of the Word, who bring the Gospel and the Sacraments to all nations.

Though not Apostles, per se, the Seventy(-two) are sent in the same way as the Apostles — in the Greek, they are “apostelled.”  And as such, they are the beginning of all those “Apostolic” Ministers of Christ who follow in the footsteps of the Apostles as pastors of the Church on earth, even to the close of the age.

To be “apostelled” in this way is to receive what we in our day call the “power of attorney.”  That is to say, a sent one speaks and acts with the legal and binding authority of the one who has sent him, as the official and personal representative of the sender.  So binding was this “apostolic” authority that the Jews had a saying: “The apostle of a man is equal to the man himself.”  So also the Word of Jesus this morning: “He who hears you, hears Me.”

Now, two things, in particular, are made absolutely clear and emphatic by St. Luke in this Gospel:

There is, first of all, the utter and complete nearness and “real presence” of Jesus Christ Himself in the preaching and Ministry of those whom He has sent, and so also the nearness and presence of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

And second, this Ministry of the Word of Christ is ever and always the way that He is received.  For He sends His preachers to every place where He Himself shall go.  Wherever the sent ones of Christ are not received, neither will Christ Himself remain.  Which is to say, that one does not and cannot have Christ apart from the preaching of His Gospel and the administration of His Sacraments in His Church by those whom He has sent in His Name and stead.

In contrast to the aspirations of the sinful human heart, it is not the world that draws near to God or enters into His Kingdom — not by good works, not by pious thoughts and feelings, not by sincere efforts, and not by any choices or decisions.  But the Kingdom of God draws near to the world in Christ Jesus, and Christ Jesus draws near to you in the preaching and Ministry of those whom He has sent.  You have only to receive this gracious gift of His presence.

Because the Lord has so chosen to come near to this world by way of His Apostolic Ministers, it is by all means necessary to do as He commands, that is, to beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His Harvest.  And according to His promise, that even before we call He answers, the Lord responds immediately and begins to provide the workers He requires, in this case by sending the Seventy(-two).

They are sent, two-by-two, to do what Jesus does: To preach the presence of the Kingdom, to heal and perform miracles, and to speak “Peace” to houses where they are received with hospitality and table fellowship.  But like Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy(-two) must also be prepared for the rejection of themselves and their preaching of the Kingdom of God.  For this rejection is a sign of the Holy Cross, which they too must carry, as Christ has carried it for them.

Not just what they say and preach, but who they are and Whom they represent — and what they do in the Name and stead of Jesus Christ — all of this is more than just a message or merely news and information.  It is the drawing near and the real presence of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

The focus of the Seventy(-two), and of pastors to this day, must be on this heavenly gift of grace — not upon sensational success or visible achievement.  For their names are written in God’s Book of Life, beside the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the chosen people of old.  And they are part of a pattern which stretches back to the Old Testament Prophets, but which is centered in Jesus, the Prophet par excellence, who testifies to God’s presence and salvation through preaching and teaching and miracles.  So also do His sent ones speak His Word and represent His Person in their Ministry, in accordance with His Word and promise.  As we confess, they act “in His stead and by His command,” and this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as by Christ Himself.

So to be “on the Way” of Christ, on the Way of His Cross, these men must travel with the same single-mindedness of purpose as Christ Himself on His journey to Jerusalem.  They are not to engage in trivialities, nor in the distractions and pursuits of the world, but to approach and serve the Lord’s people with His Peace.

Like the Twelve Apostles sent before them, the Seventy(-two) are not to carry any provisions for the journey.  Instead, they are given to bear and carry the Cross of Christ and His suffering.  For they represent emissaries who have forgotten the things of this world, who must depend upon the care and protection of others.  In fact, as Jesus indicated last week, they have renounced their homes and their families.  Their new kin are those who receive them and their word of Peace.  They are, therefore, not to rely upon themselves and their own resources, but to rest their entire hope on the Lord alone and on His Word of promise that nothing will by any means be allowed to hurt them.  Like the Levites of the Old Testament, their sole inheritance is the Lord Himself.

Not only are they New Testament Levites, the Seventy(-two) are sent as “lambs among wolves,” which implies the sacrificial character of their office and mission.  They will be rejected, as Christ Jesus is, and suffer the consequences of ushering in the Kingdom of God.  They are sent to carry out a cruciform Ministry of preaching and healing, for which they will be met with the hostility of the world and its violence.  Like their Lord Jesus, they will become the sacrificial victims of His Gospel, which calls for repentance and a reversal of the world’s values and priorities.  Hence, they are indeed sacrificial lambs, who are sent with full knowledge of the world’s enmity against them.  But in their proclamation they will show that they are not ashamed of Jesus and His Words.

Moreover, the Seventy(-two) carry in themselves, in their own bodies, Jesus’ redemption and His Peace.  For that Peace has come down from heaven in Jesus, and His Apostolic Ministers now bestow it in His Name and by His Word.  As His emissaries, they now represent Jesus.  And as Saint Paul would later write, concerning himself and others, they carry in their bodies the death of Jesus, so that His life may also be manifest in their bodies.

Or again, as we have heard Saint Paul describe so vividly in our Epistle this morning, those who are sent bear in their own bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus.  For those who are sent by Christ bear in themselves, in their conduct of the Ministry, the very Person of Christ Himself — to be received in faith by those who will receive them; but also to bear His Holy Cross and Passion in the rejection and persecution of those who will not.

So it is that our Lord provides for those situations in which His Apostolic Ministers will be rejected: “Whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you.’”

This is a highly serious matter, one not to be taken lightly.  For a Minister of Christ to shake off the dust from his feet against a town or congregation is to place evidence on record for the Final Judgment, that the Kingdom of God has come to that place, and it has been rejected!

It is for this very reason that the Seventy(-two) are sent out in pairs, two-by-two, in keeping with the Old Testament requirement of at least two witnesses for any legal testimony.  Not only as witnesses of Christ to those who receive them, but as witnesses in the Final Judgment against those who do not receive them.

Whatever the excuses might be, for those who thus reject the Apostolic Ministers of Christ, the judgment will be more severe upon them than it is against the wicked Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Not only because this sin, above all others, is so terrible, but especially because it is the rejection of forgiveness and life and salvation in Christ Jesus.

But now, by the same token, let the Word of Jesus ring in the ears of those whom He has sent, and in the ears of those, like you, to whom His messengers are sent.  Twice He tells them to say that the Kingdom of God has come near.  For in the very preaching and healing of His sent ones, the Kingdom of God is already a present reality, and the kingdom of Satan is firmly defeated.

In the proclamation of the Seventy(-two), and so also in the proclamation of your pastor, week after week, the presence of Christ to redeem a lost and dying world is at hand — ensuring that His Kingdom will triumph — according to His promise, “He who hears you, hears Me.”  And those who thus speak for Christ should not fear any foe, even though Satan himself will assault them for their preaching of Christ and His Word, because Christ Jesus guarantees that nothing of Satan will by any means hurt them.

In the Old Testament Book of Job, Satan is revealed as the accuser of sinners before the judgment seat of God, the prosecuting attorney against mankind.  And sadly enough, we have all provided him with more than enough evidence to convict each and every one of us for all eternity.  But his case against you is thrown out, and he is thrown out, whenever Christ Jesus enters in as your Advocate and your Defender; for by the means of His Gospel–Word and Sacrament, He interjects Himself and His Cross between you and the judgment of God.  In such a case, Satan has no means or any way of harming you, nor of making any accusation against you stick.

Of course, as he did with Job (under the tolerance of God, who holds all things in His hands), Satan may attack your temporal circumstances, your earthly existence, and your body and life in this world, with all sorts of tricks and trials and temptations and crosses to bear, in an effort to get you to curse God and reject His Christ.  But do not fall for it or succumb to his trap.  It is a lie.

It is not the case that being a Christian will protect you from any and all harm and danger that might come your way in this life.  On the contrary, the Lord promises His people a share in His Cross and suffering.  But in Christ Jesus, no such harm and danger will ever put your soul and body under the judgment of damnation.  In Christ you are preserved for His salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day, but already come near to you in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Word of Absolution, and in His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you who are His own.  In fact, already by your Holy Baptism, your name has been recorded in the Lord’s Book of eternal life.

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

29 June 2016

Safe and Sound in the House That Jesus Built

It’s all about Jesus, the Christ, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen in His own Body of flesh and blood.  Everything in heaven and on earth — whatever was, and is, and is to be — it all depends on Him: on Who He is, and on what He has done and continues to do for you and for all.

The Church, which is His own Body as well as His Holy Bride, is established — and she lives, on earth even now, as in heaven forever — because He has conquered death, defeated the devil, atoned for the sins of the whole world, reconciled all mankind to God, and ascended to the right hand of the Father as the true Man, the perfect Second Adam, for the salvation of all people.

So, now, the question is, Where is this Lord Jesus Christ?  Where and how does He do His thing?  Which is really also to ask, Where is the Church?  How and where does she live by the grace of God in Christ, her Savior?  And, to get downright personal about it, How is it that you live in and with Christ Jesus, within His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?  For, if you would be saved, and if you are to live, it will be within the Body of Christ, within the House that Jesus built.

But, truth be told, you are no more able than Simon Peter and the other disciples (to say nothing of the rest of the people in their day) to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is.  You neither know nor do you understand what it means that He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.  Nor are you able to come to Him.  Nor can you fear, love, and trust in Him as your Savior and your God in the flesh — not at all by any wisdom, reason, strength, or savvy of your own.

And yet, you are here, and you do know Him and love Him, precisely because, and only because, the God and Father of this dear Lord Jesus Christ has given His Son both for you and now to you.  And by the gracious blessing of His Word and Holy Spirit, He reveals Him to you, and He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind to receive Him, to believe in Him, and to confess Him.

It is by this grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that you recognize Jesus for who He is, and know Him rightly, and find your life in Him, though you could never do this for yourself.

It is for this reason and purpose that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the utterly foolish Wisdom of God,  has built His House upon the Rock.

A most unlikely Rock it is, to be sure, as one might expect from this most unlikely of Saviors!  So much so, that theologians and scholars throughout the Church’s history have managed to wrangle and fight over it, though the simple and straightforward Word of Jesus is not so hard if it is taken at face value and heard within its context in the light of His own explanation.

The Rock foundation of the Lord’s Church is surely not St. Peter’s personal faith, nor his person, both of which were more than a little wobbly and misguided at times, as we all know.

But it is, after all, the Lord Jesus who calls this man and names him “Peter,” the Rock, so let us not suppose that he has no part in the foundation that Christ lays for His Church on earth.  The Rock, as our Confessions explain, is the ministry of the confession that St. Peter makes, according to his office and vocation as an Apostle.  For this man is called, ordained, and commissioned to speak the Word of Christ the Crucified, and to bind and release sins in His Name and stead.

This is how the one Lord Jesus Christ chooses to be present with and for His people.  This is how He works and does His thing, according to the good and gracious will of God, in order to rescue sinners from death and to give them eternal life in body and soul by His Cross and Resurrection.

It is upon this apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — the preaching of the Word of Christ unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins — that He establishes and builds His Church on earth, and that He protects her from the storms of life, from all the winds and waves of this world, both real and metaphorical, and from sin, death, the devil, and hell, even to the close of the age.

Although it is by now very familiar to you, and therefore seems quite normal and ordinary, let us admit again that the Ministry of the Gospel is a most unlikely foundation, even as it is formed and shaped on a most unlikely Cornerstone — that Stone which the builders rejected, although He is chosen by God and precious to Him.  His Apostles and Prophets, His pastors and teachers, His whole Church, and all His members are likewise despised by the devil, the world, and fallen flesh.

Consider, for example, those two foremost Apostles whom we remember with thanksgiving on this day: One of them a hotheaded fisherman, and the other a persecuting Pharisee of Pharisees.  But neither of these men, fallible and flawed though they were, is any more scandalous than the Cross they were called and sent to proclaim as the power of God unto salvation.  In fact, His power is made perfect in such weakness, beginning with His own voluntary weakness on the Cross.

Be encouraged, then, in your own office and stations in life, in your own calling as a Christian in this fallen world.  And take heart that, as the Lord has established and built up His Church, as He has planted, watered, and grown His Kingdom, even to the ends of the earth, by the way and means of men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, so does He work through you and accomplish His purposes in you, in spite of your faults and failings.  Do your job and carry out your duties with joy and confidence that your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  And do not be ashamed to confess the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, in all that you say and do.

For it is by the Cross that this incarnate God, conceived and born of Mary, has defeated death and the grave, such that even those gates of Hades have no power over anyone who belongs to Him, who lives by His grace, through faith in His Word, within His Church, His House upon the Rock.

For this Church of Christ — the very Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven — is established and sustained by His Ministry of the Gospel, which is fundamentally the Ministry of forgiveness, of Holy Absolution in His Name and stead.  The Office of the Keys and the Office of the Ministry go together, hand in glove, so that everything is said and done, finally, for the sake of forgiveness.

It is for the forgiveness of sins, by and from the Cross of Christ, that the entire Church on earth has been structured and arranged.  Forgiveness is the foundation and the front door of God’s House in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  It is the very air that we breathe in the living room of His House and Home, where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God by and with and for the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.  And it is found in abundance at the Father’s Table, around which His Household and Family are gathered for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, given and poured out for you and for the many.

It is by and with this forgiveness of all your sins — both given and received in such bodily ways and means for both your body and your soul — that death and damnation, the devil, and hell are rendered powerless against you.  Such wicked foes may rage and roar, but they cannot harm you.

Though your body grows weak and perishes — whether through infirmity or illness, accident or active violence, even as St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death for their faithful confession of the Lord Jesus Christ — yet shall your body be raised immortal and imperishable, like unto the risen and glorious Body of Christ, since you are forgiven in body and soul by His Gospel Ministry.

So also tonight, as the same Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, crucified for your transgressions and risen from the dead for your justification, gives to you His own holy Body and precious Blood for the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so are your life and salvation secured for you in heaven forever with Him.

Here is a strong foundation beneath your feet, four solid walls around you, and a secure roof above your head, which no enemy or army in all of creation shall be able to penetrate.  Here within the House that Jesus built, you are safe and sound, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

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

26 June 2016

The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ

Here today in the Cross of Christ, and in His Body and His Blood, in His forgiveness of all of your sins, you know the Love of God.  You know the Love of Christ, both for His Father and for you.  And in the Cross and in the Sacrament, you behold the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ.  Not because you have turned toward Him, but because He has turned His Face toward you.

He has set His Face toward Jerusalem.  He has set His Face toward the Cross.  And He has thereby set Himself to bear your sin and your death, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.

In setting His Face toward Jerusalem, His eyes and His heart remain fixed upon His Father, that He should do the Will of His Father, and that He should thus bring you to the Father in Peace.  For having come down from the Father in heaven, and having descended even into the depths of your sin and death, He returns to the Father in heaven with you in tow.

He does it by the way of His Cross.  He is lifted up first of all in death, that in His victory over death He might rise and ascend to the right hand of God, and seat you there with Himself in the Kingdom of His Father, in the House and at the Table of the dear Father who loves you in Him.

He is taken up to God by the way of the Cross in human flesh like yours.  But He is Himself true God.  It is no angel who accomplishes your salvation, but God in the flesh.  For it is God who was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And it is God who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who suffered, and died, and was buried in a cave, a hole in the ground.  He made His bed in the dust of the earth, so that, in His rising from that bed of dust, He should raise you, a child of Adam, to be a child of the Living God, to breathe His Holy Spirit, to live and not die forever.

He sets His Face toward Jerusalem and toward the Cross, bearing sin and death in His own Body for the salvation of all mankind.  And so has He done it.  He has borne the weight of the world, and the weight of the world’s sin upon His back.  He has taken all your sin and death up into His own holy wounds.  He has shed His Blood for you, and with that Blood He has made Atonement for your sins.  He has redeemed you, lost and condemned creature that you were.  He has reconciled you to God.  He has established peace for you.  He has saved you by His Cross, and He would save you still.  He would save you this day by His Word and the preaching of the Cross.

As you are His disciple — as you are baptized into Christ and taught by His Word, and as your ears are blessed to hear and receive the very Word of Christ — so take up His Cross, and follow Him.  For it is also by way of His Cross that you ascend to the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ.  It is by the way of His Cross that you enter the Kingdom of God.

You bear the Cross, not as though to redeem your own life, nor as though to make amends, to reconcile God, or to atone for your sins.  You could do none of this, but neither is it necessary.

You bear the Cross as a blessed communion with Christ Jesus, the very Son of God, who is your Savior and Redeemer, who has atoned for all your sins, and who has reconciled you to God.  You bear His Cross, that you might be united with Him in His death, and in His Resurrection, and in His Ascension.  You bear His Cross, in order that you might know God — not according to His wrath, as you deserve, but according to His mercy, to the praise of His glorious grace.

It is something the world cannot understand.  It is something your old Adam cannot understand.  It is something that even the Prophet Elijah could not understand, until He was taught by the Lord.  Nor the Apostles, James and John, those sons of thunder, who would have called down fire from heaven against the Samaritans, because the disciples did not yet know the Way of God in Christ, which is the Way of His own Cross and Sacrifice for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of sinners.

It is by the Cross that you know God rightly, as He truly is.  It is by the Cross that you know Him, as you are known by Him who loves you, who did not spare His only Son but opened up His heart and gave Him for us all.  Who opens up His heart and gives Himself to you right here and now.

If you would know God, then you must know Christ Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity, the Son of Mary, the Son of Man.  The Champion of Mankind.  The One who is not ashamed to call poor, miserable sinners His brethren.  The One who is not ashamed to know and love you.

To know Christ Jesus is to know His Cross.  That is where you know the Love of God, which constitutes His very Being.  That is where you know His strength — in His great weakness, even unto death, which was not thrust upon Him, nor forced upon Him, but was laid upon Him in love by His Father, and He willingly took upon Himself in love for His Father and for you.

To know God is to know this Christ, the Crucified One, who by His death destroyed your death.  Who by His bleeding and dying paid for your sins, suffered your punishment, and made Peace where there was no peace.  His Cross is the Victory, which is yours by grace through faith in Him.

To know the Cross of Christ is also to know your own death and resurrection.  Not as punishment, but as putting to death the lies of the devil in you heart, mind, and soul.  When you know suffering and pain and sadness and disappointment in your life, do not conclude that God hates you.  Do not suppose that He has turned Himself away from you, nor that He is turning you away from Him.  Do not suppose that He is punishing you, although He may, indeed, be disciplining you in your body and life, in your words and actions, as a father disciplines the son whom he loves.

Do not suppose anything.  But hear the Word of Christ.  Believe the Word of His Cross.  Know the power of His Resurrection and the grace of His indestructible Life, which He has established for you and for all in His own crucified and risen Body.  Know that to be true.  And knowing His Cross, know your own death in Him.  Know it as a discipline and catechesis from the Father who loves you, and from the great Good Shepherd who shepherds you, the perfect Teacher who teaches and trains you, who goes with you all the way and is your very present Help in time of need.

The Son of Man has not come to destroy your life, but to save you, and to give you life.  His Cross upon you is not punishment, but it is repentance, which He has accomplished for you in Himself, and which He works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit, unto faith in His forgiveness of sins.  For by the Cross He calls you away from yourself and your sins.  He puts you to death.  He buries your father alright, that old Adam who lives in you.  He does not leave you to do it, for you could not.  You could not kill that old Man.  You could not bury that old father.  And no matter how you tried, you could not flee.  No matter where you went, you could not escape his haunting presence.

When you look at your flesh, you see sin, and you see death.  When you examine your heart, you know your wretchedness.  When you are honest with your thoughts, you know how perverse and pathetic they are.  Whether it be lust, or jealousy, or anger, or greed, or pride — you could not bury your father.  But Christ, by His death, has buried your old Man with all your evil lusts and desires.

Christ therefore calls you to put yourself to death by the way and means of His Cross. To detach your heart and life, your body and soul, from your allegiance and attachment to this world, to its idols, and to all of its familiar comforts.  To leave behind everything you have loved and relied upon, in order to follow Him alone; to fear, love, and trust in Him alone as your true and only God in the flesh, in His Cross and Resurrection, in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments.  To lean not on yourself, nor on your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but solely on His Word and Spirit.

He calls you to put yourself to death — not by suicide, which is a sinful exercise of unbelief, but by the Cross, that is, by repentance for your sins, and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

But understand that He calls not only your sins to die, but all of you, beginning with the best and proudest parts of you.  He calls you to put yourself to death, even to your family and friends, to your house and home, and to your occupations and outstanding achievements.  Not by murder and destruction — God forbid! — but by an adamant refusal to worship any other God than the God and Father of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. So would He have you die to all that you depend on in yourself, not least of all your own attempts at piety and reverence.  Not only your filthy rags, but all of your very best righteousness, and everything you worship in yourself.

When He calls you to take up the Cross and follow Him, He would put all of you to death.  He would undo you entirely and bury you to the world.  And that certainly can feel like a punishment, that is to say, as retribution for your sins, a pound of flesh and vengeance for your wrongdoing.  But He lays the Cross upon you and puts you to death in this way, so that you would henceforth have your life always and only in Him.  That you would not search yourself for life and light and love, which are not there, but that you would behold the Face of God the Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and know Him rightly by knowing His mercy, and His forgiveness, and His life.

Let go of the past.  Not simply the regrets, but all of the idols and false gods you are so proud of!  Remember Lot’s wife, and do not look back to that which is behind you.  There is only death to be found back there in that.  There is only sin to be found in your flesh and its accomplishments.

Do not be bitter, then, about the Cross that is laid upon you now in Christ, your Savior.  For the Cross has been His work for you.  He has redeemed you with His innocent suffering and death, and with His holy and precious Blood.  Such a costly price He paid for you who are so valuable to Him.

There is no longer any sin to be atoned for.  There is no more curse yet to be undone.  Even the last great enemy, death, is forced to serve Christ until it, too, shall finally be put away forevermore.

You are set free.  For freedom, Christ has set you free.  You are free to love your God and Father in heaven, to love your Lord Jesus Christ, and to love your neighbors, your family and friends, and even your enemies, in and with the mercies of God, your Savior.  You are free to live and to love in this way, because your life is no longer a contest or a competition.

There is no contingency on you or on your life.  There is no condition to be met or achieved.  You are loved by God.  You are saved by Christ.  The One who calls you to follow Him has already blazed the trail for you; He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death on your behalf.

He has set His shoulder to the plow.  And He has not looked back.  He has taken it upon His broad shoulders, and He has not set it down.  He has plowed the earth with His Cross, sowed it with His flesh, and fertilized it with His blood.  He has buried Himself in the ground, and He has risen from death and the grave, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  In His Body, you have life.

Foxes have holes.  Birds of the air have nests.  But the Son of Man, your Savior, had no place to lay His head, except upon the wood of His Cross, and then upon the stone of His borrow tomb.  Yet, by His death and burial, He has made of that hole in the ground, of that cave, a place of Sabbath Rest for you and all His saints.

Do you hear the gentle blowing at the mouth of that cave?  It is the gentle voice of the Gospel.  It is the Life-giving breath of Holy Absolution.  It is the preaching of the Spirit, who speaks Christ.  It is the forgiveness of all your sins.  It is the Voice of the risen Lord Jesus, who called Lazarus from the grave, and who now calls you also by name to Himself: “Dear little lamb, follow Me.”

He has made a nest for you.  You know that He loves the sparrows.  You know that He provides a home for the swallows, a nest in the Altars of God.  You know that He feeds the young ravens when they do cry.  But He loves you a whole lot more than any of these birds of the air!  And as He has given you Sabbath Rest by His own rest in the tomb, so has He also made a nest for you, little bird, right here at the Altar of God, where He feeds you with His own Body and His Blood.

Here there is safety.  Here there is Peace.  Here is your home and your family.  Here is where the heart of God is opened to you in love.  For here is where the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God is turned toward you in the Face of Jesus Christ, your Savior, in His Word and in His Flesh.

Lift up your heart, beloved of God, and set your face on Christ, for He shall not turn you away.

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

24 June 2016

The Mouth of the Lord Has Spoken

Zacharias has been catechized, and he has learned to believe and confess the Word of the Lord: concerning things only barely unfolding, and concerning things not yet seen.  In the confidence and certainty of faith, he confesses these things as already accomplished before God in heaven.

After ten months of silence — which were the sign and the discipline given to Zacharaias when he doubted the Word of the Archangel Gabriel — now, in retrospect, when that Word concerning a son born to him and his formerly barren old wife, Elizabeth, has been fulfilled — he confesses the grace of God by naming his son “John,” according to the Word that he received from the Lord through the Angel.  And with that confession of God’s Word — by that very Word, and by the Spirit of God at work through that very Word — his lips are opened, and his tongue is set free, so that he speaks rightly and well, and his mouth shows forth the praises of God.

Though the occasion is the nativity and circumcision of his own son, John, he first of all gives thanks for the Infant Jesus, the Horn of Salvation that God has raised up in the House of His Servant David.  Zacharias gives thanks for the Infant Lord Jesus, who is there present in the womb of His Mother Mary, and for the Redemption and Salvation which are in the same Christ Jesus.

Everything is always about Jesus.  Everything from start to finish is centered in Him, the Lamb of God.  And everything else derives its meaning and significance from Him.  That is true of your life, as well.  It is true of your body and soul, your eyes and ears, your reason, and all your members.  It is true of your vocation, and your stations in life, your job, and your family.

It’s all about Jesus.  It all depends on Him and finds it real value and true purpose in Him, in His Body crucified and risen from the dead.  And in all things, in all that you do and say, you are called to confess Him and His Holy Name, which you also bear and carry by your Baptism into Him.

So also is it true in the case of St. John the Baptist, in a special and particular way, that everything is all about Jesus.  His whole life points to Jesus, already from the womb.  Remember how, when St. Mary first came to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth, as soon as her greeting reached the ears of her relative, Elizabeth, even then baby John, in the womb of his mother, leaped for joy at the presence of his Savior.

St. John’s whole life points to Jesus.  So do his nativity and circumcision point to the coming Nativity and Circumcision of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Likewise, his life in the desert wilderness, his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and finally his martyrdom, his beheading — it all points to Jesus, to His Cross, to His Atonement, to His forgiveness of sins, and to His free gift of Life and Salvation in His flesh and blood.

St. John’s whole body and life are about Christ Jesus, but his mouth, in particular, is the focal point: The mouth with which he speaks the Word of God, as the Lord’s Voice in the wilderness, whereby St. John’s mouth is actually the Mouth of the Lord, which has spoken salvation in Christ.

As his father Zacharias’ mouth is opened by the gracious Word and promise of the Lord, so will St. John’s mouth also pray, praise, confess, and prophecy: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

It is precisely by that Word spoken by St. John, by that preaching, by that mouth and voice, that St. John the Forerunner, the Lord’s Messenger, goes before the Lord Jesus and prepares His Way.

This is how God speaks, also now to you, by the mouth and preaching of His servants.  And it is by His speaking that God works and does all that He has promised.

He speaks both Law and Gospel.  He instructs you in the way that you should go.  He calls you to live within your own place in life, trusting that He will also provide the necessary means by which to carry out the work that He has given you to do.

He lowers your mountains and raises your valleys, so that both your pride and your despair are done away with and removed.  He smooths your rough places, and He straightens what is crooked in your life.  He calls you daily to repentance, to die to your sins, and to live unto righteousness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been crucified and is risen from the dead for you and all.

By the mouth of His servants, the same Lord speaks forgiveness, salvation, and Peace into your ears, into your body and life, unto the life everlasting.  Just think of that.  He speaks and bestows real Peace for your troubled heart and your troubled mind and your troubled life on earth.

God speaks Peace, and His Mouth, His Voice, and His Word do what He says, what He speaks.  For by and with that speaking, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the Father, visits you with His Redemption, even while yet hidden in the womb of His Mother.

He speaks to your heart, tenderly, and by that preaching the Holy Spirit lays Christ Jesus on your heart to comfort you with His forgiveness of all your sins.

Have you done wrong? You are forgiven.  Have you spoken harshly? You are forgiven.  Have you been lazy? You are forgiven.  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? You are forgiven.  Have you failed to love? You are forgiven by the Love of God in Christ.

He speaks such comfort to you, daily and richly, through the Gospel.  And by that Gospel He calls you to faith, and He lays you upon Christ Jesus, who is your Sabbath Rest.

Listen, therefore, to what the Mouth of the Lord speaks.  Listen to His Mouth, to your pastor and his preaching.  Listen with your ears, and listen with your heart and your mind, and listen with your whole body, soul, and spirit.

It is for the sake of such preaching and hearing that the Lord God formed your pastor’s mouth and your ears, even in the womb, before you were ever born.  And both mouth and ears are sanctified and consecrated for this purpose by the Word of the Lord that is spoken and heard in His Name.

It is not simply the word of man, but the Lord’s own Word on the lips and in the ears of His own people.  It is by and with His Word that He opens the preacher’s mouth to speak, and by and with His Word that He opens your ears to hear; and He opens your heart and mind to believe and trust; and He opens your mouth to pray, praise, confess, and sing.

You, no less than David, are a man or a woman after God’s own heart, when you are a man or a woman after God’s own mouth.  When you hear His Word, and pray and confess as He has taught you.  When you pray and confess, not only for yourself, but with and for your children, even from the womb; and with and for your spouse, your friends and neighbors; for your brothers and sisters, including your brothers and sisters in Christ; and for your pastor, that he also be upheld in Peace.

Do not suppose that such a Word, even upon your lips and from your mouth, is ever a pointless or powerless noise.  Do not suppose that, because you are not eloquent or confident, or as articulate as you would like to be, that you cannot speak the Word of the Lord, or by that Word bring comfort to your neighbor.  For it is the Voice of the Lord, the very Voice by which He rends the heavens and moves mountains; by which He wounds and heals, kills and makes alive; by which He gives life to all of creation; by which He forgives sins and rescues from death and the devil; by which He reveals Himself and His glory to all flesh; by which He cleanses your lips and does great things.

To be sure, you are not the Savior and Redeemer of God’s people.  You are not the Mother of God, as St. Mary was, nor the Forerunner of the Lord, as St. John was.  But you are a Christian, baptized into Christ Jesus, anointed by His Holy Spirit, and adopted by His Holy Father.

And, dearly beloved, you are spoken to by the Lord.  As your preacher is His Mouth, so do your ears become the cradle into which His Word is placed, that your heart, mind, and body might also receive and treasure Him.  And as you thus hear and receive the Word of the Lord, so do you also speak, and pray, and confess.  So do you praise, give thanks, and sing the New Song of Christ.

No, you are not the Savior and Redeemer.  Nor of yourself are you worthy even to untie His sandals; for He alone is able to redeem His people.  But by His grace you do speak His Word with His Voice.  And the same forgiveness, life, and salvation that are surely given to you and are yours by His Mouth of the Gospel, are given to your neighbor, also, by the Lord’s speaking through you.

So does the Lord, by the Voice of His preaching, come down from heaven and come to His Temple, and rise among us with tender mercy, the knowledge of salvation, and the way of peace.  So does He visit you here and now, and give you life, by the forgiveness of all your sins.  For the Mouth of the Lord has thus spoken, and so is it done.

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

19 June 2016

Who's Your Daddy?

So, who’s your Daddy?  Not simply the one who sired you, but who is it that gives you life and still takes care of it?  Who is it that names you and calls you by name?  Who is it that provides you with a house and home?  Not simply a building, or a room, or a bed to sleep on, but a place where you belong; a place of safety, peace and rest; a place of nourishment; a place of love.

Who is it that puts clothes on your body, so that you are not found naked or ashamed in the streets, but you are covered?  Who is it that shelters you from the winds and the rains, both real and metaphorical?  Who is it that guards and protects you from all evil?  Who is it that opens His hand to feed you, to satisfy your needs, and to strengthen your body and life?

And who is it that teaches you?  Who teaches you to listen and to think?  And who is it that teaches you to speak?  For that is one of the most important and fundamental things that a father does.  He teaches his children, his sons and his daughters, how to speak.  Not only to communicate, but to give yourself in love to your neighbor with your speaking and your words.  And above even this, to pray, and to confess.  To praise and glorify God, your Maker and Redeemer, who has also become your Father according to His mercy and love.

Surely it is the case that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has become your God and Father.  He has made you His own dear child by His gracious adoption, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, His Son.  So it is that He has taught you to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  And so it is that you receive all good things from His hand, all that you need to support this body and life, and the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the Life everlasting in Christ Jesus.

It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who gives you life, who names you with His own Name, who has made you a part of His Family among the many brethren of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He provides you with a home within His Church, within His Kingdom, a place of peace and rest, of safety, and of great Love that has no end.

It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has clothed you.  Not simply with fabric, but with Christ Himself, with His righteousness and holiness.  He has cleansed you from all of your sins.  And He feeds you, again with Christ Himself, with His Body and His Blood.  Thus do you abide in Christ, and Christ abides in you.

It is God who teaches you how to listen and how to speak by speaking to you.  The Father opens His mouth and speaks to you by His Son.  So does He open your ears, and He opens your mouth to pray, to praise and give thanks.  He teaches you to pray, and He teaches you to confess, to speak as the oracles of God.  Indeed, He has recreated you in Christ Jesus, in His Image and after His Likeness, to be His own, even here in the world under the Cross.

Christ the Lord has come to you in this foreign territory, in order to bring you home with Himself to the Father.  By the water, by the Boat of His Church, He has drawn near.  He has encountered you in Gentile territory, among the pagans.  Even among the tombs, He has come to you.

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

He forgives you all your sins with the authority of His Gospel.  For He has died, and He is risen.  He has atoned for the sins of the world.  He has atoned for all your sins; they are gone.  And as He was baptized, so has He baptized you.  Thus, all your sins and death are washed away.  Not just once upon a time, but as you have entered the waters of Holy Baptism, you live in those waters like a little fish of Jesus.  And all your sins are daily washed away by those living waters of Baptism.

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

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

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

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

Such good things on earth are the gifts of your Father.  But they are His gifts; they are not your Father.  You dare not worship them as your gods.  They are part of the life your God and Father gives you, but they are not your life.  For life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.  And your true home is not of wood or brick, of glass or steel.  It is the Church, the Kingdom of God.  The Lord’s House, that is your place, where you belong, where your Father keeps you safe.

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

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

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

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

Therefore, Jesus comes to set things right.  And He is ferocious against your enemies.  He is your dread Champion in fighting the devil.  He has entered the fray, not simply to assist or stand at your side, but to take the lead, to bring down Goliath, to slay the dragon.  He sets you free from the unclean spirits that haunt you, by the cleansing Word of His Gospel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When He would permit even demons to torment you, He has not lost control, and He has not given up on you.  He does not turn His face away in anger.  All day long He stretches out His hand to a rebellious people.  All day long.  And in the night He does not sleep, so that you may rest in peace.

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

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

Who’s your Daddy?  The God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, He is your Daddy, who has taught you to pray and promises to answer.  For you are His, and He is yours, now and forever.

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