21 September 2007

The Sacrificial Mercy of Christ

The Lord Jesus has come to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. To heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cast out demons, to forgive sins.

Where does he find you? And with what are you pre-occupied? What sickness does He need to heal in you, that you may not die but live? From what sin does He call you to repentance?

There is no one who is righteous, no not even one. Do not compare and contrast yourself with others and conclude that you are doing well or even fine. You are not okay. You are not righteous. You shall not live by your own cares and occupations in life.

But how do you spend your time and energy? Where do you invest your heart, soul, mind and strength? What is it that consumes your attention, your days and nights? And all for what purpose? Why do you do it? To make money? To win friends and influence people? To find security for your future? To ward off death? To reconcile God in the hopes of gaining life for yourself?

Give it up. Whatever it is that so dominates and drives you, that is your god, and yet, none of this work and striving of yours shall ever be able to save you or give you real life. It does not forgive your sins, which are many, nor can it give you peace and rest. It cannot prolong your days on earth, nor will any of it obtain for you the life everlasting.

It is from all of your false gods that Jesus calls you to repent. He calls you to give them all up and follow Him. To take up your cross and follow Him, to die with Him, in order to live with Him. There is no other way. There is real life in no one else, in nothing else.

Now, there are plenty of things in your life that you need to get rid of entirely: to get up and walk away from them. Because they are harmful to your heart, mind, body and soul, and because they entice you and your love away from the neighbors whom the Lord would have you serve. So, leave those things behind, and follow Christ Jesus in faith.

But in the same faith, follow Him also within those stations in life to which He has called you. You are not called to be an Apostle or Evangelist; nor is it likely that you will be called to bodily martyrdom. But you are called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to follow Him in faith, in love toward your neighbor, wherever He has placed you in this world. That is where you bear the Cross, and where and how you lay down your life.

Are you a son or daughter? Honor your father and mother. Are you a husband or wife? Love and honor your spouse. Are you a father or mother? Feed and clothe your children; love them and serve them as your Father in heaven loves and cares for you.

Serve faithfully and honestly in your job, or as a student, whatever your occupation in life may be. Not to impress man, but in the fear, love and trust of God. And for His sake, not as though making a life for yourself, love and serve your neighbor. That is the purpose for which the Lord has given you your job, and for which He has given you your stuff.

Thus, it is not away from your occupation, nor from your stuff, that the Lord Jesus calls you. It is rather your heart that He calls, that you would no longer be pre-occupied and consumed with selfish desire, with your own works and the wealth of this world, but with Him above all, who is alone your life and health and strength and song. He calls you most urgently, most insistently, to let go your idols and forsake the false gods that reign in your heart and life. Not out of pettiness, nor to deprive you of life and happiness, but just the opposite: that you may receive His gifts and have true joy and lasting peace and real life in Him forever.

It is in mercy and compassion that He calls you to Himself: away from your sin, in which there is only death, unto life with God in Him through the forgiveness of all your sins. It is for this that He has sacrificed Himself upon the Cross, atoned for your sin and reconciled you to God.

In Him, compassion and sacrifice have been united; righteousness and peace have embraced each other, and now embrace you. Therein, by His Cross, you are brought near to God, not for condemnation but for life. He heals you. He feeds you with Himself. He abides with you in love.

Because all of this is by and from the Cross, it is often painful, and it is ridiculous in the eyes of the world. It is not even out of the question that you may be put to death for this faith and confession of Christ Jesus. You certainly are called to die each day (to yourself, to your sin, to the world) through contrition and repentance. Many of those you love and serve will return your compassion with criticism and contempt. And as a disciple of Christ Jesus, the devil will constantly attack and accuse you with a fevered desire to destroy you.

Yet, for all of that, the Cross of Christ is your life and health. He is with you and blesses you, not "in spite of" the Cross, but precisely by the ways and means of the Cross.

Your Baptism into His Cross has raised you up with Him to new life in His Resurrection. His Word of the Cross absolves you of all your sins. And the fruits of His Cross, His holy Body and precious Blood, sacrificed for you, are your medicine of immortality.

It is by the crosses that you bear in faith and love that Jesus serves and supports your neighbor. So, too, by the crosses that St. Matthew was called to bear and carry after Jesus, that dear Savior of sinners has loved and served His Church on earth, even to the ends of the world. Through that former tax collector, He not only preached His Word and ministered His means of grace "once upon a time," but caused His Word of the Gospel to be inscribed and published for the healing of the nations. To this day, and also in this place, the Church knows Jesus — you know Jesus — by this Word of His Apostle and Evangelist, St. Matthew. Pastors preach the Holy Gospel; they baptize, absolve, and commune sinners, who are thereby disciples of Jesus, unto repentance and faith, unto life, with that Word that Christ Jesus has given by the hand of St. Matthew.

It is by that Word that He calls you to Himself, to follow Him, to die with Him, to live with Him. It is by that Word that He has brought you into His house; that He eats with you and drinks with you and gives you life. It is by that Word that He has mercy and compassion upon you, and He shall not suffer any other word to prevail against you.

All Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, the one true God, who loves you, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.


Fr John W Fenton said...

Pr Stuckwisch,

I've always been intrigued by the fact that when Jesus says to St Matthew, "Follow Me," we are then met with Jesus sitting at table eating with publicans and sinners. "Follow Me to the Eucharist where the life of repentance is urged on by the mercy Life Himself gives." At least, that's what I've often seen.


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I hadn't noticed that specifically before, but good observation. Thanks for the insight, Fr. Fenton. It certainly fits with what I understand to be the movement of both the Divine Service and the Christian faith and life in Christ.