19 December 2009

The Body of Christ Is Not Selfish But Sacrificial

St. Mary believed the Word of the Lord that He spoke to her; and in that faith, she said "Yes" to His Word. She submitted herself to His will. She entrusted her body and life to Him. Not a tithe or token, but 100%, a living sacrifice. A woman does not bear a child with only part of herself, but with all she is. For a time, it is true, a mother’s work is never done.

What has the Lord spoken to you, and how shall you say "Yes" to His Word? What is His will for your body and life? In love for Him, how shall you love your neighbor as yourself?

To love is to give yourself, to spend yourself entirely, and to pour yourself out for another. Do not allow the gifts that you may give to be a substitute for that gift of yourself.

But perhaps you are already spent, and broke or broken, and you cannot imagine giving anything more of yourself to anyone. There are lots of lost and wandering people in the world. Perhaps you are one of them. Alone and confused. Afraid of everything. Distant, or at war. Angry or unhappy. Disappointed, discouraged and disconnected from others.

Do you have such heavy burdens to bear? By yourself? Is it because your neighbor has neglected you? Or is it because you have turned away from your neighbor, inward upon yourself?

The thing about selfishness is, you wind up alone, because you are so wrapped up in yourself. Even what you do for others, you do for your own sake and your own benefit. And the more you strive to get and to keep for yourself, the more isolated and disconnected you become. In your wealth you are empty, and in your feasting you are not satisfied.

But it is not good for you to be alone. You were not created to live unto yourself in isolation, but to live in love with God and with your neighbor.

You were created to live in the communion of saints, in the one Body of your Lord, Jesus Christ; to live in relationship with others, within the household and family of God.

That is the life God has called you to live. That is the Word of love that He has spoken to you.

How shall you say "Yes" to that Word? How shall you submit yourself to His will for you?

How shall you bear the Son of God in your flesh, in your body and life, for His Name’s sake, and for your neighbor’s sake?

The best way to have friends is to be a friend. The best way to find love, is to love — in words and deeds and truth. But let there be no strategy of selfishness at work in your friendship and love. Rather, entrust your body and life to God, the Lord; conform yourself to His Word and His Will; and so offer yourself as a living sacrifice of faith and love.

Have you heard how quickly St. Mary went to visit St. Elizabeth? Have you heard how gladly St. Elizabeth welcomed her? Consider the friendship and love and mutual help they found and received in each other; all the while their bodies were given over to the good work of bearing the children God had given to them by His grace and mercy.

The comfort and consolation they give and receive in each other, is the work of God in the members of His Church. For as those who fear, love and trust in Him unite their wills to His, so does He unite His divine work and sacrifice to theirs. Not as though His work depends on them, but as the means by which He graciously accomplishes His purposes for them and for others.

And it is all of one harmonious piece: Thus, St. Elizabeth welcomes and rejoices in the Lord, her Savior, in welcoming His Mother and rejoicing over her and with her. And St. Mary receives the proclamation of St. John, pointing to her Son, through the word of St. Elizabeth. In loving and serving and clinging to each other, they cling to Christ, and they are loved and served by Him.

The gracious work of God is likewise hidden in the good work He has given you to do. So you love and serve Him in the members of His Body, in your brothers and sisters within His family.

That begins with your own parents, your spouse and children, if you have them. Therefore, spend yourself in loving those nearest of your neighbors, no less so than a mother with child.

Husbands and fathers, do not be distant from your wives and children, but draw near to them in what you say and do, and in how you listen. Do so in your work for them, yes, but also in your time and with your presence, in your own person.

But if you have a family of your own — whether as a parent, spouse or child — know that your family points beyond itself to the household and family of God. Love and serve that family, also; especially those members who have no other family on earth. For the Lord gathers all His sons and daughters together into one Body, with one Head, and all His sheep under one Shepherd.

And if you do not have a spouse or children, or parents any longer, rejoice all the more in that fellowship of the Body of Christ. Understand that your freedom from the joys and burdens of a family, is a freedom to spend yourself in service to others, to the Church and to your neighbors; to help those with families in their needs, and to help others without families in their needs.

Do not suppose that you have too little to give, or that you are not up to the task. For the Lord joins His good and gracious work to all your works of love, and all things are possible with God. That is evident in these two women with child: old Elizabeth, who was called barren, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who did not know a man.

Whatever the Lord has called you and asked you to do, He supplies all that is needed, and He works His work in you by His grace alone.

Do not worry about how much will be left for you, if you spend your time and energy in loving. And do not fret about how much your neighbor reciprocates, whether a lot or a little or not at all.

If you are emptied, the Lord will fill you up. If you are humbled, He will raise you up and exalt you. If you are impoverished, He will still feed you with good things. If you perish, you perish; yet, the Lord will make you alive forevermore.

The surety of your resurrection and your life everlasting is the Body of Christ: Conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Crucified under Pontius Pilate; dead and buried; but risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father, your great and merciful High Priest. And given for you here, at His Altar, for your salvation.

For He who was rich has made Himself poor; and the Most High has made Himself lowly. The exalted One has humbled Himself and become obedient, even unto death. Not a tithe or token, not a part or portion, but He gives Himself, His body and life, His flesh and blood.

He fully united His human will with that of His Father, and so, by the voluntary sacrifice of His Body on the Cross, He has sanctified you for life.

Thus, by the bloody sweat and labor of His Passion, He gives birth to the children of God in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Your body and life are sanctified by His. Your work and sacrifice are also sanctified by His, and vindicated in His Resurrection from the dead. Your faithfulness is taken up into His faithfulness and is perfected in Him; and where you have been unfaithful, His faithfulness avails for you with forgiveness of all your sins and salvation from death.

In your poverty, weakness and failure, His poverty becomes your wealth; His weakness becomes your strength; and His bitter suffering and death for the sins of the world, becomes your glorious victory. This is how Immanuel, the Lord your God, draws near to you, and visits you in mercy, and abides with you in love, now and forever.

If you are spent in loving and serving a spouse, a child, a parent, a neighbor, friend or foe, even to the point of being broke or broken, know that Christ the Lord is with you to help you and to save you. He has regard for your humble state. He has done great things for you, and He shall do so; for His mercy is upon you, and His holy Name.

Consider how intimately He abides with dear St. Mary, with His own Body of flesh and blood within her body. But then see here, how He also comes to abide with you, God’s own dear child, giving His own Body and Blood into your body. Here is the remembrance of His mercy. And shall He who feeds you with such good things, who joins Himself to you in love, ever leave you or forsake you? No, He shall not. But all that He has spoken to you, He shall do.

Blessed are you who believe it. Draw near and receive Him in the belly of His Mother; for blessed is the Fruit of her womb, now become the Fruit of His Cross, which is your meat and drink indeed. And thus abiding in Him, and He in you, return to your home in His Peace.

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


T. D. Demarest said...

"That is evident in these two women with child: old Elizabeth, who was called barren, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who did not know a man"

What is the orthodox Lutheran line on the question of Mary's perpetual virginity? Are you suggesting that here, or just making reference to the Virgin Birth?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I was simply referring to the Virgin Birth in this case. The part of the quote you have italicized is the literal rendering of St. Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation.

However, in answer to your question, the traditional Lutheran view affirmed the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, along with almost the entire Church Catholic, both East and West. Nowadays, it is typically viewed as a "pious opinion," though it is sometimes decried in a way that is not altogether pious.