02 October 2010

The Duty of Discipleship

The life of discipleship is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, even unto death upon His Cross, and thereby with Him in His Resurrection. And the life of His Body, the Church, is a fellowship of forgiven sinners, gathered together by His grace through faith in His Gospel, in love for Him and for each other.

Faith and love, as always, that is the sum and substance of the Christian life in Christ. Faith and love govern your stewardship of stuff, as the Lord Jesus has catechized you the past couple of weeks. So likewise do faith and love govern the life of His Church.

In your life together as Christians — within your families; in relation to your classmates, comrades or co-workers; and especially in your fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters of one Lord Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of one God and Father, sharing one Holy Baptism, one Holy Gospel, one Holy Communion, and the anointing of one Holy Spirit — faith and love find their center in daily repentance and forgiveness.

Repentance and forgiveness, that is your heartbeat and your respiration as a Christian. These pulsate and breathe with the catechesis and confession of Christ, who was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification. That is how you live before God in the righteousness and purity, innocence and blessedness of the same Lord Jesus Christ, and so also how you live with your neighbor in the world.

Let's face it, though, that's hard. Because you're a sinner, and your neighbor is a sinner, too. It is inevitable that you and your neighbor are going to stumble and fall in your relationship with each other, sometimes stumbling into each other and crashing, and other times falling away and apart. That's not okay, but it's going to happen anyway.

Thank God we have the recourse of the Fifth Petition, that is, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," with which our Lord Jesus and our dear Father in heaven draw a line through the entire ledger and absolve all of our debts and trespasses and sins. God knows you need that provision and daily recourse, and He daily and richly provides it through the Gospel.

Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as the case may be, as often as you fall short and fail, He calls you to repentance and forgiveness of sins. Such long-suffering patience, compassion and mercy flow in and with His great love for you, and this shall not fail, for it rests securely and forever in the Resurrection of Christ.

So that is how you are to love your neighbor, too, especially your brother or sister in Christ. Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as often as he or she trespasses against you, rebuke in love, readily forgive, and gladly do good. So take up the Cross for your neighbor, as Christ has done for you and for all. That is to be and to live as His disciple. That is to be and to live as a Christian.

By the same token, wherever you have sinned against your neighbor; wherever you have hurt instead of helped; wherever you have caused a brother or sister to stumble; and wherever you have harbored anger and refused to forgive — repent. Be and do otherwise. Drown yourself in the deep blue sea of your Baptism into Christ. Be crucified and buried with Him, by your Baptism into His death. Die to your sin, and put your old Adam to death by contrition and repentance.

Confess your fault, make amends where you are able, and in humility be reconciled to your neighbor. Heal the hurt that you have caused, and help wherever you can. Speak the truth in love, let go of your anger in the peace of Christ, and forgive those who have hurt you.

Not as though sin were "no big deal," and not as though you could save yourself. Sin is deadly and damnable, and you cannot save yourself. But Christ has died, and the same Lord Christ has risen from the dead. He has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He forgives you all your sins and saves you from death and hell for eternal life with Himself.

Therefore, resist the devil and he will flee from you; he must, he has no choice. Trust Christ, and live, for He is most certainly true.

Do not grow weary of doing good. But patiently, by faith, love your neighbor and forgive his sins against you. Not for the sake of any thanks or praise or benefit, but for Christ's sake, because it is meet and right so to do.

Do good, because it is your duty. Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which does no harm to the neighbor, but covers his sins in mercy, carries his burdens with charity and compassion, and bears with him in peace. That is your Lord's command and your neighbor's need.

So live and love like that, and do not despair or lose heart.

It is hard, to be sure. Honestly, it is impossible for your sinful mortal flesh, except Christ raise you up and recreate you in His own Image and Likeness.

Take a cue from the example of the Lord's Apostles, then, and pray: "Lord, increase our faith!"

"We believe, but help, Thou, our unbelief!"

How else shall you be patient and forgive and do good, when you are tempted, tried and tested by a world of sinners, and you yourself are also sinful and unclean?

Is it not a pain? Is it not tedious and wearisome to put up with your neighbor, with all his faults and failings? Be sure that it goes both ways, little one. And yet, the dear Lord Jesus loves both you and your neighbor, and bears with you, and forgives you, and helps you — again and again and again.

No matter how difficult your life may be; no matter how challenging your duties; no matter how heavy your burdens; no matter how long and hard you work; no matter how much you sweat and bleed, and no matter how much you accomplish by your efforts, you won't ever do more than what you ought to do. You never will have too much faith or love.

Your Lord does not ask too much of you, but you shall never exceed what He has commanded you. You are an unworthy servant; at best, you have only done what is your duty — but you know that you have not done all that you should, and that you have done what you should not.

Yet, the Lord Jesus is not only fair in His commands, but He Himself completes and fulfills, satisfies and supersedes His whole Law for you. How's that for a gracious Master? Not only is He reasonable in what He assigns, but He also does the entire job on your behalf! That which you should do, He does for you. And that which you ought to suffer, He suffers in your place.

As He commands you to love and serve and forgive and care for your neighbor, so much the more does He love and serve and forgive and care for you.

Does He not lay down His life for you in love?

Does He not gird Himself to serve you, to wash your dirty feet, to wait on you, to feed you with His Body and His Blood?

Does He not speak His Word of Holy Absolution, with no strings attached, and by it fully and freely forgive you all your sins?

And does He not daily and richly provide you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life on earth and for eternal life in heaven?

Surely He does all of this, and more.

He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you, with all His fruits and benefits, with all His grace, mercy and peace, by His Ministry of the Gospel. For He has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a Ransom for many — for you!

It is true that, as your Lord and Master, He rightfully commands you to work in love for your neighbor, to feed and clothe him or her with patient charity, even as you wait upon the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In doing so unto even the least of these little ones who believe in Him, you do so unto your Lord Jesus. But He Himself does no less than all of this for you, by His grace alone.

Who, then, is the greatest: He who reclines at the table and eats, or he who stands and serves? Is it not the one who reclines and eats? Yet, the Lord Jesus is here with you as the One who girds Himself to serve you. He invites you to recline at His Table, to eat and drink from His own hand, to feast upon His Body and His Blood, and so to be served by Him. For His greatness is His mercy. His almighty power and strength are in His gracious providence and loving service.

His glory is His Cross and His salvation of sinners.

Therefore, be patient as you bear His Cross, and as you love and serve your neighbor within your various stations in life, as a Christian disciple of Jesus. Be sure that what you suffer in faith and love is neither pointless nor in vain. Though you are surrounded and oppressed by the wicked, the Lord shall vindicate you at the proper time. Though justice is perverted, your righteousness is sure and certain — not in yourself, but in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. He is your justification, and you live by faith in Him, by the grace of His Gospel.

Even when He rebukes your sin and calls you to repent, He does so in love, in mercy and compassion for you, in order to recall you to Himself, to faith in His forgiveness.

For He is faithful, and as He has called you to the holy calling of discipleship, as He has named you with His Name and bound you to Himself, and bound Himself to you, He shall not deny you. He shall never leave you nor forsake you. As He drowns you in the waters of your Baptism, and puts you to death every day with all your sins and evil desires, so does He raise you up each day to newness of faith and life and love and peace.

Your faith is His good work and His free gift. Return thanks for that grace of God, which He has granted you by the Gospel and delivered to you by the loving service of your parents and pastors and others. Give thanks to God for those people through whom He serves you, and rejoice in the privilege that you also are given to serve others in the same way: your children and grandchildren, as the Lord so provides, or whomever else the Lord may entrust to your care.

Even when your faith is weak and weary, a dimly burning wick, so small and struggling to survive, it is sustained by the Gospel of the Lord's forgiveness, and in Him it receives and lays hold of His Cross and Resurrection. That is the power of repentance and the authority of His forgiveness. That is to say, all that Christ Jesus is, and everything that He has done for you and accomplished, is now pressed into your hand and laid upon you by His grace through the Gospel. Thus, He is yours for keeps, and you are His, and He is with you always. He is for you forever, and by His righteousness you live.

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

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