27 May 2012

The Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus

As a child of Adam, you spend your life attempting to exonerate and justify yourself, to rationalize and excuse your behavior: to yourself, to your neighbors, and in comparison with your neighbors, and even before God (when you aren’t trying to run away and hide from Him).

But there is death at the end, sooner or later, which shuts down all of your attempts to make a name and a life for yourself.  You can’t argue with death.  Not really.  Not your own, nor anyone else’s.  No matter how hard you work to ward it off, to put it off and delay the inevitable.  No matter how zealous you are in caring for yourself, and in trying to protect your children and keep them safe.

If you take the opposite approach, by living a crazy, reckless life, that gives you no more power and control, but only hastens what you can’t stop.  You don’t win that way.  You don’t beat death.

Your mortality looms so large, it casts a long dark shadow across your entire lifetime.  It stalks you and pursues you, even from the womb; as there are those occasions, utterly beyond your control, when it seizes and strikes down your children in the womb.  Being born is only the first big hurdle.  For even Cherianne — who is so dearly loved, and so well cared for by her parents — she already knows and feels the weight of her mortality in hunger, discomfort and pain, sadness and fear.

Sometimes, death and the grave are all that you can see.  So inevitable.  So final.

But Jesus you do not see.

Though you confess His Resurrection, where has He gone?  Where is He?  It would seem that He has left you far behind, so that, whatever it is that happened, both He and you are as good as dead.

What you do see all around you, and what you feel within yourself, are old bones, either dead or dying, and dry as dust: brittle, breaking, disintegrating.

As a Christian, you persist and persevere in hope, in the promise and assurance of things not seen.  But as a child of Adam in this fallen world, you flirt with despair and court disaster.  You succumb to the dread of death and plunge yourself into faithless unbelief, whether through apathy or apostasy, bitterness or cynicism, or the stubborn denial of God’s Word and promises.  Since you cannot see what He has spoken, you feel as though it were false, and so you tell yourself to give up on God, to go it alone or give up altogether.  In this way, your hope has perished ahead of you, and you don’t even bother to pray or ask for help.  Why bother, right?  You are completely cut off, and nobody cares; nobody is there for you, except to judge and criticize.

Like poor old Job: faithful, and righteous by faith, but also confused and upset, hurting and miserable, whose spouse and so-called friends are no help but only pile on the hurt.

Sorrow seeps into your heart and fills it up, driving out faith and the Spirit.  Not right away, but inch by inch, the more you dwell upon your own thoughts and feelings, which seem so immediate, so real and so true, instead of on the Word of Christ, which sounds so fanciful, and He so far away.

It’s not simply that things are hard and you get discouraged, but, in the midst of your pain, your mortal flesh gets increasingly restless and afraid; and the world, full of its own sin and death, threatens and tricks you with its traps and temptations; Satan also attacks and accuses you, fiercely but cunningly.  So you are bounced back and forth between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling ashamed of your sin.  You know that you are guilty, and you deserve nothing but punishment and death, and yet, you are frightened and it all seems unfair.

In all of this, the devil has you looking at yourself, in which there is no hope nor help to be found.

Without the Word and Spirit of the Lord, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  You feel it in your bones, and the Law of God declares it to be so.  You are dust.  And that is where that old serpent, the devil, would drive you, or entice you, to make you eat the dust that he is forced to eat.

But, now, consider that: the devil does eat dirt.  The would-be ruler of this fallen world has been judged, and he is cast out.  And the Spirit has come — who is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life — because the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son, has returned to the Father who sent Him.

Jesus is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Church, and therefore upon you within His Church, because He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has been anointed by the Spirit in His own human body of flesh and blood.  He received His body from the flesh and blood of St. Mary, a daughter of Adam, and so His body also is one of dust; yet, that very body of Christ has also been filled with the Spirit, and anointed by the Holy Spirit, for the rescue and salvation of all flesh.

Not as though the Son of God were ever without the Holy Spirit, but in His flesh as true Man the Spirit descended upon Him, and remained upon Him, so that in this Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God abides with Man forever.  You know that to be true from the witness of His Baptism in the Jordan River, as we have sung with Dr. Luther in the hymn on this day of Cherianne’s Baptism.  So do St. John the Baptist and all four of the Holy Evangelists testify, that, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove.

What began there in the waters of His Baptism, culminated in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.  For both the dying and the rising belong to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which He underwent on behalf of all sinners, and which He has accomplished in Himself.

Therefore, He was driven by the Spirit from His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil: as Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, as Israel was tempted in its own wilderness, and in every way as you are tempted.  Thus, He is your Comrade and your Champion.

In this way, having come down from heaven, from the Father, in human flesh and blood like ours, He embarks upon His journey back to the Father with all of us in hand.  He gathers us up into Himself, in His Body, in order to return us to faith and life with God, and, not only that, but to make us children of His own God and Father in heaven.

For this purpose, He has taken, not only your temptation, but all of your sin, and the sins of the whole world, upon Himself.  He has come, not only as true Man, with His own body of flesh and blood, but in the likeness of fallen flesh; which is to say that He has borne and suffered the full curse and consequence of Adam’s sin, the full weight and burden of your mortality, as though every sin were actually His own, committed by Him, and as though every death were His own rightful wages.

So it is that He is convicted concerning the sins of the world.  For He is condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, but it is the Father who hands Him over to the Cross, and the Spirit who fulfills the judgment of the Law in His punishment, in His bloody passion, in His death.  Thus, it is when all is finished and completed, that He hands over the Spirit He received at His Baptism.  Because, with His death, the requirements and condemnation of the Law have been fully satisfied, so that Adam & Eve and all the children of men may receive the Spirit, not for death, but for life.

Do not doubt that it is so.  For the truth of it is manifest and openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  Here is what His death has accomplished: the destruction of death, and the silencing of Satan’s accusations.  Whereas the Lord Jesus did not fight to defend Himself, nor did He answer His accusers, but in faith and love He quietly and willingly submitted to suffering and the sacrifice of His Cross, His Father has exonerated Him and fully vindicated Him by raising Him up from the dust of the earth.  He is not guilty.  He is blameless.  He is set free from sin and death forever.  And so are you.

For the whole world is “convicted concerning righteousness” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Death and the devil no longer have any rightful claim against you, nor against anyone else — not in Christ, the Champion and Savior of all men.  There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

God’s judgment has been given by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  In Him, sin is forgiven — it is no longer counted or considered, nor is it held against anyone — because it is atoned for by His death.  The whole world is justified and reconciled to God in His rising from the dead, in His returning to the Father in our human flesh: crucified and risen, glorified, and now immortal.

Thus, the Holy Spirit preaches these mighty deeds of God to all the nations of the world, in all the languages of earth, in order to make disciples of Christ Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people, and to gather men and women, boys and girls, the young and old alike, from the four winds into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  For the dried up old bones that are resurrected, re-enfleshed, resuscitated, and restored to new life, are not isolated individuals but the whole house of Israel, that is, the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is precisely in His Body that all are made alive.

It is by the proclamation of His Word — by the preaching of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen — it is by this proclamation that the Spirit calls you daily to repentance; that is, from unbelief to faith in Christ.  For there is no conviction of any sin, except for unbelief, which sets you outside of and apart from Christ Jesus and His salvation.  Your unbelief is your rejection of His righteousness, in favor of your own, though apart from Him you shall not stand.

But the Spirit calls you to repentance, convicting you of sin and of righteousness, by the judgment of the Law and of the Gospel.  He speaks the truth in love.  He exposes your sin for the unbelief it is, and He thereby removes every pretense of self-righteousness within you.  That is the truth of the Law, which condemns you.  But the Spirit also speaks the truth of the Gospel, which is Christ, and by this Word He justifies you through faith, and He raises you from death to newness of life.

This is the Spirit’s testimony, and His defense on your behalf, against all of your adversaries and accusers: that you are a sinner, yes, but that Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and that you are freely and fully forgiven and justified by Him, by His Cross and Resurrection.  On the one hand, the punishment of all your sin has already been carried out — in the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross — and on the other hand, the innocence and righteousness of Christ are counted as yours.

That is the truth of the Gospel.  It is not an empty or powerless word, but the very Word of God, which is not only true, but Truth Itself, which establishes the truth concerning you, both now and forever.  It is a living and active Word, by which the Holy Spirit comforts you in sorrow, and grants you peace in place of fear, rest from your weariness, and perfect health and strength and life.

For with this Gospel, everything that belongs to Christ Jesus, the Spirit bestows upon you, and gives to you, to be your very own: His righteousness and holiness, His Resurrection, and His Life.

It begins, for you also, as it has for Cherianne this morning, with your Holy Baptism into Christ.

The Spirit brings you through the waters into the wilderness, where you now also bear the Cross as a Christian, as you live by faith in the Word and promise of your Father.  Here you find yourself in the midst of a desert of dry bones, and you yourself are crucified, dead and buried; for that is what daily repentance entails.  And, yes, you are still mortal — for now — you get sick, you suffer, and you die.  That should come as no surprise, nor is it a denial of the Resurrection and the Life that are yours in Christ Jesus, for you know that He also has experienced and suffered all of this.

But just as surely are you raised up, in and with Christ, and you are brought into the Land that God has promised to you.  Already He has brought you into His Church, which is the Body of Christ, and here you live, just as He lives.  Not only that, but, even now, under the Cross, you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus, which shall be openly revealed in the resurrection of your body.  For as Jesus returns to His Father, by way of His Cross, in His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you brought to the Father as His dear child: as His very own, dearly-beloved, well-pleasing child.

That shall be so in the final Judgment Day, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the last, but so is it most certainly true, here and now, in the midst of the wilderness, as you hear and receive the Word of Christ; as your sins are all forgiven; as you are cleansed and refreshed by the waters that flow from the side of Christ; and as you are fed with His Body and His Blood.

In giving you Christ Jesus in these means of grace, by this Ministry of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you everything that Jesus, the Son of God, receives and has from the Father.  And again, He does it by the proclamation of the Word of Christ.  For He guides you into all Truth by speaking what He hears, which is the Truth of the Gospel, namely, your justification and forgiveness.

This new language of the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, and that is neither gibberish, nor fantasy, but the accomplished fact of His Body put to death and raised again to life — in which Body you also are redeemed, raised up, reconciled to God, and righteous in His sight.  That is what He says to you, and that is what His Word does for you and gives to you.

Though it seems such a simple thing, and it seems powerless to change anything, this Word fills your heart and mind, your body and soul, and even your mouth with the Spirit of Christ, who drives out sorrow and replaces it with joy and peace.  For with the Word of Christ, the Spirit refutes the rhetoric of the devil; He defends and protects you against the devil’s accusations; and He comforts you, in order to deliver you from hopeless despair.

With this Word, the Spirit opens your lips to show forth His praise, to speak the mighty deeds of God in Christ.  So that you, your sons and daughters, your nursing infants and young children, speak and sing this powerful Word to the glory of God and to the comfort of one another.  For this Word of the Gospel of Christ is the Truth, in your ears and on your lips, by which He breathes His Life-giving Spirit into you and your children, and your children’s children, that you and they may live forever and ever.

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

20 May 2012

The Sanctification of Christ

To be sanctified is to be given entirely over to God; which is really to return to the One from whom your whole being and life derive.  To be holy is to belong entirely to Him, to be a child of the Holy Father, who is holy in Himself with the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Not just a part of you.  Not only a portion of your life.  Not a piece of your time, nor a mere percentage of your stuff.  But to be sanctified is to be given up to Him altogether, body, soul and spirit, heart and mind.  So that everything you are, all that you have, and all that you think and say and do, is offered as a sacrifice of praise to the glory of His Name, and belongs completely to Him.

Even in general, that is a daunting and scary prospect to your old Adam, to your fallen flesh.  For you do not trust God to take care of you.  You do not believe that He will provide all that you need, and you are even less confident that He will give you everything you want.  You prefer to hedge your bets and cover all the bases, to diversify your assets, and to invest significantly in yourself.

To make a place for God in “your life” seems reasonable and wise, even pious and holy, but it is nothing but self-idolatry.  You shall not make a place for God, but if you would have a life at all, you must find your place in Him.

But if that is scary in general, it is far more challenging and difficult when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of your day-to-day life.  For to be sanctified — to be given entirely over to God — means that you will trust Him, love Him and serve Him, precisely in the particular place where He has put you, and right there you will gladly carry out and fulfill your vocations and stations in life according to His Word.  That means receiving and loving the family and the neighbors that He has actually given to you (with all their flaws and weaknesses, their neediness and idiosyncracies), and being content and satisfied with whatever else the Lord your God has given you, instead of bitterly resenting what you have and jealously desiring what you don’t.

To be holy is to be perfectly at peace with God, and faithful in loving your neighbor, regardless of the ups and downs of your life in the world: in the knowledge that you and your life are not your own, but God’s, and that He will accomplish His purposes for you.  To be holy is to be pleased when good things happen to your neighbor, even while bad things are befalling you, in the sure confidence and contentment that your Holy Father has both you and your neighbor in His keeping.

Now, that does not mean — and do not suppose — that you sanctify yourself by your behavior, or by your good attitude and effort.  Holiness is not achieved or accomplished by your works.  Nor does holiness consist of your good works.

No, you are sanctified by God, the Holy One, and your holiness is your fellowship with Him, that is, with the Father in Christ Jesus.  It is in Christ that you are brought to God the Father and given to Him.  It is in Christ that you belong to Him and abide with Him.  That is your sanctification, which is your rescue and salvation from sin and death.  And that is your holiness, which is your eternal life and everlasting joy.  It is not something you get for yourself.  It is given to you by God.

But those who are sanctified by the grace of God in Christ, who are holy children of the Holy Father, do lead holy lives and do good works according to His Word.  And so are you called to lead a holy life within your own place in the world, and in all of your relationships; which is to extend your fellowship with God in godly friendship with your neighbors.

There is no sanctification, and no genuine holiness in you, except, by faith, in fellowship with God.  But then, where there is that true holiness of faith in the fellowship of God, there is also the holiness of love in fellowship with one another.  For you cannot abide with the God who is Love, without abiding in love with your neighbor.

That is the fellowship of the Church, first of all, of brothers and sisters in Christ, of pastors and people, of fellow Christians.  Such as we hear described in the Acts of the Apostles: The disciples of the Lord Jesus, baptized and catechized in His Name, are gathered together in His Name, in the fellowship of His Word and prayer.  They are gathered by and for the preaching of His Word, to hear and receive the Ministry of His Gospel, and to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth; that is, to receive His gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and to call upon the Name of the Lord.

That Christian fellowship of the Church in the Apostolic preaching of Christ, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in prayer, extends from the Altar, and from the Divine Service, in a fellowship of care and concern, compassion and charity for your neighbor.  What begins with the Body of Christ, within the household and family of God, moves into the community in which the Church and each of her members live.  For in the holiness of faith, in the fellowship of God, you are perfectly free, alive and able, to exercise the holiness of love; to be for your neighbor as Christ Jesus is for you.

That is the holiness of life that proceeds from the Father and the Son, in the Holy Spirit, to you and to your neighbor.

The foundation for all of this, the structure that upholds it, and the content that fills it with faith and love, with joy and peace, with righteousness and holiness — that is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  As St. Paul also writes, in his Epistle to the Church at Corinth, that Christ Jesus has become your sanctification.  He is your holiness, by which you are holy.

To begin with, of course the Son of God is holy in Himself, as the Father and the Spirit are holy, indeed, from all eternity.  The fellowship of the three divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is Holiness itself.  The Holy Triune God does not become holy, but is holy.  The living God is not sanctified, but is the Sanctification of His creation; for all things are made by Him, and there is no life apart from Him.

But now the one true God has become true Man in the Person of the Son; and He, Christ Jesus, has been sanctified in human flesh and blood, so that man is sanctified in Him.  That is what He has accomplished “for us men and our salvation,” first of all by His Incarnation (His becoming flesh), and by His truly human life, and then by His Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension.

He who is forever and always in fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, has entered into full and perfect fellowship with all the children of men, by becoming Man Himself.  And He has gathered humanity into the eternal fellowship of the Holy Triune God — permanently so, in Himself — so that all people everywhere are invited and welcomed into that fellowship, to see God, to abide forever in His holiness, and to live in Him.

He comes into the world in order to bring God to man in Himself.  And He comes to the Father in the flesh, in order to bring man to God — in His Body — in righteousness and holiness forever.

What was the Son of God’s from all eternity, by nature, He has thus received from His Father in human flesh on your behalf: from His conception and holy Nativity by the Blessed Virgin Mary, from His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River, from His Cross and Passion under Pontius Pilate, unto His Resurrection and Ascension, when He was taken up in glory.

In all of this, as true Man, He lives by faith in His God and Father,
and He receives the promised Spirit from His Father in His Body of flesh and blood.

The Church looks forward to and celebrates the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, because the Father has, in fact, poured out the Spirit upon the Body of Christ Jesus — as at His Baptism, so also in His Resurrection from the dead.  So has He been sanctified in human flesh and blood, and so are you sanctified in Him by the preaching of His Word in the world.

The holiness of His fellowship with the Father (in the Holy Spirit) is manifested in the holiness of His love for you and all the world in His sacrifice upon the Cross.  In offering up Himself, His Body and Life, unto God, He has laid down His life for you, to atone for all your sins, and to redeem you from sin and death.  Therefore, in His rising, you are raised and justified; and in His Ascension, you are sanctified by His Spirit and seated with Him at the right hand of His Father.

That is where you now live with Him, because He Himself lives with you here in peace and joy.  You live with Him in holiness, because in Him you have fellowship with God, now and forever.

Has He not given you His Name — has He not named you with His Name — in Holy Baptism?  Therefore, you belong entirely to God, who is your true Father in Christ Jesus.  What is more, with His Name He has given you His Spirit and His Life, whereby you are sanctified and live.

Do not suppose that in His going to the Father He has gone away from you and left you all alone.

He has not!

As He kept the Apostles in His Name, and guarded them while He was with them, so does He guard and keep you in His Name, in His Word and Truth.  Not less so, but all the more so, as He has gone by way of the Cross to the Father on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest.  With His Word and Spirit, with His Ministry of the Gospel, He is with you forever and always, as surely as He is with the Father in heaven; so that your life, also, is hidden with Christ in God, and you are seated with Him in the heavenly places.

On the one hand, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you — as He does in this Holy Gospel — not only with His Word of Truth, with the Testimony of His Righteousness credited to you, but with His own Life, His Body and His Blood.  As He rises and ascends in human flesh, He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of your Father.  So are you heard and received in peace.

At the same time, even as Christ ascends to the Father on your behalf, He also remains with you, and He is near you, closer than a brother, in the speaking of His Word, in the Holy Ministry of those whom He sends into the world in His Name.  This Ministry of the Gospel is holy, because it participates in the fellowship of God, and because it sanctifies you with that fellowship.  It is holy, therefore, because Christ is not absent from it, but He Himself is actively present in it; He is deeply and intimately present.  As surely as He has given you His Name in Holy Baptism, so surely does He sanctify you in the Truth with His Holy Absolution; and with His Word, He guards and keeps you with His Word-made-Flesh in the Holy Communion.

Even that name, the “Holy Communion,” identifies the holiness of your fellowship with God in Christ, which you receive as your own in this Sacrament.  And because it is given to you, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins, you are fully reconciled to God and received by your Father in peace.  Not “up in the sky,” but here at this Altar.

Your fellowship with the Holy Triune God, and therefore your holiness, life and salvation, are as solid and sure as the Body and Blood of Christ, which He puts into your mouth and into your body here in the world.

He does not take you out of the world.  Not yet.  For as the Father has sent Him into the world, to live by faith, to live in love — and as He has sent His Apostles into the world to preach and teach in His Name, to write the Holy Scriptures, to baptize and absolve, and to commune His disciples — so does He send His Church into the world, to live by faith, and to live in love.

And so does He call you to live in the world by faith in His Name, and in love for your neighbor.

Why?  So that your neighbor, also, might know and receive the fellowship of God through the fellowship of your love, and so be sanctified in the Truth of His Gospel.

Do you not perceive that your life thus has divine significance?  Because your fellowship, even here and now in the world, is with the Father in His Son; not by your own effort, but by His Spirit.

The Holy Triune God is surely with you in all of your vocations, in all of your relationships, and in all of your dealings.  Not only to accomplish His purposes in you for others, but at the same time to preserve you in and with His holiness, to guard your life — even through death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — and to keep you safe from the evil one.

To be sure, the devil hates you and is constantly seeking to devour and destroy you.  And the world hates you, too, as it hates the Lord Jesus.  The dangers to your mortal body and life are many and great, though even these are not as perilous as the temptations to sin, the lust of the eyes and of the flesh, the love of money, and then the wicked accusations of Satan who would drive you to despair through guilt and shame and the fear of death.  But fear not him who hates you.  Fear God, who loves you; repent of your sins; and trust Christ, your Savior, in whom you are not guilty but holy.

Fear, love and trust in this one true God, and do not be afraid to live and serve wherever in the world He has called you, wherever you are sent.  Whether you go to death upon a cross, or you live to a ripe old age caring for your neighbor, abide in the fellowship of Christ.  Remain in the Temple of His Church, calling upon His Name.  Be gathered together with His disciples in the Upper Room, where He still washes your feet with Holy Absolution and feeds you at His Table with His Holy Communion.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not abandon Him, but find your place in Him, your true home in the fellowship of His Body and His Blood.

As you receive from Him, so give.  You will not be left with nothing.  As you hear, speak.  For as you have the testimony of God in the testimony of men — in the Scriptures of the Apostles, and in the preaching of your pastors — so do you have this testimony in yourself.  The Word is near you, in your ears, in your heart, and on your lips.  Confess it to your neighbor, in the confidence that you thus speak the Word of God: that you speak Christ.  Confess His holy Name, which you now also bear as a child of His own God and Father.  And call upon His Name in prayer, knowing that your Father in heaven hears and answers in love.  Truly, your lips speak Christ, not only to your neighbor, but to your Father, who hears His Son Jesus in your prayer.

This is your confidence, your certainty, even when your heart quails in fear and your conscience condemns you.  For God is greater than your heart, and His Word is Truth.  He cleanses your conscience with His Gospel.  He grants you true peace by His forgiveness of all your sins.  And Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father, has so bound Himself to you in love, in and with His own flesh and blood — so that you are one with Him, and one with the Father and the Spirit in Him — that you are sanctified with His own holiness.  You are holy in Christ, as the Lord your God is holy.  Therefore, you are also raised from death to life, and anointed by His Spirit in body and soul, to abide in the fellowship of the Father here in time and hereafter in eternity.

In the holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

13 May 2012

Abide in the Friendship of Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come by the water of His Baptism, by the blood of His Cross and Passion, and with the Spirit of His Gospel, in order to love you and abide with you.  He has come to befriend you; that His joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full in Him: no longer driven to and fro by covetous desire, but content and at peace in His friendship.

His joy is found in faith and love; for He abides forever in His Father’s Love for Him.  He trusts His Father’s Word and promises, and so He has kept His Father’s commandments, from the waters of His Baptism to the bloodshed of His Cross.  He went to death in the hope of the resurrection.

And the Father loves Him faithfully, as ever and always.  He has raised Him up again, and poured out the Spirit upon Him, so that His risen and glorified Body is the fruit of the Cross that remains.

You, then, abide in His Love.  Avail yourself of His Love for you in the Gospel.  Rest yourself in His Love for you, by trusting His Word and promises to you: from your Baptism, even unto death.  And, so also, keep His commandment: love one another, as He loves you.

For He has called you His friend.  And what does this mean?  It means that He has made you part of His own family, a member of His own household, a comrade in His inner circle.  He has made you His own brother in the fullest sense of that word.  Which means that He makes common cause with you; He bears your burdens, as though they were His very own; and He lays down His life for you, in order to spare you and save you.  That is the height of friendship, as even the ancient pagans were able to understand in their own way.  But now the Lord Himself has called you His friend.  He values you and your life with His own life, and He thereby makes you equal to Himself.

He loves you with the Father’s love for Him.  Think of what a remarkable thing that is!  That the very Son of God should love you with the very Love that God the Father has for Him.  So He does.  Everything that He has heard and received from the Father, He speaks, makes known, and gives to you.  He is not selfish or greedy.  He does not horde or hide His stuff from you.  He does not argue and fight to take anything from you, nor to keep anything for Himself.  But whatever is His, He makes it all yours.  From the fullness of His joy, He pours out Himself and His Life for you.

As He Himself has come in the flesh to save you by the water and the blood, and with the Holy Spirit, so does He now give Himself to you by the water, by the blood, and with the Holy Spirit.

He preaches peace by His Gospel of forgiveness.  He calls you to repentance and to faith, that you might receive and rejoice in what He gives you freely by His grace.  He pours out His Spirit upon you with the new tongues of His Cross and Resurrection: with the language of His Atonement.

He speaks of your redemption by His Word of the Cross, and it is so.  He declares you righteous with His Word of the Resurrection.  He sanctifies you by the Spirit with His Word of the Gospel.

He preaches the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And to you who are baptized, He calls you back to the waters of your Baptism, that is, not to be re-baptized, but to contrition and repentance, to confession and absolution: to be washed by the One who loves you to the end.

He calls you, disciple of Jesus, to eat and drink with Him who has risen from the dead; not only with Him, but to eat His Body given and to drink His Blood outpoured; so that He would thus abide in you, and you abide in Him, in body and soul, now and forever.

He fills you up with His joy, and with Himself, and so do you overflow with His joy — the way His Chalice overflows with salvation for you.  You overflow with His joy, and you pour yourself out in love for others; for your neighbors; for those whom you befriend with the Love of Jesus.

Thus do you keep His commandment: to love one another, as the Lord Jesus loves you.

His commandment is not burdensome.  It is not a command of the Law, that you should make yourself righteous by keeping it.  Nor is it the command of a master to his slave, that you should be shackled and chained and compelled to obey, under threat of punishment.

His commandment is that of a friend, the word of a comrade in arms.  Like soldiers executing a maneuver, each serving his own role.  Like teammates coordinating a play on the field or the court.  Like musicians playing in tune, in harmony with one another.  Like dancers moving together with beauty and grace, one of them leading with confidence, the other following his lead with poise.  Like partners, planning and then putting into practice some great endeavor or grand adventure.

His commandment is that you should be with Him, and that you should be and do like Him.  For He has befriended you, and He would have you be His friend.  Not because He needs your help.  He does not offer you a contract or a bargain.  He befriends you solely for the sake of His Love.

He has already done and accomplished everything for you.  But now, in His Love, not only does He give you this great work of His by grace; He draws you into it, so to live and work with Him.  He gives you all the credit, and all the benefit and profit of His work, as though you had done it; and now He also works in you to do the same, that is, to bear good fruits after His own kind.

He has chosen you in love.  He has called you His friend.  And He has appointed you to go and do likewise for your neighbor: to befriend your neighbor within your own vocation, that you might show yourself to be a friend of Jesus.

This isn’t anything like a Facebook “friendship,” though even Facebook can become a part of it.

It is not self-promotion, but a true friendship of self-giving for another.  It is not begging or expecting others to do for you, but simply doing for your neighbor.  It is coming alongside him, in order to share and help carry his burdens.  It is laying down your life in love for your neighbor, not because she has been “friendly” to you, but in order to befriend her.  It is making friends by being a friend, not emotionally, but actively; not for the sake of some “return on your investment,” but from the fulness of joy in Christ, in the peaceful contentment of His Love.

Beloved, let His Love have its way with you, and so love one another, as He is loving you.

Abide in His Love by resting in His Gospel.  That is a kind of active passivity, by which you avail yourself of His means of grace, of His free gifts.  Listen to His preaching; receive His Sacrament.

Pray to the Father in His Name.  Pray in the confession of His Name, that is, according to the Word and promise that He has spoken to you.  Pray in the faith and confidence of your Baptism into Him.

Abide in His Love by living within your vocation, in the confidence of His calling; as Christ Jesus also went from His Baptism to His Cross, in the Way of Life that His Father laid out before Him.

Live in the confidence of your Father’s Word, who has called you His beloved and well-pleasing child.  Know that the work He has given you to do is pleasing to Him, and productive; and that He is with you in that work, which He Himself has prepared for you and given you.  There is meaning and purpose and a point to it all, and the fruits of your good work remain forever in Christ Jesus.

Live in the confidence of His forgiveness.  For not only does He fill up what is lacking, and amend whatever is amiss, but He freely and fully removes all of your sin; He does not hold it against you, nor does He consider it.  By His grace and Spirit, He cleanses you from it, because He loves you.

Live in the confidence that your Father loves you forever for Jesus’ sake.  He does not cast you away, but He hears and answers your prayer.  Always there is the loud and resounding “Amen!” of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  So does He save you, according to His mercy.

Live in the confidence, in the sure and certain hope, that He will raise you up: daily, and forever and always.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will do it.  Because you also are among the good fruits that Christ Jesus bears by His tree of the Cross, and so shall you remain in His own Resurrection, abiding in Him, as He abides in you.

That is the testimony, the pledge, and the gift of His water, blood, and Holy Spirit, which He pours out upon you here, and into you, body and soul, for the resurrection and the life everlasting in Him.

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

06 May 2012

He Takes Your Sad Song and Makes It Better

Sing to the Lord, you children of God, for you are baptized into Christ.  And who is Christ?  He is the Son of God, true God and Man.  And He is the Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for you.  His Blood now marks your door, but, see, this same Blood of Christ also touches your lips.  How, then, shall they not sing, when your lips are thus cleansed, and you are forgiven and set free?

Death is here served notice that you belong, not to him, but to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.  For Christ is also your great Redeemer, whose right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for Him, for you and all His people, for His Name’s sake.  He has truly done marvelous things, and He is with you in steadfast love and faithfulness.  By the wood of His Cross He has defeated the tyrants who held you captive; He has broken the chains that bound you; and He has opened the way before you, through the water into freedom, into life.

You are baptized into His Exodus.  Therefore, sing to Him, sing praise to Him, and bless His Holy Name.  Come into His presence with thanksgiving; enter the courts of the Lord’s House with songs of praise.  For the floods have lifted up their voice, and the waves of many waters worship Him.  So let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it.  Let all the earth break forth into joyous songs and sing praises.  As also the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven sing to the Lamb upon His throne; who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  For He has redeemed you with His precious Blood; He has purchased and won you for life with God; and He has saved you for the singing of this Song, here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

You know this Song.  You do.  You know the words and the tune.  You infants and nursing babies, you are not excluded, for the Lord Himself opens your mouth to show forth His praise.  You little children, sons and daughters, young men, old men, and ladies, this is your Song.  It is taught by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who sings to you by the Gospel.  He has sung to you by the washing of the water with His Word.  He sings to you from the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism.  He sings to you in the Creeds and in the prayers of the Church, in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

He sings to you at the Altar and in Holy Absolution.  He sings the forgiveness of all your sins, the Peace of Christ for you, reconciliation with God and with your neighbor, and your Sabbath Rest.

This is the New Song, which the Spirit of Jesus sings for you; and which you also now sing by the same Spirit.  Do not receive this grace of God in vain, nor make it bad.  Dear little Mockingjay, as you have heard this Song, now echo it and sing.  Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, and let that be your verse and chorus all the time, in every place.  Rehearse it with your words and with your actions.  Let His Gospel be the tune that you sing, His mercy the melody of your whole life.

For as the Spirit sings the Song of Christ into your ears, and through your ears into your heart and mind, into your body and your soul, so do you bestow the same Holy Spirit upon your neighbor by the singing of this Song that He has taught you.  Your lips and tongue become the vehicles of God Himself, as they reverberate with His Words of love and forgiveness.

You parents, sing to your children, and you children, sing to your parents.  You husbands and wives, sing to each other.  You brothers and sisters in Christ, sing together in peace and joy, in the fellowship of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.  And as you sing, so also live.  Let the New Song that you sing resonate in everything that you do.

For in this New Song, Christ Himself is with you, bestowing the Spirit and all the good gifts of the Father upon you.  Everything that belongs to Him, is sung to you in this Gospel, and thereby given to you.  As this Word is in your ears, in your mind and in your heart, so is the Lord Jesus near you.  And He is with you, also, when you confess this Word and sing this Song with your own lips.

That is the Truth, even though it seems and feels as though He were absent, as though He had gone away and left you all alone.  In the world around you, there is trouble and pain: people who are hurting, and people who are hurting you.  And in yourself, in your own life and actions, there is much to suggest that you and Christ Jesus are not very close, and that you really don’t know Him at all.  In your sorrow there is an overwhelming sense of emptiness and loneliness.  In your anger there is no righteousness of God.  In all your terrible fear, it appears that Christ has deserted you.

So maybe you don’t feel much like singing; or at all.  Or, maybe you’d just rather sing the blues.

There is a reason that sad songs say so much, that so many of them have been written, and that, for all their melancholy, those are the songs that strike the heart and stick.  Often they bewail the pain and sadness of goodbyes, which everyone experiences and knows, and the music helps you to feel it tangibly, to taste it on your lips, so that the person you are missing is almost present in the song: almost, but not quite; not really.  It seems almost cruel, but misery loves company, and so you savor the bittersweet comfort of knowing that someone else has hurt the way that you are hurting.

If silly love songs are always popular, the sad songs of lost or unrequited love are more poignant.

So long as your beloved is still “out there” in the world, there is mingled along with sadness the hope of his or her return, of reconciliation and recovery, of love requited.  Sad songs seize upon that hope as a kind of plea, a cry for pity.  But death intrudes even there with even greater sadness, which suffocates whatever little hope you may have had.  You can hardly catch your breath to sing anything then; whatever words you do manage get caught in your throat.  After all, isn’t death the permanent departure and the ultimate distance between you and those you love?  Whether you had the chance to say “goodbye” or not; and whether you resolved what needed to be resolved, or not.

There are plenty of songs about that sorrow of mourning and regret.  Some of them simply play upon emotions, and your reveling in that kind of manipulated grief — making yourself feel sad — becomes a way of trying to atone for your guilt over missed opportunities or unamended wrongs.  Other songs simply wail and lament, because there is nothing else that can be done or expressed in the face of death.  That sadness feels good, and it offers some measure of comfort; not because of any hope, but because sadness is all that you have left.  Sadness fills your heart, and the song helps you to bring it out and examine it, even if you have to rely on someone else to sing it for you.

There are plenty of people who seem to think that Lutheran hymns are like those kinds of songs, those laments.  After all, how many clichés are there about Lutheran “funeral dirges”?  We do sing of death, no doubt, and we certainly do take a sober and serious approach to mortal life in a fallen world, which withers and fades like the grass.  But that is not all there is to what we say and sing.  We do not mourn as those who have no hope.  We do not weep and wail as though death were going to get the last word.  We know, even through our tears, that sorrow will be turned to joy.

The Truth of the matter is, that the Word and Spirit of Christ enter into that sorrow — into that terrible hurt and pain — into the depths of despair, and into the darkness of death and the grave.  God the Father was His source, and back to God He ran His course. But into hell His road went down, and back then to His throne and crown.  That is how He turns it all around.  He does not deny the departure of death, but He goes the distance, and then He returns with you and all His people in hand.  That is the journey of which He speaks to His disciples, His return to the Father who sent Him: not that He is leaving you, but that He is coming to get you, by way of the Cross, in order to bring you home to the Father, in and with Himself, in His Resurrection from the dead.

He takes your sorrow seriously; He takes it on Himself; He takes your sad song and makes it better.

That is the story our poets sing, the Psalmists and the best of the Church’s hymn writers across the ages.  That is the New Song of David and Asaph, of Luther and Gerhardt, of Nicolai, Heermann and Rist, among many others.  It is the Song of the Cross, and of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  It the Song of real hurt and pain, of sorrow, grief and loss, but also of the Gospel, of comfort, joy and peace.  It is sung from the depths of woe — it is sung from where you are in misery, anger and fear — but so does it also rise up with Christ to be sung in the hope of His mercy and forgiveness.

Music itself, which is a good and perfect gift of God, as part of His good creation, participates in that journey of Christ; for all of creation is redeemed, raised up, and renewed in His Resurrection.  Music surely knows the fall into sin and the sadness of death, but now it also knows the glory of Christ and the power of His indestructible life.  Thus, as Luther well knew, music with its beauty, with its artistry and grace, is able to chase away the devil and to cheer up the sorrowing spirit.

When such music carries the Word of Christ, how much more then does it bring healing and life.  For then it truly bears the Life-giving Holy Spirit, as St. Paul teaches the Church in his Epistles.

The Spirit sings Christ Jesus to you, as I have said; not only with the poetry and melody of Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, but with the Gospel itself, in all the many ways that it is proclaimed and administered in the Name of the Lord Jesus.  For the Word of the Gospel itself, which is the Word of Christ, is the music and the Song which give you life, no matter how it may be spoken, chanted, or sung.  Like Aslan singing Narnia into existence in The Magician’s Nephew.

That sweet Song of the Gospel carries Christ from the Father to you, and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, because it conveys to you the same faith and life once delivered to the saints and Apostles of old.  It implants the same Word of God in you, in order to save you from death and give you new life.

If you have forgotten the Song — if you have lost the Words or failed to take them to heart — He who sings the Song to you has not forgotten.  He remembers the Song, as the Father remembers His Son; and He still sings the Song to you, because He remembers you in faithfulness and love.

Rest assured, you do not carry the world upon your shoulders, no matter how heavy it may feel.  But this Song of Christ and His Spirit lifts you up and carries you: out of sin and sorrow, out of the depths of death and despair, and out of darkness into Light, to God the Father in Christ Jesus.

For Christ Himself, the Word-made-Flesh, He is the New Song that is sung to you in the whole Gospel, throughout His Church on earth and in your Christian home.  And He is the New Song that you now sing, by faith, as He opens your mouth to pray and confess His Word.

He is your Song, and He is your Strength in the singing of His Gospel, because He has become your Salvation.  He has accomplished everything in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, by His journey from the Father to His death upon the Cross, and in His rising from the dead and His ascending to the Right Hand of the Father.  He is the Sacrifice of your Atonement, and now He is your Song because He is your Sacrifice of praise and your sweet-smelling Incense of prayer.

It is to your great advantage that He has thus returned to the Father, for He has done so as your Great High Priest, on your behalf.  All that He has, whatever is His from the Father, and everything He does, it is all given to you and becomes yours in this Song of the Gospel.  Therefore, you also rise and return to the Father in Him.  Even now that is so, although you make that journey, as He has done before you, by the way of His Cross, which is sorrowful.  But do not be afraid.  For He has taken your sad song and made it His, so that His New Song of the Resurrection may be yours.

The Name that has been sung upon you in the waters of your Holy Baptism — in the preaching of the Holy Gospel of Christ Jesus, in the Word of Absolution, and in the Benediction — that is the Name which you now sing, by His grace and by His Spirit, in calling upon the Lord your God.  And as surely as Christ is risen from the dead and ever lives to intercede for you before His God and Father, so surely are you heard, and you are saved, by the same God who is your own dear Father in Christ.  For His Name is exalted in Christ, His Son, and you also are exalted in Him.

So, too, the Word that is here sung to you — the Word of the Word-made-Flesh, with which He gives to you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink — this is the Song that now rings in your ears and sings upon your lips; which resonates in your heart and mind, and in your flesh and blood.  For He is both the Singer and the Song, who sings to you the forgiveness of all your sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Love of God the Father, unto the life everlasting.

To Him be the worship, the blessing and honor and glory and praise, forever and ever.  Amen.