24 June 2012

Silence Is Golden, But Peace Is Priceless

You can imagine that storm at sea . . . the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves, the water filling up the boat and threatening to sink it.  Consider that the disciples on board are full-grown men, not only capable adults but experienced fishermen; and yet, they are in danger of perishing.  They are scared to death and panicking, because their whole world has been thrown into chaos.

You can imagine that storm and that utter chaos, even if you’ve never been out on a boat at sea.  Because you’ve got your own storms to contend with, your own chaos.  Howling winds, crashing waves, water up to your neck and rising, and your whole world on the verge of shipwreck.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.  By His Word and Spirit He brought forth light out of the darkness, and He established a beautiful and brilliant order throughout His Creation.  It is still by His Word and Spirit that He creates and gives life and upholds all things in their proper place.  Whereas, apart from His Word and Spirit, creation collapses back into chaos.

There is such chaos in the world on account of man’s sin.  For the Lord God, who made the man in His Image, also gave the man dominion over the creation.  By the Word of the Lord, the man was to exercise authority over the earth, to govern it according to the good order that God had put into place, and to act as God’s own agent and representative.  Thus, for example, it was the man who gave names to all the animals.  So, too, the man and his wife were to fill the earth with their children, and to subdue it, not as tyrants, but as a godly king and queen over God’s good creation.  When the woman and the man deviated from God’s Word and reversed the order of His creation, they opened the floodgates to the deep dark waters of chaos: Real storms that drown and destroy on land and sea, and in the air, and a host of metaphorical storms that rock and roll your world.

Now, man still attempts to exercise dominion — and you should do so, in keeping with your place in life, your office and station, according to the Ten Commandments.  The chaos of sin and death is undone by the right logic of the Word of God, by the keeping of His good and acceptable will.  When you fear, love and trust in God above all things, and you listen to His Word and call upon His Name, and you honor your father and mother, and you faithfully love and cherish your spouse, and you do no harm to your neighbor but help him in every way that you can, then the light shines in the darkness, and the chaos gives way to a beautiful order and form.

Yet, man attempts to exercise dominion, not by living under the authority of God’s Word, but by imposing his own will against his neighbor, and by pitting his own strength against the challenges and dangers of life in a fallen world.  He sets his own wisdom, ingenuity and skill to the task of survival.  He takes on the chaos like an exhilarating adventure.  He thrills at the prospect of riding the storm out and forcing it to serve his purposes.  He harnesses the wind and dams the water.
It can be an invigorating contest, up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong and becomes life-threatening.  Then it’s no fun anymore, but scary.  Not only the danger that threatens your body and life, but the overcoming of your will, that is the most disturbing chaos.  The danger can be a thrill, but not the realization that you are powerless, that you are at the whim of wind and wave — that is when the chaos rolls over you completely and drags you down into its depths of darkness.

The external chaos is bad enough, whether it be a destructive storm, an oppressive boss, unruly children, or financial calamity.  Those outside forces make you angry or afraid, or both, and they can fill your days and nights with anxiety.  But even more alarming and disarming is the chaos within you, which drives your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions.  You like to believe that you’re in charge of those things; that, whereas others may push you around and refuse to listen to you, at least you have your own mind, your own will, and you’re still your own man or woman.  Except that the storms inside of you are tossing you about and threatening you as much or more than those that rage against you on the outside.  Even there, within yourself, you’re powerless to take control.  Lustful thoughts seize your mind, no matter how hard you try to resist them and shut them out.  Envy and jealousy drive you against or away from the neighbor you are called to love.  Bitterness and resentment cast long dark shadows across your heart, no matter how pleasant your outward demeanor may be.  Disappointments and regrets rob you of any confidence or ambition.

Your addictions call the shots, instead of reason or sound judgment:  You spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need.  You eat and drink things that you know will be harmful to your health.  You waste endless hours of your time on frivolous pursuits, instead of doing your duty.

These are the howling winds and the crashing waves that threaten you and overwhelm you from the inside out.  Chaos and confusion reign within, and you are powerless to save yourself.

But of course, there is Jesus, who has come to help you, and who is here with you.  Right?  He who is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, with His Word brings peace and calm to the Creation.  He undoes the chaos and orders all things rightly.  Even the winds and the waves obey Him.  For He is Himself the Word by whom all things are made, and He is also the true Man who exercises godly dominion over Creation.  You have heard the evidence of that in this familiar Holy Gospel.

So, why are the disciples even more afraid when Jesus has quieted the wind and stilled the waves than they were of the storm in the first place?  That is what St. Mark has described: Before, they were afraid because they were perishing, but afterwards they are very much afraid.  Why?  And why are you so afraid of the good and right ordering that Jesus obtains and gives by His Word?

Such fear is, again, a part of the chaos inside of you: It is the fear of sin and death, instead of faith and love.  For in your fallen state, the power and authority and right ordering of the Word of Christ Jesus can only be perceived and interpreted as the force of the Law, as the imposing of His will upon all that is contrary to His Word.  So, yes, all that chaos in the world that threatens you must obey Him and submit to Him.  But so is your own chaotic and sinful behavior confronted by the authority of His commands, and your own stubborn will is silenced and stilled before Him.

That perception of the Lord and of His authority, according to the power and judgment of His Law, is even more frightening than the chaos that rages all around you.  For it presses upon you and challenges your will, and in a single stroke it undoes all your sin and all of your self-righteousness.

That’s what you hear when Jesus speaks and the winds and waves obey Him.  And that’s what you hear when the Lord speaks to Job in response to that poor man’s worries and complaints.  That’s what you hear in response to your own sufferings, your struggles, and your sorrows.  Who are you, O little man, O little woman, to call into question or complain about the judgments of the Lord?

But God is not backhanding Job with chastisement when He speaks.  He does not add yet another crushing blow atop the assaults and accusations of the devil.  He does not compound the chaos, and neither does He calm things down by constraining and compelling Job to “shut up.”  Rather, He quiets Job with comfort and consolation in his suffering.  The Lord reveals the mysterious truth that suffering is not a mark of His displeasure, nor is it foreign to His good and gracious purpose.

It is true that the Law reveals the good and right order of God’s world, as He intends it to be and to live.  But there is a deeper and different authority of the Law than its demands and prohibitions, than its threats and punishments.  All of these confront you and accuse you, and weigh so heavily upon you, but only because your heart and mind, your body and spirit, and the whole sinful world around you, are out of order and chaotic with sinful unbelief and stubborn disobedience.  At the heart of the Law itself, however, is the harmony of faith and love, the peaceful unity of the Holy Triune God, who lives in perfect freedom and acts in perfect love, who gives life to those who are His own creatures, to those whose very existence is brought about by His free choice of grace.

Which is really to say that the foundation and good order of Creation, as also the fulfillment of the whole Law, is nothing else and nothing less than Christ and Him Crucified.  He is the Cornerstone, not only of His Church, but of the heavens and the earth and of all things, visible and invisible.  From before the foundation of the world, this Lamb was slain for the life and salvation of all flesh, and God’s good Creation is then brought forth in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is the Self-giving Love of God, the divine grace, by which and for which whatever is made has been made.

It is not only in view of the Incarnation of the Son of God that man was made in the Image of God, but specifically in view of the Cross, in the likeness of the Resurrection of the Crucified One.

Was not the man taken out of the earth, as Christ is risen from the grave?  Was not the woman taken out of the side of man while he slept, as the Bride of Christ is borne from His riven side?

Therefore, as the Lord established His Creation upon the dying and rising of Christ Jesus, He does not now renew Creation and bring it into peace and quiet by imposing His sovereign will upon it, by forcing and constraining it to obey the rules and behave, but by entering into it, becoming part of it, and establishing the good order of His Word and Will in Himself, that is, in His own flesh.  And this, again, was not an emergency “plan B,” but the founding intention of the Holy Trinity.

The Son of God enters the waters of St. Mary’s womb, and He is born from those waters under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law.  He then enters the waters of St. John’s baptism in the Jordan River, thereby submitting Himself to sacrificial death as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and from those waters He emerges to make His way steadfastly to the Cross.  So does He also embark upon the sea, in order to cross over with His people — through death into life — and He too is found on the boat in the chaotic storm, amid the raging winds and thrashing waves.

He is on board “just as He is.”  He has flesh and blood like you.  He sleeps because He is true Man.  That means, not only that He has gotten tired and must sleep, just as you must take your rest, but also that He lives by faith, as you are called to live.  Only, where you often cannot sleep, but toss and turn at night, He rests in peace and quietness while the winds and waves toss the boat about.  It is neither exhaustion, nor laziness, nor a lack of care and concern for His fellows, but faith and trust in His Father, that enable the Lord Jesus to sleep in peace, even with all the chaos going on.

He lives as true Man by entrusting Himself entirely to His God and Father, in order to live entirely from Him.  This is how all of Creation, and man in particular, is created to live.  So that is how Jesus lives, and that is how He dies.  For not only does He lay Himself down to sleep in the peace of His Father, but so does He lay down His life, even unto death, in the confidence of His Father’s love and care for Him.  So there is this striking contrast between His peaceful sleeping and His panic-stricken disciples, who wonder whether He even cares that they are perishing.  Are there not times when you likewise question His care for you, when the storm rages and your Jesus sleeps?

And yet, it is in His sleeping, even unto death upon the Cross, that He fully sets Himself, His faith and His love, against the chaos of sinful unbelief.  His voluntary suffering and death, in faithful obedience to His God and Father, atones for all of man’s sin and remedies the brokenness of the Creation.  So, too, it is in His rising from the dead that all of Creation is fully restored in peace, as life and immortality are brought to light through the preaching of the Gospel.  That is what you have heard: When He wakes and rises from His sleep, He speaks, and all becomes perfectly calm.

It is in His dying and rising that the Lord Jesus Christ receives the authority to exercise a godly dominion of love over all of Creation.  Because the one true God has become true Man, and He has given Himself for all men, and He has risen from the dead, the whole earth is full of His Glory.

Nowhere is that Glory of God more clear than in the Holy Communion.  There the Lord exercises dominion over His creation by taking bread and wine, and giving them to you as His own Body and Blood, crucified and risen, as meat and drink indeed for your own body of flesh and blood.  He uses His dominion to bless and sanctify creation, to love and to give life by giving Himself.  And right there, in His Body and His Blood, is the heart and center of His Peace.  For the Peace of the Lord, the Pax Domini, is with you in this Sacrament, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  With this forgiveness, the winds and waves are hushed and stilled.

This, then, is how He truly cares for you: in all things, in body and soul, both now and forever.  Not by enslaving you, but by feeding you with Himself, with His own flesh, and by forgiving you.

It is true that He rebukes you for your doubts and fears of unbelief.  He calls you to repentance and to faith: to fear Him, yes, but not to be afraid of Him; to love and trust in Him; to die and rise with Him, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.  To be at peace in His love for you, and so to exercise dominion in the place where He has put you, not as a tyrant, but in mercy like His own.

Beloved of the Lord, you are on your way.  You’re in the midst of the sea, in the midst of crossing over.  You’re not yet to the other side, and meanwhile there is much that rages against you, both from without and from within.  For you have gone into the waters of Holy Baptism, and, make no mistake, those are deadly waters.  In those waters you are drowned and destroyed with old Adam; and you are put to death and buried with Christ Jesus.  But now, consider what that means: If you are baptized into Christ, then you are in the boat with Him, and He is in the boat with you, that is, within the Holy Ark of His Church.  And herein you are safe in the midst of the storm, even though you are sometimes so afraid, and even though it seems as though your Lord were sleeping and not very much concerned about you.  He has laid Himself down to sleep in flesh and blood like yours, in order that you may find your peace and rest and quiet sleep in Him.  Just as He has died for you, so that, by your dying with Him in the waters of Baptism, you may also rise and live with Him.

Dear child of God, here you are safe.  You really are.  Your doubts and fears and lack of faith do not make the One who loves you any less faithful.  You may wonder what is going on, and whether He will ever help you, but He is here with you, and He will not let you perish.  Oh, to be sure, your body will die, just as He has died, but so shall your body be raised to be like His own glorious body, and you shall live forever and ever with Him in body and soul.  No hurricane or tidal wave on earth can drown or blow away that sure and certain hope, which has already been accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  In His sleeping is your Sabbath Rest, even in death.  And in His rising from death and the grave, you are saved unto life everlasting.  In Him, God the Father has already given His “Amen” to your every need and every prayer.  Therefore, call upon the Name of this Lord Jesus.  He will hear and answer.  And with His speaking, you shall have His Peace.

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

17 June 2012

Nesting in the Branches of the Cross

His Kingdom is not of this world.  But He has planted it here, and it has come to you, also.  It is a mystery, and you cannot recognize or receive it by appearances.  But the Lord Jesus explains everything to you.  His parables conceal the mystery of His Kingdom, except to those who are baptized into Him, who are catechized by His Word of the Cross.

For the Kingdom of God is like this Man, who lies down and gets back up again; who makes His bed in the soil, in the dirt of the ground, and then rises from death and the grave.  And He and His Kingdom are like a tiny little seed, so small, so weak, so alone, but, having been sown into the earth through death, He sprouts and grows and bears much fruit.

This is not the way of the world, but the way of Christ, the way of His Cross.  It does not appear wise, or strong, or capable of any good thing.  And yet, it accomplishes everything.  It produces abundant good fruit, and it provides shelter and shade: a nest of safety and peace.  Not by any power or works of the flesh, but by the Spirit of God, who anoints the Body of Christ Jesus for sacrifice and raises Him bodily from the dead.

Jesus lays down His life in love; He offers Himself up to God, His Father, in faith.  And in the harvest of His Resurrection is the coming of His Kingdom.  For the risen Body of Christ Jesus is the fruit of the Cross, and the branches of that Tree, which bear that fruit, are the cedars of Lebanon with which His Temple is adorned.

This theology of the Cross is an irony and a paradox, that a tree of death should bear such living and life-giving fruit.  But so it does.  His death, His Body given, His Blood poured out — these atone for all of your sins, so that by and from His Cross you are forgiven, and in His Resurrection you are justified and saved, unto life everlasting.

Wherever the tree of His Cross is now planted by the preaching of His Word, there is the Kingdom of God on earth.  There is the Garden of God, and this tree of the Cross in the midst of the Garden is the greatest of all the trees.  Even though it appears to be fruitless and dead and beyond hope — it is not appealing to the eyes, nor promising for food, nor desirable to make you wise — yet, it is the living heart and center of the Church.

Because the Church lives by and from the Cross, so is she characterized by the Cross.  Like her Lord, and like His Tree, she too is small and weak in this world, beleaguered and seemingly good for nothing.  She is not impressive in the eyes of men, but laughable and ridiculous.  Often as not, she looks and seems that way to you, too: pathetic and sad.

She bears the Cross and is put to death.  And yet, precisely so, she bears the fruits of the Cross in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  That is what the Cross produces in her, irrespective of appearances, by the Word and Spirit of God.

It is not the architecture or the building that constitutes the Church; nor the people, either: not the number of members, nor their median age, nor their wealth and social status.  It is the Gospel that builds the Church, that is, the preaching of the Cross of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  So, too, that preaching of the Gospel makes even the earthly building, of whatever sort, into a church, a sacred house where the disciples of Christ Jesus are gathered around Him in the Kingdom of God.

Whether it be a tabernacle or a tent; whether elaborate and ornate, or basic and simple; whether a temple on a hill, or a little wooden chapel in a vale, the Gospel of the Cross sanctifies that place on earth with the Spirit of Christ.  There His Body is given and received from His Cross, which comprises the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Even down in the valley of the shadow of death, such a church is planted, established, and preserved on the high and lofty mountain of God.  That is true for our little Emmaus here in South Bend, as it has been true for the churches in Corinth, in Jerusalem, and in Rome.

Wherever the tree of the Cross is planted, there is the Lord’s House, where His faithfulness and loving-kindness flourish.

This House of the Lord is also your home in the Kingdom of God, where you are planted and flourish in Christ.  Here you are nested in the branches of His Cross, which shelters you from harm and shades you from the heat.  Here you are fed with the living and life-giving fruits of that Tree.  Here you are clothed with the righteousness of Him who was stripped naked and hung upon that Tree for your sake.  By His death, your death has already died, and in His Resurrection you are raised up to live forever, reconciled to God and righteous in His sight.  Do not be afraid, and do not be ashamed.  He has made this House your home because He loves you.

Here you are planted into Him, and planted with Him; as by your Baptism into His death, so also by daily repentance.  As you die to yourself, to the world, and to your sin, you are raised up with Him, and in Him, to live a new life as a new creation.  For His seed sprouts and His crops grow in His own rising from death.  He is the first fruits, and you belong to the fullness of His harvest.  Not by any work or effort, power or merit of yours, but by the sowing of His seed, which is the preaching of His Cross.  It takes root in you, and sprouts and grows — by the grace of God, you know not how — and it bears good fruits in you after its own kind.

That means, first of all, as a disciple of Christ Jesus, that you bear His Cross and are crucified with Him.  Therefore, like Him, and like His Church, you appear to be small and weak and helpless, always dying, and incapable of doing anything or producing anything worthwhile.  But He emerges and arises in you, and lives in you, so that you are truly alive and fruitful in Him.

As He has planted Himself in you by the preaching of His Word, so do you bear the fruits of His Tree by confessing His Word in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; in Psalms and hymns and creeds; in words of love for your neighbor, and in the forgiveness of those who trespass against you.  You speak what the Lord Jesus has spoken to you, and so you plant the seeds of His Cross in others.

Do not underestimate the power of that Word, and do not hesitate to speak it, no matter how small and futile it may seem.

Along with your speaking, so also care for your neighbor as Christ Jesus cares for you.  With whatever means the Lord provides, feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, as the Lord feeds you with His Body and Blood, and clothes you with His righteousness, and shelters you within His Church.  For even the sparrow has found her nest here in the Lord’s Altar, and so are you gently but safely and securely nestled in the branches of His Cross in this place.  How shall you not welcome your neighbor and make room for him or her?

Your inadequacy, your weaknesses and failures, your sin and death, and the overall frailty of your fallen flesh is apparent, both to you and to others.  Such a tiny seed you are, with so little promise or potential.  And like the mustard, the Law would keep you out of the garden — for the Law forbid the mixing of seeds with vegetables, and the mustard seed, in particular, was not permitted among the plants of the garden.  But now the Cross of Christ has changed everything, and the Mystery of the Kingdom of God has been revealed to you in His Resurrection.

The high trees are humbled, but the low trees are exalted.  And the lowest tree of all, the Cross of death, has been established as the greatest of all the trees: as the Tree of Life.  As it bears the fruits of the Cross, the Body and Blood of Christ, for you to eat and drink, so does He plant you in the midst of His Paradise.  And as He forgives you all your sins, and gives you life and salvation in Himself, so does He bear His good fruits in you.  Indeed, you flourish in the courts of your God.

For Christ Jesus is the Lord.  He has spoken, and He does it.

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

10 June 2012

Living Forever in the House of the Lord

The Builder of all things is God.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is in them.  He created the Man in His own Image, and the Woman for the Man, and He gave them to each other as husband and wife.  He also planted the garden in the East, the Paradise of Eden, and He gave it to the Man and to the Woman as their home.  All of this He did by His almighty and eternal Word, and it was very good.

Within this God-built house there is security and strength.  It is beautiful by His gracious design, well-structured by His Wisdom, and upheld in love by the power of His Word.  Within His good creation, in the good order that He has established, there is safety and security for those who live according to His will, that is, according to His Word.

Living in the place the Lord has provided, the Man is able to serve and care for the Woman, and the Woman is able to support and serve the Man.  Together they are fruitful and multiply, they fill the earth and subdue it.  They exercise dominion in the Name of the Lord, under His blessing.

So, what happened?  The house is falling apart.  The whole world is dirty, messed up, and dying.  Regardless of your politics, whether you are “green” or not, you know that’s true.  The Bible tells you so: Heaven and earth are passing away.  Creation groans under the curse of sin and death.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  It goes way beyond pollution and a poor stewardship of resources.  You may trash the place, or not, but there is a deeper rupture than you can patch, clean up, or fix.  Volcanoes erupt, and man is powerless to stop them.  Earthquakes rock the earth and swallow up man’s efforts in a moment.  Mountains crumble into the heart of the sea.  The sea fights back with tidal waves to drown the nations, and conspires with the wind to throw hurricanes back at the land.  There won’t be another world-wild flood, but fires lay waste to vast stretches of plants and trees.

It’s not only outside, but inside the house there is disarray and trouble, instead of the security and peace that everybody longs for.  Marriage and family are under attack and under stress.  You know there are political assaults on God’s institution of marriage and on the sanctity of human life.  Such contradictions of the natural Law that God has woven with His Word into creation itself at its core, and into the heart and conscience of man, erode the entire structure and stability of life on earth.

Speak out against such dangerous foolishness and sinful disobedience, as you have opportunity.  And obey God rather than man, whenever it comes down to it.  But don’t point the finger without also looking to yourself, to your own household and family.  It is not only from without, but from within, that marriages and families are under attack and falling apart.  Where the Lord has clearly commanded the honor of father and mother, the fidelity of husband and wife, there is disrespect and disobedience on the part of children, neglect and abuse on the part of parents, unfaithfulness and hostility on the part of spouses.  Sometimes it is blatant.  More often it is subtle and insidious.

Instead of safety and security in the house that God has built for you and given to you, even in those places where you ought be most at ease and comfortable, the devil runs amok and causes all manner of unrest.  Instead of contentment and cooperation, there is dissatisfaction and dissension.  Instead of peace and health, there is hatred and hurt.  Not only in others, but in you, in your life.  Satan entices you with lies and false promises, and then accuses you of your sin with a vengeance.  He attacks you in body and soul, as he tyrannizes all of the children of men with the fear of death.

The devil has such power and strength to constrain and threaten, because Man stretched out his hand to build his own house.  You know the story.  You’ve heard it before, and you live it yourself.  Tempted and deceived by the devil, the Woman stretches out her hand to take what the Lord has not given: to make a life for herself, not according to God’s Word, but contrary to it.  And the Man does not use the strength of the Lord to guard and protect his wife.  He does not speak the Word that God has spoken, nor does he step into the breach to subdue the crafty serpent, but with his own hand he receives from his wife what God has forbidden.  Instead of receiving from God in faith and giving to his wife in love, the Man ignores the Lord and follows the Woman into sin.

This sinful rejection of God’s Word — this willful disobedience of what He has clearly spoken, whereby you also now seek to make a house and a home of your own design, instead of living in the Lord’s House — puts everything in jeopardy, into a tailspin.  It puts you at odds with both God and the devil, and that’s a double enmity that you can’t handle or survive on either side.  So much for peace!  There is no peace in this house that you have built for yourself.  There is no rest in this bed that you have made.  Now there is a terrifying fear of God, instead of friendship.  And you have put yourself in the devil’s power, who already hated you and hunted you in the first place, by giving him these weapons and this ammunition: the accusation of sin and the threat of death.

It didn’t start with you, but it hasn’t ended with you, either.

Having chosen to build his own house, Man has taken on a lifelong struggle and a futile task.  So do you also struggle and toil away to stake your claim, to protect your space, to guard your castle and maintain it, to shut out the noise and keep death at bay.  Your house requires constant work, whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.  But it still won’t last.  It is never stronger than your own strength.  It may outlast you, or maybe not, but it sure won’t last forever.

It’s not just your building, but your own body and your life: this mortal tent in which you live on earth.  The task of growing and gathering food is backbreaking labor, which drives you that much faster into the dirt from which you were taken.  Childbirth, too, as every mother knows, is under the curse of sin and the constant threat of death.  It is dangerous and precarious to start with, and it takes a toll on your body.  So marks the beginning of mortal life, for death has marked its prey.

The daily fight to survive in this fallen world, in the face of death, in the midst of guilt and shame, also pits the Man against the Woman, the parents and the children against each other, and brother against brother.  When you are endeavoring to build and keep and live in your own house, against all odds, everything is a potential threat, and everyone is your opponent.

You do make alliances, for the sake of survival, but even your allies are a threat when all your common enemies are not.  No one gets out alive.  Sooner or later, it’s just you in your crumbling castle, stacking all your furniture against the front door, in the hopes of reinforcing it; firing your canons out the windows, and pouring hot oil on the heads of all your foes.

Men use their strength to protect and pamper themselves: to make demands, to intimidate where they can, by one means or another; to threaten, to punish, to take for themselves whatever they can lay their hands on.  Big men do it with their bodily size and strength.  Small men do it with their loud voices and cruel words.  Rich men do it with their wealth.  Poor men do it with crafty stealth.

Women are thus left to fend for themselves, and they do.  If the men will not care for them in love, the women will conspire and manipulate to secure what they need, and to take what they want.  They position themselves and they wait for the opportune time to get whatever it is they are after.  They gossip and complain, but selectively and carefully, under the guise of naivete and innocence.

Children observe their parents and learn to emulate their strategies and sins.  Already your little boys and girls are figuring out their own survival techniques, how to compete and hold their own.  They use their strengths to serve themselves.  They accuse and threaten those who oppose them.

Each of you has your own sins, according to your own personality, your own abilities and traits.  Your house is not the same as your neighbor’s, and you’re proud of that fact, even as you fight to conceal your envy and jealousy.  But the underlying problem and the larger context is the same.  Sin and death hold sway, and so the devil has you and everyone else imprisoned and enslaved in your own houses!  You’re not safe inside.  You’re shackled and chained, and bound to lose it all.

But now the Stronger Man has come to the rescue, just as Jesus says.  The Lord Himself has come to plunder the devil’s house; which is really not the devil’s own domain, but the one that he has usurped and taken over, in which he holds you captive.  The Lord enters in to bring you out, and He establishes a new house and home, one not made with mortal hands, but eternal in the heavens.

First things first, He comes to bind the strong man, Satan, and He does so.  But the Lord Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He defeats the devil, with a different kind of strength altogether.  Not with swagger or sinister cunning.  Not with trickery, treachery, or deceit.  Not with harsh threats or deadly accusations, but with long-suffering patience, tender kindness, and gentle compassion.  He does not impose His own will upon His neighbor, nor assert His own will to make a house for Himself.  But He lives as a Son in His Father’s House.  He does the will of His God and Father.

In that strength and authority of faithful obedience, Jesus submits Himself to death, in order to forgive all the sins of the sons of men.  Far from making a life for Himself, He lays down His life in love for all others, in the faith and confidence that His Father will raise Him up again.  He does not take for Himself what has not been given, but He receives all things from His Father, in order to give all things to His neighbor; in order to be a strong Husband for His Bride; to give her life and care for her in love; to provide a safe and solid home for her in the House of His dear Father.

From the outside, looking in, He looks like 50 shades of crazy.  And He’s okay with that.  Or, to say it rightly, He freely and fully forgives that blasphemy against Him.  He doesn’t get angry or defensive, but simply refuses to count or consider such insults.  The fact is, faith and love and the Cross of Christ look foolish and weak, ludicrous and even insane.  But Jesus does not worry about or take offense at what others think of Him, because He is content with the Word and Wisdom of His Father.  He knows the pledge and promise of His Baptism.  He knows His office and vocation.  He knows what and where His true home is: with God.

Therefore, Jesus does not go out to His mother and His brothers, and He will not be taken custody by them.  Not out of any disrespect, and not as though to disown them or distance Himself from them.  But He calls and gathers a whole new family to Himself, into the House where He is found, by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  He establishes and populates a new household and family of God, which includes St. Mary, St. James and St. Jude, and disciples from all the nations.

By His own perfect faithfulness, and by His voluntary sacrifice for the sins of the world, He has robbed Satan of his weapons and his ammunition.  Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated; which leaves the devil with nothing to attack you with or hold against you.  Rather, creation is restored and made brand new, and reordered according to the will of God — already in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and so too for all who live and abide in Him.  For His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God, which is an eternal House for all who are His family by faith.

He brings you into that House and makes you a member of His own dear family by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He brings you into His own household and family, even as He plunders the devil’s house.  For He frees the children of men from captivity to sin and death; He cleanses them, and brings them to life, by the gift of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Those who refuse and reject the Holy Spirit — that is, who refuse and reject the Gospel — remain in the bondage of the devil and outside of the Lord’s House.  Apart from repentance, that’s forever.

But you who have been gathered around Christ Jesus — who are gathered by and around His strong Word of faith and forgiveness of sins — you are His Mother, His brothers and His sisters.  That is to say, you are collectively His Church, and within her you are born again as the children of God.  You live now in His House, and you belong to His family, as surely as you are here to hear His preaching, to be catechized by His Word, to abide in His Baptism and to partake of His Body and Blood.  So surely are you part of His Body and Bride, the Church.

Since He, the Lord your God, forgives you all your sins — He holds none of them against you — therefore, Satan cannot legitimately accuse you of anything.  Nor can the devil threaten you or scare you with death anymore, since God your Father has raised Jesus your Brother from the dead.

Consider how this strength of Christ Jesus sustains you: For you are safe and secure in His House, which shall not fall.  Its sure foundation is the sacrifice of His Cross, once and for all.  And just as He is risen from the dead, never to die again, so shall it stand fast and forever.

Here in His House you are fed with food and drink that you don’t have to work for.  You are a child of God, and your Father feeds you with the flesh and blood of Christ.  It is by the sweat of His brow, by the labor of His Cross and Passion, that you eat and drink and shall not die but live.

Here in the Lord’s House, you and your family are given life in place of death.  This promise is for you and for your children, for your parents and your spouse.  The birth pangs of repentance are not the mark of mortality, but are the glory of the Cross, unto immortal and imperishable life with God.

You don’t have to build a house for yourself, and so that whole futile rat race is ended.  You no longer have to fight that no-win battle against death, which wearies you and wears you out but gets you nowhere.  Instead, you simply live in the place where God has put you, a beloved child in His family, and a permanent resident of His house and home, by faith in Christ Jesus.  And, as such, He strengthens you to make a safe house and a loving home for your neighbor here on earth.

Not that you must be and do everything for everyone, and not as though you are expected to make an eternal house or home for anyone.  Such things are not given to you.  But you know the promise and pledge of your Baptism.  You know your office and vocation in the world.  And, in Christ, you have the strength to live and love as He has called you.

You husbands have the strength, in Christ, to care for your wives.  You mothers have the strength to care for your children.  You children, to care for your parents.  You brothers and sisters, to care for each other.  Not with any flawless perfection of your own, but with the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is yours by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.  Not out of guilt or shame or fear, but in His peace and hope and charity.

You have this strength to love and serve each other, because you have your home and family in the strong House of the Stronger Man, Christ Jesus.  Having died for you and risen from the dead, He has defeated your enemy, the devil, and He has reconciled you to His Father in peace.  He has made a place for you forever, and in Him is your Sabbath Rest that shall not end.  In His crucified and risen Body — which you have entered by your Baptism, and which you eat and drink in the Sacrament — you have genuine security.  You really are safe.

So, too, you have the strength to forgive all the sins of those who sin against you; because the strength of your Savior, Christ Jesus, is the strength of His Gospel.  He does not accuse, threaten, or punish, but He daily and richly forgives you all of your sins.  He forgives your weakness and your fear.  He forgives your laziness and your neglect of responsibility.  He forgives your short temper and your abuse of power.  He does not hold any of your sins against you, but He calls you to repentance, and He gently raises you up to live by faith in Him, to live in love for your neighbor.

If the whole world thinks you’re crazy, well, never mind that; you’re in good company.  So shall you be glorified with Him, who loves you.  Whatever affliction you may suffer is momentary, and it’s not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory for which the Lord Jesus is preparing you, even now.

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

03 June 2012

Born of the Holy Trinity into His Kingdom

The genesis of the flesh is flesh.  The genesis of the Spirit is spirit.

The distinction is not material vs. immaterial; not tangible vs. intangible; not visible vs. invisible; nor between bodies of flesh and disembodied spirits.

But the contrast is between that which bears the Spirit of God, and that which does not.

Flesh that is filled with the Spirit of God is alive and living.

Flesh apart from the Spirit of God is dead and dying.  It returns to the dust, as we heard last week.  It goes down to sheol, to the grave, into the pit.  It decays, suffers destruction, and disintegrates.

Because flesh, without the Spirit of God, is idolatrous and covetous.  It hungers, not for the true and holy God, but for flesh (like itself).  It consumes flesh, but, in doing so, it is itself consumed.  It is cannibalistic, because sin is the ultimate flesh-eating virus.

Flesh feeds upon itself, but it cannot sustain itself.  It cannot survive on its own, nor live for long,  It cannot save itself.

By itself, apart from the Spirit of God, flesh is blind and stumbles around in the darkness, in a perpetual nighttime of ignorance and unbelief.  It cannot see God.  It cannot know God.  It cannot believe in God; nor can it go to Him.  It cannot ascend into heaven, nor can it enter the Kingdom of God.

More to the point, you do not and cannot know God by way of your own fallen flesh.  You do not and cannot know heavenly things, nor can you go to heaven, by any means of your fallen flesh.

Without the Spirit of God, your flesh is undone.  But if your fallen flesh is confronted by the Holy, Holy, Holy God, apart from His Gospel, then you are undone the more quickly; because you are not holy, but sinful and unclean.

However, God the Father has sent His only-begotten Son into the world, in love, in order to save the world through Him — to grant eternal life with Himself to those who have not known Him.

As in the beginning, the Father speaks His Word into the darkness — and His Word is Light and Life and Love for all of creation — for He speaks to you by His Son, Christ Jesus.

Thus, you see the Kingdom of God in Him, the Son of Man, who has descended from heaven for you.  In Him, God has become Man.  The Word has become Flesh.

How can this be?  It is by the Spirit of God, who came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary to conceive the Son of God in her womb, so that He has become flesh of her flesh, and blood of her blood.

Thus, the New Adam is conceived and born of the New Eve, by the grace of God, by His Word and Spirit; so that the fall into sin and the curse of all flesh are reversed in the flesh of Christ.

The Signs that He does, therefore — like the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, etc. — are signs of the New Creation.  These are the dawning of the eternal Eighth Day and the blooming of the New Paradise, which the incarnate Son works and accomplishes, first of all in Himself, but for us men and our salvation, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.

For the New Birth is harder than the first; indeed, it is impossible for the flesh without the Spirit of God.  It is harder than the labor and delivery of fallen flesh, which are cursed by sin and death.  It is harder than entering again into your mother’s womb when you are old, as it is harder than putting a camel through the eye of a needle.

The birth pangs, in this case, are those of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus — the suffering and death of the Son of God in human flesh — the shedding of His holy and precious blood in atonement for your blood.

Ironically, these depths of His descent — into death and the grave, into the pit, into hades and sheol — coincide with His being lifted up.  For by His Cross, He offers Himself up to God as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, and as the sweet-smelling Incense of peace and reconciliation with God.

In His own flesh, He has fully borne your sin and death.

But His Father has received and accepted His Sacrifice, and has raised Him up again from death to life, and has poured out the Spirit upon Him: upon His Body, crucified and risen; into His flesh and blood.

Therefore, His bodily Resurrection from the dead is the New Genesis, and He is the New Adam, from whom the children of God are born.

It is the Spirit who accomplishes this New Birth in you, by putting you to death and raising you up to new life, in and with Christ Jesus.  That is what repentance is — being turned inside-out, away from sin and death, unto His forgiveness of your sins — unto faith in Christ, by which you see God, and know Him, and love Him, and live in Him, now and forever.

The Spirit works this dying and rising in you by the earthly means of grace: by the Ministry of the Gospel, which is the Voice of the Spirit, by which alone you know His works, His gifts and graces.

He speaks by the cleansed lips of those who are called and sent (ordained) in the Name of Christ; so that the Holy Spirit is breathed into man — into fallen flesh — with Holy Absolution.

And by this forgiveness of the Gospel, by this breathing of the Spirit into you, you are no longer dead and dying, but alive and living; you are not undone, but cleansed, healed, and made new.

It is like the coal from the altar of incense — the coal previously taken from the altar of sacrifice into the holy place, to burn the incense before the Holy of Holies — the coal that touched Isaiah’s lips and cleansed him from iniquity, so that he could go and preach the Word of the Lord to Israel.

So the coal of the Cross, by which Christ was offered up for us all as an acceptable Sacrifice and as sweet-smelling Incense, is now also the Fruit of the Tree by which you are forgiven and live.

From the Altar of His Cross, He touches your lips with His Body and His Blood, and you are fully forgiven all your sins, cleansed of all iniquity.  You shall not die, but live.

So the administration of the means of grace — that is, the whole the Ministry of the Gospel — is now the lifting up of the Son of Man, of Christ the Crucified, by which you are brought to faith and life in Him.

Thus, by your Holy Baptism, you have been born again of water and the Spirit.  You have been put to death, crucified and buried with Christ, and raised with Him to newness of life; so that now you are a child of God, and you live as a child of God, by His grace.

As the Son of God was conceived and born of the Woman, in order to become true Man — as He was baptized with sinners, even unto His death upon the Cross in the place of sinners — and as He has risen from the dust of the earth, the Firstborn from the dead, the First Fruits of the New Creation — so, indeed, are you also born again from death to life, as a son of God in Christ.

Therefore, beloved of the Holy Trinity, you know the only true God; not as a doctrinal abstraction, but as your own dear Father: your true Father.

You know the Father in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, who is your Brother in the flesh, and your Savior from sin and death.

You know the Father and His Son by the Spirit He has given you in Christ, who breathes in you the very Life of God.

You know the Holy Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, here and now, in this holy place (which He sanctifies by His presence).  You know Him in the hearing of His Word, in the eating of the flesh of Christ, in the drinking of His Blood; for His Word and Flesh are Spirit and Life.

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