28 April 2013

Of Brides and Babies Dressed in White

(At the Holy Baptism of Cecilia Anastasia Osbun, Fifth Sunday of Easter)

So, Joshua, father to father, first of all: You have received into your arms your baby girl, borne of your beloved bride; and here, now, as a Christian father, you have brought her to the font of Holy Baptism, to give her into the arms of God the Father in heaven.  Here she has been given a new birth by another kind of labor and delivery, as it were; and here she has been dressed in white, as though she were a little bride, herself.

Well, let me tell you, Josh, “Don’t blink!”  In a little while — faster than you think — she’ll very likely be a bride, and then, if God is gracious, she’ll be giving birth to babies of her own.  You’ll see her dressed in white again, and you’ll entrust her to another man to be her head.  You’ll place her lovely little hand into his, and then you’ll wave goodbye; not as though she were gone, but you’ll be seeing her less often, and only for a little while at a time.  Everything will be different.

As my father-in-law warned me, and then I found out for myself four years ago, you’ll anguish with your “baby girl,” perhaps from a distance, on the other end of a telephone, but nonetheless, when her hour has come, and she is in labor and pain, giving birth to your grandchildren.  You’ve been through it with your wife, so you already have a certain perspective on what that’s like; but nothing breaks a father’s self-idolatry like having his daughter become a bride and then a mom.

You’ll hurt for her, Josh, and you’ll hurt for yourself, too, in much the way that you and Sarah have known suffering and loss in the bearing of children, who are but mortal, just like you and me and every other dad on earth.  Marriage and family are blessed gifts of God; weddings and births are happy events, to be sure; and yet, they are not without their hurts and sadness.

There is brokenness and pain, danger and death in the world.  The Bible tells you so, but you know it from experience, too.  The whole of God’s good creation has been subject to futility.  Everything is dying and decays; it all perishes and fades away; all on account of sin, which separates the man, his wife and children, from the Lord their God, who is alone the Author and Giver of Life.

It is the case that, as man turns away from God in disobedience, he is also turned away from his kin, from his own flesh and blood, or else he is turned against his neighbor in enmity and envy, frustration and fear.  There is tension, even within marriage, between the man and the woman who was made for him and given to him.  And there is pain in childbirth, as the curse of sin and death strikes the gift of life from the outset.  Sin begets more sin, and brings forth death upon death, as fallen man attempts to escape the curse by attacking childbirth itself, with fury and great violence.

From sire to seed the curse descends, and over all God’s wrath extends.  And yet, there is also the Lord’s promise of Redemption by the Woman’s Seed: the one Man, the new Adam, who atones for sin by His Blood, who puts death to death by His Cross, and who crushes the head of the devil.  He who comes from the Father, becomes the Everlasting Father of a new household and family.  In His own flesh and blood, He does not turn away from God in disobedience, nor turn against His neighbors in anger, but He proceeds in faith and love to reconcile the entire world of lost sinners to His God and Father, and to bring about the restoration and renewal of creation in Himself.

It is in view of that promise, by faith in that promise, that Adam’s beloved bride, the first Eve, became the Mother of all the Living.  And in fulfillment of that promise, the Blessed Virgin Mary has become the Mother of God in the Flesh.

For the almighty and eternal Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, has undergone the first birth, conceived and born of the Woman, in order to bring about the New Birth of repentance and faith, unto the life everlasting of body and soul.  He has done so by way of His own Holy Baptism, which is to say, by His Cross and Resurrection; for He, too, was baptized into His death, and buried in the earth as in the water, in order to be raised for our justification.

In faith and love, He underwent the anguish, labor, and pain of His Cross and Passion, bearing in His Body the curse of sin and death, in order to bring forth true joy and gladness, and bring life and immortality to light, in His rising from death and the grave.

It is this Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, into which you — and now Cecilia — are baptized; in which there is both the death of sin and the newness of life.  Cecilia’s “old man,” and your old man, is crucified, dead, and buried; and the New Man is conceived and born in you, unto life with God in body and soul, even now, and forever and ever.  For you are “born again,” and adopted by His grace, as a “son of God” in Christ Jesus, by way of your Baptism into Him.

As you have received and share the Cross of Christ in Holy Baptism, and you now bear His Cross for “a little while,” you also now have grief; you weep and you lament (as though at a funeral), even in the very midst of life.  You suffer anguish and anxiety for yourself and for your loved ones, for your bride, and for your babies.  And, so too, for your sins, you undergo the daily repentance, by which you are borne through the narrow passage of the Cross into the New Creation of Christ.

The constant recognition of sin and death, and your daily confrontation with sin and death, both in yourself and in others, denies and contradicts the Word and promises of God.  Your experience of this fallen world always presses upon you, and it threatens to destroy you, to drag you, kicking and screaming, body and soul, into deep despair.  For you look around, and you do not see Jesus, and you do not see the Father.  Rather, what you see is your own sin, your nakedness and shame.

But now, the Spirit of the Lord your God, the Spirit of His Resurrection from the dead, has come, to make of you a new creation, day by day by day.

The same Holy Spirit guides you and brings you into all Truth; which is to say, that He brings you into the Life of God, the Holy Trinity.  This gentle work He does, by speaking to you the Word of Christ, and by giving to you Christ Himself, the Incarnate God and true Man, crucified and risen.  So that, what belongs to Christ Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, is given to you by the Spirit through the Gospel; which is how and why it is, that you are a Christian, a son of God in Christ.

It is by this Word of Christ, which I now preach to you in His Name, that the Spirit speaks to you: and by this Word, you are saved.  Not simply as true information for you to process and act upon, but as the very Truth itself, and as the gracious gift of God: The very Grace by which He works repentance in you, and brings you to faith, and gives to you Himself and His divine, eternal Life.

So also, it is by the washing of water with His Word, that you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit: cleansed and sanctified, and made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband.

Beloved, what God has thus cleansed, do not consider unholy: Neither your neighbor, nor yourself.

For this holiness is not from within, nor from below, but from above: It comes down out of heaven from God, and it is poured out upon you freely in this blessed water of life, which is Holy Baptism, through Jesus Christ your Savior.  From His wounded side, as He has been lifted up in death on the Cross, this heavenly waterfall cascades over your body and soul, and covers you from head to toe, and you are thus anointed with His Spirit and His righteousness.

In this sacred bath, you have not clothed yourself, no more so than Cecilia has dressed herself in white this morning; but you and she are clothed by God Himself, and you are beautiful to Him, the Lord, who is your Bridegroom.  As the first Woman, Eve, was adorned with nothing else but the flesh and bone of her Man, Adam; so are you adorned, both inside and out, with the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, your Husband and your Head.  For you are borne from Him; you are bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh; you are His, to have and to hold, henceforth and forevermore.

It is for this very reason that the living and Life-giving Word has become Flesh, and that the Son of God has sacrificed Himself and shed His Blood as the Lamb of God: in order to become the Tabernacle of God among men, and to sanctify the people for Himself, and for the Father.

From heaven He came and sought us to be His Holy Bride; with His own Blood He bought us, and for our life He died.  Notwithstanding all the heated debates across our nation, the Truth is that Marriage is defined, and finds its meaning, in Christ the true Man and His one Bride, the Church.

Thus, all the baptized are clothed in white robes, in the most beautiful of wedding gowns, which are spun and woven from the righteousness and holiness of Jesus.  For all those who are baptized into Him, are members of His Body and His Bride; and blessed are they all, who are thus invited to the Marriage Supper of this Lamb, which is, indeed, the Inheritance of all His saints in light.

Here there is feasting upon the Lamb Himself, who was sacrificed for us upon the Cross; Who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  Not only has He made atonement for us, to redeem us from sin, to rescue us from death, and to reconcile us to His God and Father; but so does He also feed us with Himself, in order to abide in us, and we in Him.  For He is our Passover.  His Body and His Blood are Meat and Drink indeed, the Banquet of the blessed, in which there is Life and Salvation.

Here, then, in this Supper, there is the singing of the New Song: of God and of the Lamb.  For He has accomplished the new and greater Exodus, and He Himself has brought us, not only out of Egypt, but out of death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the life everlasting.

So it is that, here, your sorrow is turned into joy.  In the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, all things are made brand new.  The children of His Bride, the Church, are borne into the Kingdom of His God and Father; for those who belong to Him, belong also to the Father forever.  No one can take you from Him.  Nor can anyone take Him away from you.

Josh, in bringing Cecilia to this new and greater Joshua, Christ Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son, you have entrusted her to the Husband and Head of the whole Church, in heaven and on earth.  You have given her over to the new birth of His Cross and Resurrection, by water, Word and Spirit, and so also to a new Father and Mother in Christ.

So shall Cecilia, with all the baptized, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity, rise up to sing and make music to the Lord our God, and praise Him forever for His mercy and His faithfulness.

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

26 April 2013

Rebuke, Redemption, and Repentance

A pointed rebuke, apart from the proclamation of redemption, is not yet the preaching of repentance, but is simply the accusation of the Law, which exposes sin, burdens the conscience, and drives man to despair.  This work of the Law is necessary, but, by itself, it is not able to bring about repentance.  For true repentance comprises not only sorrow for sin, but also confident trust in the Lord's mercies.

In confronting an individual concerning a particular wrong, it may be that he remains recalcitrant and stubbornly persists in his sin.  In such a case, he should be admonished and rebuked with the Law, but not absolved or consoled with the Gospel, until his prideful heart is broken by contrition. That does not call for a reading of his heart, but for his acknowledgment of sin and sorrow for it, and a fleeing to the Lord for mercy.

In offering an open rebuke, however, whether in preaching to the congregation, or in public discourse online or elsewhere, there must needs be the preaching of Christ and His Redemption of the world.  The preacher does not presume upon anyone's heart, whether for good or ill, but proceeds in the confidence of the Word of the Lord, both the Law and the Gospel, that these will accomplish the purpose for which they are spoken.

The sharp sting of the Law, which pierces the heart and soul of the sinner, and slays the old Adam in his sin, is to be accompanied by the sweet savor of the Gospel, which heals the brokenhearted and comforts the terrified conscience, setting the sinner free from guilt and shame through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men's trespasses against them.  It is by the preaching of this Gospel that true repentance is accomplished and brought to completion through faith in the forgiveness of sins.

25 April 2013

For the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

Be sober in all things.
Endure hardship and bear the cross patiently.
Do the work that God has given you to do.
Fulfill your calling as a Christian.

For the Lord has poured Himself out as a drink offering, for you and for all people, even to the ends of the earth. And He pours Himself out for you here, and for the many, that you may be crowned with His righteousness, sealed with His blood, and live with Him in His Kingdom, in safety, peace and happiness forever.

By the baring of His holy arms upon the wood of the Cross, He has redeemed His people and the whole of His creation.

Now He bares His holy outstretched arms and His merciful hands by causing the Gospel to be preached to all the nations, to make known His salvation to all men and women everywhere, and to comfort His Church, His beloved Jerusalem, even in the midst of her suffering and sorrow.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in flesh and blood like yours has fulfilled the whole Law, the Word and holy will of His Father. He has established faith and love, righteousness and holiness in Himself, as true God and true Man, perfectly united in His Person; so that all the sons and daughters of man might live the divine life and share the divine nature by His grace, and abide with this Christ Jesus in the bosom of God the Father.

To that end, He has broken down the wall of hostility and separation between God and man, which sin had erected. He has removed the accusation of the Law and every condemnation. For He has suffered the death and damnation of sin in His own body, and the wrath of God against all unrighteousness; and having done so in perfect faith and love, in holiness and innocence before His God and Father, He has been vindicated and raised from the dead on behalf of all mankind.

Because His bloody Cross and Passion atoned for the sins of the whole world, the death of Christ the Lord has defeated death forever and crushed the devil’s head.

His Resurrection is the Father’s Absolution of the world, which He has reconciled to Himself in Christ, His Son. All flesh and all creation have been restored in the flesh of Christ, in His body, crucified and risen. So God the Father beholds the world in Christ Jesus, and it is very good.

All of this the Lord has accomplished and fulfilled, not for His own benefit, but for you, and for all people; that you might live in this good and glorious New Creation; so that you might live, by faith in Christ, in the love of God forever.

It is into that life and love that God invites you and brings you by His Gospel, which is the Word of Christ, the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of forgiveness in His Name and peace with God in His holy and precious blood.

As He brought creation into being out of nothing by His Word, so has He brought about the New Creation by His Word. And so does He bring you out of death into life, out of darkness into light, into His love, into His New Creation, by His Word.

It is by His Word that He has given you the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit; so that you are no longer dead in your trespasses and sin, but crucified with Christ and raised with Him, unto life with God. Outside of Him you are condemned, but in Him you are alive and shall be saved forevermore. Remain in Him, therefore, by returning daily to your Baptism through contrition and repentance, and by living the new life to which He has called you, in faith and love, according to His Word.

Do not underestimate the importance and necessity of His Word and the preaching of it. His Word separates the darkness from the Light. His Word raises you from death to life. And His Word saves you from every evil of body and soul, until He shall call you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

It is when His people disregard His Word and turn away from it that His good creation falls into the curse and condemnation of sin and death. So, too, as it is by His Word that you abide in Christ, and He in you; it is when you turn a deaf ear to His Word and refuse to hear it, that you are found outside of Him and condemned.

Where His Word reproaches you for your unbelief and hardness of heart, repent.

Do not become angry or defensive; do not persist in your stubbornness and sin, but repent and believe the Gospel.

Do not refuse to hear the testimony of those who are the witnesses of His Cross and Resurrection, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do not despise this preaching, but receive it with your ears, ponder it in your heart, believe it, and live.

Trust Christ, that He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification. Live in Him, and do not allow the devil, the world, or your sinful flesh to rob you of that life.

Wherever in the world He has called you and positioned you, live there in the joyful confidence of His Gospel, and in the love that His Word directs you to have for your neighbor.

If you are a preacher, preach. But let none of you suppose that only preachers shall be saved or live by the Word of Christ. Rather, live in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, according to His Word that has been preached to you, in your own vocation as a Christian, in your own proper station and office. Know that He works with you, and in you, confirming His Word to you by the signs of His grace, mercy and peace in your faithful service as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, sister or brother, student or worker.

Live such as you are, as one whose life is safe and secure in Christ Jesus, seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. That is where you live by faith, even as you live in love here on earth

And that, too, is very good, for Jesus’ sake.

The goodness of His creation — redeemed by His Cross and restored in His Resurrection — and the goodness of life in this world, is demonstrated by the ways and means with which He causes His Gospel to be preached to all the nations of the world, even to the ends of the earth.

Not angels, but men of flesh and blood like His own, He calls and sends in His Name to preach.

Men like St. Mark the Evangelist, whom we remember with thanksgiving on this day (rightly so). By his hand, the Word of Christ has been recorded and published in all the world. Surely by such proclamation was he useful to St. Peter and St. Paul; and he is useful to you, also, by the same. With mortal hands he wrote with human words on earthly parchment, and yet those Words he wrote are the Words of Christ, your Savior, alive with His Spirit and full of His forgiveness for the salvation of sinners; for you.

So do the preachers of Christ Jesus, even now, speak with new tongues, so that you may be healed of your sins, set free from your demons, and raised from death to life. The forked tongue of the serpent shall not deceive you or mislead you, and his deadly poison shall not hurt you; not while you are guarded and kept by this preaching of Christ and His Gospel of forgiveness. Not because you never fall, but because He has risen from the dead and raises you up with Himself.

With His Word He has made of ordinary water a Baptism for you, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit. Believe it, and be saved.

Believe, too, that the same Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again, who called and sent St. Mark to preach and publish the Gospel, and who reclined at the Table with His holy Apostles, making Himself known to them in the Breaking of the Bread — that same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Word of the Gospel, reclines here at His Table with you, and gives Himself to you, His flesh and blood for your body and soul, in the same Breaking of the Bread.

His Word sounds from heaven here in this place through the mouth of His servant, and His holy arm stretches out to feed you from His own hand. There is no poison in His Cup, but a medicine of life and immortality, such as He has brought to light through the Gospel.

By this precious Word, sweeter than honey, and by this holy Sacrament, He reigns as your King.

All praise and thanks to Him for His great salvation, and for the gift of His servant, St. Mark, through whom He has caused His Word to be heard even here and now.

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

23 April 2013

Let Solemn Awe Possess Us

Here is Part XII of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).
The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

In dealing with each other, among and within our congregations, and in approaching the Liturgy, we get our bearings, and chart our course, and take our cues from Christ at the Center: He is the Lamb upon His Throne, the One who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives; Who calls and gathers us to Himself, by the Spirit through the Gospel, in order to make us His own priestly people, and to share with us His own divine, eternal Life in body and in soul.  He is the Preacher, the Celebrant, and the Liturgist of the Divine Service; and He is the Husband and Head of His Body and Bride, the Church

As we think very highly of Him, our Savior, so do we think highly of His Church and honor her in word and deed.  She is, after all, the Bride of Christ, and she ought to be treated like a Lady.  Not only that, but we (especially we pastors) should not take liberties with her, but ought to conduct ourselves with the Church in a manner becoming of gentleman with another Man’s Wife.

Make no mistake, the King’s royal Bride is truly a Queen, even when she may be outwardly dressed in beggar’s rags.  But for that very reason, as we are so given the privilege and the opportunity to care for her, to wait upon her needs in this life under the Cross, and to serve and honor her dignity, we shall not deliberately clothe her in rags, but would surely delight to adorn her as the royal Bride that she is.

If we are thus restrained by appropriate decorum and propriety, it is for the sake of the Gospel, which retains its pre-eminence, priority, and predominance.  It is for us a matter of self-discipline, in order to give pride of place to the Gospel.  It is the Gospel that does and gives everything; because it is the Word and work of Christ, who freely and fully forgives the sins of the world, and who reconciles sinners to the Father.  Therefore, the Gospel does not bind or constrain us, but glorifies Christ as our Savior and our God, and comforts terrified consciences with the gift of His Righteousness and Peace.

This Gospel is, and ever shall be, the true adornment and the real beauty of the Church, with which our dear Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, graciously covers and clothes us, day by day: within and without, in heart and mind, in spirit, soul, and body.

It is by this grace of God in Christ, by the life that is given to us freely in the Gospel, that we in turn adore Him, confess Him, rejoice in Him, give thanks to Him, and worship Him in faith and love.

As we are called and gathered by the Gospel unto Christ, unto the Lamb upon His Throne, “Let Solemn Awe Possess Us.”  For we are brought into His presence in the humility of repentance, but so also do we enter His courts with praise, in the joyful confidence of faith.  We kneel in awe of His Majesty, and yet, we find that His almighty power is chiefly shown in His tender compassion toward us poor sinners:

“The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, patient and long-suffering, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving sin, and not counting trespasses.”

Here He has come to us: to open our ears, our hearts and our minds, our eyes by faith, and finally our mouths; to reveal Himself in the Breaking of the Bread, to feed us with Himself, His Body and His Blood, and to abide in us forever and ever.  So do we abide in Him, and with the Father and the Spirit in His Flesh, in that Peace of the Lord which the world cannot give, and we could never have imagined, but He bestows by His Gospel.

To Him who loves us, who has freed us from our sins by His Blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to His God and Father: to Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

21 April 2013

Safe and Secure in Your Good Shepherd

So, how safe and secure are you feeling these days, little lamb of Jesus?  How well do you sleep at night, and how carefree are your days?  Are your heart and mind at ease?  Or on edge?

Aside from whatever the particulars may be, which threaten your peace and quiet — whether in your own head; in your home, within your household and family, or in your other relationships; in your mortal body of flesh and blood; on the job, or in your neighborhood — aside from all of that, which threatens you up close and personal, the national news doesn’t help much, does it?

Gun law debates, brought to a fevered pitch by almost daily shootings.  Terrorist attacks, or, who even knows any more what’s a terrorist attack, and what’s a random act of reckless violence.  It makes little difference, if you’re the one getting hurt!  Bombs and explosions from Boston to West, Texas.  Accidents are indiscriminate, whether you’re simply going about your day, doing your job, or minding your own business, sitting at your dining room table, or sleeping in your bed, when the earth opens up beneath you, or the airplane falls out of the sky above you.  It’s kind of scary.

In truth, there is nothing new under the sun, but there are times when all the darkness and dangers seem to accelerate, and whatever safety and security you may have imagined are shaken to pieces: That is a good thing, actually, because it tears down your idols and shatters your false gods, lest you put your faith in mortal princesses and princes and seek your salvation in this perishing planet.

Take heart, little lamb!  Let repentance return you from the highways and byways, to rest yourself in Christ Jesus.  He is your true Savior and Good Shepherd, who guards you and protects you, who leads you and guides you, and who holds you in the palm of His hand, forever and ever.

Your dear Lord Jesus loves you, and He knows you: not just your stats, your history and pedigree, but He knows you, your heart and mind, your body and soul, with an intimacy that goes beyond that of a husband for his wife, or a mother for her child.  It is the loving knowledge of the One who created you; who formed you in the womb and fashioned your frame; who numbers the hairs on your head, and all your days; who became like you, and bore your sin, and suffered your death and damnation, in order to raise you up from death to life, to recreate you in His Image and Likeness.

In His steadfast love and faithfulness — in His divine grace, mercy, and peace — He lays down His life for you, and for all His sheep.  And with His Voice, He calls you by name to follow Him.

So, that’s all great and wonderful!  But, if you stop and think about this, it does raise a couple or three questions and concerns: For one thing, it’s all very noble and heroic, to be sure, but, if the Shepherd lays down His life and dies, who’s left to care for the sheep?  What’s to become of them?  That situation is all the more urgent and compelling, and seemingly precarious, given the call of the sheep to follow their Shepherd where He leads — since He is going to His death on the Cross.

Already you are surrounded, as He was then, with loud and demanding voices, both inside and out, competing with His own gentle Voice of the Gospel.  If He is the Christ, your Savior and Good Shepherd, then, why doesn’t He tell you plainly?  Better yet, why doesn’t He show you clearly?  But, instead, He confronts you with His Cross, which crucifies, not only Him, but you, as well.  And, apparently without care or concern, He permits the savage wolves to harass His little flock.

In point of fact, the Words and promises of Christ Jesus seem to stand in contrast with, and even in contradiction to, the actual experience of His Christians and His Church in the world.  And to begin with, His own experience in the world, unto His death upon the Cross, does not appear to be very comforting or reassuring.  The fact that He is crucified makes Him rather dangerous!

The “theology of the Cross,” as we call it, is the hidden and mysterious revelation of the one true God in the hurt and humility of His Christ, the Crucified: First of all in Him, and then also in His Church, and now in you.  But this theology of the Cross, because it is a divine Mystery, can only be understood and received in faith by those who belong to Christ Jesus and bear His Holy Spirit.

The Word of the Cross can only be recognized and believed by those who are the sheep of this Good Shepherd, Jesus; which comes about by His Voice of the Gospel, that is, by the preaching of His Word and Spirit in His Church.  You can neither hear nor comprehend His Word, except by the preaching of His Word; you can neither receive nor bear His Spirit, except by His Spirit.  It is a circle, so to speak, which you cannot break into, but which the Father lays upon you in love.

Everything has already been accomplished and established, for you, by Christ Jesus Himself, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father.  He and His Life, in His own human Flesh, His Body and His Soul, are safely and securely in the Father’s hand.  Knowing and trusting His Father, He lays down His life for the sheep; and so He shall take it up again, by faith in His loving Father.

His death upon the Cross is the Sacrifice that atones for His sheep (and for the world) in order to rescue them from the wrath of God, from sin, death, the devil, and hell: to save them, indeed, from the real savage wolves that would otherwise devour them, not only here in time, but for eternity.

And in the Resurrection of His crucified Body of flesh and blood, He Himself becomes the true, divine, eternal Temple of God: in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever.  So it is, that His Cross and Resurrection are the true “Feast of Dedication” (that is, the true Hanukkah, which heretofore had celebrated the recovery and restoration of the “old” Temple in Jerusalem).

Jesus is the true Solomon: the true Son of David, the Lord’s Anointed, the Wisdom of God in the flesh, and the Peace of the Lord, who reigns in love, with equity, justice, and righteousness, in the midst of His City of Peace.  And He, with His Gospel–Word and Sacrament, is the true “Portico” of the Temple, that is to say, already His Church on earth, even now, as it is also in heaven forever; wherein He spreads the Tabernacle of His own flesh and blood over His people, in order to shelter and protect them from the cold of winter and the heat of summer, from hunger, thirst, and pain.

You “see,” then, how, as in the beautiful 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd and His green pastures merge and coalesce with the Lord and His House and the cornucopia of Meat and Drink at His Table.

For Jesus Himself is not only the great High Priest, but also the Sacrifice and the Temple of God, as well as the sacrificial Meal (the Holy Communion of the Peace Offering that He has offered).  And so, too, He is not only the Lord, your Good Shepherd, but also the Door, and the Sheepfold, Himself, in whom you are kept safe and sound: wherein you eat and drink, and rest in His Peace.

It is, again, by His Word and His works that He calls you to Himself, to follow Him — through death into Life: into the green pastures of His Paradise, and to His Table in His House, forever.

By His Voice as your Shepherd, which is to say, by the preaching of the Gospel of His Cross, and so also by the fruits of His Cross, by the water from His wounded side, and by His flesh and blood, the Father anoints you with the Spirit of His Son, Christ Jesus; and He also gives you to Him.

So it is, that you are among the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.  You are held in the palm of His hand, as He Himself is always in His Father’s hand, even when He is crucified, dead, and buried.  Therefore, no one and nothing shall even be able to snatch you away from Him.

His Cross is the Rod and Staff by which He guards and guides you; not simply as a past historical event, but as the Gospel that is daily being preached to you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  He guards you from the accusations of the devil, and from the condemnation of the Law, by the preaching of the Cross as your Atonement, and of the Resurrection as your Righteousness, Life, and Salvation.  So does He guide you to the Father by His preaching of this Gospel, unto faith.

For the Good Shepherd causes His Voice to be proclaimed, and His works to be administered, in the Ministry of those whom He calls, ordains, and sends in His Name: As we heard in the case of St. Peter last Sunday, and now in the case of St. Paul and the pastors of Ephesus this morning; so also in the case of your pastors, as it has been, is now, and ever shall be.  So that here within His Church, you are gathered around Jesus in His Temple, to encircle the Lamb who was slain upon His Throne: to worship and adore the Crucified and Risen One, and to have life forever in Him.

As you belong to Him, because He loves you, and He knows you by His grace, and He has given Himself for you, and He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity — so shall you also follow Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and even from out of the grave, into the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of body and soul.

That, dear little lamb of Jesus, is your safety and security, come hell or high water against you.  For Christ Jesus Himself is your Sabbath Rest, even now, in this poor life of labor; and He is your perfect Peace forever, such as this world could never give.  Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.  For you are in Christ, and you shall not perish forever, but shall have eternal Life.

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

20 April 2013

God Has Preached the Gospel Through Music

Here is Part VII.b of my ACELC free conference paper (16 April 2013).
The entire paper will be made available on the ACELC website.

Luther’s frequent laudatory comments on the beauty and benefits of music provide a fruitful paradigm for a positive use and value of free outward ceremonies.  As he wrote, for example, in his preface to the Wittenberg hymnal of 1524, that he “would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them” (LW 53:316).  Elsewhere, referring to the Renaissance composer, Josquin des Prez (who died in 1521), Luther asserted that “God has preached the Gospel through music, too, as may be seen in Josquin, all of whose compositions flow freely, gently, and cheerfully, are not cramped by rules, and are like the song of the finch” (LW 54:129).

Significantly, Luther embraced music as a blessing in itself, because it belongs to and exemplifies the divine grace and godly good order of Creation, especially in contrast to the chaos and confusion of the devil, sin, and death.  From this perspective, Luther perceived that music itself, even apart from any particular text, is able to convey the Gospel, to chase away the devil, and to lift the sorrowing spirit.  These are rather remarkable claims, but they are consistent in Luther’s writings, and they were put into practice in the way that his followers approached the making and enjoyment of music in the Church.

As Luther appreciated and encouraged artistic excellence in musical composition and performance, he also knew, and took advantage of the fact, that music offers a tremendous benefit to the Christian faith and life, and to theology.  For when it is coupled with the Word of the Gospel, it is a handmaid to the Word, which serves the Word, and supports its proclamation, and carries it to the people, into their hearts and minds.  Luther’s own German Mass (Deutsche Messe) is an especially good example, in which he went to great lengths to match the music to the texts, and to emphasize and underscore the meaning and significance of the texts via the musical intonation.  His friend and collaborator, the great Lutheran Kantor, Johann Walter, attests to the great care that Luther took with these matters.

Music not only catechizes Christians with the Word that it bears; it also gives them a vehicle for confessing the Word of the Gospel, to and for each other in the Church, and to and for their neighbors in the world.  Parents and children, spouses and siblings, also serve and strengthen one another with the Holy Spirit, by the singing of the Gospel in “Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs.”

In contrast to Calvin and his followers, who allowed only for the singing of the Scriptures verbatim, Luther advocated the writing of hymns that confess the Holy Scriptures homiletically, that is, in much the same way that a sermon proclaims a text by unfolding it for the congregation.  He and others also wrote hymns that carefully set forth and explain the chief parts of the Catechism.  Lutheran hymnody is therefore kerygmatic and catechetical: It preaches and teaches the Word of the Lord to the people.

Along with its similarities to preaching, Lutheran hymnody is closely connected to the Liturgy in a numerous variety of ways.  It serves and contributes to the ritual and ceremony of the Divine Service, and it is also liturgical in its own character and quality.  Precisely in its confession and proclamation of the Word and work of God, it not only serves the people, but it praises and worships the Lord.   For Luther, hymnody in particular, and music in general, is chiefly doxological: It glorifies its Maker.

19 April 2013

Hungry for Liturgical Worship

In his preaching this past Sunday, Pr. Seyboldt described the hunger of the sheep for the food their Shepherd gives to them.  According to our fallen nature, we all tend to hunger for the wrong sorts of food, including that which God has forbidden, instead of hungering for His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  But our Lord not only feeds us generously with His Gospel, with His preaching and His Sacraments; He also instills in us a hunger for His good gifts, that we might long for them, and seek them out where His Voice declares them to be for us: To quench our thirst in His quiet waters, to graze upon the lush green pastures of His Word, and to feast upon the choicest of Meats and the finest of Wines at the banqueting Table of His House.

At the ACELC free conference this past week, I was asked to represent a "High Church" attitude and approach to the Liturgy and worship.  Another pastor, Rev. Philip Hale (Nebraska), was asked to represent a "Traditional" approach; and Rev. David Langewisch (Colorado) was asked to represent a "Contemporary" approach.  Each of us presented a position paper, and then we all took part in a couple of panel discussions, along with Rev. Rick Sawyer (Mississippi) and Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller (Colorado).

In the second panel discussion, Rev. Langewisch was responding at one point to a question concerning those people who switch congregations, in preference for one "style" of worship over another.  Among his different points, I was especially struck by this observation, which he offered in passing: Those who have grown up without a good teaching and practice of the Sacraments, once they have discovered the Sacraments, are attracted to liturgical worship and gravitate to congregations with liturgical worship, because they are so hungry for the Sacraments and want as much of them as they can get. (I'm working from memory, here, so this shouldn't be regarded as a "quote," but I believe it is a fair and accurate paraphrase of Rev. Langewisch's comment.)

When I pointed out the significance of what Rev. Langewisch had noted, namely, that those who hunger for the Sacraments are inclined toward liturgical worship, both he and Rev. Hale objected that people are also attracted to liturgical worship for various other reasons, not all of them so pious or salutary.  I concede that argument; and yet, it does not change at all the point at hand.  No, whatever other reasons people may have for preferring liturgical worship (good, bad, or otherwise), the fact remains that, those who are hungry for the Sacraments will usually tend to seek out a liturgical congregation.

Why?  Because, not only are the Sacraments at the center, definitive and decisive for liturgical worship, but the Liturgy itself is sacramental in its character, content, and quality.  Certainly that is so, in the sense that the Liturgy comprises proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Holy Communion.  But it is also the case that liturgical worship provides the external context, structure, and vehicle by which the Word and the Word-made-Flesh are conveyed and delivered to the people of God.  The means of grace do not exist in a vacuum, but the external Word is given and received within the external setting of the Liturgy.

When worship is shaped by the Liturgy, taking its cues from Holy Baptism as the foundation and the front door of the Lord's House; from Holy Preaching as the lungs of the Body; and from the Holy Communion as the heart and center of the Church's faith and life in Christ Jesus; well, then it is the Gospel-Word and Sacraments that stand out and pour forth, like a beacon in the night and a fountain in the desert.

By the same token, when worship is shaped by personal or popular preferences, by aesthetic sensibilities or musical tastes, or by cultural icons and theoretical totems, well, then it will be "anthropology" and "sociology" that stand out and pour forth.  (That is true, I might add, whether the "culture" is high, low, or middle-brow.)

Which is not to say that liturgical worship pays no attention to aesthetics or to the people; nor to suggest that other approaches to worship pay no regard to Word and Sacrament.  (I made a case in my paper for the appropriateness and benefits of aesthetics and beauty, and for the intersection of the Gospel with human life; and all of the presenters were united in their commitments to the Word and Sacraments as means of grace.)  But the very differences of which we are trying to speak, when we fumble about with such terminology as "High Church," "Traditional," and "Contemporary" worship, are differences of precedence and priority, and of the "engine" that guides and governs the entire enterprise.

In "High Church" liturgical worship, the Sacraments are "calling the shots" and "steering the boat" in a way they simply do not in "Contemporary" or "Traditional" LCMS worship.  (As for the LCMS "tradition," prior to the 1960s, on average, the typical communicant was receiving the Sacrament less than twice a year.)  And in "Contemporary" worship, by definition, community culture and popular preferences are charting the course and navigating the waters in a way they simply do not in liturgical worship.

So, I believe that Rev. Langewisch's comment and observation were exactly right, and for good reason: Those who hunger for the Sacraments will gravitate toward liturgical worship and liturgical congregations.  And, I would suggest, the sheep of the Good Shepherd ought to be taught such hunger for His Sacraments.

09 April 2013

See

Ceremonies can contribute
to the catechesis and confession of Christ
in continuity with the catholic consensus of the Church,
with care and concern for the contemporary
context, conditions, and circumstances.

05 April 2013

He Has Risen, Just as He Said

The Word of God has been fulfilled, and the purpose of His creation has been accomplished, in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.  He has obtained Sabbath rest for the people of God, sanctified the graves of His saints, and opened up the eternal Eighth Day of everlasting life (for both the soul and the body of His followers).

So, what’s the problem?

There is not simply doubt and unbelief, but a refusal to believe on the part of many.  Even the disciples of Jesus, who love Him, go looking for Him in all the wrong places.  So do you also look for Jesus at the grave, among the dead, that is to say, in the dying things of this fallen world, in which you will not find Him.

And there is fear, persistent fear, as much or more than anything else, at the Resurrection of the Lord — in which fear you behold the height of sin and the perversity of unbelief.

All of this is the curse and consequence of sin; and it is at work in your heart and life, as well.

You are doubtful, despairing, and afraid, even in the face of the Resurrection, though your sin is forgiven, and death has been defeated.  And you continue to look for help in all the wrong places.

Thanks be to God that He does not leave you at such a loss.  For He has dealt with your sin, and He also saves you from it by the Gospel.

The Cross of Christ has atoned for your sin, and the Resurrection of the Crucified One is the Absolution of your sin.  So also, the Word of the Gospel, which is the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, calls you to repentant faith through His forgiveness of all your sins.

It is the Word of the Gospel that also points you to Jesus and gives Him to you;
not so much that it gives you directions for finding Him, but that He Himself finds you!

He has gone ahead of you, in order to blaze the trail and open the way for you, through death and the grave into heaven and eternal life.  But He has not, therefore, left you alone and lonely, helpless and afraid.  He meets you on the way, and speaks (again and again) His gracious Word to you.

And as the Cross and Resurrection were accomplished and fulfilled, just as He said, so are the Words and promises that He speaks to you, by the Gospel, full of the Spirit, the Truth, and the Life.

Thus, you can be sure and certain of the “Galilee” to which He sends you, where He meets you:

It is the Church of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, on earth as it is in heaven.

It is the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism.

It is the spoken Word of Holy Absolution, by which He forgives you all your sins.

And it is the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus in the Holy Communion, given and poured out for you, that you may eat and drink, and abide in Him, and He abide in you, unto life everlasting.  Lo, that is where He is with you always, and where you lay hold of Him and worship Him.

Do not be afraid!  Here is your Peace and Sabbath Rest.  Taste and see that the Lord is good, and that He has risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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