25 August 2013

Strive to Enter Through the Narrow Door

He’s making His way to Jerusalem.  St. Luke has made that plain already, and here the journey continues.  The Lord Jesus has set His face toward His Holy City and the Sacrifice that He will offer there.  He has fixed His eyes upon His Cross and Passion, upon His Passover and Exodus, by which He will bring His people out of death into life.  By the offering of Himself once for all, He returns to His Father and opens the Kingdom of God to all who follow after Him.

It is a narrow door through which He passes, blazing the trail for you, and for whoever believes and is baptized into Him.  Like being born from your mother’s womb: in which the curse of sin and death contends with the promise and gift of new life.  Or, like a camel being drawn through the eye of a needle.  It seems impossibly small, and it is ludicrous to suppose that anyone could do it.  But, what man could not do, God does for us all in Christ Jesus.

He entered that narrow door when He entered the waters of the Jordan River, and from those waters He passes through His crucifixion, death, and burial, into His Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of His Father.  It is about sonship, and what it means to be and to live as a child of God, even in the midst of sin and death.  He bears and suffers the curse of the fall into sin, by taking His place at the head of a long line of sinners, in order to open the door and lead them all through it: to bear His Bride over the threshold.

He is squeezed by the pressure, the tightness, the weight of the world, and the burden of the Law, but He remains faithful.  He relies upon His Father, come hell or high water against Him.  When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but keeps on entrusting Himself to the One who will rescue Him from out of death, and raise Him up from out of the tomb, and bring Him finally through the narrow door into the breadth, and height, and depth of divine Glory.  He thus receives the inheritance of the Father’s Son, who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven into our flesh, and bore our sin, and was disciplined in our place, in order to make a place for all the sons and daughters of Adam in the House of His God and Father.  That is what He has done for you, and that is what He gives you by His Word.

He calls you to follow Him to Jerusalem, to His Cross and Passion, and to enter with Him through the narrow door of His death, into His Resurrection and the life everlasting of His Kingdom.

Because He has already done it, now is the acceptable and opportune time; now is the day of salvation.  He has opened the door, by the sacrifice of His own Body and the shedding of His own Blood, and by the preaching of His Word He brings you through it safely, albeit putting you to death and raising you to life again in Himself.  It is by the preaching of repentance, which kills and makes alive, for the forgiveness of sins.  It is by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  That is your Exodus, your going out and your coming in, which brings you to the Passover of the Lamb at His Table in God’s Kingdom.

You “strive to enter” through that narrow door, as Jesus urges you to do, not by the futile striving of self-righteousness, but by the striving of contrition and repentance.  It is the very opposite of relying on yourself and trying to enter by your own effort.  It is, rather, to be crucified and put to death and buried to yourself, and to find your righteousness, life, and salvation in Christ alone.

Apart from Christ Jesus, which is to say, apart from faith in His Gospel, all of your works, from the inside-out, all of your thoughts, words, and actions, even at your very best, are works of unrighteousness.  And, ironically, the harder you try to impress God with such behavior, the further and further you are from His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  If you want to be saved, and to live, abandon that sort of striving, and fix your hope on the Cross of Christ.  His Cross is the Sign that He has raised up in the midst of His people, to which He calls you, and by which He crucifies you, in order to raise you up to newness of life.

So, what He is talking about is not simply a matter of proximity, of being in His presence, in the right place at the right time.  Sitting in the pew for the sermon, and kneeling at the rail for the Sacrament, does not get you through the narrow door.  Don’t congratulate yourself on being here, nor complain to Christ that He must let you in, because you’ve done your bit and paid your dues.  If you think that you’re doing the Lord a favor by coming to His House and hearing His Word, eating His Food and drinking from His Cup, then you are still too full of yourself and do not have the fear of God in you.  Name dropping isn’t going to work with the Head of the House, and if all you’ve got is your pedigree and attendance card, you’re not getting in.  But, why would you want to enter, then, if it seems like such a chore to you now?

Actually, it is quite right that you should want to enter through the door into the Lord’s House: For this is your Salvation.  Simply coming to church, in itself, is no guarantee of righteousness and salvation; that is true.  But not coming to church at all is even worse, and is certainly not the remedy or the solution, either.  Instead, you are called to the Cross at the center of the Church’s life in Christ, and not to be a passive observer, nor a listener only, but to worship the Lord Jesus Christ by repentant faith in His Word: to hear and heed His preaching, and to eat and drink His Supper, in the holiness and righteousness of faith in His forgiveness of sins.

To worship the one Lord, Jesus Christ, is to stop worshiping yourself and all your false gods in the world.  It is to deny yourself, to take up His Cross and follow Him; to drown and destroy the old Adam in you, and to live as the New Man lives, in faith toward God, and in fervent love for Him above all else, and for your neighbor as yourself.  It is to be at peace with God, and, in so far as it depends on you, to be at peace with all people, in the confidence that God is at peace with you in Christ Jesus.  And, in such peace, hope, and love, you worship Christ in righteousness by pouring yourself out in service to your neighbor, strengthening the weak and healing the sick, and pursuing harmony with everyone, rather than harboring bitterness toward anyone.

The fact is, that you can’t do any of this by your own power or volition.  The door is too narrow, and your ego won’t fit through it.  Which is why your ego must be sacrificed upon the Altar of the Cross, upon the Whole Burnt Offering of Christ Jesus, if you are to enter in.

And this is not your work, but the Service of your merciful and great High Priest, that is, the same Lord Jesus Christ.  You worship Him, in other words, as He comes to you and gathers you to Himself, in order to bear you to the Father in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He is the Clean Vessel in which you are borne, who offers you up to His God and Father as a grain offering, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight, and a sweet-smelling aroma in His nostrils.

You are consecrated unto God by Christ, and by His Sacrifice; not that you must offer Him, but that He offers you to the Father in Himself, and the Father reconciles you to Himself and receives you in Him.

As Christ passed through the cities, towns, and villages on His way to the Cross in Jerusalem, so has He come here to your town, in order to gather you to Himself and take all your sins upon Himself.  He calls you by the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins, and He bears you in His Body through death into life.  Following after Him, you have entered the narrow door that He has opened, by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  Which now means the daily dying and rising of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution, until your Baptism is completed in the death and resurrection of your body, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in heaven.

This daily dying and rising of repentant faith is the way of the Cross that you are on.  But, again, your striving and suffering, and even your sacrifices, are not meritorious works by which you save yourself and your own skin.  No, this is the discipline of God, who has become your Father in Christ Jesus, and who teaches you and trains you to live as His Son.  He does not leave you alone to be a passive observer or a listener only, but, by His Word and Spirit, He lays the Cross of Christ upon your heart and mind, your body and soul, in order to conform you to His Image.  He does so in love, in order to give you life, lest you perish forever in your works of unrighteousness.  And so does He bring you through the narrow door to Himself.

Even now, by His grace, you live by faith in His Word and promise — as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did in their pilgrimage on earth, in the midst of frailty and weakness — and here you are seated with them, with Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, with the holy martyrs and all saints, at the Table of Christ in the Kingdom of God.  Not simply “in His presence,” nor eating and drinking His Body and Blood unto condemnation, but receiving the Food and Drink with which He feeds you in repentance and faith, and with thanksgiving.  Here the Lord your God receives you to Himself, in peace, even as He gives Himself to you in love, with mercy and forgiveness for all your sins.  If you would enter His Kingdom and be saved at the last, then here receive these gifts Christ freely gives you, as the fruits of His Sacrifice for you.

Beloved, you are not a spectator, nor an “innocent bystander,” but a recipient of these good things, and a participant in the very Life of God in Christ.  It’s a matter of your death and life in Him.  And this is your Father’s Home, where you belong, and where you now live as His own dear child.  He knows your name, for He has named you with His own.  And He knows where you are from, for He has called you from the ends of the earth, from the four corners of the compass, to Himself.  As you have heard His call, and have come, rejoice and be glad, for this already is the gracious work of His Spirit by the Word of Christ.

As your Holy Baptism is the narrow door by which you have entered the Kingdom of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, so is the Altar His Table, at which you are invited to recline, within His house and home.  For the Holy Communion is the heart and center of the Church’s life and salvation, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

Here you have come, not to the fire and brimstone of Mount Sinai, but to the beauty and grace of Mount Zion, to the holy City of the living God, to the true Jerusalem, on earth as it is in heaven; to the myriad of angels and archangels, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect; because here you have come to the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to His sprinkled Blood, with which He cleanses you and sanctifies you, and by which you see God and live.

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

18 August 2013

He Who Shall Not Be Tamed

Do not suppose that you are safe, keeping your head down and focusing on your own family, or, even more narrowly, focusing upon yourself and keeping your nose clean, while the world around you burns.  And do not think that your neighbor or the world is the greatest threat that faces you.

For, behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath, and it swirls down upon the head of the wicked.  The anger of the Lord does not turn back, until He has performed and carried out all the purpose of His heart.  There is nowhere you can flee to hide yourself away from Him; nor does it do you any good to cry out, “Peace, Peace,” where there is no peace.

Is His Word not a fire, and a hammer that shatters rocks?  Surely it is!  For God threatens to punish all those who break His commandments.  Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him.  But, as He also promises grace and every blessing to all those who keep His commandments, you should love and trust in Him, and gladly do what He commands.

That is not yet the Gospel, but it is the Word of the Lord, and His good and acceptable Will, which you ignore at your own peril.

To fear, love, and trust in God above all things, is to be more afraid of breaking His Law than of dying; more afraid of His fire, which burns forever, than of the fire which burns for but a little while here on earth.  It is to trust in Him, to believe in His Word and rely upon His promises, more than you rely upon your own thoughts and feelings and opinions; more than your own wisdom, reason, or senses suggest; and more than your own strength and cleverness may seem to achieve.  And it is to love Him more than your parents, spouse, and children; indeed, more than yourself, more than your own body and life.

Christ confronts you with a contradiction, with a Cross, which you cannot control, unravel or resolve.

He has taught you that it is foolish to put your trust in riches, which cannot save you; and that it is foolish to worry about food and clothing, because there are more important things, and your worry does not help, but the Lord your God provides all that you need.  And now, He goes even further; He teaches that there can be no compromise between Himself and your life in this world.  Even your own household and family shall be divided by the sharp two-edged Sword of His Word, which cuts you to the quick, and pierces your soul, and separates the marrow from your bones.  He is relentless in cutting you off from every other god than Himself.

There is no safety or salvation anywhere else, nor in anyone but Him.  Yet, do not be naive.  He is not “safe.”  He has come to cast fire upon the earth.  He burns up the chaff, the hay, straw, and stubble, in order to cleanse you and purify you, in body and soul, as silver and gold are purged of all impurities by fire.

This is the irony, the paradox and contradiction of the Cross of Christ: It is by dying that you live.  He puts you to death, in order to raise you up in His own Resurrection, unto the life everlasting.

But how shall you bear or survive His coming?

Fix your eyes on Jesus, dear friend; yes, upon this very One who brings, not peace, but division and fire.  He is the Author and Perfecter of your faith and life, who has endured the Cross and borne the shame, for the joy of your salvation.  Consider Him who has willingly suffered such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart.  More than that, consider that He has been baptized, even unto death upon the Cross, in order to bear the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all sin.  For that is where and how the Lord has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart.  That is what His coming means, and what it aims at.

You don’t have to live in Israel to understand that a cloud rolling in off the Mediterranean Sea is going to bring rain, and that a hot wind blowing in from the desert is gonna be a scorcher.  And you know how to read the world in which you live, too, with varying degrees of accuracy; whether it be the weather and traffic conditions, the best time and place to shop or see a movie, the stock market or your sports league of choice.  Would that people knew the Word of God and the remembrance of His saints as well as they know the stats and gossip on their favorite celebrities!

But God, the Lord, has not left you ignorant or clueless about His coming and His presence.  It is only that you cannot recognize or interpret these signs, except by His Word and Spirit.  Fire and water, that is how He comes.  The pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day.  Fire and billowing smoke upon the Mountain, and towering walls of water, on the right and on the left, through the midst of the Sea.  The fire of God’s consuming presence, receiving the whole burnt offering on His Altar, and the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

So, here you are, then, with the Egyptians at your back, and with the Red Sea before you.  Caught between the fire and the flood.  Between the God whose promise is for you and for your children, and the same God, who commands you to sacrifice your son, your only son, your “Isaac,” whom you love.  Caught in a trap, with nowhere to go, and nothing to do but die.  Therefore, be still.  And know that He, the Lord, is God.  He wounds in order to heal.  He kills, and He brings you to life.

It is a terrifying thing to be caught up in the hands of the living God.  But, as there is no escaping from those hands, see now what those hands have done.  They are stretched out upon the wood of the Cross, as Isaac once bore the wood upon the Mountain.  Only, here the beloved Son is not spared, but the Father delivers Him up for us all.  He whose Word the mountains rendeth, He lays within the grave.  He who shall not be tamed, is wounded for your transgressions, chastised for your iniquities, and put to death for your sins.  By His stripes and scars, you are healed, and in His Resurrection and Ascension is your righteousness and peace with God in heaven.  In His Body, crucified and risen, is your new household and family.

This is the completion of His Baptism, the fulfillment of all righteousness, which He took upon Himself when He took His stand with sinners in the waters of the Jordan River, and He submitted to St. John’s Baptism of repentance.  Into the water He goes, until He is drowned and destroyed in the sins of the world, in all your sinful lusts and desires; and then He comes forth and arises, when His God and Father raises Him from death to life again.

This is how He kindles the fire, which God casts upon the earth from heaven.  Your merciful and great High Priest does not allow that fire to go out, but He lays Himself upon it as your Whole Burnt Offering.  He is the Atonement for all your sins, and the Sacrifice of Propitiation; not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  And as He rises, then, like incense, He is a sweet-smelling aroma, with which His Father is well-pleased: And so are you also received into His favor, forever and ever.

Which is why you flee the wrath of God by fleeing to His mercy in Christ Jesus.  You enter the dark passage through the walls of deep water, in the confidence of His Resurrection.  You sacrifice your life, goods, fame, child, and wife, in the sure and certain hope of Him who loves you, who has promised you His Kingdom.  By such faith, you live in the righteousness of Christ.  You shut the lion’s mouth; you quench the fire’s power; you escape the edge of the sword.  In weakness, you are made strong; and in the fear of the Lord, you are wise.  Because the Mighty One has done great things for you, whose almighty power is made known in His mercy and compassion upon you.

In the world you have tribulation.  The Cross does not resolve that conflict, but, far from it, the Cross stirs the pot and fuels the fire.  Within and without, you are crucified and put to death.  And, as often as you would flee the Cross, as though to find your safety in the world, the Lord pursues you with His mighty Sword.

But, lest you wonder why, let me tell you: He is not mean, and He does not seek your death, but He desires to give you His own Life.  He is not safe, but He is good, and it is in love that He pursues you.  He would turn you from your sin and death, to Himself, to call upon His holy Name, and to hide yourself in Him.

When you perceive the pillar of cloud arise from the waters of your Baptism, and you hear the Voice of the Spirit blowing across the desert of your dried-up dead bones, know that He who brings you out of Egypt will bring you into Canaan.  As surely as your Savior, Christ Jesus, has passed through death into life, so surely does He bring you through the fire and the water with Himself.  He has overcome the world, and He has reconciled you and all the world to God.

That is where your peace is found: in the house and home of your Father, in the fellowship of His family and friends, in the unity of His Holy Spirit, in the Holy Communion of His beloved Son.

Not as the world gives, does He give to you here, but He forgives you all your sins; He remembers them no more, nor does He count them against you.  He has turned aside His fierce anger from you; because His Son, His only Son, Christ Jesus, whom He loves, has fulfilled the purpose of His heart for your salvation.  So shall He sustain you.  For you are righteous in His sight, for Jesus’ sake, and He will never let the righteous fall.  Many are the afflictions of the Righteous, but the Lord delivers Him out of them all.

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

11 August 2013

The Lifestyle of the Truly Rich and Famous

The Lord has taught you that your life is not in your own hands.  Accumulating possessions, and building bigger barns to keep them in, won’t save you; nor will it preserve your life one minute more than God permits you.  You could die at any time, on any given night; perhaps on this day.

So, if you take that to heart, you may be tempted to despair of any point or purpose to your life, or else to become frantic with worry and anxiety over what little time and opportunity you have.

It would seem a shame for you to die before you have a chance to enjoy all your nice stuff.  But, what happens if your stuff runs out before you die?  And you’re left hungry, homeless, and alone?

Have you saved enough?  Have you invested wisely?  Are your insurance and retirement adequate?  Are you the grasshopper or the ant?  When the days get dark and the cold comes, will you be okay?

If wealth and riches cannot save you, the lack of food and clothing may do you in.  You do have to eat and drink in order to live, and you do have to wear something, leastwise in the wintertime.

With food and clothing, you are to be content, the Scripture teaches.  But you may find that food and clothing are not so easy to come by, and that your life is consumed and spent in getting even that much.  Just keeping up with the meals and the laundry can be a full-time, never-ending job!

It may be that you are living hand-to-mouth, and having to make do with less than ideal means.

Or, maybe you actually have a more-than-adequate wardrobe, and better-than-average meals, and really more than enough to survive; and yet, you’re not content, but restless and hungry for more.  You may not understand why, but you find that you are still driven to acquire and accumulate, to accomplish and achieve; that you are never satisfied, but insatiable in your appetite.

You’d be inclined to agree with Jesus, that “life is more than food, the body more than clothing.”  But you’re hard pressed to say what the “more” might be, which will finally put your heart and mind at ease.  Far less are you able to find it or lay hold of it for yourself.

Learn, then, from your Lord, what your life is, and where it is found, and how you may have it.

Jesus teaches you, first of all, what not to do with your life, your time and energy: Do not worry, He says, nor spend yourself seeking the temporal wants and needs of this body and life on earth.  Rather, live like a carefree child in your Father’s home.  You know how that is.  Young children don’t worry about where their clean clothes or their next meal are going to come from; they simply trust and take for granted that their Mom and Dad are going to provide whatever they need.  That is how it is for you, too, and that is how you are to live: without stressing about your basic needs.

That doesn’t mean that you should be lazy or negligent in your duties.  As children grow, they are given chores to do, by which they are able to contribute to the life of their household and family.  So, too, God has given you the labors and responsibilities of your particular place and position; just as the birds and the flowers do exactly as much and as little as God has given them to do.

There’s a difference between using your God-given intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom to plan and prepare for your day and the days ahead, and falling into the anxious worry that Jesus here warns you against.  It’s a matter of doing your own job, whatever it may be, in peace and quiet, and of not attempting to do what isn’t your job, and not agonizing over that which you can’t do.

It’s a bit like the difference between driving a car and riding in a plane: Your life is in the Lord’s hands, either way, but, as a driver, you’re responsible for operating the vehicle safely and with due caution, whereas, if you are an airline passenger, there’s nothing for it but to sit back and ride.

So, then, stop fretting and fussing about your body and life, about your meals and your wardrobe.  First of all, because there is far more to real life than food and clothing; and, by that, Jesus doesn’t mean the wealth and riches that you covet and the world chases after, but the forgiveness of your sins, the resurrection of your body, and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the Lord.

The second reason not to be anxious and worry, is that it doesn’t do any good: It’s actually another case and example of your self-idolatry, by which you suppose that you can make life for yourself.  But you can’t.  You can only live the life that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has given you.  So, live that life; do what you’re given to do, as you can; and don’t worry about what you can’t.

The third reason Jesus gives for not being anxious and afraid about your life, is that the Lord your God is taking care of you: He knows your needs and well provides them.  For He is your Father, and you are His dear child.  And He is your Good Shepherd, who loves you, His own little lamb.  He’s not going to forget about you, nor lose track of you, nor leave you without what you need.

Therefore, instead of seeking after temporal, perishable things, which is a waste of your life, and a waste of your time and energy, Jesus teaches you to seek the Kingdom of His God and Father, in which you have life forever, and all good things are yours, by His grace.

This “seeking” of which the Lord speaks is not like playing “hide and seek,” but it is the setting of your heart and mind on that which is most important to you, and the investing of yourself with single-minded purpose in that which you value more than anything else: Like a man in love, whose every breath, every thought, and every action is ruled by his passion for that one girl.  Except that such devotion belongs, by rights, only to the Holy Triune God: In every other case, it is idolatry.

But how do you go about seeking the Kingdom of God?  It is by faith, and not by sight; and faith is by the preaching of Christ.  You cannot find it on your own, but the Word of the Lord comes to you: God the Father speaks to you by His Son, and thereby gives to you His Holy Spirit, so that, by His grace, you believe His Holy Word, and you begin to live a godly life according to it.

The Kingdom of God is not something you can see or experience with your outward senses in this fallen world.  You hear it and know it, and you have it, by faith in the Word and promises of God: under the Cross, in apparent contradiction, in foolishness and weakness.  Sin and death continue, in yourself and in your neighbor.  So, it may seem as though God’s promises were null and void, or as though He had forgotten all about them.  Or, they may simply seem so impossible and contrary to fact, that they couldn’t be true, as sometimes seemed to be the case with Abram.

Consider the ravens and the lilies, for example, as the Lord Jesus urges you to do.  He tells you that God cares far more for you than for those birds and flowers, and that He will therefore feed you and clothe you, as He does them.  And yet, if even the great King Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these, then neither are you clothed as beautifully as the lilies are; not in this life.  And, whereas the ravens neither sow nor reap, concerning people God has said, “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat from the ground,” and again, “if anyone will not work, let him not eat.”

Besides all that, it is also the case that birds fall to the ground; the grass withers; the flower dies.  And surely the people are like grass, which burns, all their glory like the flower that fades away.

There is a need to distinguish the good life which God gives to you here and now — for it, too, is from His hand, and by His grace; and it is good, to be received with thanksgiving, and sanctified by His Word and prayer — but this temporary earthly life must be distinguished from the divine, eternal Life that God gives to you forever, by the Cross, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.  It is not your life and your experience on earth, but the Word of the Lord, which endures forever.

Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, therefore, by hearing and heeding His Word, as He comes to you in the preaching of His Gospel.  Listen to it, cling to it, and live according to it.  Use the Law rightly by letting it curb your sin and guide your behavior, and, above all, by using it to examine yourself, your heart and mind, your thoughts, words, and actions, and by confessing your sin and seeking the forgiveness of the Gospel.  So also, then, receive and trust the Gospel.

You seek the Kingdom of God, and you find that it is yours, by receiving it from His open hand; for He has chosen gladly to give it to you, and He does.  Whatever you have in this body and life is by His grace, in, with, and under the Cross.  And by the Gospel is the promise and the foretaste of the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

The Lord your God has gladly given you His Kingdom, by clothing you with the righteousness of Christ, and with Christ Himself, in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  And He has chosen gladly to give you His Kingdom, by feeding you with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.  Such are the garments that do not wear out or get eaten by moths.  Such is the Food that does not perish, but which bestows eternal Life with God.  And if God so covers you and fills you with His own dear Son, shall He not also provide you with every good thing?

That is why you are free to let go of your possessions, and free to love and serve your neighbor with whatever God has given you: with steady confidence, and without fear, anxiety, or worry.

This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you, that you might have everlasting life in Him:  He has sought the Kingdom of His God and Father, in order to bestow it upon you in peace.  His clothing is the Holy Spirit, and His food and drink are the doing of His Father’s will: He has lived by every Word that His Father has spoken to Him, in order to fulfill the Father’s Word for you.

It was for Him, in the flesh, as it is for you under the Cross; that is, by faith in the promise, and not by sight.  He trusted that His Father would feed Him, even while He fasted in the wilderness and suffered the assaults and accusations of the devil.  By faith, He took the Cup that His Father gave Him to drink, in the Garden of Gethsemane, although He knew that it was filled with wrath and judgment, and with the curse of sin and death.  He entrusted His body and life to His God, in the confidence of the resurrection.  When He was stripped naked and hung up to die in public shame, He trusted that His Father would raise Him up in glory, vindicate Him openly, and clothe Him in the beauty of His own divine holiness.  When the Hour came, He was found ready and waiting.

This is how the Kingdom of God has come, and how it is now given to you: In the flesh and blood of the Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead; given and poured out for you at His Table.

When He teaches you to seek the Kingdom, He is not sending you on some great impossible quest to the ends of the earth, to infinity and beyond.  No, He is simply calling your attention to what is already here for you, to what is spoken into your ear, to what is given into your mouth and body.  He teaches you to seek the very thing that He and His Father and His Spirit delight to give you!

Oh, how blessed you are, dear child of God!  For here you are found in the House of your Father.  You need not worry about what you will eat and drink, nor about what you will wear.  For all you need has been provided.  Your Father has sacrificed the Passover Lamb: See, His Blood now marks your door.  Death shall not rob you of your life, nor snatch you from this Sanctuary.  But, rather, behold, the Lamb who was slain, He lives!  He who has departed, has returned and entered in.

Now He girds Himself to serve you.  Now He bids you to recline and be at peace.  Have no fear!  Now He cleanses you with His Word of forgiveness.  Now He anoints your head with the Oil of His Spirit.  Now His Cup is overflowing, no longer with the wrath of God, but with His blessing and His free and full Salvation.  Now His Flesh and Blood are your Meat and Drink indeed.  Now are you clothed and fed.  Come, beloved little lamb of Christ: Enter into the joy of your Master!

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

04 August 2013

Set Your Heart and Mind on Christ

Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works of faith and love do follow them in Christ, into His Resurrection and the life everlasting.

But he who dies with the most toys . . . dies . . . and all his toys will go to someone else: to family, friend, foe, or stranger.  Perhaps they will go to his children, who will foolishly fight over them.

Beloved, beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed.  The Lord has warned you, and His Apostle, St. Paul, has told you what such greed amounts to: It is idolatry, the worship of false gods.  So has Dr. Luther taught in his catechisms, too, that, whatever it is that you trust in, whatever you long for and depend upon, whatever you desire and look to for help and happiness, that is your god.  Whether it is something you already hold in your hand, or horde in your barns, or that which you crave and covet in your neighbor.

Maybe it is money, or maybe it is some other kind of wealth and riches.  Maybe it’s your spouse, or your children, or your neighbor’s family, or the apparent freedom of those who have no family.  Maybe it’s medals and trophies.  Maybe it’s friendship and popularity.  Maybe it’s some talent.

Your sinful heart is able to make a false god out of anything, or anyone, including the good gifts of God: Not wealth or riches, but greed and covetousness of every kind are the problem at hand.  In striving after such idols, in sweating bullets to stockpile and safeguard the idols you’ve got, you turn your heart and mind away from the true and only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and you turn away from your neighbor, as well, even while using your neighbor to stock your barns with stuff.  For such unfaithfulness the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.

Your idolatry is not only sinful and wrong; it is foolish and self-defeating.  In being consumed with yourself and your stuff, you are finally consumed.  It’s already consuming you in the meantime, because putting your trust in perishable and passing things cannot provide you with peace or rest.  Even late at night, you won’t be able to sleep well if your god is not the Lord: No matter how smart you are, no matter how savvy and skilled, no matter how long and hard you work, and no matter how careful you may be, with insurance and security in place, it’s still a losing game, and it’s only a matter of time before your soul shall be required of you.

Therefore, do not look for life in your possessions, and do not spend your life storing up treasures for yourself on earth.  Repent of all your greed, and die to yourself, to your selfishness and lust.

To die in this way is not a matter of despair, but of turning away from your false gods — beginning with yourself — and turning to the one true God in Jesus Christ your Lord.  Both false belief and unbelief alike are foolishness, but wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord: in the Cross of Christ.

It is the case that, what appears wise in the eyes of the world, is foolish in the sight of God; and what appears foolish to the world, is the real wisdom of God in Christ the Crucified.  Set your eyes and ears, your heart and mind on Him.  Lift up your heart unto the Lord, and keep seeking those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the Right Hand of God.  That’s where your life is.

Christ Jesus is your Life: True God in the flesh, who has given Himself for you in His death upon the Cross; who has risen from the dead, never to die again, but to live and reign for all eternity.

His Vineyard and His Field bear the abundant Fruits of His Cross and Passion: not for Himself, but to the Glory of His God and Father, and for the good of all His neighbors, including even you.  It is for this reason that He has built His one Holy Christian Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, upon the Ministry of the Gospel, even to the ends of the earth.

He is not a miser, but the true Philanthropist, the true Lover of souls and the Charity of God.  For He did not count His divinity as something to be hoarded for His own perpetual enjoyment, but He humbled Himself, and poured Himself out, and made Himself nothing, in order to save all the poor, miserable sinners of the world.  Though He was rich with all the wealth of Paradise, He made Himself poor and wretched, despised and rejected, in order to give you the inheritance of heaven.

For you and for the many, He has stored up all the treasures of His Kingdom with God the Father in the heavenly places.  But, so also, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He has stored up these same treasures in His Church on earth, in the preaching of the Gospel, in the Word of Holy Absolution, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Communion, so that you may eat, drink, and live.

This, too, is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and drink or have enjoyment without Him?

Therefore, pray and work, as He has taught you, not for the bread which perishes, but for the true and living Bread of Christ, which does not perish but gives you everlasting Life in body and soul.

And as you are thus fed and nourished by the Gospel of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, be satisfied and content with whatever else He gives you in this poor life of labor.  And “be rich toward God.”

Okay, then.  But what on earth does that mean?

The Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker and Preserver of all things, He doesn’t need your stuff: Actually, it isn’t “your stuff,” anyway, but His to begin with.  Return thanks to Him for all His gifts and benefits, and use His stuff to glorify His Holy Name by using it according to His Word.

Really, to “be rich toward God” does not mean giving anything to Him, but to look to Him for all good things; to call upon His Name with confidence that He will hear and answer; and to receive with gratitude whatever He gives into your hand.  It is to live by faith in Christ your Savior.  And, with such faith, you are “rich toward God,” also, by your charity and generosity toward others.

That is how the Lord has taught His people to live: Not to glean your vineyards and your fields to the ground, but to leave what remains for the poor of the land to receive from His gracious hand.  To store up the abundance He provides on Friday for the Sabbath Rest of your entire household; not only for your own family, but also for your workers.  And to reap whatever He sows and brings forth, not for your merriment and ease, but for the feeding of the hungry when famine comes.

He would not have brothers and sisters divided by greed and competition for things that perish, but united in faith and love, and united in all things — as the early Church had all things in common.

Whatever the Lord your God has put into your hands, whether a little or a lot, He has entrusted it to you as a stewardship of His grace, in order to provide for all your needs of body and soul, because He loves you; and to serve your neighbor, as well, as an instrument of His providence.

The greatest wealth of all, in this mortal life in a fallen world, is the free forgiveness of all sins, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  That is the “judgment” and “arbitration” that He has been appointed to give, for which He has received all authority in heaven and on earth: To forgive sins by His Cross and Passion, and to justify the ungodly with the righteousness of His Resurrection.  That is the “coin of the realm,” the chief currency of the Kingdom of God in this life on earth.

So, then, not only do you feed and clothe your neighbor, and shelter the homeless, and visit the prisoner, as the Lord provides you with the ways and means and opportunities to do all of these things; but you also forgive your neighbor his sins against you, as the Lord Jesus forgives you.

For He has not simply come to visit you in the prison house of your sin and death, but He has set you free by His Word of the Gospel.  He has opened His hand to fill your hands with Himself and His Life, and with all the good things of God.  You need not waste your time chasing after wind, because He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you, and has filled you with the Spirit.

You need not be shackled and chained by the relentless pursuit of perishable things, which cannot give you life or save you; because you have already died to yourself and to your foolish idolatry, and you are daily raised up to newness of life with the Holy Triune God.  He has not coveted your soul, as though to rob you of anything, but He has called you in body and soul to Himself, in order to bestow His blessed peace and Sabbath rest upon you.  That is what He gives to you in this Meal.

You have heard His Word and promise: Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  You could not be more safe and secure than you are there!  For though your life is hidden under the Cross, and it is hard to see, except by faith; nevertheless, it is real, sure, and certain in Christ Jesus, who has risen from the dead and lives forever.  Such is the wisdom of God.  He is your Life, who shall not fail you; who shall never be taken away from you, nor you from Him.  He lives and reigns within you, by the Word and Spirit of His Gospel, and His good works in you now follow after Him in peace.

Here, then, take your rest.  Eat and drink, dear friend of God, and rejoice now in the labors of your Lord, who loves you.

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