16 February 2014

Choose Life

It’s a matter of learning to look at yourself, at your place in the world, at the world around you, and at each and all of your neighbors, in the way that God, the Lord, looks at you and all of these.

It ought to make a difference, for example, to consider that the person you just laughed at, or lost your temper with, or left behind in the dust, is a person created by the Lord your God and loved by Him.  That is true, whether the person is a fellow Christian, an atheist or pagan.  But how much more should it make a difference if the person is a brother or sister in Christ, a beloved child of your own God and Father.  In such a case, in particular, your harsh words, hardness of heart, and vindictive judgments fall, not only on your neighbor, but on the Lord.

To laugh at your brother, to spurn your sister, to neglect the needs of your fellow believer in Christ, is to criticize your Father in heaven and to condemn and reject His family.  It should not be so.

It is not only your neighbor whom the Lord has created in love for Life with Himself.  You also are made by Him with such love and for such Life.  You exist, and you remain, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, in body and soul, here in time on earth, and hereafter for eternity in heaven.

The one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Yahweh, the Creator of all things, has sworn an oath by Himself to be with you, to bless you and keep you, and to bring you into a good Land.  All of this He has done for you, and still does, and will continue to do and accomplish, through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son.  For not only has the Lord created you for life; He has redeemed you for Himself in Christ, who gives you Life abundantly and sanctifies you by His Holy Spirit.

First of all as a creature of God, and all the more so as a Christian, a member of His Church, the Body of Christ, your whole life is lived in His presence.  Your body and soul, your heart and mind, your thoughts, words, and actions, each and all of these are always before Him.  If you flee into the depths of Sheol, or attempt to scale the heights of heaven, He is there, and you are ever in His sight.  What you look at with your eyes, He beholds.  What you grasp with your hand, He also perceives.  Whatever occupies your mind and captures your heart, the Lord knows that, too.  There are no secrets from Him.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows your sins and weaknesses, your failings and your fears.  He knows you inside out, and yet, He still loves you.

His constant presence, at all times and in all places, is a deadly threat to the passions of your sinful flesh.  Indeed, your flesh is dying, and you will die, because of your sin with its appetites and attitudes.  The presence of the true God threatens your flesh, because He smashes the idolatry of all false gods, exposing them for the lie they are.  Your flesh can only perish without Him; but it cannot abide in His presence, nor will it survive before Him, so long as you exalt yourself, rely upon yourself and your own powers, and strive to feed yourself according to your own desires.

The threats and punishments of the Lord — who not only observes your actions and negligence, but also searches your heart and mind — His threats and punishments are aimed at rescuing your body and soul from death and bringing you safely into the promised Land of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  Because the false gods and passions of your flesh are not only sinful and wrong, but self-destructive.  They do not give you the life they promise, but rob you of genuine Life with God.  They cut you off from Him and ruin your relationships with others.  And though they drive you to consume everything you set your eyes and hand and heart upon, it is actually you that such hunger finally devours.

Your desperate attempts at self-preservation and self-promotion are of the evil one, and, left unchecked, unbroken, they will lead to your condemnation and eternal punishment.  It cannot be otherwise when you despise and reject the Lord your God.  Not as though He were mean-spirited, but because He is the true and only God, and apart from Him there is no life or salvation, but only death and damnation.

When you depend upon yourself instead of Him, and when you are determined to serve yourself and to feed your own appetites, this is the cesspool out of which your covetous lust, your selfish greed, your jealousy and envy emerge.  You do not see your neighbor as someone to love and care for, but as a competitor, an adversary or enemy, or as a means to some end.  Which puts you at odds even with your brother, with your spouse.  When you are thinking that way, then, not only God, but everyone around you is a threat to your security and success.

So you get scared, and your fear either drives you to despair or to hot anger.  You may bottle up your anger inside, but you don’t really control it, not until you put it to death with repentance; otherwise, it controls and masters you.  Sin is always crouching at your door, and Satan hungers to consume you, even as you hunger for more and more of everything that doesn’t satisfy.  Your anger boils over into harsh and hurtful words, or it curls up your fists to hit and to hurt your neighbor in his body.  You unleash the drill sergeant on your own children, or you lash out at your wife, or speak ill of your husband behind his back.  And in doing so, you condemn yourself, for these dear people are your own flesh and blood.  What is more, in going after them, you set your burning anger against the Lord Himself.  But you will not survive that contest.

Despairing in the face of your insatiable desires, dissatisfied with your lot in life and the place where God has stationed you, your eye begins to scan the horizon for alternatives, and your crafty imagination devises a scenario in which you make your own rules and call the shots for yourself and others.  You dream of getting even with those who have hurt you, and of taking for yourself whatever it is you want.  So it is that, in your heart and mind, you murder your brother, and you abandon your spouse for adultery.  And whether your hand and body ever follow your eye and your heart into such wickedness, your relationships whither and die, and you along with them.  Instead of contentment, you find only disaster.

You cannot save yourself from that downward spiral of death.  You won’t be able to pull yourself out of that pit by your own boot straps; nor can you fix what you have broken.

You do not control tomorrow, and even the hairs of your own head are numbered, not by you, but by the Lord.  The heavens and the earth are His, not yours.  You will not succeed in trying to take them by force, by hook or by crook, by barter or bargain.  Nor can you entice the Lord to serve and support your self-idolatry by offering Him your sacrifices, especially when your heart and mind remain at odds with Him.  Neither can you make things right with Him while you remain at odds with your neighbor.  Left to yourself, you are a lost cause.

But let us return to the Lord our God, and to His Love for you, and to the Life He has promised.  For you are not left to yourself and your own devices.  You’re not a free agent, nor an independent contractor.  God has created you in love for Life with Him.  You are His workmanship, and you are precious to Him.  He has called you by name to be His own, by grace, through Jesus Christ your Savior.  He has brought you through the waters of Holy Baptism, through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, into His Family, the Church — into His Kingdom.

He disciplines you, as a father disciplines his son, because He has made you His own dear child, His beloved son or daughter in Christ.  Thereby He teaches you and trains you in the way of life, in the way of faith and love, which is the Way of Christ, crucified and risen for you.

In Christ, the presence of the Lord is not only a threat to your mortal flesh with its sinful passions, but the salvation of your body and soul and the promise of eternal Life through His forgiveness of your sins.  He comes to crucify your flesh, that is true, but He does so in order to raise you up, a new creation.  And to this end, He has subjected His own flesh and blood to crucifixion, in order to heal your flesh in His Resurrection.  He has offered Himself, the Son to His Father, as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice and pleasing Aroma, in order to reconcile you and all the world to God.  And with His Word of grace, He fills you with His Spirit, in order to give you Life.  He satisfies your hungry heart with Peace.  He feeds your body and soul with Himself, so that you may rest in Him.

Instead of putting you to death with fierce anger for your sins, He has laid down His own Life to atone for all your sins.  He has taken all your debts and obligations upon Himself, and, with His holy and precious blood, He has paid them up to the last cent.  He has sought you out and wooed you to Himself, to be His beloved and beautiful Bride — adorned with His own righteousness and holiness.  And rather than divorcing you and sending you away for your adulterous idolatry, He has forgiven you, cleansed you and restored you.  He remains for ever and always faithful to you.  He only has eyes for you.

As He is your merciful and great High Priest, who has given Himself for you and ever lives to make intercession for you, so does He speak to you with tenderness and love.  He meets all your needs and answers all your prayers with the resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” of His Resurrection from the dead.  As heaven is His throne and earth His footstool, so does He raise you up and seat you with Himself at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places.  There you are safe and secure in Him, even now, because He is the great King who reigns in love within His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  Here His Gospel is the last Word.

In that sure and certain confidence of Christ, beloved of the Lord, let your yes be yes, and your no be no.  Do not give yourself over to pride or despair, but live before God in the righteousness of faith and love.  In the humility of repentance, call upon His Name in hope, relying on His Word, rejoicing in His mercy, and giving thanks and praise for the marvelous grace of His Gospel.

Do not be afraid, but do fear God, and so choose Life instead of death.  Not that you can save yourself, but that the Lord has become your Life and your Salvation.  Flee to Him by hearing and heeding His Word to you, and by praying and confessing what He has spoken.  Flee to Him, and away from the devil, by disciplining your flesh and turning away from temptation; instead of fueling the fires of your passions, avert your eyes and withhold your hand from that which God has not given you.  Fill your ears, your head, and your mouth with the Word of Christ, in order to crowd out and defend against the covetous ideas and lustful images of your mortal flesh.

And where you have fallen short, wherever you have sinned, repent.  Where you have hurt your neighbor with your words and actions, or by neglecting his needs and your duties, make amends, and begin, now, to do better: to do what is good and right.  And as your whole life is lived before God, confess your sins and seek His Word of the Gospel, His Word of Absolution.  For as great as the demands of His Law are, so much greater is the forgiveness of His Gospel.

His threats of dire punishment are rightly fierce, that you should fear His wrath and quickly flee from every transgression.  So much the sweeter are His promises of grace, mercy, and peace, that you should live by His Word and Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.

Come, then.  As God has reconciled you to Himself in Christ, you also be reconciled to Him and with your neighbor.  Be at peace with all men, in so far as it depends on you, for the sake of the Cross.  If anyone has sinned against you, do not dwell on that transgression, but let it be covered by the same blood and righteousness of Christ that cover you.  And entering that glorious Land of milk and honey, which the Lord has promised you, here at His Altar in His House, eat and drink the Feast with which He freely and richly feeds you, and rest in His Peace.

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

09 February 2014

Your Righteousness Goes Before You

It is because of who you are, in Christ, that you now live in the way that God has called you to live.  That is the way of righteousness for which you have been created, redeemed, and sanctified by His Word and Spirit.  For the salvation that Christ Jesus, your Savior, has accomplished for you and all people, is not the abolishment of the Law, but its fulfillment.  Not only does He keep all of the commandments of God, but, in His doing so, He also teaches you to do the same.

His teaching and His righteousness are not like those of the scribes and Pharisees.  But it’s not that He dismisses the Law, which is the Word of God and the revelation of His good and acceptable Will.  Jesus does not trade legalism for anarchy, debauchery, or licentiousness, as though sin and disobedience were now okay.  He has not come to set you free from the righteousness of God, but to bring you into the glorious liberty and genuine righteousness of God’s beloved children.

The righteousness of which your Lord speaks, and for which He has set you free, is not some quantity of stuff to be purchased or sold, earned, or traded on the stock exchange.  Nor is it a self-contained interior aptitude or disposition within you.  There is no righteousness in isolation from God and your neighbor.

The righteousness of Christ is the right relationship of sonship with God, the Father in heaven.  It is a relationship of faith and love: to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, for His sake, to love your neighbor as yourself.  This living and loving proceed from within the relationship of sonship.  For as you are a son of God in Christ, by His grace, so do you live as a son of God, sanctifying His Name in your words and actions, by faith in Christ Jesus.

This is the righteousness that Christ has accomplished and fulfilled from His Baptism to His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead, even forevermore.  His dying and rising are the way and the means by which you enter the Kingdom of heaven, and by which you live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness.

That means dying to yourself and to your own self-righteousness, and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus.  That is to speak of repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins; which is not a mental exercise, nor a do-it-yourself program, but to avail yourself of the Word, to make use of the means of grace, to remember and return to your Baptism by going to Confession and Absolution, and to receive and remember the Lord with thanksgiving in the Holy Communion.  That is not the end, but the beginning, the daily new beginning, which emerges in a new way of life.

To affirm that your righteousness before God is by faith in Christ, in His Gospel, is not to say that it may be kept hidden away within your heart.  Indeed, it cannot be.  But, no, the righteousness of faith before God is manifest in love before men.  It is foolish to suppose that a Christian disciple of Jesus could be or live otherwise.

To refrain from love, to neglect your duties, to ignore or disobey the commandments of God, is to deny and disavow your very identity as a child of God: like salt that is not salty, or water that is not wet.  It is to disown the family of God, to run away from His home, and to set yourself outside of His Kingdom and His righteousness.  It is to lose all.

If you have disregarded the commandments of God, as though they had no authority over you; if you have hidden yourself away from your neighbor and his needs; if you have been concerned with lighting only your own path and progress, rather than enlightening your neighbor and glorifying your God and Father in Christ — I tell you now: Repent.  Return to the Lord your God, and live unto Him in Christ, to the glory of His Holy Name.

If you are a Christian, live, then, as a Christian.  For you, also, are baptized into Christ, into His Cross and Resurrection.  Die to yourself, therefore, and rise with Him to live unto righteousness as a child of God.  If you are not a Christian, become one, that you may live.  How so?  Repent and be baptized, and believe the Holy Gospel, that, for Christ’s sake, all your sins are forgiven, and you are justified by His grace.

It is by His mercy that you are a child of God, named with His Name; that you are a beloved member of His household and family, a royal citizen and heir of His Kingdom.  That is who and what you are, by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  And the truth is, that who you are and how you live belong together, hand in glove.  The righteousness of your life is an exercise and expression of the righteousness of your relationship with God in Christ.

This is why repentance and righteousness both result in new behavior, in keeping with the commandments of God.  Because, in Christ, you are a new creation, a new person, a new man, woman, or child.  Not in isolation, nor independent of others, but within your relationship with God, and so also in a brand new relationship with all of your neighbors.  You think and speak and act differently, because, by the Word and Spirit of your God and Father, you have the heart and mind of Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

This is truly an amazing new reality, which you could not accomplish or achieve for yourself.  It is given to you by the gracious adoption of God.  You do not storm the gates of heaven with your good works, but you do good works of faith and love because God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has called you to be His own, has brought you into His home, and has established you within His Kingdom of grace.  Indeed, not only do you live with Him, but in Him; and He now lives and moves in you.

The commandments of God, from the greatest to the least, describe this Life of God in human flesh.  It is the Life of His children, of His people, of His family, on earth as it is in heaven; because it is the Life of Christ, the incarnate Son, for you and for all.  It is the Life that is lived in His Kingdom, in which you now live by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  It is a life that can be seen, which fills the whole house with the Light of Christ, to the glory of our Father.

What shall your new life in Christ look like?  Instead of using and manipulating your neighbor, set him free and serve him.  Instead of hoarding what you have and contriving to get more and more from your neighbor for yourself, share what you have, and use whatever God has given you to care for the people around you.  Instead of entertainment and personal pleasure, invest yourself in your relationships and in your actual vocations.  Befriend and benefit your neighbor, rather than avoiding him.  Provide for both body and soul, with tangible gifts of money, food, and clothing, and with forgiveness for those who trespass against you, rather than holding grudges and harboring bitterness.  Be at peace with all people; let your gentleness and kindness be evident to all.  In the confidence of Christ, sacrifice yourself in order to serve others.

The great Mystery of His own Cross and Sacrifice is the culmination of His divine righteousness, the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  It is the righteousness of God Himself, acting entirely in Love, in accordance with His own divine nature and the very Being of the Holy Trinity.  It is the righteousness of perfect faith and love on the part of the Son for His Father — not hidden away within the inner Life of the Godhead, but manifested before men upon the Cross.

In this way He keeps the commandments of God to their completion, and He catechizes you to live in the same way: Not that you become the Savior of the world, but, that you be crucified and raised with Him, to live now in righteousness and purity, in faith toward God, and in love for your neighbor.  His teaching and catechesis are by instruction and example, to be sure, but, more than that, they are the living and active Word of the Cross, by which He puts you to death and brings you to life in Himself.  His Cross, therefore, is not only your crucifixion, but also your Atonement and Redemption, your Reconciliation with God and man, and your Righteousness forever in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  You live, because He lives.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is your Righteousness and Sanctification, who goes before you through death into life; who also goes with you all the way.  He has opened up the way for you to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Indeed, He has become the Way, by which, even now, you have access to the Holy of Holies, to the Mercy Seat, and to God the Father.  So do you live as a child of God, by faith in His forgiveness, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And the same Lord Jesus Christ, who goes before you into Glory, also guards and keeps you, on your right and on your left, and as your rear guard, to preserve you steadfast in His Righteousness and Peace, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

02 February 2014

Blessed Are You Because of Christ

The Kingdom of heaven has drawn near to you in Christ, in His Word and in His Flesh; and now, by His preaching, He draws you to Himself, to bring you to the Father in Peace.

He has seen you from afar, and beheld you with compassion, and has come down from heaven to lay hold of you in love.  And He has gone up the Mountain of God, in order to gather you up and bear you in His Body into the Kingdom of heaven.

He has come down, in order to raise you up.  So it is that His Baptism — in and out of the water, in and out of His death — has begun the fulfillment of all righteousness; which is to speak of the relationship of sons with the Father in heaven, sons who are beloved and well-pleasing in Christ.

In His dying is your atonement and the forgiveness of all your sins, whereby He repairs what was broken and rectifies what was out of sync between you and God.  And in His rising from the dead, in His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, is your righteousness and sanctification.  For you follow after Him, through death into life, to live and abide in the presence of the Holy Trinity.

It is for this great salvation, this beatific vision of God in Christ, that the Lord Jesus preaches to you, and the Holy Spirit calls you by this Gospel to come to Jesus, to be with Him where He is, now and forever.  You are with Him, even now, because He is here with you in mercy.  And you shall be with Him hereafter in eternity, in the Resurrection.

He calls you, then, to bear the Cross after Him: In the humility of repentance, to be turned away from your sins and toward your Creator.  In the confidence of faith, to give attention to His Word, and to rely upon His promises in the face of death.  And in the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, to do justice for others, to love and practice kindness, and to walk quietly and patiently with God.

He calls you to find your life and your salvation in Him: To rejoice and be glad in His Cross, and in suffering for the sake of His Cross, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.  To hunger and thirst for His righteousness, above and beyond the daily bread that your mortal body needs.  And, so also, to be satisfied with what He feeds you.  For, in His Body and His Blood, you are fed by God Himself; not simply the Food of Paradise from the hand of God, but the Lord Himself has become your Meat and Drink, your Bread and Wine, your true Food for both body and soul.

This way of faith and life in Christ the Crucified, in the New Creation of His Resurrection, and in His Blessed Sacrament, is already the contrast between the Kingdom of heaven, which is at hand, and this old fallen world, which is perishing and passing away.

Yet, His Kingdom has come even here, into the midst of sin and death and deep darkness.  And here it is given to you by grace, by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, in whom you see God; for He has become flesh and tabernacles among us, the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God.

In Him, In His Body of flesh and blood, your eyes behold His great salvation, because, in this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, you are reconciled to God in true Peace and Joy.  No longer are you at enmity with God; nor are you a slave any longer, shackled and chained by the Law’s demands and the devil’s accusations.  But you are called, and so you are, a blessed son of God in Christ, born again by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  The world cannot rob you of that, because it is given to you by Christ.  He has opened His mouth and spoken: It is so.

So, then, do you live and love like Christ in relation to God and man, on earth as it is in heaven.  You are comforted in the face of sin and death by His forgiveness and His righteousness.  Thus, you are merciful, as He is merciful toward you; gentle, kind, and pure of heart; slow to anger, and abounding in love.  As the Lord your God has made peace with you and all the world by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, so are you at peace with God and with all people, for His sake.

You live righteously, which is to say, that you live by faith in Christ, in whom God is your true Father, and you are His true child.  Even though you die, yet shall you live.  Though you are poor and miserable, yet the heavens and the earth are your inheritance.  The One who feeds you here and now with the Fruits of His Cross, will feed you forever with Himself in the Resurrection, and you shall be satisfied.  So shall you see God and live.

Blessed are you, indeed, who bear the Cross of Christ and the Name and Spirit of God; who are baptized into Him.  For in Him all things are yours forever, since He has gone up the Mountain for you, and has sat down at the Right Hand of the Father, and by His grace you follow after Him.

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