23 March 2014

Living Water from the Wellspring of Christ

He knows her, as He knows the hearts and minds of all people.  He knows her, before she has spoken a single word, as He has known her from before the foundation of the world in His Love.

Oh, yes, He knows her sin, her sordid past, her scandalous life.  He knows her serial adultery and present fornication, that she is living in sin with a man who is not her husband.  He knows, too, that she is thirsty, not only for water, but for love, for acceptance and companionship, for meaning and purpose in her life, for self-worth and value.  He knows that she won’t find it on her own.

But He is the Gift of God, who has come down from the Father in heaven to save sinners like her: To rescue them from sin and death; to pour out the living water of the Holy Spirit generously upon them, into their hearts and minds, and into their flesh and bones, to give them eternal life.

He also is thirsty; and hungry, too.  Not merely for the food and drink that perish, though His body on earth needs both, no less than yours.  But He hungers and thirsts for the will of His Father, to seek and to save the lost to the glory of His holy Name, to become the true worshipers of God.

Therefore, as He has known this Samaritan woman all along, so does He also come to wait for her, to meet her at the well, to give her what she needs and what she’s looking for without knowing it.

In love for her, with tender mercy and compassion, He catechizes her with the Wisdom of God.  He leads her by His Word, from guilt and shame, from doubt and fear — first of all to curiosity and interest — to the dawning of some new hope within her troubled heart, which has for so long ached with disappointments — finally to repentance, and to faith in the One who is speaking to her.

He declares to her all things.  Not only all the things that she has been doing wrong, but the things concerning Himself; that she might learn to know Him, and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His Cross and Passion; that, being conformed to His death, by the Gift of His Spirit, she might also attain to the resurrection of her body and the life everlasting of her body and soul.

He quenches her thirst with the free gift of His Word and Spirit; and, in doing so, He leads her and He brings her to the worship of the Father in the Spirit and the Truth, for which she was created.

He does the same for you.  For He is the Gift of God.  Ask of Him, and He will quench your thirst, your burning, desperate thirst for something more than what you’ve got, for something to satisfy your aching, empty heart.  Indeed, He pours out the Love of God into your heart, and fills you up with the Living Waters of His Spirit, which freely flow in you, and well up as a fountain in you, unto eternal life, to the worship of the Father in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What is it that you’ve been chasing after and trying to find, instead of this Gift of God in Christ?  What are you trying to do and achieve and to get for yourself?  And whose well do you run to, in the heat of the day, in order to fill up your bucket?  How many men have you had?  Or how many women?  Or how do you compete and keep the score?  What is it that you worship with your body and your soul, with the investment of your heart and the exercise of all your strength and spirit?

The Lord knows your heart and mind, your thoughts and words and actions.  There are no secrets hidden from Him.  He knows your sin, and all that you have ever done or failed to do.  He knows your guilt and shame, your doubts and fears, your ignorance and confusion.  He knows your frailty and weaknesses.  He knows that you have tried to quench your thirst with all the wrong liquids.

And even knowing all of that, He has come to you in mercy and compassion, in tenderness and loving care, in order to bestow the Gift of His Spirit upon you, and to bring you to the Father in Himself, in perfect peace and genuine hope and real joy, which shall remain and not be used up.

Thus it is, that, even in the desert, He pours out Living Waters to quench your thirst, to cleanse you and refresh you, both inside and out, in body and soul; to shatter your rocks and wear down your mountains, but also to float your boat on the ocean waves, and to preserve your life in the rapids.  Tribulation, therefore, does not cause your shipwreck, but brings forth perseverance, and builds up your faith, hope, and love in Christ Jesus, who shall never let you down or disappoint you.

Behold, then, how He does so: How it is that your Hope in Him is not disappointed, and that you are not put to shame and disgrace, but are vindicated and exalted in this dear Lord, Jesus Christ.

He is the Rock on the Mountain of God; and He is the One who is struck by the Staff of Moses, by the command and judgment of the Law of the Lord.  So it is, that, from His sacrificed Body flow the cleansing rivers of the water and the blood, and times of refreshment in His Atonement.

For by His Cross and Passion, at about the Sixth Hour, He has grown weary and thirsted, in order to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith, and so to provide you with His Sabbath Rest.

In the completion of His good work, He gives to you His Holy Spirit through His Word of Holy Absolution, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins — those you know and regret, and those you don’t even realize or remember — He removes them all, and He remembers them no more.

As He is thus lifted up in death upon the Cross for your salvation, and as He thus returns to the Father in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does His own Holy Body become the true Temple of God.  The Mountain of God, henceforth, is wherever He is, with His preaching and catechesis, His Body given and His Blood poured out, from Jerusalem to Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Here, friends, is the Gift of God for you: Living Water from the Rock of Ages, the Spirit of the Father in the Word and Sacrament of Christ, His Son.  Here, by His grace, through faith in Him, you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth.  Such is your life and your salvation evermore.

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

05 March 2014

Store Up for Yourself Treasures in Heaven

Why do you do what you do? And why do you not do what you should?

What is it that drives you and motivates you? What is it that you’re after? What do you love?

Where do you invest yourself and hope to find your life?

Your true and lasting life, your future and your hope, are not found with man on earth but only with God in heaven.

You have life with Him forever, not by your own reason and strength, not by your own works and efforts, but by the grace of God in Christ.

So what does that mean for you, and what does it look like? How shall you not receive this grace of God in vain?

He’s after your heart; that’s what He wants, what He demands. He doesn’t need your stuff; it's really His. He doesn’t need your help, for all that you are and have comes from Him and depends upon Him. No, He’s after your heart — that you should fear, love and trust in Him.

But when He has your heart — and you thus have divine, eternal life in Him — then He also has your body and soul, your reason and all your senses, your time, treasures and talents, your home and family, and all your stuff besides (which all belong to Him by right, but He entrusts them to you in love).

When He has your heart, then your entire body and life are offered to Him as a living sacrifice in loving service to your neighbor. Then you practice your righteousness (by faith) before Him alone at all times, while outwardly you pour yourself out in love for your neighbor — family, friends and foes alike — with forgiveness of their trespasses against you, and with no expectation of thanks or reward.

This is how you live by faith: You entrust yourself entirely to God, and trust Him truly for everything that you need; and so you give generously to others without counting the cost or considering what’s in it for you.

In this way do you live with your heart already with God in heaven, and your body and soul shall hereafter follow forever and ever.

If, on the other hand, your heart, soul, mind and strength are spent upon this world, invested in this life on earth, and motivated by the kingdoms and treasures of man, then your body and soul will perish finally and forever along with all of these false gods you prize so highly.

You may stockpile a real treasure trove here and now, but it will not last or survive — it will not save you — it will not remain yours — you won’t take it with you.

Let go your heart of that which is not God.

Give up your adulterous affair with the idols of this world.

Repent of all your misplaced love and affection, and return to the Lord your God.

Stop stuffing your mouth and your stomach with that which ultimately ends up in the sewer, and stop pampering your body with creature comforts as frail and finite as you are.

Do not look for life and love anywhere else but the Lord Jesus Christ. Here He is with you and speaks to you by His Ministry of the Gospel.

He has reconciled Himself and His Father to you and all the world by His Cross: by His fulfillment of the Law in perfect faith and love, and by His suffering of the punishment that you (and all) have deserved.

He has reconciled the world to Himself. You, then, be reconciled to Him. Hear and trust His Word. Rely upon His gifts.

It is by His prayer, by His faith and His fasting, by His agony and bloody sweat, by His Cross and Passion, by His divine charity toward you, that you are presented to the Father in righteousness for peace and rest and life everlasting.

And behold, He has left behind a grain offering and a drink offering for you: bread and wine, which are His Body and His Blood — the acceptable sacrifice that He has offered to the Father on your behalf — with which He now feeds you for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the nourishment of faith and life.

Eat, therefore; and drink. Here is your treasure. Here is the heart of Christ for you. Here is your foretaste of heaven.

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

02 March 2014

The Light Shining in this Dark Place

What does such Transfiguration with Light mean?  What does it signify or indicate?  It is a return to the Baptism of Our Lord, and a reassertion of the Father’s Word concerning His beloved Son.  It is therefore also a proclamation of His Righteousness in the coming Cross and Resurrection of our Lord, whereby He atones for the sins of the world and makes all things brand new.

It means that He who is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, will enter into Glory, with His own flesh and blood, through the narrow passage of His Passion, by His innocent suffering and death.

It means that He who comes down from heaven into the dust of the earth and the depths of Sheol will also emerge and arise and go up again to the Right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places.

And it means that He will do so, for you and for all, in His own flesh and blood as the true Man.

We have celebrated, and shall evermore continue to celebrate the Incarnation of the Word, that is, the becoming flesh of the Son of God.  In the Transfiguration of this same Lord Jesus Christ, we are given to behold, through the eyes of Peter, James & John, the Deification, or “Verbification,” of our human flesh in the Person of the incarnate Son.  For His own flesh, which He shares with us by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the very flesh of the Word of God.

Henceforth, if you would hear and have the Word of God, then you must hear and heed this Man of flesh and blood.  For it is in and with and through His Body that the Glory of God is realized.

This Divine Glory in the Flesh of Christ is the Word of God to you, which is the Light of the Lord shining for you in this dark place.  It is a Lamp unto your feet, a Light upon your path.  The Father speaks to you by His Son, and He inscribes His Voice forever and ever in the flesh of this same Lord Jesus Christ; His Holy Spirit writes with the Blood of this Man upon the vellum of His skin.

So it is, that, by this Word-Flesh of Jesus, you are given confidence and sure and certain hope in this dark place; in the midst of sin and death; in circumstances of hardship and hurt; in a context of doubt and fear; in the face of stark adversity and precarious uncertainty.  Sufficient for each day is the trouble thereof; and you know well enough your own concerns and challenges.  There are some who would say, to a young couple like Nathaniel and Sarah, “Why are you adding to your burdens by having children?”  And, “Should any of us bring children into this cold hard world?”

The darkness not only surrounds you and presses upon you from the outside; it is also within you, filling you with fear and sadness, unbelief and anger.  It is a darkness of heart and mind, the root of sin and death in you.  It permeates your flesh and blood.  It infiltrates your words and actions.

Such darkness cannot persist in the presence of God, nor can it survive the appearance of His radiant Glory.  When His Light shines in the darkness, the darkness can neither comprehend nor overcome it.  No, the darkness is instantly consumed, or it is scattered, by the Lighting of the Lord.

That is a problem, then, for you who are up to your eyeballs in deep darkness, within and without.  How shall you persist or survive?  How shall you live?  Not without the Lord your God, who alone is the Author and Giver of Life.  That is certain!  You have no hope nor any help apart from Him.  But how can you live with Him, either?  How shall you abide His glorious presence?

That was the dilemma for Israel, too, at Mt. Sinai and beyond.  The Glory of God upon the Holy Mountain was a consuming fire, thunder and lightning, and a billowing Cloud of fierce power.  The people could not approach or touch that mountain, except at the invitation of the Lord, lest they die; and they pleaded with Moses that the Lord should not speak to them directly anymore.

There was no solution to be found in the people then.  Neither is there any solution to be found in you now.  In you there is the darkness of death; not holiness, but profanity and perversity.  You are sinful and unclean, and it is surely true that what you deserve is nothing else but punishment.

Yet, the Lord, the Lord, He is gracious and merciful, compassionate and patient with His children; He is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast Love.  Therefore, what He did for His people then, in His grace and mercy toward them at Mt. Sinai, was to establish His Holy Covenant with them by the flesh and blood of sacrifice; and then to prescribe the Tabernacle and the Priesthood, the Liturgy of the Covenant, whereby He would dwell among them, and they would abide with Him.

Within that glorious Cloud that covered Mt. Sinai, Moses received from the Lord the heavenly pattern for the earthly tabernacle that he would build with Israel, in accord with God’s command.  That same Cloud, which is the Glory of God, then filled that tabernacle when it was finished; not for the destruction of the people, but as the gracious presence of God for their life and salvation.

Now, beloved, the very One who is, Himself, the heavenly Pattern of that Old Covenant Liturgy, He has come, in the flesh; and He has accomplished and fulfilled this great Salvation for you and for all people, which is the Glory of God revealed and perfected in His crucified and risen Body.

This one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son, is the fulfillment of the Law and of all the Prophets who came before Him in days of old.  He is the Priest, the Sacrifice, the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Holy of Holies, and the gracious Presence of God in Person, in the Flesh.

He comes from God the Father, and He returns to the Father by the way of His Cross and Passion, in His Resurrection and Ascension, all for the sake of His Love, for the purpose of gathering you up in Himself and bringing you to His God and Father as a beloved child in His own Sonship.  He comes down, so as to bring you up the Holy Mountain to see God, to eat and drink in His presence.

The trouble is, that, what you see and feel and experience, for now, in this poor life of labor, is not only the darkness of sin and death, inside and out, but also the darkness of the Cross itself, which is a deep dark Cloud of Glory in its own right.  It is hard to understand, and difficult to bear.  Not only for the Christ, who has no “easy” job awaiting Him at the bottom of the Holy Mountain, in the valley of the shadow of death.  But, as it was for Peter and the other Apostles in their day, so is the Cross of Christ a deadly divine Glory for you to share and carry as a disciple after Him.

In order to prepare and strengthen the Apostles for their witness to His Cross and Resurrection, and for their administration of His Gospel in the Days of His Ascension, He reveals the majesty of His Glory to three of them, who will afterwards strengthen their brothers; and, through their witness, they strengthen the whole Church on earth in all times and places, even to the close of the age.

Not that they are able to comprehend what they behold at the time.  It really can’t be understood until the Cross and Resurrection have been accomplished.  Yet, they are able see and perceive that it is good; for it is a vision of the New Creation, perfected in the flesh of Christ.  And, in retrospect, it all comes together and makes perfect sense, leastwise to those who, by faith, are His disciples.

The Glory of God is manifest in the flesh of the incarnate Son, precisely because He is crucified for our sins, and because He is raised for our justification.  In His Cross and Resurrection, and in His crucified and risen Body, the Word and promises of God are established and certain forever.  Not with the blood of bulls and goats, but, in and with His own Blood, the Lord has signed and sealed His new and everlasting Covenant with His Church, even under the Cross that she bears.

It is in His Church that His preaching and teaching sound forth, and that His Holy Sacraments are administered in His Name; such as you hear and see and witness for yourself, here this morning.

Wherever the Word of Jesus Christ is spoken and heard in His Name, and His Body and Blood are given and received in remembrance of Him, there is the Tabernacle of God among men.  By these ways and means of grace, the Majestic Glory dwells with you, and you with Him; though in such a way that is yet hidden from your eyes in a dark Cloud.

Listen to Him, and pay attention.  Hear and heed His Word to you.  Give attention to His Law for your life, which is patterned after His Life for you; and walk in obedience to that Word of the Lord.

So also, listen to the utterance of His Gospel: His gracious Word and promises to you; His free and full forgiveness of your sins; and His blessing upon you.  For as the Father spoke to Christ at His Baptism, and as He has spoken to Gwendolyn this morning by the same Son, Jesus Christ, so has He spoken to all of you who are baptized into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection, in His Name:

You are beloved of God and well-pleasing to Him.  Yes, even you.  You are His own dear child, His son or daughter in Christ.  You are clothed in the radiance of His righteousness and holiness.

And so shall you, also, in the resurrection of your body, also shine like the sun, and like the stars forever and ever, reflecting the Glory of Christ that you share by His grace through the Gospel.

Listen, too, and hear how He invites you not to be afraid, but to rise from the dust and the dirt, and to live by faith in His mercy toward you.  He stretches out His hand — not against you, to hurt or punish you — but in gentleness and tender kindness, to raise you up in peace, and to feed you.

In the hearing of His Gospel, by faith, this Morning Star now rises in your heart, in your body and your life: He scatters the darkness and shatters the gloom that have beclouded your vision and shrouded your thoughts.  Now you are able to see, here and now, by faith, in humble bread and simple wine, the Body and Blood of God Himself for you: The God who is with you, in whose flesh is the Majestic Glory of the Holy, Holy, Holy One.

Here, then, at His Altar, is the Holy Mountain of the Lord your God: He is the Lord, the Almighty, the Merciful One, who keeps His Covenant in faithfulness, whose steadfast love endures forever.

Oh, come, let us worship Him; let us kneel and bow down before the Lord, our Maker.  Let us fall down in reverence before His Footstool on earth, and worship the Holy One upon His Holy Hill.

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