25 May 2014

She Is His New Creation by Water and His Word

There is a powerful scene in The Passion of the Christ, when our Lord, on His way to be crucified, on the Via Dolorosa, stumbles and falls under the weight of the Cross. He has been beaten and whipped, scourged without mercy, crowned with thorns, and rendered a bloody mess. And the Mother of Jesus is there, following as best she can through the crowds of people watching the grisly parade.

As He falls, St. Mary rushes forward to her Son, to comfort and support Him, to help Him in some way, in whatever way she can. But He looks up at her, His face all bruised and bloody, almost beyond recognition, and He says to her, "See, I make all things new."

Such images and words do not seem to fit together. But that is also to the point. Your way of thinking and of processing experience is also made brand new by the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus. Everything is undone, in order to be recreated and raised up in the righteousness and holiness of His crucified and risen Body. All of creation, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, find their fulfillment, their purpose and perfection in Him, in His flesh and blood, given and poured out for you and for the many.

From heaven He has come to seek you out and to save you in this way, to betroth you to Himself in loving kindness and compassion, in mercy, and in faithfulness. He has come to woo you to Himself in tender love, to call you by His own Name, and to give you safety, peace, and rest in the place that He has prepared for you. He has come to make of you His holy Bride. And so it is that you also are His New Creation, by the way and means of water and His Word. You are made brand new by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, and all things are made new for you by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Of course, there are lots of new things in your life at this point: For you, Kirsten, there's not only your marriage and new name, as of today, but also your graduation last weekend, and moving across the country to a new home in a new place. Lots of big changes going on, which is both exciting and stressful.

But the newness of your body and life in Christ Jesus is even bigger than all the rest of it put together. His New Creation includes and embraces all of these other things, but it is also far deeper and more comprehensive than that. Which is all the more exciting, in its own way, and all the more difficult, challenging, and stressful, too.

Honestly, there is no part of you, and no part of your life in body and soul, that is left unchanged by the Word and work of Christ the Crucified. By His preaching and Baptism of repentance, His Cross is putting you to death and calling you daily to the righteousness of an entirely new way of life, to brand new ways of thinking and speaking and acting, and, really, to a whole new way of being.

Marriage itself is like that, as it redefines your identity and all of your relationships; but even your marriage points beyond itself to the new identity and the new relationships that are yours in Christ Jesus.

Within this new vocation and station in life, He will be teaching you, Kirsten, to live by faith as a bride, a wife; and He'll be teaching you, Trevor, to live in love as a husband, to lay down your life for her. In both respects, He will teach the two of you, and your neighbors in the world, both married and unmarried, what it means and what it looks like to live and to love as faithful Christians, wed to Christ Himself as members of His Body and Bride, the Church. That is what this great Mystery of holy Marriage signifies; not only for those who are married or given in marriage, but also for those who are not. It is a high and holy calling, indeed.

You're not alone in this life to which the Lord here calls you. Not only because He gives you to each other, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, to serve and support each other throughout your life together; but especially because He Himself is with you, who shall never leave you nor forsake you; and He gives to you the other Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth from the Father, who strengthens and sustains you in the faith and love of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

He cleanses and refreshes you with living water, and He pours out for you the good wine of His own holy and precious Blood, even as He feeds and nourishes you with His own Body in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, which has no end. These are not impotent or meaningless things, but genuine means of divine grace, and a medicine of immortality for body and soul, unto the life everlasting. There is nothing lacking in and with Him. Salvation and glory and power belong to Him, the true and only God; because His judgments are true and righteous.

Nevertheless, to do whatever He tells you will, at times, perhaps even often, be confusing and uncomfortable, like filling up huge jars with water as though it could ever take the place of wine at the wedding celebration. Learning to live as husband and wife, for example, is going to require adjustments in the way that you arrange your days and use your time, and in the ways that you think about your "privacy" and personal space.

As adults, you've gotten used to being on your own, taking care of yourselves, making your own decisions, and doing your own thing. Having a spouse, and reconforming your entire routine to orbit around that other person, is frankly even more demanding and consuming than being a child in your parents' home. Therefore, to live by faith in the Word of Christ within the vocation of holy marriage, in all of the particulars of your life together, is going to be among the foremost ways in which the Lord will crucify the flesh of your old fallen nature, and by which He will teach you to love and serve as He does, which is by self-sacrifice and suffering.

You cannot do this on your own. Not even the two of you together can manage to make all things new. As capable and competent as you both are, the fact is, that, as often as you rely upon yourselves and trust in your own finite and fallen resources, you really "have no wine." It is quickly consumed and spent, and then you are left with nothing but regret and sadness.

You may inebriate yourselves for awhile with pursuits of the flesh and the inferior pleasures of this old world, but eventually you'll sober up enough to realize how aimless and empty such pastimes are. They are not the fine wine they pretend to be, but dust and ashes.

But again, you are not on your own, nor left to your own futility. Not only your dear family and friends, but the Mother of Jesus is here with you, that is to say, His Holy Christian Church. For Christ Himself and His disciples are here invited to your wedding, that He might bless and sustain and abide within your marriage by and with His Word and Holy Spirit. Are we not all gathered together here in the presence of God to pray and intercede on your behalf, as you now enter upon this holy estate? And you, also, have been taught to pray, to call upon His Name in every situation. Do not doubt that He is with you, to guard and keep you in His grace, mercy, and peace, and to care for you in holy Charity.

Of course, you should not suppose that His place and purpose is to provide for all your creature comforts, plans, and ambitions in this life on earth. It isn't a nonstop party. This world with all its glory is perishing, along with your own mortal flesh and bones.

And the Lord would have you turn away from all your Baals, away from all the idols on which you rely for your happiness, contentment, and future hope. He would have you learn to fear, love, and trust in Him alone, and, forsaking all others, to find your perfect peace and Sabbath rest in Him, even when everything else, including your own body and life, your goods, fame, children, and spouse, are all returned to the dust of the ground. By such faith in Him, He would have you clothe yourself in fine linens, to adorn yourself as the Bride of Christ, not with lust or greed, but with the true beauty of humility and righteousness and love.

His Peace be with you. It is true wisdom to rely upon the Lord your God. For He does provide for all that you need, for both body and soul, for this life that He gives to you on earth, and for the life everlasting in Paradise in the resurrection of your body at the last.

He has, in fact, made all things new by His Cross and Passion. Indeed, His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the Firstfruits of the New Creation, into which He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you by His Word and Spirit.

Thus, for example, at His Word, simple water only has become the life-giving water of your Holy Baptism, by which you have been reborn and are daily made brand new; and by which the Lord Jesus Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom, has clothed you in the beautiful white wedding gown of His Resurrection and His Righteousness. So does He adorn you, by His Gospel of forgiveness, with His own glory, honor, and majesty, as He delights in you with steadfast love.

In the same way also, He provides and pours out for you His Good Wine in abundance, even in the midst of adversity; so that you may rejoice, give thanks, and sing to the Lord a new song, who has done such marvelous things. And as He has not withheld Himself, but given Himself for you, so surely does He not withhold any good thing from you, but He freely gives to you all that belongs to Him. As He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever, so does He raise you up in and with Himself, to the newness of eternal Life with God, both now and always, even forevermore.

Your confidence and certainty of this New Creation is not yet by sight, but by faith in His Word and promises to you:

The Word and promises of your Holy Baptism speak the Name of the Lord upon you, and, with His own Voice, like the sound of many waters, they openly declare that you are His beloved and well-pleasing child.

So, too, the Word of Christ shall here and now make of you husband and wife, and shall join you to each other as one flesh in Him. This Word of His adorns the two of you for each other with His own hidden majesty, and so shall it stand fast against all the threats and temptations of the world against you and against your marriage.

Even so, the Word of His Gospel also stands fast, even when you do not. By that Word of Absolution, the forgiveness of your sins, He raises you up from death to life, as often as you fail and fall short. So does He renew you, day by day, with His righteousness and holiness. And thus do you also give life to each other in mutual repentance and forgiveness, as long as you both shall live.

It is for this purpose, really, that He gives you to each other, and for which He sets the two of you before His disciples on earth as a sign of His Glory, as an icon of His Gospel. That we might behold in you the goodness of His New Creation, and believe in Him on account of His grace toward you, and so rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him. And that we should thus be invited, through the two of you and by the witness of your life together, to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

20 May 2014

Every Good and Perfect Gift in the Body of Christ

Brethren, do not be deceived by the lies of the devil, nor by the foolish ignorance of your own fallen and perishing flesh.  Do not be driven about or persuaded by the promises of this world, in which death and destruction, perversity and falsehood reign as presumptuous lords, masquerading as that which they are not, as though they were angels of light.  Do not be deceived by such darkness.

It is the Truth that all good things are found and received in the perfect Gift of God, which is given to you freely by His grace in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, in His crucified and risen Body.  He is the Man from above, who has come down from heaven, from the Father of lights, in order to bear your sin and be your Savior.  He is steadfast, faithful, and true, and it is by Him alone, the Word-made-Flesh, that you live and abide with God, both now and forever.

The Incarnation of the Son of God, His death upon the Cross, and His bodily Resurrection from the dead -- His journey from the Father into the utter depths of your depravity and damnation, and His return to the Father in righteousness and peace, in and with the human nature that He shares with you by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin -- this is the foundation, the center of gravity, the definitive pattern and perfection of Creation and of Life with God.  Everything pertaining to your life and your salvation is rooted in this Lord Jesus Christ; it all depends upon Him.

It has become yours, and has been worked in you, in your flesh, in your body and soul, by repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.  This is what your Baptism is, and what it does, and what it means and signifies; not only once upon a time, but every day, all the time, and unto the life everlasting.  By the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, you have been converted from the death and damnation of your unbelief to the faith and life of the Holy Trinity; which is the fulfillment of Creation in the Body of Christ Jesus, the perfection of the Image of God in Man.

In the exercise of His Will, which is to say, according to the Grace and Love of His divine and holy Being, He spoke and it was so: He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, by the Father's speaking of His Son in the flesh, and by the Spirit's preaching of His Gospel in the world.  In raising you up from death to life in Christ, He has made of you, also, a kind of first fruits among His creatures, as the Tree of Life now bears such fruit after its own kind, like unto Christ.

This you know, my dear brothers in Christ.  By the grace and wisdom of God, you have been given the knowledge, the teaching and confession, the acknowledgment and affirmation, and even the affection of the Truth.

But now, also, in the exercise of your new will in the Spirit of Christ Jesus -- not constrained by guilt or shame, nor driven by the fear of death, nor pressured by the praises of men, but recreated and renewed in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead -- since He has brought you forth from darkness into His Light, bring forth the fruits of faith and the produce of the divine life that He has planted in you by His Word of grace, by His forgiveness of your sins.

It is not at all the case that you should be self-reliant, a free or independent agent, but that you are humbled and repentant, and yet faithful and confident in the Word of Christ Jesus.  Trust His Word, and so live according to it.  Be patient and compassionate with your beloved brothers, who are beloved of the same Lord and your brothers in Christ.

Be quick to listen, to hear and heed the Word of the Lord, and to consider carefully the wisdom and the need of those whom He has given to be your neighbors in the world.  In faith and love, be slow to speak, until you have first of all heard and received the Word by which you will be able to comfort and encourage the weak and the weary.

By all means, be slow to anger.  Control your temper, and discipline your passions; lest the wrath of God be visited upon your disobedience, and He discipline you.  For the anger of man does not achieve the justice and righteousness of the Lord.  It rather denies Him and the righteousness of His divine mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  It also betrays the poverty and wickedness of your own self-righteousness, the sickness and mortality of your fallen flesh.

Rather than losing your temper and venting your anger, repent of your haughty self-conceit, of your animosity and bitter resentment, of your personal pride and your contempt for others.

What is such repentance, but to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness in your words and actions.  To be done with your adultery, your coarse language and the provocative innuendo of your dirty jokes; to quit your gluttony and drunkenness, and to give up your greedy love of riches and the pleasures of the flesh.  But, so also, to stop being so harsh with your own dear wife and children, with your colleagues and your congregation; to cease and desist your self-promotion at the expense of your neighbor; and no longer to delight in the fall of those who hurt you.

Such repentance is not a one-time move, nor is it ever complete in this mortal life on earth.  It is an ongoing effort, which daily returns you to the dying and rising of your Baptism into Christ Jesus: an exercise of the New Man, and the death and destruction of the old man, by the discipline of your body and life.

Which is not to speak of any twelve-step program of self-improvement.  But, no, this good and perfect gift of repentance is also from above, by the outpouring of the Spirit by the Father in the Son.  It is spoken and given to you, and worked in you, by His Word of Truth, which is and remains the fountain and source of your divine life in Christ.

As you are humbled by the knowledge of your sin and by its consequences in your body and life, by the grace and mercies of God, who calls you to repentance and to faith, receive the Word implanted in you by the Spirit of Christ, and so receive and live the righteousness of God in Him.

Remember your Baptism, and submit to its significance, which is the death of your sin and mortality, and the salvation of your body and soul.

Seek out the preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of the Word, the voice of Absolution, and the mutual conversation and consolation of the beloved brethren.  Even as you also apply yourself to the study of the Scriptures, and to the pattern of sound words that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has provided and passed down to you by your fathers in the faith.

And let this water and the Word bring you in peace to the good and perfect Gift of the Word-made-Flesh, to the giving of His Body into your body, the pouring out of His Blood into you, into your body and your soul; that by these Firstfruits of the Cross, you should become what you receive, and be found to be among the good fruits of His New Creation through the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Beloved, He is faithful.  His Word is Truth, His promises certain.  There is no variation or shifting shadow in Him.  His good and gracious will remains, that you should be rescued from sin and death and every evil, and raised up in the Body of Christ unto the life everlasting.  Do not be deceived by any lie that would deny it.  For as surely as the Lord speaks, so surely will He do it.

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

13 May 2014

The Lamb at the Center

Let’s face it, St. Paul was a workhorse.  And you know guys who are like that, who put to shame, not only your laziness, but even you best efforts.  Maybe you’re a workhorse, too; or, maybe not so much.  But the question is not how long and hard you work, nor how efficiently and effectively.  Rather, who and what has the Lord called you to be?  And what has He called you to do?

Pastors are called upon to care for others; and that is not simply a matter of your job description, but really your identity in relation to Christ’s Church.  You are a spiritual father to God’s children; and your responsibility for those children is also like “a mother’s tender care,” on call 24/7, both day and night, sometimes with tears, often in humility, facing trials and temptations all the time.

You are called to shepherd the flock, to guard and defend the lambs and sheep of Christ; to feed and nourish them, and to lead and guide them with His Word.  It is hard work, and you know as well or better than anyone how important and necessary it is.  So there is a constant struggle with pride and self-conceit, on the one hand, and with shame and nagging regret on the other hand.

You are called to preach and teach, to testify and live according to the counsel of God, which is to speak of, and to practice, daily repentance and constant faith in Christ.  To do so, not relying on yourself, but in the confidence that He will guard and keep you, and build you up in His love.

There is joy and satisfaction in this calling, but it is exhausting work.  Sometimes it drives you to the point of burning out, and sometimes it drives you to the verge of despair, to give up and quit, or to get by with whatever you can, and hope to God that no one notices your shortfall.

Your care and concern for the Church involves a weight and weariness of duty, which becomes all the more discouraging and disappointing when you seem to be doing no good nor making any difference.  When you have worked so hard and done your best, and you perceive no results, nor even a response, is it all for nothing?  And what about those days and weeks, sometimes months on end, when you haven’t done all that you should, nor even all that you could have done?  Then the weight of the Office and its vital importance falls hard and heavy on your failure.

As if that were not enough, the Lord Himself and His Holy Apostles have repeatedly warned you of the dangers that will beset both you and the flock you are called to care for.  Enemies within and without will not simply ignore or despise your work, but hate you and hurt you on account of it.

So you are tempted, in subtle and obvious ways, to shrink back from the preaching and practice that will lead to persecution, affliction, and that most dreaded of crosses to bear, unpopularity.  It hardly seems worth it, anyway, when your best is never good enough, and, in fact, you know yourself to be unworthy and incapable of the duties laid upon you.  If it were left up to you, Luther had it right, it would be all for rack and ruin.  Therefore, nothing ventured, nothing lost.

But let us return to the real question: Who and what has the Lord called you to be, and what has He given you to do?  The answers are daunting, sometimes frightening, yet they are clear enough.

Only stop looking at yourself and at your hopes and fears and aspirations, and consider the goal and purpose of your calling.  It is not that you must save yourself or anyone else by your efforts; though it is true, indeed, that the Ministry of the Gospel to which you are called is the means of salvation for those who preach and those who hear the Word of Christ, for everyone who believes.

But, no, you are called to your office and station in life, so that Christ be praised and worshiped in your work, in what you do and suffer and receive in His Name.  Not to glorify yourself, but to be glorified in Him, and He in you, by the way and means of His Cross.

That Cross, which is laid upon you — the weight and worry of the Office; the discouragement and disappointment; the apparent failures, and the pressing fears — these, too, will have their way with you to the glory of God in Christ.  Not that He is making sport of you, nor extracting a pound of flesh to profit at your expense.  But that you would repent with the repentance you are called to preach and teach.  And that you would be taught and learn the faith of Christ, by which you call on the Name of the Lord, find grace to help in time of need, and are saved by the mercies of God.

Take heart.  The comfort and encouragement of the Gospel are also for you.  Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus are not simply the content of your preaching, but the life to which you also are called by this same Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you, who has been crucified and is risen for you; that you should be, not only a shepherd of His flock, but a sheep of His pasture.

It is this, first of all, that you are called to be: a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  As He Himself, the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Pastor and Bishop of your body and your soul, has become the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world.  He is the Lamb at the Center of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in heaven and on earth, this Lamb who has been slain, and yet, behold, He is alive and life-giving.  He is the Crucified and Risen One, who lives and reigns at the center of the Apostles & Prophets, Elders & Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers, and sheep alike.

It is to Himself that He calls you, into this place of abundance, where He abides with you and all His sheep as the One Shepherd of One Flock.  The Cross by which He brings you into this Holy Communion of heaven and earth, by the way and means of His own sacrifice, aims not at your destruction, but to cleanse and purify your body and soul, as silver and gold are purified by fire.

As He has passed through the fire and the water on your behalf, and as He now dwells in the midst of His people, and so also with you in your suffering, your labors are not in vain.  For He brings you through the great tribulation into the gracious and glorious presence of God, to dwell with Him there, and to worship Him day and night.  So does He feed your hunger and quench your thirst; He dries your tears, shelters you from the scorching heat, and clothes you in His Righteousness by the cleansing of His Blood.

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