08 June 2014

The Times and Epochs Ordained by the Father

It is no wonder that you are thirsty.  For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Your lips are parched, and your throat as dry as dirt, until God waters your soil with the living Waters of Christ Jesus, and so fills your body of flesh and bone with His life-giving Holy Spirit.

Here, then, is your Eden, your Paradise on earth, your Oasis in a desert wilderness.  For here, from the wounded side of Christ, from His innermost being, by the divine Glory of His Cross and Passion, the Lord pours forth the Holy Spirit like water into your thirsty soul.  This Spirit is the Water of Life from the Rock of Ages, cleft for you.  It is for this Drink that you have been created, and nothing else but this Gift of God Himself will quench or satisfy your thirst.

It is for this very purpose that God has not only created you in His own Image, but has come in the flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be your Savior.  The Son receives the Spirit from His Father in His own Body of human flesh and blood, in the waters of His Baptism, and in His Resurrection from the dead, in order to pour out the same Spirit of God upon all flesh: To raise you up from the dust of the earth, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul with Him.  He receives and breathes the Spirit as true Man, that you might drink of the same Spirit and live forever with the Father in His Son.

So has the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ caused His Church to be planted and to prosper in this place, in order to pour out the living and life-giving Waters of His Holy Spirit upon the people of Maple Grove, and upon all whom He calls to Himself at St. John.  That was true when it was a little country church out in the middle of nowhere, and it is no less the case, now, as a thriving congregation in the heart of suburbia.  Here there is real Water in the wilderness of whatever kind.

But now, it seems, there are lots of nearby alternatives, many of them attractive and enticing with promises of life and health and success.  And the truth is, that you are tempted and prone to sample whatever is on tap, to belly up to the bar and have a round.  As often as you try to quench your thirst with other waters, other beverages of choice, with other spirits.  Maybe it’s too much of God’s good gift of alcohol.  But I’m not speaking only of drunkenness or alcoholic addiction.  It could just as easily be bottled water and a health food diet that you make into your personal well spring, in hopes of saving yourself and securing your body and life in the world.  It is whatever you turn to, to satisfy your thirst, to wet your lips and whet your appetites, to fill the empty hollow in your belly.  Even though any other water than the Spirit of Christ Jesus will not enliven your flesh, but will leave you dying of thirst.  Like trying to live on salty sea water.

Repent of such foolish idolatry.  It is both sinful and deadly.  Rather, come to Christ, and drink freely and fully of the Holy Spirit, whom He pours out generously, without measure and without cost, for all who believe in Him.  For when you drink of Him, not only do you have abundant life with God in body and soul, but you are also then able to receive, to use rightly, and to enjoy the good gifts of His whole creation.  When your thirst is quenched and you are filled with the living Waters of the Holy Spirit, then, whatever your own beverage may be, and whatever your diet is like, you eat and drink in faith and with thanksgiving to the glory of God.

For the Spirit who proceeds from the Father in the Son is the Author and Perfecter of Life.  He is worshiped and adored with the Father and the Son, because the Spirit is one and the same true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  He brings all things into being out of nothing, breathes life into them by His grace, and bestows the true beauty of divine wisdom upon them.  He gives growth and good order to all of creation, and by the Word of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, He establishes the Church, the Kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.

Come to Christ, therefore, and drink of this living and life-giving Spirit of God.

Does He not call you to Himself and bid you to drink this Water of Life?

But here is the most necessary question, which Pr. Briel taught me to ask and to answer in every sermon, when I was a vicar under his oversight some twenty-plus years ago: Where, and when, and how do you “come to Christ”?  For you shall not find Him randomly or on your own, but where and when and how it pleases God, by the ways and means, and in the place, where the Lord reveals and gives Himself to you; that is where He pours out the Spirit upon you.

It is by faith in His Word that you come to Christ.  For the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, and by the preaching of the Gospel He brings you to Christ Jesus, even as He lays this same Lord Jesus Christ upon your heart, mind, and conscience, upon your body and your soul, with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Listen.  Come to Christ by hearing and heeding His Word, which is preached to you by His Spirit in His Church.  For the Church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all things; and the Spirit of His God and Father rests and remains upon His Body. His Church on earth is the Mountain of God, which succeeds and surpasses both Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion.  Here is the Tabernacle of God among men.  Yes, even here at St. John in Maple Grove.  Here is the Temple of the Holy Spirit in the one Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, in His Means of grace.

In your Holy Baptism, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are united with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection, and you receive the Holy Spirit in the external bodily means of water and the Word, as Christ received the Spirit in bodily form as a dove at His Baptism.  So, too, you come to Christ and drink as often as the Lord returns you to the remembrance and significance of your Holy Baptism by way of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, and, in particular, by the confession and Holy Absolution of your sins.

Furthermore, the Body of Christ given for you, and the Blood of Christ poured out for you, in the Holy Communion, from the Lord’s Altar in His Church, is your Spiritual Food and Drink, your Meat and Drink indeed.  Here, again, and most especially, you come to Christ as He comes to you through the Ministry of His Gospel.  You receive Him here, because here and now is where and when and how He gives Himself to you for Life.

And as you are thus taught, by the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to know and love the Lord your God, to believe in Jesus Christ and come to Him, and to receive and drink deeply of His Holy Spirit, so do you also pray, praise, and give thanks in the Name of Jesus.  You confess His Word and call upon His Name, and you are saved.  For the Lord is merciful to all who call on Him, even as He has, in mercy, taught you and invited you to pray to Him in Peace.  He has taught you to look to Him and to wait upon Him in the hope and confidence of the Resurrection.

The teaching of this Word of Christ is not random or haphazard, but is beautifully arranged and laid before you, as all of creation is ordered according to God’s glorious grace and wisdom, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is unfolded for you in the story of Christ Jesus in the flesh, in the pattern and progress of the Church Year: from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, into the ongoing Life and work of Christ in the Time of the Church.  Not only the stuff of creation, but also time – the hours, days, weeks, and years of your life, with all the seasons of time – all of this is sanctified by the Gospel of Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit with the Word of the Lord.

Thereby, within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the prayer of Moses is answered in the Body of Christ.  That is to say, the Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon all flesh, and He rests upon all the people of God, because the Christ has been glorified by the Father in His Cross and Resurrection.  So it is that you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus are taught by God, by the Gift of His Spirit.  So do you also speak as He has spoken, by confessing the Word of the Lord that you hear and receive from Him.

Still, there is an ordering of the Church’s life in Christ.  All are one, and all are equal before God in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus; for there is one Lord, one Spirit, and one God and Father of all; one faith, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.  Yet, the unity, equality, and harmony of this Body, the Church, is not that of undifferentiated sameness, like some kind of bland, colorless blob, formless and void of character.  But, no, the Kingdom of God is ordered and arranged, like the artistry of the human body, like the genius of God’s good creation, with a great variety of different gifts, a wondrous panoply of sizes, shapes, and colors, of sights and sounds, and of beautiful contours and textures.

Not all are Moses.  Not all are ordained elders in the Church.  Not all are pastors and teachers, bishops, or deacons.  But there is a diversity and distribution of the many gifts of the one Holy Spirit.  There are different offices within the life of the Church, each of which bears the necessary graces of the Spirit for the fulfillment of God’s holy will and purpose.  With such a variety of “voices,” and such a multiplicity of “languages,” the one Gospel is confessed and is heard in all the world, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  So also here.

It is for this faithful confession of the Word of Christ Jesus, that all Christians, with all their vast array of differences in personality, ability, interests, and skills, are each and all anointed and filled with one and the same Holy Spirit.  So are they united to one another within the Holy Communion of the Church; not to erase or eradicate all differences between them, but to give life to the entire household and family of Christ, to the praise and glory of His God and Father.

Those who are thus given to drink of the Spirit of Christ, who are filled with such living Waters of the Lord, become springs of living water and fountains of the Spirit for others: each of them within his own callings, in his own particular office and station in life.  So, also, each of you, in his or her own place, is a fountain of living water for your neighbor.  St. John is part of that, too: Not a mirage, but a true oasis in the desert, despite any appearance or experience to the contrary.  For the Word and Spirit of the Lord flow out from this place.

It is in, with, and under the Cross that such Waters spring up in you and water the earth; for it is by the Cross that Christ Himself is glorified, and by and from His Cross that the Spirit is given.  Your place in life, your words and works, are consequently despised by the world – and by the old man in yourself and others, too.  Taunts of drunkenness are leveled at you.  Even the New Wine of Christ, His holy and precious Blood, is blasphemed and disregarded in this way.

But do not be dismayed, and do not give up hope, nor grow weary of doing good.  The Lord is with you.  As you are thirsty, come to Him and drink.  You belong to the Kingdom of God, and the Spirit of God rests and remains upon you in Christ Jesus.

Blood and Fire and Vapor of Smoke, the Pillar and Cloud by night as by day, and all the signs of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus – these are not a denial or contradiction of God’s Kingdom among you, but are signs of His Power and His Glory, and of His gracious Presence.

For the Kingdom of God has been established in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.  Not only here and now, but also forever and ever.  For all the years yet to come, as in the years that have already come and gone.  Even to the close of the age, to infinity and beyond.

Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, anointed by the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, is the fulfillment and perfection of the Lord’s Old Testament Liturgy of grace, and of God’s ordering of time and space.  He is the true Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for you; whose blood has redeemed you, and marks your door to guard and protect you from death, and is poured out upon your lips and tongue and down your throat to quench your deepest thirst; whose flesh is fed to you for the freedom of forgiveness and faith.  And He is the true Pentecost, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of the New Creation.  His Body and His Blood are the Atonement by which you are reconciled to God, received by the Father, and able to rejoice in Him who is your Lord and Savior.  For He is the Tabernacle of God, who abides with you, and you with Him, from the wilderness into Canaan.  He breathes the Spirit of Life into your body by His Word of the Gospel, and He pours out the same Spirit from His side in the Water and the Blood, to cleanse and refresh you within and without, in body and in soul.

All of this that He has done, for you and for all people, was promised and prepared for by the times and epochs ordained by the Father in the Old Covenant, in the pilgrim festivals that He instituted through Moses.  But now they have been accomplished in Christ Jesus, and they are bestowed upon you in the Sundays and Seasons of the Church Year.  Not as Law, but as Gospel, from Jubilee unto Jubilee, in the gladness, joy, and righteousness of the Resurrection.  Today, and every day of grace, is shaped, defined, determined, and filled by the Word of Christ, and thereby sanctified by the Spirit as your true Sabbath Rest in Him.

Therefore, though you do not know when the great and final Day of Judgment will come upon all flesh, the fullness of the time has come and is here for you in the Body and Blood of Christ.

Here, then, is the last, great Day of the Feast: The eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection, and of the Life everlasting.  Thus far the Lord has brought you by His grace, by His Word and Spirit, to believe His holy Word and to live a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity.  These are the times and epochs the Father has ordained for you, in order to feed you with His Spiritual Food and Drink.

Are you hungry?  Take, and eat, the Body of Christ.  And you who are thirsty, come and drink the Blood of Christ, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

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

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