26 October 2014

Who's Your Daddy?

What do you think about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?

He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, because He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the house and lineage of David.

Now, then, whose son are you?  Who is your father?

You are born a child of Adam, by nature, but you have also been born again of water and the Spirit, a child of God by grace.  So whose son are you?  Who is your father?

Fathers train and teach their children to embrace and follow their values and beliefs.  They train and teach their sons, in particular, to become men like themselves.  And sons both resemble and emulate their fathers, whether biological or adopted.

You, therefore, are to be holy, as the Lord your God and Father is holy.  You are to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.  As He has redeemed you, taken you to be His own, and adopted you as His child and heir, so are you to live according to His Word, with faith and love toward Him, and with love for your neighbor.

The Ten Commandments, summarized in these two great commandments of love, describe the life that God desires for you, which He would have you live with Him forever.  To live that life is to fear, love, and trust in Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, above all else and above all others.  And to live that life, by faith in Him, is to love your neighbor as yourself: to do no harm to your neighbor, but to serve him, to care for her.

So, everything depends upon these great commandments of God: all the Law and the Prophets.

It is first of all a matter of the heart, and then it is manifested in the flesh.  As you believe and as you love in your heart, so do you speak and act, and so do you live.  Or so you should.

But where, then, do you see such perfect faith and holy love enfleshed?  Where are all the Law and the Prophets fulfilled, completed, and perfected?  Where is the Man who is perfect and holy, as the Father is perfect and holy?

You do not see it or feel it or experience it in your own heart and life; nor in your flesh and blood.

So, whose son are you?  Who’s your daddy?  Is it God or the devil?

What do your words and actions confess?

But what about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?  He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, because He is both God and Man.  He is the Man after God’s own heart, because He has a heart of perfect faith and love.  And that holy and righteous heart of His beats for you within His human body of flesh and blood.

All of God’s commandments, from the greatest to the least, Christ Jesus has kept perfectly.  All the Law and the Prophets, He has fulfilled completely, in faith toward God His Father, and in love for God and man.  In love for you.

He has kept and fulfilled the first and second table of the Law in both His heart and in His flesh.  He has done so on your behalf, in your place, and for your benefit.  In His perfect faith and faithfulness, in love for you and for His Father, He has gone even to His death upon the Cross.

That is where you see the open heart of God the Father revealed in truth.  For there on the Cross, God has put all His enemies beneath the feet of Christ, His Son: sin, death, the devil and hell.

But you are not His enemy.  You are the object of His love, the object of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy, the recipient of His peace and perfect rest.  You are Christ’s brother in the flesh, His neighbor, and, by His grace, a son of the Father in Him.  That is what His Incarnation and your Holy Baptism into Him openly declare.

In His Resurrection from the dead, therefore, you see the life and holiness of God established for you, and for all who are in Christ Jesus.  For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, having died and risen with the same Lord Jesus Christ, who is enthroned at the right hand of the Father.

In His Resurrection, you see the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets: the Love of God enfleshed; the forgiveness of all sins; the death of death; and the life everlasting in body and soul.

In the Resurrection, you see God the Father’s open declaration that here is the Son of His heart, the beloved and well-pleasing One.  What is more, this only-begotten Son of the Father has also become the first-begotten from the dead, and the first-born of many brothers.  For in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like yours, you see the Father’s gracious adoption of sons.

This is your faith and life; not in theory, nor simply an ideal, but a bodily truth, a certain reality.

It is to this Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, great David’s greater Son, that the Ten Commandments and all the Law and the Prophets point you.  He is the God you are given to love and trust.  He is the neighbor you are to love, who has first loved you with His whole Self.

Whose Son is He?  Whose son are you?  By the grace of God, the answer is the same.  His God and Father is your God and Father.  For He gives Himself and His life to you, to have and to hold by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And He gives Himself and His life into your flesh with His own holy body and precious blood.  With that, you are given everything, and so shall you live.

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

19 October 2014

Christ Is the Image & Inscription of God

There’s lots of worries in the air and in the news these days, and as many or more opinions as to what should be done about them: The Ebola virus is on everybody’s mind, and it has contributed to the ups and downs of a recently volatile Wall Street.  The threats and atrocities of ISIS against Christians and others in various parts of the world are likewise a clear and present danger.  Peace and safety seem increasingly precarious and volatile.  And all of this on top of more mundane but ongoing concerns of health care and its costs, and, yes, the burden of rising taxes.

There are those people who blame the government for these problems, or for making them worse, and plenty of others who expect the government to be the solution that makes it all better.  More laws and more taxes — or fewer laws and lower taxes — as I say, there are no lack of opinions.

So, what are your hopes and fears for tomorrow?  What is it that’s weighing heavy on your mind and worrying you this morning?  And what solution do you long for?  Where are you looking for help and rescue from all that threatens your life and your future?  In whom do you put your trust?

This isn’t a “political” sermon, leastwise not in the usual sense that one might think.  But I’ll tell you straight up what the Lord has commanded in His Word: Honor the governing authorities; submit to them, and pray for them; because they are God’s ministers for your good in this world.  But do not put your trust in them, and do not bow down before them, as though the presidents and princes of this mortal earth were gods.  For they, too, are men of flesh and blood.  They rise, and they shall fall, according to the Lord’s good pleasure.  They can do nothing at all apart from Him.

The one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not compartmentalized.  He is not shelved or sidelined, regardless of what anybody says or thinks or does.  The earth is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof.  The whole of creation exists by His Will and at His Word, and He governs the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in fulfillment of His own purposes.  This is true.

He gives and establishes parents and other authorities, not because He is powerless or helpless, but because He chooses to exercise His almighty power in this way, working in and with and through His creation: As He also serves you and His children on earth through His holy angels.  It is in the nature of His tender loving kindness that He privileges His creatures to participate in His works.

So, too, according to His steadfast love, He orders creation and governs all authority in heaven and on earth for the benefit of His Church.  All of this for the sake of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

Nations rise and fall at His command.  Kings and queens, czars and politicians of every sort, all come and go according to His Will.  And always He is moved by His love for you, who bear the Name of Christ, whom the Father has anointed with the Spirit for the salvation of the world.

Though you did not know Him, nor could you have come to Him on your own, He has known you in His grace, mercy, and peace, and He has revealed and given Himself to you, and for you, in the flesh and blood of this one Lord, Jesus Christ, the blessed and beloved Son of God.

Why, then, do bad things happen to you, and to Christians all over the world, both near and far?  Why do things go wrong, sometimes very badly indeed?  Why is it sometimes hard to find a job, or to make enough money to keep up with the cost of living, or to provide for your family?

Why do you suffer personally?  Why does our congregation struggle to make ends meet?  And why is our country so volatile, apparently ready to ignite or erupt with a growing number of tensions?  We’re hardly surprised, anymore, to read or hear of violence in almost every imaginable place.

If God loves you, and He is all-powerful and good, why is your life so often so difficult?  If you are a child of God, then why do you go hungry or disappointed?  And why does it so often seem as though all of this stuff happens by chance, by accident, or by coincidence, as though there were no God at all, but only luck, or fate, or karma, or simply the survival of the fittest?

Beloved of the Lord, take this to heart, that His grace and goodness are as sure and certain as His almighty power.  He is not arbitrary, capricious, or fickle in His dealings, but He does all things in holy love, and for your good, so that all things do work together for your salvation in Christ.

It is not true that anything happens randomly.  Despite the chaos of sin, death, and the devil, the Lord your God, He is the true and only God, and nothing from the highest heights to the deepest depths has slipped away from Him or gotten out of His control.  He upholds all that is by His Word, through Whom all things are made, and nothing is or happens apart from Him.

It is difficult, I realize, to reconcile this almighty power of God with your hurt and suffering, your sadness and fear.  It surely does not feel like divine providence, mercy, or love when you are in pain or struggling to survive.

But remember that your heart, mind, and spirit, your body and soul are sinful, and that you do not perceive the things of God, His Mind or Spirit, by any of your own wisdom, reason, or strength.

Although you are not God, but a creature — and a fallen creature at that — you suppose that your perceptions, your preferences, and your pride are good and right and as they should be.  Not so.  Nor is it to your advantage or benefit to persist in such sins (for that is what these attitudes are).

Thus, by the Cross, the Lord disciplines you unto repentance, away from sin and death unto life with Him; from pride and self-righteousness to fear, love, and trust in Him above all other gods; from covetous greed and lust and selfishness unto the genuine faith and love of Christ Jesus.

By what you suffer, and finally by your death, He would break the idolatry of this body and life, of this perishing world and its false belief and unbelief.  He puts to death what is dying, that you should henceforth live in Him by His grace alone, through faith in His Word and promises.

For you are His, both by His creation and by His redemption of your body, soul, and spirit.  You, and your whole life, all that you are and have, and your place in the world, all of it derives from Him and belongs to Him by right.  Not that He needs your help or anything from you, but that you are His workmanship, created to live with Him in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

You are made in His Image; which is to say, that you are created in Christ Jesus, and recreated in Him by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. His Body of Flesh and Blood is the Model and the Mold in which you have been crafted by the hand of God in His infinite Wisdom.

Not only that, but He has written His Name upon you, the Inscription of His Word in your flesh and in your soul: He has signed you with the Sign of His Holy Cross upon your forehead and your heart, your mind, body, and spirit.  Not with pencil or pen, but with the precious Blood of Christ.

Therefore, render yourself and all that you are unto Him.  Not that you must buy Him off.  This is far more than tithes or taxes to which the Lord Jesus directs you when He instructs you to render unto God the things that are God’s.  It is a matter of faith.

Entrust yourself entirely to the Lord your God.  That is to live by faith in Christ Jesus.  Listen to His Word.  Confess His Holy Name.  Pray, praise, and give thanks always, at all times and in all places.  And, so also, honor your father and mother and the other authorities whom He has placed over you in life.  Love and cherish them, serve and obey them.  Only do not sin against His Word.

By the same standard, in whatever office He has given you, whatever governance or stewardship of His creation, honor that authority with which He has entrusted you by serving faithfully, that is to say, according to His Word, to the glory of His Name, and for the benefit of your neighbor.

Work and serve especially for the sake of His Church.  For the support of His Church on earth is not an afterthought or a secondary matter; it is to be the priority of your first fruits.  Again, not as though He needs your help, but because He gives you the privilege of participating in this best and most beautiful of all His good works, whereby He gives life and salvation to His creatures.

Like Cyrus and Caesar, you have no authority except what God the Lord has given you and permits you to exercise.  He can just as surely remove you from whatever place or position you presently occupy; for He will surely accomplish His own purposes, with or without you.

No matter the coin, no matter how few or many you may have in your hand and pocket, you are not your own but God’s.  Do not fret or worry, then, as to what you shall get and keep for yourself, but render Him His due, what is His by right: Not ten percent, but everything you are and have.

Render Him yourself and your all.  Turn away from idols, whether of wealth or whatever, and serve the true and living God.  Look unto Christ, the incarnate God, the Lord’s Anointed.  He is the Image of God in whom you are made; and He is the Word of God, inscribed in the flesh and blood of His Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen from the dead.

All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him: for your sake, and for His Church.  The Authority of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In Him, all that is sinful, and all that is dead and dying, has been put to death once and for all; and in His Resurrection from the dead, the faith and life of God have been established for all people.

This Lord Jesus Christ, true God and perfect Man, has rendered Himself entirely unto God by the Cross, in your own flesh and blood, in order to redeem you from sin, death, and hell, not with money, but with Himself; to reconcile you to God, and to raise you from the dead.  So does He now render Himself to you in love, to bring you to His own God and Father in faith and love.

See, here, the Coin of His realm, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Whose Image and Whose Inscription does it bear?  That of Christ, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for you.  In Him you are the Lord’s, and He is yours forever and ever.  Such are the “politics” of God.

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

05 October 2014

The Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts

The Lord has established His Church on earth, and He has done everything for her, His beloved Vineyard: He has planted her upon a fertile hill, and dug all around to remove the stones from her soil, and planted her with the choicest Vine.  He has built a wall around her and a tower in her midst, to guard and keep her from all harm and danger.  And He has made a wine press for her fruits in due season, because He cares for her; He removes the briars and brings forth good grapes.

So, too, in calling you to faith and life in Christ Jesus, the Lord of Hosts has made you a member of His Church, a planting in His Vineyard, a branch of the true Vine.  And He does everything for you, as well, to give you His own life, in body and soul, both now and forever in His Kingdom.

As a Christian, you are a part of the Vineyard, tended by the Lord and His servants.  And, as you are a servant of the Lord, yourself, you are also responsible for a portion of the Vineyard, that you should care for it and keep it, protect it from danger, and nurture it to be healthy and fruitful.

According to your vocation as a disciple of Christ Jesus, within your own particular place in life, you are to bear and bring forth good grapes to the glory of God.

As pastors and teachers of the Church are responsible for the administration of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments, so are you accountable for your stewardship of the offices and stations in life that God has given you: Whether husband or wife, parent or child, brother or sister, worker or student; whether you are young or old, married or unmarried; whether a musician or mechanic, a merchant or marine.  Whatever God has called you to be, you have your own place and purpose in life.

The Lord has determined, defined, and described the fruits of faith and love, of righteousness and justice, which you are to cultivate and produce in your own context and circumstances.  His Law, especially as summarized in His Ten Commandments, seeks to find those fruits in you: In much the same way that we’ve been hearing and learning from Leviticus concerning the first fruits of the harvest, which were to be returned to the Lord with thanksgiving for His bountiful goodness.

Therefore, hear and heed, honor and obey those commands of the Lord your God, and teach them also to your children.  Receive the Law of the Lord from the mouth of His servants, and return to Him the fruits that are His due.  He is not out to rob you, nor does He leave you destitute, but He daily and richly provides for you, entirely by His grace, with fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

Do not respond with ingratitude, nor resort to self-preservation.  And do not do violence to the commandments of God by disobeying them, by refusing to listen to them, or by performing only perfunctory, outward service with a grudging heart, out of selfish self-righteousness.

For the Vineyard is the Lord’s, and your place and purpose in His Kingdom are under His authority, dependent on His mercy.

Incredibly, and marvelously, the Lord in His mercy does not simply command and forbid you with His Law.  Nor does He quickly punish you as you deserve for your failure and refusal to bring forth the good grapes that are His due.

Rather, in long-suffering patience and steadfast love, He sends to you His own dearly beloved Son: in person, in the flesh.  He comes to you, not merely to reiterate the Law and the Prophets, but as their perfect fulfillment.  He comes to obtain the fruits of righteousness in you by calling you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

He justifies you with His own righteousness, and raises you from death to life in His Resurrection.  Indeed, He makes all things brand new in His own Body.  So are all things possible in Him.

Honor Him, serve and obey Him, love and cherish Him.  Respect Him with the reverence that is due the very Son of God, who is the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of the Vineyard.

Do not do violence to this dear Lord Jesus Christ by refusing to receive Him, by taking His gifts for granted and continuing to sin, or by presuming upon Him, as though He were your slave to order and command according to your own whims.

What madness! To suppose that by seizing the Son of God and violating Him, you should storm the Kingdom of heaven and take it for yourself by force!

What shall the Lord your God do to such a wretch?  Do you imagine that He is powerless to act?

But, then again, what greater madness is this at work?  That God the Lord, the Almighty, should willingly send His beloved Son and hand Him over to the violence of sinful men?  And that He, the Son, should voluntarily suffer such violence, shame, and death, for the sake of His Vineyard?

Then it first of all appears that all has been lost; as though the Vineyard Owner has lost His mind, forfeited His honor and His reputation, and relinquished His Vineyard and His Son to the wicked.

But, no, that is not the case.  Nothing is as it appears.

This very Stone rejected by men is established by God as the Head of the corner.  The Cross and Passion of the Christ have become foundational and definitive for His Holy Christian Church.

For He is the choice Vine that is planted by death, so that in His Resurrection the Vineyard is reborn, enlivened, and fruitful: Justified by His Blood, redeemed and reconciled to God, alive and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and all of this by His grace alone.

His Vineyard shall not be taken from Him.  Yet, He gives it freely to disciples of all nations, to as many as He shall call to Himself by the Gospel of His Cross, who shall then also bear the fruits of His Cross in their own lives, by faith in Christ the Crucified.

Now, therefore, you shall not escape His Cross.  You will be broken into pieces by it.  Indeed, you must be broken.  But, what then?  Shall you be scattered like the dust?  Or, will you be gathered unto God the Father in heaven through the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead?

Take heart, dear child of God.  It is that old serpent, the devil, not you, who is crushed under the heal of the Crucified One.  You are crucified and broken by the Cross, that is true, but for life, and not for death; in order that you should be raised up and healed in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  You are united with Him in His Cross and Passion, in order to receive and participate with Him in the power of His Resurrection and His Life.

By your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, you are grafted into this true Vine, in whom you have the life everlasting of God in your own flesh and blood, heart and mind, body and soul.

And He who has redeemed you, purchased and won you for His own, by His holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death — He also bears good fruits in you after His own kind: fruits of repentance, of faith and love, of righteousness and justice; the good grapes of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for those who trespass against you, as God in Christ forgives you.

Only hear and heed His Word to you.  Not only His Word of the Law, which commands you, but His life-giving Gospel of Peace, which rescues you from every evil and keeps you safe with God.

Instead of striving to seize what has not been given, receive from His hand the gifts of His grace.

There is nothing lacking in Him.  Whatever else you may have wanted to have, relied upon and counted upon, or striven for — all of that is merely rubbish.  But Christ is your everything.

Here, then, eat the Fruit of this Vineyard, which is the Body of Christ Jesus.  And drink the Blood of this true Vine.  As He pours Himself out for you, and as He gives Himself into your body, so does He bear and bring forth good fruits in you at the proper times and seasons.

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

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