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.

18 May 2014

That the Father Be Glorified in the Son

The Life of God, and life with God, don’t look like you’d expect, actually.  Whatever you might picture in your imagination, that isn’t what unfolds in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which is yet the only place where you see God as He truly is, and the only way that you see Him rightly.

Following your Good Shepherd, who lays down His Life for the sheep, leads you also to the Cross and suffering in His Name and for His Name’s sake.  So are He and God the Father glorified in you by the grace and glory of the Holy Spirit; but it hardly looks or feels anything like glory on the surface of it.  Consider the case of St. Stephen, the first martyr, which echoes the Passion of the Christ, on the one hand, and exemplifies the Christian life of discipleship, on the other hand.

As you walk in the Way the Lord has called you to go, you will also bear the Cross and suffer in this fallen world.  Not only on the outside, but in your heart and mind, and in your flesh and bones, whether you are put to a violent death, suffer some accident or illness, or fade away with age.

But do not let your heart be troubled.  That is the Word of your Lord Jesus.  It is admonishment, and comfort, and encouragement in the face of every danger, hardship, and sorrow that you bear.  Believe in God, He says; which is also to believe in Jesus Christ Himself, the only-begotten Son, who is of one Substance, of one and the same divine Nature, as the Father.  Hear and heed His Voice, which is the Truth and not a lie.  His Cross is not your destruction, but Life indeed for all who follow Him by faith, who love and trust in Him, not by sight, but by His Word and Spirit.

It is by His own innocent suffering and death that He prepares a Holy Place for you in the House of God.  He does not simply make for you a “space” to call your own within some sprawling castle, but He shares with you His own position of beloved sonship within the Father’s home and family; so that, as the Father willed and desired, His firstborn Son becomes the First of many brethren.

Thus united with Christ Jesus, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, you are a dear child in the household and family of God.  So are you also a living stone, as it were, in the Temple of God, which is the Body of Christ Jesus, on earth, even now, as it is forever and ever in heaven.  You aren’t just “taking up space,” nor simply occupying space “out of the way” somewhere, but you are built up into this Holy Habitation of the Lord within the Holy Communion of His Church.

That is the Place the Lord Jesus has prepared for you by His Cross and Passion, and He is likewise the Way by which you come to that Place, and by which you now live and abide there with God.

It is for this, in particular, that St. Stephen was stoned to death; because He preached that Christ Jesus is the true Temple of God, who has completely fulfilled and permanently replaced the Old Testament structures in His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead.  So it is that you, also, are being put to death and daily raised to newness of life on account of His Cross and Resurrection.

By the flesh and blood of Christ, crucified and risen, and by His Word and Spirit, which are the Truth and the Life of God, you come to the Father and worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth.  Which is to say that you come to the Father in peace, and you worship Him by faith, in the Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed.  You fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God, as you fear, love, and trust in this one Lord Jesus Christ — even now, under His Cross, in your life on earth.

Your life and death, by faith in Christ, are not a tragedy, but a pleasing sacrifice of thanksgiving, offered to God in your body and soul, and received by Him the way a father embraces his child.

For the Truth is, that you know and see the Father in the incarnate Son, as you know and see the same Son, Jesus Christ, in His Ministry of the Gospel: in the preaching of His Word; in the water, words, and promises of Holy Baptism; and in His own Body given, His Blood poured out for you, in the Holy Sacrament of His Altar.  It is by this Way of Christ, by these means of His grace and forgiveness, that God the Father comes to you in Christ; and you come to the Father, also in Christ.

What does this mean for you?  And how is it that you actually live that Way?  It is in the Body of Christ Jesus, in His flesh and blood, as He comes to you and gives Himself to you in His Church, that you know what God is like, and who He is, and that you believe and trust in Him.  Not only in your head, nor only in your heart, but with your whole self, your body, soul, and spirit, as a son or daughter of God, in a living relationship of love, as a dear child with your own dear Father.

And, not only that, but it is in Christ Jesus, your Savior, that God the Father beholds you, and knows you, and loves you, and receives you to Himself.  For has not Christ also taken your nature to be His own?  Has He not taken your place, borne all your sins, carried all your sorrows, and made Atonement for you by His death in the flesh, by the shedding of His precious blood?  And has God not raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification?  It is most certainly true.

Therefore, God the Father regards you and receives you to Himself in and with Christ Jesus, as a beloved and well-pleasing son in Him.  And it is in that reconciliation and relationship with God, in Christ, that your faith and righteousness are rooted and grow.

So it is that, by such faith in Christ, by faith in His Word and in His works of divine love, you also do the works of Christ: before God and in relation to your neighbor.  And He does greater works than these in you, because He goes to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection.  He offers Himself up as the fulfillment and perfection of all Sacrifice.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He enters with His own Blood into the most Holy Place, where He remains forever with the flesh and nature that He shares with you, your Anchor behind the Veil, so that you now live with Him there.

The Father is thus glorified in His Son.  Not only then and there, on Calvary in the first century, but to this very day, and even to the close of the age.  For the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is also glorified by the words and works of those who believe in Him; who confess and call upon His Name; who follow after Him, taking up His Cross and suffering with Him, and so living with Him in His Resurrection from the dead; who speak and sing and sacrifice in His Name.

It looks different for each one of you, no doubt.  Even among the Holy Apostles, there were quite different personalities, abilities, backgrounds, and characters.  Yet, the Lord has created and called each and every one of you to be glorified in Him, and He in you, with a passionate personal Love as unique as each individual.  Neither Creation nor the Cross brings about a sameness of all things, but a unity and harmony of all things in Christ, and a fellowship of faith and love in His one Body.

And within that Holy Communion, as different as all of you are from one another, with different ages, different shapes and colors, different interests, different jobs to do — with different sorrows to suffer, and different joys to rejoice in — each of you bears the Image of Christ the Crucified.  Each of you echoes His Passion and exemplifies His Cross within your own particular place in life.  And far from contradicting the grace of God in Christ, it is right there that He is glorified in you.

On account of Christ Jesus, and living by faith in His own Body of flesh and blood, you also go to the Father; you are offered up to Him as an acceptable, living, and spiritual sacrifice in both body and soul.  No less so than your crucified and risen great High Priest is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God.

In, with, and under the Cross of Christ, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, your whole life is offered as a prayer of praise and a song of thanksgiving to your God and Father in heaven.

Not as though He were far away and distant from you, so that you should have to find and make your way to Him.  But you know the Way, because He who is the Way is here with you, so that where He is, there you may be also.  It is for this life and salvation with His God and Father, in and with the Holy Spirit, that your dear Lord Jesus comes to you, and gives Himself to you, and that you receive all things in Him and from Him, as a beloved child of God in Christ.

Therefore, you are not put to shame, and you shall not be disappointed.  Although you are being crucified and put to death all day long, heaven is here open to you in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, who has prepared this most Holy Place for you, and by whom you enter and abide in Peace.

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.

11 May 2014

The Pastor and Bishop of Your Body and Soul

He has come to give you His abundant Life.  He has come in the flesh to be and abide with you, so that you should abide, both body and soul, henceforth and forevermore, with the one true God and Father, and with the Holy Spirit, in and with this same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son.

It is for this neverending purpose that He has become flesh and blood, with body and soul just like yours, in order to bear your sin and be your Savior.  It is for this sacred and salutary reason that He has handed Himself over to His voluntary suffering and death; that He has laid down His own life upon the Cross, and that He has taken it up again in His mighty Resurrection from the dead.

So, too, with the authority that God the Father has given to Him over all the works of His hands, which is to say, over all of creation, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, the crucified and risen Lord has called and sent His Holy Apostles and the servants of His Word to preach this Holy Gospel and distribute the blessed Fruits of His own Cross and Passion.  To give you His Life.

He is the Door — you have heard Him say so — the Door by which His shepherds and His sheep enter the fold, and by which they come and go, in safety, peace, and rest, from this body and life on earth unto the life everlasting of body and soul in Paradise forever.

For He is the Way to the Father, and He has opened the Way to you and to all by His holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death, and by His gift of the Holy Spirit.

His shepherds are first of all called to follow after Him, by repentance and faith in His Cross; and they, in turn, are thus given the Cross to bear to and for His Church in all their life and ministry.  To care for His lambs and tend His sheep with patience, perseverance, compassion, and the free and full forgiveness of all their sins in His Name and stead.

So are His lambs and sheep called by name, each one, through this Ministry of the Holy Gospel, to die and rise with Him in repentant faith, and thereby to follow after Him and live with Him.

So hear and heed His Voice.  Recognize the tone and timbre of the Word of God in the preaching and teaching of His Law and His Gospel.  And by the same token, flee from strangers and strange voices, which preach and teach another word, an alternative or contrary word, or any other way.

Listen to the Voice of your Good Shepherd, and follow in His footsteps; live and walk after His example.  Bear the Cross and suffer patiently within your vocation, by faith in His Resurrection.  When you are picked on, laughed at, forgotten, or left out, do not lash out or give up, but trust in Christ.  When you are reviled and hurt, do not revile in return, but pray for your persecutors; and forgive those who trespass against you, just as you are daily and richly being forgiven by Christ.

The rod and staff of His Cross are a discipline, to be sure, which guard and keep you away from danger, and guide and keep you on the path of life; because it is also by and from His own Cross that He provides you with lush green pastures, clear and clean water, and an abundant Feast.

He Himself has borne your sins in His own Body on the Cross, so that you might die to sin and live unto righteousness in Him.  And it is by and with His Cross that you are signed and sealed in Holy Baptism, and named with His own Name, to be His own dear sheep, and He your Good Shepherd, the true Pastor and great Archbishop of your body and soul.

The sacred example of His own life, death, and bodily resurrection, for you and for all people, is embodied in the life and ministry of His Apostle and the undershepherds who follow after them, even to this day and place.  It is likewise given to you in the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, that is, in the means of His grace and forgiveness, in the ways and means of His life and salvation, in particular His Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution, the preaching of His Holy Gospel, and the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many.

These gifts of God in Christ are the green pastures in which you safely graze as a sheep of the Good Shepherd, and they are the sheepfold in which you rest secure in His Salvation.

By your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, you enter through the open Door of Christ into the Temple of the Lord.  In His Holy Supper you feast at His Table, well spread with Meat and Drink indeed.  And in the gracious Peace of His Holy Gospel, you abide in His House forever.

Here, then, little flock, sing to the Lord, your God and great Good Shepherd.  Make a joyful noise to this Rock of your Salvation.  Come into His presence with thanksgiving, and praise Him with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing in His Spirit by faith in His Word.

Oh, come, let us worship and bow down!  Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.  Let solemn awe possess us, even now, in the teaching and fellowship of His Apostles; in the Breaking of the Bread, which is the giving and receiving of His Body and His Blood; and in the prayers of His Church.

For He is your God, and you are His own sheep.  You are in His hand, and He brings you to these pastures in grace, mercy, and peace, that you may have abundant Life in Him.  There is forgiveness with Him, that you may fear, love, and trust in Him.

As you thus enter into this gracious and glorious presence of God by such faith in Christ Jesus, by His Cross and Resurrection, and by the free and full forgiveness of His Gospel, so also go out to your neighbor in love, living the divine Life of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

His shepherds and His sheep alike follow after Him, and you shall be like Him.  For by His Cross you die with Him, and in His Resurrection you do now rise and live with Him and share His Glory.

His Christians hold all things in common with His Holy Apostles, and therefore with Him, and with His Father and His Holy Spirit.  And as this Holy Triune God is Himself a Holy Community of Persons, so does the Church abide in Him as a lively fellowship of faith and love.

Do no harm to your neighbor, therefore.  Do not steal, kill, or destroy his body and life, his good name and reputation, his marriage and family, nor anything else that is your neighbor’s.  Do not enter by “some other way” into any place you don’t belong.

But by the Way of Christ the Crucified, do speak to and for your neighbor with the Voice of that Good Shepherd.  Give life wherever you are given to do so.  Guard and protect, defend and serve the life of your neighbor, that he too may follow the Shepherd safely into His green pastures and live forever in His Name.

If you are a mother or father, love and care for your children as the Good Shepherd cares for His beloved sheep in mercy.  And if you are a child, honor your father and mother, and hear and heed their voice as that of the Lord, who speaks to you through them and serves you with their labors.

Wherever and however you have strayed from the path of righteousness, repent with all your heart, and return to the Pastor and Bishop of your body and your soul.

For His shepherds and His sheep alike find life and health and strength in Him, who is your Savior and your God.  He is the Door, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and He has opened Himself both to you and for you, that you may flee from sin and death and find the Food and Drink you need, and the Life and Salvation for which you are created, in and with Him.

Even in the depths of that dark valley, under the shadow of the Cross, He leads you into this Life and Salvation by His own victory over death and the grave, by the Resurrection of His Body.

It is this Body of Christ that is given to you here at His Table.  In the face of all your enemies, He feeds you with Himself, that you may have Life, and have it abundantly.  It is for this Feast that He is here!  And, oh, what transports of delight from His pure Chalice flow, for you and for the many!  For He calls you by His own Name, and you are His, and He is yours, forever and ever.

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

07 May 2014

Now You See Him Where You Don't

The path that you are set upon may be a lonely one.  All the more so if it is a way that you have chosen for yourself.  But you are not alone.  The Lord has not lost sight of you, even if you are not able to see Him.  For one thing, you have companions on the journey to share the story of Jesus with you.  And by and with this very Word, Christ Jesus Himself draws near and goes with you.

He is the One who, by His Word and Spirit, opens the Scriptures to you; who opens your mind to comprehend and your heart to believe His Gospel; who opens Himself to you in His Supper, and opens you to Himself, to recognize and receive Him to yourself, in the Breaking of the Bread.

He brings you into His Glory by the way and means of His Cross and Passion; by the catechesis, not only of the facts, but of the Cross itself, which crucifies and buries you with Christ, in order to raise you up with Him in His own Resurrection from the dead.

This catechesis of the Cross continues all the way, even for those who already “know it all,” who already confess the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth.  It is an ongoing journey with this same Jesus who was crucified; which daily puts you to death, not for destruction, but for repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, and for newness of life in Him, who is not dead but living.

So does it lead you and bring you to the Place that Christ has prepared and made ready for you.

Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it?  But be forewarned, and bear in mind, that, on this Way of Life, your eyes are prevented from recognizing Him.  Because, even in the Resurrection, His Glory is that of the Crucified One.  He is the One whom God has raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ.  In fact, He has entered into this divine Glory through His suffering of all these things.

But you do not perceive or recognize Him in your difficult and needy neighbor, for example; nor do you see Him in your own suffering, hurt, and pain; because you are not able to see the Glory of His Cross, even as it is now revealed in the preaching of His Resurrection.  Instead, you suffer disappointment and sadness, the crushing of your hopes and expectations.  In this way, the Cross of Christ brings to light your foolish ignorance, and it exposes your stubborn slowness of heart.

So it is that your perceptions, interpretations, and conclusions are all challenged, contradicted, crucified and put to death.

After all, He acts like He is going farther.  He plays a bit of cat-and-mouse, or so it seems at least.  His presence and His providence are elusive, especially as the Cross is constantly calling a halt to your progress and your plans.  Just when it seems that the answer is finally within reach, your goals in sight, the prize at hand, it all slips away from you.

He’s actually not teasing you, not really.  He’s teaching you to live by faith, and teaching you to pray, to call upon His Name.  He’s also training you to exercise love for your neighbor, rather than focusing on your own hurts and needs and sorrows; that you would love and serve Christ Jesus, precisely under the Cross, with Glory not earthly but divine, by loving and serving and caring for the widows and orphans and strangers set upon your path, and for the Lazarus laid at your gate; that you would do so in the confidence of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

In the meantime, though, He vanishes from your sight.  For it is not yet with your eyes that you are given to see and know Him.  It is rather in the darkness that you “see” Him by faith, by the Light of His Word, hidden in the Breaking of the Bread: in the distribution of His Body and His Blood.

Now you see Him where you don’t: In the Gospel of His Cross, in the Fruits of His Passion; at the Font and at the Altar, at His Table in His House; in the Holy Communion of His Church on earth.  Not by the simple knowledge of the facts, but by faith and trust in the Word and promise of this Lord Jesus Christ.  Not simply news and information, but the Body of Jesus, crucified and risen, given and poured out, for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  For Life.

He is with you in these ways and means of His Gospel, not simply as a companion on your journey, but as your Redeemer, who brings you with Himself into the Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting.  He brings you to the portal that leads to bliss untold; that is, the portal of His Cross.

He does it by the apostolic Ministry of the Gospel; which is and remains, to this day, the teaching and fellowship of the Holy Apostles of Christ Jesus Himself.  And this holy apostolic Ministry is established, defined, and characterized by His own Cross and Passion.

All the more so, then — if you are called to preach His Word and to administer His gifts — all the more so do you need to hear and receive His Gospel, by which He reveals and gives Himself to you and to His Church, and by which He conforms you to His own Image as the Crucified One.  You’ll not manage this on your on.  Nor will His Church be fed by you, if you are not being fed by Him.

Take heart, therefore.  At this very Hour, in the Breaking of the Bread, you have communion with Him who loves you, and so also with each other in Him.  Here and now, you belong to His Body, the Church, as He gives to you His own Body to eat.  Herein resides your fellowship in Christ, whereby you live both to and from His Altar, into all times and places, wherever you may roam.

Thus do you rise with Him and enter into the Glory of His true Jerusalem, already in His Church on earth, even as it is in heaven.  Not in spite of the Cross, but in, with, and under the Cross, by the Word of the Cross, in the Fruits of the Cross.

His crucified and risen Body and His Blood are the Firstfruits of the Resurrection, and of the New Creation, your spiritual Food for the journey, and the Meat and Drink indeed of the Feast which has no end.  The promise is for you and for your children, and for all whom the Lord Jesus will call to Himself, even from the farthest ends of the earth, to the close to the age.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord!  Blessed be the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

04 May 2014

The Catechesis of the Cross of Christ

They are grown men, disciples of Jesus and associates of the Apostles; evidently catechized, for they know the facts of His Life, His Cross and Passion, and even the report of His Resurrection from the dead.  They give a fair and accurate summary of the Gospel to this point, a decent early Creed, as it were.  But they have given up hope.  They have failed to believe the Holy Scriptures and the Word concerning Jesus of Nazareth.  They do not comprehend what they already know.  Instead, they are simply foolish and sad.

So it is for you, as well.  Left to your own intelligence and ingenuity, with all the information you posses, you still don’t know where Jesus is; nor can you find Him or figure Him out on your own.  You’ve read the Book and seen the Movie, but you seem to have lost the plot, and you’re not at all sure of the ending, whether the story is actually over, or if the sequel is just getting started.

Everyone deals with it differently.  We heard that last week, too, didn’t we, with Thomas?  Some hide themselves away, and others go wandering.  You’ve got your own personality; which isn’t the answer, either, no more than academic achievement, artistic ability, or athletic accomplishment.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.  You won’t “get” Jesus on your own.

Maybe you’re restless and frantic, always searching for some answers to your endless questions.  Or, maybe you’re at a standstill, stuck with what you’ve got and where you’re at, and paralyzed by a sadness that you just can’t shake.  Either way — whether you presume to know where you’re going, or you know yourself to be lost and confused — your sinful heart and stubborn head are thick and slow, foolish and hard; and your eyes are unable to perceive or recognize the Truth.

Even the Holy Scriptures would be and remain a closed book to you, an indecipherable mystery, if not for the preaching of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  And, as it is, until He opens up those sacred Scriptures to you — Him you cannot see; and His Body you can’t find.

But now, thanks be to God, your dear Lord Jesus does not leave you alone or on your own.

He provides companions for your journey, to begin with; who may be just as lost and foolish, as confused and sad as you are, but who engage you in the conversation of Christ Jesus.  And do not underestimate the power of sharing those stories of Jesus — of arguing, debating, rehearsing, and reveling in those things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, even when they seem so hard and strange.  Already in the discussing of those things — His mighty Word and deeds, His Cross and Passion, and His Resurrection from the dead — before you are able to comprehend or believe any of it — He has drawn near and joined Himself to you, to share the journey with you, with those words.

And though you may suppose yourself to know better, and to be headed home by some familiar well-worn path, it is the same Lord Jesus Christ who takes you and your companions and your conversation into hand, to lead you and to guide you to the Place that He has prepared for you.

Then again, you might wonder, in light of this Holy Gospel, is it catechesis or “cat-and-mouse” that Jesus engages with you?  After all, He seems a bit sneaky and kind of tricky in some of His words and actions on the road to Emmaus.  So much so, now as then, that you don’t even realize what’s going on, until, in retrospect, you recognize what He is doing.

The fact of the matter is, that He opens the Scriptures to you by the Way of the Cross.

It’s not that He’s being deliberately “mysterious,” or trying to be difficult, as though to make fun of you, to tease you or trick you.  But the Mystery of His Cross as the Way of divine Glory cannot be learned or understood, except by crucifying you and raising you up with Christ Jesus Himself.

Not by intelligence or information, but solely by His Cross and Resurrection, by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins, do you enter the Kingdom of God with Him.

Thus, you also enter into His Glory through suffering.

You suffer disappointment, hurt, and loss, the shattering of your hopes and aspirations, the death of your false gods.  You are confronted with your own foolishness and failings; with the tragedy of your faithless unbelief, and the deadly consequences of your sin; with the frail mortality of your fallen flesh; and with the fact that you cannot rescue or redeem yourself from death and the grave.

Then, when you have been cut to the quick, and your hard heart and thick head have been pierced by the condemnation of your sin and the conviction of death — when your self-chosen journey has been halted, and you’ve been stopped in your sad tracks — the Lord Jesus raises you up and leads you forward in His Resurrection from the dead, on His journey back to God the Father in heaven.

He brings you to the portal that leads to bliss untold.  But the Way into such grace and glory of God in Christ is still not by sight, but by faith in His Word of the Cross.

That is why He often seems to be going farther, to be moving on without you, to be leaving you behind; when He acts like He’s outta here, so it feels like you’re back to being on your own again.

This, too, is the Cross, which puts your pride and your self to death, and teaches you to pray, to call upon the Name of the Lord, to cling to Him by faith, and to open up your heart and home to Him.

Even such invitations are not your own work, but His work in you.

Often, you don’t even know what you’re really asking, when you ask Him in to stay with you, because you’re simply feeling your way forward, by faith in His Word, living under the Cross, and loving your neighbor on the Way, as the Lord your God has taught you by His love for you.

It is another Mystery of the Cross, and of faith in the Cross, that your fumbling efforts, your choices and decisions in the waning light of day, in the darkness on the edge of town, and even your feeble cries for help from out of the depths, are all taken up into the mercies of Christ and turned into the working out of His own gracious purposes for you and for your neighbors.

Thus, when you suppose that you have invited Him to be your guest, that you will serve and care for Him — as you should so do for one another, to live as brothers and sisters in the unity of Christ and the harmony of His Love — suddenly you find that He is your Host; that you are His guest, living in His House and reclining at His Table; and that He is here serving you, by His grace, with the rich fruits of His own Cross and Passion.

Here, then, is where you see Him: in His Breaking of the Bread.  Here is where His Body is found, no longer dead and buried, but crucified and risen, living and life-giving.  The mysterious Stranger vanishes from sight, but He is not gone.  He is recognized and known, received with thanksgiving, and loved, as He loves you, in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

Here, therefore, is where your sadness vanishes, and the joy of the Cross is realized.

For this Jesus who was crucified, He is the Redeemer of Israel, whom God the Father has raised from the dead and made both Lord and Christ.

He has redeemed you, also, from sin and death, and from the futile path and patterns of life that you inherited from your mortal parents; not with perishable coins or commodities, but with His own holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross.

It is the Body and Blood of this Lamb of God which are given and poured out for you here at His Table in His House: For you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for eternal life and everlasting salvation with Him, as a member of His Body.

By these means, you enter into His Glory by the Way of His Cross.

But do take note, disciples of Emmaus, that recognizing and receiving the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, here at His Altar, does not result in holing up inside, circling the wagons around you, and hiding yourself away from the world within this house and home.

No, although the day is far spent and evening is at hand, it is yet this very Hour that you are raised up and returned to the doctrine and fellowship of the Holy Apostles, to the Holy Communion of all saints, to the true Jerusalem of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Which is to say, that, while it is still day, even at this late hour, until that night comes when no one can work, you seek out your fellow Christians and serve them, as you can, with your words and deeds of peace and joy, of faith, hope, and love — as they also serve you, as companions on the Way, with their mutual confession and the ongoing conversation of Christ Jesus.

As you have communion with one another in the one Body of Christ, in the New Testament of His Blood, so also share that fellowship in your life together.  For the Lord your God has called you to Himself, even from far away, you and your children, to find a new life, a new home and family, with one God and Father in Christ Jesus.

You are baptized into Him, anointed and filled by His Holy Spirit.  So are you one Body in Him, and you are the Body of Christ for one another.  As you see Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, so do you see and receive Him in each other, by His grace, in mercy and in peace.

Lift up your head and rejoice, dear friends of God, beloved of the Lord!  For He is here with you, and you are with Him on the Way; not only to and from Emmaus, but unto the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting in the midst of His Jerusalem: on earth even now, as it is in heaven.

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