31 May 2015

The Faith and Worship of the Holy Trinity

The Holiness of God is that He alone not only lives but is Life in Himself, from all eternity to all eternity, in the permanent relationship of three divine Persons in the perfect unity of mutual Love.

And the Glory of this Holy Triune God is that He, solely for the sake of His own divine love — that is, the Father for the sake of His Son, the Son for the sake of His Father, in the Holy Spirit — the Lord almighty and all-merciful moves outside of Himself to create and give life to others whom He deals with entirely by His grace.  He grants them the freedom to live and to love in holiness; and when they fall, He saves them from their sin and death by His own voluntary Self-sacrifice.

This divine Glory of the one true God is manifested and exercised by His Word and by His actions in and with and for His creation.  Specifically, the Glory of God is manifested and exercised by the Word of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh: by His Incarnation and Atonement, His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension, His Ministry of the Gospel, and the entire Life of His Church.

The Father gives His only-begotten Son into the flesh and even unto death upon the Cross for the life and salvation of the world.  He reveals Himself and speaks to you by His Son, and He pours out His Spirit upon you by the same Son, Jesus Christ, in order to save you from sin, death, and every evil, and to give you His own divine life in your body and your soul.

This Divine Liturgy of the Holy Triune God — that is, the Father’s giving of His Son, and His giving of the Spirit by His Son — this Divine Liturgy forms and fills the Church of Christ on earth as it is in heaven.  It has done so once and for all in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  And it has given Life to you in the washing and new birth of Holy Baptism, which is foundational to the Church and the particular way and means by which you enter the Kingdom of God within His Holy Christian Church.

The Divine Liturgy culminates in the Holy Communion.  There the one true God gives Himself to you in Christ, the incarnate Son, by His Word and actions, by the gift of His flesh and blood, and by the gift of His Spirit for your body and soul.  There the Father loves you and cares for you as His own dear child and heir.  He forgives your sins and gives you His Life in place of your death, His Light in the midst of your darkness, and His Love in place of your selfishness and lust.

It is in this way that the Lord your God reigns over you in love as your King; not from the throne of a dictator in a royal palace, but from the Cross of His own Sacrifice in the midst of His Temple.  For here in the Temple of His Church He serves you with the Priesthood of His Atonement and by the Ministry of His Gospel.  In this way, the glorious train of His royal robe fills the Temple.

And in the royal priesthood of all who believe and are baptized into Him, in the faith and life of His Christian disciples from all nations, in all times and places, His Glory fills the earth.

It is for the worship, praise, and glory of the Father in His Son and by His Spirit that you and all have been created.  Not that He depends on you or needs anything from you, but that you live by His grace, receive life and all good things from Him, abide in Him by faith, and give Him thanks and praise.  To worship the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity, is to live within His Divine Liturgy.

Such worship actually is the Christian faith and life.  It is your Christian priesthood.  It is to receive and share the Life and Love of God, and to live in the Light of His Glory, in and with Christ Jesus and by His Holy Spirit.  It is to speak as He speaks, by His Word, and to live with Him as He lives.

It is to prostrate your heart before Him in repentant faith, with fear, love, and trust in Him above all else; then also to prostrate your body and your life before Him, and for your neighbor in love.

This Christian faith and life — this true “catholic religion,” as we confess in the Athanasian Creed — is manifested, exercised, and lived in the worship that you render unto God by your words and by your actions, by the confession of your mouth and the living sacrifice of your body.

It is in what you say with your lips and what you do with your body that you worship the Lord your God by faith, and that you live in love toward Him and toward your neighbor.  For with your heart you believe unto righteousness, and with your mouth you confess and call upon His Name unto salvation.  And because your body shall also be raised in glory unto the life everlasting, so does your body likewise participate in your faith and worship of the one true God, the Holy Trinity.

But how can this be?  How is it even possible?

In your own flesh, you have inherited the guilt and mortality of your parents, and to that deadly inheritance you have added sin upon sin from your conception onward, even to the present day.

Truth be told, there is nothing in your fallen flesh but sin and death and the vile stink of a rotting corpse, though you hide in a whitewashed tomb.  You are a man or woman or child of unclean lips.  You have not spoken as you should.  Nor have you lived in and with your body as you should.

How then shall you worship the Holy Triune God with your mouth and with your body?

How shall you take the holy body and precious blood of Christ, the Son of God, upon your unclean lips?  How shall you eat and drink the Lord Himself, the Holy One, with mouth and lips and tongue that have lied and cursed and gossiped, borne false witness, and profaned the Name of God?

How shall you ascend with your heart and mouth and body, and with your thoughts, words, and actions, unto the Lord your God in heaven?  And how shall you enter into His Kingdom?

How shall you come out of the night into the day, out of the darkness into light, and out of death into the Life of God?  How shall you ever be able to see Him and know Him and live with Him?

Beloved of God, repent of your sins, and listen now to what the Father speaks to you by His Son.  For His Word is near you, in your ears and in your mouth, in your heart and in your life; that is, the Word of faith and forgiveness, which is preached to you in the Name of Christ your Savior.

To be sure, you could not ascend to Him, nor could you have entered into heaven on your own, but He Himself, the Son of God, has come down from heaven to you.  He has descended from the bosom of the Father to embrace you to Himself in peace, and to abide with you in steadfast love.

He has become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, and He has taken upon Himself, into His Body, all the curse and consequences of sin and death and hell, in order to atone for the sins of the whole world and to reconcile all flesh to God.  Thus, in His own flesh, with His own blood, He has cleansed your flesh from sin and set your flesh free from death.

As He has been lifted up in death upon the Cross, so does He raise you up from death and the grave unto life with God in both body and soul, now and forever, through His Gospel of forgiveness.

For He is not simply a teacher sent from God.  Nor is He merely a means to some other end.  But already in Him, in His Person, in His Body conceived and born of Mary, crucified and risen, the one true God has drawn near to you and dwells with you.  Not just once-upon-a-time, back then, but right here and now in the earthly things of His Church and Ministry.  In His means of grace He reveals and bestows the heavenly things of God, preached and given and poured out for you.

As He has descended from the Father, and as He comes to you in divine and holy love, so does He pour out the Holy Spirit upon you in peace; and so do you ascend in and with Him to the Father.

It is in and with Christ that your faith and life, your heart and mind, your body and soul, your words and actions are gladly received in the presence of God.  The Father delights in your worship because He delights in you for the sake of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten and well-beloved Son.

Behold here the burning coal with which He touches your lips from His Altar of sacrifice, that is, the Body of Christ which burns brightly with the Holy Spirit. This He places on your lips and on your tongue, not to condemn you or destroy you, but to cleanse you of iniquity, guilt, and shame.

And as this touches your lips, His Word also opens your mouth to show forth His praise, to glorify His holy Name, and to sing with all the host of heaven, the angels and archangels and all saints:

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, Yahweh Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of His Glory!

Come, then, let us worship Him in peace, because He has shown His mercy to us in Christ.

All glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

24 May 2015

Made Alive by the Spirit in the Body of Christ

As a son or daughter of Adam & Eve, you spend your whole life trying to exonerate and justify yourself, to defend and excuse your behavior: to yourself, to your neighbors, and in comparison with your neighbors, and even before God when you’re not trying to run away and hide from Him.

But for all of that effort, there yet remains the unavoidable fact of death, which shuts down all of your attempts to make a life for yourself.  You can’t argue with death.  Not really.  Not your own, nor anyone else’s.  No matter how hard you work to ward it off or delay the inevitable.  No matter how zealous you are in caring for yourself and trying to protect your children from harm.

Sometimes, death and the grave are all that you can see, and there is no help to be found.

As a Christian, a child of God, you persist and persevere in hope, in the promise and assurance of things not yet seen.  But as a child of Adam in this fallen world, you flirt with despair and court disaster.  You succumb to the dread of death and plunge yourself into faithless unbelief, whether through apathy or apostasy, bitterness or cynicism, or the stubborn denial of God’s Word and promises.  Since you cannot see what He has spoken, you feel as though it were not true, and so you tell yourself to give up on God, to go it alone or give up altogether.  In this way, your hope has perished ahead of you, and you don’t even bother to pray or ask for help.

Sorrow seeps into your heart and fills it up, driving out faith and the Spirit.  Not right away, but inch by inch, the more you dwell upon your own thoughts and feelings, which seem so immediate, so real and so true, instead of on the Word of Christ, which sounds so fanciful, and He so far away.

Without the Word and Spirit of the Lord, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  You feel it in your bones, and the Law of God declares it to be so.  You are dust.  And that is where that old serpent the devil would drive you or entice you, to make you eat the dust that he is forced to eat.

Bear that in mind: The devil does eat dirt.  The would-be ruler of this fallen world has been judged, and he is cast out.  And the Spirit has come — who is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life — because the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son, has returned to the Father who sent Him.

Jesus is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Church, and therefore upon you within His Church, because He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has been anointed by the Spirit in His own human body of flesh and blood.  He received His body from the flesh and blood of St. Mary, a daughter of Adam, and so His body also is one of dust; yet, that very body of Christ has also been filled with the Spirit and anointed by the Holy Spirit for the rescue and salvation of all flesh.

To be sure, it’s not as though the Son of God were ever without the Holy Spirit.  But now also in His flesh as true Man He has received the Spirit, who descended upon Him and remains upon Him, so that in this same Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God abides with Man forever.  You know that to be true from the witness of His Baptism in the Jordan River.  So do St. John the Baptist and all four of the Holy Evangelists testify that, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove.

What began there in the waters of His Baptism culminated in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.  For both the dying and the rising belong to this Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which He underwent on behalf of all sinners, and which He has accomplished in Himself.

Thus was He driven by the Spirit from His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil: as Adam & Eve were tempted in the Garden, as Israel was tempted in its own wilderness, and in every way as you are tempted.  So, then, He is your true Comrade and your Champion.

Having come down from heaven from the Father, and taking human flesh and blood like yours to be His own, He embarks upon His journey back to the Father with you and all of us in hand.  He gathers all people up into Himself, into His Body, in order to return us to faith and life with God, and not only that, but to make us the children of His own God and Father in heaven.

He has taken, not only your temptation, but all of your sin and the sins of the whole world upon Himself.  He has come, not only as true Man with His own body of flesh and blood, but in the likeness of fallen flesh.  That is to say, He has borne and suffered the full curse and consequence of Adam’s sin, the full weight and burden of your mortality, as though every sin were actually His own, committed by Him, and as though death and the grave were His own rightful wages.

So it is that Christ is convicted concerning the sins of the world.  He is condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, but it is God the Father who hands Him over to the Cross, and it is the Spirit who fulfills the judgment of the Law in His punishment, in His bloody passion, in His death upon the Cross.  Thus, when all is finished, He hands over the Spirit He received at His Baptism.  For by the death of Christ, the requirements and condemnation of the Law have been fully satisfied, so that Adam & Eve and all their children may now receive the Spirit, not for death, but for life.

Do not doubt that it is so.  For the truth of it is manifest and openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  Here is what His death has accomplished for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve: It has destroyed death and silenced Satan’s accusations.  The Lord Jesus did not fight to defend Himself, nor did He answer His accusers, but in faith and love He quietly and willingly submitted Himself to suffering and the sacrifice of His Cross.  And see, His Father has exonerated Him and fully vindicated Him by raising Him up from the dust of the earth.

He is not guilty.  He is blameless.  He is set free from sin and death forever.  And so are you.

The whole world is “convicted concerning righteousness” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Death and the devil no longer have any rightful claim against you, nor against anyone else, not in Christ, the Champion and Savior of all men.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Him.

God’s judgment has been given by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  In Him, sin is forgiven; it is no longer counted or considered, nor is it held against anyone, because it is atoned for by His Blood.  And the whole world is justified and reconciled to God in His rising from the dead, in His returning to the Father in our human flesh: crucified and risen, glorified, and now immortal.

Now the Holy Spirit preaches these mighty deeds of God to all the nations of the world, in all the languages of earth, in order to make disciples of Christ Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people, and to gather men and women, boys and girls, the young and old alike, from the four winds into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  For the dried up old bones that are resurrected, re-enfleshed, resuscitated, and restored to new life, are not isolated individuals but the whole house of Israel, that is, the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is precisely in His Body that all are made alive.  And as a member of His Body, you are made alive in Him.

It is by the proclamation of His Word — by the preaching of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen — it is by this proclamation that the Spirit calls you daily to repentance, that is, from unbelief to faith in Christ.  For there is no conviction of any sin except for that of unbelief, which sets you outside of and apart from Christ Jesus and His salvation.  Your unbelief is your rejection of His righteousness in favor of your own, despite the fact that apart from Him you shall not stand.

But the Spirit calls you to repentance, convicting you of sin and of righteousness by the judgment of the Law and of the Gospel.  He speaks the truth in love.  He exposes your sin for the unbelief it is, and He thereby removes every pretense of self-righteousness within you.  That is the truth of the Law, which condemns you.  But the Spirit also speaks the truth of the Gospel, which is Christ, and by this Word He justifies you through faith and raises you from death to newness of life.

This is the Spirit’s testimony and His defense on your behalf against all of your adversaries and accusers: that you are a sinner, yes, but that Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and that you are freely and fully forgiven and justified by Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection.  On the one hand, the punishment of all your sin has already been carried out — in the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross — and on the other hand, the innocence and righteousness of Christ are counted as yours.

That is the truth of the Gospel.  It is not an empty or powerless word, but the very Word of God, which is not only true but Truth Itself, and it establishes the truth concerning you, both now and forever.  It is a living and active Word, by which the Holy Spirit comforts you in sorrow, and grants you peace in place of fear, rest from your weariness, and perfect health and strength and life.

The Spirit brings you through the waters of Baptism with Christ into the wilderness, where you now also bear the Cross as a Christian, as you live by faith in the Word and promise of your Father.  Here you find yourself in a desert of dry bones, and you yourself are crucified, dead, and buried.  That is what daily repentance entails.  And, yes, you are still mortal; for now you get sick, you suffer, and you die.  That should come as no surprise, nor is it a denial of the Resurrection and the Life that are yours in Christ; for you know that He has also experienced and suffered all of this.

So surely are you also raised up in and with Christ, and you are brought into the Land that God has promised you.  Already He has brought you into His Church, which is the Body of Christ, and here you live, just as He lives.  Not only that, but even now under the Cross you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus, which shall be openly revealed in the resurrection of your body at the last.  As Jesus returns to His Father by way of His Cross in His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you brought to the Father as His dear child: as His very own, dearly-beloved, and well-pleasing child.

That shall be so in the final Judgment Day, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the last.  And so is it most certainly true here and now, even in the midst of the wilderness, as you hear and receive the Word of Christ; as your sins are all forgiven; as you are cleansed and refreshed by the waters that flow from the side of Christ; and as you are fed with His Body and His Blood in His Supper.

In giving you Christ Jesus in these means of grace by this Ministry of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you everything that Jesus, the Son of God, receives and has from the Father.  He does so by the proclamation of the Word of Christ.  He guides you into all Truth by speaking what He hears, which is the Truth of the Gospel, namely, your justification and forgiveness.

This new language of the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, and that is neither gibberish nor fantasy but the accomplished fact of His Body put to death and raised again to life eternal.  In His Body you also are redeemed, raised up, reconciled to God, and righteous in His sight.  That is what He says to you, and that is what His Word does for you and gives to you.

Though it seems such a small and simple thing, and it may seem as though it were powerless to change anything, this Word fills your heart and mind, your body and soul, and even your mouth with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who drives out sorrow and replaces it with joy and peace.  For with the Word of Christ, the Spirit refutes the rhetoric of the devil; He defends and protects you against the devil’s accusations; and He comforts you, in order to deliver you from hopeless despair.

With this Word of the Gospel, the Spirit opens your lips to show forth the praise of the Lord, to speak the mighty deeds of God in Christ.  So it is that you, your sons and daughters, your nursing infants and young children, speak and sing this powerful Word to the glory of God and to the comfort of one another.  For this Word of the Gospel of Christ is the Truth, also in your ears and on your lips, by which He breathes His Life-giving Spirit into you and your children, and to your children’s children, that you and they may live forever in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

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

23 May 2015

Receive and Know the Holy Spirit in Christ

Although you are a creature of God, which is to say that you exist and have life by His Word and Spirit, you could not receive or know the Holy Spirit in your sinful unbelief — nor would you even have realized there is such a Person of God as the Holy Spirit — because you cannot see Him or perceive Him with your mortal flesh, nor could you discern His presence or find Him for yourself.

And without the Holy Spirit, you could not love; nor would you be capable of knowing love or even what love is.  For without the Holy Spirit you do not know the Lord your God, who is Love, neither the Father nor His Son, who live and abide in Love in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever you may have called “love,” whatever your feelings and emotions might have told you, even the ecstasy, rapture, and bliss of romance, without the Holy Spirit it was not and could not be the Love of God for which you have been created.  Apart from the Spirit of the Father and the Son, what the world and your flesh call “love” is rather selfishness and lust, which does no good and does not give or sacrifice, but which consumes and destroys both you and your neighbor.

But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has known you and loved you in His Son, and He has poured out His Spirit generously upon you in Christ by the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism.

He has given you a new heart, and a new and right spirit within you, so that you begin to live and to love as you are loved by Him.  He has removed your heart of stone with its idolatry and greed, and He has given you a heart of flesh and blood like that of the incarnate God, Christ Jesus.

You abide in Him, that is, in the Lord Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood; and He abides in you — in your body and your soul — with the Spirit of His Father.  He comes to you, and He reveals and gives Himself to you, because He loves you with the steadfast loving-kindness of the Lord.

You love both God and your neighbor, because this one Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and your Neighbor, has first loved you; and because He continues to love you and serve you forever.

This same Jesus, who was crucified for your sins, who has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, who lives and reigns eternally, He has not orphaned you.  He has not left you alone to make it on your own.  He is with you in the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He has also given you another Helper, that is, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father in His Son.

Whatever those twelve men of Ephesus had heard and received in the name of “John’s baptism,” it was lacking and misguided.  It is certainly not the Baptism of St. John the son of Zacharias.  For St. John the Forerunner preached and practiced a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, by which Christ Jesus Himself was baptized into His death, and entered upon His Passion, and received the Holy Spirit and the blessing of His Father.

To be baptized in the Name of this Lord Jesus, therefore, is to be anointed with His Spirit and adopted as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His Father.  For you are not baptized in the name of John, nor of Paul, nor of Cephas, nor of Apollos, but in the Holy Name of the one true God, the Holy Trinity.  And all that belongs to the Son has thus been given to you and become yours in Him.

You are not an orphan.  You are God’s own child.

Neither are you widowed, divorced, or single, regardless of your station in life and your present circumstances; because the One who has given Himself for you, who has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit, He is your heavenly Bridegroom, your true and faithful Husband, who shall never leave you nor forsake you.

It is by His holy and perfect Love for you that you receive love and know love, and that you receive and know the Holy Spirit.

His hands are laid upon you, and His Spirit comes upon you, by the hands of His Apostles, His sent ones, His ministers of the Gospel.  Through their works of love in His Name, He stretches forth His mighty arm and reaches out His hand, not to hurt you, not to abuse you or molest you, but to help you and to heal you, to absolve you of all your sins, to cleanse you of all your guilt and shame and sorrow, and to feed you in body and soul with peace and joy and grace and every blessing.

This is how God’s Kingdom comes to you, even here and now, as surely as it did by the preaching of Christ and His Apostles from Jerusalem throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, to Ephesus, Rome, and the ends of the earth.

By this preaching of the Gospel, by this Ministry of the Word of Christ, by the waters of Holy Baptism, by Holy Absolution in His Name, and by His Body given, His Blood poured out for you, His Father in heaven gives to you His Holy Spirit here within His Church on earth; so that, by His grace, you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you love and trust in Him, and you do keep His commandments: You love as He loves you.

For the Spirit of God is with you by and with the Gospel, and this Gospel is the Truth.  It is the Truth that God the Father loves you, that He forgives you for Jesus’ sake, and that He gives you Life in Himself by His Son.  By this Truth of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart to defend and protect you, to strengthen and sustain you.  The Spirit loves you with the Love of God in Christ, and by the forgiveness of your sins He obtains the faith and love of Christ in you.

Beloved of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is with you, He lives and abides in you, not in some vague, abstract, or generic way, but in all the particulars of your own body and life and place in the world.  He is with you and in you in all of your callings and duties and relationships; in both your joys and your sorrows; in hardship and prosperity; in sickness and in health; in death as in life, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting that are yours, now and forever, in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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

17 May 2015

Sanctified in Christ Jesus

To be sanctified is to be given completely over to God; which is really to return to the One from whom your whole being and life derive.  To be holy is to belong entirely to Him, to be a child of the Holy Father, who is holy in Himself with the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Not just a part of you.  Not a portion of your life.  Not a piece of your time, nor a percentage of your stuff.  And not that you make a place for God in your life, but if you would have a life at all, you must find your place in Him.  To be sanctified is to be given to Him altogether, body, soul, and spirit, heart and mind.  So that everything you are, all that you have, and all that you think and say and do, is offered as a sacrifice of praise to the glory of His Name and belongs completely to Him.

Even in general, that is a daunting and scary prospect.  For you do not trust God to take care of you.  You do not believe that He will provide all that you need, and you are even less confident that He will give you everything you want.  You prefer to hedge your bets and cover all the bases, to diversify your assets, and to invest significantly in yourself.

But if sanctifiction is scary in general, it is far more challenging and difficult when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of your day-to-day life.  For to be sanctified — to be given entirely over to God — means that you will trust Him, love Him and serve Him, precisely in that particular place where He has put you, and right there you will gladly carry out and fulfill your vocations and stations in life according to His Word.  That means receiving and loving the family and neighbors that He has actually given you, with all their flaws and weaknesses, their neediness, quirks, and idiosyncracies, and being content and satisfied with whatever else the Lord your God has given you, instead of bitterly resenting what you have and jealously desiring what you don’t.

To be holy is to be perfectly at peace with God and faithful in loving your neighbor, regardless of the ups and downs of your life in the world, in the knowledge that you and your life are not your own, but God’s, and that He will faithfully accomplish His purposes for you and through you.

It is not for you to sanctify yourself by your behavior, by your good attitude or effort.  For holiness is not achieved or accomplished by your works, nor does holiness consist of your good works.

No, you are sanctified by God, the Holy One, and your holiness is your fellowship with Him, that is, with the Father in Christ Jesus.  It is in Christ that you are brought to God the Father and given to Him.  It is in Christ that you belong to Him and abide with Him.  That is your sanctification, which is your rescue and salvation from sin and death.  And that is your holiness, which is your eternal life and everlasting joy.  It is not something you get for yourself.  It is given to you by God.

Then again, those who are sanctified by the grace of God in Christ, who are the holy children of the Holy Father, they do lead holy lives and do good works according to His Word.  And so are you called to lead a holy life within your own place in the world, and in all of your relationships; which is to extend your fellowship with God in godly friendship with your neighbors.

Your fellowship with the one true God begins and continues within the fellowship of His Church, in communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ, your fellow Christians.  Disciples of the Lord Jesus, who are baptized and catechized in His Name, are gathered together in His Name in the fellowship of His Word and prayer.  They are gathered by and for the preaching of His Word, to hear and receive the Ministry of His Gospel, and to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, that is, to receive His gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and to call upon the Name of the Lord.

That Christian fellowship of the Church in the Apostolic preaching of Christ, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in prayer, extends from the Altar, and from the Divine Service, in a fellowship of care and concern, compassion and charity for your neighbor.  What begins with the Body of Christ, within the household and family of God, moves into the community in which the Church and each of her members live.  For in the holiness of faith, in the fellowship of God, you are perfectly free, alive, and able to exercise the holiness of love, to be for your neighbor as Christ Jesus is for you.

The foundation for all of this, the structure that upholds it, and the content that fills it with faith and love, with joy and peace, with righteousness and holiness, is Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, His Cross and Resurrection, His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for your salvation.

Although He is holy in Himself from all eternity, in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever, Christ Jesus has also now been sanctified in human flesh and blood just like yours, so that mankind is sanctified in Him.  That is what He has accomplished for you and for all people, first of all by His Incarnation (by His becoming flesh), and by His truly human life, and then by His Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension.

He comes into the world in order to bring God to man in Himself.  And He comes to the Father in the flesh, in order to bring man to God — in His Body — in righteousness and holiness forever.

What was the Son of God’s from all eternity by nature, He has thus received from His Father in human flesh on your behalf: From His conception and holy Nativity by the Blessed Virgin Mary, from His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River, from His Cross and Passion under Pontius Pilate, unto His Resurrection and Ascension, when He was taken up in glory.

In all of this, as the true and perfect Man, He lives by faith in His God and Father, and He receives the promised Spirit from the Father in His own Body — as at His Baptism in the Jordan River, so also in His Resurrection from the dead.  So has He been sanctified in human flesh and blood, and so are you sanctified in Him by the preaching of His Word in the world.

The holiness of His fellowship with the Father in the Holy Spirit is manifested in the holiness of His love for you and all the world in His sacrifice upon the Cross.  In offering up Himself, His Body, and His Life unto God, He has laid down His life for you, to atone for all your sins, and to redeem you from sin and death.  Therefore, in His rising, you are raised and justified; and in His Ascension, you are sanctified by His Spirit and seated with Him at the right hand of His Father.

That is where you now live with Him, because He Himself lives with you here in peace and joy.  You live with Him in holiness, because in Him you have fellowship with God, now and forever.

For He has given you His Name — He has named you with His own divine Name — in your Holy Baptism.  Therefore, you belong entirely to God, who is your own dear Father in Christ Jesus.

As the same Lord Jesus Christ kept the Apostles in His Name, and guarded them while He was with them on the Way of the Cross, so does He guard and keep you in His Name, in His Word and Truth.  Not less so, but all the more so, as He has gone by way of the Cross to the Father on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest.  With His Word and Spirit, by His Ministry of the Gospel, He is with you forever and always, as surely as He is with the Father in heaven; so that your life, also, is hidden with Christ in God, and you are seated with Him in the heavenly places.

On the one hand, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you — as He does in this Holy Gospel — not only with His Word of Truth, with the Testimony of His Righteousness credited to you, but with His own Life, His Body, and His Blood.  As He rises and ascends in human flesh, He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of your Father.  So are you heard and received in peace.  And He is the Incense that ascends as a sweet-smelling aroma, with which you are favored and accepted by God.

At the same time, even as Christ ascends to the Father on your behalf, He also remains with you, and He is near you, closer than a brother, in the speaking of His Word, in the Holy Ministry of those whom He sends into the world in His Name.  This Ministry of the Gospel is holy because it participates in the fellowship of God, and because it sanctifies you with that fellowship.  It is holy, therefore, because Christ is not absent from it, but He Himself is actively present in it.  He is deeply and intimately present.  As surely as He has given you His Name in Holy Baptism, so surely does He sanctify you in the Truth with His Holy Absolution.  And with His Word, He guards and keeps you with His Word-made-Flesh in the Holy Communion.

He does not take you out of the world.  Not yet.  For as the Father has sent Him into the world, to live by faith, to live in love — and as He has sent His Apostles into the world to preach and teach in His Name, to write the Holy Scriptures, to baptize and absolve, and to commune His disciples — so does He send His Church into the world, to live by faith, and to live in love.

And so does He call you to live in the world by faith in His Name and in love for your neighbor, so that your neighbor might also know and receive the fellowship of God through the fellowship of your love, and so be sanctified in the Truth of the Gospel.

Take it to heart, therefore, that your life has divine meaning and significance.  For your fellowship, even here and now, is with the Father and His Son; not by your own effort, but by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Triune God is surely with you in all of your vocations, in all of your relationships, and in all of your dealings.  Not only to accomplish His purposes in you for others, but at the same time to preserve you in and with His holiness, to guard your life — even through death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — and to keep you safe from the evil one.

To be sure, the devil hates you and is constantly seeking to devour and destroy you.  And the world hates you, too, as it hates the Lord Jesus.  The dangers to your mortal body and life are many and great, though even these are not as perilous as the temptations to sin, the lust of the eyes and of the flesh, the love of money, and then the wicked accusations of Satan who would drive you to despair through guilt and shame and the fear of death.  But fear not him who hates you.  Fear God, who loves you; repent of your sins; and trust Christ your Savior, in whom you are not guilty but holy.

Fear, love, and trust in this one true God, and do not be afraid to live and serve wherever in the world He has called you to be, wherever you are sent.  Whether you go to death upon a cross, or you live to a ripe old age caring for your neighbor, abide in the fellowship of Christ.  Remain in the Temple of His Church, calling upon His Name.  Be gathered together with His disciples in the Upper Room, where He still washes your feet with Holy Absolution and feeds you at His Table with His Holy Communion.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not abandon Him, but find your place in Him, your true home in the fellowship of His Body and His Blood.

And as you receive from Him, so give.  You will not be left with nothing.  As you hear, speak.  For as you have the testimony of God in the testimony of men — in the Scriptures of the Apostles, and in the preaching of your pastors — so do you have this testimony in yourself.  The Word is near you, in your ears, in your heart, and on your lips.  Confess it to your neighbor, in the confidence that you thus speak the Word of God: that you speak Christ.  Confess His holy Name, which you now also bear as a child of His own God and Father.  And call upon His Name in prayer, knowing that your Father in heaven hears and answers in love.  Truly, your lips speak Christ, not only to your neighbor, but to your Father, who hears and answers His Son Jesus in your prayer.

This Jesus is your confidence, your certainty, your righteousness before God, your sanctification and sufficiency in the face of sin, death, and hell.  For you are holy in Christ Jesus, as the Lord your God is holy.  And in Him you are raised from death to life, and anointed by His Spirit in body and soul, to abide in the fellowship of the Father here in time and hereafter in eternity.

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

14 May 2015

That Christ Should Fill All Things with His Body and Life

Beloved of God, the Lord Jesus has not gone away.  He has not left you alone.  He Himself is with you, and has poured out the promised Spirit of His Father upon you.  The same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is even now, and so shall He ever be, your merciful and great High Priest.  He lives before God in righteousness and purity on your behalf, so that your place is also with God in Him, who reigns over you in love with His Gospel.

As He has stretched out His arms for you upon the Cross, to sacrifice Himself to the Father as the Propitiation for all your sins (and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world), so does He lift His hands in blessing upon you, to justify you with His own righteousness, to raise you up from death to life with Himself, and to anoint you with His Spirit by His Word.

Thus, He gives Himself to God as the true Man, and He gives Himself to you as the one true God; and, in Him, both God and Man and heaven and earth are bound together in perfect harmony.

Righteousness and peace kiss each other in Him, and you are reconciled to God the Father in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  Indeed, your flesh and blood, your body and soul, your whole life, and all of creation are sanctified with God eternally in the Body of Christ Jesus: in His own Person, first of all, but also in His Body, the Church, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.

It is in Him that you know and love God rightly, and that you live the true life.  Not by escaping from your body of flesh and blood, nor from your place in life, whatever it might be, but precisely in that place where God has put you, in your own skin, in your life and occupations on earth.

Remain there, where He has stationed you, and be gathered here within His Church on earth, and wait upon the promise of your Father in Christ.  Already you are being clothed with His power from on high, with His Spirit and His righteousness.  Already you are God’s own child and a citizen of His heavenly Kingdom.  Yet, for now it is by faith in His Word, and not by sight.  As the Lord Jesus Christ entered into His Glory through His suffering and death upon the Cross, so do you enter the Kingdom of God through repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Do not be afraid, and do not despair of His presence and His peace.  His blessing is upon you in the lifting up of His wounded hands, and the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection is preached to you in His Name; as surely as He lives and reigns forever at the Father’s Right Hand and intercedes for you as your Royal High Priest.  God the Father has established Him there by an unbreakable oath, by raising Him from the dead, crowning Him with Glory and honor, giving Him all authority in heaven and on earth, and putting sin, death, the devil, and hell under His feet.

It is true, as you know well enough, and as the Lord Himself has told you in advance, that in the world you have tribulation.  He knows this as well or better than you do, because He has suffered it all in your place.  So it is that, for now, in your own body and life, you don’t yet see all things beneath His beautiful feet.  You don’t yet experience the fact that His enemies and yours have been defeated.  You don’t yet feel His Victory and your Redemption.  No, what you see and feel and experience is not the Resurrection but the Cross.  And it might also seem as though His Ascension were hardly a cause for celebration, but nothing else than another heartbreaking goodbye.

For all of that, the fact remains that Christ the Lord is with you.  He has entered the presence of His God and Father in the same flesh and blood and bones that He shares with you and with all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  The Cloud that received Him is the grace and glory of God, by which He also comes to you and abides with you in the Gospel.

It is not by accident or coincidence that men in white stand before you and proclaim the Word of the Lord Jesus to you; for thus it was necessary, not only that He should suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, but also that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name to the ends of the earth.  By this Ministry, He fills all things and the Kingdom of God comes to man.

So does the Word of the Lord go forth, beginning from Jerusalem, to all of Judea, to Samaria, to Rome, to the New World, the Third World, to Africa and Asia, and to the whole planet.  And as the Word goes out, so does it gather disciples of Jesus together into one Body, one Church, into the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem, where the Lamb upon His Throne is not only the Priest and King, but He is the Temple of God among men, the Lamp and the Light which illuminate the New Creation, and both the Bridegroom and the Wedding Feast of finest Wine and richest Meat.

That is your home, your place of peace and Sabbath rest.  That is where you live, because that is where Christ is both with you and for you forever.  He really does unite and hold all things together in Himself, in His own Body and by the power of His indestructible Life, as He serves you in His Church on earth, and He worships the Father in heaven, and He pours out the Spirit by the Gospel, and He ever lives to pray and intercede for you at all times.

It is not only that He is everywhere at once, filling all things with Himself; nor only that He is with you here and with the Father in heaven — although that much is true, to begin with.  But He also brings God to you, the Father and the Holy Spirit, in and with Himself, in all that He continues to teach and to do, and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And in Him, at the same time, you are with God; for He brings you to the Father and seats you with Himself in the heavenly places.

Beloved, you are baptized into Christ, and that means, not only that His Cross and Resurrection are yours, but also that His Ascension, His Spirit and His Father, and His place within the Holy of Holies are yours in Christ.  So, too, when you eat His Body and drink His Blood here, within His Church on earth, you live and abide with Him in the Bosom of the Father in heaven.  This, indeed, is already to be living the true divine life for which you have been created by the Holy Triune God.

It’s not as though your life on earth under the Cross were always pleasant or easy.  You know that it’s not.  With all of creation, you long for the consummation of all things: for the resurrection of the body, for the glorious revealing of the sons of God, and for the life everlasting in Paradise.

You long for the consummation of all that Christ has accomplished.  And you pray for that, just as Christ our Lord has taught you to pray to the Father in heaven for the coming of His Kingdom.

Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!

As you thus pray for the coming of Christ and His Kingdom, do so in the bold confidence that He has borne the Cross for you and conquered in the fight on your behalf, and that His resurrected and glorified Body is already the Firstfruits of your own resurrection from the dead.

In His Body, it is already a done deal.  And it is for you, as the Sacrament delivers and declares.

That is what His Ascension means and signifies and does for you.  He fills all things in heaven and on earth, in order to be actively present and at work in and with His Church, and so also to bring His Church and all her members, including you, to His God and Father within His own Body.

The fact that He ascends as the Crucified One, and that He serves you by the ways and means of His Cross, means that all the hurt and heartache and hard things shall not be able to destroy you, nor to separate you from Him, His Life, and His Love; but, by His grace, they actually help to heal you and save you, and to bring you to heaven.  For He works repentance in you, and He disciplines your mortal flesh, in order to bring you through suffering and death into faith and life with God.

There simply is no pain, no persecution, no place nor pit nor hell hole, where He is not with you in peace.  And so, you are with Him, who lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of the Father.

He doesn’t make you come to Him, nor even to meet Him halfway.  And He doesn’t simply come to keep you company in misery.  But He gathers you fully to Himself, and He embraces you with Himself, and He abides with you as true God and true Man, as your Savior and your Salvation.  Therefore, as you know from the testimony of St. Paul, your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Mortal life in this fallen world is one of constant separations, which cut you off and distance you from family, friends, and loved ones, and even from your nearest and dearest kin.  Whether by death or disease, by accidents or atrocities, by adventures or adversities, by ailments or age, your relationships and your connections are constantly being changed, and eventually they are ended.

But the Ascension of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus proclaims a permanent place for you and perfect peace with God.  That does not change, and it cannot be taken away from you.  Nor is it far away from you now, but up close and personal, a very present help at all times, in every trouble, and a source of genuine great joy in the face of everything that confronts you.

It is here for you in the Temple of God, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  It is here for you in the hands of Christ Jesus, with which He blesses you, and feeds you, and absolves you; with which He signs and seals you as a Christian, a child of God; and by which He raises you up.

As all of this is here for you in Him, in His Body and His Blood, so shall He be with you always, wherever you may be.  And so are you with Him, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, at home and at peace with the Blessed Holy Trinity + now and forever.  (Amen)

10 May 2015

To Live and Love as Christ Does

Everything begins with and depends upon the Love of God and His Word to you in Christ Jesus, by which He calls you to faith and friendship.  For this Jesus is the Lord, the Judge of the living and the dead.  He is the Hinge on which all of creation turns, the Heart and Center of all things.  And He has loved you from the heights and in the depths, with His Body and His Life, even to the uttermost, unto the fulfillment of God’s good and gracious will that you should live with Him.

His Word to you is that you love one another as He has loved you: That you do unto each other as Christ Jesus does for you, and that you give to your neighbor what you have received from Him.  Such love is the character and content of your Christian life, which is in Christ Jesus, your Lord.

How, then, does He love you?  Which is also to ask and say: How do you love one another?

By faith in His own God and Father, the Lord Jesus lives and dies according to His calling as the Christ.  From the waters of His Baptism to His bloody Cross and Passion, He lives for you, and He lays down His life for you, in order to overcome sin, death, the devil, and hell for your salvation.  For that joy which was set before Him, He willingly bears His Cross and goes to His death, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him up again according to His Word and promise; in order that He should thus raise you from death to eternal life through His forgiveness of all your sins.

By the authority of His atoning Sacrifice and with the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead, He loves you now by speaking to you His Word of the Gospel.  With that Word, He actually does forgive you, and He gives you life in place of death.  More than that, He befriends you.  He draws near to you, not for condemnation, but to reconcile you to Himself and God the Father in the Holy Spirit and in Peace.  In fact, all that He has received from the Father, including the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, and the Life everlasting, He now reveals and gives to you by His Gospel.

He comes to you, reveals Himself to you, and gives Himself to you by the Water and the Blood, and by and with the Holy Spirit.  Not just historically, once upon a time, but sacramentally, here and now in His Church on earth by the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel.  That is to say, Christ Jesus comes to you, and He loves you, by the washing of the Water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism, by His Blood of the New Testament, poured out for you from His overflowing Cup in the Holy Communion, and by the gift of His Holy Spirit in the Holy Absolution of your sins.

Bear in mind that the context of this Holy Gospel is the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, on the night when our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, when He humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples, to serve them with His Body and His Blood, and to speak these gracious Words of Love to them, although He knew their sins and weaknesses, their failures, and their fears.  He loved them faithfully, even unto death.  And He loved them in that Upper Room with His means of grace.

St. John writes this Holy Gospel for those who are and already have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper according to His Word.  We should therefore understand that St. John, no less than St. Paul and the other holy Evangelists, writes from within and also for the ongoing tradition of the Liturgy.  What I mean by that is this: The Love of Christ is not abstract or generic, but, in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in His Body and Blood, it is as tangible, concrete, and specific as His bodily death upon the Cross and His bodily Resurrection from the dead.

Those men who ate and drank with Him before and after His Cross and Resurrection, who were chosen ahead of time by God to be witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, they were given to love the Lord’s Church as He loved them, by doing what He did, in His Name and by His divine command.  When He says to them, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” it is as much as when He says elsewhere, “This do in remembrance of Me.”  What they receive from Him, they give to His Church, and His Church hands over from generation to generation.

So does the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — which begins with the Father’s sending of His Son into the Flesh — continue in His Church to the ends of the earth and the close of the age.  From the Apostles in the Upper Room to all times and places, men are chosen, called, and ordained by the Word and Spirit of Christ to preach Peace in His Name; to confess and proclaim His Cross and Resurrection; to baptize, catechize, and absolve with His own Word and by His Holy Spirit; and so also to give and pour out His Body and His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink.

By this same Ministry of the Gospel, even here and now, in this time and in this place, you also are loved by Christ Jesus and receive from Him His Life and His Spirit.

And as the Lord Jesus loves you in these ways and means of grace, so are you called and chosen to love one another and to bear good fruits within your vocation to the glory of God the Father.

To live and abide in His Love, therefore, is first of all to live and abide in the Divine Liturgy of His Gospel, in the Ministry of His preaching and Sacraments; and then also to live by faith in harmony and continuity with these means of grace.

In other words, your life in Christ and your love for one another is defined and determined by the Water and the Blood and the Spirit of Christ Jesus, as these are generously poured out for you in the Liturgy of the Gospel.  These three testify as one to the Life and Love that are yours in Christ.

What that means, for example, is that your Holy Baptism — your dying and rising with Christ, your bearing of His Name and Spirit, and your adoption by grace as a child of His God and Father — governs and guides all of your words and actions within each and all of your stations in life.  You die to yourself and live unto God and for your neighbor.  You daily repent of your sin and return to the preaching and promises of Christ.  You cease to do evil and begin to do good.  You forgive those who trespass against you, and you gladly care for them, cover them, and clothe them in body and soul.  In so far as you are concerned, you abide in peace with all of your neighbors.

Likewise with respect to the life that you live to and from the Lord’s Altar.  As you are given to eat His Body and drink His Blood, so do you feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst.  And shall you curse, swear, lie, and deceive, gossip and complain, or speak ill of your neighbor with the very same mouth, the same lips and tongue that have received this Holy Sacrament?  Will you with your body engage in sexual immorality, physical violence, or any other wickedness, when you have been fed with the flesh and blood of your Savior, Jesus Christ?  On the contrary, as you are called to repentance and receive His forgiveness of all your sins in this Holy Supper, so be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and do not hold their sins against them.

It is not simply that your life and your love are modeled after the means of grace, though at least that much is true.  It is rather that the Water and the Blood and the Spirit of Christ Jesus are His Life and His Love for you, and that you derive your life with God and your love for each other entirely from Him through these means of His grace, mercy, and peace.  So it is that you live and you love, not in the way of the world, and not by your own will, but by the will of God in Christ.

That is true regardless of your place in life, whether you are a mother or a child, a wife or husband, or an unmarried Christian; whether you are a student, a worker, unemployed, or retired.  Though the specific details of your life and love will necessarily and rightly differ in each of these contexts, the life that you live and the love that you give, if they are Christian, derive in every case from the same Lord Jesus Christ through one and the same Liturgy of His Gospel.

For that very reason, and because the Lord Himself has called you and chosen you for the unique place and purposes of your own vocations and stations in life, do not despair, and do not compare yourself and your position to others, and do not suppose that your place is pointless or without value and significance.  Rather, trust the Lord who has called you, abide in His Love for you, and persevere in your calling in the confidence of His Cross and Resurrection.  As God raised Jesus from the dead, so does He bear much fruit by the tree of the Cross — also in your body and life.

The Lord your God does not show partiality.  He receives you and He welcomes you to Himself in Peace and Joy, not by virtue of your greatness in the eyes of the world, but by virtue of His Love for you in Christ Jesus.  By the same token, neither does He station everyone in the same place, nor assign everyone the same purpose, but He calls each of you to live by faith in Christ, and to love as He does: To go about doing good and helping those in need as you are able by His grace.

Whatever your work may be, therefore, carry it out in the confidence of Christ: Even if your work at this point in your life, as an infant, perhaps, or in your old age, is simply to wait upon the Lord in hope, to pray and praise, and to call upon His Name for mercy and grace to help in time of need.

As He has already consecrated you by His Cross, by the Fruits of His Cross, so does He bear His good fruits in you, which remain forever in His Resurrection from the dead.  His Joy is in you by His Word of the Gospel, and it is daily perfected in you as you die and rise by faith in His Word.  Not as a condition or contingency, but as a consequence and as the evidence of His Love for you.

As He has overcome the world, sin, death, and the devil for you, so do His Victory, His Life, and His Salvation remain for you.  All of these are given to you, and they become yours in Christ, as He comes to you and loves you by the waters of Holy Baptism, by pouring out His Spirit upon you and breathing Him into your body and soul through His forgiveness of all your sins, and by giving you His own Body to eat and pouring out His Blood for you to drink here at His Altar.

This Gospel of Christ Jesus is your faith and life, and your Victory in Him, as He preaches it into your ears, presses it into your hands, and places it upon your lips in peace.  So do you live and love as He does, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting.  And the Joy of the Lord is yours.

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

03 May 2015

Life on the Vine

The Holy Triune God has planted His people on earth to be a choice and productive Vineyard, that they might share in His divine Life and flourish in His loving care for them, bearing good fruits according to His own good and gracious will.  So it is that you are called to live by faith in Him, to receive His Life into yourself, and to bear the fruits of His Love by sharing His Life with others.

This is what it means, and this is what it looks like for you to be a branch of the true Vine and a part of the Lord’s Vineyard: To rely on Him and to receive your life from Him alone, to live in love for your neighbor, and so to bring forth the fruits of the Vine to the glory of God’s holy Name.

To withhold love from your brother or sister in Christ; to harbor bitterness or resentment against your neighbors in the world; to flatter and pamper yourself; or to serve yourself and seek your own glory — all such practices are evidence that you have severed yourself from the Vine and that you do not abide in the Vineyard.  For the Lord has planted His Vineyard to produce good grapes — not the sour grapes of wrath, but the good grapes of faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.

But it hasn’t gone that way, has it?  Not for you, and not in general, either.  Take a look around.  Consider the daily news from all over the world and from the cities and towns of our own nation.  Think about your routines, and about your relationships: not just the ones you favor and prefer, but all of those roles and relationships to which the Lord has called you.  It isn’t all coming up roses, is it?  Nor is it the harvest of faith and love that God commands and requires of His Vineyard.

The soil has been cursed on account of sin.  The ground from which you have been taken is stained with blood, and the earth itself quakes with the weight of death.  Plants do not grow easily or well.  The grass withers and fades, and all flesh dies.  Thorns and thistles infest the Vineyard.  The whole world is polluted, the sun beclouded, and the rain insufficient.  The branches on the Vine produce more foliage than fruit, and the fruits they do produce are wild and sour, idolatrous and selfish.

The Lord looks for the fruits of faith and love in His Vineyard, and so also in you.  But you do not fear, love, and trust in Him, and you do not serve and care for your neighbor, not as you should.

Yet, the Father in heaven still cares for His Vine, and so He cultivates His Vineyard by pruning the branches and removing those that bear no fruit, casting them into the fire.  He does this cutting so that the Vine itself may survive and thrive, and that it should live and grow in faith and love.

But who, or what, or where is that true Vine which is able to survive the curse of sin and death?  Who, or what, or where is that Vine which can thrive and give life to the entire Vineyard?  For the curse is so complete, so comprehensive, and so devastating, surely the pruning and removing of branches must continue until there is nothing and no one left.  For there is no good in any of us.

But, no, there is hope and help to be found in Christ Jesus.  He is the true Vine, the planting of His Father, who willingly dies the death of sin and is buried like a Seed into the dust of the ground, in order to redeem and sanctify the soil, the earth, the whole creation.  He is the One who is cut off from the land of the living and cast into the deadly fires of God’s righteous wrath and judgment.  He Himself is pruned to the point of crucifixion, in order to purge the Vineyard of sin and death.

He removes what is wild and wrong in your body and life, and He bears it away in His own Body.

And this same Lord Jesus Christ also rises from death to life, to be a vital and productive Vine.  He abides in faith and love, and He bears good fruit to the glory of His Father and for your benefit.

The Cross He has suffered, upon which He died, has become the Tree of Life for all the nations.  Because His death has atoned for the sins of the world, His Blood does not stain but cleanses the earth, and His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.

It is into Him that you are grafted, both your body and your soul, into His Body of flesh and blood, to be a branch of the true Vine.  For you are buried with Him through your Baptism into His death, in order that, having been planted with Him in the dust of the ground, so do you live and grow and bear good fruit in Him, as well.  Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you have been baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of the same sacrificial Lamb of God, who was lead to the slaughter and slain for your sins, who has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again.

Abide in Him, therefore, as He abides in you with His Word of the Gospel; and so bear good fruit.  For apart from Him, you are dead.  The good fruits that you bear — the fruits of faith and love — are the produce of the Life that you receive and have and live in Him, as He Himself is your Life.

It is by His Word, by the hearing of His Word, that you abide in Him and live in Him; for it is by and with His Word, by the preaching of His Word, that He is with you always and abides in you.

It is by the washing of the water with His Word that you are grafted into Him in Holy Baptism.  So it is by His Word, by His preaching of repentance and forgiveness, that you are daily returned to the significance of your Baptism; and by His Word that you are “watered” with the living and Life-giving Spirit, who keeps you and the whole Church united with Christ in the one true faith.

You are already clean by the Word of the Gospel that Christ has spoken to you, but so does He daily “wash your feet” and “water your soil” with the catechesis of His Word.  With His Law and His Gospel, He teaches you the Way of Life — to be fruitful in faith and love, as He is fruitful.

Where you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, He does not cut you off, cast you away from His presence, or destroy you.  He does prune your life with His Law, not for death but for the discipline of love, that you should rely upon His gifts of Life and so be nurtured and sustained by His grace.  For His Word of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins, fills you with the vitality — the life and health and strength — of His Resurrection from the dead.

By the merit and means of His own dying and rising, He does not remove you from the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, but He raises you up from death and the grave, from the dust of the earth, and from the idolatry and unbelief of your sin, to bear the fruits of peace and joy, of faith, hope, and love, to the glory of His God and Father.  As He Himself glorifies God with the abundant fruit of His Cross and Resurrection, so does He glorify the Father in you, and He glorifies you in Himself.

With that same Word of His Gospel, He also feeds you with the Fruits of His Cross, that is to say, with His sacred Body, crucified and risen for your Salvation, and with His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you from this true Vine as a better Vintage than this world has otherwise known.  So does He abide in you, both soul and body, and you abide in Him by faith in His Word.

This Sacrament of the Altar truly is the Feast of Holy Love, because these gifts of the incarnate Christ, His flesh and blood, are the Produce of His Propitiation, the Communion Meal of His Self-Sacrifice for Atonement, Absolution, Reconciliation with God, and the perfect Peace of His Spirit.

Therefore, by these Fruits of Christ the true Vine, you are enlivened in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.  And as He thereby gives you life with God in Himself, so do His Fruits produce good fruits in you after their own kind: Not only in your thoughts and feelings, but in your words and actions, and with your hands and feet and lips and tongue.  So does He bring forth in you the fruits of faith and love toward God, with which you worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, and the fruits of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for all of your neighbors in the world.

Sometimes that requires speaking up when it is difficult or even dangerous to do so, in order to defend what is good and right, to decry what is wrong, and to protect one neighbor from another.  Never with a spirit of vengeance or violence, nor for the sake of destruction, animosity, or hatred, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, with the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, and with the charity and compassion of His Cross, for the sake of repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

All such fruits of faith and love are a confession of Christ the Crucified, specifically, that He is the one true God in the flesh, and that He is your Life and your Salvation.  By your speaking of His Word, and by your living in accordance with His Word — by what you patiently bear and suffer in steadfast faith, and by your tangible gifts and works of love for those you are called to serve — you testify of Christ Jesus, and you bear the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection in your place.

It is His Word that produces these fruits in you by forgiving you all of your sins, by granting you His own Life and love and faithfulness, and by lighting your path in the way that you should go.

That path of life is one of grace and mercy, of compassion and kindness.  Above all, it is the path of forgiveness, even as God in Christ forgives you.  Thus, you proceed along that path, bearing the Cross to the glory of God the Father, in the joyful hope of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead.  Abiding in Him, as He abides in you, so do you live, and so do you love as He loves you.

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

01 May 2015

At Home and at Peace with the Father in Christ

Your heart is troubled, restless and anxious, because you are longing for your home; which is really to say that you are longing for real life with God, for peace and rest and a home with Him.

You are troubled because, despite that anxious longing of your heart, you find yourself wandering and wondering, curious, and confused about it all.  You don’t know where you’re going, nor do you recognize the way.  Your experience of mortal life in this fallen world is that you are a stranger and alien, separated from God, lost and alone, far away from any true home, all on account of sin; because of your doubts and fears, and your denial, disobedience, and rejection of God’s Word.

But now, take heart, dear child of God.  Be at peace, and do not be afraid.

Your home is where Christ Jesus is, and fear not, He is with you.  He has prepared a place for you — by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection and Ascension.  Indeed, Christ Himself is your Place where you belong.  His Body, crucified and risen, is your true Home, your Life and your Salvation with His God and Father forever.  All of this, not only in your heart and soul, but first of all in your ears, and then also in your mouth and in your body.

Already here and now you are at home with God in Christ Jesus — by His grace alone, through faith in His Word.  And so shall you be at home with God hereafter, forever and ever, in Christ.

By His Incarnation, He has come close to you, and He has become like you in every way, save only without sin.  He has perfectly united God and Man in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.

And by His Cross and Passion, in His own flesh, by His holy and precious blood, He has undone and rectified the separation of sin, so that you and all mankind are reconciled to God in Him.

In His Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father, He has raised true man to eternal life with God — in the flesh — in righteousness, holiness, and blessedness forever.

In all of this, by the Word and work of the incarnate Son, you behold the true heart, the gracious good will, and the divine glory of the Father.  Thus, you know and love and believe in the one true God and Father by this way and means of His beloved and well-pleasing Son.

How, then, do you know the Son and believe in Him?

It is by the preaching of His Word, and by the works that are done in His Name.

Indeed, the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ do the same and even greater works than He once did; because they are sent to preach and perform, in His Name, the accomplished Word and work of His Cross, and thereby to distribute the fruits and benefits of His Resurrection from the dead.

They preach heaven on earth.  They preach God the Father in His Son, Christ Jesus, and so also the blessed life and forgiveness and perfect peace of His Holy Spirit, through the Holy Gospel.

As we thus remember and give thanks for the Holy Apostles — for St. Philip and St. James on this day, in particular, although we know so very little about these two men — we remember and give thanks for Christ Jesus, our Savior; and in Him we know and love our Father in heaven.

For the whole Christian Church, the House of God, is built upon the foundation of the Holy Apostles, and Christ Himself is the Cornerstone who gives shape and stability to the whole.

You live and abide within that House, and so do you live and abide with Christ in God, by the Word and work of the Apostolic Ministry: by the same preaching and performance of the Gospel.

It is by that Word and work of the Gospel that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, abides with you in love; and by faith in the Gospel, you abide with the Holy Triune God in peace and hope.

It is by faith in His Word, and not by sight, because you live and walk by the way of Christ the Crucified through this dark valley of sorrow and tears unto your eternal home in heaven.

So do you carry the Cross in your vocation as a Christian, baptized into Christ Jesus; you suffer and die, as did Christ Himself and His Apostles, in the same faith and hope of His Resurrection from the dead.  You wait upon the Justice of God the Father, who will certainly raise you also in the righteousness of Christ Jesus, who has become your Advocate and your Kinsman Redeemer.

For now, you live in the wilderness, surviving on the water of oppression and the bread of privation, irrespective of your temporal circumstances.  But you do survive, nevertheless, in the household and family of God, within which your Teacher makes Himself and His Life known to you through the preaching of His Word and by His gracious work.

You know where you are going, and you actually do know the Way; not because you have found it or figured it out for yourself, but because the Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, and He has found you.  He has sought you out, and He still does, by the Ministry of the Gospel, in order to gather you to Himself and bring you to the Father in and with Himself, in His Body and His Blood.

Believe it.  For He has already gone the way of the Cross on your behalf, and by it He has opened the Way of Life with God for you.  Your sin no longer separates you from God, nor does it prevent you from knowing and going to Him.  Rather, in Christ, you are already safely at home with Him.

Let not your heart be troubled.  Eat the Bread of Christ the Crucified, with which your Father feeds you here at His Table in His House.  Recline yourself here, and put your mind and body at ease by His Word and Spirit of the Gospel.  Eat and drink what He gives and pours out for you, and rest yourself in His Peace.  For you are His dear child, your sins are all forgiven, and this is your home.

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