30 August 2015

All Things Are Clean for Those in Christ

If you think back to Genesis and the Fall into sin, it may seem odd for Jesus to say that what you eat does not effect the heart or defile you.  Not only that, but it was the Lord God Himself who differentiated between clean and unclean animals and gave specific dietary laws for His people in the Old Testament.  But the key to all of this is found, first of all, in the Word that God has spoken.

Sin and death are not caused or determined by food per se, which is part of God’s good creation.  Neither food nor drink of itself can defile or cleanse you, damn you or save you.  Neither fasting nor feasting make you righteous before God.  But the way in which you receive and use His good creation — including the way that you consume your food and drink — is measured by the Word of the Lord, whether you are acting in faith and love, or in disobedience, idolatry, and unbelief.

All things are sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and His good creation is to be received from His hand with thanksgiving.  All things are lawful to those who trust in the Lord, and all foods are clean to the one who eats and drinks in such faith, as the gifts of God are regarded and used in accordance with His Commandments.

Faith is content, satisfied, and happy with whatever God has given you, be it much or little; and faith is happy for the neighbor, too, with whatever God has given to him.  You need not be afraid to enjoy and to use what the Lord has entrusted to your stewardship in the freedom of faith in Christ.  Nor should you be angered by what you do not have, as though your life depended on it.

Indeed, by faith you are neither angry nor afraid of anything, because you are at home and at peace in your Father’s world.  You are a beloved child in His house and a free citizen of His Kingdom.

So, what on earth has gone wrong?  And why is life in the flesh so precarious and difficult?

Flesh and blood are not your enemy; neither your neighbor’s flesh and blood, nor the flesh and blood of any critter, fruit, or vegetable.  Not food and drink, but the devil is your enemy with all his assaults and accusations.  He tempts you to sin, then drives you to despair.  And your sinful heart is not only vulnerable to his attacks; it actually conspires with the devil and the sinful world.

Back in the Garden, Adam and Eve did not eat according to God’s Word in faith, but contrary to His Word in doubt and disobedience.  As their child, you do not fear, love, and trust in God, nor do you heed His commandments.  You have no peace or rest, and you do not feel safe and secure, because you do not believe in Him.  You do not believe His promises or trust His providence.

Because your heart is not right with God, your body and life in the world are not righteous and holy, either.  Instead of receiving and using God’s good creation rightly, you either despise and demonize it with contempt, or you idolize and worship the creation as a false god.  You also sin with and against your neighbor in what you think and say and do.  You hurt him and speak ill of him.  You take his stuff, or you would if you could.  You covet his spouse and children.  You burn with envy and jealousy, hatred and lust, because you lack the wisdom and understanding of God.

With such a sinful heart, you don’t know how to live.  Apart from faith in Christ, you are not able to “possess the land” in love, although God gives you all good things by grace.  You do not see or trust what He is doing for you, so you stumble about from one sin to another, finally into death.

But now, listen to Christ Jesus.  Hear what He says, even before it begins to make sense to you.

By His Word and Spirit, He has called you into His house to catechize you, to make you a disciple, a Christian, by His grace through faith in His Word.  By this catechesis, as by your Holy Baptism, He has made of you a new creation.  Indeed, all things are made brand new in Him.  All things are cleansed and sanctified by the Word that He speaks to you.  Therefore, listen to Him and hear Him.

From out of your own sinful heart proceed all kinds of evil things (even more than you know!).

But out of His great heart of love proceed grace, mercy, and peace, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

So has He come forth from the Father and become flesh and blood for you and for all people.  He has entered into and become a part of His Creation by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, accomplished by His Word and Holy Spirit.  What is more, He has redeemed and sanctified all flesh, and all of creation, in His own Body crucified and risen.

Not only has He atoned for all your sins in order to forgive you by His sacrificial death, by the shedding of His holy, precious blood; but in Himself, by His life in the flesh, and by His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He has established the righteousness of faith and love, for you and for all, and He has set things right with God and man, both inwardly and outwardly, now and forever.

All of this that He has done for you is what He also now gives to you, as He gives Himself to you by and with His Word of the Gospel, and by and with His Body and Blood in this Holy Supper.

His Word thereby declares you to be clean.  He speaks, and it is so.  You are holy and righteous before Him and in Him, in the presence of His God and Father in heaven, because He says so.

He cleanses and sanctifies your heart and mind, body and soul, by the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  So has He done by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and so does He continue to do by the catechesis of His Word and the preaching of His Holy Gospel.

That is the Truth with which you are girded.  All of your sins are forgiven.  You are holy, innocent, and pure.  Your body, soul, and spirit are blameless in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

That is your righteousness — the righteousness of Christ which is credited to you — by which your heart is guarded from attack, so that the flaming darts of the devil cannot pierce you.

That is your perfect peace with God in Christ, in which you now live in love for your neighbor within your own station in life, and by which you do “possess the land” that God has given you.

So, then, take up this shield of faith by giving heed to the Word of Christ, by listening to Him, and by confessing what He has spoken.  And wear the helmet of salvation by filling up your head with your Savior’s Voice.  Let Him permeate your inward thoughts and your outward conversations.

Do not simply attempt to shut your ears to the devil’s lies, as though you could shut him down by sticking your fingers in your ears and wagging your tongue at him.  Rather, fill your ears with the Truth of Christ Jesus.  Soak up the Holy Scriptures, the preaching, and the hymns of the Church.

Then take up that Sword of the Spirit by confessing what you have heard, and by the prayer and intercession of the Word of God.  Pray for the mercies of the Lord, for the gifts of the Spirit, and for the heart and mind of Christ Jesus.  Pray in this way, knowing and believing that your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayer according to the Word and promise of His beloved Son.

Pray also for the ministry and preaching of the Holy Gospel, and specifically for your pastors in Christ Jesus, that they would be enabled to wield the Sword of the Spirit for the benefit of the Church on earth, for your own sake and for the good of your neighbors.

That ministry and preaching of Christ come from outside of you, from the Lord your God who loves you.  They come to you from Him, in order to set you free from sin and every evil, and to feed you with a consecrated Food and Drink, which are the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.

This Meal of the Lord is a holy and Spiritual Food, which not only enters your mouth and your stomach, but into your very heart and soul, your mind and your body, in order to cleanse you within and without, to heal you and give you life, both now and forever.

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

24 August 2015

Feasting with the Royal Band of the Apostles

The fact is that we don’t know much about St. Bartholomew, but he is most likely the disciple known as Nathaniel in the Gospel According to St. John.  These two names identify him as a “Gift of God,” and as a “Son of Bravery, Boldness, or Daring.”  And so he was, by the grace of God.  But tradition suggests that he was skinned alive and then beheaded on account of his apostolic preaching and ministry.  Which seems like such a shame and such a waste.  But not at all.

To sit on a throne in the Kingdom of God is first of all to share the trials and tribulations of Christ Jesus, to bear His Cross for the benefit of others, and to serve the least, the last, and the lost at one’s own expense, in the way that Jesus Himself is among His disciples as the One who serves.

The greatness and glory of this one Lord, Jesus Christ, is in this humble service that He offers, both upon His Cross and at His Table, whereby He gives His Body & Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostles in turn, St. Bartholomew included, are a princely band because they share the royalty of Christ the King by the way of His Cross.  So it is that His greatness and His glory, and His gracious gifts of life and godliness are manifested in their suffering and their service unto death.

Not only their living, but also their dying bears witness to the Gospel of the Cross of Christ.

You then receive this Service of Christ and His Cross in the holy apostolic Ministry of His Gospel.  It is given to you here in earthen vessels, in the preaching of your pastor and his administration of the Sacrament in the Name and at the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ.  By these earthly means of grace, you are preserved, even under persecution, by His forgiveness and His Peace.

You survive and live by and from His Word to you — both by His Law and by His Gospel, which teach you the faith and love of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  You are kept steadfast and safe in that life to which you are called by this Lord and King who is faithful in His Love for you.

And yet, do you still, like the disciples then, compete and contest with your neighbor, and roll your eyes at the Word and wisdom of God, and dispute and disagree with Him and with each other?

Are you prone to envy and jealousy, and to bitter resentment?  Are you prideful and petty, selfish and self-centered?  Or lazy?  Or scared?  Or simply weary, weak, and wounded?

Do you know your sin and shame, perhaps even scandal?  Are you beleaguered, burdened, struck down, and afflicted?  Do you find in yourself, not the strength that you desire, but only faults?

Are you persecuted, picked on, teased, or neglected to the point where you cannot take it anymore?

Or, are you alarmed and ashamed that, really, what you suffer is for the most part not for your faith and your faithfulness, but simply the consequences of your own foolishness and sinful behavior?

Well, listen up.  You are not a pagan but a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And what that means, first and foremost, is that He has called you by His Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins; that He has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of Holy Baptism, and that He catechizes you by His Word and Holy Spirit.  In all these ways He has come to you and continues to serve you.

And here and now He seats you at His Table, and He feeds you with His Body and His Blood in His Kingdom.  Which tells you what He thinks of you, and how things are between you and Him, and who you really are, not by any merit of your own, but by the mercies of Him who loves you.

What this means for you is that you really are forgiven by His grace, by His Gospel, by His Cross.  Real forgiveness for your very real sins, as though you had never committed them or failed to do what you should.  And the righteousness of Christ is credited to you, as though it were your own.

If you have not stood by Him in His trials, well, neither did Bartholomew or the other Apostles at first, not to begin with on that night when He was betrayed.  Nor did they get it right away when He rose from the dead and appeared to them.  They, too, were doubtful and afraid, as you often are; and even when they did know better, they still didn’t always get it right.  Yet, the Lord was with them to sustain them, to accomplish His purposes through them, to preach and administer His Gospel by their words and works of faith and love, and to glorify Himself in them, and they in Him, by their bearing of His Cross, and, yes, by their suffering and death for His Name’s sake.

So is He glorified in you, and you in Him, by His faith toward God and His faithfulness toward you.  For the greatness of the Lord is found in this, that by and with His trials, He has stood by you, even to the point of death.  And having reclined in the dust of the earth to which you are returning, He also raises you up with Himself in His Resurrection and seats you at His Table in His Kingdom.

Here you recline with St. Bartholomew, with the Holy Apostles and the sainted martyrs of Christ, and with all those disciples who have gone before you in His Name, who have run the race and kept the faith, who now rest from their labors in the same eternal Sabbath that remains for you.

Even here and now, as you eat and drink with them at this Royal Banquet of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are fed from the hand of your King.  So do you live with Him who lives and reigns forever.

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

23 August 2015

To Worship the Lord with a Clean Heart

If you would honor the Lord your God and serve Him rightly, listen to His voice and obey Him.  He doesn’t need anything from you, but do what He tells you to the glory of His Holy Name.  And do not presume to flatter Him with your lips while contradicting His Word with your behavior.

So then, if you would honor the Lord your God, you shall honor your father and mother, whom He has set next after Himself in authority over you.  Do not despise or anger your parents, but serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  If you are a child, listen to your father and mother; gladly do as they tell you, and do not grumble or complain against them.  And if you are a grown adult, even then, honor your parents through whom God gave you life and cared for you, and now care for them in turn in their old age.

Likewise, if you would honor the Lord your God as a member of His Holy Christian Church, do not commit adultery, but love and cherish your own spouse and respect your neighbor’s marriage.  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  Husbands, love and serve your own wives, just as Christ Jesus loves His Church and gives Himself for her.  Be faithful to your wedding vows, not only in what you say but in all that you do.  Avert your eyes from temptation.  Guard your heart and mind against lust by the prayer and meditation of God’s Word.  And serve your own wife or husband with your words and with your body.

It is by such love for your parents and your spouse, and by loving your children and your other neighbors in all the ways that God has commanded you to do, that you honor Him and worship Him from the heart, not only with your lips but with your life.

To live and love in this way is to live by faith in Christ, in accordance with the Word of the Lord.

Without such faith in Christ, the Word of God remains a closed book to you, which you can neither read nor comprehend.  And apart from faith in His Word, you neither know the Lord your God nor can you come to Him or worship Him.  Nor can you love your neighbor as the Lord commands, not even your parents, your spouse, or your children.  Nor shall you live at all apart from Him, but without Him you die, both inwardly and outwardly, day after day, now and forever.

You cannot redeem yourself or save your soul from death, and there is no righteousness of your own by which you can obtain life for yourself.  No washing or wringing of your hands will do it.

True life is found only in the one true God.  It derives from Him alone by the grace of His Word.  He is the Potter, and you are the clay within His hands. It is only as His child that you live.

Do not harden your heart against Him, and do not attempt to hide your heart away from Him.  You will not live without Him, but neither will you bribe Him or trick Him, and you will not be able to force or constrain Him.  No outward pretense or charade will bring you to Him.  And He is certainly not within your power, that you should bring Him down from heaven to you.

If you dishonor your parents, if you curse them with your lips or in your heart, then you must die.  And if you commit adultery, whether with your body or by the lust of your eyes within your heart and mind, then you must die.  You are far removed from the Lord, and He is hidden from you.

Yet you are not hidden from Him.

And His heart is not far away from you, nor is it hardened against you.

He is and remains the Father who always loves His Son.  And for the sake of that beloved Son, the Father loves the Bride of Christ and all her dear children, including you whom He has called.

The same true God is the Son who always loves and honors His Father.  And in that fear, love, and trust, He comes down from His Father in heaven, in order to seek out His Bride and give Himself for her, to woo her and receive her to Himself, and to cleave to her in love forever and ever.

For He is the Husband who loves His Bride, the Church. He lays down His life for her, to save her from death; to forgive her all her sins; to cleanse her by His holy, precious blood; to sanctify her by the washing of water with the Word.  So is she made beautiful and glorious with His Glory, even as He takes her to Himself in love and gives to her His own Name.

So has He done for you, dear child of God.

He has given Himself for you, even unto death on the Cross, in order to redeem you with His own blood, and to clothe you with His own perfect righteousness.

In Holy Baptism, He has betrothed you to Himself and dressed you in a flawless white wedding garment.  There is no spot, nor wrinkle, nor any blemish in you, neither inside nor out; not at all in His eyes.  The Father has given you into His hands, and He delights in you with all His heart.

Now live by His grace.  If the world accuses you of sin and every evil, cling to your Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who is your Savior and your Head.  He bears your reproach and removes it.  There is no condemnation that shall stand against you, not ever.  His Father is now also your Father, who vindicates you and raises you up from affliction into ever increasing gladness; out of darkness into light; out of the silence of fear and doubt into the joyous singing of faith in His forgiveness.

Hear and heed the sound of His sweet voice, and follow the Light of His Word upon your path.

It is true that, bearing His Name, you also bear His Cross in your body and life, within your vocations and stations on earth.  You suffer and die with Him.  You are crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  But so too are you raised with Him, to live with Him forever.  And the fruits of His life-giving Cross are your daily Meat and Drink, which sustain you in all that He calls you to do.

Indeed, you are one flesh with Him, a member of His Holy Bride, and therefore a member of His Body, because you eat and drink from His own hand His Body and His Blood in this Sacrament.

But how is it possible that you should dare to eat this Bread and drink from this Cup?  Are you not sinful and unclean?  Are you not unworthy of the least of all God’s benefits?  Have you not broken His commandments, disobeyed His Word, and lusted after other gods?

Though all of that is true, and rightly does the Law expose your sin and condemn you, yet you are now clean because of the Word of Christ, who loves you and forgives you.  He has washed you in His innocence with the water, Word, and Spirit of your Baptism into Him.  And as often as your hands and feet are soiled with the dirt and sin of life in this fallen world, so often does He forgive you, day by day, with His Word of Holy Absolution.

He is and remains the faithful Husband who nourishes and cherishes His Bride as His own Body, with His own flesh and blood.  He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, with His own Name.

He has carried you in His strong arms across the threshold into His own house and home.  Here He seats you at His Table and pledges Himself to you most personally and permanently.  He shall never leave you nor forsake you.  The One who promises is faithful; He will not falter or fail you.

By His grace and mercy toward you, so does He honor and worship and glorify His Father, and so does He love and honor His Bride in purity, in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

Here, then, dearly beloved, entrust yourself to Him.  Receive His gifts and rely on them.  Hear His Word and behold His Glory in the Gospel.

Do not be afraid, but rejoice in your Lord, who rejoices over you in love.

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

16 August 2015

The Wisdom Which Comes Down from Above

True wisdom and the way of real life are found in the fear of the Lord.  That is not to be terrified of the Lord, but to honor His divine authority as the Author and Giver of life; and, along with that, to fear the Lord rightly is to love and trust in Him above and beyond anything and everything else.

You know that wisdom and way of life in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  For He alone has the knowledge of the Holy One.  He lives in, with, and from the Father eternally.  He lives in love for His Father and for His whole creation.  Therefore, He has come down from heaven, from the bosom of the Father, as the true and living Bread.  The Word has become Flesh, in order to give Himself in the flesh for the life of the world.  He has given His flesh as the sacrifice of atonement for all sins.  And now He also gives His flesh as the true Food, that you may eat of Him and live.

You know this wisdom and this way of life in Christ by the Word that He preaches to you, which is Spirit, Truth, and Life.  And you know it by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you have been enlightened and clothed with His righteousness and holiness.

As a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, a beloved child of God the Father, walk as a child of the Light.  Walk in the wisdom of Christ Jesus, which is the way of life and light and love.  Live and walk in faith toward God; fear, love and trust in Him above all things.  And live in fervent love for your neighbor, especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  That is the wisdom from above.

Sacrifice yourself in love for others.  Give yourself in love to your neighbor in his need.  Speak words that are good and right and true, by confessing the Word of Christ that has graciously been spoken to you.  Above all, forgive those who trespass against you, as Christ forgives you in mercy.

Do not harbor anger, resentment, or bitterness against anyone, no matter how they may hurt you.  And do not give yourself over to envy and jealousy.  Rather, let the melody of the Spirit ring forth in your heart and mind, and on your lips, and sing the song of peace in Christ Jesus to and for your neighbor.  In all things, in all situations and circumstances, give thanks and praise to God.

This is how you live as a Christian.  And, yes, it is difficult and hard, because it is the way of the Cross.  Indeed, it is impossible.  You cannot do it at all, except that Christ calls you by His Gospel.

Do not be scandalized by this Cross of Christ, which you are given to carry in the fear of the Lord.  It is not the way of death that it seems to be, but the way of real life and the true wisdom of God.

Be on your guard, therefore, against the temptations of the world, of the devil, and of your own sinful heart, devious mind, and fallen flesh.  Do not be deceived by false and empty words, which have the appearance of wisdom, but which are in fact deadly and damnable lies.

Be on your guard.  Be sober and watchful at all times.  Do not be complacent or naive, but fear the Lord and repent of your sins.  Heed the warning of this Gospel story that it is possible for a disciple of Christ Jesus to stumble and fall; to turn away from Him and leave; to follow Him no longer; to pursue death and damnation instead of life with God.  That is what happens when the Word of the Lord is rejected and refused, when other words and the wisdom of the world are heeded instead.

Do not harden your heart in this way.  Do not grumble and complain against Christ, but hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, even though it is hard to hear and difficult to understand.

It is so simple, really: To whom shall you go to hear the Word of Life?  It is to Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of the Father.  He is the Holy One, whom to know is wisdom and life everlasting.

As the divine, eternal Son of God lives in and with and from His living Father in heaven, so has He come down from above to give His Life to you.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, in order to give His own flesh for you upon the Cross, to shed His precious blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, and to feed you with His flesh and blood, the fruits of His Sacrifice, which are your Meat and Drink indeed.  All of this He has done, so that you may live and abide in and with Him forever.

You’ll not find such wisdom and life in your own heart, nor in the world, nor at all apart from the Word of Christ.  But here and now in His Divine Service, in the Church and Ministry of the Gospel is where His Word of Life is heard.  And in this Word that is preached to you, the Holy Spirit and the Wisdom of God are given to you.  For this divine Word forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.  It raises you up daily, as often as you fail, and restores you to life in Him.  It enlightens your heart and mind with His righteousness and peace, with His own perfect faith and holy love.

Listen to what the Lord says.  Hear and heed His Voice.  For the One who is the very Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ, He has built His House, His holy Christian Church on earth.  He has hewn out His seven pillars, which are the manifold gifts of His Holy Spirit.  He has prepared His Food for you by the slaughter of His Body, by the sacrifice of His own flesh; and He has mixed His Wine with the blood and water from His pierced side.  He has prepared His Table for you in the face of all your enemies, in the midst of sin and death; and He presides over you as your Good Shepherd.

For this reason, He has also sent His servants, His messengers, even to the ends of the earth, to cry out in the highways and byways, and to call you into His House and to His Table:

“Come, eat My Flesh, which is true Food; and drink My Blood, which is true Drink.”

You do not wish to go away, do you?  But, no, rather forsake your folly.  Be not unwise, but wise, and proceed in this way of understanding.  Eat, drink, and live by the Wisdom of God in Christ.

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

09 August 2015

The Bread of Life from the Tree of the Cross

“I Am the Bread of Life.
He who comes to Me will not hunger,
and he who believes in Me will not thirst.”

That is the Word and promise of Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.

You have come to Him, because the Father has called you and given you to this Lord Jesus Christ, His Son.  And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, whereby He also sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.

You shall by no means be cast out.  You shall not hunger or thirst, nor lack for any good thing in body or soul.  You shall not perish but live.  For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you in love, shall raise you up on the last day to live with Him forever in His Righteousness.

And yet, for now, on your journey to that destination, from the waters of your Baptism you have come to Him in the wilderness.  And here, it seems, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst.  Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but in your heart, mind, and spirit.

Not only that, but you suffer in part because of your faithfulness, because of the Name that you bear, because you are a Christian.  Far from being a remedy against hurt and sorrow, faith actually receives the Cross first of all, which puts you to death and buries you (before it raises you up).

At the same time, it is also true that what you find within yourself is that you are not so faithful.  Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord who loves you, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and discouragements.  Perhaps even threats of dark despair.  And against those who have sinned against you, instead of the forgiveness and peace that you should exercise, you harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Instead of speaking with the grace of the Gospel, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words.  You harden your heart against your neighbor, whom you ought to love and care for.  In doing so, you harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of mercies and God of all comforts.

Thus, you do not yet see what your eyes long to see, neither in yourself, nor in your body and life, nor in the world around you.  And it is so hard to watch and wait upon the Lord.  Your belly may momentarily be filled and satisfied, but it won't be long before it growls and rumbles once again.  And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

So, then, why not just give up and die?  That is the question of your old Adam, when he is not striving to make a god out of himself, to obtain and preserve a life for himself.  You can go from towering pride to the pits of despair in a heartbeat.  What is the use, after all?  What is the point?

Your fathers ate their daily bread.  Whatever they were like, whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father almighty opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life.  Yes, indeed, your fathers ate their bread, thanks be to God — day by day, year after year — and then they died!

How, then, shall you survive and live?  Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die.  Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death.  What difference does it make?  Whether you live twenty years or seventy, forty-five or ninety, what does it even matter?  No amount of daily food and drink will spare your life forever.  It’s easy to become cynical and despondent, to slip into self-pity and despair, as even the Prophet Elijah did when all seemed hopeless and pointless.

But now, take your rest under the tree.  For that is where you live and die and rise again.  It shelters you and shades you in any case, even when you are ready to give up and die in disgust.

Consider, beloved, that your Lord Jesus has suffered and died for you in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His innocent suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope.  These voluntary works of His were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to God your Father.  You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  This same Jesus — the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place — He has risen from the dead.  Therefore, you also shall rise and live with Him.

So also, even in your suffering you are not cast aside.  You are not abandoned, nor forgotten.  What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.

The bottom line remains that, baptized into Christ, you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone. In Christ, you shall not die but live forever.

He who for your sake died and was raised now strengthens and sustains you here under this Tree of His Cross.  Even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

He loves you.  He is kind and merciful.  He surely does forgive you all your sins.  And where sins are forgiven, death and the grave are undone, and life and salvation are given.

The Father has given His Son from heaven for you, in the flesh, to save you.  To give you life.  That is His good and gracious will!  It is the very thing that God most desires, and He does it.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love; to raise you up from death to life; to strengthen you in both body and soul, here in time and hereafter for eternity.

See here, then: Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood, which He has given into death upon the Cross for you and all people, and which He now gives and pours out for the life of the world, for His Christians to eat and to drink in this Sacred Meal

Arise, therefore. Eat His Body, and drink from His Cup, here under the Tree of His Cross.  The journey is too much for you to travel on your own, but with this Food He travels with you all the way.  He strengthens and sustains you in the one true faith.  He will not let go of you in the heat of the desert, but He shall raise you up in glory at the last.

So does He now grant you to depart in peace and joy, and so shall you also live in peace and joy.

Again I say, arise and eat, as the Lord stretches out His hand to feed you.  On the strength and vitality of this Food, the very Bread of Life, you come to the Mountain of God, now and forever.

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

06 August 2015

The Holy Marriage of Christ and His Bride

The Holy Scriptures praise marriage highly, and it is highly to be praised. For it is the culminating high point of the Lord’s good creation: Not simply a man in lonely isolation, but male and female, the Lord God made them in His Image; the woman was taken from the man, then brought to the man and given to him by God, that the two should be united as one flesh.

In this union of husband and wife the Love of God is manifested, and in particular, that God has created you in love, in order to make you His own and unite you to Himself in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit, that you should have life in Him and with Him, forever and ever.

So the very Word of God, the almighty and eternal Son by whom the man and the woman, holy marriage, and all of creation has been made, has Himself become flesh, in order to become one flesh with you and with His Holy Bride, the Church. This is the purpose for which God created anything at all and everything that is. This is the Marriage that every other marriage signifies, and which every other marriage is called to celebrate and participate in.

But there is a tension to be found in holy marriage, even at its best in this world, as in the rest of God’s good creation. There is not only the goodness of the creative Word which has established it, but also the brokenness of the fall into sin and the curse of death. It lies in wait even in the marriage rite itself: “Til death us do part.” And you know, perhaps quite personally and painfully, that many different sins may break the bonds of marriage even before death in this fallen world.

Thus, it is all rather precarious, and not so permanent, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider all the ways the wine is spent. There are those who have no wife or husband, but who long to be married. And there are those who are married, who regret it and resent their spouses. In all of this, there is the constant temptation of bitterness, cynicism, and despair, whereby God’s good gift of marriage is despised, and its high and holy purpose is denied.

On the other hand, there is also the risk of idolizing marriage and family, both in a general way, and in your own spouse and children, in particular, whether you have them and make false gods of them, or you covet such people and relationships which God has not given to you.

This is the way of things in the midst of sin and death, namely, that you either despise God’s good creation, because you perceive how fleeting and fading this fallen world is, or you worship the creation instead of the Creator, as though the people and things and opportunities of this life on earth were the source of life and happiness forever. Either way is sinful, and either way you miss the point; whether you are married or unmarried, whether you are rich or poor, and whether you drink freely of wine or only of water.

There is, however, another alternative, which is found only in Christ Jesus. The One by whom and for whom all things are made is still an option, and He is the only option that actually does give life and remains forever. He is no imaginary lover. His Gospel is no hoax. He has come in the flesh in order to be with you, to redeem you in body and soul, to pour out His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon your fallen flesh — through His forgiveness of all your sins — and so to raise you up from death and the grave to the life everlasting with His own God and Father in Paradise.

He is the New Adam, who gives not death but life to all His children. His Bride is the New Eve, whom He cares for and protects, so that she has life in Him, and so that she in turn gives birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit. He neither takes nor gives forbidden fruit, but He produces and pours out the most excellent Fruit of the Vine, which is the Spiritual Food and Drink of His own flesh and blood. So does the Husband sustain His Wife, and the Bridegroom gives life to His Bride; for He delights in her forever, and He has named her His own.

You see that in Christ Jesus all things are made brand new. From the inside-out, He brings about the New Creation in Himself, in His own holy Body. He first of all becomes true Man, Himself a child of Adam, because He is conceived and born of the Woman. And then He reverses the fall into sin and the curse of death by entering into their arena and taking them on. He sets Himself against the serpent who beguiles, and He perseveres in the true wisdom of steadfast faith, in perfect obedience to His God and Father. He is the promised Seed of the Woman, who crushes the serpent’s head by suffering the serpent to bruise Him. By the shedding of His Blood He atones for the sins of the world, and so it is that, by His death, He conquers death and defeats the devil.

His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation. For He was born of the Woman in order to be the New Man, from whom the New Woman is taken and brought to Him and given to Him by the Father. He suffers and dies voluntarily, in love, so that New Life might come forth out of death and the grave, out of the ground that was cursed by sin.

It is in His Holy Church, by His Ministry of the Gospel, that the New Creation of Christ Jesus is now realized, even here on earth in the midst of sin and death. That is the Truth and the Glory of God in Christ, which faith perceives and beholds in the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, despite all of the apparent contradictions in this fallen and dying world.

It would still seem that everything is simply running out, falling apart, turning sour, and returning to the dust, until even the dust shall disintegrate and be no more. Yet, here is the Bridegroom who has come; who speaks, and it is so; whose own flesh is the evidence and guarantee that your flesh also shall be raised from the dust of the earth, and shall be glorified in Him, and shall feast with Him in His Kingdom at the Wedding Banquet that is never exhausted and never ends. Thus do you live in your body of flesh and blood within His Holy Church, and within your own place in life.

As the ministers of Christ deal with you by His divine command — as they preach His Word, as they absolve sinners in His stead, as they baptize in His Name, and as they serve His Supper — it is Christ Himself who is at work to fill you up, in body and soul, with His Spirit and His Life.

You also, then, do whatever He tells you to do, in whatever particular place He has stationed you. Proceed according to His Word, in the confidence that He is at work to accomplish His purposes for you, and in you, and through you for others, even though you may have no idea at any given point what He is doing or going to do. The outcome is in His hands, as you, also, are in His hands. Although you know not when or how He will act, His Gospel teaches you that He delights in you, and that He desires to give you His good gifts. For now, that is all you really need to know.

Do not be dissatisfied or discontent with what you have, or with your situation; and do not allow yourself to be eaten up with envy over what you do not have. Instead, receive whatever you are given with thanksgiving to the Lord, and sanctify all of these things unto yourself by the Word of God and prayer, and put them to use in your life on earth to the glory of Christ’s Holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors in the world. So shall others see His Glory and believe in Him.

If you are married, then be chaste and pure within your marriage. Love and cherish your own spouse, and be faithful to her or him until death. And if you are unmarried, then be chaste and pure in your celibacy, and use your time and energies to serve the Church and the community in holy faith and Christian love. None of you lives unto yourself alone, but each and all of you are called to live unto Christ Jesus, who is your Husband and your Head, both now and forever.

Pray, therefore, in the confidence of Christ Jesus, your Lord. Look to Him for all that you need, for all good things, and learn to live by faith in His vows and promises to you. Be persistent in your prayer; not presumptuous, as though you would dictate what He must do, but in the sure and certain hope that He is gracious, and that He will act in love to save you.

St. Mary sets a beautiful example for the Church, in this regard, in turning to her Son with the need at hand, and then in turning to the servants with the wise counsel to hear and heed His Word. She is not dissuaded by His reply, which sounds like a rebuttal and rejection. Nor does she presume upon Him. She does not command, but she seeks His help, and she trusts that He will provide in due season. His Hour has not yet come, but His great heart of Love, which takes Him to that Hour of the Cross, is ever the same, and is ever open to His people. So His heart is open now to you.

Despite your failings and all that you lack, He rescues and redeems you in love because He is your Bridegroom, and this is how the true Husband cares for His own dear Wife. He does not hold your sins against you, nor does He even look at them, but He lays down His Life and gives Himself for you, in order to bear your burdens, to comfort you in all your griefs, to cover your shame with the glory of His righteousness, and to clothe your nakedness with the beauty of His holiness.

Where you have been prideful of yourself, and where you have made idols out of created things, repent of your sins. Where you have despaired of any hope or help to be found in the Lord your God, and where you have despised the good gifts of His creation, repent of your sins. Believe the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and find yourself, your vocation and life in His Body of flesh and blood.

From His riven side, from the Hour of His Cross, from His open heart of Love, He pours out the water and the blood and the Holy Spirit generously upon you, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you real life forever with Himself, within His own Marriage and Family, which is the household and family of His own God and Father.

From the sacred waters of Holy Baptism to the blessed wine of the Holy Communion, He cleanses and purifies you with His Spirit by His Gospel of forgiveness, and with His holy, precious Blood. And by these same means of grace, He not only quenches your thirst, as with living water, but He also fills you up with genuine joy and gladness, even as He Himself is full of Grace and Truth.

He brings you here to His banquet hall, and His banner over you is love. Here He fills you with good things from the abundance of His House. He takes you to Himself, to have and to hold from this very Hour unto the neverending New Day of the Resurrection. He plights thee His troth, so that He and all His goods are now also your own, and neither He nor they shall be taken from you.

Beloved of the Lord, He is the Giver of the Feast, and He is the Feast Itself, in which you behold His Glory: The Glory of His Cross and Resurrection, and His Glory as your Bridegroom, from whom you shall never be parted; for He will never leave you nor forsake you.

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

02 August 2015

Receive and Eat the Bread of Life

Although the sinful world and your fallen flesh are prone to make a multiplicity of false gods out of many things, there is in fact only one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Maker of the heavens and the earth and of all that is in them.  And as there is but one true God, there is only one Way to know Him and love Him, to believe and trust in Him, to find Him and come to Him.

In short, there are not many ways to God, but one Way only, by which He first of all comes to you.

That one and only Way to God is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In accordance with the Holy Scriptures, in fulfillment of all the words and promises of God, He has come down from heaven, from the bosom of His Father, in order to seek you out and find you, to draw you to Himself in body and soul forever, and to bring you in and with Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, to the Father by the Spirit.

Therefore, if you would have the one true God as your God, seek the Lord Jesus Christ, find Him and come to Him, by the way and means of that one boat which He has provided for you on earth, that is, by His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the holy ark of Christendom.  For that is where and how He is with you and abides with you in the flesh, so that you may abide with Him.

So then, here you are, and He is here for you within His House, in the Ministry of His Gospel, in His Word and Sacrament.  But what are you looking for, and what do you hope to find?  For what purpose do you seek the Lord Jesus?  What is it that you want Him to do for you and give to you?

Do you seek the Lord Jesus in order to receive and eat the Food that He provides for eternal life?

Or, are you longing to eat your fill of the food that perishes?  Is it your hope and your goal to use the Lord Jesus, as though He were merely a means to some other end?  As though He were your tool and your ticket to achieving the wealth of this fallen world?  That you might gorge yourself on the flesh pots of Egypt, and that you should thus be consumed by your slavery to sin and death.

If you live and work for perishable food, then you will perish with it.  For the appetite and gluttony of the flesh, whether of food or fornication, will eat you up with its own consuming death, for it is contrary to God’s Word and faith.  Such craving is to put your faith and trust in idols and false gods, which cannot save you.  If you hunger and thirst for such gods, you will die in your unbelief.

To be sure, the one true God in mercy does provide you with daily bread for this body and life, for which you are to give Him thanks and praise.  It is a good gift of the Creator.  But it is not the source or substance of your life and health and strength.  Such bread is for now, but not forever.
Even the miraculous Old Testament Manna pointed beyond itself to something more.  It lasted only for the day that it was given, that the people should learn to live, not by such bread for their bodies, but by faith in the Word and promises of God and in love according to His commandments.

What then shall you do?  And how then shall you live?  To what does that Manna point you?

It is simple, really.  Jesus tells you straight up.  Listen to what He says, and believe in Him.  Eat the Food of the Son of Man, which He gives to you by grace, by and with His Word of the Gospel.  For God the Father has set His seal upon this Lord Jesus — by His Baptism in the Jordan River.

There is one Baptism, as St. Paul has testified, and that is the Holy Baptism of the one Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the one God and Father and the one Holy Spirit are revealed and made known.  God is manifested in His Body of flesh and blood, as Christ is anointed by the Spirit, crucified for your transgressions, and raised from the dead by the glory of the Father for your justification.

You are baptized into the same Lord Jesus Christ.  You share His Cross and Resurrection because  you share His one Baptism for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And you thus bear His Holy Spirit and the Name of His God and Father in your own body and soul as a Christian disciple of Jesus.

Believe in Him, therefore, whom the Father has sent and gives to you from heaven for the life of the world.  He is the evening and morning Sacrifice, who arises before God as a pleasing aroma on your behalf.  He is the Passover Lamb who has been given in your place, whose blood covers and protects you from death, and whose flesh feeds and nourishes you for life with God.  And He is the true Manna from heaven, who sustains you through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

This almighty and eternal Son of the living God, He is the One who has descended — He has come down from heaven, and become flesh, and has borne all sin and death for us men and our salvation.

He has led captivity captive by handing Himself over to sacrificial death upon the Cross, undoing sin, death, and all the power of the devil by His own voluntary suffering and innocent bloodshed.

And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He freely gives His good gifts to His people, His Church, even to the close of the age.  That is to say, as St. Paul has written, the Lord gives not just talents, abilities, and skills, and not only money and other tangible resources for the logistics of life in the world, but first of all, above all else, He gives the gifts of men who preach and teach His Word.  He gives the Prophets and Apostles, the holy Evangelists, and the pastors and teachers who care for His flock.  He gives the Ministry of the Gospel for the administration of His Food and Drink.

In this Word and the preaching of it, and in this sacred Food and Drink, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus gives Himself to you, that you should receive and eat the living Bread from heaven, by which alone you have eternal life in body and soul.  For He who speaks, and He who feeds you, is Himself the incarnate Word of God and the Bread of Life, who gives Life to the whole world.

As you thus hear Him and receive Him, as you eat this Bread of Christ and drink His Cup, so then, live and work in the sure and certain hope of your calling as a Christian.  Which is also to say, live in the sure and certain hope of your Holy Baptism, whereby the Lord has set His seal upon you.  Live by hearing and heeding His Word, and by receiving His good gifts according to His Word.

To live by the Word of Christ, to abide in Him by faith in His Gospel, and to confess and call upon His Name — that is the Unity of the Spirit and the Bond of Peace in the one Body of Christ Jesus, in which you remain as you go about your days and duties within all your offices and stations in life.  Thus do you have peace and rest, even in your labors; and, though you die, yet shall you live.

Here set before you is the Sign which Jesus does, that you may believe in Him and trust in Him.  For here, at His Altar in His Church, is the true Manna, the Bread from heaven, which the Father provides for you here on earth, in order that you may live, day by day, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Paradise that He has promised.

What is it?  What is this Bread?  What is this Cup?  It is the Body of Christ, which is given for you.  It is the New Testament in His Blood, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for your life and salvation with God both now and forever.

By these means, the Body and Blood of Christ His Son, the Father loves you and provides for you, He feeds and nourishes you, He cares for you.  And by these same means, by this Meat and Drink indeed, you also learn to know and trust your Father’s love, His providence, and His faithfulness.  For here you are taught by God that He cares for you, and that He will bring you safely home.

As He gives to you this true and living Bread from heaven for your body and your soul, unto the life everlasting, so shall He certainly also provide you with daily bread for this body and life.  He knows your needs and well provides them.  But He is also doing and giving so much more.

For the very Son of God here lays hold of your body with His own Body, so that your body shall be raised and live with Him in glory, immortal and imperishable, like unto His own glorious Body.

Come, then, eat this Bread, and you will never go hungry.  Drink of this Cup, and you will never go thirsty, regardless of your circumstances.  This Flesh and Blood of Christ, which the Father gives and pours out for you on earth, is food enough that you may eat, and be well fed, and live.

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