31 January 2016

He Comes with Authority to Love You

You are accustomed to thinking that the reason Jesus came, the purpose for which He came, was to die on the Cross and rise again.  And, to be sure, you are not wrong in confessing His Cross and Resurrection!  But, right along with that, Jesus says today that the purpose for which He has come is to preach the Kingdom of God in every city.  Indeed, He is still doing that very thing, even to this day and place.  He preaches the Kingdom of God in and with His Cross and Resurrection.

He is the Son of God, the Holy One, the Christ, anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan River.  He has come down from heaven to earth, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the life and salvation of the world.  And as He enters in with His Word, God in the Flesh, the Kingdom of God is at hand in His preaching and in His works of mercy.

His preaching has authority.  Even then the people recognized that and marveled at His authority over demons, high fevers, diseases of all kinds, and over all of creation.  Of course, He is the very Word of God by whom all things are made, so in that respect it is no wonder that all things must submit to His authority.  But in particular He comes with the authority that He obtains and receives from His Father by His fulfillment of the Law, by His innocent suffering and death for all of us.

He comes with this authority of His Cross and Resurrection to give Sabbath Rest to His people by the preaching of His Gospel, by the forgiveness of all their sins.  That is why it is His custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  And He is here today to give His peace and rest to you.

Now, the demons are quite right, on the surface of it, when they declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  They cannot help but recognize Him, for He is indeed the Lord before whom every knee must finally bow.  In that sense, they do know who He is.  And yet, they do not know Him.

They are afraid of Him, and they recoil at His presence because He preaches the Kingdom of God.  And when He comes in with that preaching, demons are cast out, Satan is thrown down.  The devil cannot stand in the presence of Christ.  Demonic unclean spirits cannot speak when He says no.

The Lord Jesus sets Himself, His whole Body and Life, and His holy Word against sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He is the Enemy of the evil one.  For Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the Holy One of God.  He must oppose all unrighteousness and every wickedness of thought, word, and deed.

But more powerful and more important than what He is against, is what He is for, and what He is.  In preaching the Kingdom of God in Himself, in His own flesh and blood, He preaches the Love of God.  Such love is the standard and the fulfillment of the entire Law, which He fulfills in love for you and for all people.  But such love as that is unknown to the devil and his minions.

Christ Jesus preaches the true divine Love, which is patient, and kind, and gentle.  Which does not think of itself but of others.  Which does no hurt nor harm to the neighbor, but helps and heals in whatever way it can.  He preaches not the infatuation, lust, and selfish, self-consuming hunger of sinful desire, which the world calls “love,” but the self-giving and self-sacrificing Love that does not get envious, jealous, or covetous, but concerns itself with caring for the neighbor in his need.

He does come, here and now, preaching this Love of God to you.  And the whole Law is summed up in this preaching.  Thus, in faith and love for God, you also are to love your neighbor as the Lord your God loves you in Christ.  For it is not only what He preaches, but also what He does.

So, then, what are you afraid of?  Why are you so threatened by this preaching of Christ Jesus?  What are the voices  whispering in your head that would make you want the Lord Jesus to go away and leave you alone?  Why are you so convinced that He has come to destroy you?

The pastor comes preaching the Kingdom of God, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ.  He preaches Holy Baptism, and so also the benefits and ongoing significance of your Baptism into Christ, that is, the daily dying and rising of repentance and faith in the Word of the Gospel.  To that end, he preaches Individual Confession & Absolution, and he teaches you this salutary practice from the Holy Scriptures and from the Small Catechism.

And you say, “Have you come to destroy us!?  What business do you have with us?  By what right do you say these things?  Would you weigh us down with this Confession?  Would you terrify us?  Would you have us expose our sins, and tell our secrets, and make ourselves weak?”

Why is it that you are so afraid of Jesus?  Why is it that you cower at His preaching and try to hide yourself away from Him and from His Word?  Why is it that you flee from the Kingdom of God?

The demons have it right when they say that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God.  And they are quite right when they express their fear that He has come to destroy them.  For He has come to cast away the works of darkness, and He does preach against the devil, all his works, and all his ways.  He comes to defeat all the enemies of man, who would devour His dear children.

But the demons are wrong to place their terrible fears and vile accusations upon the lips of men.  And they are utterly wrong when they would have you utter such words, as though the Lord Jesus had come to destroy you.  Such unclean spirits of the devil would have you share their despair and drown in their deep darkness.  They would have you suffer their punishment and their judgment.

But Christ Jesus has not come to destroy men’s lives.  He has come to save them.  To save you.

It is hard for you to believe, because He does send His servants to preach His Law.  He sends men like Jeremiah to speak His Word with power.  He does not wink at your sins or call them cute.  He does not overlook your sins, and He will not permit you to continue in them, for they would in fact destroy you in body and soul.  He calls you away from your sins to live according to His Word.

You cannot get away from this preaching of the Law.  It is like a bronze wall, which towers over you with its strength.  You cannot get past it, go around it, or escape out from under its shadow.

Jesus preaches Love, as I have said, which is what the Law requires.  And you might well say and affirm that Love is good.  You certainly want to be loved.  But how often are you impatient and unkind?  And how often does your heart burn with jealousy and envy?  You do not rejoice with your neighbor when he prospers.  You covet what he has; you want it for yourself; and if you cannot have it, then you do not want your neighbor to have it, either.  You are easily provoked.  You take offense, and you give offense.  You use your words artfully to cut and to hurt, while guarding and protecting yourself.  You do not lift you hand to help, but to wound your neighbor.

Which is why, when Jesus preaches love — that you should love the Lord your God above all else, and, loving God, that you should love your neighbor — when He preaches that you should think not of yourself, but of others — when He calls you to believe and trust in Him, and to be content with what you have — you hear the accusation of the Law, and you know that you have failed.

You are afraid and become defensive when the Kingdom of God draws near in the preaching of
Christ Jesus, because your own little kingdom is threatened by His Word.  When He calls you to give up your sin, to give up your fornication of body and mind, to give up your drunkenness, to give up your filthy talk, and to give up the anger in your heart against your neighbor — when He calls you to give these things up, you are terrified that He would destroy you.  That He would hurt you.  That He would take away these sins that are so precious to you, to which you cling so firmly.

In this way, the Law of God and His preaching of repentance have their way with you and do put you to death — to yourself, to your sins, and to the world with its idols.  And yet, Christ performs this work, by His Word, for the sake of raising you up in His righteousness, sharing with you His own Life and Liberty, and sanctifying you with His own Holiness by His Gospel and His Spirit.

You see, He loves you.  It is in love that He beholds your trouble and misery.  It is in love that He beholds your sin.  And it is in love that He calls you to repentance, that you should live and not die.

Recall that man in the synagogue with the demonic unclean spirit.  Remember how he cried out, “Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?”  Jesus commanded that demon to shut up and come out of the man, and as it came out the man was thrown to the ground, as you also may be thrown and brought to your knees when you are called to give up your sins.  It  was likely scary for the people around him, perhaps members of his family, fellow members of his congregation.  It was probably scary for him, as well, to be stripped of the spirit that had taken hold of him and driven him.  And yet, the demon came out at the Word of Jesus, and the man was left unharmed.

You, also, when you come and you confess your sins; when you expose them in the bright light of the Word of God; when you are honest with yourself and with the Lord, and you reveal your secrets and your shame to the servant of Christ Jesus — you are not destroyed but you are healed.  You are not simply crucified, dead, and buried, but you are also then raised up to newness of life.

It is in love that Christ Jesus comes.  It is in love that He preaches.  It is with love that He speaks.

And He is patient.  He is kind.  He is not jealous or boastful.  He is not arrogant or unbecoming.  He is gentle.  He does not think of Himself, but has emptied Himself and made Himself nothing.  In humble obedience He has gone to His death, so that you should have life in His Name.

It is in such love, therefore, that He comes preaching, not to destroy you, but to destroy the demons that possess you, and to shut up the accusations and the condemnation of the Law.  He comes and He preaches to give you peace, to give you rest, and to give you healing in your body and soul.

It is for this purpose that He has established His Church on earth, against which even the gates of death and hell cannot prevail.  You have heard that already in this Holy Gospel.  For Jesus got up and went out of the synagogue, and He entered the home of Simon Peter in Capernaum, where He preached His Word, where sinners heard Him and were healed, and they ate and drank with Him and shared His fellowship and life.  He entered in and healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  He rebuked her fever, as He rebuked the demons, and the fever left her; and she was raised up, no longer close to death, but alive and well and active in service to the Lord Jesus Christ and to her household.

So has He also entered in and made this house His Church, the home of forgiveness and healing in His Name.  For He Himself has borne away your sins.  He has kept the Law in every way, in love for His God and Father, and in love for you and all His neighbors.  And in such love for you, He has already suffered the consequences of your failure to love.  His Cross has atoned for your sins, and in His Resurrection He now raises you up — righteous and holy and reconciled to God.

As Christ lays hold of you in love, as He preaches repentance and forgiveness of sins, and as He calls you to and from the waters of your Baptism, to and from the Altar of His Body and Blood, He delivers you from the fear and bondage of death and the devil.  He sets you free to live and to love in peace, in confidence and hope, to serve His Church and your neighbor with a glad heart.

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour you, do not be afraid.  Do not tremble in fear of them, but fear God and trust in Him, with whom there is forgiveness.  The bronze wall no longer towers over you as a fierce judgment of the Law.  It now surrounds you as a mighty fortress, within which you are safe.  Herein is your Peace with God and Sabbath Rest in Christ.  For here is the preaching of His Gospel, with which He loves you and gives you His own Life.

He does not simply preach and teach about Love, but He actually loves you by His preaching.  So take heart, and take comfort in the Word that you have heard this morning.  For He has said that He must keep preaching.  And He does keep preaching in every city, in every place, and also here.  It is for this purpose that He comes to you, that you should live with Him in the Kingdom of God, here at His Altar, and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body unto life everlasting.

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

24 January 2016

Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Ears

It is an audacious claim that Jesus makes, not only for the people of Nazareth way back then, but also for you, right here and now.  It is a claim concerning Himself, His Person and His work as the Messiah, and a bold assertion concerning the preaching of His Word, that is, the Voice of the Lord which proceeds from His gracious lips and from the mouth of His servants.

By this Word of Christ — not simply a Word about Him, but the Word that He continues to speak to and for His Church — by this Word the most amazing things are done for you and given to you.  But apart from this Word, there is neither life nor light, nor any hope or help for you.

Consider, for example, what great things and what tremendous benefits the washing of water with the Word of Christ does for you and gives to you and to your children in Holy Baptism.  It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this — all of this by the power and authority of His Word.  Without His Word, it would be water only and not the life-giving Baptism that it is.  But by and with the Word of Christ, your Holy Baptism makes of you a living member of His Body, the Church, as the same Holy Sacrament shall do for Genevieve, Robert, and Beks in these coming weeks.

It is a pleasant and agreeable thing to hear and receive such lovely Gospel Words and promises, which are most certainly true.  But there is a problem.  Your sinful heart does not believe and trust this Holy Gospel, for one thing.  And in any case, you are not satisfied by these gracious Words that enter your ears and fall upon your body and life from the lips of Christ Jesus.

His promises sound too good to be true as He speaks of deliverance, freedom, safety, and security in the Land of God.  So you are skeptical and cynical to begin with.  But patient you are not.  For you covet and crave more tangible benefits than you have yet seen or held in your hands, and you would much prefer to have the promises of the Lord in your body and life right now, instead of waiting for the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting on the other side of death.

Meanwhile, your fallen flesh, your sinful heart and mind delude you to suppose that, in contrast to others, you actually deserve to have what you want by some right or rationality of “fairness,” despite the fact that for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment.  The Lord does not owe you anything.  But in defensiveness and desperation, you get angry, and build up a big old head of steam, and become hostile toward the Lord and everyone around you when others appear to be receiving what you want for yourself.  Such covetous desire is the root of all temptation and sin.

Certainly the same thing happens when it comes to the Church on earth.  How common it is to hear comments and complaints about what the Church ought to be like, what it should be and do, and how it should make you feel.  Comparison and competition with the world are the ruling standard.

How many other such questions and criticisms go unspoken, perhaps within your own thoughts and feelings when you’re not hearing what you want to hear or getting what you want to get?  It’s not for me to get inside your head or your heart, but ask yourself whether you are content with the Word of Christ and the gift and promise of His Gospel.  Or do you covet what He does not give and resent the neighbor who appears to have what you do not?  Are you jealous of Capernaum?  Or of the congregation with more people, more money, more of this, or maybe less of that?  Such envy and jealousy will poison your heart and mind against the Lord Jesus and His gracious Gospel.

The truth of the matter is, there are as many differing opinions as to how the Church on earth should be as there are people in the world shopping around for the savior and the sort of salvation that suits them.  No real safety or security in that.  No divine Wisdom or divine Life in it, either.

But the dear Lord Jesus bestows what only He can give, according to His good and gracious will, where and when and how it pleases Him, solely by the way and the means of His Word and the preaching of it.  He does His mighty works and establishes the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, not by any might or cleverness of man — far less by any greed or grasping of man — but by the Cross that He first of all bears and then lays upon His disciples, and by the promise of His Resurrection, the surety of your own resurrection, which you cannot see but can only believe.

So, how shall you respond to this preaching of Jesus?  Will you receive Him and embrace Him as your Savior on His terms, and rejoice in His divine Life and eternal salvation, although He comes to you and deals with you by and with the Cross?  Or will you insist on your own way, on your own expectations, on your own pride and selfishness and greed, and drive the Lord Jesus away?

Oh, to be sure — and make no mistake about it — your unbelief, your sinful rejection, and your rebellion against Jesus will not thwart Him or prevent Him from accomplishing His great salvation.  As surely as He has become Man, has sacrificed Himself once for all upon the Cross, has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so surely will His Name be hallowed, His Kingdom come, and His Will be done.  The only real question is, what will become of you?

How often shall you throw Him out — if not bodily, then by your attitude, and by your words and actions — before He simply passes through your midst like water through your hands and moves on to others, leaving you with nothing but your bitter resentment, to languish and die in your sins?

Take care, then, how you hear and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He comes to you and speaks to you.  Repent of your sinful unbelief, your covetous lust, and your angry rejection of His Word.  Do not insist on your own wants and your own way, but rejoice in His gracious Voice and give thanks that He comes to you in Peace to atone for your sins and to reconcile you to God forever.  Repent of all your sins, and find your help and hope and life in the preaching of His Gospel.

It is instructive to contrast the response of Nazareth to the preaching of Jesus with the response of the people in Nehemiah’s day when Ezra the priest read and preached the Law of God to them.

Take your cues from those who heard and repented, who were comforted with the mercies of the Lord and given to feast upon the gifts of His grace.  Instead of hardening your heart and mind against the Lord and adding sin upon sin by rejecting and refusing to hear and heed His Word, humble yourself before Him, live by faith in His Word under His Cross, and worship Him with reverence and awe in your body, soul, and spirit.  Fear, love, and trust in Him above all else.

It is the great irony and paradox of the Christian faith, that when the Law of God exposes you and condemns you as a sinner, just so does He open you up to His grace and mercy and declare you to be the object of His Gospel of forgiveness.  For if you are a sinner, the Lord Jesus is your Savior.  But if you refuse to be a sinner, then you refuse and reject the One who is the Savior of sinners.

It is indeed for this very purpose that He has come to you, and for which He has been anointed by the Spirit of God in His Baptism.  He is here in the flesh to bear and carry the Cross, in order to save you from your sins, to redeem you from death and the devil, and to bring you to God as a member of His own crucified and risen Body.  He comes to cleanse and heal you; to set you free from the bondage of guilt and fear; to fill up your poverty with His heavenly riches; and to feed your desperate hunger and deepest thirst with nothing less than Himself, His Body and His Blood.

None of this according to any merit or worthiness in you, nor by any pedigree or power in you.  That is precisely the point!  It is all by His grace, by His divine charity, to meet your real need.

If He does not relieve you of your loneliness and isolation; if He does not provide you with the spouse, the family, or the friends that you would so much like to have; if He does not cure all your aches and pains and hurts and anxieties, nor heal all your temporal, bodily ailments; if He does not make you rich and famous or give you whatever else it is that you have demanded and expected in your sinful thoughts and desires — it is not because He has not come to be your Savior.

To the contrary, the Lord Jesus would have you recognize your real need for Him and so receive Him as your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And He would have you live by faith in His preaching, rather than living for earthly comforts and worldly achievements, which can be so delightful but are deceptive in their appearances, because they do not last and cannot save you.

Indeed, if you are blessed by the Lord your God with many and great things here on earth, pray all the more fervently that He would “lead you not into temptation,” but that He would guide you by His Word and Spirit to use whatever He has put into your hands in godly faith and in holy love for Him and for your neighbor.  Do not put your trust in such things which whither and fade like grass.

The harsh reality is that, whether you have much or little, your covetous and sinful heart will lead you astray to the left or the right, sometimes into sinful pride, and elsewise into faithless despair.

In your idolatrous fear, love, and trust in yourself and in other false gods, you will get frustrated, angry, and rebellious with Jesus, and you would just as soon cast Him out of your life altogether.

But for all of that, He has come to be the Savior of sinners.  He comes to be your Savior, to speak to you the gracious Word of His Gospel; to absolve you of all your sins; to release you from the oppression of your old Adam; and to set you free from false belief, from pride, and from despair.

It is all right here for you — in this preaching of His Word — sounding in your ears, even now — this Word of Christ that lifts you up and gives you His Life in place of your death and damnation.

Do not let it go right by you, in one ear and out the other.  But give careful attention to His Word.  Consider it, and cling to it, and take it to heart, irrespective of your fickle feelings and emotions.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here preached to you, which makes of your Holy Baptism a cleansing from transgression, from the vile leprosy of sin, and from the stink of death.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here spoken to you with such tenderness and peace, which feeds you from the never empty Bread Box and the overflowing Chalice of His everlasting Marriage Feast; for He is your immortal Bridegroom, who lives and does not die forevermore.

As you now hear His voice in your ears, so eat of the Fat Portions which He gives into your mouth, and drink of the Sweet Wine which He pours out upon your lips and tongue for the forgiveness of all your sins.  As He has spoken, so does He freely distribute these sacred Portions to you, and to the many who have nothing, because He has prepared this great Feast for His own Name’s sake.

Neither mourn nor weep, but rejoice in the Lord your God.  For He rejoices over you in holy Love.  As He forgives you all your sins and justifies you in His sight by the preaching of His Gospel, so by His Word does He delight in you with great joy, and by His Word you are strengthened in Him.

It is His Word of the Gospel which sanctifies this day and makes of it the day of salvation for you, and His Word of the New Testament which makes of this building His own House and Home, His dwelling place of peace, that you might live with Him in His Kingdom both now and for eternity.

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

17 January 2016

Pray and Confess the Word of Christ

You know that person who is really good at planning, preparing, and pulling off the big event?  Whether it be the perfect hostess who makes it look so easy and effortless, the wedding planner, or the backstage production manager.  You know the one I’m talking about.  Or maybe you are that person.  Not everyone has that kind of knack, but there are those talented few who just know how.  The rest of us muddle forward, accepting that we’re going to make mistakes, hoping that they’re not too devastating and that we’ll learn from them in any case.

Truth be told, even for the best of us, all the most careful plans and preparations can still fall short and go awry.  There’s too many people, too many variables, and the bottom line is that none of us is flawless or infallible.  It’s often hit or miss, so you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

If that’s the case when it comes to planning a wedding — and you know it often is — it’s all the more so in the case of marriage itself.  Put two imperfect people together, and it would be silly to expect flawless perfection.  To maintain all the moving parts involved in everyday life, to keep all the plates spinning, and to pull it off week after week, year after year — it doesn’t happen easily; it doesn’t manage itself without effort; and it doesn’t unfold without its spilt milk and spent wine.

And that’s just to speak of weddings and marriage, to say nothing yet of all the other occupations and undertakings in this poor life of labor.  What else are you attempting?  To what do you aspire?  What sorts of plans and preparations are you pursuing?  And where is your wine running out?

You know, both from the Word of God and from your own experience, that life on earth and all of creation is under the curse of sin.  The consequence of death is present in your perishing flesh and everywhere you look, long before the funeral, really from the womb.  It’s not just the wine at the wedding reception, but everything is exhausted and spent, falling far short of expectations.

And yet, this finitude, this frailty of fallen flesh, this futility of mortal life under the curse of sin is not left without hope.  It rather calls you to a different perspective and a new set of priorities.  For the Creator remains and abides in love over all things.  He does not abandon the work of His own hands, but in mercy He upholds all that He has made, and He governs the heights and depths, the breadth and width of His entire creation for the benefit and blessing of His Christian Church.

Not only that, but He provides for you, as well, for each one of you, whose very hairs are numbered and accounted for in His holy wisdom.  Has He not created you and given you breath, a heart and mind, your body and soul, your reason and all your senses, in order to give you life with Himself?  And as the Father has not spared His only-begotten Son, but has given Him over to the Cross for your Atonement, and has raised Him from the dead for your justification, shall He not also, with Him, freely give you all that you need and raise you up at last, even from death, unto eternal life?

Here, then, you are catechized by the Son of God.  And, by faith in His Word, you recognize the Signs of His divine Glory in, with, and under His Cross.  He teaches you not to despair of His providence, nor to despise His good gifts of body and soul, which He gives to you generously by grace.  At the same time, He teaches you not to make idols of His creation but to fix your hope on Him alone, on His Word and promise, on His Cross and Resurrection, and on His means of grace.

Look to Him, therefore, the Word-made-Flesh by whom all things are made, without whom there is nothing but death and destruction.  Look to Him who is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, who is also your Maker and Redeemer and the Preserver of your life both now and forever.

In whatever it is you struggle, in whatever you are attempting to accomplish, in whatever life you are trying to live, ask yourself, seriously: Have you invited the Lord Jesus to your “party,” and have you presented Him with your need?  Have you asked for His help and trusted Him to act?

If not, know that He has come down from heaven in the flesh, in love for you and for all people, and that He is at hand to hear and heed your prayer.  He is not far away from you, but He is near you in the Word that He speaks, in the Gospel that is preached to you, in His promise of mercy.

So, then, pray as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  Pray to Him, and call upon His Name, because He has commanded you to do so, because He has promised to hear and answer your prayer, and because you really do need Him for everything that matters.

Pray for your Daily Bread, and for the New Wine of the New Creation.  And pray each day for the forgiveness of your trespasses, which is the first and foremost thing that you need above all else.  Pray for His grace to help in time of need, and for the Gift of His Holy Spirit, that you may believe His Holy Word and live according to it here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Pray at all times and in all places — without ceasing — and do not lose heart.  Do not keep silent.

Pray in view of the Lord’s Hour of Glory, that is, in the Light of His Cross and Passion.  For that is where and how He has answered all of your prayers before you have even begun to ask.  And do so in the sure and certain confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, which is the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all your prayers and all your needs in Jesus Christ, His Son.

In His suffering and death, from His Cross to His borrowed Tomb, He has been planted as the true Vine; He produces good grapes and the best wine to the praise and glory of His God and Father, and for the joy and gladness of His people.  Whatever has been lacking, He has thus provided.

When you pray, therefore, look to His Cross and do not lose sight of it.  Behold His answer there in His Passion, in His body crucified but now risen.  And whatever He says to you, do it.  Even if it seems strange and pointless and utterly unlikely to do any good, do it anyway.  And if it’s hard, and if you suffer as a consequence, remember again what He has accomplished by His own Cross.

Whatever He has given you to work with in this life on earth, use it according to His Word in the hope of the Resurrection.  It will be sufficient, no matter how much or how meager it may be, and no matter how it looks to you or anyone else — whether it be great wealth or simple water only.

In your marriage, or without husband or wife.  In your family, or without any parents or children.  In your job, or out of work; whether you are still in school, unemployed, retired, or just plain tired.  In your own house and home, or out on the street with no place to lay your poor head.  Whatever He says to you within your station in life, do it, and rest assured that He will work it out for you.

If you lack anything, look to the Lord for all that you need.  And if you lack nothing, use what you have for the good of your neighbor, whomever the Lord has set along side of you or laid at your gate in need of your help.  For whatever you may have, be it much or little, it is the Lord’s gift of grace and a stewardship of His mercy for the common good.

You need not worry about yourself, what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear.  The Lord knows your needs and well provides them.  But you are His servant to care for your neighbor, for your family and friends, for your fellow Christians, and for your fellow man, even when it seems that you have nothing to offer.  Even if it is only a cup of water for one of His thirsty little ones.

Even the crosses that you bear are for the common good.  So do not feel sorry for yourself, but rejoice and be patient in your suffering, and call on the Name of the Lord in peace, hope, and love.

So, too, if you are an officer of this congregation, exercise that office for the common good.  But if you are not an officer, do not suppose that you have no responsibility for the Body of Christ or that you have nothing to contribute.  Whatever gifts you have been given are for the mutual help and edification of all.  As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you should know that from the Word of His Apostles, and from the example of His early Christians who had all things in common.

The Church is not a competition but a family.  You are given to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ, who is your true Husband and Head.  And your brothers and sisters are given to serve you.

First and foremost among the good gifts that you are given is the Word of Christ, His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins, for which He has taught you to pray, and which He freely gives you by grace.  That is yours, in Him, no matter how young or old you are, no matter how rich or poor.  Whether you have anything else, or nothing else at all, speak that Word of the Gospel as you also hear it.

Forgive those who trespass against you, as you are forgiven by the Lord.  Confess the Word of Christ to comfort and encourage your neighbor, and to strengthen your own faith by speaking it.

Pray, too, according to His Word and promise: for yourself and your family; for your friends, and for your enemies; for your neighbors near and far; for the Church, and for the whole wide world.

Do not keep silent, and do not speak what is false or foolish, but pray and confess the Word of Christ.  Encourage and exhort according to His Word.  Testify to what He has said and done.  Such words are not empty or useless.  They are powerful, living, and active, because they are of Christ.

Consider what His Word says and gives to you: He delights in you and rejoices over you in love.  He calls you by His own Name, for He is your Bridegroom and His Father is your God and Father.

Along with that, by the washing of the water with His Word He has forgiven you all your sins, poured out His Holy Spirit generously upon you, rescued you from death and the devil, opened heaven to you, and bestowed the divine gifts of eternal life and salvation upon your body and soul.

He speaks, and it is so: Let there be! And by water, Word, and Spirit, you are His New Creation.

And now, then, from the waters of your Holy Baptism, see here the Wedding Feast to which He invites you and brings you.  Not all of your parties on earth will be brilliant or smashing, that is for sure, but this Wedding Feast of Christ, the Lamb of God, has no end nor lacks any good thing.

What is more, at this Banquet you are not only His dear guest, but you belong to the Bridal Party.  In the deep Mystery of the Body of Christ, you too are His beloved and beautiful Bride, for with His Word He has betrothed you and wed you to Himself, to have and to hold forever and ever.

Here is the Abundance of His House and the River of His Delights, given and poured out for you.  From His Cross, from His own innermost being, His holy Flesh and precious Blood are given as your Daily Bread and poured out for you and for the many as your true Spiritual Drink indeed.

This New Wine of the New Creation, which is His own Blood of the New Testament, is the best Wine, the choicest Vintage.  It is His Holy Covenant with you, which no man shall put asunder.  It cleanses you from sin and clothes you with His Righteousness and Holiness within and without.

It is the First Fruit and Pledge of the Good Land the Lord has sworn to you, to give you according to His loving-kindness and tender mercies.  The One who promises is faithful, and He shall do it.  His banner over you is Love, and His steadfast Love endures forever.  That is most certainly true.  His Love is stronger than death and larger than any other sort of life you have otherwise known.

You see here, He has brought you to His Banquet Hall.  His left hand is under your head, and His right hand embraces you.  Dearly beloved, whatever He says to you, do it.  And what, then, does He say?  “Come, eat and drink without money and without cost.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Drink freely from the Rivers of Life.  It is all for you.  It is for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

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

10 January 2016

Baptized into His Death and Resurrection

The way that St. Luke presents the Baptism of our Lord — after he has already described the imprisonment of St. John the Baptist — underscores that the time and work of preparation is complete.  Now Christ Himself is among us, and the Kingdom of God is fully present in Him.  The Bridegroom has arrived; He is here, so the best man hands the bride over to Him and steps aside.  He who is the true Lord must increase, and the one who has gone before Him must decrease.

By the same token, St. Luke also indicates that, even though it is St. John who administers the Sacrament of Holy Baptism — the washing of the water with the Word — it is in fact the Father Son & Holy Spirit who actually bestows the gifts and benefits of this Holy Sacrament.  No less the same is true for you in your Holy Baptism: Though it is the pastor who administers the water with the Word of God in Christ, it is the Holy Triune God who is actively present and at work — in, with, and through that very water and Word — to baptize you, to make you His own dear child, to anoint you with the Holy Spirit, to unite you with Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, to crucify and bury your old Adam, and to raise you to new life as a “New Man.”

St. John’s baptism with water is filled with the Holy Spirit and fire by the Word of God in Christ.  It is not “just plain water,” but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  Thus, in St. John’s baptizing — and in the baptizing of the ministers of Christ to this day — the Holy Trinity is cleansing and forgiving, rescuing from death and the devil, and giving life and salvation to all who believe this, according to His Word and promises in Christ Jesus.

The Baptism of fire is God’s working of repentance in you, and the Baptism of His Spirit is the gift of His forgiveness of your sins in Christ Jesus.  He has filled the waters of Holy Baptism with such fire and with the Holy Spirit, by submitting Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He fills those waters with Himself, with His own righteousness, innocence and blessedness.  And in exchange, He takes upon Himself and bears in His own body to the Cross all of your sins, all of your death and damnation.  Thus, He suffers Himself to undergo the fire and brimstone of God’s righteous wrath.  And He extinguishes those otherwise unquenchable flames with His own holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

You see, the Lord Jesus Christ has come, as St. John proclaimed, to cleanse His threshing floor and to burn up the chaff with divine fire.  But He has come to do so in accordance with His divine love and mercy; otherwise, we should all be swept into that never ending fire.  For you, by sinful nature, are the chaff, and you deserve nothing but punishment.  Yet, Christ has come — and in His own Holy Baptism, He has now begun — to bear your sins and the fire they deserve, unto the bloody “Baptism” of His Cross and Passion.  He has taken your place under the judgment and wrath of God, in order that you might receive, by grace, His place under the blessing of God.

By His voluntary suffering and death, He has destroyed death.  It could not hold Him, nor does it have any more dominion over Him.  Having died once for all, He dies no more, nor shall He ever die again.  So also for you, who are baptized into Him, crucified and buried with Him through Baptism into His death.  The purifying fire of Holy Baptism destroys the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires.  But just as Christ has been raised through the glory of the Father, so are you raised with Him to newness of life.  All that you were by sinful nature, subject to death and the devil, has died, and now you live a true, divine, eternal life, safe and secure in Christ Jesus.  As a member of His Body, you have become pure wheat, and you are gathered into His barn — into His Church on earth, and hereafter into Paradise and life everlasting.

Take note that Jesus is found together with “all the people” when He is baptized.  He identifies Himself with all people, and in particular with all the baptized.  He identifies Himself with you, poor miserable sinner though you are.  He stands with you, in your place, under the Law, under the judgment of Almighty God.  He assumes your place even to the point of His death on the Cross, which is precisely what His Baptism already anticipates and begins to accomplish.

In His Baptism He has made Himself to be like you — a cursed sinner condemned by the Law — so that, in your Baptism, by virtue of His Cross and Resurrection, He makes you to be like Him: forgiven and alive forevermore.  He first binds Himself to you, and then He binds you to Himself in Baptism.  And the Holy Spirit is the Bond of unity between Christ and you, as also between Christ and His Father.  So are you taken into the embrace of the Holy Triune God.  And to that end, the Father gives you His own Name in Christ the Son, adopting you to be His own dearly beloved child.  He covers you, surrounds you within and without, upholds and supports you, guards and protects you; and He shall never leave you nor forsake you.  You are His own, and He is yours.

If anyone shall lay a hand on you to hurt or harm you, they shall be laying hold of Him, and they shall have met their match.  When sin, death, and hell attack you and attempt to destroy you, their jaws are broken upon Christ, who is far more than they can chew.  And when the devil tries to lay claim on you and steal you away from Christ Jesus and your Father in heaven, you can spit in his face and renounce him, and boldly declare that your life, both now and forever, is in the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit Himself bears witness that you are a child of God, a joint heir with Christ, and He commands that Satan, all his works and all his ways, and every unclean spirit must depart and be gone!

The fact is that heaven has been opened to you in Christ Jesus, by His Baptism unto death and in His Resurrection and Ascension, all of which you share by your Baptism into Him.  As He breaks the surface of the water, so does He break through the wall of sin and death which separated you from God; and as He rises out of the water, so does He rise from the tomb into heaven with you now in tow.  As Christ thus brings you to the Father in and with Himself, so does the Father open up, not only heaven, but His kind fatherly heart of love and mercy toward you in His Son.  He opens His heaven to you and pours out His Spirit upon you.  He opens His heart to you in mercy and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and He opens His mouth to speak His Word to you in peace.

In hearing that the Holy Spirit has come down upon Jesus in His Baptism, in bodily form as a dove, you receive the testimony of God that His Spirit is likewise poured out upon you in your Holy Baptism.  And so does He continue to come in bodily form.  Not as a dove, to be sure, but in the earthly, tangible means of grace, that is to say, in the water with the Word of Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine which are the very body and blood of Christ Jesus in the Holy Communion.

As Christ openly received the public anointing of the Spirit in His body of flesh and blood, so does His holy body bear for you and convey to you the same Holy Spirit in the Ministry of His Gospel.  When your body is anointed with the waters of Holy Baptism, and you are thereby crucified and buried with Christ in His death, and raised with Him in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension, so does the Father pour out His Spirit generously upon your body and soul.  And when the Lord Jesus places into your mortal body His own holy body and precious blood, these also bear His Holy Spirit into your flesh and blood, into your heart and soul, into your body, mind, and spirit.

Likewise, it is the Voice of God the Father that speaks to you from heaven in Christ Jesus, in the Ministry of the Gospel-Word and Sacraments.  The voice of your pastor, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” is the Voice of the Holy Triune God giving you His own Name and proclaiming that you are now His child and heir, that you are beloved of Him, and that He is pleased with you for Jesus’ sake.  And again, the voice of your pastor in the Holy Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” is the Word of God in Christ, returning you to the cleansing waters of your Holy Baptism, and raising you up again as a brand new man, woman, or child in Christ Jesus.  So also, here and now, in this preaching of the Gospel, it is the Voice of God the Father which says that you are His own dear child; that He loves you with His whole heart; that He is pleased with you and delights in you.

It’s true.  I am not lying to you.  The Father does not lie to you.  He is faithful to all His Words and promises.  Do you protest, “but I am a poor, miserable sinner”?  Yes, you are!  But Jesus, the Son of God, has taken His stand with you.  He has identified Himself with you.  He has taken your sin upon Himself, carried it in His body to the Cross, and put it to death by dying the death that you deserve.  All this He has done, beginning with His Baptism, for the forgiveness of your sins.  And in exchange, in your Holy Baptism, He has given you Himself, His divine sonship, His life in place of your death, His heaven in place of your hell, His salvation in place of your eternal damnation.

Everything you were by sinful nature, He has taken away and replaced with everything He is, with everything He has, and with everything He has done for you.  He has not only filled you with Himself, but also clothed you with Himself, covering you with the beautiful white robes of His own perfect righteousness, like a gorgeous bride adorned and made ready for her husband, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish or flaw of any kind.  This is who and what you are in Him.  This is what the Father sees when He looks upon you in His love.  And though you do not yet see it or feel it in yourself, in your life and experience, you shall know it fully and truly at the last, in the resurrection of your body, and in the life everlasting of your body and soul in heaven forever.

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

07 January 2016

Our Read-Aloud Favorites of 2015

Our reading together suffered somewhat over this past year, as it has become more and more difficult to find blocks of time when both I and my listeners are available.  Given our barista's work schedule and our ballerina's dancing regimen, in addition to the usual church and school routines, we weren't able to read as many books as in previous years.  Nevertheless, we still made it through three dozen books together, and, as our custom has been, we recently voted on our favorite books (or series of books) of those that we read and heard in 2015.  So, here follows the top dozen in order of preference (note that there were ties for third and ninth place):

Top Twelve Read-Aloud Favorites of 2015

1. Mister Max (trilogy), by Cynthia Voigt

2. The Unwanteds (series of 6 books so far), by Lisa McMann

3. Chronicles of Egg (trilogy), by Geoff Rodkey

3. Storm of Lightning (book 5 in the Michael Vey series),
by Richard Paul Evans

5. Revealed, and Redeemed (books 6 & 7 in the Missing series),
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

6. 100 Cupboards (trilogy), by N. D. Wilson

7. The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby

8. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein

9. The Grimm Legacy, and The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman

9. Books of Umber (trilogy), by P. W. Catanese

11. The Year of Shadow, by Claire Legrand

12. The 13th Reality (series of 4 books), by James Dashner

The 2015 Grampies

So, another year is in the bag and on the books.  As usual, I've enjoyed discovering and exploring some of the new music that's been released in the course of 2015, and I've compiled a list of my favorites.  It certainly is a matter of my personal favorites, as opposed to any vain and futile attempt on my part to identify the "best" albums of the year.  But for what it's worth, I've identified those albums that have caught my ear and held my attention, which have entertained and delighted me, made me think, or otherwise brought joy into my life.

Of course, my favorite new release of 2015 was the youngest baby grand, Gianna Grace Wirgau, who made her beautiful appearance on May the 4th.  And to my great delight, I got to spend a week with Ginny and her family in November, in addition to a week with 2014's #1 release, Donovan Richmond Stuckwisch, and his family.

This past year was a milestone for me in a couple of ways, marking my 30th wedding anniversary with the lovely Lady LaRena, and my 50th birthday.  Hence, there are 30 albums listed here under each of six genres (Country, Pop, Rock, Hard Rock & Heavy Metal, Ambiguous Alternatives, and Guitarists), and my top 50 favorite albums across all six of these genres.  For anyone who may be interested, the headings of each of these lists should hyperlink to extended lists on the Rate Your Music site (in itself a favorite discovery of 2015).

As in the past, kudos to Amazon, Spotify, and the St. Joseph County Library for their invaluable assistance in finding and perusing new music.  And thanks to my friend and colleague, Rev. Erich Fickel, for encouraging me and helping me to be more discerning and demanding in my country music tastes and expectations.  There's still more pop and rock in my country than his, but my palette has both expanded and become more refined under his tutelage.

There was a lot of great country music released in 2015, and a lot of other great albums of various styles.  It is ongoing challenge to know how best to categorize some of it, because the lines between genres have blurred and merged, and many albums span a diversity of styles from start to finish.  So, quibble if you will, but I've done my best to gather things into recognizable families of sound.  And, with that, without any further ado, here's what I came up with:

The 2015 Grampies

1. Will HogeSmall Town Dreams

2. Jimmy BarnesHindsight

3. Mat KearneyJust Kids

4. Kid RockFirst Kiss (clean version)

5. Kristian BushSouthern Gravity

6. Jace PawlakPerspective

7. Joe SatrianiShockwave Supernova

8. All That RemainsThe Order of Things

9. ShinedownThreat to Survival

10. W.A.S.P.Golgotha

11. Like a StormAwaken the Fire

12. Fall Out BoyAmerican Beauty / American Psycho

13. The Darker My HorizonAcquiesce

14. James BayChaos and the Calm

15. Tyler FarrSuffer in Peace

16. A Thousand HorsesSouthernality

17. TremontiCauterize

18. ArandaNot the Same

19. RavenExtermiNation

20. Kyle ParkThe Blue Roof Sessions

21. Tim McGrawDamn Country Music

22. Ella HendersonChapter One

23. Our Last NightYounger Dreams

24. BumblefootLittle Brother Is Watching

25. AmorphisUnder the Red Cloud

26. ThunderWonder Days

27. Zac Brown BandJekyll + Hyde

28. Anthony GomesElectric Field Holler

29. Manic BloomI Know What's Next . . . But You Won't Believe Me

30. EverclearBlack is the New Black

31. Allison MoorerDown to Believing

32. Kacey MusgravesPageant Material

33. Smash Into PiecesThe Apocalypse DJ

34. BlackwelderSurvival of the Fittest

35. SaxonBattering Ram

36. EclipseArmageddonize

37. Kristin DiableCreate Your Own Mythology

38. Laurence JonesWhat's It Gonna Be

39. Imagine DragonsSmoke and Mirrors

40. William Clark GreenRingling Road

41. Ben RectorBrand New

42. TenIsla de muerta

43. The BloodlineWe Are One

44. Sleeping With SirensMadness

45. What's Eating GilbertThat New Sound You're Looking For

46. The PoodlesDevil in the Details

47. WolfpakkRise of the Animal

48. Wearing ScarsA Thousand Words

49. Marcel SingorFutureproof

50. Black Star RidersThe Killer Instinct


1. Will HogeSmall Town Dreams

2. Kristian BushSouthern Gravity

3. Tyler FarrSuffer in Peace

4. A Thousand HorsesSouthernality

5. Kyle ParkThe Blue Roof Sessions

6. Tim McGrawDamn Country Music

7. Zac Brown BandJekyll + Hyde

8. Allison MoorerDown to Believing

9. Kacey MusgravesPageant Material

10. William Clark GreenRingling Road

11. Cory MorrowThe Good Fight

12. Corb LundThings That Can't Be Undone

13. Darius RuckerSouthern Style

14. Jason Michael CarrollWhat Color Is Your Sky

15. Eric ChurchMr. Misunderstood

16. The Damn QuailsOut of the Birdcage

17. The Empty PocketsThe Ten Cent Tour

18. Carrie UnderwoodStoryteller

19. Don HenleyCass County

20. The Black LilliesHard to Please

21. Blitzen TrapperAll Across This Land

22. American AquariumWolves

23. The HoneycuttersMe Oh My

24. Lindi OrtegaFaded Gloryville

25. Montgomery GentryFolks Like Us

26. Maddie & TaeStart Here

27. Black Mountain ShineBlack Mountain Shine

28. Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free

29. CamUntamed

30. Pat GreenHome


1. Mat KearneyJust Kids

2. Jace PawlakPerspective

3. James BayChaos and the Calm

4. Ella HendersonChapter One

5. Kristin DiableCreate Your Own Mythology

6. Ben RectorBrand New

7. What's Eating GilbertThat New Sound You're Looking For

8. Imaginary FutureSunlight

9. Elle KingLove Stuff

10. George EzraWanted on Voyage

11. Rob ThomasThe Great Unknown

12. RingoPostcards From Paradise

13. Beth HartBetter Than Home

14. Kelly ClarksonPiece by Piece

15. PassengerWhispers II

16. The CorrsWhite Light

17. DawesAll Your Favorite Bands

18. Sabrina CarpenterEyes Wide Open

19. Olly MursNever Been Better

20. KodalineComing Up for Air

21. Joshua RadinOnward and Sideways

22. Nate RuessGrand Romantic

23. Family of the YearFamily of the Year

24. Plain White T'sAmerican Nights

25. Owl CityMobile Orchestra

26. Grace PotterMidnight

27. Brandi CarlileThe Firewatcher's Daughter

28. Vanessa CarltonLiberman

29. Shawn MendesHandwritten

30. Chris IsaakFirst Comes the Night


1. Jimmy BarnesHindsight

2. Kid RockFirst Kiss (clean version)

3. ShinedownThreat to Survival

4. Like a StormAwaken the Fire

5. The Darker My HorizonAcquiesce

6. ThunderWonder Days

7. Smash Into PiecesThe Apocalypse DJ

8. EclipseArmageddonize

9. TenIsla de muerta

10. The PoodlesDevil in the Details

11. Black Star RidersThe Killer Instinct

12. Terra NovaReinvent Yourself

13. ScorpionsReturn to Forever

14. GunFrantic

15. Revolution SaintsRevolution Saints

16. Three Days GraceHuman

17. JonoSilence

18. KhymeraThe Grand Design

19. Blackberry SmokeHolding All the Roses

20. Stellar RevivalLove, Lust, and Bad Company

21. Red Sun RisingPolyester Zeal

22. The Winery DogsHot Streak

23. EuropeWar of Kings

24. HalestormInto the Wild Life

25. Alex Beyrodt's Voodoo CircleWhisky Fingers

26. Palace of the KingWhite Bird / Burn the Sky

27. Find MeDark Angel

28. Saint AsoniaSaint Asonia

29. The AnswerRaise a Little Hell

30. Voodoo HillWaterfall

Hard Rock & Heavy Metal

1. All That RemainsThe Order of Things

2. W.A.S.P.Golgotha

3. RavenExtermiNation

4. AmorphisUnder the Red Cloud

5. BlackwelderSurvival of the Fittest

6. SaxonBattering Ram

7. The BloodlineWe Are One

8. WolfpakkRise of the Animal

9. Wearing ScarsA Thousand Words

10. AngraSecret Garden

11. DisturbedImmortalized

12. Battle BeastUnholy Savior

13. Orden OganRavenhead

14. Jorn Lande & Trond HolterDracula: Swing of Death

15. StryperFallen

16. Def LeppardDef Leppard

17. Magic KingdomSavage Requiem

18. Royal HuntDevil's Dozen

19. Within SilenceGallery of Life

20. WorldviewThe Chosen Few

21. Praying MantisLegacy

22. Signum RegisChapter IV: The Reckoning

23. Shattered SkiesThe World We Used to Know

24. Symphony XUnderworld

25. GrumpynatorsWonderland

26. Bullet for My ValentineVenom

27. Iron MaidenThe Book of Souls

28. Luca Turilli's RhapsodyPrometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus

29. ScannerThe Judgement

30. TemperanceLimitless

Ambiguous Alternatives

1. Fall Out BoyAmerican Beauty / American Psycho

2. ArandaNot the Same

3. Our Last NightYounger Dreams

4. Manic BloomI Know What's Next . . . But You Won't Believe Me

5. EverclearBlack is the New Black

6. Imagine DragonsSmoke and Mirrors

7. Sleeping With SirensMadness

8. The DecemberistsWhat a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

9. Trans-Siberian OrchestraLetters From the Labyrinth

10. DomminRise

11. KarnatakaSecrets of Angels

12. A Life | DividedHuman

13. Young GunsOnes and Zeros

14. KingcrowEidos

15. The FratellisEyes Wide, Tongue Tied

16. Breaking BenjaminDark Before Dawn

17. HoundmouthLittle Neon Limelight

18. Lifehouse — Out of the Wasteland

19. Barenaked LadiesSilverball

20. Noel Gallagher's High Flying BirdsChasing Yesterday

21. Of Monsters and MenBeneath the Skin

22. MuseDrones

23. Mumford & SonsWilder Mind

24. The Neal Morse BandThe Grand Experiment

25. All Time LowFuture Hearts

26. Born CagesI'm Glad I'm Not Me

27. Mayday ParadeBlack Lines

28. Hidden HistoryMysterion

29. Kurt Vileb'lieve i'm goin down . . .

30. Florence + The MachineHow Big, How Blue, How Beautiful


1. Joe SatrianiShockwave Supernova

2. TremontiCauterize

3. BumblefootLittle Brother Is Watching

4. Anthony GomesElectric Field Holler

5. Laurence JonesWhat's It Gonna Be

6. Marcel SingorFutureproof

7. Tommy EmmanuelIt's Never Too Late

8. Tony MacAlpineConcrete Gardens

9. Ol DrakeOld Rake

10. Joel Hoekstra's 13Dying to Live

11. Paul WardinghamThe Human Affliction

12. Points NorthPoints North

13. Neal SchonVortex

14. Gus GBrand New Revolution

15. Richie KotzenCannibals

16. Kaki KingThe Neck Is a Bridge to the Body

17. Joe StumpThe Dark Lord Rises

18. Pat TraversRetro Rocket

19. Warren Haynes Featuring Railroad EarthAshes & Dust

20. Jeff FettermanBottle Full of Blues

21. Robben FordInto the Sun

22. Jimmy LaFaveThe Night Tribe

23. Uli Jon RothScorpions Revisited

24. ShardborneLiving Bridges

25. Walter BerterameForza Nova

26. ImpellitteriVenom

27. Michael Schenker's Temple of RockSpirit on a Mission

28. Scott HendersonVibe Station

29. Marco De FrancescoMdf 1 - The Wizard

30. Ana PopovicBlue Room

05 January 2016

Come and See the Lord Jesus

The Lord has seen you from afar, from before the foundation of the world.  He has known you as you are — His own beautiful handiwork and good creation — and yet with all your sins and foibles — and for all of that, in spite of all that, He loves you for His own sake, and His deepest desire is to give you life with Himself.  So has He come to you, to seek you out and call you to Himself.

Follow Him.  Learn from Him, and live with Him.

Follow Him in finding others and calling them to come and see this Lord Jesus, the fulfillment of all the words and promises of God.  And follow Him to the tree of the Cross, to give yourself in love for your neighbor, as Christ has given Himself for you and for all.  Follow Him, because there is no good thing to be found anywhere else, nor is there life at all except in Him, the Son of David.

But do you see it?  Do you recognize the Lord?  Do you comprehend and understand His Word, His Person, and His work?  Truth be told, you cannot, except by faith in His Gospel; and even such faith is not by your own reason or strength, but by the gracious working of His Word and Spirit.

From your natural birth, you are sinful and unclean, full of deceit, and suspicious of others, too.  You are skeptical of that which is true, and yet too easily impressed by that which is superficial, temporary, and passing away.  You are routinely swayed by what you imagine to be so, by what you think you know, and by the reputations and accolades of this perishing world.

But now, forget all of that, and trust what has been written concerning Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

In Him alone has all the fulness of God been manifested and revealed for you and your salvation — in His unassuming flesh and blood, and in His innocent suffering and death.  He is hidden for now under the Cross, contrary to all the world’s expectations and all the hopes of your own flesh.

If you would see this truly and trust this grace of God in Christ Jesus, you must hear and receive the Gospel, and let the Lord your God have His way with you.  For it is not really you who are seeking Him, but He is seeking you in divine and holy love.  Before you have ever called or even known to call, He has answered your need; and while you are yet speaking, He has already acted.

Here in this place, He has come down from heaven to be with you, to save you.  The one true God who has become flesh and blood — true Man, just like you — He is here dwelling with you.

He calls you to follow Him — to become as He is — to dwell with Him in the presence of the Father.  Of yourself, of course, you could not heed His Call or follow Him; heaven would be and remain closed to you.  But He has opened heaven to you, and He now brings you into heaven with Himself.  Which is to say that, already now by faith, you are able to receive and to embrace His forgiveness and His righteousness in the Gospel, so that you are at peace and rest with God in Him.

For by His death for you and for all, in His flesh and with His holy, precious bloodshed, He has atoned for your sins and conquered your death and damnation.  Therefore, it is in His Resurrection that heaven has been opened to you and to all who are baptized into Him.  For His Resurrection from the dead is your righteousness in the presence of God, which cannot ever be undone.  Only believe this Word, and it is yours, as sure and certain as Christ Himself is risen, never to die again.

It is His Atonement and His Resurrection that He shares with you even now, here at His Altar in His Body and His Blood.  Come, taste, and see.  Feasting on His flesh, at His gracious invitation, you dwell with Him and live in Him with the Father, already here in time, as hereafter for eternity.

This Altar, then, truly is the House of God and the very gate of heaven.  And all the angels and archangels of God are gathered here with you around the Lamb upon His throne.  Behold, He was slain for your salvation, and even so He lives and reigns forever in His risen and glorified flesh.

Therefore, also, when He appears in glory at the last, you shall see Him as He is; and you shall know Him as you are known; and you shall be like Him who loves you, even unto life everlasting.

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

04 January 2016

The Baptism of the Lamb of God

The One who is first has made Himself last.  The One who is the greatest has made Himself the least.  He has come down from heaven to you.  He has entered the wilderness alongside of you.  He has taken your sin upon Himself and passed through the waters of death into life with God.

He is the Holy One of Israel, but for your sake, by His grace, He bears this contradiction in Himself: He bears your sins in His own body, and as the Lamb of God He is sacrificed for your redemption.  But in His flesh and blood like yours — from His Baptism and in His Resurrection — He also receives and bears the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, for your salvation.

Thus, although you are sinful and unclean, subject to death and damnation, you are cleansed and forgiven in the waters of your Baptism.  And there, as a member of the Body of Christ, you also receive the Holy Spirit for life and salvation with God in both body and soul, now and forever.

The Baptism of the Lord Jesus by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and your Holy Baptism in the Name of Christ Jesus, have brought about a great exchange.  That is, He has taken your sin and death upon Himself, and has dealt with them decisively, once and for all, by His death on the Cross.  And He has given you, instead, His Spirit and His Life, His holiness and divine sonship.

By your Baptism you have been crucified with Him and died with Him.  But so also are you raised with Him to newness of life.  In fact, everything of His is now yours, by His grace, forevermore.

Your own mortal life in your sinful flesh is inconsistent, uncertain, up and down, and often going from bad to worse.  But now the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has received the Holy Spirit into His Body of flesh and blood on your behalf.  And the Spirit remains with Him, residing in the same body that has borne your sins and carried all your sorrows to death and the grave.

By His steadfast faith and faithfulness, by His holiness and righteousness and humble obedience, even under the weight of the world’s sin, and under the heavy burden of the Cross, divine life is established, solid, steady, and secure in the Flesh of the Word.  Which is not an incidental fact or a matter of abstract trivia, but of utmost importance for you, for your present and your future.

The forgiveness, life, and salvation of God are steadfast, sure, and certain in Christ Jesus.  This fact does not waver, nor does it falter.  It shall not fail, nor shall it ever be pulled out from under you.

Though you are wobbly and impotent, utterly unable to save yourself, blind to the truth of God, and dead in your trespasses and sin, the Lord Jesus Christ is not that way.  He is steady and stable, constant in faith, hope, and love, and more solid than a rock.  He shall not be moved, and neither shall you be moved while you live and abide in Him; for you are baptized into Him for eternal life.

His Spirit rests and remains upon you, upon your body and soul.  He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith by the Word of the Gospel and by the Body and Blood of the Lamb.  He cleanses your conscience and daily renews your spirit with the forgiveness of your sins.  He gives you the true divine Life for which you have been created, by uniting you with Christ in His Resurrection from the dead and bringing you to the Father in Him.  Thus are you a son of God in Christ Jesus.

It is therefore by your Baptism that the one true God, the Holy One of Israel, is manifested to you as your Savior and your Lord.  And so also, by your Holy Baptism into Christ, you are seated at the Table of your Father — here on earth as it is in heaven — to eat and drink the Passover Lamb of God who has been crucified for your transgressions and raised again for your justification.

As surely as He has taken away your sins and the sins of the whole world, so surely does He take you to Himself and bear you in His Body from this world to the next.  For as He has come down from the Father in heaven, and the Spirit has descended upon you in Him, so are you raised up from death to life and seated with Him at the right hand of the Father, where your life is hidden with Christ in God.  This is most certainly true, even now, and so shall it be forevermore.

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

02 January 2016

Who You Are in Christ Jesus

We are here instructed in the contrast between St. John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ.  Which is really also the contrast between Advent and Christmas, between the Old Testament and the New, between the preparation for and the realization of God’s promises.  At the same time, we are also taught the New Creation that comes about in Christ, and the new identity of all who live in Him.

Thus, St. John is not the Christ, and yet, his office and his role are to make ready the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, he understands his place and the purpose of his life, to which he has been called and appointed by the Father in heaven.

What about you?  Are you also content and confident to serve in the place and for the purpose that God has given to you?  Or do you aspire to a different sort of “greatness,” by some other criteria?

That different measure of greatness is the crux of the problem for those who question St. John.  They have expectations of and for the Christ, but they do not know Him.  They neither know nor understand His Way, nor His servants, nor His Sacraments, nor His great Salvation.

St. John himself had a similar misunderstanding at one point, when the Lord Jesus approached him and presented Himself to be baptized by John.  For the Christ does not come to baptize with the Spirit and with fire until He has first of all been baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Not for any sins of His own, to be sure, but for the redemption of His people through His Blood.

St. John’s preaching and Baptism of repentance are then continued in the Ministry of Christ and His Apostles.  And this Ministry of Word and Sacrament avails for the forgiveness of sins and for righteousness before God, because Christ Jesus has first of all entered the wilderness on the far side of the Jordan and submitted to this Baptism and repentance, in order to suffer and die for all.

He has thus redeemed you from sin and death by taking up the Cross in the waters of His Baptism, by taking your place in the water, under the Cross, and dying and rising on your behalf.  So does He now lead you through the wilderness and bring you through the waters of the Jordan River — that is, through the waters of your Holy Baptism — into the Promised Land in and with Himself.

And so do you now live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God within the Body of Christ Jesus.  You live and abide within the walls of the true Jerusalem, which is the Holy Christian Church, strong and steady on the foundation of the Apostles, and guarded by the Word and Spirit of the Lord.

Thus, when St. John the Baptist calls you to repent — as the Season of Advent has called you to repent over this past month, and as your pastor calls you to repent on this day and week after week all year long — the Lord is calling you to find your way in Christ Jesus, who comes to redeem you by His Cross.  He calls you to be crucified and die to yourself, in order to rise and live with Him;  and so to serve Him in your own proper calling and station in life to the glory of His Holy Name.

To repent of your sins, and to look to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, is to recognize and confess who and what you are, and who you are not.  Of yourself, you are a child of death; there is no true or lasting life in you, far less any genuine greatness or glory.  Your native pride is presumptuous and arrogant, and it shall perish along with you and all of your possessions.  So must you die.

But you are not your own; neither are you lost or forsaken.  The Lord has called you by His own Name, to be His very own — a member of the Bride of Christ and a child of the Father in heaven.  He not only puts you to death by His preaching of repentance, He also raises you to newness of life by His Word of Absolution.  His Baptism not only crucifies and buries you, but also gives you the new birth of the Holy Spirit.  Thus are you a new man or woman with a new identity in Christ.

And in fact, that is your true identity, your true worth and value, and your true life forevermore.  Not that you are the Christ, but you do belong to Him, and He to you.  You are His Christian.

You need not pretend (to yourself or anyone else) to be someone or something you are not.  For who you are by the grace of God in Christ is pleasing to your God and Father in heaven.  He calls you simply to be and to serve in the place where He has stationed you, wherein you point not to yourself and your accomplishments, but to the Christ, to His Word, and to His works of love.  And for that high and holy purpose, the Lord has provided you with everything you need to perform it.

So then do you live by faith in the Gospel, by which you are daily and richly forgiven all your sins, and by which you stand forever righteous before the true and only God.  Trust the Word that He has spoken to you, the Name by which He has called you, and rejoice that you belong to Him at all times and in all places.  That is sure and certain, now and forever, because it does not depend on any merit or worthiness of yours, but rests solely and securely upon Christ, crucified and risen, your Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns forever and sustains you unto life everlasting.

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