28 February 2016

Repent and Bear the Fruits of Christ

The Lord has planted you in His Vineyard by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  He has brought you out of Egypt and grafted you into the fellowship of His Church.  And even now, on your journey through the desert, He is with you, caring for you, providing for you, and keeping His Covenant with you.  He is your great God and Savior, and by His grace you are one of His own people.

But what good are you doing in the Vineyard of the Lord?  What fruits are you producing?

Do not look around to compare yourself to your neighbor.  How and what he may be doing and producing is not the standard by which you are measured.  You and he both answer to one Lord, one Master, but you are not your neighbor, and your neighbor is not you.  By the same token, do not presume to weigh your successes against your neighbor’s sufferings, nor vice versa, as though such outward experiences in this body and life were any indication of where you stand with God.

To live by faith in the promises of God, and in loving obedience to His commands, that is the only standard that concerns you.  What you do matters.  But apart from faith it is no righteousness in the sight of God; it is not the fruit that He requires of His Vineyard.  On the other hand, faith in the heart will not remain, nor is it actually faith in the Word of the Lord, if it does not bear the fruits of love.  A so-called faith without works is dead.  But works devoid of faith and love are empty.

Outward appearances are thus deceptive and uncertain, though not to God who knows the heart.

Suffering, too, is no decisive indication of faithfulness or sin, of righteousness or wickedness.  It may be the discipline of the Lord, who in love calls sinners to repentance.  Or it may be the glory of His Cross, borne by His disciples who follow after Him in holy faith and holy love.  The point is not that you should attempt to decipher and discern the why and wherefore of your neighbor’s suffering, but that you must repent of your own sins, lest you perish in your unbelief; and that you should bear the Cross in patience, and hope in the Lord, and care for your neighbor in his need.

There is no arguing the matter.  There can be no legitimate debate, nor any excuse for your lack of love.  The Lord’s own judgment is clear and unequivocal, that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory and His righteousness.  So, if you do perceive your neighbor’s sins, or if you see that he is suffering the consequences of his sins, you should there recognize the evidence of your own shortcomings and predicament.  The Word of Jesus is blunt: Unless you repent, you will perish.

The fact that you do not believe it, that you do not fear God and take His warning seriously, is all the more reason for which you must repent.

But what exactly is repentance?  What does it look like?  And how are you supposed to do it?

Our young catechumens will correctly tell you that repentance is to be turned around away from your sins back to God.  It is to be turned away from the path of death to the Way of Life in Christ.  Which means dying to yourself and living unto God in the righteousness of faith and love.

To repent is more than simply feeling badly, guilty, or ashamed, all of which can stem as much or more from unbelief as from the fear of God, especially if you persist in doing what you know to be wrong.  Deliberately to sin is neither safe nor right, and it is certainly not repentance but the very opposite.  Rather, to repent is to cease doing evil, to resist your temptations and addictions, and to flee for help against them instead of giving yourself over to your weaknesses.  It is to make amends where you are able, to fix what you have broken, to pay back what you have borrowed or taken, and to apologize for whatever harm you have caused, even if you are not able to undo it.

And to repent is not only to keep your nose clean, but to begin doing what is good and right — not according to your own imagination, but according to the Word of the Lord and your station in life.

So, repentance is fairly simple and straightforward.  It is no strange mystery.  And yet, it is the hardest thing for you to do and the most painful experience for you to undergo, because it does involve the death of who you are and of all that you have prized in your heart and in your life.  But such repentance is actually nothing you are able to do or bring about by your own power, precisely because you are the problem.  Your heart and mind, your flesh and spirit are at odds with the Word and will of God.  Despite your extravagant self love, you are your own worst enemy, because you resist and run away from the Way of the Lord, which is the way of righteousness and life.

You cannot turn yourself around.  You are not able to die to yourself, even though you’re already dead in your trespasses and sin.  Neither can you raise yourself from death to life, nor can you heal yourself.  You do not become a fruitful and productive tree by trying harder to do better: Trying and better are not the righteousness that God requires; they only serve to betray your failure.  Of course, that is no reason to give up or do worse, either.  You can and should discipline yourself, your actions and behavior, for God’s sake, and for your neighbor’s sake, if not for your own.  But you cannot break the death grip that sin has on your body and soul from the very depths of you.

Adorning your dead branches with fresh fruits would not address the underlying futility, which comes down to this: Instead of faith and love, you are driven by idolatrous lust and selfish greed.  You not only crave what God has not given, but you indulge yourself in what He has forbidden.  And when you are warned of the danger and called to repentance, you excuse yourself, sometimes on the pretense of the Gospel itself, and you grumble and complain against the Lord’s watchman.  But if you presume to protect your pet sins and to hide your unbelief by redoubling your efforts to do and say everything else just right, to be overly polite, and to obtain approval on every other front, you have only managed to whitewash your tomb.  You are still a dead and useless tree.

Do not blame God, and do not argue that He is unfair.  He has done everything that could be done for you and for His Vineyard.  He feeds you with Manna from heaven.  He quenches your thirst with Water from the Rock.  He clothes you and protects you.  He cares for you in every way.

And yet, for all of that, instead of figs and grapes and the good fruits of faith and love that He has every right to expect from your heart and life, from your words and actions, there are only weeds pretending to be wheat, and thorns and thistles infesting the ground.  You’re taking up space, but you’re wasting the soil, the sun, and the rain that your God and Father in heaven freely provides.

For all of this that is lacking, and for all that is wrong, He calls you to repentance, and to bring forth the fruits worthy of repentance.  But of yourself, you cannot and do not repent.

If you are to be saved and not perish, and if you are to remain in the Lord’s Vineyard and become fruitful, there must be some other remedy than personal rehab or strategies of self-improvement.  For there is no righteousness of your own that will ever be able to rescue or redeem you from the axe and from the fire.  Thanks be to God, His Gospel is a different and far better Word than that.

As the Lord alone is righteous and holy, and as there is no might of man that could save you, He has come down from heaven in love to become your righteousness and holiness by grace alone.  He has produced the fruits of holy faith and perfect love on your behalf and in your stead.  And in the Lord Jesus Christ the entire Vineyard is fruitful to the glory of God, to the praise of His divine mercy, and to the great benefit of His people.  He has lived righteously, in order to give you life.

But that is not all that He has done.  For it remains the case that, unless you repent, you will perish.  There must yet be your death to sin, to yourself and your idolatry, and the new life that is lived in faith and love, in heart and mind, in body and soul.  You must pass through the water, through the cloud and the sea, out of your slavery to sin and death, into the true freedom of the sons of God.

Therefore, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, has also suffered your repentance for you, and He has thereby opened the way of repentance to you and to all by His Cross and Resurrection.  It was for this, indeed, that He submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  From those waters of the Jordan to His Cross and Passion, He bore in His Body the sins of the world, including all of your sins, in order to suffer and die the death of sin within Himself, to break its powerful hold on you, to rob it of all claims against you, and to bring you to repentance.

He is the truly righteous Galilean, whose blood was shed under Pontius Pilate, not against His will, but as the Lord’s own voluntary sacrifice of Atonement for all the sons and daughters of Adam. He has thus made satisfaction for your sins and reconciled you to His God and Father in heaven, so you are not removed and cast away from His presence, but you abide in peace in His Vineyard.

The tower of God’s righteous wrath and judgment has fallen upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is quieted.  By the stripes across His back, by the scars upon His hands and feet and in His side, you are spared, you are rescued, and you are raised up from the dust and the dirt.  For He has perished in your stead.  Though He alone was fruitful, He was cut down and thrown into the fire for your failures, so that you should obtain mercy and be given the time and opportunity for repentance.

By the watchmen whom He calls and sends to you in His Name and stead, He calls you to repent, to become His disciple, to take up His Cross and follow Him through death into life everlasting.

This preaching of His Cross, of repentance and forgiveness, of faith and life in Him, accomplishes in you what you could never have done or managed on your own.  His Word puts you to death, to be sure, but so does it also preserve and protect your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit in His own crucified and risen Body.  For He who suffered and died on your behalf, bearing all your sins in His holy and innocent flesh, has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever.

Because His Bloodshed on the Cross has indeed made Atonement for the sins of the world, His death has not only sufficed as a substitute for yours, but it has actually conquered the power of death over you and all who believe and are baptized into Christ.  His Resurrection from the dead is the Father’s justification of His Son.  It is therefore also your righteousness by faith in Him.

It is into this faith and righteousness of Christ, into His holiness and life, that you are brought by the preaching of His Gospel, and by His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  Which is to say that you are brought to repentance and to faith in Christ by His Spirit through His Word of forgiveness.

That Word of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe — and it bestows that very faith which it calls for — because it bears and conveys the power of the Cross of Christ.

It is by His Cross that you are cultivated, and with the Fruits of His Cross that you are fertilized, unto repentance, unto the righteousness of faith and love, and unto the life everlasting with God.  For your sins are not counted against you, but the righteousness and life of Christ are now yours.

Though you journey for now through the wilderness, you are planted in the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, and you abide in Him, and you thrive as a fruitful tree after the same kind as the Cross.

Here, too, appearances are deceptive and uncertain, and the wisdom of the world will fall short and fail you.  The Cross is not outwardly impressive.  It does not look like the living and life-giving Tree that it is.  And when you bear and suffer the Cross as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, it seems that God would cut you down and cast you away because of your sins.

But take heart.  At all times and in all places, repent, and believe the Gospel.  For the scandalous Cross of Christ does not damn you but saves you.  The Lord your God does not destroy you but bears the good fruits of faith and love in you.  And so shall you not perish but live for Jesus’ sake.

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

26 February 2016

The Shepherd Saves the Sheep

The Lord Jesus calls you to Himself in love to hear His Word and to receive His gifts.  He calls you by His Word and Spirit to draw near to Him.  Not with any righteousness of your own — for you are sinful and unclean — but in repentance: in sorrow and contrition for your sins, but also in the faith and confidence of His mercy.  For He does not condone your sins, but He does forgive you all your sins by His grace alone, by His Word of the Gospel.

So it is that He has sought you out and found you when you were a lost and lonely sheep, far away from God, in danger of death and damnation.  The Lord Jesus is the Man who would do such a thing, who has in fact done so in order to save you from yourself, from sin, death, and the devil.

He has come down from heaven and taken all your sin and guilt upon Himself.  He has borne it in His own Body to the Cross, where He has laid down His life and given Himself for you entirely, shedding His Blood to atone for your sins, to rescue and redeem you from death and the grave.

The Shepherd gives His life and dies for His lost and wandering sheep.  Your Savior dies for you.

And because His innocent suffering and death has made atonement and propitiation for your sins, and He has thereby conquered death and robbed the devil of his power, so has He also risen from the dead and taken up His life again, that you should have abundant life with God in Him.

In His Resurrection and Ascension, He raises you up from the dust of the earth; He lays you upon His own broad shoulders; and He brings you home, rejoicing, to His God and Father in heaven.

All of this He has done, not only for you, but for the life and salvation of all people by His grace.  And as He has called you by the Gospel and brought you into the household and family of His Church, His holy Bride, so do you rejoice with Him over the repentance and forgiveness of your fellow sinners, and you give thanks to God for each and every one of the lost who are thus found.

Not only that, but as a member of His Bride, within your own vocations and stations in life — by the Light of Christ, which is the Word of His Gospel — you also search for the lost in order to bring them into their own place in the household and family of God.  How could you do otherwise?

In particular, if there are those who have been your fellow members of the Body of Christ, who have been baptized and catechized as disciples of the Lord Jesus, who by their sins have drifted or run away and gotten themselves lost, should you not seek them out and call them home again?

With whatever broom is placed into your hands, that is to say, in whatever place the Lord has put you, with whatever skills He has given to you, search out those who are missing and restore them to the life of the Church on earth, that they too might share in the joys and gladness of heaven.

Do not despise your neighbor whom Christ loves.  And do not hold your neighbor’s trespasses against him.  For you also are a sheep who loves to wander.  You also have sinned and drifted into places where you ought not be.  You also would be lost, were it not for the Shepherd’s mercy.

And though He has called you to Himself, you are not immune to temptation and sin even now.  But you abide in the House of God by His Word of the Gospel and by the grace of His Holy Spirit.

So do not be angry, embittered, or harsh with those who are caught by their sins in grave danger.  But first of all, today and every day, repent of your own sins, and by faith give thanks for the grace and mercy of your Good Shepherd.  And rejoicing in His salvation, forgive as you are forgiven.

Draw near to those who are far away, and draw them to Christ by your words and good example.

And as for you, here and now, draw near in this place, at this Altar, to the Man who receives sinners to Himself, including you; who not only eats with them but feeds them with Himself.

For here indeed He gives to you His Body to eat, and He pours out His Blood for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the life everlasting in Him.

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

24 February 2016

Finding Your Place with God in Christ

We cannot remember and rejoice in St. Matthias, the Apostle, without recalling and mourning for Judas, that wretched Apostle whom he replaced, who sold out the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

Like everyone else, Judas was looking for peace and rest.  But what he found was only despair.  In guilt and shame, anxiety and fear, he ended his own life in a suicide of soul and body.  In doing so, he abandoned his vocation and office and went to his own place of death and destruction.  Hence the sobering Word of Jesus, that it would have been better for that man had he never been born.

How is it with you?  Are you also looking for safety and security but failing to discover it?

Whatever the particulars of your situation, you do carry a heavy load, and you do get tired, surely, because you are crushed by sin and death, and you are tempted constantly to look for life and love in all the wrong places.  Yet, there is no real life or true love, nor any lasting peace and rest, until you rest in God your Creator by faith in Christ Jesus your Lord.  Apart from Him, your homestead and your household are desolate even while they persist, and you will not abide in them for long.

Examine yourself honestly, therefore, and ask yourself: How have you gone about seeking relief and satisfaction?  Is it by your own wisdom, works, and ingenuity?  You won’t find rest that way, because you won’t find God that way.  And it will not work for you to find or make “a place” for God in your life.  But, no, your place and your life must be found entirely and only in Him.

So, for example, with respect to your vocation and your place in the world, it is not the case that your calling and stations are means by which you are to achieve and obtain a life for yourself.  They are rather the way you are given to live the life that is yours by the grace of God, wherever He has put you and positioned you in relation to others.

But do you, then, go about your vocation and stations in life in faith and love, being content and at peace with God and with His good gifts of body and soul?  Or do you actually strive to make a life for yourself, a name and a place for yourself, whether by the manipulation and misuse of your office, or by moving outside of your God-given place in search of that which He has not given?

Are you driven by the pursuit of wealth or by the lusts and passions of your flesh?  By ambitions of fortune and fame?  By recreation and pleasure?  Or simply by a desire to be left alone?  What is your personal Tower of Babel, your stairway to heaven?  For what do you sell out the Lord?

The fact still remains, that you’ll not find what you’re looking for, not really — you’ll not find life and love, nor peace and rest — not apart from the Lord your God.  And you won’t find God by any wisdom, reason, strength, or intelligence of your own.  Indeed, you’ll not find God at all till He finds you and addresses you with His Word, His Law and His Gospel.  You’ll not find Him at all, except as He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.

So He has, and so He does.  But how?

The one true God has hidden Himself and His righteousness from the prying eyes of fallen man.  He has hidden Himself and His Kingdom from the wise and intelligent, from the grown-ups and the self-accomplished, from the independent do-it-yourself-ers.

But He reveals and gives Himself to the nursing babies, to infants and toddlers, to the handicapped and simple-minded, who are so small and weak and utterly dependent on others to care for them.

And so does He reveal and give Himself, likewise, to those who are like little children — that is, to those who are reduced to nothing in contrition and repentance, who live by faith alone in the providence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father makes known the Son, and the Son makes known the Father, to those who by the Holy Spirit recognize their sin, their weakness, and their utter need for everything, and who by grace believe the Word and promises of God, that He will help and save them in His mercy, forgive them all their sins, and give them life with Himself.

That is how the true God is, and that is how He deals with you — for Jesus’ sake.  It is the good pleasure and the gracious good will of God that He makes Himself known in love; that He bestows life and salvation, not to the great and powerful, but to the One who is gentle and humble.

Which means, in the first place — and everything else pertaining to life and godliness depends on this point — that the one true God is both hidden and revealed in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified, risen from the dead, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father in heaven.  For He has come in mercy, in meekness and compassion, to lay down His body and life for your salvation.

This one Lord Jesus Christ, and He alone, reveals the Father to you by His grace.  He does it by His Word and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He does it by His Means of Grace through the Ministry of His Gospel, wherein your Savior and your God is both hidden from your senses and revealed to faith alone: from the waters of His Baptism to the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection.

Indeed, that is the very point and purpose of the holy office which Judas abandoned and to which St. Matthias was called and ordained by the Lord (as a precursor and prerequisite to Pentecost): That by the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, by the Ministry of the Word, and in the Breaking of the Bread, you should know the Lord Jesus and belong to Him as a member of His Body.

Now, then, are you weak and weary, weighed down, and burdened?  Do not deny that you are — by your sin and its consequences, by your mortality and the perishing of your flesh.  But do not despair or lose heart, either!  Rather, repent of your sins, and come to Jesus.  Take His yoke upon you.  Learn from Him the Way of Life and of Love everlasting.

Sounds good, right?  But where and how do you do this?  What does it even mean, exactly?  And what does it look like in actual practice to believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and come to Him?

It is a passive activity.  An active passivity.  It is not what you accomplish, but what you receive.

Hear and heed the preaching of the Word of Christ.  Listen to Him!  That is the key, as the Father has told you on the Mountain, and as the Father now speaks to you by His Son.

Receive and make use of the good gifts that Christ Jesus freely gives you by the Ministry of His Gospel in His Church.  You won’t save yourself by the good work of going to Church, as those who don’t go often protest.  But it’s a start.  And it’s far more certain that you won’t save yourself by not going.  For it is within the life of the Church in the Means of Grace that the Father reveals the Son and pours out the Spirit upon you in Him, and the Son brings you to the Father in Himself.

So give attention to His preaching and teaching, and follow Him by faith in His Word.  Confess and pray what He has spoken.  Remember your Baptism, and bring your children to be baptized, to be taught, and to practice what the Lord Jesus has commanded.  Live content wherever He has stationed you in this body and life, doing whatever it is He has given you to do there in love for Him and for your neighbors.  Carry out your duties faithfully, in obedience to His Word, trusting that He forgives your failings and raises you daily from death to righteousness and life in Him.

What all of this means, and what it looks like, to say it simply, is received in and with the Cross of Christ.  As He Himself was crucified, dead, and buried, and as St. Matthias and almost all of the Apostles were martyred for their confession of Christ, so are you also put to death in order to live.

You are crucified with Christ by daily contrition and repentance to begin with.  So also do you bear the burdens of your office, and you suffer the sin and sorrows of your neighbors.  And perhaps you will be persecuted in some sense.  In various ways, you share the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But how can He describe that Cross as a light and easy burden?  What kind of rest is that?

Well, dear friend of Jesus, it is peace and rest for your soul, even in the midst of adversity, and it shall be the resurrection of your body, as well, at the last and forevermore.  For in His own gentle humility, even unto death, Christ Jesus has atoned for your sins, conquered death, and reconciled you to the Father in heaven by the way and means of His Cross.

And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has established a place for you, a home and a family in His Church, in heaven and on earth.  Here and now, under the Cross and from the Cross, He gives to you His good gifts: Apostles and Prophets in His Holy Scriptures, pastors and teachers in His Pulpit and at His Altar, to serve you with the Gospel of His Atonement and His Righteousness, to forgive you all your sins in His Name and stead, and to give you Peace and Rest in His Body.

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

21 February 2016

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

“Life is tough, and then you die.”  That’s a bit cynical, maybe even snarky.  But, apart from Christ, that is all the reality that you would ever know: a tough life, then death.  And as you confess, that is all that you have earned and deserved by your sins — both temporal and eternal punishment.

Christ Jesus really is the one and only solution to that brutal reality.  Remarkably, though, He has brought about the remedy by making the same reality His own.  His Life was tough, and then He died.  In the footsteps of the Prophets He suffered persecution, rejection, and ridicule, and then He laid down His Body and Life in the Holy City of Jerusalem.  He offered Himself up in sacrifice upon the Cross, confident that by His death He would obtain the victory of life with God.  Not for His own benefit, but for you and all people.  His Cross is not the end, but the beginning of a life with no more suffering, no more sorrow, no more sickness, and no more death.

Now, in the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke there are three definitive milestone points on the journey of Christ Jesus from the Father in heaven and back to the Father again: His Baptism in the Jordan River, His Transfiguration on the Mountain, and His Cross and Resurrection in Jerusalem.  Connecting these three points in seamless continuity is the Ministry of Jesus in His preaching and His miracles, in all that He began to do and teach for the salvation of the world.

All of this is really of one piece, a single event comprising the passage of Jesus from heaven to earth, to the Cross and Tomb, and from death into life in His Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father.  It is all summed up already in His Baptism.  As He says to His disciples at one point, refering to His Cross and Passion, He had a “Baptism” that He must undergo.

That “Baptism” was confirmed in His Transfiguration.  And from that point onward Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem.  He came down and made a bee-line, as it were, to His sacrificial death.  It was on that leg of His journey that the Pharisees approached Him to warn Him about Herod.

What they were thinking is rather beside the point.  Regardless of their intentions, on the surface at least the Pharisee’s advice presented yet another temptation to our Lord Jesus Christ.  They were urging Him to avoid suffering and death, to seek protection and safety instead of following the Way that had been set before Him, and to rely upon Himself instead of trusting His Father alone.

Jesus recognized the temptation for what it was, and He rejected it out of hand.  His first concern, in any case, was never His own safety but the salvation of the world.  He knew why He had come, and what He would necessarily do and suffer for the Word and Will of God.  His Ministry would lead inevitably to His death upon the Cross in Jerusalem.  So neither Satan nor Herod, neither the Pharisees nor anyone else would alter His course.  But on the way, as He journeyed to His Cross and Passion, He anticipated in His Life and Ministry the salvation that He had come to bring.

We often speak of “giving things up for Lent” in memory of our Lord, and in repentance, as a kind of self-discipline.  But as for Christ Jesus, on His way to the Cross He was “taking things on.”  He took on the demons who possessed the people He had come to save.  He took on the curse of sin and sin itself.  He took on sickness and disease, suffering and sorrow, and finally death itself.

The Lord Jesus Christ was like a giant sponge sweeping across the land on His Way to Jerusalem, soaking up all the stuff that separated His creatures from their Creator, absorbing it into Himself, into His own flesh, until He should finally wring Himself out and put it all to death in His Body.

And the miracles of Christ testify to the gracious presence of God in the flesh of this Man.  They are the evidence and realization of His Gospel, of forgiveness and life and salvation in Christ.  For He does what He does because of who He is, the Lord your God who has come to be your Savior.

The healings He accomplishes, both then and now, embrace both the healing of physical ailments and illnesses and the spiritual healing of forgiveness.  He restores the creation, both inside and out, in its relationship to the Holy Triune God.  All things are set free and made brand new in Him.

And all of this is made possible by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  That is the perfection of who He is and what He does.  He assumes the world’s bondage on the Cross, He buries it all with Himself in the tomb, and He releases all of creation into life by His Resurrection on the Third Day.

Ah, yes, there it is: The “Third Day” is when He will reach His goal, when He will be perfected for the sake of the salvation of the world.  Two more days of travel, of healing, and then He will enter Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday,” on the cusp of Holy Week.  He will enter the city as the King of the Jews, the Blessed One who comes in the Name of the Lord to reign from His Tree of death.

And that Third Day becomes an entire week, the work of the New Creation, comprehending His Cross and Tomb, His Exodus through death into life, and His Resurrection from the dead on the following Sunday.  In retrospect, that Day of the Resurrection is the “Third Day” above all others, as you know from the Holy Gospels and as you confess with the Church in the Creeds.  Yet, we dare not separate Easter from Good Friday, nor the Resurrection from the Cross and Passion.

As the Lord’s entire life and ministry was one long Baptism into His own Cross and Resurrection, so all of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday into Easter, is one long Day by which the Lord Jesus Christ reaches His goal and returns to the Father.  From the waters of the Jordan, from the heights of the Mountain, He comes in the Name of the Lord to His Cross and Passion, to death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the life everlasting, in order to bring you with Him into Paradise.  He delivers you from sin, death, and hell, and He brings you into the Holy of Holies in Himself.

Because it was for this purpose that He had come, Jesus could not just go away and conduct His business elsewhere or otherwise.  His entire life was governed and guided entirely by the Word and Will of God.  Just as you are also called to live and die by faith in the Word and promises of God.

Though you are often faithless and unbelieving — cowardly when you ought to be courageous, and bold and belligerent when you ought to be humble and kind — Jesus Christ remains faithful at all times and in all places, even unto death.  And like the Prophets before Him and the Apostles who would follow, His faithfulness brings Him persecution, rejection, suffering, and the Cross.

Take note that it is the Holy City of God, Jerusalem, His Old Testament Church, which rejects and puts to death the Prophets and Apostles.  And be on guard against that same wicked temptation and sinful proclivity within your own heart, mind, and life — church-going Christian though you are.  Do not reject the Lord Jesus Himself as He now comes to you in the Ministry of His Gospel.

It’s easy enough to point fingers at the “world,” at those outside the Church, at those who never come.  And to be sure, they will be held accountable by God for their rejection of His Word, for their false belief and blasphemy.  Nevertheless, it was not the world but the Church that rejected the Lord Jesus and handed Him over to death; that stoned His Prophets and killed His Apostles.

Beginning with the synagogue of His own hometown of Nazareth, and ending with Jerusalem itself, it was those who were called and chosen to be God’s people who rejected Him in the flesh.

Guard yourself, then, again such tragic rejection of your Savior and Lord.  Stop placing your trust and confidence in your own plans and purposes, and submit yourself instead to His Word.  Call upon His Name, as He has taught you how to pray.  Give thanks and confess Him bravely in the face of the Cross.  Remember that you are baptized, and that your Baptism into Christ is also for life, even unto death.  Repent and believe the Gospel.  Every day.  Confess your sins, and seek His Absolution.  Do not make a god out of your belly by working for the food that perishes, by glutting yourself with more than your body needs, or by medicating yourself with alcohol.  Fast in the fear and faith of the Lord.  Discipline yourself.  Let your true Feast be the Body and Blood of Christ.

You will not save yourself, not by any means.  You cannot even receive the Lord Jesus in faith by your own efforts or striving.  Neither will you reach the goal for which you have been created by sinning.  Indeed, all of your sins, from the inside out, are a rejection of the Lord and His gracious gifts of Life.  Your salvation is found, not in yourself, not even in your piety and prayers, but solely in the Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And that Ministry of His is rooted in this fact, that He has voluntarily taken all of your sins upon Himself and has suffered your death and damnation.

In fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, of all the Law and Prophets, He suffered and died in Jerusalem.  For He is the One who is greater than Moses and Elijah and all who came before Him, as we have already heard from the Voice of the Father on the majestic Mountain.  He is the great High Priest above all others.  His Body and Blood are the Sacrifice that atones for the sins of the world and reconciles man to God.  His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God among men.

The Word of Jesus this morning thus anticipates what He will soon accomplish in Jerusalem by His innocent suffering and death — and what His Cross will then mean for that once great city.

The crown jewel of Jerusalem was the Temple, and the whole purpose of that Temple of stone was to prepare the people for the coming of Christ, their Savior.  Once He had come in the flesh and accomplished His great Salvation by the Priesthood and Sacrifice of His Cross, the role and reason for the Temple were completed.  The early Jewish Christians still praised God in the Temple while it stood, but they did so with thanks for the Word fulfilled in the flesh of Christ.  For His Sacrifice, His Blood, the Altar of His Cross, the Incense of His prayer and intercession, and the Temple of His Body — these are now the Sacred Things of Yahweh Sabaoth.  His Name and Glory abide wherever in the world Christ is preached and His Supper is celebrated in remembrance of Him.

So it was that, after thirty-something years of transition from the Old Testament to the New, the Lord brought about His divine judgment upon Jerusalem by means of the Roman army.  The city and the temple were destroyed.  And though the city was eventually rebuilt, the temple has not been.  Indeed, to restore the temple and its services would be a further blasphemy against Christ.

Again, the point and purpose of the Temple in the first place, and the point to its destruction, is that Christ alone is the true House of God.  He is the true Priest, the true Sacrifice, and the true Temple, because He is both God and Man, the Word of God made Flesh, who now dwells among us in His Body and Blood.  The old temple was destroyed because the new Temple has been established in the Person of Christ Jesus.  He is the House that is left to all the sons and daughters of Jerusalem, that is to say, to all the people of God, His Holy Church in heaven and on earth, forevermore.

All the more profound and mysterious is that Jesus has become the House of God, for you and for all, by first of all submitting Himself to become the Desolate One upon the Cross.  It is the priestly Sacrifice of Himself in Jerusalem that constitutes His identity as the true Temple.  Indeed, it is only in His desolation that “Jerusalem” is saved and able to dwell in safety under the wings of the Lord.

St. Luke writes that all of this occurred “in that very Hour.”  He thus connects the Word of Jesus on this occasion to what He has just said concerning the heavenly Banquet, to which disciples from all nations will be invited, although many of the biological children of Abraham will tragically exclude themselves in unbelief.  Elsewhere in the Gospel, the “Hour” also refers significantly to the Banquet of the Lord’s Supper, especially in its close connection to the Cross and Resurrection.

Which is to say that, here and now for you, the Ministry of Jesus — His healing and release of your body and soul from sin and death, His Word of forgiveness and life, and the Fruits of His Cross and Passion — all of this is handed over to you, it is perfected for you, in this banqueting Hour of His Holy Communion.  This is the Third Day in which He reaches His goal in giving Himself to you, that you should be forgiven all your sins, rescued from death and the devil, and made brand new in His Body and His Blood.  Here at His Altar He comes into His Holy City, on earth in His Supper as it in heaven at the Right Hand of His Father.  So it truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should thus sing: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

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

19 February 2016

The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You

So enthralled are you with sin, death, and the power of the devil, that, apart from Christ, you can neither pray as you should nor confess what is true.  You are helpless and hopeless, and you cannot even cry out or ask for help.  Whatever you might say would be blasphemous and wrong.

But Jesus has come down from heaven to release you from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  In fulfillment of the words and promises of God, He has entered into your Egypt in order to set you free; He has gotten glory over Pharaoh by His Cross, and has brought you out of slavery through the Red Sea waters of your Baptism into the glorious liberty of life in the Kingdom of God.

Thus has Christ Jesus, the Stronger Man, overcome and plundered Satan, obtaining victory for you over all the devil’s wily works and wicked ways.  He has gotten forgiveness of all your sins by His atoning sacrifice.  He has made death powerless over you, since He has already suffered it for you and overcome it by His voluntary suffering and death in your stead.  That is why His Resurrection is also your release from death and the grave and your Righteousness in the presence of God.

So, too, by His preaching of the Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He opens your ears to hear, and He opens your lips to show forth His praise, to confess and call upon His holy Name in faith.

Now, the devil is mad as hell about all of this, and he is restless and out of his mind to undo it all.  In bitter envy and resentment he prowls around, desperately seeking to devour and destroy you.  In particular, he watches and waits with eager desire to catch you in the “waterless places” away from your Baptism, that is, outside of repentance and faith, apart from the Word of Christ Jesus.

This is precisely what happens in far too many cases, especially where parents have their children baptized apart from the ongoing fellowship and life of the Church.  It is the tragic downfall of those who are baptized but then do not continue to be catechized in the Word and works of God, in the Law and the Gospel, in daily contrition, repentance, confession, and faith in Christ Jesus.

For you cannot and do not remain in the waters of your Holy Baptism apart from the faith and life and prayer that are born of all that Jesus has commanded, that is, the preaching and teaching of His Word and the administration of His Supper at His Table in His Holy Christian Church.

Where and when you depart from the waters of your Baptism to the waterless places of the world, you place yourself in grave danger, perhaps without even realizing it.

For the devil is ready and anxious to pounce upon your body and soul, to move right back into your heart and life, and to take over again, setting up house with seven other unclean spirits.

The end result is worse than even it was to begin with!

Thanks be to God, therefore, that He has not left you to fend for yourself, but in His mercy He has blessed you by His Holy Spirit to continue hearing and believing His Holy Word and to live according to it.  For such faith and life are not by your own reason or strength, nor by your own resolve or ingenuity, but by the Lord’s preaching and Ministry of the Gospel.

Take heart, that He has not left you defenseless or in the dark.  No, He who began His good work in you, in the waters of your Holy Baptism, is still at work to continue it, to bring it to completion in the Body of Christ Jesus.  To that end, He calls you daily by His Gospel, enlightens you with the gifts of His Holy Spirit, and strengthens and sustains you in the one true faith, here and now in His Church on earth, even unto the life everlasting in the resurrection of your body.

Blessed are you, therefore, who hear the Word of God and keep it!  For it is by His grace.

By yourself, you would be easy prey for the devil, all his works, and all his ways.  But you are not your own, you are the Lord’s.  And, as we have heard this past Sunday, He fights for you.  Thus are you armored with Christ and sheltered safely within the Mighty Fortress of His Church by His preaching of repentance, by His Word of the Gospel, and by His forgiveness of all your sins.

Blessed are you, who are fed and nourished unto life by the Supper of the Word-made-Flesh, whom St. Mary bore and nursed at her breast.  For His flesh and blood have conquered the devil, and so do they protect you here and now and forevermore from all the devil’s tyranny and spite.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord your God, whose Kingdom is upon you in Christ your Savior.

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

17 February 2016

The Word and Will of God in Christ

The Ten Commandments summarize the good and gracious will of God for His children, and so also for you in particular.  They reveal and describe, in short, how He would have you live.

In relation to the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, you are to live by His grace alone, by faith in His Word.  That is, you are to look to Him for all that you need, to expect good things from Him, and to receive whatever He gives you with thanksgiving.  By the same token, it also means that you fear Him alone, as the only true God, and that you love Him as your highest good, in comparison to which everything else in all of creation is nothing.

And in relation to your neighbors, including everyone the Lord has set before you and beside you in this world, you are to live in love — to do no harm, but to serve and support them in every need.

This good and gracious will of God, this way of life in faith and love, is here conveyed to you in the form of His commands and prohibitions.  He tells you what to do, and what you must not do.

This summary of His Law has also been written on man’s heart, and for this reason it is also found to a large extent in the civil laws and regulations of the nations of the world, albeit imperfectly, at least with respect to your neighbor.  Murder, theft, and false witness are all crimes.  Disobeying your parents and other authorities and cheating on your spouse are recognized as wrongdoing.

By these ways and means, both by the special revelation of the Law and by the natural revelation of the created conscience, the Lord curbs outward evil and protects both you and your neighbor from anarchy and blatant outright wickedness.  To say it bluntly, He protects your neighbor from you, and He protects you from your neighbor, especially by threats of punishment, consequences for sins, and the promise of rewards to those who do what is right in this temporal life on earth.

But the actual demands of God’s holy and righteous Law go far deeper than outward behavior and civil righteousness.  Indeed, His discipline and right ordering of this body and life are aimed at a higher purpose, namely, that there should be sufficient freedom and opportunity for the preaching of His Word, so that you and your neighbor might be called and brought to repentance and faith.

The Lord wills that you are to fear, love, and trust in Him, not only from the heart, but with all of your heart, and with all of your mind, soul, and strength, indeed, with all that you are and have.

So must you also love and serve your neighbor from the heart, for God’s sake, in faith toward Him.  Thus, again, you are not simply to refrain from hurting your neighbor, whether by word or deed, whether in his body, his family, his possessions or reputation; but you are to help him in every way that you can, gladly doing good, however you are able, even to those who sin against you.

That is what the Lord your God commands.  That is how you are to live.  But you do not do it.

You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  You do not hear and heed His Word, and you do not call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances.  You do not live by faith.  You do not trust that God loves you and that He is and will be doing you good.  And so you do not love your neighbors, either.  You envy and resent them.  You curse and criticize in your heart and mind if not with your lips or on the internet.  You do not gladly help and support your neighbors, but you do hurt them at times, in big and little ways, when you think you are getting away with it, as though there were no harm in such evil.

Consequently, as you consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments — which summarize the good and gracious will of God and His way of life for you — you are accused and condemned and sentenced to nothing but punishment, to temporal death and eternal damnation.

From this condemnation of the Law you cannot save yourself.  You cannot make up for the wrong you have already done, nor are you capable of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps to fear, love, and trust in God as you must.  You cannot do it.

If you imagine or suppose that you have been doing pretty well, and if you think for one minute that you have even come close to living in accordance with God’s holy Law, then you are lying to yourself, and you add sin upon sin with your prideful and presumptuous self-righteousness.

But He will not leave you in your pretense for too long.  His Law will have its way with you and do its work in you, whether by convicting your conscience and calling you to repentance in this life, or by condemning your body and soul to death for your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love.

The problem is not with God’s Law, which is in fact holy, wise, and good, whether you agree with it and understand it or not.  Actually, you cannot comprehend His wisdom, His holiness, or His goodness, nor can you consent to His will, until you have been broken of your own conceit and self-righteousness and brought to fear, love, and trust in Him.  The problem is with you, because you are a sinner through and through, from the inside out, in your heart and mind, body and soul.

What you need, therefore, if you are to live, is a Savior from your sin, from your false belief and hardness of heart, and from your death and damnation.  You need the Lord your God to save you.

Thanks be to God that, while His Law condemns you, it has also been fulfilled for you by Christ Jesus, who has indeed become your Savior from sin and death.  God’s good and gracious will for your salvation and your life has not been thwarted by your unbelief and your unrighteousness.  For this dear Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and fulfilled the entire Law on your behalf, in love for you, His neighbor (which is, of course, precisely to the point).  When that same Law now puts you to death because of your sin, it is so that you should then be raised up to a new life in Christ.

Your true and lasting life is in Him alone, because the faith and love that the Ten Commandments require of you, Christ Jesus has lived for you and established for you and for all in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He has thereby obtained the righteousness that is yours by grace through faith in Him; and He has opened the way of life to you, which is likewise by grace through faith in Him.

Really, this is what the Ten Commandments and the entire Word of God have always been about, that Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the fulfillment of the Law unto the righteousness of faith and life with God.  It has always been the point that God Himself would thus give life to His own.

Therefore, Christ in His own flesh has lived in the fear, love, and trust of His God and Father, and by the faith and confession of His Word and promises, as we heard for example this past Sunday in our Lord’s rejection of the devil’s temptations.  He has sanctified the Name of the Lord in all of His words and actions, and has perfectly fulfilled the Word and Will of God for your salvation.

So, too, all that the Law requires in love for the neighbor, Christ Jesus has done in love for you.  That is to say, not only has He kept the Law on your behalf, completing what you have not and could not do, but He has also loved you, and He does love you, in all the ways the Law requires.

He does not murder you, nor harm you in any way, but He gives you life in body and soul, both here in time and in the Resurrection.  As your heavenly Bridegroom, He is faithful to you in all things; yet He also calls you back and reconciles you to Himself when you have gone astray and cheated on Him.  He does not steal from you, but He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for now and forever.  Instead of testifying against you, He pleads for you with His own blood and defends you with His very life as your great Advocate, as your merciful and great High Priest.

He does not covet what you have, but though He was rich beyond measure, for your sake He made Himself poor, so that you should thus receive the riches of God and participate in His divine life.

Everything that God says about all of these Commandments finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus.  He has lived the good and gracious Will of God in His own Body and Life, even unto death upon the Cross, and He has done so for you and your salvation.  In His rising from the dead, therefore, you also rise and live with Him by faith in His Gospel.  Your sins are all forgiven by His atoning blood, and you are reconciled to the Lord your God in His faithfulness and righteousness.

All the love and mercy and forgiveness that His Law requires of you for your neighbor are granted to you by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not because you are so good (you’re not), but because He is good.  He is love.  He is mercy.  And, for His own sake, He forgives you all of your sins.

His perfect righteousness is credited to you; His perfect holiness is bestowed upon you as your beautiful and glorious dress; and His own life is given to you, so that you now live in Him, and He in you, in faith toward your true God and Father in Christ, and in His own love toward others.

It is in Christ Jesus, therefore, that the first three Commandments direct you to live by faith, to find your life, your peace and health and rest, in the Word and promise of His Holy Gospel.

The God whom you are commanded to fear, love, and trust above all things is the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has loved you from the very depths of His Being to the Cross and Passion of the incarnate Son.  The Name you are commanded to hallow is the very Name that you have received from the mouth of the Lord in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  And as the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ is now your God and Father in Him, so does He hear and answer your prayers, and He gladly accepts your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving with great pleasure.

When you thus sanctify the Holy Day by the Word and Spirit of God, as He has commanded you to do, you find that He has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified you as a beloved member of His Body and Bride, the Holy Church; and that He gathers you here to Himself within that holy fellowship, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in order to serve you, to love you, to feed you at His Table with the Body of Christ and His Cup of Salvation, and to give you His own Life in body and soul, now and forever.

So does He strengthen your faith with His forgiveness of your sins; and He keeps you steadfast in His Word by His preaching, day by day, week after week, from one year to the next, until He shall call you at last from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.

And so it is, beloved of the Lord, that by His Ministry of the Gospel, by His gracious Word and divine work of forgiveness, of mercy, and of steadfast loving-kindness, He gives to you the true Sabbath Rest from all your labors and the perfect Peace that surpasses all human understanding.

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

14 February 2016

Christ Jesus Is Your Champion

The life of the baptized in this world is one of constant warfare and of daily trials and temptation.  For Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you.  That wicked foe of God and man calls into question the divine Name with which you are named and the gracious adoption of your God and Father in heaven.  The evil one entices and deceives you with his lies.  With vicious hatred and great wrath he attacks and accuses in order to undermine your faith and life in Christ.

Such is the desert warfare into which you have been driven and are led by the Holy Spirit from the waters of your Baptism, as Israel was led by the Cloud and Fire of the Lord into the wilderness, into conflict with Amalek, the Amorites, Midian, and Bashan.  And despite the devil’s purposes, the Lord your God uses this battleground to accomplish His good and gracious will for your life and salvation.  It is the time and place of repentance, so that you should be strengthened in Christ.

Left to yourself, relying on your own powers, you would never be able to cope or survive with all that is set against you.  But now — as you have heard, so also believe — the Lord Jesus Christ has entered the fray as your Champion.  He is with you on the battlefield, on the front lines, actually.

In the waters of the Jordan River, and from His Baptism into the wilderness, led by the Spirit of His God and Father, He has set Himself against all your enemies of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He has been subjected to every temptation that you are faced with, and yet, He commits no sin of heart, mind, body, or soul.  Rather, in taking your predicament upon Himself, in bearing your sin and death in His own flesh, in taking on your trials and tribulations, He perseveres in holy faith and perfect love, even unto death.  Thus has He opened the way and blazed the trail of repentance for you and for all the fallen children of man.  Not for destruction, but for life in His Resurrection.

By steadfast faith and unswerving faithfulness, He has become the Author and Perfecter of your faith and life.  Everything to which you are called, He has accomplished and established for you.

The most basic temptation with which you are faced, therefore, is to put your faith in any other lord or any other god than this one Man, Jesus Christ, who is alone your Savior.  To fear, love, and trust in anyone else or anything else, no matter who or what that might be, is to pursue death and hell; it is to worship the devil instead of the one true God, to your own eternal hurt and destruction.

That deadly temptation takes many and various forms, so be on your guard and armor yourself against it by the Word of God.  Do not attempt to feed yourself with what the Lord has not given you, but look to Him and wait upon Him in patient hope, to be fed by Him from His open hand.  Hunger not for the food that perishes, but rather for the living and life-giving Bread from heaven.  Likewise, seek not the kingdoms of this world, nor put your trust in mortal princes, but pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and recognize that His Kingdom is at hand in Christ Jesus.

Cling to the Cross of Christ in the confidence of His Resurrection, instead of chasing after the power and glory of sinful man.  Do not bow down and pray to the gods of popularity and success, of pleasure and prosperity, of comfort, ease, and entertainment.  But call upon the Name of the Lord, who was crucified for your transgressions and raised from the dead for your justification.

Beware that the most pernicious temptation of all is to regard and treat the Temple of God as a license to live unto yourself — to live recklessly, foolishly, and dangerously in pursuit of your own ambitions — instead of living unto God by faith in Christ.  That is to cast yourself down from the heights of the Temple in daring defiance of God.  It is a damnable misuse and abuse of His Holy Word and Sacraments, as though such gracious gifts of God were really grounds for continuing in your sins.  So would covetous idolatry and self-serving greed hide behind a mask of piety and a pretense of faith.  But the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.

There is all the difference in the world — as different as heaven is from hell — between trusting God as you proceed on the way that He has set before you, on the one hand, confident that He will raise you up from death to life in Christ Jesus — and on the other hand, tempting God, testing Him, and even daring Him to protect you from all consequence and danger and to provide you with all that you want on your own self-chosen path and in your own selfish pursuits of fortune and fame.

The Lord your God is to be worshiped and adored by faith in His Word; by the presentation of your best gifts and the first fruits of your labor in thanksgiving for His gracious providence in Christ; and by the living sacrifice of your whole body and life to the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  For He alone is God, your Creator and Redeemer.  He is not your gopher or your go-to guy, at your beck and call to do your bidding while you serve yourself and worship your own desires.

Repent of your idolatry and false belief, while there is still time and opportunity to do so.  Put to death your covetous lust and selfish greed.  Resist and deny your ravenous appetites for that which God has not given you.  Stop living for that which is not the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is in Christ alone that you have true and everlasting life with the true and only God.  It is in Him alone, in His crucified and risen Body, that you have health and strength and every good.  For He alone has hungered for God above all things, and thirsted for the righteousness of God, and lived by every Word that proceeds from the Mouth of God.  Indeed, He is that very Word, who has become Flesh, by whom His God and Father speaks to you in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel.

As surely as He has come down from the Father in heaven, into the depths of the Jordan, and into the desert wilderness, in order to be with you in the trenches, so surely has He given Himself up entirely to God in holy fear and holy faith.  And so surely has He given Himself entirely for you, His neighbor, in self-sacrificing love — in order to atone for all your sins, to conquer all your enemies, to reconcile you to His God and Father, and to give you life in place of death.

Though He is Himself true God from all eternity, and the only-begotten Son of God by nature, He learned obedience in your stead by suffering on your behalf, in order to bestow His own Sonship and His divine, eternal inheritance upon you, by grace through faith in His Word of the Gospel.

He did not presume upon His status, nor upon the promises of God, but in humble obedience He went the way His Father set before Him — the way of sacrifice, suffering, and death — in the confidence that His Father would also raise Him from death and the grave, in keeping with the Word and promise of His Baptism.  He knew that He was loved and pleasing to His Father, and so He trusted that His Father would deal with Him in steadfast loving-kindness and deep mercy.

So it is that, by His Cross and Passion — and in His Resurrection from the dead — His God and Father has established the Body of Christ Jesus as the true and everlasting Temple of God among men, in heaven and on earth.  And so it is that His Body is your Refuge and Strength, your Hiding Place in the day of trouble, your Peace and Rest, already here and now, and hereafter in eternity.

This Temple of the Lord, the Body of Christ, is not a robber’s den where you might hide while continuing to sin; nor is it a marketplace, where you might pick and choose and purchase what you want.  It is rather the place where the Lord your God has chosen to establish His Name and Glory, where you now find Him and abide with Him by faith in His forgiveness and His righteousness.

This Gospel of Christ Jesus is the Word of faith that He preaches into your ears and into your heart, by which He also opens your lips in confession and prayer, that you should call upon His Name, receive His good gifts, and be saved from every evil of body and soul, both now and forever.

By this Ministry of His Gospel — by the Word and promise of His Baptism, by the preaching of His Word, and by His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for the forgiveness of your sins  — He draws near to you, and He abides with you in the wilderness as your Champion against the devil, death, and hell.  For He is your Righteousness and Holiness; He is your Life and Salvation.

As you have entered by your Baptism into the wilderness of daily repentance, into open conflict and harsh warfare with the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, so have you entered into the closest possible union with Christ Jesus.  And in Him none of your enemies can harm you.

Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  He does not accuse or condemn you; therefore, no one else may do so.

Though the devil rages and storms against you, seeking with all his wily cunning, and by all his might and mane, to devour and destroy you, he cannot harm you while you abide in Christ and Christ abides with you.  Oh, to be sure, Satan may be permitted to cause you pain and sorrow, to hurt your body, to take your possessions, perhaps even to end your mortal life on earth.  But that is all, and nothing more.  Even death will not rob you of your life in Christ, both body and soul.  And all that you suffer in the meantime must serve the purposes of the Lord for your salvation.

Although the world entices you with all of its deceitful pleasures, with all of its false gods and lying vices, the Lord Jesus Christ remains your priceless Treasure.  In Him, the Kingdom of God is yours, and there is nothing else you need.  Your heart and life, body and soul reside in Christ.

Now, let us be honest.  It is true that your faith and your faithfulness are wobbly and uncertain.  But your great Champion is steadfast, sure, and certain; and He remains by your side forever.

Your obedience is frail and faulty, but Christ is your Righteousness — He is your perfect Holiness — who has been obedient unto death, even death upon the Cross.  So there is nothing lacking.  Not only are you are safe and sound in Christ, but you are loved and pleasing to God the Father in Him.

Christ Jesus is the Armor that covers and protects you.  He is the Shield that surrounds you, round about, within and without.  He is the Sword that fights for you forever, and He shall never yield.

The Lord allows you to be tempted, tried, and tested by the devil, so as to break you of your self-reliance, and to strengthen your faith and trust and confidence in Christ alone.  So does the Lord likewise allow you to hunger in the wilderness, so that you might learn to hunger for His Word, to call upon His Name, and to pray for your Daily Bread from His extended arm and open hand.

And so it is that Christ Jesus, your Champion, the incarnate Word of God, the true and living Bread from heaven, feeds you with Himself, His Body and His Blood, unto the life everlasting.  For in Him you have entered the Land of Milk and Honey, and here at His Altar you live by His grace.

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

12 February 2016

The Lord Has Come Down to Raise You Up

Jesus has come down from heaven, and He has come down from the mountain, in order to set you free and deliver you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Although you are attacked by all of these things, it is also the case that you are a willing victim.  Indeed, you are your own worst enemy, for you are sinful and unclean, perverse and unbelieving.

And yet, in love, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has come down to save you — to cleanse and heal you, and to give you new life in and with Himself, with the Father and the Holy Spirit — through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

He has become true Man, born of Mary, flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.  Not only that, but He has subjected Himself to all the trials, tribulations, and temptations that you are faced with, only without any sins of His own.  But He has borne all of your sins, and the sins of the whole world, in His own Body to the Cross; and there He has suffered all the curse and consequences of your sin, including the righteous wrath and judgment of God, so that by His innocent suffering and death in your place, He has destroyed the power that death and the devil held over you.

Here, then, in the Cross and Passion of the Christ, is the greatest Glory of God.  It is nothing you could ever do or accomplish for yourself; nor could you even begin to comprehend it by your own reason or strength.  Indeed, it is the Cross, above all else, that amazes you — and scares you!

But it is by the Cross of Christ that God has redeemed you and rescued you from your enemies and from every evil of body and soul, in order to make you His own and bring you into life with Him.

And to that end, it is from the Cross that Christ Jesus speaks His Word of forgiveness to you and feeds you with His own holy Body and precious Blood.

Thus, He who has come down from heaven, who has come down from the mountain and entered the valley of the shadow of death, who has been lifted up on the Cross for your salvation, now draws you to Himself by His Gospel; He raises you up in His own Resurrection from the dead; He lifts you up from the earth, and He brings you in Himself to your true God and Father in heaven.

Therefore, let these Words sink into your ears and into your heart: That the Lord Jesus Christ was delivered into the hands of sinful men, and handed over as a willing Victim to the Cross, in order to deliver you into the loving hands of God the Father.  And so does He hand Himself over to you now, and He places Himself into your hands and mouth and body in this Sacrament, so that He should thus abide in and with you, and you abide with Him in the bosom of the Father forever.

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

10 February 2016

From Ashes to Ashes in Christ

The ashes for which this holy day is named, with which your countenance is marked, are a sign of repentance because they signify and point to your death.  There is nothing heroic in making this confession; it is simply the truth.  You are mortal.  You are dying, as you must, because you are a sinner.  So much for your ambitions, your accomplishments, and your accumulated wealth.

Your mortality and death are the necessary consequence and punishment of your sin, which goes far deeper than your behavior to the very heart and soul of you.  Conceived and born in sin, you are unholy and unclean, not only at odds with God but unable and unwilling to seek Him out or draw near to Him.  And yet, because you cannot escape His presence, His holiness consumes you.

But, above all, the holiness of the Lord your God is mercy.  So He does not allow death to be or to have the last word, but He takes death itself into His hands to become the remedy and solution to your sin.  For one thing, your dying brings an end to your sinfulness and sinning.  As St. Paul says, the one who has died is freed from sin.  But that would hardly be a happy ending, if that were it.  Your death would not make things right, put things back together, or bring you to God in peace.  However, what your death could not achieve, the death of Christ has done for you and for all.

The Lord your God does not desire your death, nor the death of any sinner, but that you would be set free from sin and death, and that you would live without sin, holy and righteous before Him.  Therefore, the Father has given His own dear Son, and the beloved Son has given Himself, even unto death, in order to atone for your sin by His Sacrifice upon the Cross, by the shedding of His sacred Blood on your behalf.  And having done so in holy faith and holy love, His Resurrection from the dead is now your Righteousness, in which you are raised up to newness of life in Him.

As you have been taught by the Word and Spirit of God, you share in the death and resurrection of Christ by your Holy Baptism.  That is why the ashes are signed upon your forehead in the shape of His Cross, recalling His Sacrifice for you and your Baptism into Him, that you have died with Him, and that your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Although you are still sinful, and your mortal body is still dying, returning to the dust from which you have been taken, yet, you are set free from the power of sin and death.  You are alive, and you are righteous in Christ Jesus, by faith in Him.

When you know that your righteousness is by this faith in Christ, and not by your own works or efforts, then you also know how to practice your righteousness rightly.  It is to live by faith under the Cross of Christ in the hope of His Resurrection from the dead.  It is a righteousness that cannot be seen by men; neither can you see it in yourself.  But it is exercised in faith as you bear the Cross of repentance for your sin, and as you bear the Cross in love for your neighbor.  Dying to yourself, you live unto God, and you live for those around you, not to impress them, but to care for them.

This baptismal life is your whole burnt offering, the sacrifice of your whole body and life, which you render upon the atoning Sacrifice of Christ Jesus.  By repentance and faith in His Cross and Resurrection, you are offered up, given up, and given over entirely to God.  You are consumed by the fire of His Spirit, but so also purged of your idolatries and purified by the holiness of Christ.  And the smoke that rises from this sacrifice is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord your God, as surely as the Father has received His Son back from the dead and seated Him at His right hand.

Of particular interest on this day are the ashes of the whole burnt offering, which are removed by the priest from the Lord’s Altar to a clean place outside the camp of Israel.  For so do your body and life remain in this world, but no longer of it; no longer unclean because of your sins, which are removed, but cleansed and forgiven by the Blood of Christ and by His acceptable Sacrifice.  Even now, in your still mortal flesh, you live and abide outside the camp with the Crucified One.

And this burnt offering of your body and life as a Christian, this living sacrifice of repentance, faith, and love, is characterized and typified by those three basic practices to which Christ Jesus refers in the Holy Gospel for this day: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  Indeed, He does not teach you to avoid this fundamental piety of the Christian life, but to avoid all pretense and presumption, and to undertake these several aspects of discipleship in the fear and faith of the one true God.

To fast, to give alms, and to pray are not to be practiced as means of gaining righteousness before God or man.  There is to be no bargaining with God, nor any boasting in His presence.  But you are to fast, to give alms, and to pray by the righteousness of faith in Christ Jesus, because you are reconciled to God in Him; you are justified by His grace; you are cleansed and sanctified by His forgiveness; and, by your Baptism into Him, you are dead to sin and alive to God forevermore.

To fast is to reduce your consumption, to give up for awhile what you otherwise rely upon, and to deny yourself the very things you crave the most.  Whatever form it takes in your life, such fasting belongs to the daily dying of repentance.  For to curb your appetites in this way is to curb and put to death your flesh with its covetous idolatry, to take up the Cross, and to follow Christ by faith.

Almsgiving goes hand in hand with fasting, as you deny yourself and give what you have to others.  It is, indeed, the sacrifice of yourself and the gift of yourself to your neighbor in his or her need.  Not for praise and recognition, but for the sake of love, in thanksgiving to Christ, the Lord, who has given Himself entirely for you.  In quiet humility, therefore, exercise mercy, and be generous in charity as you have the opportunity; so, too, forgive and do good to those who sin against you.

But neither fast nor give alms without also calling on the Name of the Lord in prayer, which is the very voice of faith.  By it you lay hold of Christ in the promise of His Gospel, and you store up treasures for yourself in heaven; not by scaling the heights, but by confessing the Word He has placed upon your lips, by receiving the gifts He places in your hands, and by relying on His grace.  In praying to the Father in His Name, you rise and ascend with Him who has come down from heaven to you, who has given Himself into death, who has risen and returned to the Father in glory.

Everything begins with and continues to depend upon the Sacrifice of Christ.  He is the One who knew no sin, who yet became the Sin Offering for you and for the world.  In flesh and blood like yours, He has offered Himself entirely to His God and Father on your behalf, in order to atone for your sins, to reconcile you to God in perfect peace, and to bring you into fellowship with Him.

Sin has been put to death, once and for all, in His crucified Body.  All its impurity, perversion, and stain have been removed by His Blood.  And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has entered into the presence of God as your merciful and great High Priest.  Thus do you have access in Him to the Father in heaven.  Indeed, you enter the inner room of the Lord’s own House and Home, into the Holy of Holies, not made with hands but eternal in the heavens.  And, like Christ Himself — because you are in Him and He in you by the Gospel — your sacrifice of repentance is a pleasing aroma and your prayer of faith is sweet-smelling incense in the nostrils of the Lord your God.

He hears and answers your prayers in mercy, with compassion and generous charity.  His gives you His alms in abundance for both your body and your soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.

He restores you day by day, throughout Lent and evermore, to all the blessings and benefits of your Holy Baptism, which are indeed the fruits and benefits of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you, anointing you with the true Oil of gladness.  He washes you, cleanses you, and sanctifies you with the forgiveness of all your sins.  He clothes you with the priestly garments of Christ, that is, with His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

And He feeds you at His Table with the priestly Food and Drink of Christ, which are His Body and His Blood.  These Gifts are hidden from your sight, and from the sight of every man, being given as they are in the grain offering and drink offering of bread and wine.  But the Body and Blood of the Lamb are truly present, given and poured out for you here at His Altar on earth, while never ceasing to appear and avail for you before your God and Father in the Most Holy Place in heaven.

Thus do we have fellowship with God in Christ, and with each other in His one Body.  And thus do we give thanks to God and bless His Holy Name as we feast upon His Son in this sacrificial Meal.  And our thanksgiving, too, is sanctified, acceptable, and pleasing to Him in Christ Jesus.

You are able to approach the Lord’s Altar with such confidence and joy, because you are clothed in Christ and covered by His righteousness.  And by the same mercies of God in Christ, you are able to live in the world in love for your neighbor, purified within and without by the Holy Spirit.  For the ashes of your perishing mortal flesh reside, even now, in a clean place with Christ Jesus; while yet, in Him, your body, soul, and spirit always live and abide in the presence of the Father.

Therefore, even now, on this day of grace, in this time of salvation, return to the Lord your God.  For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  And here in His Holy Communion is the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, which are for you and for the many.  Here is your Meat and Drink indeed.  Here is not death, but your life and salvation in Christ Jesus.

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

07 February 2016

Entering into Glory by the Cross of Christ

This is what such baptizing with water indicates, what it means, and what it does for you.  It bears the Glory of God and bestows it upon you in the Body of Christ Jesus.  It opens heaven to you and brings you into the presence of the Holy Trinity.  It makes of you a beloved child of God.

All of this is yours by your Baptism into Christ.  And it is all by the way of His Cross.  It is through suffering and death that you enter into His Glory.  And to that end, your Baptism has set you on a journey, on a pilgrimage through the wilderness into the Paradise which the Lord has sworn by His own Name to give you.  It is a pilgrimage of repentance, a journey through death into life.

As you make your way on this trek between the Red Sea and the Jordan River, bearing the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, upon your body and your soul, hold fast the hope that is set before you in the Body of Christ Jesus, and do not lose heart.

Consider this Lord Jesus, who has called you by Name to be His own, to bear the Cross and follow Him both up and down the Mountain.  He is the Christ, as St. Peter has so recently confessed by the revelation of the Father and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  But what does this mean?

He is anointed by the Father with the Spirit for the Cross.  For it is necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things and thereby enter into His Glory as the Savior and Redeemer of Israel and as the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God to all the nations.  It is by His Cross and Passion that He will accomplish and fulfill His Exodus in Jerusalem and liberate all of the people of God.

Make no mistake about it, He is greater even than Moses and Elijah and all of the Prophets, for He is the One of whom they preached, to whom they pointed.  He is the One who fulfills their words.

Moses performed great signs and mighty wonders against Pharaoh and in the presence of Israel, all in the Name of the Lord.  So do the Holy Scriptures testify.  He led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, across the desert, unto the Mountain of God.  And he was the minister of the Lord’s Covenant with Israel.  That is no small thing.  Indeed, he alone in days of old spoke with the Lord face to face and taught the people the Word that he heard from the very mouth of God.  By his hand, God gave to the people His holy Ten Commands.  And of supreme significance, it was Moses who constructed the Tabernacle in the wilderness according to the pattern revealed to him on Mt. Sinai, by which the Gospel and Glory of the Lord dwelt in the midst of His people.

Yes, Moses was faithful in all God’s House as a servant, and he served that way for many, many years.  But in his frailty and weakness, and by the judgment of the Law that he himself taught, he was not permitted to enter the Land that God had promised, nor would he lead the people into it.

It is Jesus, the new and greater Joshua, who brings the people out of the wilderness through the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  No other creature in heaven or on earth could do this thing, no other prophet, priest, or king, but the Lord Jesus Christ and He alone has done so.

By His Baptism He brings you and all His people out of slavery into freedom, through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the life everlasting.  For He is the true Passover Lamb, who not only takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the world but also feeds you with His own flesh and pours out His Blood for you as the New Testament.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection, His Body has become the true and permanent Temple of God, the Tabernacle of God among men.  He bears the Name of God in His own flesh and blood; the Holy Spirit rests and remains upon His Body; and the Glory of God abides forever in and with Him, that is, the divine Glory that you receive and share with Him in His crucified and risen Body.

The Lord Jesus has accomplished this great Exodus, for you and for the many, by bearing all your sins, your death and damnation in His own Body to the Cross — in order to atone for your sins, to release you from death and the grave, and to bring you in and with Himself, in His Resurrection and Ascension, up the Mountain to His God and Father in heaven.

In this He is greater and more glorious than Elijah, also, who precedes Him and points to Him but is not able to achieve or accomplish what only Christ, the Son of God, could ever do.  For that holy Prophet did not pass through death into the life everlasting, but in the righteousness of faith he was taken instead by a whirlwind into the presence of God.  But the Lord Jesus, by His Sacrifice for you upon the Cross, entered into that darkness of death in order to bring you out, to save you by His grace alone.  This, indeed, is the great Glory of God, that He lays down His life in love for you.

He is the Apostle and High Priest of the faith.  He is the One who goes before and follows after, your Pillar of Cloud by day and your Pillar of Fire by night.  He is the One who does it all.  He is your hope and your salvation, your strength and your song, upon whom the Father has set His seal.

He is sent by the Father to preach to and from the Cross, to and from the Resurrection.  He is sent by the Father to be baptized; to be tempted in every way that you are tempted, save only without sin; to live by faith as the true Man; to fast and pray in the Spirit, in the confidence of the Father’s pledge and promise; to suffer, die, and rise again for your forgiveness and justification.  So has He done.  And so does He ever live to intercede for you before the throne of His Father in heaven.

By His Sacrifice of Atonement, and by His prayer and intercession as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, you also pray and come to His God and Father through Him — by virtue of your Baptism into Him, and as a disciple who follows after Christ in holy faith.

Beloved of the Lord, listen to Him.  Trust His Word, and live according to it — in faith and love.

Take up the Cross that you have received in Baptism, and follow Christ Jesus through suffering and death, through the wilderness, into the Glory of His Resurrection and His Righteousness.

Do not be overcome by the weariness of the journey you are set upon, though it is long and hard and you are tempted to give up.  Wake up from your sleepiness.  Watch and wait upon the Lord.

Do not speak in your own ignorance and confusion, for your reason is fallen, your senses are befuddled, and your opinions are not the will or wisdom of God.  Rather, hear and heed the Word of Christ, the Son of God.  For by His Word alone are you given the mind and Spirit of the Lord.  And then speak the Truth of God by speaking as you are spoken to.  That is to say, confess and pray the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, by the preaching of His Gospel.

Find your house and home and family in Him, in His Body, and hold fast the confidence of your hope in Him.  That Hope shall not disappoint you, and you shall not be put to shame in Him.

Christ Himself is your Tabernacle in the wilderness, and His Body, the Church, is your place of Peace and Rest, in anticipation of the Paradise He has prepared for you in the Resurrection of all flesh.  For He has come down from heaven, and He has come down from the Mountain, in order to be and abide with you here, that you should thus abide with God the Father in Christ the Son.

He has become like you, and He has borne your sin and death in His own human flesh and blood, that you should become like Him; that you should bear His Cross and so also share His Glory.  As He was transfigured by His Cross and Passion into the Glory of His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you also conformed to His Image by your Baptism into Him.  And as you are a member of the Body of Christ, a son or daughter of His Father, so do you also partake of His Holy Spirit and share in the fellowship of His Holy Altar, in which you are given a foretaste of the Feast to come.

Listen to Him, and hold fast the confidence of your sure and certain hope in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel.  It is sure and certain, because He has fulfilled His Exodus for you in Jerusalem.

Behold the Glory of His Kingdom by faith in His Word, in the Fruits of His Cross, in the pledge and promise of His Resurrection from the dead.  Hear and receive the Glory of His Kingdom in His preaching of forgiveness, in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and in His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for you to eat and to drink with thanksgiving.

Bear His Cross in peace and joy, knowing that you enter into His Glory through suffering; you pass through the long, hard wilderness into Canaan.  For heaven has been opened to you in Christ Jesus by His Baptism, even unto death, and by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  It has been opened to you in Him, and as surely as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so shall it never be closed again.  You cannot see it from here, but you enter it by faith.

It is the Word of God, in and with the water, which does these things.  And that Word remains.

Even now, within His Church on earth, the Father speaks to you and pours out His Spirit upon you in the Body of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  And here by His Gospel He clothes you — neither in fig leaves nor with animal skins, but with the Glory of the holiness and righteousness of Christ.  For He has chosen you in Him, and He loves you in Him with an everlasting Love that never dies.

For now, it is not yet visible to your eyes.  Indeed, it is hidden under the trial and tribulation of the Cross, and all that you can see in this valley of sorrow is the shadow of death.  But the salvation that Christ has accomplished is already yours, and it is ready to be revealed at the proper time.

In that Day which has no end — in that eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection — in the dwelling place of Yahweh Sabaoth, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens — there shall you see the Lord who loves you face to face, and you shall know Him as you are known, and you shall be glorious with His own Glory in both your body and your soul, forever and ever.

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

01 February 2016

The Christ Is For You and For Your Children

You and your whole body and life, all that you are and have belong to the Lord your God, your Creator and Preserver.  You cannot live without Him.  But neither can you live with Him in your sin, which separates you from God and from His Life, and drives you to death and damnation.

The Lord who created you in love must redeem you and reclaim you for Himself, if you are to live and not die.  And this He has accomplished in the Person of the Incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  He has fulfilled the Law for you, which always was concerning Him, His Redemption and Salvation.

For He is the promised Seed of the Woman, who has come and crushed the devil’s head by His own sacrificial death upon the Cross.

He is the Firstborn Son of God, given as the Passover Lamb for the redemption of the firstborn sons of Israel, and for all the children of man.

And He is the great High Priest, whose entire body and life, flesh and blood have been dedicated to your salvation; who has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to God in Himself.

Everything depends upon this dear Lord Jesus Christ.  It all hinges on His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection.  And so also do all of God’s purposes and promises continue in the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel, in the Temple of His Church on earth.

To be righteous and devout, therefore, like Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna — which is to say, to live by grace through faith in the Word and promises of God — is to look for and wait upon the Consolation of Israel within the courts of the Lord’s House.  It is to watch and pray, and to wait for the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom you do not see death forever, but you rise and live with Him.

To be in His Temple, to Hear His Word and call upon His Name, to give attention to the rites and ceremonies of His Gospel, and to receive His gifts — these are the most essential activities of all.

To be about these holy things of Christ, your Lord, is the most important thing in your whole life, and so also the most important thing for your children, who likewise belong by right to the Lord, their Creator and Redeemer.  It is therefore your responsibility, if you are a father or mother, to bring your children to the Lord’s House, as Joseph and Mary presented the Lord Jesus Himself.

It is the Lord alone who releases you and your children from the bondage of sin and death, and He alone who grants to you and to your children the true and lasting Peace of His Life and Salvation.  And this He does, for you and for them, by the revelation of His Holy Gospel and by the blessing of His Body and His Blood.

Bear in mind that neither you nor your children are able to receive these gifts rightly, that is, in faith and with thanksgiving, except by the Holy Spirit, who is actively present and at work in the Word of the Law and the Gospel.  By that Word and the preaching of it, He calls you and brings you to repentance.  He puts you to death and raises you up to newness of life.

Indeed, He has done so for you and for your children in the waters of Holy Baptism, whereby you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, and whereby you are daily made alive with Him through the forgiveness of your sins.  That is what your Baptism continues to mean — and what it continues to do — throughout your life on earth.

So do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continue to deal with you within His Holy Christian Church.  For having called you by His Name and made you His own dear child in Holy Baptism, He does not let you go or let you get away from Him.  He would have you live with Him in His Kingdom, here in time by faith in His Word, and hereafter in eternity in your own risen and glorified body.

That is why the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and brought you here into the Church, the Body of Christ.  And it is why you have brought your children here with you, that they also may have life in His Name, both now and forever.

Here, in the Ministry of the Gospel, you are purified of your sins by the forgiveness of Christ, by His holy and precious Blood.  And here you eat and drink the Feast of the true Passover Lamb, who was sacrificed for you, that you should live and not die.  Here you abide in the House of the Lord all the days of your life, and so shall you abide in His House forevermore.

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