20 August 2017

The Hunger of Faith Is Fed in the House of the Lord

For the past few months, we have been hearing examples of our Lord’s heartfelt compassion for the lost and helpless sheep who have no shepherd.  We saw that deep compassion of Christ our Good Shepherd especially in His Feeding of the Five Thousand two weeks ago.  His tender mercy toward the people and His power to feed them are indicative of His identity as the Messiah.

According to the Word and will of God, Israel should likewise have demonstrated that sort of mercy and compassion toward its neighbors in the world; and so should the mercy and compassion of our Lord be evident in the life of His Church today.  That is the main point, for example, in the Word of our Lord from His Prophet this morning.  The Lord will gather foreigners to Himself by calling them to His Church, His Holy Mountain, and giving them joy within His House of Prayer.  As He restores the exiles of Israel, so does He deal kindly with the nations through His people.

But at this point, the Son of David, Christ Jesus — the Savior of Israel — has met with rejection from even His own people, from the very ones He has come to gather to Himself and save.  So He withdraws from the Scribes and Pharisees, and He goes to the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon.

Now, Tyre and Sidon are familiar names in Holy Scripture, but not popular ones.  They are known especially as pagan territory.  Sidon, for example, was the home of wicked Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament.  Yet, it was another woman from that same territory who received miraculous food and healing from the Prophet Elijah.  And it was the king and craftsmen from Tyre who helped King David build his royal palace, and who helped his son, King Solomon, build the Temple in Jerusalem.  Today, the Son of David comes to them, whose own Body is the true Temple of God.

The “Bread” of grace and mercy, life and salvation, which Jesus has given to the Jews, He now also gives to the Gentiles.  Which is good news, of course, for all of us — though I suspect that we may take it too easily for granted.  It was not always so obvious to the first Christians; the vast majority of them were Jews, and it was difficult for them at first to welcome the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, or to know how that should work and what it should look like in practice.

Nevertheless, while it is true that “Salvation is from the Jews,” it is for both Jews and Gentiles alike.  For the Salvation of Christ Jesus is not only “the Glory of His people Israel,” but also “a Light to lighten the Gentiles.”  Sadly, many of the Jews rejected that grace and glory of God.  Yet many of the Gentiles were hungry for the mercy and salvation of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ.

That hunger is vividly portrayed in this Holy Gospel.  Indeed, the Canaanite woman is a beautiful example of those very “stones” that begin to “cry out” when the people of God do not.  And as many of the Jews rejected the Son of David, including especially the Scribes and Pharisees, the Lord’s mercy was extended to those who had been nothing: to pagans, dogs, and sinners like you.

The Canaanites were among the most hated and despised of Israel’s enemies, the descendants of those who were driven out of the Promised Land by Joshua and the other Old Testament Judges.  The very name, “Canaanite,” is practically synonymous with paganism, Baal-worship, and hostility against the people of Yahweh.  So among these people is the last place one might expect to find such great faith in Jesus as that which is demonstrated and confessed by this woman.

But of course, the hunger of this Canaanite woman is quite specific and concrete.  Her great faith and her persistent cries for mercy are driven by her desperate need; just as you must sometimes hit rock bottom before you seek the Lord where He is to be found.  She turns to Him for mercy and compassion, that her daughter might be healed of her demon possession.  There’s nothing abstract or generic about her situation.  Surely some of you moms can identify with the anxiety of a mother for her child.  But all of you have similar needs and similar hungers in your own body and life.

So the hunger of her need is easy to comprehend.  But how does she come to have such faith and confidence in Christ Jesus, by which she seeks the food that she needs from His hand?

St. Mark supplies the answer in his Gospel, when he indicates that the woman had heard some news about Jesus.  It was that good news, that Word of Christ, which called forth such great faith in her heart.  And so she clings to that Gospel, to that Word which had called her and brought her to Jesus in the first place; that good news which identified Him as the “Lord” and “Son of David.”  To that Gospel she clings desperately for help, in spite of His initially off-putting response.

God grant you such a faith, and such a hunger for Jesus in your own heart!  A faith that clings to the Gospel and refuses to let go, even when Christ Himself seems to be ignoring you and rejecting your fervent pleas for help.  That you should have a faith so hungry for His grace and His healing forgiveness, that you would argue and debate with the Lord Himself until He feeds you.

Now, English translations typically state that the woman “knelt” or “bowed down” before Jesus in her second attempt to gain His help.  More accurately, she prostrated herself on the ground at His feet.  Which is to say that this Gentile woman rightly worshiped Jesus as her Lord and God.  And this worship, too, like her persistent prayer, was a confession of her great faith in Christ Jesus.

But how, then, shall we understand the troublesome reply of Jesus to this Canaanite woman?

At first, there is only silence.  In response to this poor woman’s fervent prayer, Jesus does not answer a word.  He turns His back on her; He keeps on walking; and He seems to ignore her request.  His behavior is shocking, because we know our Lord to be the God of tender mercy and compassion.  How many others has He helped in similar situations?  So why not here and now?

But aren’t you also sometimes confronted with a stony silence in response to your prayers?  And then it would seem that even God has turned His back on you.  The blood, sweat, and tears of your prayer bring no consolation or reprieve, and so you cannot help but wonder, Where is Jesus now?

What, then, shall you do?  Well, like that Canaanite woman, go on clinging to the Gospel.  Ignore the silence, and trust the Word that you have already heard.  Like a little child who simply will not go away, hang on to Jesus, and pester Him with your prayer.  Call upon the Name of the Lord, as the Liturgy has taught you: “Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!”

Before long, the Disciples are moved to intercede for the woman.  Their request that Jesus should send her away implies that He should do something for her, even if only to get her to leave them alone.  But then, what is worse than His previous silence, there is apparent rejection: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,” He says.  And so, it would seem, He is not for her.

What might have gone through that poor woman’s mind?  What did she hear between the lines in His answer?  “This Jesus might be the Savior of others, but apparently not for someone like me.”  And how often have you felt the same way?  That Jesus is for others, but evidently not for you.

And yet, it is at that very point when the woman falls on her face before the Lord.  With contrite humility, she worships Him.  Shutting out the “no” she might have heard, she remembers only the “yes” that she has heard from His Gospel.  With hungry faith she pleads again, “Lord, help me!”

Then comes the final blow, the utter humiliation: “The Bread of Christ is not for the dogs, but for the children of His House.”  Such is the crushing condemnation of the Law, which turns the poor woman into a dog and pushes her down from the Table.  Just as the Law of God reduces you and all your pride to nothing more than dust and ashes.  You can almost hear the slamming of the door.

Where, then, shall you turn?  What more can you do or say in response to that Word of the Law?  Shall a dog raise its whimpering head before the Almighty God, and go on begging for Bread from His Table?  How should you stand firm in the face of such words from the Lord Himself?

Rare is the faith that could.  And yet, by the grace of God, the Canaanite woman did stand firm.

In her reparteé with Jesus, this woman is given the opportunity to demonstrate and confess with her lips the great faith of her heart.  In fact, she not only confesses that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, but she also worships Him as her Lord and Master, and she expresses confidence that, even as a “dog,” she is already in His House and waiting at the foot of His Table for crumbs of bread.

The persistence of this woman recalls the story of Jacob, Israel himself, who wrestled through the night with the Angel of Yahweh, refusing to let go until the Lord would bless him with His Name.

Israel did receive the blessing he desired; and in the end, of course, so did the Canaanite woman.  According to His mercy, the Son of David granted her request: “Be it done for you as you believe,” He said.  And at the Word of Jesus, the woman’s daughter was healed; the demon was cast out.

Thus do we also discover that this Canaanite woman actually is one of the “lost sheep of the House of Israel,” whom Jesus now brings home to Himself.  Not a child of Abraham according to the flesh, but a sheep of the same Good Shepherd, gathered by His Word into His flock.

This Holy Gospel thus fulfills, not only the Prophecy of Isaiah that you have heard this morning, but also the earlier, similar story of the Gentile Centurion.  Remember how Jesus was approached by that man, who prayed that his servant might be healed.  In that case, Jesus declared that many Gentiles would come from East and West to sit down at the Table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And sure enough, today this Canaanite woman has taken her seat at that very Table with those Jewish Patriarchs.  Having prayed for crumbs, she has been granted the full Feast of Christ Jesus, the Bread of His forgiveness and the gift of His eternal life through faith in His Gospel.

In this woman Jesus demonstrates that He is Himself the new Temple of a new Israel, the new “House of Prayer” for all people, including both Jews and Gentiles.  All who believe and trust in Christ Jesus are welcomed and fed at His Table.  For the Lord is merciful to all who call upon Him, to all who believe in Him through His Word, who confess with their lips the faith of their hearts.

In the mercy and compassion of Christ, the hunger of their faith is fed in the House of the Lord.

Which means for you, as well, that you need not be content with scraps that fall from your Master’s Table.  As you have been taught to pray that our Father in heaven would feed you with daily bread, you may be certain that He will indeed provide you with all that you need and far more, for this body and life, and for the life everlasting.  For you are invited to feast with Him as a beloved son or daughter at His Table, even as He feeds you once again this morning with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, King David’s greater Son, who is indeed your own dear Savior and your God.

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

14 August 2017

Resurrection and Life in the Body of St. Mary's Son

Let us arise and go to a city of Judah, and enter a priestly house, and rejoice in God our Savior.

And let us do so on this evening in the remembrance of His mercy, with thanksgiving for His maidservant, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom He has become one with us, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.

She is, with us, a member of His Church; and in a special way she is an icon of that Royal Bride of Christ, that Holy Mother of God’s sons and daughters.  In giving thanks for His grace and mercy upon her, we give thanks for His mercy upon generation after generation of those who fear Him.

Because He is conceived and born of the Woman, this new Eve, St. Mary, He is conceived and born for us, the sons and daughters of the first Adam and the first Eve; that we might receive the new birth of water, Word, and Spirit, and the adoption of sons of His own God and Father.

So has Christ accomplished for all the children of men, first of all by becoming like us in all ways, save only without sin, and then also by His Cross and Resurrection in His own human body of flesh and blood like ours.  Born under the Law, and submitting Himself to the Law on our behalf, He has kept and fulfilled the Law for all of us, in perfect faith and holy love.  Precisely in that same faith and love, He has suffered the entire judgment and full punishment of the Law, the shame and humiliation of our sin and death, and has thereby atoned for our sin, defeated our death, destroyed our enemy, the devil, redeemed us for Himself, and reconciled us to God forever and ever.

All of this He has done, once and for all — for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth; for Father Abraham and all his children; for Adam and Eve and all their children — and therefore, also, for you.  It is an accomplished fact in His own flesh and blood, in His crucified and risen Body, in His own Person, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, and even here and now within His Church on earth.

It is already true.  It has been accomplished, and it is finished, complete, perfected.  It is solid as a rock, never to be undone.  So tightly has the Lord bound Himself to you by His Incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so tightly are His Cross and Resurrection united in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, that, even though you are so small and weak and poor, lowly and mortal, dying and wasting away a little more each day, yet, by your Baptism in His Name, you are also resurrected and ascended in and with Christ Jesus, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son.  In Him, indeed, your life is already hidden with God, seated on high in the heavenly places, exalted far above all angels and archangels, above the cherubim and seraphim and the whole heavenly host.

But you surely do not see or feel or experience that heavenly glory and eternal reality for the time being here and now.  It is by faith in the Word of God, which you hear, and not by human sight.  What you see and feel and experience in your life on earth is hunger, want, and need; sickness and death; hardship and pain; ridicule and persecution; disappointment and despair; suffering and sorrow within and without.  You bear the reproach of your neighbor and the world, the assaults and accusations of the devil, the humiliation and shame of your own sin and guilt and faults and errors.

You hear that your sins are freely and fully forgiven, and yet, you still suffer many of their consequences.  Not all of them, but many.

You hear that the Lord is with you, that He loves you, and that His gracious favor is upon you; yet, you often feel lonely and unloved, out of favor, and forgotten.

You hear of the great blessings of Christ Jesus, your Savior; but, as those blessings come to you by and with and through His Cross, they are often difficult to bear.

You hear that God feeds and clothes you and preserves your life, but you still have to manage and juggle your finances, and work for a living, and pay your bills; and day by day you find yourself slowing down, getting tired, and sometimes getting sick, wearing out and wasting away.

Against all of this harsh experience, the Church in heaven and on earth sets the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, crucified, risen, and ascended in our human flesh and blood.  He is the true Man, conceived and born of Mary, who is our sister and our mother; and He, the Lord Jesus, her Son, our Brother, has been tempted in all the ways that you are tempted.  He has suffered in all the ways that you suffer.  He has borne all of your sins in His own body like yours, and He has carried all the sins of those who trespass against you, so that by His stripes and holy wounds you are healed.

He has shed His blood for you, for your redemption and atonement, and He has suffered and died in your place, on your behalf.  He has gone through hell on your account and for your benefit.

And God has raised this same Jesus, the Son of St. Mary, from the dead.  This One who humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, God has highly exalted far above all heavens, and He has bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name.

That is why, for example, we make the crucifix an exquisite work of art, finally crafted and often of polished metal.  It is why we use the finest vessels we can for the Holy Communion, and adorn the Church in splendor, and reverence the crucified Lord with deliberate ceremonies.  It is why we clothe the newly baptized in white garments, even though they may be crying or screaming or messing themselves as we do so.  It is why we clothe the ministers of Christ with colorful and elaborate vestments, though they are mortal men, poor miserable sinners like anyone else.  It is why we sing sturdy hymns of substance and great confidence, even in the face of sin and death.

And it is why we say of this young girl from Nazareth, that she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God.  For her dear Son, the blessed Fruit of her sanctified womb, even as a tiny Fetus hidden within her body, is the very Lord, the true and only God in the flesh.

In the case of all these things, with our lips and with our lives, we confess before the world that the Lord has had regard for the humble state of His servants.  We confess that in His great mercy He has done great things for us; that with His mighty arm, with His hands stretched out in death upon the Cross, He has done truly mighty deeds for us.  That He has saved us.

With St. Mary, with St. Elizabeth, and with all the faithful saints of God in heaven and on earth, we exalt the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.  Which is to exalt and rejoice in the Son of Mary, for He is true God, and she is the Mother of our Lord.

In remembering her Dormition on this day — that is, her falling asleep in Jesus, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection — the Church rejoices and confesses that St. Mary’s Son is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  And in giving thanks to God for dear St. Mary, we believe, teach, and confess that her Son, Jesus, has fulfilled all that God has spoken and promised.

In considering that she who was humble has been exalted, in counting her blessed among women, we confess the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and count ourselves also exalted in Him.  So do we give thanks and sing, even in the midst of lowliness and grief, in the midst of darkness, burdened by sin, threatened by death and destruction.

And even in the midst of all that assails us, we do not fear.

We trust and confess that, just as the Son of God was conceived and born of St. Mary by His Word and Holy Spirit, so have you also been conceived and born of His Church, as sons of God by grace through faith in Christ — by the same Word and Spirit that came to the Blessed Virgin.

We trust and confess that, just as the Son of God became flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, and dwelt within St. Mary’s body, so does the same Son of God with the same flesh and blood come to dwell in your body in the Holy Communion.

As you eat His Body and drink His Blood — and as you have been united with Him, in His Cross and Resurrection, by your Holy Baptism — so are His Resurrection and Ascension truly yours.

And truly they are St. Mary’s, also, who lived and died by faith in the Word that He spoke to her.

For the Lord our God, Christ Jesus, Mary’s Son, our Brother in the flesh and the Savior of us all, He feeds the hungry with good things, in the remembrance of His mercy, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

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

13 August 2017

By the Water with the Word of Christ

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Thus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Lord called forth the Light out of the darkness, and out of the waters He brought forth life.  Not only that, but He determined and established the boundaries and purposes of the waters throughout His good creation.

When God condemned the unbelieving world through the waters of the Flood, He also brought believing Noah and his family safely through the waters in His mercy.  And when He drowned hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host in the waters of the Red Sea, the Lord led His People Israel through those same waters on dry ground.  So did He also lead them through the waters of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

And in the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, immediately after He had come up from the water, there came again the Spirit of God moving over the water as a Dove, and the voice of the Father from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  He thereby sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

In each case God was pointing to the salvation that He has now accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son.  For it is by your Baptism into His dying and rising that you are re-created in the washing of the water with His Word.  Your old, unbelieving Adam is drowned and destroyed, yet you cross through the waters with Jesus into His Church, and within that holy Ark of Christendom you are kept in safety in His Word and faith, unto the Life everlasting.

By the authority of His Word, His command and His promise, Christ Jesus has made you a child of His own dear God and Father through Baptism in His Name.  So also by His Word and Spirit, He continues to nourish you in body and soul with His very own Body and Blood, as surely as He fed the Five Thousand with a few loaves and fishes.

It is immediately after that feeding that Jesus sends His disciples on their way, within the boat which is for us a sign of His Church, through the water to the other side.  So does He call you to pass through death into life, through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Resurrection and His Life.  The crowds who would crown Him as their earthly king are sent home, but He Himself ascends the mountain to pray.  For He is your merciful and great High Priest, who has risen from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He has prepared a place for you in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, and where He ever lives to make intercession for you.

But even as He prays and intercedes (for them as for you), His disciples find themselves in the midst of a fierce storm, fighting a strong, contrary wind throughout the night.  The water rages against them, as towering waves toss them about and threaten to capsize their little fishing boat.

With or without nautical experience, is it not easy for you to envision the scenario?  And do you not face storms of your own kind, in which the wind and waves are set against you in the world?

You may have some sympathies for Simon Peter, in particular, as you think of him out there on the water.  Sure, he had asked Jesus to call him out there, and he stepped out of the boat onto the waves.  But what had he gotten himself into?  And what predicaments do you find yourself in?

Perceiving the turmoil all about him, and the violence of the wind, Peter lost faith in the power of his Lord.  The storm loomed larger in his eyes and in his mind than the Son of God, and the waves of doubt came crashing down upon him.  Turning his attention away from the Word of Jesus to the chaos and confusion all around him, he began to sink.

Yet, Christ does not allow the weakness of Peter’s faith to bring His Apostle to ruin.  Nor does the certainty of your salvation depend on your ability to keep from doubting.  It rests entirely on Christ Jesus, His mercy, and His Word.  For the One who calls you is faithful; He will do as He says.

Bear that in mind, and cling to that sure and certain hope, as you are tossed about by the assaults and accusations of the devil, and as you are sometimes overcome by the scary, stormy world around you.  For you are surely no stronger or more faithful than Simon Peter.  And even though you know better — from the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, the promise of your Holy Baptism, the nourishment of the Lord’s Holy Supper, and His gracious providence of body and soul to the present day — how often don’t you succumb to doubt and fear and sink into hopeless despair.

Do not be surprised that the disciples were not ready for their Lord to approach them on the water.  Like you, they were still learning to expect His help.  In the meantime, seeing what they did not understand, they fell back into superstition and imagined they were seeing a ghost.

Little different from those who look upon the Church as just a bunch of superstitious nonsense: “A place to go on Sunday mornings, maybe — just in case — but certainly not a source of any real consolation.  I mean, come on!  A Pastor going on and on about things you can’t even see, and the hopeless repetition of rites and ceremonies too medieval in their origins to be of any substance.”

Such attitudes exist, yet, they are nothing more than crying “ghost!” at the presence of the Lord.

But Jesus catechizes you and all of His disciples to set aside such human ignorance and to rely upon the almighty power of His Word.  Because your fallen flesh is slow to believe, and it is difficult for you to take your reason captive in the obedience of faith, He comes to your rescue, as He did for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Here, then, is the Gospel, cloaked in all the power of simplicity: Jesus “came to them.”  He saw their distress, and He moved to bring salvation, just as God so loved the world by giving His only Son.  This is the very essence of His grace.  The Lord, your Savior and your God, He comes to you in peace, though you are unable to come to Him or to save yourself even in the least.

Though the disciples were hindered by the power of the wind and frightened by the torment of the sea, Jesus is Lord of all that troubled them.  And so He came, “walking on the sea.”  St. Matthew states it so matter-of-factly, this amazing miracle of Christ Jesus.  Amazing, that is, to our reason and our finite senses.  But the reality of Jesus walking on the water is more certain than the “reality” of “simple water only,” which many of the disciples knew so well as fishermen by trade.

So it was that Peter exercised his faith in seeking to join the Lord on the sea, despite all that his past experience had taught him.  He did not question Jesus’ ability to stand on the waves.  Nor did he question Jesus’ ability to bid him do the same.  He asked only that his Lord should call him.

As St. Peter would later write in his second Epistle, by the Word of God the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  So, now, with a single Word of divine command from the lips of Jesus, the water does what water cannot do.  As though it were solid ground, it supports the feet of the Apostle as he walks out to his Lord.

And Peter trusted to begin with.  He had faith in the Word of Jesus, as demonstrated by the fact that he got down out of the boat onto the wild surface of the water.  That much is exemplary.  But otherwise, he did nothing remarkable.  Simon Peter merely walked, as he had no doubt been doing since childhood.  The miracle was not in Peter’s feet, but in the water upon which he walked, which, at the Word of its Creator and Lord, performed beyond its natural abilities.

In the same way, when the same Lord Jesus Christ commands this same Apostle and his fellows to baptize all the nations, water must again obey and do what “simple water only” cannot do.  Therefore, have no doubt, but firmly believe, that by your Baptism you are buried with Christ in His death, and you are raised up with Him as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God.

Peter walked out on the water to Jesus, and in the end he returned upon the water with Jesus.  For the Lord was with him and upheld him in adversity.  On his own he was nothing.  By his own power he could do nothing but sink.  Yet, by the power of the Lord, by the Lord’s choice and calling, Peter became the first Apostle of an Apostolic Ministry through which Christ Himself builds and sustains His Church on earth.  It stands upon the washing of the water with His Word, and it is enlivened with His Body and Blood, given and poured out by the hand of His servants.

In much the same way then, Jesus brought peace to His disciples with His calming, familiar voice, urging them to take courage and banish fear with the words: “It is I.”  There’s a lot contained in those few simple words.  This is no ghost out on the water, but the Man, Christ Jesus — their familiar Friend, their Teacher and table Companion, real and in the flesh.

But He is more!  For the Man who stands before them on the water is not only the Son of Mary, but also the Son of God, the great “I AM,” God Himself incarnate.  By His presence, the disciples may be certain that no longer are they at the mercy of the wind, but rather subject to the mercy of their Savior.  He whom winds and waves obey has not left them alone in the storm.

Nor has He left you.  For Christ Himself is with you always, as He has promised, most especially in His Word, and above all in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He is here with you, not in the unveiled brilliance of His majesty — which your sinful, mortal flesh could not bear — but hidden in the familiar elements of bread and wine, such as you might find in your own cupboards at home.

In these ordinary elements, by and with His Word, the Son of God gives you His Body to eat, which He once offered on the Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins; and He pours out the Cup of His own Blood, by which you are made alive, righteous, and holy before the Throne of God.

By this salutary feast you are strengthened and sustained upon the waters of your Baptism, lest you sink like Peter into despair and drown under crashing waves of doubt.

Consider that, although Peter did begin to sink, the Lord did not allow him to go under, but immediately stretched out His hand to save Peter in spite of himself.  So does Christ stretch out His hand to you, to lay hold of you in mercy and uphold you with His Body and His Blood.

Therefore, do not despair that you have not stood perfectly, but rather give thanks that you have not perished altogether, and ask for pardon wherever you have failed.  You thereby acknowledge the grace of the Lord who helps you, who forgives your sins and has mercy on your weakness.

Heed the good example of St. Peter, who cried out for salvation from his Lord Jesus Christ.  You, likewise, fall upon the mercy of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, and call upon the Lord to come quickly and help you.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

Thus do the adversities of life, and even the doubts and waverings of your faith, drive you back to the Cross of Christ.  They force you to see the futility of trusting in anything else, and they lead you to cry out with Simon Peter: “Kyrie Eleison!  Lord, have mercy!  I cannot save myself.”

And as you confess your many sins, God remains faithful and just.  For Jesus’ sake He cleanses you from all unrighteousness.  And at the right time, according to His good and gracious will, Christ will come to claim you with His Bride, the Church.  He will deliver you forever from all the storms of sin and death, having safely kept you by the power of His Word.  As even now, within the boat with Jesus, the winds and waves have ceased, and there is Peace in His forgiveness.

Therefore, take courage, and do not be afraid.  For He Himself is with you in this place.

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

06 August 2017

By Every Word from the Mouth of God

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

If you are hungry, listen.  If you are thirsty, open your ears and hear.  Feast upon God’s Word.

Whatever your hunger may be, whatever your thirst may be, whatever your sickness of mind or body, heart or soul, what you need is the Word of God in Christ.  He is the One who feeds you.  He is the One who gives you to drink.  He is the One who heals all of your diseases.  He is the One who gives you life.  And all of this He does by His Word, by His precious Word of the Gospel.

It is because of sin that you go hungry.  It is with forgiveness that God feeds you.  It is because of sin that you get sick and die.  It is with forgiveness that God heals you and raises you up.

It is freely spoken, freely given, freely to be received.  It costs you nothing.  You cannot work for the Gospel.  You cannot earn it.  You cannot buy it.  You simply hear it and receive it by grace.

So listen.  Hear and receive what the Lord speaks to you by His grace.  And do not let anything get in the way of that.  Do not let anything detain you from hearing the Word of Christ.

Like those people who were so intent on Jesus that they followed Him on foot from their cities round about and spent the entire day hearing Him preach, in order to receive His gifts.  They were not the ones bellyaching for food.  It was the disciples who would send them away in order to eat.

But there is no need to be sent away.  When you are intent on Christ and the hearing of His Word, you shall be fed, and you will live.  For the preaching of His Word is the one thing truly needed.

Jesus gives you Life by His Word of the Gospel.  With divine compassion, by the tender mercies of His heart, He preaches, He feeds you, and He gives you life in Himself through His Word.

It is the same Word of God that your neighbor also needs, if he is to live.  And God desires that he live.  You, then, give your neighbor something to eat.  Feed your neighbor.  What you have heard, speak.  What you have received, share.  Do not keep it to yourself, but, as you have received, so also give.  By this means, your neighbor also lives by the grace of God in Christ.

As a child of God, baptized into Christ and fed by His life-giving Word, you have been called to love and serve your neighbor.  To do for others as Christ does for you, for both body and soul.

In your calling as a parent, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister — in whatever particular stations in life to which God has called you  — that is where you are given particular neighbors to love and to serve with whatever means the Lord has given into your hands and provided for this purpose.

Above all of their bodily needs and concerns, the thing that your neighbors need the most is the same Word of God in Christ by which you also live.  Speak that Word to them.  Confess that Word to them.  Pray and sing that Word with them and for them, that they may live with you in Christ.

It is to each of you fathers, in particular — including you, Kelvin — that the greatest responsibility falls for your family, for your wife, and for your children.  The women and children eat along with the men.  It is the men who are numbered in this story, and they in turn are to give and share the food with their wives and with their children.  So also for the orphans and widows.  You are to care for them and feed them as the Lord your God feeds and cares for you.

Above all, it is your chief responsibility to feed your family with the Word of God.  To speak both the Law and the Gospel to them, and to live by it yourself, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are not serving your family with the Word of God, then it makes no difference how much money you make, or how much money you have.  It makes no difference how well fed or well clothed your family may be.  If you are not serving them with the Word of God, then you are starving them to death, and you are killing them forever.  For they cannot live without the Word.

Wives and mothers, you are likewise called to speak that Word of God to your husband, to your children, and to your neighbors.  And children, you are to speak the Word of God to your parents and siblings, and to live according to His Word in all of your relationships and responsibilities.

Wherever God has placed you within the desert wilderness of life on this earth, that is where you are to hear and confess His Word, to listen and to learn it, and then also to speak it, to sing and to pray it, and to live according to it.  Indeed, that is your number one responsibility as a Christian.

The point is not that you should neglect the other duties and responsibilities of your office and stations in life.  By all means, do what God has given you to do in the world.  Serve your neighbor also in those capacities.  Do your job faithfully and well.  Do it conscientiously.  Pay your bills.  Take care of your home.  Do all those things.  But understand that your chief duty — within your own place — is to confess the Word of God; which requires that you first of all hear and learn it.

Whether you have a family or you’re on your own, hear and heed the Word of God every day; pray, praise, and give thanks.  Pray because you need the Lord.  Give attention to what He says for the same reason.  So also pray and intercede for His Church and for the whole world.  These are not meaningless pursuits.  These are the very things that Christians are given to do by God Himself.

Doing all of these things, fulfill your other duties and responsibility by faith in the Word of Christ — and in love for the Lord and for His people.  Do what you are given to do for God’s sake, and for your neighbor’s sake.  Do it in faith that God will take care of you, for you are His own child.

Those people who listened to Jesus all day were fed.  Not because they worried, nor because the disciples worried, but because the Lord Jesus fed them with His Word in both soul and body.  Likewise, when you give attention to the Word of God, you will not go without what you need.

Do not worry about your body, what you will wear, or what you will eat, or what you will drink.  Your Father knows that you need all of these things for the life that He has given you here on earth for the time being.  In His compassion, in His mercy, in His love for you — because He does love you — He will take care of you.  He feeds you.  He heals you.  He clothes you and shelters you.  He protects you from harm and danger in body and soul.

He does it all for Jesus’ sake, who in compassion has given Himself for you.  And for God it is a small thing to feed and clothe your body, to shelter and protect you in this life.  It is a very small thing, indeed, in comparison to what He does and gives for you in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Think of it.  Will you really doubt or question God’s love and care for you?  Do you suppose that He will not provide your needs, who did not withhold His own dear Son but gave Him up for you?

Do not cast about and worry, as to how you will make ends meet.  Do not look at yourself, at what you have, or at what you can do and accomplish.  Do not be daunted by the task of providing for your family, and for your neighbor’s needs as well.  Simply do what God has called you to do, by and according to His Word, and trust that He will provide everything that is needed for doing so.

Where and when you do come short of time, ability, or means, examine your heart and life, your choices, decisions, and actions, and consider whether you are investing yourself in that which God has not given you to do, to the detriment of what He has called you and commanded you to do.

But what if you are hungry?  What if you are starving to death?  There are baptized Christians in the world who do go without.  What if you should find yourself out on the street, with no place to lay your head, with little or nothing to wear?  What if you are sick?  What if you are dying?

What if?  In any case, do not despair.  Do not look to yourself, but look to Christ who loves you.  And looking to Christ, look also to your neighbor in love, and do what you are given to do.  Give your neighbor something to eat, as all that you have, be it little or much, has been given to you.

Remember the widow with her little boy?  Almost no food left, only enough for one last meal.  She and her son are going to eat, and then they are going to die.  And just then, when they’re on the verge of starvation, along comes the man of God and says, “First give me something to eat.”

She did not starve.  Her little boy did not starve.  Their food did not run out.  For the entire time of famine, God continued to feed them.  And He feeds you, too; so that you should be able to feed your neighbor, and to support the Church and Ministry of His Word with whatever you have.

But what if you spend your life in love and pour yourself out completely for others, and you die in the line of duty?  What then?  What have you lost?  Nothing.  Though you die, yet shall you live.

But if you turn away from Christ and from your neighbor to fend for yourself, to feed and clothe yourself, to get a life for yourself, you will fail.  You will die.  And you will lose everything.  Because you’re not God, no matter how hard you try.  That is not given to you.  Repent.

It is the Lord, in His tender mercy and compassion, who feeds you and clothes you, heals you and protects you.  He does all of that, not only for you, but also for the wicked, with or without your prayer.  You don’t have to twist His arm.  He does it gladly for His own love’s sake.

Much more, in love, He has called you to a far better life than this one that you now know.  And He has called you to that new Life in Christ by the way and the means of His Cross.

Those who share His Baptism — including, now also, Emma Elizabeth — share His Life out in the wilderness, in desolate places, where there seems to be no water or food but only the attacks of the devil.  That wicked foe taunts you: Why isn’t God taking care of you?  Why are you going hungry?  Why do you have to suffer?  Why must everything be so hard and go so badly for you?

Well, the fact is that those who are baptized into Christ share His Cross and suffering.  They share His death.  And it is by His Cross that you also receive and share His Resurrection and His Life.

It is for His compassion’s sake that He does it, for you and for all.  And it is at His own expense.  He denies Himself the very comforts and benefits with which He still takes care of you.

He goes hungry.  He does not miraculously feed Himself in the desert.  He waits upon His Father to feed Him in due season.  And He goes thirsty, as He hangs upon the Cross, parched and dying for you sins.  He goes hungry and thirsty, that He might feed you with His own flesh and blood.

He goes homeless, that you should be sheltered in the Temple of His crucified and risen Body.

And He goes naked in His death upon the Cross, that He may clothe you with His righteousness — as He done this morning for Emma Elizabeth in her Holy Baptism.

He bears all your griefs and sorrows, and He takes all your sickness, suffering, and death upon Himself, in order to heal all of your diseases and to give you life in place of death by His Word.

You shall not live by bread alone.  By bread alone, you will finally die.  But you do live, now and forever, by this Word of God in Christ, by this Word made Flesh who speaks to you in love, and who forgives you all of your sins.  For where there is such forgiveness, there is life and salvation.

This Word made Flesh gives Himself to you as Bread for both body and soul.  For He who gives life to your soul, gives life to your body as well.  Even here and now, you are living by His grace.  But you shall live even better, and forever and ever, in the Resurrection of your body at the last.

Here is the Rock who has been opened for you, to pour out of Himself the water and the Blood that quench your thirst, cleanse and refresh you within and without, and give you life in the wilderness.  Here and now, as then, He does it all by the hand of His disciples.  But He is the One who acts.  He is the One who speaks.  He takes the bread, He blesses, He breaks, and He gives it to you with His Word.  Take and eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.  Be satisfied.  Be forgiven.  And live.

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

16 July 2017

Receiving the Seed of the Sower

Everything depends upon the preaching of God’s Word.

For this reason, throughout the history of the world, He has never failed to raise up preachers and teachers of His Word.  From the holy Prophets and Apostles, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, He causes His Word to be preached in order to accomplish His gracious purposes.

At the heart and center of it all, the Lord Himself, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in mercy and compassion, He has come down from heaven to preach, and by His preaching to gather people to Himself, into His Church, and thereby to His Father in heaven.

So does He still come to you and preach His Word to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Listen to Him.  Hear and receive His preaching, and cling to it for dear life.

So important is the preaching of Christ that the emphasis in this familiar Parable is not on the content of the preaching per se, but rather on the preaching itself, and on the Preacher, the Sower of the Seed.  The focus is on the character and the consequences of His sowing.

For your part, if you are to live and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, it all depends on receiving that Seed from the Sower and hanging onto it.  Not giving it up or letting it go, but continuing to hear it, to consider it, to remember it, to pray and confess it, and to live according to it.

Everything depends on the Seed.  And yet, it is a mysterious and elusive Word, which is attacked and hindered on every hand.  It is hidden by God Himself from the wise and the intelligent, and revealed by His grace alone to babies and infants, and to those who become like little children.  Thus does Jesus speak in Parables, that the Mysteries of God should be hidden from the crowds and explained to His disciples within the household and family of His Church.

You cannot receive, believe, or hang onto the Word of Christ except by faith.  And yet, such faith comes only by the hearing of His Word; it is not something you can choose or decide for yourself.

There is nothing you can do but listen to the preaching, and everything else must flow from that.  But consider how difficult and precarious it is to be a hearer of this Word.  Which is what it means, first and foremost, to become a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian: To hear and learn His Word.

If you wander off the road to the left or to the right — if you neglect the catechesis of His Word in the rhythm of your life at home and here within the Liturgy of His Church — then how quickly and easily the Word is snatched away from you, and you are lost.  And how sad and tragic it is, that the devil’s “birds” should be hungrier for the Word of God than you are!

Therefore, parents, understand how absolutely critical it is that you catechize your children with the Word of God and prayer in your home, and that you bring them to the Lord’s House, as well.  There is nothing more important that you do as a father or mother, than to give your children the Word of God and bring them to the Body of Christ.  To catechize them.  To share the Scriptures with them.  To pray with them.  To teach them what Baptism means.  To emulate the Christian faith and life by your example.  And to bring your children to church, week after week throughout the year, as surely as you feed and clothe them and care for their bodily needs every day.

It is in fact even more important that you care for your children with the Word of God than it is to meet the mundane needs of their bodies in this world.  Their eternal life in body and soul depends on the hearing of the Word of Christ, lest they be devoured by the devil.  If you have seen to it that your children (and grandchildren) have been baptized, it is equally essential that they continue to be catechized in all that Jesus has commanded.  His Baptism and His catechesis necessarily belong together.  And that is the case, not only for the little children, but for every disciple of Christ Jesus.  Whatever your age, you need the catechesis of His Word if you are to be and remain a Christian.

Without the Word of Christ, there is no life, there is no growth, there is no fruit, and there is no harvest.  It doesn’t matter what the soil is like.  If there’s no Seed, nothing happens.

But when the Seed of the Word of Christ is heard and received, it does bear fruit in abundance.  Fruit after its own kind.  Fruits of faith and love, like those of Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, borne upon the branches of His Cross.

So, then, where and what are the fruits of faith and love in your life?  What is the produce in your words and in your actions?  A hundred-fold?  Or sixty-fold?  Or thirty-fold?  Or anything at all?  Are you a Christian in name only, or in deed and in truth?

Perhaps you have been eager to begin with, full of zeal for the preaching of God’s Word.  But where has your enthusiasm gone?  And what has transpired in your faith and life?  When the Word of Christ has brought difficulties and hardships, have you clung to it, or have you given it up?  Or, if you have not suffered for the Word of Christ, why not?  Do you imagine that being a Christian and having faith are about feeling good and having a good time?  That is surely not the Word and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says that discipleship is to bear the Cross after Him.

Is it sometimes the case that even the hearing of the Word of Christ is a heavier burden than you are willing to bear?  To get out of bed and drive or drag yourself to church, or to gather your family back around the table and to pray?  You’re here this morning, Christ be praised!  Hang on to the Word that is preached to you by the gracious providence of God: In your head.  In your heart.  In your life and practice.  It is the most precious thing entrusted to you in this body and life on earth.

Do not be persuaded and driven about by the deceitfulness of riches (of whatever kind), as though worldly wealth were the real secret of success and satisfaction and security.  It’s not.

Chasing after wealth and riches will choke you.  Jesus says so.  It will kill you, and it will rob you of life, now and forever.  It’s all a big lie, anyway.  It’s a trick, nothing but smoke and mirrors, hiding a deadly and damnable deception.  The love of money is the root of all evil; not that it hurts God, but that your lust for wealth and riches hurts you, and it hurts the neighbor you are to love.

So don’t allow the money in your hand or in your pocket to control you, but receive it from the Lord and use it with thanksgiving to care for your family, your neighbors, and the Lord’s Church.

Do not let go of God’s Word for any amount of money. Rather, spare no expense at all to hear it.  And see to it that others are likewise able to hear God’s Word and the preaching of it.  That is the fundamental purpose of your offerings; that the Church on earth and the Ministry of the Gospel be supported, maintained, and extended, all for the preaching and hearing of God’s Word.

Refusing to hear and heed the Word of Christ, in favor of money or whatever else you may prefer, is a rejection of the Kingdom of God.  It is a rejection of His righteousness.  It is to say no to His life and salvation.  For all such idolatry and unbelief in your heart and life, repent.  Repent.

But how?  There is no power in you — there is no ability in you — there is no capacity or wisdom in you — to hear and comprehend the Word of God, which is your only hope and salvation.  You cannot believe it, you cannot keep it, and you cannot do it, not by any reason or strength in you.

The Seed has to be revealed to you, it has to be given to you, it has to produce its fruits in you — or else nothing!  Hear, then, the Parable.  It is not the parable of the soil, but of the Sower and His Sowing.  And in this case, the Sower is the Seed.  He it is, and He alone, who bears much fruit.

For He is the One who has not only come down from heaven and gone out to sow, but has made Himself nothing and willingly gone to the Cross and humbled Himself unto death.  As the Seed of God and the Seed of the Woman, He has planted Himself into the ground, in His death, in order to be raised up and bear abundant fruit — for you and for all.  In order to become the First Fruits of the New Creation, and the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn of many brothers.

All the devil’s temptations He has suffered, and He has overcome them in steadfast faith and love.  He has gone without food rather than forego the Word of God.  In love for His Father, and in love for you and all people, He has gone to the Cross and died.  And in His Resurrection, He has given you new birth and new life through Holy Baptism.  By the means of that Holy Sacrament, and by its ongoing significance, He waters His crops generously with the life-giving Spirit of God.

You flourish and grow — and you do bear fruit, whether you realize it or not — by that Word and Spirit of God.  Because the Lord Jesus, who is both the Sower and the Seed, He has borne the burden of the Cross and the burning heat of the day, and He has endured to the end.

Far from succumbing to the weight and worries of the world, He has carried it all upon His back and shoulders.  He has borne it in His Body to the Cross for you and your salvation.

And rather than selling out to the deceitfulness of riches, He has made Himself poor in order that, by His poverty, you might become rich and inherit all the treasures of the Kingdom of God.

The thorns and thistles of Adam’s fall into sin have not been able to choke this planting of the Lord forever.  They have done their worst and brought Him to shame and death, but by His bloody Cross and Passion He has borne the fruits of the Tree of Life in His Resurrection from the dead.

Here, then, there is a harvest a hundred times over.  His Tree of the Cross thrives and bears life-giving fruit, even in the desert, even in the wilderness.  Here and now He feeds you from that Tree of Life.  And just as He is both the Sower and the Seed, so is He also the Harvest and the Meal.

Eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.  These fruits of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, bear fruit in you after their own kind: Fruits of the Spirit.  Fruits of faith and love.  Fruits of patience under persecution.  Fruits of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness for every wrong.  Thirty-fold.  Sixty-fold.  One-hundred-fold.  Seventy times seven.  Never stopping.

Do not make excuses for yourself.  But neither suppose that you will bear or produce anything on your own apart from Christ.  Apart from Him, you can do nothing.

Rather, as He has given you ears to hear, listen.  For He keeps on preaching to you in love.  And open your hands to receive His good gifts, which He freely pours out for you.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Hear and receive the Seed of the Sower, that is, the Word of Christ your Savior.

He is full of compassion and mercy.  He is slow to anger and full of great kindness.  He does not deal with you as your sins deserve, but He remembers the Covenant of His own flesh and blood.  His merciful goodness endures forever, and by His righteousness He forgives you all your sins.

The grass withers, and its flower fades, but this Word of the Lord abides — for you — and bears much fruit, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

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

09 July 2017

Where and When It Pleases God in Christ

What are you working for?  Think about it.  Seriously.  Some of you are working harder than others.  Probably all of you work harder on some days than on other days.  But all of you work hard at something.  What is it you are working for?

And what is it that you’re worried about?  What is it that weighs heavy on your heart and mind?

What are you looking to find?  What is it that you want?  What is it that you’re trying to achieve and accomplish?  Is it safety and security?  Peace of mind?  Rest and relaxation?  Or, finally, some kind of relief from all of your burdens of body, soul, and spirit?  A chance to live without fear?

But just think, how odd it is that you would drive yourself into the ground and work yourself to death, in hopes of finding rest.  And how often it is that, in your efforts to find peace, you agonize and worry about every step you take, every decision you make, and every potential outcome.

The fact of the matter is that real life, and real peace, and real rest are found only in God, your Creator, in His Word and Holy Spirit.  And all of this is given to you solely by His grace, by His divine charity; not by your works, but by the Word and work of His Gospel.  Thus do you receive His Life and His Salvation, and thus do you have peace and rest, by faith alone in Christ alone.

The Lord your God reveals Himself and His Christ, and He gives Life, not to proud, independent, self-sufficient adults, but to infants and toddlers.  To the little ones, who are so weak and helpless, who do not rely upon themselves because they can’t.  They must depend on others to do and provide everything for them; else they die.

It is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs.  It is to such as these — little children, babes in arms, infants even in the womb — it is to them that God reveals Himself in Christ Jesus.

And the Son reveals the Father to whom He wills.  Not to the man or woman who works and strives, worries and frets, but to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  He does so, where and when it pleases Him, solely by the Gospel of His Cross, by the preaching of forgiveness in His Name.

You do not have God on a chain or a leash.  He’s not at your beck and call.  Nor is He within your grip or in your back pocket.  He gives Himself to you by grace.  You cannot choose Him or take Him for yourself.  You cannot even accept Him by any savvy, strength, or strategy of your own.

It’s not that you’re not trying hard enough.  It’s not that you’re not strong enough or smart enough.  All your trying, all your strength, and all of your smarts get in the way.  Whatever you attempt to do by your own power is not only incapable of achieving life with God; it is counter productive.

Apart from faith (which is itself God’s gracious gift), all of your best efforts, all of your righteous deeds, and all of your good intentions are sinful and unclean.  They drive you that much further from God.  They do not bring you peace but anxiety, even despair.  They do not give you rest but weariness and exhaustion, both mentally and physically.  They do not bring you life but death.

Did you not hear what Jesus said?  The Father hides Himself from all manner of self-righteousness.  He hides Himself from those who try to seek Him by their own wisdom, reason, or strength.  He will not be known except by His own grace.  He does not want you to work your way to Him — as if you even could!  He will not have it.  If you make the attempt, you’ll be playing hide-n-seek with One who cannot be found (though you will not be able to hide from Him in the Judgment).

God hides Himself from every kind of self-righteousness, including your own.  It may seem easy enough to pick on those who teach that man is justified by his good works or that he might earn or even purchase an indulgence for his sins.  But you’ll not save yourself, either, by pointing out the errors in your neighbor’s confession, faith, and life.  Rather be concerned about yourself and your own ways and means of self-righteousness.  Examine your heart, mind, and life; and repent.

Confessing the doctrine of the Apostles and living within the fellowship of the Church are essential to your faith and life with God; for it is among those who hear and receive the Gospel that Christ reveals Himself and His Father and pours out His Holy Spirit.  But are you living by such faith in the Gospel of your Lord?  Or do you imagine that you have done Him a favor by going to church and giving up some of “your time” to let His Word pass over you, in one ear and out the other?

How is it that you live from Sunday to Sunday?  When you get up in the morning, how do you go about your day?  That’s how you know where your faith and trust really are, whether you are living by your own works and your own worries, or by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

How do you spend most of your time?  What is it that occupies your thoughts?  Where and how do you expend your energy?  That tells you where your god is to be found, and what your god is.

Where is it, and how is it, that you invest or spend your money?  Your treasures and your talents?  Your riches of whatever kind?  Where and how do you invest yourself?  And to what end?   Are you striving to make a life for yourself, in which no one tells you what to do, but you make your own rules, you pursue your own desires, and you reign as lord and god of your own kingdom?

Repent.  You will not find what you really need by any of your schemes and selfish machinations.  You will not find the one true God that way.  You will not find life in His Kingdom by following your heart, sticking to your guns, or looking out for yourself, as though you were number one.  And you’ll never find peace or rest like that.  Not by your intelligence, knowledge, or academic achievement.  Not by your hard work, and certainly not by wringing your hands in anxiety.  Nor even by your religious piety.  You won’t get yourself into heaven by going to church or doing what a Christian should do (though you will be in the right place and better off than those who don’t).

None of your own efforts will do the trick.  The harder that you try to make it work that way, the further away and the more elusive the Lord and His Life and the Kingdom of heaven will be.  Because the problem is not that you’re not trying hard enough.  The problem is that you’re trying at all.  You’re trying to do and accomplish what you are not called or able to do.  Stop.  Repent.

Everything that you need for life with God — for which you were created by God in love — it is all given to you freely.  It is entirely by grace.  It is the gift of God, to the glory of His holy Name.

It is all given to you in the Cross of Christ.  And there’s the real irony.  There’s the conundrum.  “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says.  And then, “If you would be My disciple, take up the Cross and follow Me.”  Get nailed to the Cross, and die.  But is that easy?  Is that light?

It is only by the Cross that you have Life and Peace and Rest.  But the Cross does not feel like an easy burden or a light yoke.  The Cross feels hard, and heavy, and burdensome, and as though it were going to crush and destroy you utterly.  The Cross confronts your old man as far harder than all of your hard work and best efforts.  Which is why you deceive yourself, and the devil delights to deceive you, so that you despise the Cross of Christ and pursue your own passions instead.

The fact is, you cannot bear His yoke unless you learn from Christ to bear it by faith in His Word and promises.  It is by faith alone, and not by works at all, because the Cross puts to death and buries all that you are, your ego and your pride, your savvy and your strength, your wisdom and intelligence, and all of your achievements and self-righteousness.  The Cross puts all that to death, so that you might be reborn as a little child of God, and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.

So, then, learn from Him.  Disciple of Jesus, follow Him.  Watch how He lives.  Listen to what He says.  He teaches you because He loves you.  Learn from Him to bear the Cross in faith and love, in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.  Learn humility before God, as Christ humbled Himself and became obedient unto death; and learn to be humble and kind toward your neighbor.

And learn to love your neighbor in the way that Christ loves you, who had nothing to gain for Himself, but He gave up everything for your sake.  He bore the Cross for you, and He bore all of your burdens, all your griefs and sorrows, all your iniquities and sins, and all the sins of others against you, in His own Body on the Cross, in order to save you for life with His God and Father.

So does He also come to you now; and it is by His coming to you, that He enables you to come to Him in faith.  That is the point in the Word He speaks to you this morning, His gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  That is not a command, a word of the law to burden and accuse you.  It is a precious promise of the Gospel to strengthen and sustain your faith against the lies of the devil, and against all the doubts and despair of your own sinful heart.  You come at His Word, not as though you are worthy, nor as though to earn and achieve something from Him, but because He has called you and welcomed you to Himself.

It is His good and gracious will that you should have peace and rest and life in Him.  That’s what He wants!  His desire is that you have life with God in body and soul; that you know His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him.  He has reconciled you to God by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  And He has made you His beloved child by your Baptism.

Come to Him, then, and take His yoke upon you.  Not by working, but by receiving what He gives.

Are you weary?  He gives you rest, because He has worked for you.  Are you anxious?  Are you afraid?  He gives you peace, because He has borne your burdens, all your fears and frustrations, all your anxieties and stress.  And He has done all things well.  He has made everything right.

Don’t quit your job.  Don’t stop working.  Don’t abandon your stations in life.  The rest that is yours in Christ is not a permanent vacation or a neverending party.  It does not mean that you’re now free to stay in bed all day, or that you’re at liberty to fritter away your time and energy in pursuit of false gods and idolatry.  It rather means that you now go about your work and do your job as one who lives in Christ.  You rest in Him by faith in His Gospel.  You have peace with God in Him, even as you labor and sweat to love and serve your family, friends, and neighbors.  You do not work to save yourself, as though your life depended on it, but because life and salvation and all good things are yours in Christ.  Thus are you free to live your life in love for God and man.

If you are a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, then you have such peace and rest, and you are able to love as you are loved.  For right here and now, by the Ministry of His Gospel, He gives Himself to you.  He not only reveals Himself, but He gives Himself to you.  Into your ears, and into your mouth, into your heart, and into your body and life.  He gathers you to Himself, in much the way that Kelvin, Nicholai, and Nathaniel will take their newborn infants into their arms, and hold them with tender love, and protect them with the strength that God provides, in the months ahead.

Your dear Lord Jesus welcomes and receives you as a little child, a babe in arms.  And He gently schools you in the way of life.  He teaches you to live, and how to live, by giving you Himself and His Life.  He saves you from yourself and from all your good intentions.  He saves you from your wretched thoughts, your divided heart, and your body of death, by revealing His Father to you, by pouring out His Spirit upon you, and by giving you His own holy Body and precious Blood.

He washes you with His Word of the Gospel; He clothes you with His own Righteousness and Holiness, His Innocence and Blessedness; and He feeds you like a baby at your mother’s breast.

Don’t try harder to work for any of this.  But do come and rest yourself here in the Liturgy of the Lord.  Taste and see that He is good.  For all things in heaven and on earth have been handed over to Christ Jesus by the Father, and here He hands them over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Eat, drink, and be at Peace, and find your Sabbath Rest here in the Body of Christ, given for you.

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

02 July 2017

Not Peaceful Coexistence, But a Sword that Divides

Over the past few weeks, you have heard how the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles to make disciples of all nations, beginning from Jerusalem and Judea, and proceeding, through the ages, to the ends of the earth.  He sent them to preach repentance and forgiveness in His Name, to catechize and baptize with His Word, and to bear His Holy Cross as those who follow Him are also called to do.  To be a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is to hear and heed His Word, to learn from His teaching and example, to live by faith in His promises, and to live in love according to His Commandments.

He is certainly not unaware of the challenges and difficulties confronting His servants on earth, His ministers and His disciples.  Nor is it simply that He has known and warned you ahead of time.  But He Himself has borne the Cross and suffered hardship, grief, and pain on your behalf.

It is simply a fact that, if you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, then you will have tribulation in the world, and you will bear His Cross:  Not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.

It is a hard Word that Jesus speaks, by way of example, concerning your household and family; that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin.  Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents, spouse, or children; but as I said last week, you are to love them according to the Word of Christ, in deference to Him.  That can be painful at times, as you navigate prickly feelings; as you admonish adult children to repent and to be faithful; and as you deal with the anxiety of relatives who belong to different churches, or with the anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether.  Then there are those thorny issues, such as living together outside of marriage (fornication), various re-definitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (the murder of the unborn).

It is so tempting and so easy to compromise, to capitulate or to keep silent, instead of standing up and speaking up for what is good and right and true.  It is hard to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to love your neighbors as yourself; and to forgive those who sin against you, especially when you are at odds over these matters of faith and life with the members of your own family.

But it gets worse.  While the Cross that is laid upon your family and your relationships is difficult and often painful, there is an even deeper and more demanding challenge that confronts you.  For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword, which cuts you to the quick within yourself, even between your bones and your marrow.  It divides you from your fallen flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul, and spirit.  It is really more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarian’s broadsword.  For Jesus does not just hack away at you; He goes for the jugular, and He addresses the heart of the matter.  His Word is piercing, cutting you to the core.

So what the Lord Jesus is doing in this Gospel is preaching the first and greatest  Commandment, the number one Law, namely, that you are to have no other gods before Him.  None whatsoever.

It is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus thus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father.  And it is all the more pointed and poignant in view of His Incarnation, His Humiliation, His Holy Cross and Passion.  For all of your fear, love, and trust, your total allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, and your entire life, all belong to this Crucified God.  You are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find yourself in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own.

This Commandment brings the entire Law into focus, and it thus exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and rubs it in to makes it that much worse.  It makes your sin utterly sinful.  For it brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ, but also your covetous lust, greed, and selfishness for all manner of false gods and idols, by which you are trying to find your life on earth.

The Commandment of the Lord thus puts you to death; and to be clear, it cannot bring you to life.  Not because it is bad.  Far from it!  The Law of God is good and wise, holy and just.  But it cannot give you life, because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul, and spirit.  It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery.  For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true and rightful Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the only true God.

By your idolatry and unbelief, by your neglect of what you are called and commanded to do, and by your disobedience and outright rebellion, you have forsaken your marriage to the Lord Jesus, and you have married yourself to sin and death.  And for all of this, the Law condemn you to die.

It is at that painful point that you begin to realize the purpose for that Sword which Jesus brings.  For in cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from all of your adulterous idols, beginning with your self.  In this way He engages an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, whereby you lose your life and everything else in this perishing world.

But of course that is not yet the end of the story.  Your true and heavenly Bridegroom is not after vengeance; He seeks reconciliation.  He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true, divine, eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.

He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He desires that you have life in Him.  To that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death within Himself, within His Body of flesh and blood.

Ironically, His suffering of this judgment and condemnation of the Law against your sins is also His fulfillment and perfection of the entire Law.  That is to say, He suffers and dies with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father, for you, and for all of His neighbors from the beginning to the end of the world.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Love of the one true God, who bears your sins to atone for you by His blood; who dies your death to set you free from death.

The Law is thus wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  And to be sure, His faith and love are not for nothing.  His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted.  For the One who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.

And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, in order to redeem you from the bondage of your idolatry and unbelief, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.

So the Life of Christ is truly yours, now and forever.  Even now, in the midst of death, it is yours.

To be sure, He does not bring or promise peace on earth, not as the world understands peace and tries to find it via compromise.  The Lord’s bumper sticker is not “coexist” or “live and let live.”  But what He has done, at the cost of His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood, is to reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father.  Which is to say that God is at peace with you for Christ Jesus’ sake.  And you have peace with God in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is that peace with God — which the world neither knows nor could it ever give — it is that peace with God in Christ which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies.  Not by way of compromise, but with the courage of Christ and His forgiveness of sins.  Not in the fear of man, but in the fear of God, with which you also love and trust in Him.

The fact is, there will always be those who hate you in this body and life on earth.  Actually, most of the world will hate you for Christ Jesus’ sake, and it will do its best in countless ways to hurt you, even to kill you.  If it can manage nothing else, it will shame you and discredit you.  If that is not the case, then examine yourself and your life, and ask yourself whether you are living as a Christian, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether anyone would even be able to guess.

Repent of your unfaithfulness.  Be strong and courageous, and confess your Lord Jesus with your words and with your life, with your choices and decisions, with your priorities and activities.

Are you worried that, if you take your faith and confession of Christ seriously and allow His Word to shape your life, then the world will think poorly of you, and your neighbors will respond with animosity or ridicule?  Well, don’t worry.  They surely will.  You have the Lord’s Word on it!

But no one in the world can rob you of your life in Christ.  The world cannot destroy your peace with God.  Nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God.  For you are His beloved little one, and He shall preserve you and save you in Christ Jesus.  Has He not given you His Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism?  Yes, He has.

It is in His Name that He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word.  And if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus.

In the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself.  And in Him you hear and receive His own God and Father as your own.  And in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness; which is really to say that His Resurrection is also now yours, along with His Life Everlasting in body and soul.

It may seem strange to you (and to others) that your faith and life as a Christian disciple begins, not with your doing, but with the receiving of those whom He sends to you, and with the hearing of what they preach to you in His Name.  But so it does.  That is where your life in Christ begins.  And so does it continue to depend upon the hearing and receiving of the Gospel in His Name.

And from there, as you have received, so also give.  As you have heard, so also confess.  As you are a child of God in Christ Jesus, so live to the glory of His Name as a member of His family.

In particular, consider what this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.

Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you.  This is the household and family of your God and Father.  This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom.  These people around you, who are catechized and baptized in the Name of the same Lord, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are children of the same Father.  Some of them are your fathers and mothers in the faith; others are your sons and daughters in Christ.  Together, they are your family, not for this life only, but for the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting, forever and ever, amen.

Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another.  Care for one another.  Forgive each other.  And serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides.  If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty.  And if you have more, do more with it.

Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus.  For His Word does not divide His Church but unites her with Himself, as one Body and Bride in Him, in that Peace which surpasses human understanding, which the world cannot give, but which is yours by His forgiveness of sins.  For He was divided in His sacrificial death, His blood from His flesh, His soul from His body, that you should be made whole in His Resurrection.

Here then, by His grace within His Church, whatever has been broken is repaired.  Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love.  Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection.  He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world attempts to fabricate, but perfect Peace with God in heaven, true Peace with Himself in the newness of the Holy Spirit, and authentic peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.

And for you, His beloved disciple, He pours out His Cup of Salvation, the New Testament in His Blood; so that you do not lose His Reward, but by His Cross you enter into heaven with Him.

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

28 June 2017

Built on This Rock, The Church Doth Stand

Lutherans have sadly sometimes erred in robbing St. Peter in order to give St. Paul his due.  But the Church, in her God-given wisdom, has chosen to remember and give thanks for these two great Apostles on the same festival day.  And if St. Paul shall be the champion of Justification by grace alone through faith alone, then St. Peter shall be the principle example that “such faith” is not the one thing left that you must do for yourself.  To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not of yourself, but God has instituted the apostolic Office of Preaching and the Sacraments, by which He obtains faith where and when He pleases in those who receive this Ministry of His Gospel.

And in all of this, at all times and in all places, it is all about Jesus.  Everything, everything, everything depends on Him.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no Church; there is no Gospel; there is no faith, no forgiveness of sins, no life or salvation.  Apart from this only Son of the Living God, there is no Father and no Holy Spirit; no heaven, no earth, nor anything else.

So, what you need — in the deepest, most profound and significant way — is Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.  This your song must ever be, the faith in your heart, and the confession on your lips: That He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who became flesh and bore your sins in His own Body to the Cross.  That He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  That there is salvation in no one else, in no other Name in heaven or on earth.

There are those who thus conclude that celebrating the memory of the saints and Apostles detracts from this faith and confession of Jesus the Christ.  And some have likewise gone so far as to suggest or imply that even the institution of the Church on earth and the pastoral office are somehow a distraction from the one and only thing that really matters.  As though the Lord Jesus Christ were accessible to you apart from the preaching of His Word and His Holy Sacraments.

Perhaps you have adopted the same false thinking and fallen into your own version of the same error, by supposing that you can live and get along just fine without God’s Word and the preaching of it, without returning every day to the significance of your Holy Baptism, without confessing your sins and seeking Holy Absolution from your pastor as from Christ Himself, and without the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus on any given Sunday.  After all, you may say, at least you “love” Jesus, and you “believe” in Him, and that’s all that really matters.  Right?

But how could it be that you claim to love Jesus, and yet not long to hear what He says to you?  And what does it mean to say that you believe in Him, if you are not clinging for dear life to His Word of forgiveness, and if you are not living in the way that He has called you and commanded you to live in the confidence of His promises?  Just who is this “Jesus,” whom you claim to love and trust, if you imagine that you are able to have the Son of God apart from His flesh and blood?

It should come as no surprise, in such a case, that you do not speak the Gospel to others; that you do not serve your neighbor as you should with deeds of love and real charity; that you do not forgive those who trespass against you; and that you rarely bring anyone to Church.  Not when you have fabricated for yourself a disembodied “Jesus,” neither God nor man, who never says or does anything, but who is simply tucked away as a warm fuzzy in your own self-centered heart.

Repent of your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Lord.  For the Son of Man, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, He is not as you imagine.  Even the guesses of the people then, that He was John the Baptist or one of the Prophets, were closer to the truth than your fairy tales.  But none of these are sufficient, either.  If you would be saved, you will need a far different Jesus than that.

Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ, conceived and born of St. Mary, is the personal Word of God the Father from all eternity, who has become Flesh for you and your salvation.  The Word of God, who is the Word-made-Flesh, that is Who and What your Savior is.  And so it is that He is near you, in your ears and in your heart, in your mouth, and in your life, by the preaching of His Word, and by the administration of His Body and His Blood, crucified and risen, given and poured out.

It is for this purpose, that you should thus be rescued from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and saved for eternal life with God in body and soul, that the one Lord, Jesus Christ, called, ordained, and sent St. Peter and the other Apostles, including St. Paul, to preach repentance in His Name unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, to catechize and baptize disciples across the nations, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, and to administer His Holy Supper in remembrance of Him.  For it is by these ways and means of His Gospel that the Son of God is with you and saves you.

There is no Church, because there is no Gospel, because there is no Jesus Christ — not for you at least — except by this preaching and administration of His Word and Flesh.  As St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Church at Rome: How shall they believe in One whom they have not heard, since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, unless they are sent?

It is in this sense that St. Peter is the Rock, as the Lord Jesus declares in this familiar Holy Gospel.  Not by any merit or virtue of his own person or his personal faith, which was wobbly at times.  But specifically as a Confessor of Christ, which is to say, as a Minister of His Word, and as the first of those twelve holy Apostles who were called and sent to preach the Gospel in His Name.

So long as we bear in mind that Christ Himself, and He alone, is the Builder of His Church; and so long as we do not forget that the Church which He builds is His Church — it does not belong to Peter, to the pastors, or to the people, but to Christ — then we shall not take offense that Christ has chosen St. Peter and the other Apostles to be the Rock-foundation of His Church on earth.  As St. Paul writes, Christ Himself is the Cornerstone.  He gives strength and shape and stability to the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets; and through them, that is, through their Ministry of the Word, Christ Jesus Himself is at work to establish, to build, and to uphold His Church.

The most central and characteristic aspect of this Holy Ministry is the preaching and practice of the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  Thus, when Jesus the Christ addresses Simon Peter as a Minister of His Gospel, and when He describes the Rock-Foundation of this apostolic Ministry for His Church on earth, He focuses upon the Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution.  Everything in His Church is so arranged for the forgiveness of sins.

Those who attempt to define and describe the Church apart from this Ministry of the Gospel and the Office of the Keys — who move the forgiveness of sins from the center to the periphery — invariably return to the legalism of the Pharisees, misunderstanding the Christian faith and life primarily in terms of the Law instead of the Gospel.  When the Word and work of Christ Jesus, His Body and His Blood, His free and full forgiveness of sins, His Life and Salvation, are set aside or marginalized, then the house is built upon the sand, and it cannot help but fall into great ruin.

Such were the false confessions that St. Paul, in particular, had to preach and teach against.  So, as I have said, where St. Peter is the Apostle who embodies especially the Ministry of the Holy Gospel as the Word and work of Christ Jesus, St. Paul is the Apostle who exemplifies the Life that is lived by grace through faith in the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, it is not a lazy or lethargic life, not in the home, nor in the world, nor in the church.  It is a busy and active life that never ceases to praise God and care for the neighbor, to bear the Cross and sacrifice in faith, hope, and love, in prayer and thanksgiving.  But it is all of that, and you also live that life in Christ, because it does not rely upon your own reason or strength, but it returns daily to Holy Baptism, depends upon the Word of Holy Absolution, and feasts upon the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.

It is a robust and vigorous life that you live in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in His free and full forgiveness.  For by His death, He has destroyed death; and by His rising again, He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized in His Name.  His holy and precious Blood cleanses you of all your sins, within and without, and His own Flesh strengthens and preserves your body and soul in His Life and Salvation.  So it is that, safe within His Body, within His Holy Apostolic Church, the gates of hades shall never prevail against you.  Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally, so shall you rise and live in Him.

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

25 June 2017

That You May Be His Own

If you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that He bore your sins in His Body to the Cross, and that He was put to death for your transgressions; and if you believe that God the Father raised Him from the dead for your justification, then confess with your mouth and with your life that this same Jesus is your Savior and your God.

In all that you say and all that you do, let it be known before men that you belong to Him who paid for you with His holy and precious blood.  Hear and heed His holy Word, and live by that Word.

For you are called to be and to live as His disciple.  Which means that you follow Him and listen to His teaching, and that you also learn from His example and His life.  You are His apprentice, and from Him you learn how to live, and how to die, to the glory of His holy Name.

So also, find your true home and your true family in His Church.  Understand that your identity, and your entire place and purpose in life, are found within the Body of Christ, His holy Church.

When Jesus speaks of the divisions that will come within families, He certainly does not advocate animosity for its own sake.  You should not seek to be at odds with your spouse, your children, or your parents.  But neither should you serve and accommodate any of them at the cost of your faith, at the expense of your confession, or in any way that would compromise the Word of Christ.

Your allegiance belongs to Him.  And anyone who loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Christ, is not worthy to be His disciple, and will not enter the Kingdom of God.  You are to love and serve your family, of course, in accordance with the Word of God, and so also in the fear of the Lord, in the faith and worship of Christ above everything else.  But it is blasphemous idolatry to put your parents, spouse, or children ahead of Him.  Wherever you are doing so, repent.

Do not love anyone more than you love Jesus.  I’m not talking about your feelings and emotions, but about your words and actions, your commitments and priorities.  Do not be afraid to count the cost and bear the consequences of following the Lord.  Do not be afraid of what others may think or say or do to you.  And do not fear what may become of you.  But fear, love, and trust in God.  And finding your life in Christ Jesus, so live as a slave unto righteousness in Him.

Now, St. Paul carefully explains that, when he speaks of this slavery to righteousness, this slavery to Christ, he is speaking with human terms.  It means that you belong to Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you for Himself.  Not with gold or silver, as you know, but with His own Body and Life, with His own Flesh and Blood; that you should be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Thus it is that your true value and worth are indicated by what the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for you.

But, in fact, you are a slave to whatever you obey.  You are a slave to whatever master you follow, whether the Lord or your own fallen flesh.  And if you are a slave to sin, then you do the works of unrighteousness, which lead to death.  But if you are a slave to Christ, that is to say, by His grace, through faith in Him, you do the works of righteousness and life to the glory of His Name.

So, then, do not live as a slave to sin and death.  Nor suppose that your sins are harmless or okay.  If you live as a slave to sin, then you belong to sin, and you are subject to death, both now and forever.  For the wages of sin is death, as Holy Scripture plainly says.

Live instead as one who has died and risen with Christ, as dead to the world and alive to God.  For if you are a Christian, that is precisely who and what you are.  That is what God has accomplished in you by His Word and in your Holy Baptism.  You have been crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus.  So are you also raised to newness of life in and with Him.  Live, therefore, according to His Word, in the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, as a member of His Body.

It is a matter of confessing what you have heard and received from the Lord Jesus Christ.  As you have been called and brought to faith and life by His Word of the Gospel, so confess that Word of His Gospel with your words and actions.  In that way you glorify God and serve your neighbor.

As it is not only your soul but also your body that has been redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, and cleansed in the waters of His Holy Baptism, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and saved for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting, confess your Lord in and with your body.

Day in and day out — week by week throughout the year, throughout your life, from childhood into old age — work not for your own benefit, but work to serve your neighbor within the office and station in life to which the Lord has called you.  That is where He wills you to work in love for your neighbor, to live and serve according to His Word, as Christ also lives in love for you.

You need not wonder where or how you are to live.  Your job and duties may be tedious and boring.  They may be difficult and thankless.  They may get no attention or acknowledgment, even from those whom you serve.  Nevertheless, it is to such work that your own dear Father in heaven has called you in His Son.  He is well aware of you and your labor.  He sees and knows what you are about.  And He is pleased by your faithfulness.  Your faith and love in Christ are not in vain.

It is certain that you will not atone for your sins or justify yourself before God by your good works.  That is not the point or purpose of His Commandments or the duties He has given you to do.  But by your labors of faith and love, according to the Word of the Lord, within your office and station in life, you do confess your Lord Jesus Christ and glorify your Father in heaven.  That is the point.

Therefore, do not be lazy, slack, or cavalier in regards to the life that you are called to live as a Christian in the righteousness which is by faith in Christ.  Take that calling as seriously as the Cross and Passion of your Lord, and live it boldly in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

By the same token, flee immorality.  That’s not just advice.  That, too, is the Word of the Lord.  Do not give your body over to lust of any kind, whether for your neighbor’s wife, or for pictures in a magazine or on your computer, or for money, or food, or position and prestige.  Covetousness is the root of all temptation, which conceives and gives birth to sin, which matures fully into death.

Therefore, do not live according to the lusts of your flesh, but turn around and run the other way.  And pray without ceasing that God would strengthen and sustain you in the faith, to do not what is deadly but what is good and right and acceptable according to His Word.

Do not live as though you were still dead in your trespasses and sin.  Do not continue in your evil deeds as though you still belonged to them, as though sin and death were your lord and master.  Do not go about your days and your deeds in this body and life on earth as though you were nothing more than a mass of decaying flesh, instead of the very temple of the Holy Spirit, a living being of body and soul, in whom Christ Jesus lives and abides by His grace.  Do not deny His Resurrection, nor disavow the Kingdom of your God and Father, as though it were a fantasy.

Remember that you are the Lord’s, His own precious possession, His child and heir.  Not only are you His creature, but all that you are, and all that you have, has been bought and paid for by Christ Himself, at the cost of His own Body and Life, by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  You belong to Him in life, in death, and in the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting.

For now, your life in Christ is hidden under His Cross.  You cannot see it, except through a glass darkly.  For He lives and dwells in thick darkness, in the midst of sin and death.  So you do not see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life with your mortal eyes or in your mortal flesh.  It is revealed to you only in His Word.  But even that can sound like such a soft and subtle whisper in your ear, which the wild world threatens to drown out with all its noisy chaos and confusion.

What, then, do you experience?  Fightings and fears within and without, and the war that rages in your members, in your body of death.  You find yourself returning to the slavery of sin, day after day, over and over again, even when you know better and desire to do better.

You are too easily persuaded by the sinful world around you, by the devil, and by your own sinful flesh.  And you are too sluggish to follow Christ, to live as He lives, to do as He has called you.

But now, do not despair, and do not be afraid.  Rather, repent of your sins each day, and bear the fruits of repentance.  Trust Christ, and live according to His Word, by faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  For you are called to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus, your Teacher.  Which is to say that you must continue to be instructed by Him, to be catechized by His Word and the preaching of it.

To be a disciple, which is to be a Christian, is to be a lifelong student of Christ Jesus.  It is to be a slave of this one Master.  For you are not above Him, but you are called to be like Him.  Listen to what He says.  Let His Word have its way with you, instead of insisting on your own way.

Hear and heed His Word of the Law, which reveals His good and acceptable Will.  For it is neither safe, nor godly, nor okay, to ignore or disobey the Lord’s Commandments.

But together with His Law, hear also His Word of the Gospel.  For what He teaches and reveals in His Law, He has accomplished and fulfilled for you and for all in His own Body and Life, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, in holy faith and perfect love.

God’s Law accuses and condemns you because you are a sinner.  But God’s Law also sets before you a picture of Christ, who has lived as the true Man in perfect faith toward His God and Father and in perfect love for His Father and for all of His neighbors, including you.

He does not rob you.  He does not take your life.  He is not unfaithful in His promises to you, nor does He cast you aside for your unfaithfulness.  He does not speak against you.  He testifies on your behalf.  He declares you righteous for His own sake, with His own perfect Righteousness.  He gives you His own life, at His own expense, and with that He gives you all good things.

When He preaches His Law to you, it’s not because He’s already done His part and now it’s your turn to carry the weight for awhile.  He preaches His Law, as He does all things, that He might call you to Himself in peace.  That He might turn you away from sin and death and back to Himself.  That He might gather you to Himself and embrace you with His love, and bring you to the Father.

So it is that His Word of the Gospel does not command you but forgives you.  It rescues you from death.  And it brings you to life with God.  Because Christ has become your Righteousness, and Christ has become your Holiness.  His Cross and  Resurrection have reconciled you to God the Father.  His Word of the Gospel thus lays hold of you in love and brings you into safety forever.

Whatever sins have dwelt in your heart and mind, and whatever sins you have committed with your body, Christ forgives you by and with His Word of the Gospel.  And by this same Word He brings you into the presence of God, cleansed and holy, pleasing and acceptable to your Father in heaven.

Hear also how He confesses you before both God and man.  Hear how Jesus confesses you in the presence of heaven and earth.  He proclaims you to be His own.  He forgives you all of your sins.  And He feeds you with His own Body and Blood, the Ransom with which He has redeemed you.

The Son of Man comes to you here and now.  He comes to you in love, who has given Himself for you on the Cross, and who has been raised for your justification.  He has opened heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  For Christ endures to the end.  And Lo, He is with you always, even to the close of the age, and unto the life everlasting.

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