22 July 2018

Jesus the Good Shepherd Feeds His Flock

What is it that you’re looking for?  Why are you here this morning, and why do you go about doing what you do throughout the week, at work or on vacation?  What is it that you need?

The fact is that you don’t know what you really need unless you are taught.   A child doesn’t just automatically know what is good and necessary, as opposed to what is dangerous and unhealthy.  An infant has an instinct for his mother’s milk, but toddlers are famous for putting all sorts of non foods into their mouths.  Moms and Dads teach their children what is good and appropriate to eat, and how much to eat, and when to eat.  Otherwise a child doesn’t know.  And you don’t know your genuine needs, either, unless your Father in heaven teaches you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

You do know, instinctively, that you need something, because you hunger and thirst.  Your belly lets you know that you need to eat.  And as you have been taught, whether by your parents or by trial and error, you know what to eat, not only to fill the empty space, but to nourish your body.

You hunger and thirst for the food and drink that your body needs in order to keep going.  And you hunger for other things, as well, some of them beneficial, even necessary to this body and life, and others not so much.  You hunger for shelter and protection, for safety and peace, and for clothing, so that you will not be found naked or ashamed.  And you hunger for affection and appreciation.  You long to be admired, and for people to like you and look up to you.  You are hungry for love.

Indeed, God has created you to live in a relationship of love with Him and with your neighbors.  There is built into you a desire, a hunger and thirst, and a need, for love.  To be loved, and to love in return.  So you do know this hunger, too, not only for food and drink, and shelter and clothing, but also for companionship, for colleagues, comrades, and cohorts, for family and friends.

But what does it take for you to be satisfied?  What do you need, not just for survival, but in order to live in peace, and for your heart and mind to rest from all your anxious worries?  Your hungers appear to be insatiable, and satisfaction seems elusive, impossibly out of your reach, no matter how much money you have, and no matter how much you glut yourself on occasions when you can.  If one day ends with a certain sense of contentment, the next day begins with renewed hungers.

You keep searching and striving for something that will truly satisfy your hungers, but you can’t find it or feed yourself sufficiently.  Not only your belly, but your heart and soul keep on growling.

It goes back to the fact that God the Lord has created you for life with Himself, to live in love with Him, and so also to live in loving communion with the neighbors He has placed alongside you in the world.  Your life in the world and all of your relationships depend on your relationship with Him.  So you will never be satisfied until you feed on Him and rest in Him, in both body and soul.

Sounds easy in theory, but of course it’s not.  It’s impossibly hard for you.  Not that He’s playing hard to get; and not as though He were unwilling or unable to feed you and to give you rest.  It is because of your own sin, which is, at its heart, idolatry and unbelief.  You fear, love, and trust all the wrong gods, beginning with yourself, and you refuse to believe the Word and promises of the one true God, the Holy Trinity, though He is the Creator of all things, the Author and Giver of life.

Your sin is an insatiable hunger for that which is not God, and for that which God has not given.  It cannot ever be satisfied, because it craves and consumes what is perishing and does not last.  And the more you consume in your covetous passions and the lusts of your flesh, the more you are consumed by your own hungers, until you are finally eaten up by your addiction to death.

You make false gods and idols out of the good gifts that your Father in heaven well provides you, which you do need for this body and life on earth, but you treat them as your highest good and as self-sufficient.  You worship your food and drink, your house and home, your family and friends, your work, and your entertainment, with the worship that rightly belongs to the Lord alone.  Not only that, but you worship what God has not given, and even that which He has forbidden to you.

And as often as you go hungering and thirsting for whatever is not God — and all the more so, all the faster, as you covet and consume what is not yours and is not good for you — the further you turn away from the only One who can truly satisfy your every need and give you peace and rest.

It is already quite late in the day, and you are in serious trouble if you do not eat something that will fill you up and satisfy you.  Not the addictions that give you, at best, only brief, momentary pleasure, and then leave you craving for more, but the Food that endures unto eternal life.  Yet, you are in a desolate place, and you cannot feed yourself.  You cannot find or afford what you need.

But now your Lord Jesus has come ashore, and He has come to find you.  He sees you, just as you are, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows your hungers and your hurts.  He knows the emptiness inside of you.  He knows what you need, and He has come to feed you.

He has not come to chastise you.  He has come with mercy and compassion for you, in order to be your Shepherd, to guard and keep and take care of you.  He enters in and graciously opens His generous hand to provide for all that you need in both body and soul.  That is why He is here.

He does care about your body and life here in this world, and He does provide for those needs.  He feeds and clothes you here, He shelters and protects you.  He has given you a father and mother to teach you and take care of you.  And He gives you a world of neighbors, who, whether they like it or know it or not, are compelled to serve you, so that you don’t get broken and die in the street.

As surely as He adorns the lilies, and as surely as He feeds the sparrows, the young ravens, and the lions, so much more does He clothe and feed you.  You are more precious to Him than flowers, birds, and animals.  He will not do less for you than He does for them.  Indeed, He does far more.

The divine compassion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ is not simply an emotion of pity.  He does not simply look at you and bemoan the mess that you’re in.  His compassion is an act of divine love, an active care and concern for you that springs from the very heart of Him, yes, from the very entrails of His being.  He moves from heaven to help you.  He suffers here with you and for you.

He comes to find you where you are, and He brings you home rejoicing, because He loves you.  He calls you to Himself, He gathers you to His bosom, and He takes your sins upon Himself.  All of your hurts, and all of your weaknesses, and all of the hurt that you have caused, all of the ways that you have used your strength wrongly — your iniquities and your sorrows, your pride and your despair — He takes it all into His own flesh.  He knows your hunger, your thirst, and your pain.

He knows all of these things, because He has made your sin and its deadly consequences His own.  He has borne the full burden and curse of the Law, and He has suffered the punishment of your sin, even the death of His Cross.  In His own Body, He has set things right and made all things new.

The great Good Shepherd of the sheep has made Himself the Passover Lamb, the Sheep who was led to the slaughter, not against His will, but voluntarily in love.  He laid down His own body and life, as the Sacrifice of Propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and He has risen from the dead for your justification, that you might have life with God in Him, in His crucified and risen Body.

Not only that, but having removed your burdens from you, He now feeds you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood.  For the Lamb is not only sacrificed, but He is eaten.  And His Blood is not only shed, but it now also covers you, within and without.  It not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with the very Life and Spirit of the Living God.  For the Lord feeds you with Himself, with His flesh and blood for your body and soul.  He is the One who satisfies you truly.  The God-sized hole in you, the emptiness that is there until you rest in God, He fills with Himself.

He does it, first of all, by the preaching and teaching of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  Everything begins with that, centers in that, and flows from that preaching of Christ, which bears and bestows His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching of the Word of Christ, that He gives nothing less than Himself to you, and breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul, and brings you in peace to His God and Father in heaven, as a beloved and well-pleasing child.

And with that preaching and ministry, He then does even more, as you have heard this morning from St. Mark, and as all four of the holy Evangelists record.  He takes the bread, He blesses and gives thanks, He breaks it and distributes it by the hand of His servants.  So also now for you.

He feeds you with this living Bread from heaven, which is His own holy Body, that you might be truly filled and satisfied, and that you might find your peace and rest in Him, here and now by faith in His Word, and hereafter in the Resurrection of your body to life everlasting in body and soul.

That is the Food with which I feed you in His Name and stead, in remembrance of Him.  Not that I could ever do so of myself, of course, no more than the Apostles could feed those huge crowds of people by any power or sufficiency of their own.  But for the sake of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus says to me, as He said to them: “You give them something to eat.”  So that is what I do, by and with His Word.  I preach and teach, and I forgive your sins, and I feed you with this Food of Jesus.

Here, then, is your Good Shepherd.  Here in His Church are the green pastures of His Word.  Here are the peaceful, quiet waters of forgiveness and life, flowing from your Baptism throughout all your days on earth.  And here is the banqueting Table with His overflowing Chalice of salvation.  Here you are fed and filled with all that you need, so that you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.

What, then, shall you say or do?  How many loaves do you have in your lunch box or your larder?  Is it not enough to do whatever the Lord has given you to do?

It is certain that you would never be able to make ends meet on your own.  You could not do or accomplish what God has given you to do by your own wisdom, reason, or strength.  You could not love and serve your husband or wife.  You could not feed, clothe, shelter, and protect your children.  You could not provide for your family, nor support the Church and Ministry of Christ.

But do not be dismayed, do not grow weary, and do not lose heart.  The Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, is still moved with compassion for you.  And He still acts in love to help you.  Better than that, He acts in love to save you, to forgive your sins, to give you His life in place of death, to sustain you by His own strength, and to make up everything that is lacking.  And along with all of that, for whatever it is that He has called you to do in His Name, He provides what is needed.

“How many loaves do you have?”  Go and see.  Whether it be five of fifty, 500 or 5000, entrust whatever you have to Him, and see what He will do with it.  He knows what He has given to you.  So He would also teach you to be thankful for His gifts, and to rely on Him for all that you need.

Do the work to which He has called you in the confidence of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Do not worry or be anxious that you will come up short if you are doing what He has commanded you.  Let each day be sufficient of itself for your concern, and let that be governed by His Word.  Let it be to you as He has spoken.  Not only in your working, but also in your resting.

Come here, then, to the place that Jesus has provided, and rest yourself in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament.  Remain on board this boat with Jesus and His disciples, and He will bring you safely to the other side.  Eat, drink, and be satisfied.  For the Lord, your Good Shepherd, here feeds you with Himself.  He is your Meat and Drink indeed.  Whoever eats this Bread shall never die, and whoever drinks from this Cup, the New Testament in His Blood, shall never thirst again.  But as you are fed by the Lord your God, so shall you live in and with Him forever and ever.

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

14 July 2018

Called to the Wedding Feast of Christ and His Bride

The Lord has built His House, and He does watch over His City.  Indeed, the whole of creation is His good work and His gracious good gift to the Man and the Woman and all their children.  It is beautiful in its design and delightful in its good order, so that all things in heaven and on earth praise Him and point to Him, according to His purpose and His Word.

With all of that, holy marriage is the culmination and the crowning glory of God’s good creation, the Man and the Woman made for each other in His own divine Image and Likeness, to love and to cherish each other in His Name, to the praise of His glorious grace.

It is a relationship of mutual love.  And that is not a matter of fickle feelings and emotions, but of solid commitment, steadfast integrity, faithfulness, and self-sacrificing care, each one for the other.  It is a partnership in doing the good work that God has given, in cultivating and keeping the garden He has planted, in the particular place where He locates the man and his wife.  And holy marriage is the means by which the Lord creates, brings forth, and cares for new life in body and soul.

By fatherly divine goodness and mercy, for the sake of His own divine and holy love, the Creator of the heavens and the earth exalts man from nothing, from the dust and the dirt of the earth, to be a living being.  And in holy marriage He gives the woman to the man, and He gives them both to have dominion over the earth in His Name.  To exercise, not a power play, but providential care for His creation, while yet living always by His grace, by faith in His Word and promises.

They are given to eat the Food that God provides, to drink freely His water of life, and to worship Him by the obedience of faith, by the keeping of His good commandments.

It is to and for these high and holy purposes that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and it is for these high and holy purposes that a father gives his daughter to another man in holy marriage.  And so it is that, today, Matt and Oly, you are bound together in a life-long union of heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, in a divine vocation that redefines your entire identity in the world and in relation to all of your neighbors, until death parts you from this body and life.

Be sure and certain of this: No matter how old, sophisticated, experienced, intelligent, or savvy anyone may be, it is impossible to comprehend, much less to practice, the true importance and genuine significance of holy marriage, except by the Word and Wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is obvious enough, now more than ever, that the world and fallen flesh assail holy marriage on all sides with all manner of perversity, confusion, and falsehood.  But there is also the more crafty temptation, all the more so among well meaning Christians, to make an idol out of marriage and family, that is, to worship these good things as false gods and saviors.  Not because of any fault in marriage and family, which are the Lord’s own creation and His good work, but on account of the sinfulness of our fallen hearts and minds and our perishing flesh and blood.

Leave it to the Lord, therefore, to clarify priorities and to put all things into their own proper place.  For here we are instructed by His Word concerning holy marriage, which points beyond itself to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

The holy Matrimony of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is the true fulfillment of the first creation and the crowning glory of the New Creation, of the new heavens and the new earth, where God and man abide together in righteousness and peace.  For all of creation is redeemed, made brand new, and sanctified in the Body of Christ Jesus, which is the Tabernacle of God among men.

He is the Light of the World, the Love of God, and the Life of all the living, who has become true Man, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, conceived and born of St. Mary by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He is the Stronger Man who has come and bound the strong man, Satan, that He might rescue all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve from the bondage of sin and death.  And He is the Bridegroom, who has come down from the Father in heaven to seek you out, to woo you and betroth you to Himself, and to make of you a member of His own holy Bride.

So it is that you are called to fear, love, and trust in Him, to hope in His Resurrection, and to live by faith in His Word.  To be crucified, put to death, and buried with Him, by way of repentance, in order to be raised up with Him to newness of life, and to live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  To live forever in His House, within His City, as a member of His Household and Family, as a beloved son or daughter of His own God and Father.

To live within holy marriage as a Christian, to live as a Christian husband or wife, is no different (broadly speaking) than it is to live as a Christian at all, whether married or unmarried.  It is to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, with which He has adorned in you in Holy Baptism, and so also to clothe yourself in the righteous deeds of His saints, that is, by holy faith and holy love.

Do not seek or strive to seat yourself above and beyond your own proper station in life, but serve faithfully and be content wherever you are, and wait upon the Lord to exalt you in due season.

Work together in faith and love as husband and wife, as partners yoked together in the keeping of the garden where God stations you, exercising the stewardship of His world in your own place and time.  Work together in common cause: not your own, but the Lord’s, which He shares with you.

Matt, care for Oly and give yourself for her, as Christ does for His Bride, the Church.  Oly, love and serve Matthew as a helpmate perfectly suited for him, in the confidence of Christ, who is your Savior and his.  And together serve your neighbors and provide hospitality, even to the least of them, as the Lord so enables you to do, knowing that you also are poor and needy, crippled, lame, and blind, according to your fallen flesh; and yet, you are fed and clothed by the Lord your God.

It is by grace alone, by the charity of God, that you are invited to share the Master’s Feast, though you are unworthy of yourself to enter His House or to be seated at His Table.  It is in Love that Christ has given Himself for you, in order to exalt you, and to feed you with Himself, with His own Flesh and Blood: Here within His Church on earth, and hereafter in His holy City, New Jerusalem.

“Come, eat and drink freely,” He calls.  His Dinner is prepared, and everything is ready.  For Christ has died, and He is risen indeed, never to die again.  Here, then, at His Table, from the dust and the dirt of sin, death, and the grave, the humbled are exalted and fed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Altar is the center of creation.  For the Tabernacle of God is here with you in the Flesh and Blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  He dwells with you, and by His Gospel He calls you to be His own, to be and to live as a member of His Body and Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  He comes in flesh and blood like yours to save you, and He abides here with you in love, in order to serve you in grace, mercy, and peace.

In the eyes of the world, and in your own fallen flesh, in your fickle heart and foolish mind, the Lord’s Supper, His Big Dinner, may seem pointless, an intrusion and a nuisance, which you would just as soon skip and not bother with.  But do not trade His Feast for a bowl of porridge.  To reject the Lord’s great Feast in favor of your own pursuits is to choose death over life, and to cut yourself off from the Kingdom of God.  Even to prioritize your own marriage and family over the Marriage of the Lamb and the Household and Family of God — however pious that (pretense) may seem — is to forego and renounce what matters most and is eternal for what is perishing and passing away.

Beloved of the Lord, the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  For He has come as the true Man and atoned for the sins of the world by His own Blood; and by His Resurrection from the dead He has reconciled the world to His God and Father in Himself, in His own Body of real flesh and bones.

He has given Himself for you and for all people in divine and holy love.  Not because you were so beautiful or lovely, but in order to make you beautiful by His love for you, and by His sacrifice on your behalf; that He might cleanse you by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and adorn you with His Righteousness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.

Thus has He done for you in your Holy Baptism, and so does He love you, and serve you, and care for you in all things, not only for this body and life, but for the Life everlasting.

He who did not spare Himself, but gave Himself for you, even unto death, He will not withhold any good thing from you.  Rather, with Himself, He freely gives you all things by and from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  That is the sure and certain hope in which you live, in which you love and serve each other, and in which you sacrifice yourself and give generously with grace and mercy for your neighbors, even the least of them in the eyes of the world.

You live, now, by faith and not by sight, bearing the Cross in the confidence of the Resurrection.  For Christ, your Bridegroom, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, has gone before you through death into life.  He was crucified, died, and was buried, but God has raised this same Christ Jesus from the dust of the ground, and has exalted Him at His own right hand.

The challenges and difficulties of married life in this fallen and perishing world, at every age and stage of life, though they may seem to be crushing you, defeating you, and utterly overwhelming you, are yet an opportunity to be catechized and trained in the faith and love of Christ Jesus.

Like your parents and older siblings before you, the two of you do have lots to learn, and lots of growing up to do together in the years and decades ahead of you.  Do not doubt that is true.  I pray to God that you never stop growing and learning in this body and life on earth.

Above all, your holy marriage under the Cross is an opportunity to be trained in daily repentance and forgiveness, to live by grace through faith in Christ, and to love each other as He loves you.

You are in love today, no doubt, as all of your family and friends are well able to see.  But you will learn to love each other more deeply and profoundly as you bear and suffer the Cross together as husband and wife.  And in learning to love each other in the way of Christ and His Church, you will also learn to love and serve your many other neighbors in the world, as well.

The Cross of Christ will teach you that holy marriage is not about selfishness or self-advancement.  It’s not about power or prestige, competition, or the accumulation of wealth.  It is about love.  Not the world’s fictitious fairy tale of fickle feelings and fleeting romance, but the Love of God in Christ, which stands fast and remains steady at all times and in all places, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health; divine Love, from which even death shall not part you.

You will vow your faithfulness to one another on this day, and God grant you by His Word and Holy Spirit to remain faithful in those promises and commitments, for He is the One who binds you together.  Do not betray that sacred trust.  But whatever frailties and weaknesses you shall discover in yourselves and in each other, know that your Lord remains faithful in all things and forever.  He cannot deny Himself, and He will not renege on any of His promises to you.

As He is with you here and now, today, so shall He be with you always.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Rather, day by day, by His Cross and Resurrection, by repentance and faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, by His Holy Baptism and His Holy Supper, He shall ever be making you and your marriage and all things new, according to His tender mercies and His steadfast loving-kindness.  For He kills and makes alive by His Word of the Cross.  He wounds in order to heal by the medicine of His Gospel.  He humbles you in yourself, but He exalts you in Himself, in His own Body, in the presence of His God and Father.

And having fed you here at His Altar, faithfully throughout your days on earth, at the last He shall seat you at His Table in His Kingdom, in His own House forever and ever.  “Friends, come up higher,” He shall say.  And He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and there will no longer be any death, nor sickness, nor sorrow, nor pain, but only the everlasting joy and delight of the Lamb with His Bride in the neverending Feast of His great Salvation.

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

08 July 2018

The Ministry of the Word of Christ for Body and Soul

You have recently heard that Jesus raised a little girl from the dead and healed a woman who had for twelve years suffered an incurable hemorrhage.  You know, as well, from the Holy Gospels, that He opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf; that He enabled the paralyzed and lame to get up and walk; that He cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and calmed the wind and waves.

You’ve been hearing these stories of Jesus for most of your life.  You believe and confess that they are true.  And more often than not, you long for Him to work such miracles in your body and life.  You call upon His Name and pray, and yet, you wonder if and when you will ever be answered.

Beloved of the Lord, do not doubt that you are heard and answered.  But do bear in mind that it is by His Word of the Cross that He responds and deals with you, and that your life with God in Christ Jesus is, for now, by faith and not by sight.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Those who look to Him for health and strength, who listen to His Word and trust in Him, they lack nothing at all.  Everything in heaven and on earth is theirs in Christ Jesus, by the grace of God, by faith in His Word.  All by the way of His Cross.

He comes to give you all good things by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  That is what He does in His hometown, and in those other villages.  And that is what He sends His men to do for you: To preach and teach His Word.  To this day, and in this place, He is thereby in the synagogue, according to His custom, preaching and teaching the Word of God unto repentance and faith.

He preaches the Law — what God commands and forbids — because God’s Law declares to you the way of life.  It is His good and acceptable will, and it is good for you.  He preaches the Law, however, not that you would get your act together, fix yourself, and make everything right, but that you should repent of your sins, rely upon His mercy, and believe in His Gospel of salvation.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And that is what His ministers preach in His Name and stead: Repentance and Forgiveness.  That is the Word of His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you are put to death and die with Him, and by which you are raised with Him to newness of life in body and soul, already here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  For it is by His Word that He forgives your sins, heals your diseases, rescues you from every evil, and gives you eternal life.

And yet, that surely is not what you see and feel and experience in this vale of tears, in this poor life of labor.  Which is why the Word of Jesus seems so utterly absurd.  He keeps preaching these good things, but everything in your life contradicts it.  You and your loved ones still get sick, and you know that you and they are going to die.  You feel it in your body and your bones long before it happens.  Meanwhile, your house and home, your job, and your whole life are all so precarious.

And to all those dangers and fears, Jesus just keeps saying: “Your sins are forgiven!”  Great.

Remember the paralytic they brought to Jesus?  He couldn’t walk, so his friends carried him to the place where Jesus was, and went to the trouble of cutting a hole in the roof and lowering him down to Jesus.  They laid him right there at His feet.  And the man was paralyzed, lying on a stretcher.  It seemed obvious what he needed.  But what did Jesus do?  “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Okay.  That seems odd, if you stop and think about it.  But you also know how that story continues, when the Pharisees and Scribes question this apparent blasphemy on the part of this Man who presumes to forgive sins.  Yeah, right!  Who can tell if He did it or not?  So Jesus heals the man, who gets up and walks.  Now, be honest.  Does your heart not long for that kind of healing, too?

Of course, you’re very grateful for the forgiveness of your sins.  But you would also like to get up and walk, and to go home rejoicing.  To be set free from your burdens, from all the frailties of your flesh, all the sorrows of your heart, the confusion in your head, and the turmoil in your life.  For all of that, the Word that you hear and receive from the Lord Jesus seems very weak and downright wearisome.  Especially when Jesus keeps on saying it, but nothing ever changes for the better.

So you are tempted to hold Jesus in contempt, because His Word seems so helpless and irritating.  Instead of making your life better, He calls you to repentance, and He speaks of your forgiveness.  Where you perceive yourself to be a poor victim, He addresses you as a poor, miserable sinner.  Which might seem worse than nothing and make you angry.  And yet, it is the Word of His own Cross and Resurrection that He preaches into your ears, which is, in fact, the remedy that you need.

His Word confronts you with a crisis and a crossroads.  It’s not what your flesh wants to hear, and, on the surface, it does not seem to be doing any good.  But to deny and reject the Word of Christ is to reject Christ Jesus Himself; and to reject the Lord Jesus Christ is to reject His God and Father and the Holy Spirit and the only real life there is.  To deny and reject His preaching, therefore, is to consign yourself to death and damnation in body and soul, now and forever.  The same thing is true in the case of the preaching of Christ by those men whom He sends to preach in His Name.

You have heard His Word to those men in this Holy Gospel: “If any place will not receive you, then, as you leave that place. . . .” And that is already a sobering prospect.  It can happen that God removes His Word from you.  And while that may seem like a relief at first, it is the most terrifying discipline of all.  As Dr. Luther has put it, God sends such a famine of His Word, that your heart cries out for even a single syllable of what the Lord would say to you, and yet you hear nothing.

“When you go out from that place,” He says, “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  And that is serious business.  It is to give evidence and testimony for the final judgment.  For the fact is that, whether they listen or not, a Prophet has been among them.  And the Word of the Prophet is the Word of the Lord.  To refuse the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles, to deny and reject them, to harden your heart against them, is to refuse and reject the Lord to your peril.

There is a prophet in your midst.  Not a teller of the future, but a preacher of the Word of Christ.  And that Word is your help and your hope in the face of sickness, sorrow, sin, and death.  It’s not just grasping at straws.  It’s not a pious pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.  It is the Truth of Christ Jesus.

You should repent.  Turn away from your sins, and listen to God.  Do not continue to pursue those things which claw at your heart and seize your mind.  Rather, give your ears to what God speaks, and open your mouth to be fed by His Word.  Listen to what He says, and trust what He promises.

The Lord your God comes in the flesh and with His Word to save you.  It is not to burden you that He comes.  It is not to irritate you that He preaches.  He hasn’t come to trick you, either.  It’s not a game that He’s playing.  It is rather from the depths of His great heart of love that He comes to save you from your sins, from death and the devil, and to give you life with God as a member of His own Body and Bride.  His almighty power is made known chiefly in His mercy toward you.

He comes and calls you to repent.  To turn away from unbelief.  To turn away from your idolatry, from your adultery, and from your lust for the things of this world; from fornication and addiction; from your foul mouth and your wicked gossip; from your yearning for money more than Him; from your pride, and from your despair; from your love for the praises of men more than God.  He calls you away from all of that, not to shame you, not to hurt you, not to rob you of life, but to save you.  Because there is life in none of those things, but only in Him.  And He wants to give you His life.

That is why He sends His men to preach His Word, to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  That is why, wherever they come in with the preaching of Christ and His Gospel, it is still as it was in your Baptism: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”  Because God pours out His Spirit generously upon you, and into your heart, through this Gospel of Christ Jesus.  And He does not hold any of your sins against you.  Even as He calls you to account for them, it is to remove them, as in Christ He has already removed them from His sight.

With His Word of the Cross, He removes your unclean spirit.  He takes away your sin and death.  And in the place of all that, He gives you Himself and all His gifts and benefits, unto eternal Life.  Not only for your soul, but also for your body, even now while it is dying.  That is what He does.

He did it already in your Baptism, when He crucified you with Himself.  For He does not put you to death all by yourself, alone and lonesome, but He has gone ahead of you through the valley of the shadow of death.  He has first of all been crucified for you.  His almighty power is made perfect in His voluntary weakness, all for the sake of your salvation.  So that, now, as you are crucified by His Word, it is with Him, your great Champion.  And not only are you put to death, but you are also raised to life with Him.  For the Lord kills and makes alive.  He wounds, but He also heals.

So also, here at His Altar, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Lord who was crucified and raised for your salvation lays hold of you in love and binds Himself to you most intimately.  And all that He has done and accomplished for you, in His Body, is now given into your body.

Now, He does not force Himself upon you.  He will not violate you in heart, mind, body, or soul.  He does not take liberties with you, but rather uses His liberty as the Son of God to serve you and to save you at His own expense.  He takes nothing from you, except your burdens of sin and death.  And in return He gives to you the treasures of His Kingdom.  He woos you in love with His grace, mercy, and peace.  He pours Himself out for you entirely, and He pours out His Spirit generously upon you, that you might have life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by the preaching of the Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness.

That Word of the Cross, which puts you to death and raises you to life with Christ Jesus, that is the true and only wisdom upon which you can rely.  It is utterly foolish to the world, and yet, it is the Wisdom of the Lord your God, who is all mercy and compassion.  Indeed, His Cross is your only boast in heaven and on earth.  The Cross that He bore and suffered for you.  The Cross He laid upon you in your Baptism, which He preaches to you still, and which you bear and carry in His Name within your vocations and stations in life.  That Cross is not your defeat but your true glory.

The same Lord Jesus Christ who has borne the Cross for you, who has been crucified for all your sins and raised for your justification, He is your Sabbath Rest.  In Him you have Peace with God.  In Him there is a real liberty, a true freedom and independence, such as the world cannot give or achieve or even begin to understand.  Whatever cease fire this world ever achieves is temporary, just like your day off, your three-day weekends, and your vacations, all of which come to an end.

Not so with the Peace that surpasses human understanding.  That true Peace is yours with God in Christ.  And that Peace is no mere temporary cease fire.  It is a place of real safety, a permanent home with God who loves you, with whom you have been reconciled by the death of His own Son.

That Peace and Rest with God in Christ shall never be taken from you, not even if your body is crucified, burned, and scattered to the winds.  All things are still yours in the Body of Christ.

His crucified and risen Body is your true home and your shelter.  And within His Body on earth, His holy Christian Church, He gives to you His life and health and strength, and yes, all the wealth and riches of heaven itself, even in the face of all the afflictions and hardships that you now bear.

With the Food and Clothing of Christ and His Cross, be content.  For the Lord does not fail to feed you with His Word, and with His Body and Blood.  What firmer guarantee could you be given?  Nor does He fail to clothe you.  You are not found naked, unclothed, or abandoned in the streets.  For He has dressed you in His own righteousness, like a Bride made ready for her Bridegroom.

With this Food and Clothing, be content.  Taste and see that your Lord is good.  As you receive Him into your ears, into your mouth, and into your body and soul, you lack nothing that is good.  Here on earth as it is in heaven, this one true God is your God, and you are His own, His own dear child and a sheep of His pasture.  Eat and drink from His hand, and live with Him in His Kingdom.

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

01 July 2018

The Ministry of Healing, Cleansing, and Raising

In this Holy Gospel, it is revealed that Jesus takes infirmity and death upon Himself — and makes Himself unclean with all man’s sickness and sin — that He might grant life and salvation instead.  Thus do you also hear and receive His temporal and eternal blessings of body and soul, which are freely given to you by His grace alone with His forgiveness of all your sins.  And by faith in that Gospel of Christ Jesus, you lay hold of Him where He is found as the Answer to your every need.

Need.  That is what Jairus understood about himself and his daughter; and that is what the woman with a flow of blood understood about herself.  They had this deep and desperate, dire need, which they could neither meet nor resolve by any power of their own.  What they needed, bottom line, was Jesus.  And they needed Him to care for them according to the charity of His compassion.

It is the nature of faith that you see nothing in yourself but sin, death, and need, but that you look to the Lord Jesus in the hope and expectation that He can and will help you and meet your needs.  Faith does not barter or negotiate with Jesus.  It worships Him by seeking His grace and mercy.

Jairus, for his part, was a ruler of the synagogue, a prominent religious leader of his community.  But he did not find what he needed in himself or his position, neither at home nor at the synagogue.  Instead, he sought out the Lord Jesus, that He should come and lay His hand upon his daughter.

So it is that both wealthy Jairus and the poor bleeding woman focus their attention and their hopes entirely on Jesus Christ.  What they find in themselves is only misery and great need.  In Him they find their only hope and help.  For true faith is not at all self-centered, but fully Jesus-centered.

That is how and why it is, that faith is said to justify and save you, as Jesus says to the woman that her faith has made her well.  It is not because of any worthiness or merit in faith itself.  It is due to the fact that faith lays hold of Christ Jesus and hangs on to Him by clinging to His Gospel.

Your faith is therefore measured by the extent to which you lay hold of Christ Jesus.  So, then, how eagerly and often do you come to hear His Word and the preaching of it?  How often do you come to receive His Body and Blood, trusting that even one touch of His flesh will heal and save you?  How seriously do you remember and take to heart the significance of your Holy Baptism, dying to yourself by the confession of your sins, and rising up to live in the Lord’s forgiveness of sins?

Faith lives to hear and receive these things, because faith lives to hear and receive the Lord Jesus.  If you suppose that you can live and do just fine without His Word and His means of grace, then you have no faith, and you are dead in your trespasses and sin.  Either because you falsely believe that Jesus cannot help you, or else because you have utterly deceived yourself and do not believe that you need the Lord Jesus (though you do!) for the forgiveness of sins, for life and salvation.

Not so with the ruler and the woman.  By the grace of God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, they knew their mortality and need, and they rightly believed that only the Lord Jesus could help them.  And their stories are recorded in this Holy Gospel for your instruction in repentance and faith.

Jairus approached the Lord Jesus and prostrated himself fully before Him in worship.  That is the posture of faith, as it is expressed outwardly in and with the body.  It indicates reverence, humility, and repentance, as well as the boldness and confidence to come before the Lord and ask for help.

And to be sure, it is a most amazing faith in Christ Jesus that Jairus confesses.  Even knowing that his daughter is dying, he trusts and believes that she will yet receive Life by the flesh of the Lord Jesus.  “Come and lay Your hands on her,” he prays, “that she may be made well, and live!”

Do you have such faith in Jesus, like that of Jairus, when you are confronted by sickness and death, by guilt and sorrow and fear, by poverty and hardship?  Do not grow weary in seeking Him out by calling on His Name according to His promises, and by availing yourself of His Gospel.

Do not insult your dear Lord Jesus by assuming or concluding that He does not care, that He has forgotten or neglected you, or that He is unwilling or unable to help.  Do not measure your life in the world with your human senses only, for they will deceive you and distract you from the real truth of the matter.  Then death will have the last word, and you will have no hope or help.

It is only by the Word of the Lord that you have faith and confidence in Him.  And only by such faith are you able to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus; lay Your hands on this or that, and all will be made well for me and mine.”  Then you are able to see and believe that, when death comes, it is only sleeping, from which the flesh of Christ will awaken you to everlasting Life in the Resurrection.

Otherwise, the maladies of sinful life in a sinful world, like the situations in this Holy Gospel, would simply be too much for you to deal with, and they would overwhelm you.  There is no way or place for you to hide or escape from the stark fact of your mortality and your eventual death.

Indeed, there is something painfully familiar and close to home in the circumstances of this Gospel.  If you have not experienced quite the same things, you can still relate to the frantic desperation of a father’s concern for his sick child.  In the back of any parent’s mind, each and every childhood illness is a reminder that life is so very fragile, and there are so many things that Mom and Dad cannot protect their babies or their big kids from.  It is sadly a fact that even young children die.

On the one hand, then, you sympathize with Jairus when his daughter has died.  Some of you have lost children of your own, and all of you know friends who have mourned the death of children.  So there is sympathy for Jairus.  On the other hand, I expect there is also a sense in which it seems unfair that Jesus should raise the daughter of Jairus, but not other boys and girls, and not your son or daughter who has died.  Yet, the real point to this miracle is, that Jesus does raise you and your children to eternal life, body and soul, never to die again, in His own Resurrection from the dead.

Meanwhile, it remains the case that you must struggle with the frailties of a mortal life on earth.

Which is why it is not so hard for you to identify with Jairus and the woman who lay hold of Jesus in this Gospel.  You have known and felt the same or similar kinds of urgency and desperation.  You have nurtured the same fervent hopes and prayed the same prayers.  But you may not realize how similar your spiritual condition is to those temporal predicaments of this body and life.

Even when it seems as though everything were coasting along just fine and coming up roses, you still ought to be seeking out the Lord Jesus where He may be found, laying hold of His Word and Flesh in the Gospel, and clinging to Him for the cleansing of your body and your soul.

According to the Law of the Lord (whether it seems “fair” or not), the woman with a flow of blood was reckoned as perpetually “unclean.”  She was excluded from the Temple and the synagogue by her condition, and anyone else who came into contact with her would be reckoned “unclean” as well.  That was all according to the Law.  And so, according to the Law, she had no business being out among people, and certainly no right to be touching Jesus in any way.  But the Holy Spirit called her by the Gospel to lay hold of Christ Jesus with faith (even a timid and embarrassed faith).

And the Lord Jesus, who was born of a Woman under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law, allows Himself to become “unclean” before God according to the Law, that He might bear all the sins of the world, all the sickness, suffering, sorrows, and death of the world, in His own flesh, and carry it all in His own Body to the Cross.  There He opens up the floodgates to pour out His cleansing and life-giving Blood in a perpetual flow of healing mercy.

By His healing of this woman with a flow of blood, Jesus signifies the shedding of His own Blood on the Cross — and the pouring out of His own Blood in the Holy Communion — for the healing and life of the world.  And by His raising of this little girl, Jesus signifies His own Resurrection from the dead; that He suffers and dies for your sins, and that He rises again for your justification.  And all the blessings He has gained for you by His Cross and Resurrection, He shares with you in the waters of your Holy Baptism, whereby you die with Christ and rise to live with Him by faith.

That is why the disciples follow after Jesus in this Holy Gospel.  As Ministers of Christ Jesus, they will heal, cleanse, and raise from the dead by the authority of His Word.  And that same Ministry of Healing, Cleansing, and Raising continues to this day, as Jesus comes to you in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Word of forgiveness, in Holy Baptism, and with His Body and His Blood.

Bearing that in mind, St. Mark’s reference to Jesus’ “garment,” which is where the woman touches Him and lays hold of Him, is more significant than you might realize.  St. Matthew writes that it was specifically the hem of His garment, that is, the tassels on the corners of His robe, which were prescribed by the Law of Moses to recall the saving Word and works of Yahweh.  In this way, the garment itself served as a tangible proclamation and sign of the Word.  And it is by the Word that faith is called into existence, because it is by the Word that healing and salvation are bestowed.

So, now you should be asking yourself — if you desire to have faith, and if you desire to be saved — where and what is the “garment” of Jesus now?  Where is He found in the Flesh?  With what does He clothe Himself?  And where is the tangible proclamation and sign of His Word to you?

Well, the “garment” of Christ Jesus is the public preaching of His Holy Word.  And the “hem” of His garment is the attachment of this Word to the waters of Holy Baptism in His Name.  You touch that tasseled corner of His robe by recalling the daily significance of your Baptism, by giving careful attention to the preaching of His Word, and especially by way of repentance and faith, by confessing your sins according to His Word, and by seeking out His Word of Holy Absolution.

Regrettably, precisely because of your sins, you often do not even realize your deep and desperate need for the mercy and forgiveness of Christ Jesus.  So you may not even want to hear about His means of grace and forgiveness, because you do not recognize their great importance.  You may talk about your faith, how often you pray, your personal religion, and your spiritual life, while yet, all the while, here is the Lord Jesus Himself, walking by in the “garment” of His Holy Word and Sacraments.  How often do you let Him go, neglecting to lay hold of Him and cling to Him?

That is why you need the Law to expose your need and call you to repentance.  And then you need to keep on hearing the Gospel, the preaching of forgiveness, in order to receive the Lord Jesus.

Where you fail to lay hold of Him, your Christian neighbors (by the grace of God) intercede on your behalf, as father Jairus did for his little daughter when she could no longer do anything for herself.  And the Lord Jesus comes to find you where you are — dead in your trespasses and sin — and He takes hold of you, in order to raise you up with His Word and His Flesh.

“Arise,” He says.  And you get up, alive, at His Word.  And He gives you to eat and to drink at His Table in His House, that you might be strengthened and sustained in His Word and faith, and live as a member of His Body.  Here, for you and for the many, His holy and precious Blood flows freely with forgiveness and life, with cleansing and healing for your body and your soul forever.

He lays His hand upon your head with His Word of forgiveness.  He lays hold of you in love and with His tender mercy and compassion.  He gives you His own Life in place of your sin and death.  And then, remarkably, He says to you, “Take courage, and be of good cheer!  Your sins are all forgiven!  Your faith in Me has saved you.”  He credits you with His own righteousness, even as He commends you for the faith that He has worked in you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is by the grace of His Gospel that His Word and His touch give you everything you need, not least of all the very faith by which you lay hold of Him and all His gifts in peace, hope, and love.  Thus, by His Word, you rejoice in His presence, you pray and praise and give thanks to God in Christ Jesus, as He raises you from death to life, and as He feeds you with His Body and Blood.

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

29 June 2018

A Mighty Fortress Is Christ's Church

The Almighty and Eternal Son of the Living God has come down from the Father in heaven, into human flesh and blood, in order to lay down His Body and offer up His Life as a Ransom for the many, for the salvation of the world.  He has entered our pagan territory of sin and death, in order to slay and defeat our ancient enemy, that old dragon, who is called the devil or Satan, the accuser.

By His sacrificial death upon the Cross, this one Lord, Jesus Christ, has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled all of us to His God and Father.  He has thereby destroyed death, removed its sting, and robbed the devil of all his powers, which are sin and guilt and accusation.  The Lord has thus plundered the grave and Hades of their dead.  And in His Resurrection He has opened the gates of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him, the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

It is by the preaching of this precious Gospel, by this Word of forgiveness, and by the giving of life and salvation through the ways and means of His Cross and Resurrection, that Christ Jesus establishes, builds, and protects His Church on earth, even as it is in the Kingdom of heaven.

Whoever lives and abides within His Church on earth is safe and secure from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and shall live and abide with Christ in Paradise, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  For Christ Jesus is the Wise Man who has built His House upon the Rock.  The winds rage, the rains pour down, and the floods rise against that House, pummeling it.  But it shall not fall.

Why, then, would you even consider living outside of His House, where you would surely perish?

The dilemma that confronts the flesh of your old Adam, the paradox that puts off the sinful world in which you live, is that the Wise Man appears to be, not wise, but utterly foolish and weak.  And the Rock Foundation of His Church on earth appears to be, not solid and secure, but shifting sand.

As far as human sight and sense can tell, the Lord Jesus Christ appears to be no more than a man.  A great Prophet, perhaps.  A good and righteous man.  And a powerful preacher, no doubt.  But surely not the Son of God, the Savior of all people.  No one is able to see that by flesh and blood.

And when He is crucified, put to death, and buried — condemned as a criminal, hung up on the Cross in naked shame and humiliation, and then laid to rest within a borrowed tomb — where is there any victory in that?  Where is the power and might of His great Glory?  Where is the promise of His coming?  Where do you ever see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life?

He declares that even the gates of Hades shall never prevail against His Church.  But what, then, of the fact that you, and your loved ones, your family and friends and fellow Christians, are subject to death and finally buried in the ground?  Where is your hope, your life, and your salvation?

Where is the Living God who can and will help you, when death still seems to get the last word?

The Church appears to be a pitiful fortress indeed!  Little more than a fisherman’s shack upon the seashore.  Its so-called Rock Foundation is but the Ministry of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of repentance, the spoken Word of Absolution, the washing of water with the Word, and the administration of bread and wine in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One.

And what sort of men are called and sent to preach and administer this Gospel?  Sinners, the lot of them!  Men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, the one a wavering denier of Christ, and the other a former diehard Pharisee, a persecutor of Jesus and His Christians.  Pastors to this day are quarried from the same rockpile: Sinners in need of forgiveness for their own sins.  Mortals, subject to death and the grave, just like you.  Finite, flawed, and frail creatures of flesh and blood.

And what keys do they bring?  With what do they come to set you free from the death grip of sin and to open the gates of heaven to you?  By what power and authority are they supposed to keep you safe?  Nothing but the Gospel, the Words of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the means of grace.  All pitiful and pathetic, it would seem, and impotent in the face of all your needs, all your hurts, and all your suffering.  You shall not perceive or believe otherwise by your own reason or strength.

You cannot recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is.  Nor could you have done so back in the day.  You cannot come to Him, nor can you love and trust in Him, unless the Father reveals Him to you, and gives Him to you, and lays Him on your heart by His Word and Holy Spirit.

But the beautiful truth of the Gospel is, that the Father surely does reveal and give His Son to you, according to His grace, mercy, and love.  It’s just that He does it by the Cross of Christ, and by the preaching of His Gospel, which appear to all the world to be so foolish and miserable and weak.

You cannot open your eyes wide enough to see it.  But He opens your eyes in faith by the Light of His Word, by His Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name and stead and for the sake of Christ Jesus.  You cannot open your heart or your head to accept it.  But He opens your ears to hear it.  He opens your mind to understand it.  And He opens wide your heart to believe it.

And then, not only that, but He also does for you as He did for St. Peter.  The Father opens up your lips to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come in the flesh to be your Savior, and who, by His Cross and Resurrection, has become your Strength and your Song.

The Word that His servants speak to you is His Word.  The Sacraments they administer are His works of life and salvation for you.  Their forgiveness of your sins in His Name is His forgiveness of all your sins.  And according to His own Word and promise, by that special authority of Christ which He has entrusted to His Church in the Office of the Keys, that Absolution (or forgiveness) is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself.  Because it is, in fact, your dear Lord Jesus Christ who is dealing with you precisely in this way.

And His forgiveness of your sins, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins by the spoken Word of His Gospel — though it seems a still small voice against the rage and roaring of the devil — it is a most solid foundation of a most impenetrable Mighty Fortress.

Where sin is forgiven, the devil cannot accuse you.  Where sin is forgiven, even God’s own Law does not condemn you anymore forever.  Where sin is forgiven, death no longer has any claim on you; it must relinquish your body and soul to Christ your Redeemer, who has purchased and won you for Himself with His own holy and precious Blood.

To that end, He gives you a down payment on the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, by feeding you with His Body and Blood right here at His Altar on earth.

Where sin is forgiven — and your sin is forgiven! — there is only life and salvation, come hell or high water against you.  It cannot touch you.  It shall not reach you.  You shall not die, but live.

The gates of Hades shall not prevail against you within the Body of Christ, His Church.  For the Word and Flesh of Christ abide and stand fast forever.  His death has been the death of death and hell’s destruction.  His Resurrection is your Resurrection, and His Life Everlasting is yours.

Taste and see that it is so, and that the goodness, loving-kindness, and tender mercies of your Lord abide forever in the Body and Blood of Christ, your Savior, crucified and risen from the dead.

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

24 June 2018

The Peace of Christ in the Storms of Life

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!?”

It is, for the most part, a rhetorical question.  The wind and the sea must ever and only obey the Lord God, their Creator.  Just as the same Lord makes clear in His response to Job, when even that great man of faith began to question the tragic events in his life.  But who was Job, and who are you, to question the wisdom of God, the Almighty, the Maker of the heavens and the earth?

He shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb.  He made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band.  He fixed His limit for it, and set bars and doors.  He said, “This far you may come, but no farther; here your proud waves must stop!”

He is the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, by whom all things are made, and without whom there is nothing — who now tabernacles with you in His own flesh and blood as true Man.

There is particular significance in His command of the elements, especially the wind upon the waters.  For these are the waters of Creation, upon which the Spirit of Yahweh is moving.  And they are, again, the waters of the Flood, which cleanse the world of sinful unbelief and damnable idolatry, but which deliver the righteous from death and give them life by the Spirit of Yahweh.

We all know the importance of water as one the most basic components of life at all levels.  For the Lord Jesus to control the waters of the sea, therefore, is the evidence and exercise of His life-giving authority as the Creator.  At the same time, there is also a destructive potential to water, and no doubt you have experienced for yourself the terrifying fury of storms: thunder and lightening and torrential rains, driven by gale-force winds, threatening the safety of both man and beast.

Confronted by the deadly power of water in those and similar situations, you might well ask why God allows such things to happen to you and to others.  That was the question of Job, and of the disciples out there in their little boat upon the lake.  But whatever else ought to be said in response, it must first of all be said that the gracious Creator of all things is not the Author of death.  He uses death to punish sin with sin, to be sure; for He is the Lord, to whom all flesh is held accountable.  But He is, by nature, the true and living God, the Author and Giver of Life and Light and Love.

When Adam rebelled against his Creator and Lord, by rejecting and disobeying the Word that God had spoken, he brought death into a world that was created for real life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for the gracious preservation of our Lord, we should already suffer the eternal death of damnation, which is to exist apart from Him.  As it is, He allows the consequences of sin to afflict and discipline the children of man, in order to drive them back to Himself in repentance.

The “storms of life,” both natural and metaphorical — beginning already with the Great Flood of the Old Testament — are the judgment of God against sin.  But not so much as a retribution for this or that particular sin, as it is that He curses the creation in the hope of His Redemption.

Regrettably, among the consequences of sin are the persistent doubts and fears of unbelief, such as you have heard in the case of the disciples on the lake.  The same is true for you.  Though you confess and affirm that God is the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, and that He still takes care of all His creatures, you still have your doubts — in the midst of calamity and danger — as to whether the Lord is going to protect you and provide for your needs in this body and life.

The sad fact is, that, apart from the Word and Spirit of Christ, the tragedies of life do not serve their purpose of driving you back to the Lord.  Instead, they drive you further away, into the utter depths of sheer despair.  Like the disciples then, you begin to wonder and worry that the Lord has forgotten you, that He is “sleeping” on the job, or that He just doesn’t care that you are perishing.

Of course, your dear Lord Jesus Christ does care deeply about you.  So does He also care for you.  His genuine concern is already demonstrated in this Holy Gospel, from the outset, by His crossing of the Sea to the land of the Gentiles.  For He is bringing mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation, to those who have lived and walked in the darkness of unbelief (as you also have done).

There are many parallels, in this respect, to the familiar Old Testament story of Jonah, who was sent by God to preach repentance to the people of Ninevah.  The Prophet Jonah, as you know, did not want to go to those people.  He tried to run away on a ship in the opposite direction.  But that ship, too, was caught in the grip of a violent storm.  Do you remember where the captain found poor Jonah?  Asleep below deck!  But after he had woken up, the storm was finally brought to an end when Jonah directed his shipmates to throw him into the depths of the sea.  He spent three days underwater in the belly of a fish, before emerging onto land to carry out his mission from God.

Now, there are some obvious differences between the Prophet Jonah and Christ Jesus.  To begin with, Jesus went gladly to the Gentiles with His preaching of repentance and forgiveness.  And there was no sin of our Lord, as there was in the case of Jonah, to bring the storm upon the ship.

Nevertheless, Jesus elsewhere indicates that Jonah is the sign of His own death and burial and Resurrection from the dead — the three days that He will spend in the belly of the earth, and then His rising from death to life again.  It is by His Sacrifice on the Cross that He brings calm to the storms of sin and death, and newness of life and genuine peace to all of His creation.  Indeed, the mercy and compassion of His Cross and Resurrection flow throughout His entire life and Ministry, and He will afterwards send His Apostles to preach that Holy Gospel to the whole creation.

For example here, His genuine care and concern for the disciples is shown by the fact that He did bring the storm to an end.  Their lack of faith in Him did not destroy His faithfulness toward them.  He saved their lives, just as He does for you, despite how often you have given up hope in Him.

Of course, His calming of the storm demonstrates, not only His compassion, but also His divinity as the Son of God.  Hence, the fear of the sinful disciples in response to His miracle, as they are confronted by the Lord God Almighty.  And yet His divine compassion and genuine concern for His disciples, yourself included, is also indicated by His perfect life as the true Man in holy faith and love.  For Christ, the Son of God, is also the Man who is most truly human.  His very presence in the boat, just “as He was,” sleeping like a baby on a pillow in the stern, testifies to the solid fact of His human flesh and blood — flesh and blood like your own, in which He has carried all your sin and suffering to the Cross.  In His presence, therefore, the disciples need not have been afraid.  In His presence, the only proper attitude is faith and trust in His deep, divine compassion.

To be sure, the disciples did the right thing by going to Christ in their time of need.  However small their faith had become, even so, by the gracious working of the Spirit, they did run to Christ, they woke Him up, and they sought His help.  In truth, the Spirit also drove them to their knees before the One who is their Savior and their Lord.  God grant that He would do the same for you, as well.

But the real example of faith in this Gospel is Christ Himself.  His sleeping in the boat was, itself, already an act of faith and trust in His Father.  He lived His entire life in this way, “entrusting Himself, His body and soul and all things,” into the hands of God.  And it was also in such perfect faith that He willingly sacrificed Himself in the flesh, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the healing of His Creation, confident that His God and Father would raise Him from the dead.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.  In Christ is found the faith and life that you are called to live in Him, the faith and life that Adam and Eve and all their children have otherwise failed to live.  He alone has done what you could not do.  And yet, He has done it all for you.  He has fulfilled the Law of God by keeping all of His commandments in faith and love on your behalf.  And with forgiveness of your sins, He gives you life with God.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

In the sleeping and waking of Christ on the boat out on the lake, there is foreshadowed His Cross and Resurrection.  There again, the disciples felt themselves abandoned by their Lord, at the very moment when He was most completely given for their forgiveness and salvation.  But there, too, the tables were turned.  As Christ entered upon the storms of His Passion, bearing the judgment of God against their sins, His disciples were the ones fast asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In His calming of the storm at sea, when He was awakened, you see the restoration of Creation by His Cross and Resurrection.  The curse of sin is removed by His Sacrifice, so the raging storm must cease.  With Him there is a great calm, like the Word of the Lord at Creation: “Behold, He looked at everything He made, and it was very good.  And God rested from the work that He had done.”

Thus are you called to live your life in the peaceful calm of His New Creation, in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  When you know and trust that He has saved you and redeemed you, then you rest in Christ, enjoying His gifts and looking to Him for real life.

Instead of frantic desperation and the endless pursuits of your own self-righteousness, you are able to “sleep” in the Peace of Christ, because you are traveling safely with Him in the “Boat” of His Church.  While the unbelieving world, together with your old Adam, is drowned and destroyed in the waters of the Great Flood, you are kept dry and secure in the Holy Ark of Christendom.

Herein you are crossing with your dear Lord Jesus to the “other side.”  Crossing the Red Sea out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of faith in His forgiveness.  And crossing the Jordan River out of the wilderness of sin into the Promised Land of Paradise in His Body and His Blood.  And all the while, the wind and waves that would otherwise terrify you and threaten to kill you have been replaced by the living and life-giving, Spirit-filled waters of your Holy Baptism.

In the face of all the storms of life — those within your heart and mind, and those that rage around you in the world — no matter how intense and frightening they are, hear the Word of the Lord, the Creator, in the voice of Christ, your Savior, who speaks above the tumult: “Peace be with you!  Be still and know that I am God.  I am with you always, and I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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

21 June 2018

Living the Sacramental Life

The Fulfillment of Creation in the Baptized and Eucharistic Life

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He created all things out of nothing by His Word and Holy Spirit.  All things are His, therefore, and whatever He has created is very good.  It is good because it is the work of God.  It is good because the Word of God, by whom all things are made, has Himself become flesh, true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And in spite of man’s fall into sin, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified, and it is made brand new, in the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified and risen from the dead.

So is the goodness of creation confirmed and sealed unto you by the fact that Christ administers His grace, His Gospel, His forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the creaturely means of water, bread, and wine.  As God creates and gives new life through holy marriage, by the bodily union of husband and wife, so does He create and give new life in body and soul through Christ and His Bride, the Church, in Holy Baptism.  And as He opens His hand to satisfy and sustain every living thing, so does He feed and nourish His children with the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar.

In responding to those who demonically oppose the goodness of marriage and forbid various kinds of food, St. Paul affirms that God has created these very things “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good,” he writes, “and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer” (1Timothy 4:3b–5).  That is a comprehensive and inclusive statement, to be sure.  But it is instructive to note how precisely it pertains to the Holy Sacraments.

The waters of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of the Holy Communion are indeed sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, not only in theory but in practice, according to the institution of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And these good gifts are received in faith and with thanksgiving to God.  Not simply as a matter of course, but as the preeminent example of creation made new in Christ.

All of creation is fulfilled and perfected in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is redeemed and sanctified for you in His Holy Sacraments.  You are baptized into His New Creation, by way of His Cross and Resurrection.  You belong to His holy Body, and you live a new life to and from His holy Altar.  So do you receive and use the good things of God’s creation in faith and with thanksgiving, and you become a living sacrament of Christ in relation to your neighbors in the world, within your own callings and stations in life.

The Fulfillment and Fruition of God’s Good Creation

As creatures of God, water, bread, and wine are good, even outside of their use in the Sacraments.  Indeed, they are fundamental to this body and life on earth, and for that reason alone they should not be despised but received with thanksgiving.  Even so, the fact that our Lord has chosen to use these particular elements in Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar also distinguishes water, bread, and wine in the midst of His good creation.  They are significant on account of that usage.

When God created the heavens and the earth, He started with water.  And when He recreates and makes all things new, He starts with water.  “The earth was formed out of water and by water,” and then, in the days of Noah, the world “was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:5–6).  And just as righteous Noah and his family, eight persons in all, “were brought safely through the water,” so it is the case that “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20–21).  So water itself is a sign of the way that you are put to death and raised to new life as a new creation in Holy Baptism.

As Luther says in his Flood Prayer, by the Baptism of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, God sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

So, as you go about your day and you encounter water as refreshment and cleansing, and as basic to life in this world, you are called to remember that with water and His Word the Lord your God has forgiven your sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and given you everlasting salvation.

When you eat bread — which is so basic that “daily bread” includes everything that pertains to this body and life — remember and give thanks that God also feeds you with the living Bread from heaven, the flesh of Jesus Christ, that you should not perish but have everlasting life in His Body.  After all, He reveals Himself and gives Himself to His disciples in “the Breaking of the Bread.”

And when you drink wine, rejoice, not only in the goodness of that gift, but in the fact that God uses wine to give you the precious Blood of Christ.  None of this is accidental or incidental.  It is by God’s design from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world, that He should love you and give Himself to you by the means of His good creation.  And now, as He does so in the Holy Sacraments, He shapes the way you look at the rest of the world and your life in the world.

A sacramentally shaped life is one that exercises reverence for the goodness of God’s creation, and a profound appreciation and respect for the body.  Such good things are holy in themselves, because they are God’s work and His gift.  And they are made holy for you by God’s Word, as you receive them and make use of them with prayer and thanksgiving in His Name.  Your own body is likewise redeemed and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of God.  For your body is washed with pure water, and your body is fed with the Body and Blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22–26).  By these creaturely means of grace, you are raised up with Christ to live with Him, both body and soul, in the New Creation.  Not that God takes something bad and makes it good.  He rather takes the good that He has made, and He brings it to its proper fulfillment and perfection by the Word of Christ.

Instead of succumbing to pride or despair, consider yourself according to the Word that God has spoken concerning you.  You are His creature, to begin with.  So are you His workmanship in Christ Jesus, as He has baptized you in His Name, and as He feeds you with His Body and Blood.

As creation is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and as the Sacraments are what they are because God’s Word comes to the elements of water, bread, and wine, so is your life in the world also governed and sanctified by the ongoing catechesis of the Word of God.  Even the winds and the waves, so also bread and wine and all His creatures, are subject to the authority of His Word.  For He is the Author and Giver of Life and the Fulfiller of Creation.  How much more so, then, are you to live by faith in His Word, and according to His Word, in the place where He stations you.

Luther calls the Word of God the most holy Relic of all, which sanctifies your whole life.  In the Holy Sacraments, it is the Word of God that takes water and makes it a Baptism, and the Word of God that takes bread and wine and makes them the Body and Blood of Christ for you.  So it is that your body and life are made holy by the Word of God, which you hear and confess in daily prayer, in catechesis with your family, and with all the people of God gathered around the Lord’s Altar.  By the prayer and preaching of His Word, your apparently mundane life is sacred and significant.

As all things are made by and for the Word of God, your life in Christ is a verbal life, which hears, confesses, and prays the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  Indeed, you speak, as you are spoken to, the language of the Church and of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  That is the new tongue of the New Creation, which is rehearsed and handed over in the Holy Sacraments.

First and foremost is the Name of the Lord, with which He has named you in your Holy Baptism.  He has written it on your body and soul, on your forehead and your heart, along with the sign of the Holy Cross.  You are baptized in and with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And His Name is hallowed in you by the preaching of His Word and by the life that you live according to His Word.  So do you also confess and call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, because He has named you with His Name and adopted you to be His child in Holy Baptism.

In the Lord’s Supper, there are the Words of Christ: “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you.  Drink of it, all of you, this Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”  To live by faith in those Words, and to receive what they give you, is central to the Christian life.  But these gifts of Christ are administered “in remembrance of Him.”  Which is to say, first of all, that the Lord remembers you in the Sacrament by the Ministry of His Word, by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.  For as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, it is necessary that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ be proclaimed until He comes.  The catechesis of His Word thus brings you in repentant faith to the Feast of the Word-made-Flesh.

So also in your whole body and life, the Word that sanctifies all your days is the remembrance of Christ Jesus, which is the confession of His Name, the confession of His Cross and Resurrection, the confession of what He does for you, and says to you, and gives to you.  That is what defines and determines your life as a Christian, and it is rooted in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  For the preaching of Christ is always pointing to His Supper, and His Supper is always celebrated with the preaching of His Word.  So it is that you are always living to and from His Holy Supper.

Not only in the Liturgy, but as you make your way to and from the Liturgy throughout the week, the Name of the Lord that you have received in Holy Baptism and the remembrance of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Communion are shaping your life in relation to God and your neighbor.  These Holy Sacraments set you within the Body of Christ, wherein you live by faith in His Word and not by human sight or sense.  You perceive your parents, your spouse, your children, and your place in the world according to the hidden majesty of the Word, just as the true glory of the Sacraments is likewise hidden under apparent frailty and weakness.  Both your sins and your righteousness are determined by the Word and Spirit of Truth, by the Law and the Gospel, and not by your feelings.

The sacramentally shaped life, as your Baptism signifies from the outset, is one of repentance and faith, of dying and rising with Christ Jesus.  Which is also to say that, in relation to the Lord and one another, it is a life of confession and absolution.  You confess your sins and receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from your pastor as from God Himself.  You likewise acknowledge your sins, apologize for them, seek your neighbor’s forgiveness, and make amends as you are able.  And for your part, you readily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against you (even repeatedly).  That is the rhythm of your life from the Font to the Altar, and from the Altar through the week.  And by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, it is already to live within the New Creation.

Your First, Foremost, and Forever Vocation

To speak of Creation (both old and new) is also to speak of your vocation in the world.  That is not so much your job or what you do and accomplish.  Your vocation is chiefly a matter of who and what God has called you and created you to be.  You are a human being, male or female.  You are a son or daughter.  Perhaps you are also a husband or wife, a father or mother, a brother or sister.  These are permanent or lifelong callings, which set you in lifelong relationships.  The Divine Call to the Office of the Holy Ministry is likewise a life-changing, permanent vocation, which sets a man into a new relationship and responsibility with respect to the Lord and His Church on earth.

By contrast, your offices and stations in life — your particular posts or positions with their duties and responsibilities at any given time — are subject to choices and changes within the freedom of the Gospel.  You won’t always be a student.  You won’t always be changing diapers.  You won’t always be flipping burgers at McDonalds or greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart.  In Christian faith and love all of these endeavors are holy and pleasing to God.  They glorify His Name, and they benefit your neighbors.  But they are not permanent callings, and they do not define your identity or value.

Beyond all of these temporal callings and stations in life, there is yet one vocation that is not just permanent for this body and life, but is actually eternal.  That is the vocation of your Holy Baptism, in which the Lord God has called you to be His child, a son of God in Christ, and a member of His Bride, the Church.  Note the similarities to the most basic earthly vocations of marriage and family.  And yet, you have become a child of God, not just for a time, but for eternity.  And you are united to Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom, in such a way that even death shall never be able to part you.

It is from the vocation of your Baptism that you fulfill all of your other vocations in life, and that you serve your various offices and stations in this world as a Christian.  You live and you love as a child of God, because you are a child of God, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that God the Father has named you with His Name and thereby adopted you as a beloved and well-pleasing son in Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that Christ has cleansed you, and sanctified you, and dressed you in His righteousness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.  It is in your Holy Baptism that God has called you into His own household and family forever.

Thus bearing His Name, beloved of God and beautiful in Christ, the vocation of your Baptism governs and defines all of your relationships, especially those of marriage and family, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, all of which point beyond themselves to the household and family of God.  For how you live in the world is determined by who and what you are in Christ.

As a husband and father, myself, and as a pastor, having baptized many of my own children, and having witnessed the marriage of several of my own children (with another one on the horizon), I have been very aware of the intimate link between Holy Baptism and these holy vocations.  As marriage and family are the crowning glory of the first creation, so is the glory of the New Creation found in the marriage and family of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  It is for this glory that you are baptized, and it is to this glory that your familial vocations in this world are pointing.  By the same significance, you learn how to live as a child, by faith, by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  You learn how to be a husband from Him who loves you, who has given Himself for you, who has betrothed you to Himself as a Bride in Holy Baptism.  You learn how to be a father, to love and care for children, from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called you by His Son to be His very own in Holy Baptism.  And you learn how to be a wife and mother from the Church, who cleaves to Christ, her Head, who gives birth to the children of God by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and feeds them at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

Whether married or unmarried, whether fruitful or barren, young, old, or in between, your whole body and life, your flesh and blood, your soul and spirit, the space and time in which you live and move, your words and actions, all are redeemed and sanctified by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  God has thereby called you out of the nothingness of sin and death into the Life and Light of His eternal Day, into the somethingness of the incarnate Word.  Thus do you live and abide in Christ, and He in you, and all your days and nights, now and forever, are lived in the presence of God.

In the Old Testament, once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, and in him all of Israel would stand in the presence of God.  But Christ has entered the Sanctuary made without hands, eternal in the heavens, where He stands forever as your merciful and great High Priest.  His Body, crucified, risen, and ascended, is your Anchor behind the veil.  You are anchored to God by the flesh and blood of Christ, even as you go about your life in this world.  For your body, soul, and spirit have been washed with pure water in His Name.  He has bound you to Himself forever.  And as surely as He feeds you with His Body and His Blood at His Table, so surely do you live and abide in the House of the Lord, as a beloved child of His God and Father, unto eternal Life.

Living as the Household and Family of God in the One Body of Christ Jesus

The preaching and catechesis of Christ have brought you to the Font, named you with His Name, adopted you as a child of His God and Father, and anointed you with His Holy Spirit.  So do His preaching and catechesis henceforth bring you to and from His Altar in repentance and faith, that you might receive His forgiveness of all your sins, and that you might live and abide in His Body and Blood, as a living and active member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

To eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ is to be united with Him in the most intimate union possible.  It is surely nothing less than the consummation of His baptismal betrothal, whereby the Bridegroom and His Bride become one Flesh.  It is the fulfillment of the Image and Likeness of God, in which the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, were created, that man should not be alone but live in love, in fellowship with the Holy Trinity, in a community of many sons and daughters.

To have such profound communion with Christ Jesus in His Marriage Feast, is to have communion with His whole Church in heaven and on earth, as surely as He is the Head of one Body and the Husband of one Wife.  You belong to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and they belong to you.  You are all one Body in Christ, because you all eat of the one Bread which is the Body of Christ, and you all drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.  You are bodied and blooded together in Him.  You are among the countless grains that have been gathered from a thousand hills and baked together into a single Loaf.  In the Holy Communion it is, therefore, as St. Augustine says: You receive what you are, and you are what you receive, the Body of Christ.

You love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, as members of one household and family of God, because you have one and the same God and Father in Christ Jesus, you share the same divine Name, you are all anointed by one Holy Spirit, and you are bound to each other by the flesh and blood of one Lord.  You do not have the option of turning your back on those who belong to this Body of Christ, but you are obliged to them, and they to you, for His Name’s sake.  This, too, belongs to your vocation as a child of God, as a member of the Bride of Christ, which is forever.

Within your own family, if any of the children failed to show up for a meal, and you had no idea where they were, you would not say, “Oh, well, I guess they’re just not here.”  No, if one of your children were missing, you would not rest until you found her.  So, too, there ought to be a similar care and concern for all of the children of God, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

I realize that you are constrained by your callings and stations in life.  There is a limit to what you are able to do.  You are finite.  And your finitude does not belong to the curse and consequences of sin, but to the fact that you are a creature of God.  You are not God.  You are created and called to live by faith in Him, in love for your neighbors within your own proper place.  So, of course, it is not possible for you to be friends with everyone, nor to give everyone your full and equal time and attention.  You cannot love everyone the same way, nor should you try.  But in so far as you are able, as opportunity permits, you are called to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The household and family of God is not secondary (or incidental) to your own earthly household and family.  The community of Christ’s Church, the communion of saints in His Body and Blood, is the primary thing.  All of your other relationships take their cues from that holy fellowship, which is with the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit.  You do not favor your husband or wife, your parents or children, over the Bride of Christ and the children of God.  You love your nearest and dearest in this life as the Father loves you in Christ, His Son, and as Christ Jesus loves you in the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, as you go about your week from day to day, it is with care and concern for all who eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ.  He is the Firstborn of many brothers, and you belong to those many brothers, because you are named by God and forgiven by God in Christ.

As previously noted, the fellowship and life of the Church are characterized by repentance and reconciliation, as each and all Christians are forgiven by Christ Jesus and called to forgive each other in His Name.  That is to live by faith in the significance of your Holy Baptism, and to bear the good fruits of a worthy participation in the Holy Communion of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

As you are forgiven by the grace of God, and reconciled to God in Christ, you are also reconciled to one another in Him.  You forgive those who trespass against you.  You do not harbor bitterness or resentment against anyone.  But if anyone has anything against you, then you are to leave your gift at the Altar until you are reconciled with your brother.  Where things stand between you and your neighbor impinges directly upon your life in the Lord’s Liturgy.  Your relationship with God, tangibly expressed in your offerings and gifts, is inextricably connected to your relationship with your neighbor.  Your approach to the Lord’s Altar has both a vertical and horizontal dimension.

Reconciliation with your neighbor is no mere token or formality.  It is more than a handshake and greeting of “peace.”  It means that you actually bear the fruits of repentance in relation to your neighbor.  You die to yourself and rise to newness of life in Christ, as a new creature in Christ, in the way that you relate to your husband or wife, in the way that you relate to your children, in the way that you relate to your coworkers, and in the way that you relate to friends and foes alike.  You take up the Cross and follow after Christ in the way that He has walked, in holy faith and love.

The Pattern of Life in Christ by Participation in His Holy Sacraments

To live as a disciple of Christ Jesus, to live and walk in the way that He does, is to live with Him in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  For disciples are made and sustained by the Baptism and catechesis of Christ, and it is to His disciples that He gives His Body and Blood.  It is in these Holy Sacraments that you are forgiven all your sins and given the life of Christ in body and soul.

In the Old Testament (Exodus 24 and following), the Lord reveals to Moses the Pattern by which he is to construct the Tabernacle, and by which he is to arrange the Priesthood and the Sacrifices.  So the Tabernacle is made according to God’s direction, and afterwards the Temple in Jerusalem is built on the same Pattern.  The Pattern itself is the Lord’s own divine, eternal life in heaven, which God shows to Moses in order to make it available to His people on earth in the Tabernacle.

That divine Pattern is the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is His own Body, which is the Temple of God.  It is His Priesthood, by which He sacrifices Himself once for all, and by which He enters with His own Blood into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, in order to establish a place for you and all His people in the presence of God the Father.

That same Pattern — the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen, and His Body the Temple of God — that same heavenly reality is revealed and given to you in the New Testament Tabernacle, which is the Body of Christ, His Church, in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  That is where the Lord dwells with His people.  That is where His Name and His Glory are found, on earth as in heaven, that you might draw near to Him, derive your life from Him, and dwell with Him in peace.

And that is the Pattern which is also formed in you, which shapes your body and life in Christ, as you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him by the ongoing significance of your Baptism, and as you are given to eat and to drink the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, His Body and Blood.

The Pattern of this sacramental life is laid out for you by the Word of God in the basic catechesis of the Small Catechism, and it is exercised for you and given to you in the Divine Liturgy.

The Ten Commandments, to begin with, reveal the good and acceptable will of God for what a life of faith and love looks like.  They describe the life of Christ, first of all, which is also how you are to live in Christ, in faith toward God and in love toward your neighbor.  Certainly that is true with respect to the Second Table of the Law, as well.  But here I’m going to focus on the First Table.

The First Commandment commands you to worship the Lord, the one true God.  That is to kneel and bow down before Him in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  The Second Commandment directs you to sanctify His Name and use it rightly, which is to confess and call upon His Name at all times and in all places with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  And the Third Commandment calls you to rest from your own words and works, in order to give attention to His Word and to rest in His good works.  All three of these Commandments are thus fulfilled in the Liturgy, in which you worship God rightly by hearing His Word, receiving His good Gifts, calling on His holy Name, and resting yourself in the Body of Christ Jesus, the Sabbath who remains for the people of God.

In the Catechism the Creed comes next.  It is the Word of God, which He places on your lips to confess.  By speaking as He has spoken, not only do you praise and glorify His Name, but you also serve your neighbor, and you strengthen your own faith and life in Christ Jesus, by rehearsing what is most true and sure and certain.  You confess who God is and what He has done for the life and salvation of sinners, thereby echoing the Word of the Gospel that He has preached to you.  That is the Pattern of your Christian life, not only in the Liturgy, but throughout your days and weeks.

Likewise, in the Our Father, as a baptized child of God, you are taught and invited to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  So has He given you the very words with which to call upon His Name in Christ, the Son.  This, too, is a fundamental prayer of the Liturgy, and of the entire Christian life.

Then we have the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion, which are the foundation, heart, and soul of the entire Liturgy.  It is instructive that the Lutheran Church has identified these means of grace as being among the Chief Parts of the Christian faith and life.  They are fundamental to what it means to be a Christian, fundamental to who we are as the Church.  From your Baptism to and from the Lord’s Supper in the confession and forgiveness of your sins, that is the rhythm of the sacramental life, the structure of your life with God in Christ Jesus.

So the Pattern of the Christian life is set forth and taught in the Catechism.  But it is lived in the Liturgy.  That is where you are invited and drawn into the Pattern by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

The first part of the Liturgy mirrors the first three Commandments.  You come into the presence of God, in order to worship Him, because He is the Lord your God.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  You kneel and bow down.  You call upon His Name in the rites of preparation, that is, the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution.  You call upon His Name in the Gloria in Excelsis and the Kyrie, the Introit, and the Collect.  And then you begin to find your Sabbath Rest in the Word that is read to you from the Holy Scriptures, which is preached to you in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.  And it is the catechesis of that Word which brings you in repentant faith to the Table, where you actually do recline on Jesus, and you receive and eat and drink His Body and Blood.

Now, within this scope and sequence of the Liturgy, the Offertory Rites come between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Holy Communion.  It is the baptized faithful who thus confess the Creed, who pray and intercede for the Church and the world, who offer themselves and their substance for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor, and who then offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving as they approach the Lord’s Altar to receive all good things in His Body and Blood.

In these Offertory Rites, you are already doing those very things which you also continue to do as a Christian living in the world.  You confess the Word of God that you have heard.  You pray for your neighbors, for your family and friends, and even for your enemies and those who persecute you.  You dedicate and give yourself, your body and life, in service to God and your neighbors.  And you offer to the Lord your thanks and praise, in view of the fact that He gives you every good thing and all that you need in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

All of these activities, both within the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day and throughout the days of your week from Sunday to Sunday, are offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who comes to visit you, who serves you and feeds you with Himself at His Table.  The Catechism and the Liturgy both culminate in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Holy Communion is also the high point of your Christian life.  You live to and from the Lord’s Altar, and everything you do and say is a sacrifice of thanksgiving for His Sacrament.

Think about it.  The Kingdom of God is already yours in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  So, it is in that confidence, in the gratitude that arises in response to that glorious grace of the Gospel, that you live your life to the glory of God and for the benefit of your neighbors.  You glorify God by keeping His Commandments, and you love and serve your neighbor according to God’s Word, because you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.  You have nothing to prove.  You have no need to compete with anyone for anything.  You have it all in the Word and Flesh of the incarnate Son.

Eucharistia

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have called the Lord’s Supper “the Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, first of all because Jesus Himself gives thanks in His institution of the Sacrament, and then also because this Holy Supper is the greatest and best Gift, the fulfillment and fruition of God’s good creation in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son.

It is not simply that the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament.  It is rather that all thanksgiving finds its true beginning and its culmination in the Eucharist, because the Life of the New Creation finds its center there in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  It is, after all, the gift of God Himself in the flesh.  Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is no other part of creation that is also the Creator, given and poured out for His creatures, that He should live and abide in them, and they in Him.  Nothing else can even begin to compare to this most excellent and priceless Treasure.  But the Eucharist does not result in the despising or rejecting of creation!  No, it is the Eucharist that makes this poor life of labor, not only tolerable, but a wonderful blessing.

As you are given to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ — no matter what else may come your way or happen — you are able to say and to sing, “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever,” because the pledge and promise of that reality is given to you in the Holy Communion.  Indeed, the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament, not only because it is meet and right so to do, but in order to exercise and practice the giving of thanks at all other times and in all other places.  You learn to look at all of life, and to receive it, as a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  For that is what it surely is.  And when everything is a gift, then there is nothing left for you to do, except to be giving thanks to the Giver of all good things.

It is thanksgiving that is always overflowing from the Eucharist into your whole week and the whole world.  And then it is always returning to the Eucharist, because that is where the Lord, the great Good Shepherd, has prepared His Table for you, His lavish Feast of the finest Wine and the choicest Meat, that you should there have joy and gladness in Him, in the presence of God, and in the face of all your enemies.  What can sin, death, the devil, or hell do to you, when the Blood of the Lamb not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with His own divine Life and every grace and blessing of God?  And what can man do to you, when you are fed with the Body of Christ, the incarnate God, as a pledge and a down payment on the resurrection of your body?

The eucharistic life that you live in and from the Sacrament of the Altar is firmly grounded in the confidence that everything is yours in Christ Jesus.  For the Lord your God has not only pledged Himself to you with His sure and certain Word, but He actually feeds you with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus do you stride forward with the bold courage of Joshua taking the Promised Land, knowing that the Lord is with you, that He fights for you, and that He withholds no good thing from you.  Thus are you absolutely and utterly free to live and to love without fear.

You are free to give yourself to and for others.  You are free to pour yourself out, even unto death.  You are free to lay down your body and life as a sacrifice.  You are free to forgive and gladly to do good to those who sin against you.  You are free to give up your ambitions in order to care for your family, to care for the stranger at your door, and to care for the Lazarus laid at your gate.

It is in such confidence and freedom that you give thanks to God in all that you do and say, at all times and in all places, because you discover in the Eucharist that all of creation is God’s good gift to you in Christ.  As you receive His Body and Blood with thanksgiving, so do you receive all things with thanksgiving, and you happily enjoy them and put them to use in faith and love.  Your fasting and prayer, your confession of God’s Word, your tithes and almsgiving, and all of your good works, all flow from the fact that you are in Christ, and Christ Jesus lives and abides in you.

You live this eucharistic life in the Cross and Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ, not simply as historical events and intellectual facts, but by way of your Holy Baptism, by Confession and Absolution, and by participation in the Lord’s Supper.  It is the life of discipleship, which is to bear the Cross and to follow after Christ, sharing in His Baptism and drinking from His Cup.

Which is to say that living a eucharistic life is a daily practice for a faithful martyrdom, however that may come, as God so wills.  Perhaps not with a gun to your head or a sword at your neck, but yet by the daily drowning and dying of repentance, by the bearing of the Cross in faith and love.  Your thanksgiving to God is exercised and put into practice by dying to yourself and living unto Christ.  You cling to His Gospel, and you willingly let go of everything else, even your life in this world, as needs may be.  You love and forgive your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus does for you.

All of this you do and suffer in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, the pledge of which you have received in your Holy Baptism and in the Holy Communion.  Though you die with Christ, you know that you shall be raised with Him, as well, and glorified with Him in body and soul.  That is your comfort and your peace in the midst of all adversity.  And that is the comfort you are also then able to confess, by word and deed, to and for your neighbors in the world.

Living Sacrifice and Living Sacrament

As you receive Christ Jesus in His Word and Holy Sacraments, so do others receive the Love of God in Christ through you.  On the one hand you become a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12), and on the other hand you are a living sacrament of His grace, mercy, and peace to your neighbor.

If one considers the Old Testament, it becomes obvious that sacrifice is broader than offering and death.  It is also fellowship and life in the gifts of God, as that which has been offered is shared with the Lord, with His ministers, and with His people.  The Peace Offerings, in particular, were sacrifices of thanksgiving, which acknowledged and confessed the grace of God and the peace that He has obtained and bestows by His Gospel.  And those sacrifices always included a festive meal, in which family, friends, and neighbors were invited to participate in the good gifts of God.  Those gifts were sanctified by His Word and prayer; they were received and shared with thanksgiving.

So also for you, thanksgiving to the Lord is manifest, not only in the prayer and confession of His Word, the fruit of lips that praise His Name, but also in love for your neighbor.  To know and trust that everything you have is a gift from God, is also to understand that He provides for you so that you are able to love and serve the people He places alongside you in the world.  As you return thanks to the Lord and offer yourself in faith to Him, you also share what you have received with your neighbors in love.  You live and work for your neighbors in the peace that God has given you in Christ Jesus.  In particular, as you give thanks for the salutary Gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, you are strengthened by that Gift in faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.  And so is your neighbor served and strengthened by your love, unto faith and life with God in Christ.

You can see it exemplified in St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a beloved bishop and martyr of the second century.  His life and ministry, and especially his faithful martyrdom, are described in sacramental terms, as though he were becoming the Sacrament itself, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, in his martyrdom.  It is clearly understood and expressed that he is not Christ, nor could he ever take the place of Christ, which is not the point at all.  It is rather that his entire life and ministry have been rooted in the giving and receiving of the Sacrament.  So, as he goes to his martyrdom in faith and love, he does so abiding in Christ, and Christ in him.  The Lord is with him in his death, so that he is sustained in his confession and witness, and countless others are strengthened by him.

Your own life, as well, is lived to and from the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, in such a way that you also become a living sacrifice of faith and thanksgiving, and a living sacrament of peace and love, as your body and life are conformed to the Pattern of Christ Jesus.  As He has given Himself for you on the Cross, and as He gives Himself to you in the Sacrament of the Altar, so does He offer you to the Father (in Himself) as an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, and so does He give you to your neighbor as an instrument of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

To be sure, you speak the Word of the Gospel to your neighbor, as you are given opportunity to do so.  And as a Christian, you forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  But your love and forgiveness are demonstrated, and the love of God is confessed and demonstrated, in all the ways that you serve and care for your neighbor in this body and life.  As you fulfill your stations in life, and as you provide for your neighbor’s needs, you are among the gifts of God for your neighbor.  All of this in spite of the fact that neither you nor your neighbor are worthy of these good things.

It is not unlike the way that St. Mary becomes a living sacrament of Christ when the Word of God is conceived in her womb and becomes true Man.  God the Father gives to us His only-begotten Son by this Woman through conception and birth.  And He gives Himself to your neighbor through you, through your words, through your hands and feet, through your callings and stations in life.
Such love for your neighbor is the fruit of Christ’s love for you in His Holy Supper.  As He serves you at His Table with His Body and Blood, so do you love and serve your neighbors in the world.

He says to His disciples, and so also to you: “I Am here at the Table to serve you.  I am with you as the One who serves.  So, you also serve one another.  As I have loved you, so love one another.”  So the very things that Christ Jesus does for you and gives to you in the Holy Communion, you in turn do for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors in the world, because it is now Christ who lives in you, shaping and filling your entire life by the means of His Holy Sacrament.

“I Am the Vine, you are My branches,” says the Lord.  “He who abides in Me bears much fruit.”  As you abide in Him, therefore, by abiding in His Sacrament, He bears His good fruits in you.  As His Cup overflows for you, so does His Cup overflow in you for your neighbor.  For there is no end to the grace of God in Christ and the Gifts that He freely gives to you in love by His Word.

As the Church and the ministers of Christ administer the Sacrament in the Name and remembrance of Jesus, you likewise do what He does in remembrance of Him.  Not that you would presume to administer the Lord’s Supper apart from His Divine Call and Ordination to the Office of the Holy Ministry, but that you do for you neighbor what Christ Jesus does for you.  He washes your feet.  He feeds you with His Body and Blood.  So you also love your neighbor.  You do wash his feet, as needs may be, and there are those neighbors who need such help and assistance.  You love your neighbor by taking care of his body, and by taking care of his spiritual life through the confession of Christ’s holy Name.  You feed him when he’s hungry, you give him to drink when he’s thirsty.  You give your time and energy, and you pour out your body and life, in service to your neighbor.

Now, consider the various ways that Christ deals with you in the Sacraments: He visits you in mercy.  He sets you free from the bondage of your sin and death.  He reconciles you to Himself and to His Father.  He brings you into His House and clothes you with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness.  He shelters you and feeds you at His own Table.  He heals you.

If you think about those things that He does and gives in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in the Holy Communion — He visits you with charity, He covers your nakedness, He feeds and shelters you, He gives you drink, He heals and gives you life — what does all of that sound like?  Are these not the very things that Christ describes in St. Matthew 25, when He addresses His sheep and testifies to all that they have done for even the least of these, His brothers?  You live that life and do those works of love for your neighbor, because Christ Jesus does all of these things for you.

It is in this way that God takes His creation to Himself, and He redeems it and sanctifies it.  All of creation longs for the revealing of the sons of God.  And even now, though hidden under the Cross, the sons of God are being revealed, as Christ gives Himself to them in His Gospel, and as He then lives in them by grace.  It is a flesh and blood life that He lives in them, and they in Him.  It is real.  It is not just a message, but a life that is lived in the Body of Christ, to and from His Altar into the world.  For not only Christ, but His Body, the Church, is revealed in the Breaking of the Bread.

When a Christian lives faithfully, and suffers patiently, and does good for his neighbor, Christ be praised that He is thereby establishing and extending His Kingdom in this world, albeit hidden under His Cross.  So it is that Christ Jesus, who reigns over you in love from the Tree of His Cross, and whose Kingdom comes to you in your Baptism and in the Eucharist, comes with His Kingdom in the life of faith and love that you and all of His Christians now live in Him within the world.

The Grain of Wheat has died and bears abundant fruit.  Not only for you, but so also in your body and life.  In the confidence of your Baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit, you live a heavenly life within your place on earth.  You anticipate the Resurrection of the body, and you dwell by faith in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells, even as you live and serve, and suffer and die, in your mortal body here and now. 

That is no pretense.  For Paradise is reestablished within the Church on earth, the Tree of Life at its center in the Sacrament of the Altar.  As you eat and drink the Fruits of that Tree, the Medicine of Immortality, the Body and Blood of Christ, so do you bear good fruits after His own kind to the glory of His holy Name, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever.