05 June 2022

The Love of God for You in Christ Jesus

With this Holy Gospel, we are in the Upper Room with Christ and His Apostles on the night when He was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death.  He has already fed them with His Body and His Blood, as He feeds you from this Altar with those same Gifts of Himself.  He has already humbled Himself as the Servant of all to wash the feet of His disciples, as He has cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And at this point He is being sold out for cash by one of His own.

Such is the all-important context and setting of this Gospel.  If you absent yourself from this Upper Room, then you will not understand the Word that Jesus here speaks to you.  Apart from His Holy Supper, His Words of Love and Peace are distorted and spun out of context.  And if you forget the washing of the water with His Word, then you return to your sins and remain in them — without hope, without comfort, and without the Holy Spirit.  And if Christ Jesus were not handed over to His Sacrifice on the Cross, then all of this (and everything else in the world) would be for nothing.

In truth, none of the Words of Jesus, nor any of the Holy Scriptures, should be heard without some reference to the Ministry of the Gospel and the Means of Grace: to the waters of Holy Baptism, to the spoken word of Holy Absolution, and to the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

All the more so in this present case, because these are the very things that Christ was giving to His Apostles for His Church as He was being handed over to His Cross and Passion.  Indeed, they are the Means whereby the grace of His Cross is ever given to His Church on earth.  What is more, they are the ways and means whereby the Love of God in Christ is given to you and shared with you — whereby you are taught to love Christ Jesus and to love your neighbors as Christ loves you.

The Holy Gospel set before you this morning is but one small portion of the Lord’s catechesis of His disciples on the cusp of His Passion.  Apart from that context, it would be easy enough to hear and interpret the Words of Jesus in a human-centered way, as though everything depended on you, on your decisions, your commitments, your efforts and achievements, your love and obedience.

After all, what is it that Jesus says? “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.”  And on that basis alone, you might well suppose that everything begins with your love for Jesus and with your keeping of His Word.  What is more, you would likely hear and understand this “Word” of Jesus with reference to His Commandments and to the Law of God.  And to be sure, there are commands and laws of the Lord to be kept in faith toward Him and in fervent love for Him and for others.  But to focus on His Word of the Law, especially in this case, would be to miss the main point.

It is fundamental to note the way St. John begins his account of that Maundy Thursday evening: “When Jesus knew that His Hour had come, that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

And what follows immediately is the Feast of the New Testament Passover, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the betrayal of Judas.  Which is to say that everything begins — not with you or anything you might do — but with Jesus and His Love and His obedience to the Father, even to His death upon the Cross.  Absolutely everything depends upon Christ Jesus.  As St. John writes in his First Epistle, “We love Him, because He first loved us.”  And He loves you to the end.

Thus, one of the first and most important points to this Holy Gospel is the critical centrality and fundamental necessity of Jesus: You love Him, and you keep His Word, because there are no other options, no other hope, no other way, truth, or life, and no other fountain and source of true Love.

And that real true Love of God in Christ Jesus, your Lord, is what you need most of all.  It is for the sake of that divine Love that you have been created, that you should first of all be loved by the Lord your God and receive His gracious gifts of Life, and that you should love as He loves you.

It was for the sake of this divine Love that God created the heavens and the earth and all things — not out of any necessity, but in the freedom of His perfect holiness He chose to share His Love with others outside of Himself.  Such Love comprises the very Being and Nature of the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, in the Communion of the Holy Spirit from all eternity.  But as the Father desired to share His Love for the Son with others, He created all things for the sake of that Love — and Man in particular.

Accordingly, it was not good for the Man to be alone.  For Man, created in the Image of God, was created for Love; and to manifest the true divine Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he needed to have his own beloved counterpart.  So, the Lord created the Woman from the Man, and brought her to the Man, and gave her to him as a companion and helpmate.  In the mutual love between the man and his wife, the everlasting Love between the Father and the Son is reflected.  And in the loving bonds of holy marriage are the seeds of every other human relationship of love.

It’s no secret, though, that sin has brought animosity, jealousy, and countless divisions into the human experience of love.  Even the best relationships are not immune to bitterness and hostility.  Even the best marriages are not everything they should be, whereas others erode into an empty and loveless charade.  Families are dispersed, and parents and children, brothers and sisters become increasingly distant and estranged.  If not for the grace of God, there would be no love left at all.

But just as Love has from all eternity resided in the divine Life of the Holy Triune God, so do the remedy for sin and the restoration of Love originate and emerge from within the very heart of God.  Because God the Father’s Love for His creation is an exercise and expression of His Love for God the Son, He has not permitted it to fall completely into hatred and devastating ruin, but has taken it upon Himself to fix what Man has broken.  He has reestablished and renewed His own divine Love within His creation by sending His own beloved Son into this world — on the one hand, to bear the curse and destruction of sin; and on the other hand, to bring the Son’s perfect Love for the Father in the Holy Spirit into human flesh and blood, thereby restoring the Image of God in Man.

Now, to be sure, the Love of God in Christ Jesus is uniquely manifested in His voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross.  There the one true God loved you and all the fallen children of Man with the depth of His own Being, laying down His Life on behalf of sinners — the Father giving up His own dear Son, the Son willingly submitting to the agony of His bloody Passion.  Nowhere else in all the world has Love ever been more perfect and complete, more faithful and unflinching.

Even so, as unique and all-sufficient as the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus was, it is indicative of that divine, eternal Love which never ends; accordingly, the Love of God in Christ Jesus continues in the preaching of His Cross, in the distribution of the Fruits of His Cross, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  And here, again, we must consider the context of this Holy Gospel; for you cannot love Christ Jesus or keep His Word, nor can you even know Him or come to Him, except by His coming to you, abiding with you, and pouring out His Spirit upon you.  And that is the Love of God with which He loves you in the same Means of Grace that Jesus shared with His disciples on that first Maundy Thursday evening.

God the Father comes to you in the Person of His incarnate Son, in order to make His home with you in the Flesh, as the Lord Jesus comes to you with His Body and His Blood in His Holy Supper.  Indeed, that Holy Sacrament of the Altar is what makes this building of brick and wood a genuine “House of God,” because the very Son of God is thereby present in this place.  And even more to the point at hand, the same Lord Jesus Christ gives Himself into your mouth, into your body, and thereby makes His home, His dwelling place, in you.  Hence, your body is truly a temple of God.

Do you want to learn from Christ Jesus to love others as He loves you?  To love your husband or wife, your parents and children, and your other neighbors as God commands?  Then, by all means, allow the Flesh and Blood of Jesus to feed and nurture your own flesh and blood in His Image.

Along with His Flesh and Blood, it is also by and with the Spirit of Christ Jesus that you are loved by God and learn to love both Him and your neighbors.  And to that end, the Holy Spirit is given to you by God the Father in the Name of His Son, in the Word of Christ Jesus — likewise in the washing of the water with His Word, as He washed the feet of His disciples on that night when He was handed over to His Cross and Passion.  So were you anointed with the Spirit of the Father in His Son in the waters of your Holy Baptism; which means that one and the same Holy Spirit, the personal Bond of divine Love between the Father and the Son, binds you in Love to the Father and the Son.  And the Spirit is the One who teaches you and actually enables you to love the Lord with all your heart and soul, to keep His holy Word in faith, and to love your neighbors as yourself.

The Holy Spirit “teaches you all things” in the preaching of the Holy Gospel, as the Lord Jesus promised His Apostles, and as He has faithfully fulfilled throughout the History of His Church on earth.  So, too, as a called and ordained servant of Christ Jesus, the Word that I preach to you in His Name is not mine but His, which the Father has given me to speak by His Spirit on the basis of the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles.  And by this Divine Word of the Gospel, you are given to know the Love of God as it has been lived and revealed in the Life of Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit likewise reminds you of all things pertaining to Christ Jesus, not only by the catechesis of His Word, but also in the celebration of His Holy Supper.  For as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ, the Spirit leads you to remember and confess His Cross and Passion, His Resurrection and Ascension.  And it is by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus that you eat His Body and drink His Blood in repentance and faith, with joyful thanksgiving, and to your abundant blessing.  It is no amount of piety or preparation on your part that does it; but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father bestows upon you in the Name of His Son, enables you to commune in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus.

And as you thus receive and participate in His sacrificial Body and Blood from His Cross, you begin to live as He has risen and lives for you; to love as He loves you; to forgive as He forgives you; and to sacrifice yourself for others, as He has sacrificed Himself for you and for all people.

In all of these things, there is also the beautiful promise of Peace in the Words of Christ Jesus — my confirmation verse — echoed in the Words of Christ following His Resurrection from the dead (in the Upper Room once more), when He appeared to His disciples and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Thus, the Peace that Jesus gives by His Holy Spirit in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution is the true Peace of forgiveness and Life in His Cross and Resurrection.  Not as the world gives — a false sense of security in material possessions or fleeting success — but the genuine security of a Life hidden with Christ in God.

And so it is that, by the ways and means of His Word and Sacraments in the Liturgy of His Gospel, you are able to endure in the Peace of Christ Jesus in steadfast faith, confident hope, and divine Love — even as you bear the Cross in this mortal life on earth.

Sadly, it is true that, as you live by the self-sacrificing Love of God in Christ Jesus, this fallen and perishing world around you — and sometimes even your nearest and dearest neighbors — will nail you to the Cross, as it were, and otherwise spurn your love.  But as you are given the Word and example of Christ Jesus — and better yet, as He gives you Himself and His Spirit — you are able to believe and trust and cling to Him.  And in His Love for you — with which He loves you to the end — having made His Home with you, having poured out His Spirit upon you, and having made you a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, He will bring you safely Home to the Father forever.

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

30 May 2022

The Lord Visits You in the Flesh within His Holy Church

God has created you in His Image and Likeness to live by His grace through faith in His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And as such, your entire life in body and soul, both now and forever, depends entirely on Him, on His Word and Holy Spirit.

By the same token, your sin at its root is a matter of self-idolatry and selfishness, whereby you make a god out of yourself, you rely upon yourself, and you love and serve yourself above all.  All of your sinful thoughts, words, and actions flow out of that underlying cesspool of self-worship.

And the consequence is that, the more you try to make a life for yourself and to live for yourself, the more you are actually killing yourself.  Your sin is deadly and damnable, not so much because it is “naughty,” but because it turns you away from the only true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it cuts you off from Him who is your Life and your Salvation.  When you reject and disobey the Word of God, you reject and spurn the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life.  And the more you persist in your sin, the more dead you become, and the further removed from Life.

How, then, shall you be saved and live?  How shall you receive and bear the Spirit of God in your fallen and perishing flesh, in your hostile mind and hardened heart?  And how shall you not rather be consumed and destroyed by the holy and righteous Breath of God and the Fire of His Spirit?

The answer, now and ever, is the same as it has always been.  Everything depends entirely on God.  It is not for you to save yourself from sin and death.  Indeed, left to yourself, apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you are at the heart of the problem and your own worst enemy.  But the Lord who loves you, who created you in love, has taken every initiative to save you and redeem you.  He seeks you out and comes to you, heals you from the inside out, and gives you His own Life.

The God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ bestows the Spirit upon you by the preaching of the Gospel.  He calls and brings you to repentance by and with His Word, and He breathes the Spirit into your heart, mind, body, and soul by the forgiving of your sins.  He thereby recreates you in the Image and Likeness of Christ Jesus, and He raises you up from death to Life in His Body.

Just so, as Christ Himself was crucified, put to death, and buried — and God raised Him from the dead — so that He entered into His Glory on your behalf by way of His Cross and Passion — so are you also put to death and raised to newness of life by the Word and Spirit of His Holy Cross.

It seems so utterly foolish to the world, which does not and cannot understand.  The Lord wounds in order to heal.  He kills, and He makes alive.  He speaks His Law to condemn and accuse you, to expose your sin and pierce your heart and soul unto contrition and repentance; and then He speaks His Gospel to save you, to raise you up and bring you to life by faith in His forgiveness.

By this Word and work of God — by this Word and work of repentance — the Lord turns you away from yourself, away from your self-idolatry, and away from your helpless captivity to sin and death, and He brings you to Himself, to the true worship of faith, and to eternal Life with Jesus.

This Way of repentance, faith, and Life with God has been opened to you and to all in Christ Jesus,  your Savior, conceived and born of St. Mary, condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, put to death and buried, risen and ascended, now given and poured out for you and for the many.

Make no mistake, the Lord Jesus Christ is not a means to some other end.  He is your Life and your Salvation.  Not abstractly, not intellectually or emotionally, but tangibly and holistically in His own Body of flesh and blood like your own, by the speaking of His Word and the breathing of His Spirit in the Gospel.  It is in Christ Jesus that you know and love His God and Father as your own God and Father, and that you are anointed by the Holy Spirit in your own body, soul, and spirit.

It is to that end that God the Father has given His only-begotten Son; and God the Son has become Flesh of your flesh and Blood of your blood — from the body of His Mother to His own Body on the Cross.  It is in His own Flesh and Bones and Blood and Sinews that He has received both your sin and death and the Spirit of God, so that everything is dealt with and reconciled in His Body.

That combat stupendous which you could never hope to survive (far less to win), He has fought, and He has won for you.  He bears your sins in His Body to bear them away forever; whereas He bears the Spirit in His Body in order to bestow the Spirit upon you.  For He has not been ashamed to become your Brother, in order to save you from your sin and to share His divine Life with you.

Thus, by His Cross and Passion He has atoned for all of your sins and the sins of the whole world.  By His death and burial He has redeemed you from death and the grave.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, you are reconciled to His God and Father and righteous in His sight.  This is the Word of the Gospel that is proclaimed to the ends of the earth and preached to you here and now.

Indeed, by that Gospel He preaches Himself into your ears, into your heart, mind, body, and soul.  And with His forgiveness of sins He pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you; so that you are a Christian, anointed by God the Father with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, unto Life everlasting.

He does it by the Rod of His mouth and the Breath of His lips, which is how God always works, from the beginning, when He spoke and it was so, even to the close of the age.  It is that Word which God the Father speaks to you by His Son, who has become Flesh and tabernacles with you.

And that is the very thing we commemorate and celebrate with joy and thanksgiving this evening in the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord.  For He deals with you and His whole Church on earth, to this day and to this place, in much the same way that He dealt with the Blessed Virgin Mary and with St. Elizabeth in this precious Holy Gospel.  The Lord Himself comes to visit you here with His Word and Spirit, Flesh and Blood, in order to exalt you by His grace to the glory of His Name.

In fact, there is a beautiful and marvelous parallel between the Visitation of Our Lord and the Feast of Pentecost, such as we will celebrate this coming Sunday.  In both cases, the Lord pours out His Spirit upon His Church by and with and for the proclamation of His Word; and so does the Father give the very Flesh and Blood of His Son to the blessed Mother and to all her beloved children.

St. Mary is a living icon of the Lord’s Church, because she hears the Word of God, is anointed by the Spirit of God, and receives the very Son of God in the Flesh, in much the same way that the same Son of God is received within His Holy Church on earth by the same Word and Holy Spirit.  And that which was conceived in her womb, whereby she became the Mother of God in the Flesh, is now conceived and born for you and for the many in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, whereby the same Body of the same Lord Jesus Christ is given into your body of flesh and blood.

This is how God works.  This is how He comes to you.  This is how He visits you with His grace, mercy, and peace — in this humble and hidden way.

You cannot see Him, no more than St. Elizabeth could see Him when St. Mary, barely in her first trimester, came to visit her elderly cousin, who had been called barren but now was great with her own child.  But Elizabeth saw Mary and heard her greeting, and by this Word of the servant of God she believed.  Indeed, not only Elizabeth, but the babe in her womb believed.  She and her unborn son rejoiced in the Gospel and gave thanks to God for Mary and with Mary.  And Elizabeth praised God for the Fruit of Mary’s womb, for the Child in her body, whom Elizabeth confessed to be her Lord: “How has it been given to me,” she sang, “that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Do not be jealous of the holy disciples and Apostles, that they got to see Jesus with their own eyes.  They were given no better Jesus than you are given.  Rejoice with St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, that one and the same Lord Jesus Christ — in the same Flesh and Blood — is also here with you and given to you.  He visits you in hiddenness and humbleness within His Holy Church on earth.

Do not be ashamed of the simple Means of Grace by which He visits you.  Do not be scandalized that He comes by and with the Cross and the Fruits of His Cross.  Do not turn up your nose at His sacred Flesh and Blood.  Do not dismiss this Liturgy of the Gospel for its apparent foolishness.  But rejoice that the Lord Himself comes to you within His Church to bless you with His Peace.

The Lord comes to you and deals with you in this way, that you should learn to live as a child of God the Father and as a member of the Bride of Christ.  Loving human fathers rightly teach and discipline and bring up their sons to become faithful husbands and fathers, that they should each learn how to care for a wife and for children, that they should each become a provider who works hard to love and serve his own family and other neighbors in the world.  But God the Father trains you, not only to love and serve and care for others, as you are called and given to do within your own office and station, but He trains you first of all to be and to live as His own dear child, living by grace through faith within His own household and family; and likewise, to be and to live as a member of the Bride of Christ, hearing His Word and receiving the Holy Spirit.

The Lord your God thus catechizes you to live, not by your own works and efforts, as though you were your own god, but by His gracious providence, by the hearing and receiving of His Gifts.

Now, that is not to say that you are not given anything to do.  Christian, you are given things to do.  But do not serve your place and purpose in life as though God needed anything from you, and do not serve as though you were capable of making and preserving any kind of real Life for yourself.  Rather, as you receive the Lord in His meekness and mercy, as He comes to you in such humble and hidden ways within His Church, and as He thus visits you in peace and love, so welcome and receive Him and care for Him in His lowly ones, in the poor, despised, and afflicted, and in your brothers and sisters, who are the brothers and sisters of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Receive Jesus also in their needs, and serve Him in their needs.  Provide for Him and love Him by providing for and loving His family, as Mary and Elizabeth loved and served each other and their infant sons.

Do unto others as Jesus does for you.  Do so for them, not because they have earned it or deserved it — for they have not, no more than you have.  Do it by the grace of God.  Do it for Jesus’ sake.  And know that, in loving your brother or sister, you are loving the Lord who is your very Life.

And if your whole life is spent in doing so, yet shall you live.  You serve in the confidence of that great Salvation which God has already achieved for you and for all people, which He proclaims to you and gives to you by the Ministry of His Gospel in His Church.  He shall not send you away empty-handed.  He shall not leave you unclothed or naked in the street.  He shall not allow you to go hungry forever.  If you are despised by the world, you are honored and exalted by God in Christ Jesus, your crucified, risen, and ascended Lord.  If you are hated by others, you are loved by God.  If others do not forgive you, nevertheless, God has forgiven you all your sins and trespasses at the cost of His own Body and Life upon the Cross.  If others take your life, yet, God gives you Life.

This is your confidence, peace, and joy.  Receive the Lord Jesus, who is here with you and for you with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Indeed, He is here present in and with His very Flesh and Blood like your own, conceived and born of St. Mary, given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the Life everlasting of your body, soul, and spirit in Him.

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

29 May 2022

Living Before God by the Prayer and Sacrifice of Christ Jesus

The first duty of the royal priesthood of the baptized is to pray — to pray in faith toward God and in love for one another.  To pray to your God and Father in heaven through Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord — in and with His Holy Spirit — is to worship the one true God, the Holy Trinity.  And to pray and intercede for your neighbor — for your family, friends, and enemies, for the Holy Christian Church, and for the whole world — is to love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you.

To pray to the Lord your God in this way, in holy faith and holy love, is also to sacrifice yourself to Him — that is, to entrust yourself to God for the benefit of others — just as the Offertory and the Prayer of the Church belong to each other in the Divine Service.  To pray is to sacrifice.

So has Christ Jesus done for you.  And so does He continue to pray for you as the One who has been sacrificed for you and for all people on the Cross, who has risen from the dead and ever lives to make intercession for you and all the saints according to the good and gracious Will of God.

To pray and to sacrifice — in Christian faith and love — as a royal priest of the most high God in Christ Jesus — is to stand in the presence of God the Father in Peace, to live and abide before His Face, to share in His divine Glory, and to partake of His divine Nature by His divine Grace.

And to be such a priest, to pray and to sacrifice in faith and love, is to be united with God in Christ Jesus, in the Unity and Love of the Father and the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the Bond of Peace.

It is to have the Spirit, heart, and mind of Christ, and so to be of one heart and mind with His Body, the Church — gathered together in the upper room with the whole assembly of His many brethren, with the glorious company of the Apostles, the noble army of martyrs, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the faithful women, disciples young and old, male and female, slave and free, from all the nations of earth — united in prayer for the world, for the Church, and for the coming of Christ.

To pray and to sacrifice in this way is, indeed, to speak by the Holy Spirit in and through Christ Jesus, sharing His divine Sonship, and knowing and loving God the Father in Him — even as you are known and loved by the same God and Father in Christ Jesus, His only-begotten Son.

By contrast, the fallen world does not know or comprehend God the Father; and neither do you know Him according to your fallen flesh.  You do not know Him, nor what He is like.  And so you cannot find Him or go to Him, either.  You cannot love Him, nor can you call upon His Name.

The world’s notion of God, of fatherhood, of love and unity and peace, of forgiveness, life, and salvation — it’s all confused and wrong; it’s all twisted, distorted, and false.  Indeed, so far from the Truth is the world’s “knowledge” and “wisdom,” that you don’t even realize how false it is.

It is only by and through and in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you know and love the Father, and come to Him, and stand before Him, and live and abide in His presence.  It is only by and through and in Christ Jesus that you pray and sacrifice and worship God rightly — not as though to appease His wrath or bargain with Him, but as a dear child and heir, as a son of God in Christ, as a royal priest in Him who is your great and merciful High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

It is in His Office and Vocation as your great High Priest that Christ Jesus prays and intercedes for you, as He does for His whole Church, for His disciples and His Holy Apostles, and for all who believe in Him through their preaching of His Word.  He prays and intercedes in harmony with His singular Sacrifice; indeed, He prays in and with His Sacrifice, with His own Body and His Blood.

He has come down from the Father in heaven in order to reveal His God and Father to you, to embrace you in and with the Father’s Love, and to anoint you with the Holy Spirit from the Father.

All of this He has done deep in the Flesh, in His own holy Body and with His precious Blood — by His holy Incarnation; by His humiliation and obedience, unto His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross; and by His Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

So does the Father reveal Himself and give Himself to you in the Person of His own dear Son.

Then, also, in human Flesh and Blood like your own — in His own truly-human Body, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of God — Christ Jesus reconciles you and all the world to His Father, as He returns to the Bosom of His Father in heaven by way of His atoning Sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension.  So it is that, in Christ, you are raised up to God the Father and brought into His Presence, named with His own great and holy Name, which is above every name that is named, and glorified with His own divine Glory.

Such a Glory it is!  Do be aware of this, and understand, it is the Glory of the Cross and suffering.  It is the Glory of self-sacrifice, of love for your enemies and those who sin against you.  It is the Glory of forgiveness and of prayer for others, even for those who hurt you to the point of death.  Not pain and suffering for the sake of pain and suffering, in some perverse and sadomasochistic manner, but the willing sacrifice of your self and your life in loving service to your neighbor.

You may not realize at the time what the point or purpose of your sacrifice and suffering are; but when you proceed by faith in the Word of God within those vocations to which He has called you and in those places where He has positioned you, in love for the neighbors He has set before you, you may be certain that your labors are not in vain, nor your hardship, pain, and sorrow.  The Cross conforms you to the Image of God’s beloved Son, and it works in you what is good and blessed, both for you and for others.  It teaches repentance and compassion; it strengthens faith and love.

Such things are not the glory of the world, to be sure.  But the Cross is the true divine Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; for that is the Glory with which He loves you, and gives Himself for you, and forgives you all your sins, and serves you in peace, all at His own expense, for His mercy’s sake.

That is the Glory of God to which you also are called — the true divine Glory that you are freely given in Christ Jesus — the Glory of His Cross, bestowed upon you by and with His Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of all of your sins in the Liturgy of His Holy Gospel.

The Unity for which Christ Jesus prays — Unity with God and each other in Him — that Unity is granted to you with the Name and Spirit of God in the living and Life-giving waters of Holy Baptism.  That is the blessed River of Life which flows from the Cross of Christ, from the Lamb upon His Throne, and from His wounded side at the very Heart and Center of the City of God.

That is the River which cleanses and refreshes you, which washes away your impurity and every unrighteousness, and which quenches your deepest thirst with the Holy Spirit of Christ Himself.

It is by and through that sacred River of living Water — it is by and through that Water of your Holy Baptism — that you have come into the Holy City and are seated at the Lord’s own Table, where you are given the right and the glorious privilege to eat and drink from the Tree of Life.

The Leaves and the twelve great Fruits of that Tree are the Apostles’ Doctrine and Fellowship, the Breaking of the Bread in the Holy Communion, and the priestly Prayers of the Church of Christ.

Those Fruits of the Tree of Life, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lamb — offered as a Sacrifice upon the Cross, and given to you here as a eucharistic Feast — these are indeed your Life and your Salvation.  And the Leaves of that same Tree, that is, the Word of Christ, the Holy Absolution of His Gospel, and the apostolic preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name — those Leaves are for the perfect healing of your heart, mind, body, and soul, unto the Day of Christ.

Whatever frailty and weakness you may have, whatever sickness or infirmity afflict your flesh, you are made brand new, whole and perfect and complete, holy and without blemish in Christ Jesus.  That is most certainly true, although you cannot see it or feel it now.  It is given to you by God in the crucified and risen Flesh of Jesus, who has received the Glory of the Father on your behalf.

He binds Himself to you, not only by His Incarnation and by His bearing of your sins and death in His Body on the Cross, but also by giving Himself to you with all the Fruits and Benefits of His once-for-all atoning Sacrifice.  He does it in the Holy Sacraments, as in the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism, whereby you have been — and you are — united with Him in His Cross and Resurrection.  And He does it by giving you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink, whereby He unites Himself to you — and you to Him — more profoundly, more intimately, more personally, and more permanently than the world could ever begin to imagine.

So it is that the Glory of the Cross of Christ is yours.  His priestly prayer, His suffering and death, His sacrificial love and forgiveness — all of these are yours.  And His vindication by the Father, His victorious Resurrection from the dead, and His Ascension into heaven — these, too, are yours.

The Love of God the Father for His only-begotten Son is yours.  The divine Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is yours.  The perfect Unity of the Holy Trinity is the Unity that you share by Grace in Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son now rests and remains on you.

God the Father in heaven, who is so foreign to the world and to sinful man, is now familiar to you in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son.  He has become your own dear Father, and you His dear child.

Therefore, the priestly prayer of Christ Jesus to His God and Father is, as I said, now also yours.  You crawl up into His lap, as it were; you snuggle yourself into His arms, you sob into His chest, or you whisper into His ear — and He hears and answers Christ Jesus in your prayer.  He hears and answers your prayer, as surely as the Son of God in the Flesh has been crucified for you and all your sins and has been raised from the dead for your justification by the Glory of God the Father.

So has the Lord made Himself your Refuge and your Strength, your very present Help in trouble.

So has He brought you safely and securely into His City, into His Home and Family, into His Holy of Holies — eternal in the heavens, but now also established here for you in His Church on earth.

So does He cover you with His Pinions and shelter you under His Wings.  So does He love you, forever and always, and grant you His abiding Peace through His forgiveness of all your sins.

And so do you live and abide in the presence of the Holy Triune God in His own righteousness and purity, in the innocence and blessedness of Christ Jesus — as surely as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever in His own Body of Flesh & Blood like yours.

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

26 May 2022

At Home with God the Father in the Body of Christ Jesus

Beloved of God, the Lord Jesus has not gone away.  He has not left you alone.  He Himself is with you, and He has poured out the promised Spirit of His Father upon you.  The same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is even now — and shall be forevermore — your merciful and great High Priest.  He lives before God in righteousness and purity forever on your behalf, in order to establish your place with God; and He reigns over you in love with His Gospel.

As He has stretched out His arms for you upon the Cross, in offering Himself up to the Father as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins, so does He lift up His hands in blessing upon you, in order to justify you with His own Righteousness, to raise you up from death to Life with Himself, and to anoint you with His Spirit by His Word.

Thus, He gives Himself to God as the true Man; and He gives Himself to you as the one true God.  And in Him, both God and Man and heaven and earth are bound together in perfect harmony.

Righteousness and peace kiss each other in Him, so that you are now reconciled to God the Father in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  Indeed, your flesh and blood, your body and soul, your whole life, and all of creation, are sanctified for Life with God in the Body of Christ Jesus: In His own Person, first of all, but also in His Body, the Church, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.

It is in Him that you know and love God rightly, and that you live the true Life.  Not by escaping from your body of flesh and blood, nor from your own place, wherever that might be, but precisely in that place where God has put you, in your own skin, in your life and occupations on earth.

Remain there, where God has stationed you; and be gathered here within His Church on earth to wait upon the Promise of your Father in Christ Jesus.  Already you are being clothed with His Power from on high, with His Spirit and His Righteousness.  Already you are God’s own child and a citizen of His heavenly Kingdom, although for now it is by faith in His Word and not by sight.  For as the Christ entered into His Glory through His suffering and death upon the Cross, so do you enter into the Kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Him who was crucified for you.

Therefore, do not be afraid, and do not despair of His presence and His peace; for His blessing is upon you in the lifting up of His wounded hands, and the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection is preached to you in His Name, even as He lives and reigns forever at the Father’s Right Hand and intercedes for you as your Royal High Priest.  God the Father has established Him there by an unbreakable oath, by raising Him from the dead, crowning Him with Glory and honor, giving Him all authority in heaven and on earth, and putting sin, death, the devil, and hell beneath His feet.

Now, I know — and He knows it even better than you and I do — that you don’t yet see or feel or experience the Glory of His Resurrection and Ascension.  You don’t yet see all things beneath His beautiful feet.  You don’t yet experience the fact that His enemies and yours have been defeated.  You don’t yet feel His Victory and your Redemption, except by way of His Cross and suffering, which still seems like exactly the opposite, a contradiction of what it really is.

Given the hardships and heartaches of this body and life on earth, you might easily give yourself over to hopelessness and despair, supposing that you have been abandoned and left utterly alone in your misery.  How often do you cry out, frantic for someone to help you, though it seems for all the world that you are not heard or answered or helped?  And do you sometimes conclude that your family, friends, and loved ones — and God Himself — have forgotten you and given up on you?

Whatever the particulars of your own situation may be, you have heard from the Lord Jesus that in the world you have tribulation.  That’s not the exception but the rule in this poor life of labor.  What you see and feel and experience is not the Resurrection but the Cross.  And it would seem as though the Ascension of our Lord were hardly a cause for celebration, but nothing so much as yet another heartbreaking goodbye, an apparent reminder that you have been left all alone.

And yet, the Lord is with you.  He has not gone away and left you.  That’s not the case at all.  He’s not some “pie in the sky,” but He has entered into the presence of His God and Father in your own skin, as it were, in the same flesh and blood and bones and sinews that He shares with you and with all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  The Cloud that received Him is the Grace and Glory of God, with which He also comes to you and abides with you in the Liturgy of the Gospel.

It is not by accident or coincidence that men in white stand before you and proclaim the Word of the Lord Jesus to you; for thus it was necessary, not only that He should suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, but also that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name to the ends of the earth.  By this Ministry He fills all things and the Kingdom of God comes to man.

It’s like the difference between a single radio, which can only fill a limited space with its sound, depending on its wattage and speakers and volume, and by contrast, a radio broadcast tower, which can blanket a huge area with its signal and be heard wherever its signal is received.  So does the Lord Jesus ascend to the Right Hand of His God and Father, not to “go away and leave you alone,” not to give Himself a break and leave you to yourself and your own devices, but in order to fill the whole wide world with His Word and Spirit, His Flesh and Blood, His Life, and His Salvation. 

So does the Word of the Lord go forth, beginning from Jerusalem, to all of Judea, to Samaria, to Rome, to the New World, the Third World, to Africa and Asia, and to the whole planet.  And as the Word goes out, so does it gather disciples of Jesus together into one Body, one Church, into the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem, where the Lamb upon His Throne is not only the Priest and King, but He is the Temple of God among men, the Lamp and the Light which illuminate the New Creation, and both the Bridegroom and the Wedding Feast of finest Wine and richest Meat.

That is your Home, your place of Peace and Sabbath Rest.  That is where you live, because that is where Christ is both with you and for you forever.  He really does unite and hold all things together in Himself, in His own Body and by the power of His indestructible Life, as He serves you in His Church on earth, as He worships the Father in heaven, as He pours out the Spirit upon you by the Gospel, and as He ever lives to pray and intercede for you at all times.

It is not only that He is everywhere at once, filling all things with Himself.  Nor is it only that He is with you here and with the Father in heaven; although that much is true, to begin with.  But He also brings God to you, the Father and the Holy Spirit, in and with Himself, in all that He continues to teach and to do, and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And in Him, at the same time, you are with God; for He brings you to the Father and seats you with Himself in the heavenly places.

Beloved, you are baptized into Christ, and that means, not only that His Cross and Resurrection are yours, but His Ascension, too, His Spirit and His Father, and His place within the Holy of Holies.  Likewise, when you eat His Body and drink His Blood here within His Church on earth, you live and abide with Him in the Bosom of the Father in heaven.  This, indeed, is already to be living the true divine Life for which you have been created by the Holy Triune God.

It’s not as though your life on earth under the Cross were always pleasant or easy.  We all know better than that.  With the rest of creation we are longing for the consummation of all things, for the resurrection of the body, the glorious revealing of the sons of God, and the Life everlasting in Paradise.  We long for that, and we pray for that — and rightly so, as Christ our Lord has taught us to pray to the Father in heaven for the coming of His Kingdom.  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!

But let us do so, let us pray for the coming of Christ Jesus and the Kingdom of His God and Father, precisely in the bold confidence that He has borne the Cross for us and conquered in the fight, and that His resurrected and glorified Body is already the Firstfruits of the Resurrection of all Flesh.

In His Body it is already a done deal.  And it is for you, as the Sacrament delivers and declares.

That is what His Ascension means and signifies and does for you.  He fills all things in heaven and on earth, in order to be actively present and at work in and with His Church, and so also to bring His Church and all her members, including you, to His God and Father within His own Body.

The fact that He ascends as the Crucified One, and that He serves you by the ways and means of His Cross, means that all the hurt and heartache and hard things shall not be able to destroy you, nor to separate you from Him, His Life, and His Love; but, by His grace, they actually help to heal you and save you and bring you to heaven.  For He works repentance in you, and He disciplines your mortal flesh, in order to bring you through suffering and death into faith and life with God.

There simply is no pain, no persecution, no place nor pit nor hell hole, where He is not with you in peace.  So, too, you are with Him, who lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of the Father.

He doesn’t make you come to Him, nor even to meet Him halfway.  And He doesn’t simply come to keep you company in misery.  But He gathers you fully to Himself, and He embraces you with Himself, and He abides with you as true God and true Man, as your Savior and your Salvation.  Therefore, as you know from the testimony of St. Paul, your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Mortal life in this fallen world is one of constant separations, which cut you off and distance you from family, friends, and loved ones, and even from your nearest and dearest kin.  Whether by death or disease, by accidents or atrocities, by adventures or adversities, by ailments or age, your relationships and your connections are constantly being changed, and eventually they are ended.

But the Ascension of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus proclaims a permanent place for you and perfect Peace with God.  That does not change, and it cannot be taken away from you.  Nor is it far away from you now, but up close and personal, a very present help at all times, in every trouble, and a source of genuine great joy in the face of everything that confronts you.

It is here for you in the Temple of God, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink.  It is here for you in the hands of Christ Jesus, with which He blesses you and feeds you and absolves you; with which He signs and seals you as a Christian, a child of God; and by which He raises you up.

As all of this is here for you in Him, in His Body and His Blood, so shall He be with you always, wherever you may be.  And so shall you be with Him, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, at home and at peace with the Blessed Holy Trinity + forever and ever, world without end. Amen. 

22 May 2022

Safe and Sound with Your God and Father in Christ Jesus

Your God and Father in heaven has promised that, before you call, He will answer, and while you are yet speaking, He will act.  He has indeed taught you to pray and promised to hear you; but even before you have begun to do so, He is already providing for your every need of body and soul.

Prayer does not begin with your choice or decision or effort.  It does not begin in your heart or with your voice.  It begins with God speaking His Word of the Gospel, by which He opens your ears, your body and life to receive His gifts, and opens your heart, mind, and voice to respond in faith.

He speaks to you and calls you to Himself.  And as He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself by the Cross of Christ, His Son, so does He welcome you into His arms.  He calls you by name, for you are His.  And He speaks such beautiful words:  That your sins are forgiven.  That you are in Christ.  That His Spirit dwells in you.  That you are beloved and well-pleasing to Him.

So does God the Father speak to you in the Person of His Son, Christ Jesus.  And so does Christ Jesus show you the Father plainly and reveal His great heart of love to you by way of the Gospel, by the voluntary Sacrifice of His Cross and by His rising from the dead as your Righteousness.  That is how you come to know and love His God and Father as your own dear God and Father.

And so do the faith and prayer of Jesus also become yours.  Though you are weak and weary and afraid, when you open your mouth in prayer it is the Lord Jesus who speaks in you — and when you thus call upon your Father in heaven, it is Christ Jesus who is heard and answered in you.

The Lord teaches you to pray in this way — in such confidence — in faith, hope, and love — by the Word that He speaks to you.  His Word of the Gospel opens up your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to show forth the praises of God.  That is how you learn to call upon Him for everything that you need, to call upon His holy Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.

What is more, as Christ Jesus has come down from the Father in heaven and returns to the Father on your behalf, with you in tow, by way of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension, so does He gather you up, both body and soul, and bring you and your prayers to the Father in peace and joy.

That is the truth.  But that is not yet your experience.  For here on earth you are scattered like the disciples were when Jesus was taken away to His Passion, to His innocent suffering and death.

You are scattered by the trials and tribulations of this fallen and perishing world, by various and sundry sorrows, sicknesses, and sufferings, by your inescapable mortality and the fear of death.  You’re scattered hither and yon by the sins that you commit, by your own persistent guilt and shame and the devil’s wicked accusations, and by the trespasses and sins of others against you.

And you are scattered by the Cross itself.  For the peace that you are given as a Christian is not that of this old world.  It is rather the Peace of Christ Jesus, that is, the reconciliation with God that He has accomplished for you and bestowed upon you by His grace, by His Cross and Resurrection.  And belonging to Him, who was crucified for all your sins, you do have tribulation in the world.

There’s plenty of trouble in the world, of course, as a consequence of sin.  But it actually increases when you are called to discipleship, to take up the Cross and follow Christ Jesus; for by His Word and Spirit, from your Baptism and throughout your life, you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  And that’s not just theoretical or make-believe; it is real tribulation in the world, in this body and life on earth.  And like the disciples then, although you love the Lord and believe in Him, you are troubled by doubts and fears, confusion and pain — and you are scattered by His Cross.

Just so, the depth of your hurt and need compels you to cry out.  And even in your misery, you are not alone.  The Spirit helps you in your weakness; and Christ Jesus not only teaches you how to pray, but as your merciful and great High Priest He is always praying for you.  Indeed, He is your Prayer, your Incense, and your Intercession.  He bears you in His Body to His God and Father.

Christ Jesus is here with you, that you should be with Him where He is.  The Tabernacle of God is among men, that is, the very flesh and blood of the incarnate Son.  He breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul by His Ministry of the Gospel, and He fights for you against the devil, the world, and the fallenness of your own flesh, that you should not be lost forever.

In order to save you from death and damnation, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  He has atoned for all your sins.  He has defeated the devil and crushed his head.  And the same Lord Jesus has gathered you to Himself.  He has called you by name, and you are His.  So it is that you are here in this place of prayer on this Lord’s Day: You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.

You are here because Christ has brought you here; because He has bound you to Himself in His own Body; and because He strengthens and sustains you by His Holy Spirit, even in tribulation.  He gathers you, enlightens you, and strengthens and sustains you in true faith by the speaking of His Word.  For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ that is preached to you.  And as you hear and believe, so do you also pray and confess the Name of Christ Jesus.

That is the rhythm of your Christian life.  That is how you breathe.  You inhale and exhale the Holy Spirit as you hear and confess the Word of Christ Jesus.  You inhale and exhale the forgiveness of sins by faith in His Gospel, forgiving those who sin against you as the Lord Jesus forgives you.

As He has thus called you and gathered you into His Church, let me now describe that holy Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.  Let me tell you what she is like.  Let me tell you that in her midst there are those who have been lame, and those who have been sick, and those who have been afraid, and those who have been hurt.  Into her stream people of all kinds, from all nations, because the Lord has sent His Apostles to make disciples, to baptize, to catechize, and to forgive sins in His Name.

This Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, stands upon the twelve foundation stones, which are His Holy Apostles who preached His Word, published Peace, and proclaimed the Gospel of salvation. 

The Church stands upon that Word, which seems so weak and wobbly and yet stands fast against the gates of hell.  The Church stands upon the apostolic preaching and confession of the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  For so He says to those whom He sends: “He who hears you, hears Me.” “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” “Do this in remembrance of Me.

That is the Rock upon which the City of God is built and established on earth as it is in heaven.  And you have entered that City by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  For in that River of Life you have been cleansed and sanctified, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and clothed in the white garments of His innocence and blessedness.

To be sure, there is no unclean thing in the City of God.  But you are not unclean.  You are not unholy.  There is no sin or fault or blemish in you.  You are cleansed, and you are holy, because you are in Christ Jesus, and He has brought you into His City by the righteousness of His Gospel.

This is a place of prayer, where you also pray, because this is a place where the Word of Christ is heard.  And as you hear, so do you believe.  And as you believe, so do you pray.  And as you pray, so does the Father answer.  And when you cannot speak, the Body of Christ prays for you.  And when you can hardly dare to believe what He says to you, the Body of Christ supports you in Him.

Now, if it so happens that you are strong in the faith, that you already know the Word, that you stride through your week in joyful confidence, in the peace and joy of the Gospel, and that you need not be here for your own strength (though I wonder about that!), be here for your neighbor.  For in the pews alongside of you, in front and in back of you, there are those who are struggling, those who are sad, and those who are afraid to pray because they do not think they will be heard.

There are those who wonder if they belong here.  And yet, by the mercies of God, they are here.  And they are part of the Body of Christ, or they are called to become members of His Body by repentance and faith in His Gospel.  The truth is that your prayers strengthen them, your presence encourages them.  And your words of peace and love in Jesus’ Name are living and active words, which spite the devil, and crush his head, and cast him away from your neighbor’s heart and mind.

That you might have such a Word to speak, to pray and confess, cling to Christ in the preaching of His Gospel.  Cling to Him for yourself.  Cling to Him for your family.  Cling to Him for your neighbor.  Cling to Him for the stranger, the widow and orphan, and the foreigner in your midst.

Cling to Him, and call upon the Name of the Lord, knowing that you are heard.  For you are not simply a guest in the household and family of God.  You are not only an acquaintance of the Bride of Christ, but you belong to her.  You are part of her.  So precious are you to Jesus, so beautiful by His grace, so glorious through His forgiveness, so much His very own in His Resurrection.

That is what He has given you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  More has been accomplished there, and still avails for you, than your entire life on earth should ever be sufficient to consider.  You cannot exhaust this treasure.  You cannot think of it too much.  You cannot rely on it too strongly.

In Holy Baptism Christ has forgiven all your sins, and by your Holy Baptism He is constantly washing your sins away.  Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, the waters of your Baptism wash over you, day after day, as you hear and receive the Gospel.

By the washing of those waters with His Word, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you into His Family and made you His own dear child.  He has named you with His Name.  He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Author and Giver of Life, by whom you live.  He has given you the Spirit, not because you are strong, but because you are His.  Not because you are without sin, but that you may be cleansed.  Not because you were holy, but that you should become holy in Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God.

In your Baptism Christ Jesus has bound Himself to you.  He has taken His stand along with you.  He has made all of your sins and all of your hurts, and all of your griefs and sorrows, His own.  The wounds that He bears in His Body are your wounds.  And by His wounds you are healed.

He has bound Himself to you, and He binds you to Himself, so that, where He is, you shall be also.  Thus are you crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  But His Cross does not destroy you; it makes you brand new.  And as you are crucified with Him, so are you also raised with Him: daily through the forgiveness of your sins, and at the last when your body shall be raised from the dead, immortal and glorious, perfected and imperishable, set free from every weakness, every sadness, every sin.

As He binds Himself to you, and you to Him, so does He also share with you His Ascension into heaven.  Thus are you seated with Him at the Right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God.  As He has ascended, so do you ascend in His Body and in His prayer.

And so it is that here, at His Altar in His House, is your place of prayer.  Here you are gathered by the riverside of Holy Baptism.  Here the Word of Christ Jesus is preached to you.  Here your sins are freely and fully forgiven.  Here you are set free.  Here you live and abide as a beloved child of God.  Here nothing at all shall harm you.  Death and the devil cannot have you.  Christ has you.

So this is your place of prayer, and in the Name of Christ you are heard.  In Jesus’ Name you pray, and you are answered with a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in His crucified and risen Body.  For in Him all things are yours in heaven and on earth, and there is nothing lacking.

Take courage, and be at peace.  Christ has overcome the world, and you are safe and sound in Him.

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

15 May 2022

Born into the Kingdom of God by the Narrow Way of the Cross

The Lord Jesus Christ is the very Word of God in the Flesh.  He is the Word by whom all things are made, who has become true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to obtain eternal Life for all the children of men.  And He alone has the Word of Life for you.

But the Word that Jesus has for you and yours, the Word that He speaks to you, is the Word of His Cross and suffering.  And that Word of the Cross is not simply hard for you to bear; it is not simply difficult for you to comprehend; it is impossible for you.  You cannot bear it or believe it, not by any reason or strength of yours, and not according to any of your own wisdom and experience.

It’s not enough for you to try harder, to study longer, to work smarter, or to pray more sincerely.  You cannot comprehend the Word of the Cross, just as you could not atone for your own sins or accomplish redemption and salvation for yourself or anyone else.  It’s not something you could ever do as a finite creature, far less as a fallen, sinful mortal.  Nor is it anything you would ever want or choose to do in your native sinfulness, but a burden you would rather flee at all costs.

It is the Holy Spirit who enables you to hear and receive and bear the Word of the Cross of Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit opens your heart and mind to comprehend it; and it is by His gracious work that you believe and trust it, love it, and cling to it for Life, although it sounds like death itself.

The Cross is not only the curse and consequence of sin — although it certainly is that.  The Cross is the culmination of all the pain and suffering that sin has caused within God’s good Creation.  It is the culmination of all the death and damnation that you and all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve have brought upon yourselves, from which you could never have set yourself free.  As such, left to yourself, you could not bear the Cross, because it would surely destroy you.

But the Cross is not only all of that.  It is also — and all the more so — the very Glory of God for the salvation of the world, as it is the means whereby the Lord God Himself, in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, suffered and died the curse and consequence that you and all people deserved.  He bore and comprehended the Cross, atoned for sin, and defeated death forever.

And so it is that, by and from the Cross of Christ Jesus — in and with His crucified and risen Body — the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you through the forgiveness of all your sins.  It all belongs together.  And it all comes to you from outside of yourself; otherwise you would never have it.

It is from His Cross that Christ Jesus hands over His Spirit; and in His Resurrection from the dead He then breathes that same Spirit upon His disciples — by and with the speaking of His Word of Absolution — whereby all your sins are taken away.  Your sins no longer accuse or condemn you, and the devil no longer has any charge to bring against you.  You are set free from sin and death.

The Holy Spirit breathes this forgiveness upon you from the Cross of Christ, from the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  And so, too, with that forgiveness He gives you Christ Jesus Himself.  Heaven itself would be void and bare if the Lord Jesus were not there.  But He is not only there; He is here, He is with you.  The Holy Spirit lays Him upon your heart through the Ministry of the Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and Life and eternal Salvation with God.

As you have heard this morning, the Holy Spirit brings you into this Life with God in Christ Jesus through the narrow and painful opening of His Cross and Passion.  As a disciple of the One who has been crucified for you and your transgressions, His Cross is now also laid upon you, that you should carry it after Him.  You are a student in the school of His Cross.  And that is for your good.  It is for repentance unto Life.  It is for the strengthening of your faith in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

By the way of the Cross you are taught — and so, by the way of the Cross, you learn — to die with your Lord: To die to yourself, to this world, and to your sin.  By the Cross you learn to die; and so, by the Word of the Cross — by the Word and Spirit of God in Christ, by His Gospel — you also learn to live with Christ Jesus: by faith in Him, and not by any of your own works and efforts.

It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  It’s not about making a life for yourself; it is rather a case of dying to yourself, in order to rise and really to live in and with Christ Jesus.

But think of how often you are tempted to suppose that you are making a life for yourself; that you are feeding yourself, clothing yourself, providing yourself with a home and shelter, insuring your life, establishing foundations, and building up a legacy to hand over to your descendants.

All such thinking is presumptuousness in the presence of God.  It is idolatry.  You cannot feed and clothe yourself, nor is it you who opens up your own hand to satisfy all your needs and desires.

So the Cross teaches you to trust in the only One who can save you, because the Cross makes plain that you cannot survive by any wisdom, reason, strength, or ingenuity of your own.  Indeed, there is this fragile precariousness to your life in this world, which daily reminds you of your weakness, of your utter inability to keep you and your family safe and secure.  Every surgery is a kind of death.  Every time you lay down to sleep, it is like a little burial.  Every goodbye is like a final departure.  And every birth includes a reminder of your sinful condition and your frail mortality.

Every day there is the chance of death.  Every breath you take and every moment of your life is by grace alone.  You did not give yourself life, and you cannot preserve it by anything within you.

The Cross towers over everything.  It encompasses the height and depth and width of your entire life in this world — and all of creation.  It fills every tiny detail, every nook and cranny.  And yet, that Cross is not laid upon you to crush and destroy you forever, but to teach you repentance, to teach you faith — to bring you to repentance and faith — so that you would not rely upon yourself, but find your comfort and your hope and your true joy in Christ Jesus alone, who by His Cross — by His death — has destroyed the reign of death and taken away the devil’s power over you.

And in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, He has turned your grief and mourning into great rejoicing, as He has brought about the New Creation in His own crucified and risen Body, and as He has opened up Paradise to you and to all who believe and are baptized in His Name.

You do not see it now, not with your own eyes.  There is no empirical evidence to prove it.  You have only the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  But that is exactly what you need, as He teaches you by His Word and Holy Spirit to trust in Him, come hell or high water against you.

And by faith you do see Him in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the waters of your Holy Baptism, in the preaching of His Word of forgiveness, and in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many, unto the Life everlasting.  You know that He speaks the Truth.  The Spirit Himself testifies by the Gospel that Jesus is the Truth, that He is the Way, and that He is the Life.

What is more, He beholds you.  He sees you in His love for you.  And He is with you always.

The Day will come, that great and glorious Day of the Resurrection of all flesh, when you will see Him with your own two eyes.  You will see Him, your crucified and risen Lord and God, your living Savior and Redeemer.  You will see Him from your own glorified and living body.  Even if your mortal body has died and returned to the dust whence it was taken, the Lord will raise it up again, and it will be glorious, immortal, and imperishable.  Then you shall see the Lord Jesus as He is, and you will be like Him in body, soul, and spirit, forever and ever.

No one can snatch you out of His hand, who loves you and gave Himself for you.  There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can take you away from Him or take away the joy that is yours in Him.

Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall.  For Christ has opened Paradise, and His saints in Him shall rise.  Alleluia!

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

08 May 2022

The Safety and Security of Your Good Shepherd

How safe and secure are you feeling these days, little lamb of Jesus?  How well are you sleeping at night, and how peaceful are your days?  Are your heart and mind at ease, or anxious and afraid?

Aside from whatever particular concerns may be weighing upon your own situation — whether in your own head; in your home, within your household and family, or in your other relationships; in your mortal body of flesh and blood; on the job, or in your neighborhood — aside from all of that stuff, which presses upon you so close at hand, the national news doesn’t help much, does it?

Wars and rumors of war have rarely been more prevalent than they are right now, especially as the media makes them feel all the more imminent.  Political divisions, societal conflict, rancor, and harsh rhetoric are pervasive and increasing, along with the cost of pretty much everything.  And all of this on top of the fact that we are all still recovering from the burdens of the past two years.

In truth, there is nothing new under the sun; but there are times when all the darkness and dangers seem to accelerate, and whatever safety and security you may have imagined are shaken to pieces.  That is a good thing, actually, because it tears down your idols and shatters your false gods, lest you put your faith in mortal leaders and rulers and seek your salvation upon this perishing planet.

But now, take heart, little lamb!  Let repentance return you from the highways and byways to rest yourself in Jesus.  He is your true Savior and Good Shepherd, who guards you and protects you, who leads you and guides you, and who holds you in the palm of His hand forever and ever.

Your dear Lord Jesus loves you, and He knows you; not just your stats, your history and pedigree, but He knows you, your heart and mind, your body and soul, with an intimacy that goes beyond that of a husband for his wife or a mother for her child.  It is the loving knowledge of the One who created you; who formed you in the womb and fashioned your frame; who numbers the hairs on your head and all your days; who became like you, and bore your sin, and suffered your death and damnation, in order to raise you up from death to life, to recreate you in His Image and Likeness.

In His steadfast love and faithfulness — in His divine grace, mercy, and peace — He lays down His Life for you and all His sheep.  And with His Voice He calls you by name to follow Him.

So, that’s all great and wonderful!  But, if you stop and think about this, it does raise a couple or three questions and concerns.  For one thing, it’s all very noble and heroic, to be sure, but if the Shepherd lays down His life and dies, who’s left to care for the sheep?  What’s to become of them?  That situation is all the more urgent and compelling and seemingly precarious, given the call of the sheep to follow their Shepherd where He leads — since He is going to His death on the Cross.

Already you are surrounded, as He was then, with loud and demanding voices, both inside and out, competing with His own gentle Voice of the Gospel.  If He is the Christ, your Savior and Good Shepherd, then why doesn’t He tell you plainly?  Better yet, why doesn’t He show you clearly?  But instead, He confronts you with His Cross, which crucifies not only Him but you, as well.  And apparently without any care or concern, He permits the savage wolves to harass His little flock.

Honestly, the Words and promises of Christ Jesus appear to stand in contrast with — and even in contradiction to — the actual experience of His Christians and His Church in the world.  And to begin with, His own experience in the world, especially His death upon the Cross, does not appear to be very comforting or reassuring.  The fact that He is crucified makes Him rather dangerous!

The “theology of the Cross,” as we call it, is the hidden and mysterious revelation of the one true God in the hurt and humility of His Christ, the Crucified: First of all in Him, and then also in His Church, and so now in you.  But this theology of the Cross, because it is a divine Mystery, can only be understood and received in faith by those who belong to Christ Jesus and bear His Holy Spirit.

The Word of the Cross can only be recognized and believed by those who are the sheep of this Good Shepherd, Jesus; which comes about by His Voice of the Gospel, that is, by the preaching of His Word and by His Holy Spirit.  But you can neither hear nor comprehend His Word, except by the preaching of His Word; and you cannot receive or bear His Holy Spirit, except by His Holy Spirit.  That is a circle, which you cannot break into, but which the Father lays upon you in love.

Everything has already been accomplished and established for you by Christ Jesus Himself, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father.  He and His Life, in His own human Flesh, His Body and His Soul, are safely and securely in the Father’s hand.  Knowing and trusting His Father, He lays down His Life for the sheep; and so does He take it up again by faith in His God and Father.

His death upon the Cross is the Sacrifice that atones for His sheep, and for the world, in order to rescue them from the wrath of God, from sin, death, the devil, and hell; to save them, indeed, from the real savage wolves that would otherwise devour them, not only here in time, but for eternity.

And in the Resurrection of His crucified Body of flesh and blood, He Himself becomes the true, divine, eternal Temple of God in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever.  So it is that His Cross and Resurrection are the true “Feast of Dedication” (that is, the true Hanukkah), which heretofore had celebrated the recovery and restoration of the “old” Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus is the true Solomon.  He is the true Son of David, the Lord’s Anointed, the Wisdom of God in the Flesh, who reigns in love, with equity, justice, and righteousness in the midst of His City of Peace.  And with His Liturgy of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, He is the true “Portico” of the Temple — that is to say, His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in heaven and on earth — wherein He spreads the Tabernacle of His own Flesh and Blood over His people, in order to shelter and protect them from the cold of winter and the heat of summer, from hunger, thirst, and pain.

You “see,” then, how, as in the beautiful 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd and His green pastures merge and coalesce with the Lord and His House and the cornucopia of Meat and Drink at His Table.

For Jesus Himself is not only the great High Priest, but also the Sacrifice and the Temple of God, as well as the sacrificial Meal, the Holy Communion of the Peace Offering that He has offered.  And so, too, He is not only the Lord, your Good Shepherd, but His own Body is the Sheepfold, in which you are kept safe and sound, even as you eat and drink at His Table and rest in His Peace.

It is, again, by His Word and His works that He calls you to Himself, to follow Him — through death into Life, into the green pastures of His Paradise, and to His Table in His House forever.

By the Voice of your Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ — by the preaching of the Gospel of His Cross — and so also by the fruits of His Cross — by the water from His wounded side, and by His Flesh and Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many — His God and Father pours out the Holy Spirit upon you, and unites you with Christ Jesus unto Life everlasting in body and soul.

So it is that you are among the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.  You are held in the palm of His hand, as Christ Himself is always in His Father’s hand, even when He is crucified, dead, and buried.  Therefore, no one and nothing shall ever be able to snatch you away from Him.

His Cross is the Rod and Staff by which He guards and guides you; not simply as a past historical event, but as the Gospel that is daily being preached to you for the forgiveness of all your sins.  He guards and protects you against the accusations of the devil and the condemnation of the Law, by the preaching of His Cross as your Atonement and His Resurrection as your Righteousness, Life, and Salvation.  So does He guide and bring you to His Father by this preaching of His Gospel.

The Good Shepherd causes His Voice to be proclaimed and His works to be administered in the Ministry of those whom He calls, ordains, and sends in His Name and stead.  So we heard in the case of St. Peter last Sunday, and so now today in the case of St. Paul and the pastors of Ephesus.  And so it continues in the case of your pastors, as it has and ever shall be done; so that, here within His Church, you are gathered around the Lord Jesus in His Temple, around the Lamb of God upon His Throne, to worship and adore the Crucified and Risen One, and to have Life in Him forever.

As you belong to Him — because He loves you, and He knows you by His grace, and He has given Himself for you, and He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity — so shall you also follow Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and even from out of the grave, into the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul with Him.

That, dear little lamb of Jesus, is your safety and security, come hell or high water against you.  For Christ Jesus Himself is your Sabbath Rest, even now in this poor life of labor; and He is your perfect Peace forever, such as this world could never give.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid; for you are in Christ, and you shall not perish forever, but shall have eternal Life.

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